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When The Anger Returns (A horror short story)

A werewolf hopes that his bartender might be the one to rid him of his horrible curse.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

No one is more frightened when the anger comes than me. Believe me when I tell you this. I have the dissatisfaction of being the first one who knows what is about to happen. It starts as a tickle in the throat, and then the whispers start inside my head. That’s when I know the demon has returned and aims to claim more victims. And despite how I try to suppress it, I am powerless to stop it.

Once the anger consumes me I become someone—something else. Whatever demon it is that takes use of my body, it does not allow me to see through its eyes or sift through its memories afterwards. When I wake up dazed in the morning, as I always did, the only resonance of my misdeeds were in short news stories stuffed between late night gas station hold ups and high speed car chases on the freeway.

From what I can tell, my demon is a beast of nature and not a beast of satan, as its victims, though brutally mauled and wounded, were that of an instinctive thirst for blood and flesh and not a narcissistic desire for mutilation. And if I was only but a hunter than perhaps I was not completely evil. Perhaps my soul was not completely damned.

That’s what I told myself, anyway.

But on that cold, snowy Friday as I sat at the wood of my corner bar, watching the news on their screens, I came to the realization that my soul was beyond saving. I recognized my handiwork on the report. Not only the way the victim was sprawled out like a rag doll with his stomach and throat torn open, his insides on the outside, but I recognized the victim himself! Despite how grey his cadaver had become, or how much rigor mortis had twisted his once handsome features, I knew the corpse on the bar screen was Scott. This worried me a great deal. Did the demon know that Scott beat me for the promotion at the office? If so, that meant the attacks were no longer random. And if the demon was choosing its victims based on my subconscious, it wouldn’t be long before the people close to me started to suffer…

“Can you believe this shit?” said the young, male bartender, looking up at the TV screen. “This is the third attack in two weeks. What kind of psycho could do that to someone? Rip them to shreds like that? Especially during the holidays, right? Like, come on dude, chillax, have an egg nog, right?”

“The news is saying it’s a wolf on the loose,” I mentioned as my knife cut into the blue rare slab of beef, sitting in a pool of pink blood on my plate. I forked the meat into my mouth, closing my eyes to savor the cool fibers on flesh between my teeth. “I heard people are even buying dog whistles,” I added casually.

The kid scoffed at me, “What, the whole werewolf theory? Whatever, bud. I don’t buy it for a second. It’s a guy. A serial killer. Trust me, you’ll see. When the cops find this guy…you’ll see. It ain’t no fucking wolf. It’s going to turn out to be some farmer or some bus driver or some other old fart that no one suspected.”

The kid had a cockiness that I found repugnant. But as I swallowed the ball of meat in my mouth, I thought about what he had just said. Now that I had a connection to the victim, the police would surely want to question me, especially with the knowledge that we were up for the same promotion at work. I wondered, would they see I was hiding something? Would I give myself away? Or worse…would I turn into this thing? And if I did, would they kill me? Could they kill me? Despite knowing the horror my demon has caused, I cannot bring myself to end my life. Maybe they could do it for me.

I was so busy in my thoughts that I didn’t even notice Stacey come into the bar and sit down at the stool next to mine. She had to smack me in the arm with a wrapped Christmas gift. “Hello?” she said with a trailing giggle. “Is anybody home?”

I came out of my trance to focus in on her face, encompassed in blonde curls, still harboring fugitive snowflakes who had smuggled their way inside from the street. She shook her head like a dog coming in from the rain and snowflakes flew from her hair down on the bar. Some landed on my arm. “Sorry about that,” she laughed. Then she handed me the Christmas gift that she held in her hands. “Here,” she said. “I got this for you.”

I took the gift from her and squeezed it. It felt like a shirt. “What is it?” I asked.

“It’s a shirt,” she replied.

I tore the wrapping paper open and pulled out a black t-shirt with, “Wish You Were Beer” printed on it in big bold lettering. I couldn’t help but chuckle. “It’s great,” I said. “I’ll wear it everywhere.”

She gave me a soft tap on the back. “I thought you might like that.”

I folded the shirt neatly and placed it on the bar beside my cutlery.

“Geese, blue rare steak again?” she said colorfully. Her face twisted as she looked at the pool of blood on the plate.

“Hey, the man likes his steak,” said the bartender, sliding his way over to us. “What’s up, Stacey? Are you my evening sauce slinger?”

“Sure am,” she answered.

The kid looked at his watch. “You’re early, bud.”

“I just wanted to drop off a present to my favorite regular,” she said, flashing me a wink.

I could have sat there gazing into her green eyes until the end of time. Stacey brought upon a beautiful calm in me which I could find nowhere else. Maybe that’s why I chose to have dinner there four days a week. It certainly wasn’t the food. When she was around, the anger was not. There was no tingle in the throat, there were no whispering voices. My demon settled like dust on an old book shelf. Stacey, whether she knew it or not, was my angel. I wondered if perhaps there might come a day when I could have her for myself. Maybe if she was mine, and around me all the time, I would be rid of this curse once and for all.

Without warning, I was ripped from my fantasy by a sudden shrill screeching that sliced through my skull like a chainsaw. The noise vibrated inside my head to the point I thought my head might explode from the pressure. I clenched my jaw and slammed my fist down on the bar. Both Stacey and the bartender jerked back as my plate and cutlery shook. “Are you okay?” asked Stacey, almost frightened.

They didn’t hear it. No one else was hearing it but me. Though my head was spinning from the pain, I managed to scan the room and noticed where the sound was coming from just as the screeching came to a dead stop and a wave of relief rushed over me. It was the girl with her friend at the table in the corner…blowing on a dog whistle.

Thankfully for all of us, she grew tired of it and placed the whistle back in her purse.

“I’m fine,” I answered Stacey, finally. I got up from my stool and started for the jukebox. “I’m going to play a song,”

Stacey called out to me, “Oh! Play some Christmas Carols! The snow is so pretty outside under the full moon!”

But I barely heard her. My heart was racing, pounding in my ears like a drum. Things were starting to change. The demon chose to attack my enemy from work and now I was gaining its extraordinary hearing capabilities. Even as I was ten feet away from Stacey and the bartender, I could hear their conversation as clear as day. I flipped through the track menu, pretending to be focused on that, while I listened in on the two of them whispering back and forth. “You see the way he freaked out like that?” said the bartender with a chuckle. “What a freak…”

“Yeah, weird,” Stacey replied. She sounded genuinely concerned. Maybe she really did like me, I thought.

“So, what’s the deal with the present?” asked the bartender, spewing that cockiness I loathed. “You got a crush on this clown or something?”

“Ew, no,” she said right away.

I felt the stab of her recoil in my gut.

“I just feel bad for the guy,” she continued. “I mean, it’s three days until Christmas and he’s here every day eating steak by himself. He’s obviously got nobody.”

“Well as long as you’re not going to take the charity case home or anything like that…You make me jealous, babe.”

“That’s sweet,” she sighed. “You know you’re the only one I want in this pussy…”

“You coming over tonight?” he asked her.

“As soon as I get off,” she answered, lustfully.

Suddenly I felt a familiar tingle in my throat. How foolish I was to think that Stacey saw me as anything but a customer, anything but a tip. I was just a pathetic lonely guy with nowhere to go for the holidays. I pressed play on the jukebox and Frank Sinatra’s, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas began to play. But the whispers in the back of my head drowned out the string orchestra and Frank’s smooth baritone voice. He’s laughing at you, they whispered. They’re both laughing at you.

I was starting to sweat. The voices were getting louder and more violent. The tingle in my throat had evolved into a pulsing ache. It was no use fighting it. The anger was returning. Soon I would lose all control. Soon the demon would be free. And no one would be leaving this bar alive.

 

The End.

 

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Revenge on Space Station 7 a short story by Kevin Travers

Revenge on Space Station 7 (Guest Author: Kevin Travers)

The year is 2075. Climate change has collapsed global ecosystems and economies. The rich have taken to luxurious space stations in orbit, while the planet has descended into lawlessness and tribal warfare. In this new world, honor is all that matters…

Written by Kevin Travers

Ezekiel opened a bleary eye to see the angry face of the man kicking him. He turned over, shielding his wine bottle from any damage.

“Traitor!” his accoster cried, giving his next kick some extra zest. “Dishonorable dog!” The old man wore a red robe, a staple garment of the Roninites.

His young student ran over to stop him. “Master Isaiah, why are you beating this homeless man?”

The teacher stopped to face his student, pointing an accusatory finger at the man lying on the sidewalk. “That’s Ezekiel!” He spit on the floor, presumably to get the taste of that name out of his mouth, “He was Head of Saul’s Guard. Lord Amnon has been exploiting our people for years, Saul was the only one brave enough to confront him. Our great leader payed for it with his life.”

He turned back to Ezekiel, sprawled on the sidewalk in year-old unchanged clothes, and smelling like a drainage hatch. “It was your job to avenge him… or die trying. Instead you lie here, drunk in the gutter! You’ve disgraced your people.”

Isaiah spit again, this wad of phlegm landing square on Ezekiel’s chest. The student gasped. This was the greatest insult a Roninite could send. Overhead, two police drones hovered, watching all. Ezekiel sighed. Looked down at the shiny puddle on his chest. Looked at the bottle of wine in his hand.

He took a swig from the bottle.

Hours later, Ezekiel stumbled through a stream of people, down a sweaty alleyway, drones still in tow. It was around sunset, but hard to tell with all the soot and filth left in the sky after the wars. These were the refugee ghettos, a haphazard mishmash of high rise apartment blocks built to house those who came during the floods. They were dilapidated before they opened, with nowhere near enough space for all the people. Four to a room, with a roof that hadn’t caved in yet, was considered luxurious.

There was a commotion off in the distance, an explosion or gun shot, and the sounds of human chaos. The drones went over to check. Ezekiel turned a corner and picked up the pace, his drunken stumble turning into a purposeful stride. In an empty alleyway, Ezekiel came to a manhole cover. He looked around to make sure he wasn’t being watched, and lifted it open.

Ezekiel trudged through a dank sewer tunnel. He poured out the contents of his bottle, revealing water. Most days, it was water. Some days, it was wine. For the middle path is the way of the warrior.

In a dark elevated tunnel, he came to an abandoned maintenance shed, the wood rotting off the door frame. He pulled out a key, and opened it.

Inside the candlelit room, three Roninites sat around a carpet. Two of them- Elijah and Immanuel- were deep in meditation. The third- Jehovah, the muscle- watched the newcomer, his face bent in displeasure. Ezekiel ditched his dirty clothes revealing his sacred red robe, and took a seat at the head of the group. The full attention of the Roninites was given to their leader.

“One year ago, Lord Amnon sentenced our Master Saul to death. He was given a choice- an easy one, or an honorable one. Our Master chose honor, taking a blade to his own stomach. Our time for revenge has almost arrived.”

Jehovah couldn’t bite his tongue any longer. He slammed the floor. “Our time is now! Every day we wait, we risk getting caught! We have a way up, what are we waiting for?”

“A way in. To Amnon.”

“To Amnon?!  He has more protection than the Pope, we’ll never get that close! That’s not the point!”

“What is the point?”

“We go up there and send a message!” barked Jehovah. “Kill as many of his lackeys as we can! Die in a blaze of glory, the devil can suck my cock!”

“We do that and we barely dent his front line. Lashing out is what he expects from us, wants from us. He doesn’t give a shit about glory,” Ezekiel reasoned.

“The people out there laugh at us! They spit at us! We’ve been dishonored. Amnon has been slaughtering our people since Saul’s been gone. He killed my wife. My daughter… worse. We need revenge. I need revenge.”

Ezekiel nodded. He knew pain, but not that pain. After Saul’s death, he divorced his wife and took on the reputation of a drunk. Cutting all ties was the only way to protect her and their son. She had since remarried. That was good… it would shield her from any retribution. And there would be retribution.

“Put your faith in the plan,” said Ezekiel. “You will have revenge.”

“I trust Ezekiel,” Immanuel said, the soft-spoken heart of the group.

“How close are we, Elijah?” Ezekiel asked their fourth member, a scrawny nervous kid barely out of adolescence.

“There’s orders coming in. Any day now,” Elijah smiled crookedly.

“We wait.” Ezekiel said.

With that, it was decided.

*************************

Ezekiel lay on the sidewalk, bottle in hand. The afternoon sun had managed to break through the smog, a few precious rays of light landing on his face. He savored them.

Elijah passed him in a Kira Corp construction uniform. He made eye contact and grinned, before continuing on.

That night, the Roninites gathered around the carpet.

“Elijah has been working for the past 6 months at Kira Corp, looking for a way in”, Ezekiel told the crew.

“The number one choice for the rich and orbital!” Elijah added. “Pay sucks.”

“Today, it came. A job in the residential ring on Space Station 7.”

“New marble floors, for none other than Assbag Amnon himself!” Elijah held up an order sheet. “The job’s in three days.”

A charge filled the room.

“We’ve got a friendly in transport,” Ezekiel informed them. “He can get us in. We pose as contractors and take their ship up. We get past customs, get past security, and hopefully get to Amnon’s apartment to find him alone.”

“Probably jerking off to kiddie porn,” Jehovah couldn’t resist.

“We keep casualties down. Only unfriendlies. Our target is Amnon.”

They each nodded.

“Anyone fly in a rocket before?” Immanuel asked.

“I drove in a car,” Elijah answered. “Once.”

“I don’t have to tell you…” Ezekiel continued, “this is a one-way trip. Once we step onto that space station, there’s no getting off. We need to decide right now if this is still worth dying for.”

Ezekiel pulled out a metal handle and pressed its button. A ten-inch laser shot out. The laser blade, weapon of choice for the Roninites.

Jehovah fired up his, in no uncertain terms.

“I’m in. If all this waiting gets us to Amnon, it’ll have been worth it.”

Elijah fired up his.

“Saul took me in when I was a kid. No one else would. I’d be proud to avenge him.”

Immanuel fired up his.

“I’m not doing anything else this weekend.”

Ezekiel looked around at his peers.

“We have three days left on Earth. Make them the best you’ve ever had.”

**

On an overcast morning, rocket X-47 sat on a busy launch pad, waiting to touch the heavens. Inside, a group of Kira Corp employees tied down heavy slabs of marble.

The Roninites passed through security clearance, dressed in the same uniforms and carrying heavy bags. The man in the security booth shared a knowing nod with the group, handing Jehovah a pass card, the key to accessing the ship’s interface.

The Kira Corp workers heard a knock at the door.

“Who is it?”

“Security.”

They opened to find the Roninites’ laser blades pointed at their necks.

*****************

The rocket shook violently, finally coming to a stop as it reached the weightlessness of orbit. The Roninites, strapped in their seats, breathed heavy sighs of relief. Outside a tiny window, the Earth spun below them in green, white and blue, looking so peaceful from a distance. There was a quiet moment of child-like wonder as they all stopped to stare. They drifted towards a shining metal wheel, spinning silently in orbit against the deepest of black. The docking bay opened, preparing to swallow them up like a whale.

In the 2050s, Kira Corp offered an escape from the conflicts of Earth with their Home Living in Orbit campaign- thirteen massive cities in space, with luxury apartments, one hell of a view, and all the comforts those with the cash to afford them could ever want. Rotation created artificial gravity, and a regular stream of rockets supplied them with everything needed for opulent living in space. It was in the penthouse master suite of Space Station 7 that Amnon would be found.

“Vessel X-47, prepare to board,” a voice said over the speaker.

Elijah suddenly panicked, the stakes of their mission hitting him.

“What if the contractors get out?” he asked nervously.

“They’re tied in a maintenance closet. No one will check until night.”

“What if we can’t trust our friendly? There’s a lot of money in reporting rebels…”

“We can.” Ezekiel said calmly.

“What if they check the marble…”

Immanuel reached over, and slapped him across the face.

“Shut the fuck up.”

The ship entered, and came to a stop.

The crew waited at the door for the customs security check. Elijah bit his nails. Immanuel said a silent prayer. Jehovah bounced from foot to foot, prepared for a fight. Ezekiel breathed.

The door slid open. An armed security team stood on the other end, with rifles at the ready. The Roninites were outnumbered 2 to 1.

“What are you here for?” the guard asked suspiciously.

“Renovations,” Ezekiel said, handing him the order sheet.

The guard looked around at each of the crew. He looked behind them at the heavy slabs of marble. He considered the effort it would take to check them all.

“Who’s it for?” he finally asked.

“The Penthouse Suite. Amnon.”

The guard shrugged. Waved them in.

“Go ahead. And be careful… that guy’s a prick.”

They each grabbed a handle, and rolled the marble cargo through the gates. They passed a facial recognition scan, the guard distracted by his sandwich.

Elijah tried to regain control of his heartbeat, and his colon.

“A lot of people hate Amnon,” Ezekiel whispered with a wink.

They walked through the commercial zone, an extravagant stretch of stores akin to Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue in the past, umbrellaed by a skylight that peeked out at the cosmos. It had fake cobblestone paths, and plastic palm trees. Men in suits and women in dresses leisurely strolled by, stopping to check out some jewelry or look at a watch. The Roninites gazed at them in awe, witnessing a world they had only ever heard about through story. They passed an armed security guard every few feet, Jehovah watching them nervously.

“Stop staring,” Ezekiel said. “Act like we belong.”

At the end of the path was a large set of double doors.

“The residential ring,” Ezekiel said with a grin. The doors opened as they approached.

“Stop!” Someone shouted. They turned to see the security guard from the facial recognition scan running towards them. “Stop those men!”

The shoppers watched in dazed confusion. It was too late. The Roninites had entered the ring with their cargo. Jehovah gave a wave as the doors shut behind them.

**

In the penthouse suite of Space Station 7, Lord Amnon tied his silk bathrobe and waddled across the Persian carpet floor of his living room. Finished with lunch, he still felt unsatisfied. His body ached. Obese and greasy, beady-eyed and sluggish, he plopped himself on the Versailles sofa with a huff.

He looked out his wraparound window at the planet below. Sighed in disgust. The view didn’t do it for him like it used to. He needed some other fix. Amnon picked up the phone.

“Yes Sir?”

“Send the girl in.”

There was a pause.

“Yes Sir.”

A minute later two large bodyguards, twins, came through the door. They dragged in a young girl by her arms, doing their best to ignore their own consciences. Barely twelve, scared and trembling, they tossed her in like meat to a lion and shut the door behind them. Amnon turned to look at her, with a smile that made her skin crawl.

“Hey little girl… What’s your name?”

An Earth girl, she had been taken this morning and was a long, long way from home. She hid behind his heavy oak desk. Amnon’s smile widened. He liked it when they resisted. He stood up, and slithered across the room towards her.

A loud siren rang out, causing them both to jump. The bodyguards poked their heads back in.

“Sir, we have to go.”

“There’s been a security breach.”

Inside the residential ring, sirens blared and chaos ensued. Security pounded on the double doors, now blocked by the stacks of marble. Ezekiel and Jehovah pushed off the top slabs, revealing a hollow center and a stash of guns. The other two stacks were positioned in front for cover. They ducked behind them as the much smaller, much less experienced inner ring security team spilled into the foyer.

“Stop!” One of them shouted. “You’re under arrest. Lay down your arms…”

A bullet shot through his head, smoke rising from the barrel of Jehovah’s pistol. A gun fight ensued, bullets tearing through metal and marble. The guards had them outnumbered, but the Roninites had cover, preparation, and the element of surprise. They picked off the guards one by one, until all that was left was a room full of smoke and bodies.

Ezekiel ran over to the elevator. Pressed the button. There was no movement.

“Shit.”

“Alarms must shut ‘em down,” Jehovah said.

“Plan B…”

They pushed the slab off the front stack, and pulled out what looked like a harpoon gun. Ezekiel walked over to the wall and fired. The hook soared up over three levels of floors, the connecting rope whistling through the air, before finally running out of steam and landing on the fourth and final balcony. Its claws dug in. Ezekiel pulled the rope apart, revealing a rope ladder.

The four started climbing.

It was shaky, the rope swaying and jerking with every step. Ezekiel looked down around the second floor and felt a wave of vertigo, his hands drenching in cold sweat. He looked up, took a deep breath, and tried not to think about it.

A security guard who had been in the bathroom arrived late in the foyer. He saw his dead pals, saw the Roninites climbing the ladder, and clumsily pulled out his pistol.

Immanuel felt a fire rip through his shoulder. The ladder rocked as the Roninites tried to hold on, realizing they were under attack. Ezekiel pulled out his pistol, taking aim. The ladder again jerked wildly, and he missed. Immanuel felt another fire blast through his chest. He lost control, his body in free fall. Ezekiel steadied his hand and fired. The guard’s hat blew off as a spray of blood left the exit wound.

The Roninites slid down to the foot of the ladder. They found Immanuel in bad shape- two bullet holes, lying in a pool of his own blood, his leg snapped and sideways.

“Well…” he said through sharp, shallow breaths, “at least… I got… to see space… huh?”

“Want me to take care of it?” Ezekiel asked, resting a comforting hand on Immanuel’s shoulder.

“Nah… This one’s… between me… and the maker.”

He fired up his laser blade.

“I’ll be… seeing you guys… soon.”

****************

Laser cut through the lock of the door on Amnon’s apartment. The Roninites burst in. They found the living room empty, save for the girl cowering behind the desk. Ezekiel and Elijah went to search for Amnon. Jehovah went to the little girl. He kneeled beside her. She pulled back, afraid.

“Hey… it’s okay,” he put his hand on her shoulder. “You’re safe now.”

Jehovah helped her to her feet. He reached into his pocket, pulling out the ship’s pass card.

“Go. Find someone to take you back to Earth. Give them this.”

She nodded, and ran off. Jehovah felt a peace he hadn’t felt in a long time.

Ezekiel and Elijah returned, empty handed.

“Shit!”

“Where’d he go?”

The three pondered the question for a moment. Ezekiel looked out the window, noticing the stream of ships leaving for the Earth.

**

Inside an escape pod, Amnon paced anxiously as the twins prepared for launch.

“Hurry up, let’s get out of here!” he commanded.

“We have to wait for clearance,” a twin protested.

“Fuck clearance, I own this place!”

He fired up the engine. The ship jerked, but stayed in place.

“What’s wrong?”

“They need to release the hatch,” the other twin said. “I can do it manually…”

He got up from his seat and left the pod to take care of it.

There was the sound of physical exertion, as he tried to pull down the large metal hatch holding them in place. Then there was a strange sound, almost like a gurgle. Then there was silence.

The twin returned, grasping his throat with a startled look on his face. He looked down at his bloodied hands, and collapsed on the floor. The Roninites entered, Ezekiel holding a bloody laser blade, Jehovah with a pistol. The other twin reached for his gun. Jehovah put a bullet in his head.

They circled around Amnon, grinning. Overtaken with panic, he passed out.

Amnon woke on the Persian rug of his apartment floor. He looked up through a bleary eye to see the desk blocking the door, and the four Roninites circled around him. He made eye contact with Ezekiel. Ezekiel could tell he recognized him, and smiled.

“It was here. Do you remember? This was the place where you killed Saul.”

Ezekiel paced around the living room, the Earth spinning behind him.

“He was called here because you wanted more from our people than we could give. To submit to your demands would mean the starvation of many. Saul explained this to you, and you insulted him. Spit at him. Do you remember?”

Amnon whimpered something unintelligible.

“He challenged you to a duel. A fair fight. Instead, you sent your guards on us. We fought off many, but couldn’t fight them all. You gave Saul a choice- an easy death, or an honorable one. Today, I give you the same choice.”

“No… please…” Amnon sobbed.

“You forced me back to Earth, to tell my story and spread your fear, confident you would never face the consequences of your actions. Tell me, Lord Amnon… are you feeling confident now?”

“Please… let me go, I’m not ready…”

“An easy death…” Ezekiel fired up his laser blade, “or an honorable one?” Jehovah handed him his.

“I’M NOT READY!” Amnon burst out in tantrum. The handle rolled across the floor. The Roninites smiled.

“A dishonorable one.”

Elijah pulled Amnon’s arms until his head was hanging over the edge of the sofa. Jehovah sunk his knee into Amnon’s back, pinning him in place. Amnon begged and pleaded but didn’t put up a fight. Ezekiel handed his laser blade to Jehovah.

“You do the honors.”

Jehovah grinned like a kid on Christmas morning. He lifted the blade over his head, closing his eyes to offer a whispered prayer.

“Abigal… Tamar…”

He opened his eyes, now filled with the rage of a thousand suns.

“AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!”

He slammed down the blade. There was a rolling across the floor, and it was done.

The Roninites shared a breath of satisfaction before the pounding on the door started.

“Security!”

The Roninites nodded to each other. They knew what they had to do. If they were arrested, they could be identified. If they died here, the same. That would bring retribution against their people back on Earth. They only had one choice. To disappear.

They each fired up a laser blade, holding it out in front of them, and charged for the window. The Roninites crashed through Space Station 7, their momentum carrying them towards their home planet.

In a few seconds, their skin would swell as the water in their bodies vaporized. They would feel a bubbling on their tongue, as their own saliva boiled. Cosmic radiation would cook them as they suffocated from lack of Oxygen, and in a few hours their mummified remains would burn up in the atmosphere, erasing any trace of them.

For a moment though, before any of that happened, they felt true freedom. Floating over the Earth, free from the bounds of gravity, free from the bounds of honor, free from the bounds of having a future and the worries it entails. There was nothing left but the present moment, and the most beautiful view in the Solar System.

Ezekiel thought about his wife, somewhere down there. Thought about his son. He was sad to let them go, but was blessed to have had them. That would be enough. For the middle path is the way of the warrior. He closed his eyes, and exhaled his last breath.

Word soon spread back on Earth of the bravery these Roninites had shown. With no one keeping them under their thumb, their tribe began to prosper. A monument was erected to the four great heroes, a statue in the middle of a quiet park.

One morning, one year later, the teacher Isaiah came to pay his respects. He put down a mat, and kneeled before the statue of Ezekiel.

“I come to you for forgiveness,” he said, his head bowed. “I was wrong about you. You have honored your people. I insulted you, and for that I am eternally sorry.”

The old man sighed. Pulled out his laser blade. Fired it to life.

“There’s only one way to set things right. Forgive me, Ezekiel.”

There was a hiss, and the smell of burning flesh, as he dug the blade deep into his stomach. Isaiah’s body slumped on the floor, sun shining, birds chirping. A fair death in the world he lived in. For he had dishonored a hero. And honor is all that matters.

Special thanks to Daniele Boloelli’s History on Fire series, The 47 Ronin

street lit, urban fiction, short stories, crime stories,

Hood Boyz

Four hoodlums from a boys home head out into the night to cause ruckus, until they stumble upon a bigger evil in their city and decide to stand and fight.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

“Thanks for walking me home, Caleb. I really appreciate it,” said Sherry, flashing Caleb a friendly smile, as they strolled along Peach Street. The warm September sun that had burned bright all day was now sinking behind the skyline of tall towers that made up Wreck City’s public housing district.

“Hey, no problem,” Caleb replied. “A new girl in a new city? It would be rude of me not to…“ They shared a moment or two of comfortable silence, Caleb kicking a pebble and Sherry taking in her new neighborhood. Then Caleb continued, “Must be tough for an uptown girl like you, settling in a place like Wreck City.”

Sherry brushed a few strands of her strawberry blonde hair away from her face, tucking them behind her ear. “It’s definitely going to take some getting used to,” she said. She was trying to be polite, but Caleb didn’t need any sugar-coating. Wreck City was a tough place for anyone to live in, let alone pretty blonde girls from the ‘burbs. “Most families spend their lives trying to get out of bad neighborhoods,” Sherry continued. “But having a news reporter mother, it’s like we’re always trying to be in the worst places society has to offer—“

She caught herself as if she had said something wrong and quickly tried to correct her mistake. “I mean…I didn’t mean that you’re the worst society has to offer, or anything like that.”

Caleb let out a soft laugh, finding Sherry tripping over her words amusing. “Don’t sweat it. Wreck City is a wreck. It’s not exactly headline news. But there are some good people here, believe or not.”

“You seem okay,” she said, looking up at him. “You’re nice…polite…cute…”

Her face became bright red; a curse of the fair skinned that made it impossible to hide nervousness. Caleb didn’t notice, or at the very least, he didn’t call attention to it. “I was hoping for sexy,” he said, with a sideways grin. “But I guess I can settle for cute.”

Sherry smiled and her face returned back to its original shade. Her eyes then broke from Caleb’s and fixed on a boy, a teenager, who was walking down the sidewalk towards them. The boy was dressed in a basketball jersey and shorts, holding a bright orange “Spalding” basketball against his slender hip. “Isn’t that Charlie, from English class?” Sherry pointed out.

As it turned out, it was. The boy smiled wide when he saw Sherry, but when he met eyes with Caleb, his gaze darted away instantly; as if he was sorry he made eye contact in the first place. Still, he slowed in his stride and stopped to talk, but kept his attention firmly on the girl. “Hey, Sherry,” Charlie said. He cautiously looked towards Caleb, but saw Caleb was focused on the brand new pair of Supreme Flyers on Charlie’s feet.

“Hey, Charlie,” said Sherry, kindly. “What are you up to?”

Charlie motioned to his basketball. “Just going to shoot some hoops at the courts for a couple hours,” he said. “You?”

“Just heading home,” she responded. “I have dance class a little later, so I’m going to eat and head back out.”

“Cool,” said Charlie, with a harmless smile. “Well, I’ll see you in class, then.”

Charlie continued toward the courts and Sherry and Caleb continued their walk down Peach Street. A few blocks later, they came to a red bricked townhouse where three other boys, dressed in baggy clothing, sat on the stoop of the front steps, acting rowdy and smoking cigarettes. When they saw Caleb and Sherry approaching, their laughing ceased and their expressions turned to stone.

One of the three boys, with a shaggy head of hair and a loose fitting grey sweater, leaned over the railing and followed Caleb close with his eyes. Then his stare fixed on Sherry and remained there, which made her obviously uncomfortable. Her head sunk and looked down at her feet as she tried to hide the red that was slowly returning to her cheeks. This only seemed to excite the shaggy haired boy in the grey sweater. “Damn, girl,” said the boy with a grin and a whistle. “You want a real man to walk you home?”

Caleb, who was just as relaxed as he had been the entire walk, turned to Sherry and said softly, “Just ignore them, okay?”

Another of the boys on the step, the tallest of the bunch, wearing a backwards baseball cap, stared hard at Caleb, his baby blue eyes lacking any hint of kindness. A long, thin chain with a thick, diamond encrusted crucifix hung from his neck and glared in the setting sun. “What the fuck are you looking at, homie?” said the boy, testing Caleb for weak spots.

Caleb took his own advice and ignored him.

The third boy on the steps was a boy of color, wearing a black t-shirt and was also wearing a gold chain around his neck. This one was thick and linked like the rappers in the eighties used to wear. The boy didn’t say a word, but instead sipped quietly on the forty ouncer of malt liquor gripped tight in his hand. He didn’t have to speak to come off as intimidating. His tank-like build and cold, emotionless eyes did that for him.

Miraculously, they passed the group on the steps without any further incident and once they were another block away, Sherry began to relax a little. When they came to the front steps of Sherry’s apartment building, Caleb said goodbye and wished her a good time at her dance class.

“Thanks,” said Sherry. “And thanks again for walking me home…I don’t know what would have happened with those hoods if you hadn’t been around.”

Caleb shot a grin. “You got nothing to worry about when I’m around.”

*********************

Caleb found himself returning to the steps which the three hoods had been sitting earlier. They were gone now and all that was left was an empty forty ouncer and some cigarette butts. There was a worn sign beside the front door that read “Wayward Boys Residents”. Caleb walked up the steps and turned the knob to the front door. It was unlocked. He took a quick look back out to the street and saw there was no one watching. So, he opened the door and walked inside…

“Whattup, KayKay? You bitch!” shouted a familiar shaggy haired boy in a grey sweater, as Caleb stepped into the recreation room of the three story townhouse. He found the three hoodlums from earlier watching the thirteen inch box television set up in the corner. The slender one with the diamond encrusted crucifix around his neck was doing push-ups near the window, while the boy in the grey sweater sat on the couch next to the large, silent boy who had been drinking the forty.

Caleb grinned and shook his head at the three boys. “You guys are fucking dicks. Every time I’m with a girl, you guys play that gangster shit. I thought we’re supposed to be brothers, huh? You’re fucking up my game!”

The three boys just laughed. “You ain’t got no game, KayKay,” said the one in the grey sweater.

Caleb, or KayKay as he had been nicknamed, actually knew these boys very well. They were all orphans and residents of the Peach Street Wayward Boys Home. Though they all came from different backgrounds and nationalities, over the years they had come to call each other brothers. And like brothers, they gave each other a hard time whenever the opportunity arose.

The tall slender one with the navy blue baseball cap backwards on his head and crucifix around his neck was a boy named Blake. He was the eldest of the four and went by the alias Blizzo, a name that was tagged up all over the public housing district. His skills with an aerosol can were widely known and respected throughout the slums of Wreck City, rarely ever getting painted over by the competition.

The loud one in the grey sweater was Dylan, but as an aspiring rap artist, he preferred to be called D-Dog. And the one beside him on the couch with the wide shoulders and thick gold link chain was a boy named Rudy, though the other boys rarely called him anything but Juice, a tribute to his love of malt liquor.

Blizzo, KayKay, D-Dog and Juice were the four founding members of the Peach Street Gang, Hood Boyz. Though they had yet to accomplish any noteworthy capers besides some low-level street muggings, they all wore the united color of Green and kept a green bandana in their back pocket at all times to represent their affiliation.

“I want those kicks,” stated Blizzo, pointing to the small television in the corner that was displaying an ad for a popular new shoe called the ‘Supreme Flyers’. It was the shoe worn by both NBA ballers and famous rappers alike. And Blizzo had an eye for nice things.

“Yeah, right,” scoffed D-Dog. “Those are almost three hundred dollar shoes. And you a broke motherfucker, Blizz. Straight.”

“Maybe you should pawn that fake ass pendent,” added Juice, resting his head back on the couch and pulling down the brim of his purple cap as if getting ready for a nap.

“Fuck off, Juice…Ya drunk fuck,” Blizzo returned. “These diamonds are real. I don’t fuck with fake shit.”

“There’s a guy in my class that has a pair,” said KayKay. “He’s at the courts right now. Why don’t we go jack him?”

The boys all looked at each other with mischievous grins.

“I’m down,” said Blizzo. “Juice, you down?”

“I thought I was a drunk fuck,” Juice muttered from under his cap.

“Ah, don’t trip, little brother,” said Blizzo with a pout. “Come on, you in or what?”

After some thought, Juice answered, “Buy me a forty and I’m in.”

“Done,” agreed Blizzo. “D-Dog, you down?”

“Always down to fuck shit up,” D-Dog boasted with his chest out. “Let me just go get my banger.”

D-Dog ran out of the room and disappeared upstairs. There was only a brief moment of silence before he was heard quickly pounding down the stairs again. When he came back into the room he was holding an old wooden baseball bat. He modeled it for the boys and even gave it a kiss, whispering to it affectionately, “I love this bitch right here.”

And so, just like that, the four boys headed out into the streets, under the stars, with cigarettes hanging from their lips and green bandanas hanging from their back pockets. After nightfall, there were rarely any people wandering the streets. The punch in, punch out citizens had learned a long time ago that the night brought out a whole different breed of citizen, ones with a completely different understanding of the term punching out. Even the cops avoided Peach Street after the sun went down. That’s why the four boys loved their neighborhood. During the day they were just a bunch of good-for-nothing hoodlums, but at night—the streets belonged to them.

They walked down the sidewalk, laughing as they threw mock punches at each other, surging with the familiar adrenaline that occurs before a crime is committed. But before they could get to the courts, they heard a high pitch scream coming from an alley across the street. It was a girl’s scream. Screams were not something often investigated on Peach Street, but because it was a girl, and only because it was a girl, the boys decided to check it out.

They quietly hustled across the street and dipped into the alley, kneeling behind a garbage dumpster for cover. The screams had become a muffled whimper, but the sound of feet scraping against the pavement was clear and there were other voices aswell. Men’s voices. Blizzo motioned to the boys to be quiet and then carefully peeked out into the alley. After a second, his head popped back behind the dumpster and he whispered to the boys, “Five dudes ganging up on a chick…”

KayKay remembered that Sherry said she had dance class that night and wondered if maybe the girl had been her. He peeked his head out and took a look down the alley. That’s when his stomach sunk. It was Sherry. She was surrounded by five guys in black bomber jackets that wore red ski-masks over their faces. He knew the ensemble well. It belonged to a competing Peach Street gang known as the P-Street Predators. They were not a force to be taken lightly.

“That’s the girl I was with earlier,” KayKay told the gang. “We gotta do something.”

“That’s the predators, Kay…” Blizzo said, with a rare caution in his voice.

“I don’t care,” KayKay replied instantly. “I can’t let this happen, Blizz.”

D-Dog grinned wide and showcased his banger. “Let’s go bust some skulls then…”

Blizzo nodded with a profound, father-like pride and said, “Okay, boys. Bandanas on.”

On command, Juice and KayKay withdrew their green bandanas from their back pocket and tied them tightly over the bottom half of their faces. D-Dog however, did not. “Y’all look like fucking Ninja Turtles,” he groaned. Then he stood up and threw his grey hood over his head, covering his face in shadow. He tapped the bat off the toe of his sneakers and just before he stepped out from behind the dumpster, he turned to the other three boys and said, “Cowabunga, you pizza eating faggots.”

As soon as D-Dog stepped into the alleyway, the five P-Street Predators turned their heads and stopped their groping of the trembling young girl, if only for the moment. “Hey, you dick-cheese sucking, fuck-asses!” yelled D-Dog, pointing his banger in their direction. “Why don’t y’all go home and rub one out! It’ll be better for your health!”

The Predator at the head of the five pulled a switchblade from his bomber jacket and flicked it open. “Oh, yeah? Whose gonna do something about it? You?”

The four other Predators laughed. But when Blizzo, KayKay and Juice stepped out from behind the dumpster, the laughs cut on a button. “And them…” answered D-Dog.

After that, there were no more words. The Predators took the offensive and charged. The four boys stood their ground. D-Dog swung his banger and connected with a pop to the head of the lead Predator. He dropped to the floor and didn’t get up. KayKay took a hard right fist to his cheek and stumbled back. The mere sight of KayKay hurt put Juice into a wide-eyed rage and he suddenly came to life, grabbing KayKay’s assaulter by the throat and lifting him into the air. “You don’t touch my little brother, motherfucker!” growled Juice, choke slamming him to the ground. The red masked thug shook on the pavement, convulsing.

Blizzo was a few feet away, and not doing as well. He was trying to fight off the two remaining Predators, but he was losing. Suddenly there was a loud KLONK! And one of the Predators spun to the floor, sleeping. In his place stood D-Dog, gazing down at his banger with romantic admiration. “I fucking love this thing…” he sighed.

Now all by himself, the final conscious Predator was shook. He reached into his coat and pulled out a pistol, raising it to Blizzo. A shot rang off and lit up the dark alley like a firecracker, illuminating Blizzo as he stumbled back, hit the wall, and sunk to the floor, eyes shut. “Nooo!” screamed D-Dog, who had witnessed it all. The last Predator ran off into the night, as if he was frightened. Not of the boys, but at what he had just done. Sherry, was frozen, tears running freely down her cheeks.

“I’m so sorry…” she uttered.

D-Dog’s head spun from his fallen friend to the girl. “Just get out of here, you fucking broad! It’s cuz of you he’s dead!”

Sherry ran out of the alley and out of sight.

D-Dog’s anger turned to tears as he knelt down beside Blizzo’s limp body. “Blizz…” he coughed up. “Don’t die on me, man…Please…Don’t die…”

And then, the boys all took a step back, for it seemed a ghost was talking to them from beyond the grave as Blizzo, though his eyes remained shut, suddenly smiled and said, “Juice, I told you these were real diamonds, you drunk fuck.”

That’s when the three speechless boys looked down at Blizzo’s chest and saw a bullet lodged in the center of the crucifix around his neck. A wave of relief rushed over them all. “Jesus fuck!” screamed KayKay. “Blizz, you had us all losing our shit, dawg!”

“Real ice,” nodded Juice. “Ruspect.”

Blizzo was weak, but managed to let out a soft chuckle. “D-Dog cried like a bitch…”

*****************

The four boys sat in the television room of the Peach Street Wayward home for Boys the next day, watching the news on the small television in the corner. All their eyes were glued to the screen as, now back from commercial, they were about to hear the report about a gang altercation on Peach Street the night before. “Shut up! This is it!” barked D-Dog.

The boys hushed as the newsman on the television spoke, “This is Ian McFinn in for August Kelllerman today after her daughter was viciously attacked last night on Peach Street. Over the years, the public housing sector of Wreck City has not gone without its incidents, but things seem to be getting worse and worse as even the working class citizens of this city are not safe in their own neighborhoods. Young Sherry Kellerman was assaulted by a group of men in red ski masks last night, known to police as the P-Street Predators. Thankfully, a group of young heroes came to her aid and stopped the assault. Though the good Samaritans were disguised in bandanas, one of them did show his face and the witness has provided the local police with enough details to put together this sketch of her rescuer…”

In the right corner of the television screen appeared a cartoon sketch that looked remarkably like D-Dog. Blizzo, who was sitting beside D-Dog, gave him a hard smack in the chest. “That’s why we wear bandanas, ya goof!”

D-Dog was fixed on the screen. His grin became a wide smile. He looked at the three boys and laughed, “Whatever, bitches! Only one of us is on TV! I’m famous muthafucka!”

The other three boys sunk back on the couch and groaned.

The End.

Should the Hood Boyz return for another adventure? Leave us a comment and let us know!

The Locket

As Gary heads the funeral of an old girlfriend, he recalls how two lovers turned to strangers.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

 

When I received the call that Veronica had died in a car crash, I was stunned. I didn’t believe it. I guess a part of me still doesn’t. How could I? No matter how things ended between us, she was and always had been a part of me. I didn’t understand how all of a sudden she could just be…gone.

Even though it had been over ten years since we broke up and over five since we stopped speaking all together, I still thought about Veronica everyday in some capacity. Her face would pop into my head when I would hear a Blink 182 song on the radio, or when I would see a girl on the street in the same faded red chucks she used to wear. Veronica loved those shoes.

It’s funny, for the life of me I can’t visualize her in a cocktail dress and heels, though I do remember how the sight of it could turn me into a bumbling pile of mush. Mostly I remember her laughing as we lied together in bed. In my minds eye I can see her pearl white teeth and strands of black hair falling messily over her face. I remember her head looking up to me from where it rested on my chest and, without a single word, reassuring me that we were both exactly where we were supposed to be in life. That’s the Veronica I remembered; the comfort of her twinkling emerald stare, the warmth of her skin pressed against mine. They were the happiest times of my life.

For a long time after we separated I would try to force those memories out of my head the second they appeared. I suppose I was resentful, jealous even, that she had found happiness with someone other than me. I felt like I had been thrown to the wayside while she had catapulted into a picture perfect adulthood; getting married and buying a house with her new lover, while I was still trudging through a sewer of piss and shit like that guy from Shawshank Redemption. It was a constant reminder that someone else was living the life I had planned for us…I resorted to the idea that, in the end, I just wasn’t enough of a man for her. Just being in love wasn’t enough for her.

Even the town around me seemed to change the course of its winds so that a black cloud remained firmly planted above my head. And so I started to resent the town too. I hated the bench in the park where me and Veronica used to make out, I hated the Tim Horton’s parking lot where she would sit under the lamplight on the trunk of her car, her legs tightly wrapped around my waist and her arms crossed around my neck. I especially hated the corner bar where we used to sit for hours and waste away the night on cheap pints and shots of gin. It was a reminder that I still worked in a restaurant with a bunch of kids, while her husband worked for the city and took home at least three times my annual income. I hated it all: every shop, every passerby, everything. So I packed up my things and I left.

But despite the way things turned out I was grateful that Veronica’s Aunt Joyce had considered me enough to let me know about the funeral. Unlike Veronica’s mom, I had gotten along with Aunt Joyce fairly well. While Veronica’s mother was of the idea that I was not good enough for her daughter, an idea that I eventually submitted to as well, Aunt Joyce saw me not for my earning capabilities but for the genuine love I had for her niece. I supposed that under her wrinkles and bi-focal glasses she was somewhat of a romantic herself.

Being of Italian decent, family gatherings at Veronica’s were always packed, loud and rarely translated into English, which could be intimidating for the caker boyfriend. But Aunt Joyce always made sure to make me feel included. I can remember showing her the golden heart shaped locket I was planning to give Veronica for our one year anniversary. She held it gently in her palm and smiled, saying, “It’s beautiful, Gary. She’s going to love it.”

As I left my apartment and began the two hour drive back to Windsville I wondered what had happened to that heart-shaped locket. It made sense that after we had broken up she might have kept it in some shoebox full of memories, buried deep somewhere in the depths of her closet. But after I made the decision to cut our ties and withdrew myself from any of our shared social groups, I was certain that the locket would have found a new home at the bottom of a lake or behind the glass at some seedy pawn shop on the end of town. I couldn’t see a reason why Veronica would want to hold on to my memory at all; I couldn’t live up to my responsibilities as a boyfriend and after it was over I was far too selfish and hurt to be anything of a friend to her. In fact, when we finally did stop communicating, I was sure her life had become much simpler and stress free without me in it.

If there was any good that came from all of it, it was that after a few years of drowning in a bottle and swallowing my sorrows I decided to pull myself together. I decided to get up and make a man out of myself. I quit the restaurant industry and became an electrician’s apprentice. I saved up while I completed my apprentice hours and then went to school to get my certification. It was a hard few years. Many nights I came home exhausted, depressed from the day long verbal lashings and dreading the next 4 am alarm. There were many times I just wanted to give up and quit. But I didn’t. What kept me going was the vision of the man I could become. The kind of man who could be a protector and provider for the woman he loves. The kind of man I should have been for Veronica all along… In the back of my head I would imagine showing up at her door one day, out of the blue, and showing her how much I had grown up, how much I had changed. As I drove down the freeway towards Windsville, it occurred to me that I would never get that chance.

A lump formed in my throat and my eyes stung with the salt of building tears. Veronica was gone. I’d never have the chance to tell her that I was sorry I bailed, that it wasn’t her I was running from but me. I didn’t hate her, I hated myself. I wiped my eyes as I started to drift into the exit lane. Suddenly, a loud horn honked behind me and I immediately pulled back into my lane. A white box van sped passed me on the right, yelling profanities from behind his driver side window. In my despair, I had forgotten to check my blind spot. That van would have crushed me. Get a grip, I told myself. You almost just died.

*************************

The sun was beating down on the rows of tombstones in the cemetery, glaring off the brass bars of Veronica’s coffin, which was surrounded by a variety of extravagant bouquets and arrangements. At least thirty people had come to say their goodbyes to Veronica, but most of them I didn’t recognize, nor did they recognize me. That didn’t surprise me though. I was just a forgotten ghost from her old life. All those strangers who were balling into their crinkled tissues probably had a far better idea to the type of girl that had been taken away from this world than I did. They probably had a long index of stories and memories of Veronica that I had been absolutely no part of.  I started to wonder why I had even come at all.

I caught Jeremy, the man she married, glancing at me from across the coffin, trying to put a name to my face. That’s when it became clear to me just how forgotten I had become. Years ago, Jeremy could spot me in a crowd in a second, and cringe at the sound of my name. I was public enemy number one; the ex who still remained a good friend. It had been years since I posed a threat to his happiness. Now he didn’t even know who I was.

After the service, as people took the pathway back towards the parking lot, I stopped by an old oak tree and lit up a smoke. I watched as Veronica’s mother passed. She didn’t recognize me, or at least that is how it appeared. Aunt Joyce walked behind her. She did recognize me and stepped off the path to meet me by the oak tree.

“It’s nice to see you again, Joyce,” I said, blowing my cigarette smoke away from her, up into the blue sky.

“How have you been?” she asked.

I shrugged.

Just then, Veronica’s husband, Jeremy, stopped beside Aunt Joyce and put his hand on her shoulder. “Aunt Joyce, it is good to see you again.”

“How are you, dear?” she asked. “Holding up okay?”

He gave a solemn nod. Then he looked up to me, exchanging another small nod of recognition. I was sure he still had no clue of my identity. His attention turned back to Aunt Joyce. “I thought you should know,” he began. “When the ambulance found Veronica at the accident she was clutching on to that gold, heart shaped locket you gave her for her graduation present. She carried it with her wherever she went. I’m pretty sure that’s what Veronica said it was. A graduation present, am I right?”

“Oh yes, the graduation present, I remember,” said Aunt Joyce, putting a comforting hand on his arm. “Isn’t that touching…”

The golden locket. It wasn’t at the bottom of a lake. My heart broke in an instant, though my expression remained flat and aloof. As Aunt Joyce’s eyes drifted over to mine, it became clear to the both of us…Veronica hadn’t forgotten me.

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fort Knight created a technology that can visualize and record thoughts. Now the courts must decide if our thoughts have the right to privacy.

The Thought Pad Trials

Fort Knight created a technology that can visualize and record thoughts. Now the courts must decide if our thoughts have the right to privacy.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

Outside the tall columns of the Supreme Court gathered a large crowd at the foot of the wide and lengthy set of stairs leading up to the institution. This massive parade of citizens could be split, almost perfectly, into three separate entities. To the left, was a group of rowdy protesters, yielding home-made signs that bore marketed slogans like, “Free Thoughts For All!” and “Stay Out of Our Heads!” And to the right, another group of rowdy protesters protested the protesters on the left. And these protesters waved around their home-made signs that had their slogans written in bold marker. Slogans like, “No Communists!” and “Stop Crime!”

And in the middle, seemingly unaware of the chaos going on at either side of them, were men with slicked hair and square jaws, and women with trim figures in expensive business suits, each holding onto microphones, staring at the man holding a bulky video camera a few feet across from them. These men who held the cameras were dressed far less exquisite than their microphone-wielding counterparts. In fact, if you looked close enough, it wouldn’t be uncommon for you to spot a mustard or coffee stain lurking somewhere on their person.

One of the square jawed, slick haired men was at the moment in the midst of a dramatic revelation, “We are standing outside the Supreme Court, where the controversial trial of Fort Knight vs U.S. is set to begin momentarily. Fort Knight is of course responsible for the revolutionary Thought Pad technology; a brain-computer interface capable of recording thoughts, dreams, and even memories. Fort Knight’s tech has found a home in billion dollar industries, from pharmaceutical to pornography. The world changing tech has turned Josh Higgins, CEO and founder of Fort Knight, into the youngest billionaire on the planet. A year ago, Higgins rise came to a crashing halt when he was arrested for treason after refusing to release the brain map of a Fort Knight client suspected of terrorism…”

Beside him, a tall red head in a slim maroon skirt and jacket was also in the middle of her report, “The days of lavish Hollywood parties, fast cars and supermodel girlfriends must feel like a lifetime ago for Josh Higgins, CEO of Fort Knight, who for the last year has been sitting behind bars in a cold jail cell, waiting. Waiting for this day, his desperate appeal to the Supreme Court to over-turn the conviction…”

And just a few feet from her another newsmen spoke with righteousness passion into the camera pointed at him, “Since the release of the Virtual Girlfriend three years ago divorce rates are at a record high. Some say, the highly sought invention, has ruined the modern relationship. Since Higgins’ arrest last year there has been much controversy over the ethics of brain mapping, as more and more people are deciding to live in their own heads…”

****************

Inside the courtroom it was much quieter than the frenzied circus gathered outside. The public spectators sat in the pews of the gallery, speaking only in soft whispers, while beyond the brass railing, the clerk and the marshal took their positions on opposite sides of the floor and the councils at their desks shot challenging glances back and forth at each other from across the room.

Now out of his orange jumpsuit, Josh Higgins, CEO and founder of Fort Knight, sat slouched in a chair beside his attorney, wearing the collared shirt and slacks that he had been arrested in the year before. His eyes drifted around the courtroom and the gallery with a certain detachment, causing the offense of a wide and robust woman in a sleeveless sundress and a broad-brimmed sun hat who sat in the third row. She twisted her face at the sight of him but Higgins didn’t seem to notice.

Unlike this unaccompanied woman, the couple beside her, an Asian woman and an African man, who looked a healthy, active middle-age, found the site of the fallen and despondent celebrity to be quite humorous. They watched him stare blankly around the courtroom with child-like grins. In fact, it seemed that all the public’s eyes were firmly planted on the CEO, though the individual’s reaction to his presence varied exponentially from person to person.

It wasn’t long before the chamber door opened and out walked the nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court, draped in traditional black gown. They each took their seats at the bench, with Chief Justice Anderton in the center of them. The man of sixty-three adjusted his glasses, which appeared small over his thick and valleyed features, and began to address the council, “We will hear the argument first today for the case of Fort Knight v. U.S. Council, please proceed…”

Devlin Lanchester, the attorney representing the United States Government, stood and approached the podium. Like Chief Justice Anderton, Lanchester had a full head of peppered, almost white hair. But unlike the Chief Justice, Lanchester’s face was smooth and youthful, even now midway through his forties. His cheekbones were defined and strong and his eyes were an icy, pale blue.

The lady in the broad-brimmed sun hat, as well as many other of the older unaccompanied ladies, smiled and blushed uncontrollably at the sight of the handsome attorney, dressed in an Italian made suit. The Asian lady beside her rolled her eyes at the childishness of the lady in the broad-brimmed sun hat, but if her husband had been paying attention, he would have noticed that his wife’s eyes too had wandered, for a only a brief second, before they returned to her partner accompanied by a loving smile and a squeeze on his arm.

“Thank you, your honor,” said Lanchester. “The definition of treason states that whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere is guilty of the crime of treason. Upon Fort Knight’s refusal to provide the thought mapping of Vladimir Balanchuck, a citizen of the United States with ties to a Communist extremist group responsible for a bombing in Times Square that left forty eight people dead and many more injured, he became guilty of the crime of treason.”

Justice Freeman, the eldest of all the Justices, leaned forward and said in a slow, drawn out manner, “Thank you, Council. This new advancement in technology has purposed many questions on the role of thoughts as evidence. But in the ruling of Los Angeles County v. Raymond, it was found that thought-imaging cannot be used for probable cause in arrest, nor is it admissible evidence in court. So I have to ask you, how, even if the government obtained these thought images, would they plan on convicting Vladimir Balanchuck in a court of law?”

Lanchester replied without hesitation, “The case of Los Angeles County v. Raymond is a prudent one, your honor, and I think it is a valid case on why there needs to be a reform in the legislation. After purchasing the Virtual Girlfriend, Raymond’s wife put a hidden camera in the basement to keep an eye on what her husband was doing. She found out he was fantasizing about young girls. It just so happened at that time there had been an abduction of a thirteen year old girl in the area and so she brought it to authorities. Since this evidence was ruled not probable cause for arrest, and a warrant could not be issued, Raymond was allowed to go free. Not even six months later he was arrested for the rape and murder of another fourteen year old girl. However, in the case of Vladimir Balanchuck, a federal warrant was granted under the Patriot Act and under law, the defendant was ordered to surrender the data and thought-mapping regarding said individual. It may be that Vladimir himself is not guilty of any particular crime, but he may have information on those people responsible for the Times Square bombing. ”

In the third row, the large lady in the sun-hat folded her arms on her stomach and gave a hard nod, touching the gold crucifix on her collar that hung off a line chain around her wide neck.

Justice Amanda Letterman spoke next, “I think the real issue here is the question of if Vladimir, an American citizen, with no crime record, has the same 1st Ammendment rights as you or I. And if he does, then why has Mr. Higgins been charged with treason for standing up for those rights?

The inter-racial married couple beside the lady shot her a nasty glance as if to punctuate the female Justice’s statement.

“Let me give you a hypothetical,” Justice Letterman continued. “If I am at the grocery store, and there is a robbery, would it then be okay for the police to go through the minds of everyone in that grocery store in hopes that they might find a clue as to who the robber is? Would we be obligated to give them our memories?”

“No, your honor. They would be protected under the fifth amendment,” Lanchester replied.

“Well, then I fail to see where we draw the line, Council.”

“Yes, your honor,” nodded Lanchester. He rubbed the gold band around his wedding finger as if for luck. “The Patriot Act allowed a warrant for this information to be seized. Unfortunately Fort Knight’s data is kept in offshore, bulletproof servers, which are like Swiss banks for hackers and organized crime. Since access is not obtainable and Mr. Higgins refuses to co-operate, the truth is that, under law, he is guilty of the crime of treason. We can sit here and talk about Mr. Higgins rights and freedoms, but the fact is there is a very evil, very violent threat out there that hates Americans and hates America. People have been killed. We need to find these monsters as soon as we can, before they strike again…and what kind of person would want to protect these terrorists who wish harm on a country that gave him so much?”

An old, wobbly man of blue collar fashion who had been sitting in the front row, shot up and yelled out, “He’s a god damn commy-lover and you should put him to death!”

The crowd gasped and the Chief Justice Anderton banged his gavel off the bench. “Order!” he cried. “Bailiff, remove that man!”

In a moment, the man responsible for the outburst was apprehended and ushered out of the courtroom. As he passed the third row, the large lady in the broad-brimmed sun-hat gave him a comforting nod as a gesture of solidarity, while the Asian lady and her husband shook their heads at the old man in disgust. Those same reactions were mimicked throughout the gallery, some for it, some against it. And the ones that were for it would then shoot nasty glares at those who were against it because the ones who were against it were shooting nasty glares at the ones that were for it.

But when the courtroom double doors closed shut and the man responsible for the outburst was out of sight, the proceedings resumed and the gallery settled down. This time, the attorney representing Fort Knight, Jamie Sandel, approached the podium. She was tall and slender, dressed in a navy blue pant suit and silk white blouse. It was important that her clothes spoke of mature professionalism, as her soft features spoke of inexperience. Her hair sprang off her head in a frizzy mane, making her head appear bigger than it really was and, she liked to think, reminded her contenders that she was a lion in the courtroom and not to be underestimated. And it didn’t hurt that she was not very difficult to look at either.

The single men in the gallery exchanged subtle grins as the female lawyer’s heels clicked towards the podium in a hypnotizing, reverberated succession. Even the Asian woman’s husband in the third row showed a gleam of teenager like lust in his eyes. His wife caught him looking at the woman and threw him a cold, piercing stare. The husband’s eyes sunk like a puppy that had his nose hit with the day’s newspaper for defecating in the house.

“Thank you, Chief Justice, and if it pleases the court…” started Council Sandel. “According to Supreme Court ruling in the 1937 case of Palko v. Connecticut , it was found that without freedom of thought, the first amendment right to freedom of speech is moot, as you can only express what you can think. Constraining or censoring how a person thinks is the most fundamental kind of censorship and is contrary to some of our most cherished Constitutional principles.”

“While this is most certainly true, I think we can say that the situation of Vladimir Balanchuck is a special exception,” stated Justice Morgan, a thin framed Irishman with a high hairline and a small jaw. “The tragedy and lives lost during the attack on Times Square is not an incident that the American people would like to relive. It’s not as if the government is trying to get inside the minds of its own law-abiding citizens or anything like that. Your client could be free tomorrow if he just co-operated with the U.S. government and surrendered the requested data. Do you not see the importance of finding the ones responsible for the Times Square bombings? Do you not feel any responsibility to aid your country?”

“Thank you, your honor,” replied Sandel. “And we do believe that Vladimir Balanchuck has every right to be surveyed and interrogated to the full extent that the Patriot Act allows. But my client stands by his belief, which is in line with court law, that a thought is not real and cannot be counted on as evidence. Even memories rendered from thought-pad technology can be embellished to appear happier than they may have been, or scarier, or more exciting, or more violent than the actual event itself—“

“Let me put out a hypothetical,” Justice Letterman interjected. “If Vladimir posted a status on his Facebook page that said he wished all Americans were dead. Would that be probable cause for arrest?”

“Under the Patriot Act, yes, that could be cause for interrogation, especially given Balanchuck’s social network,” answered Sandel.

“So, what would be the difference of that thought on Facebook and the thoughts recorded from his brain?”

“In that situation of the threatening Facebook post, the subject would have expressed intent to harm. But to think a thought of violence is not the intention of the act. Many people think about harming another person, many people think about harming themselves, or perhaps robbing a bank…but if we held every person accountable for each fleeting thought of irrational behavior, no matter how distasteful or perverse, then we would quickly run out of cells in the prisons and soon there may not be a society left to govern.”

Justice Freeman leaned forward, “Are you saying that if a person were to spend the day pondering ways to murder a co-worker, let’s say, or sexually assault a woman on the train, or kidnapping a child from the park, that this person would not be accountable for such thoughts?”

Council Sandel replied promptly, “If that person were to treat his co-worker fairly, and respect the woman on the train’s human rights and walk passed the park without incident, then yes, that person should be free to think what he may without persecution or judgement.”

Justice Freeman shook his head. “I don’t know if I agree, Council. Someone who thinks these thoughts could be a real danger to society.”

“Thank you, your honor,” responded Sendel. “But you yourself thought of those situations when you referenced them. But I would not say that I should make a judgement on your character because of it.”

Justice Freeman was stunned. Rarely do you see a Supreme Court Justice speechless, but Justice Freeman could not utter a single word. Josh Higgins looked up at his attorney and smiled, impressed. Across the room, Council Lanchester kept a straight face but played nervously with his wedding band.

“Thank you, Council,” said Chief Justice Anderton, breaking the silence. He took off his glasses and looked straight into the eyes of Josh Higgins, commanding his attention. “Mr. Higgins, will you please stand.”

Higgins did as requested and stood up from his seat. He felt the eyes in the gallery burning a hole through his back. Chief Justice Anderton addressed him, “Son, there is no doubt that you are a very, very smart young man. Some would even say you’re a genius. You’re the Tesla of our time. And having had a father who suffered from Alzheimer’s, I do respect the work you’ve done in the field of memory saving. I think it is a fantastic breakthrough. But then there’s another side to you that is not so commendable. The bulletproof servers on which your data is kept, is off shore and shared with criminal hackers, drug dealers, terrorist organizations and other organized crime syndicates. Now, how can you sit here and claim the benefits of American ideals when you share your servers with men who are directly opposed to those same ideals?”

“Your honor, there is a proverb in the ancient teachings of the Tao that states, in regards to governing, when you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy. For example, the prohibition of alcohol gave birth to illegal speakeasies. When you make drugs illegal, you give birth to drug smugglers. When it has been revealed that the NSA is secretly monitoring its civilian citizens, we move our servers offshore. Not because we’re anti-American but because we are pro-American and we take the freedom of thought very seriously. And that is why people trust us with their deepest secrets. Society now and days is so afraid to be kind, so fearful of being vulnerable, scrutinized and picked apart. And with good reason. Censorship is the new witch hunt. Shame is the new religion. Is it any wonder that millions and millions of people would rather live inside their heads? I say, if that’s what they choose, let them. If they want to stay home and have sex with their Virtual Girlfriend, all the power to them. Why live a miserable reality when you could live a happy lie?”

“They’re sinners and perverts!” yelled the large lady in the third row.

The gallery began to whisper and murmur. “Order in the court!” cried Chief Justice Anderton, banging his gavel off the bench.

Higgins turned to the large woman and said loudly, “Sinners and perverts? M’am, I noticed the crucifix around your neck. Did you know that it is against the commandments to covet a married man?”

“Of course I do!” snapped the woman. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Order!” yelled Chief Justice Anderton. The gavel pounded down.

Josh pointed to Council Lanchester across the room. “I saw the way you looked at him when he stood up to fry me, the lust in your eyes! You’re telling me you didn’t see the wedding band on his finger?”

By this time, the gavel pounding against the bench sounded more like a contractor roofing a house. “Order! Mr. Higgins you will stop this outburst right now!”

Josh Higgins eyes remained fixed on the lady, whose face was now bright red under the broad brim of her sun hat. “You saw it. But you looked anyway. You thought about fucking him anyway, didn’t you?”

“Baliff! Arrest Mr. Higgins for contempt of court!” cried Chief Justice Anderton, who was almost perspiring from rage.

“I would never!” gasped the lady in the third row.

“Well, we have the tech to find out!” yelled Higgins as the Bailiff slapped the steel cuffs around his wrists. “I’ll tell you what, why don’t we record your thoughts and then we’ll play it for your whole congregation!”

The lady seemed horrified at the thought.

“You wouldn’t like that would you?” said Higgins, being ushered down the hall. “So why is the privacy of your thoughts any more important than Vladimir Balanchucks? Answer me that!” And then Higgins looked around at the blank eyes in the gallery staring back at him and screamed out, “One day it will be your thoughts they come for! And on that day, I will pity you!” Then his voice broke slightly as a single tear rolled down his cheek. “But you know what?…I’ll pity you even more if they don’t.”

And with that, Josh Higgins disappeared from the courtroom and the double doors came to a close. The Asian lady leaned over and said quietly to the large lady in the broad-brimmed sun hat, “He’s a little out of your league don’t you think?”

The lady turned red all over again. “Don’t you start! I saw you giving him the same look!”

The Asian lady’s husband raised his eyebrows at her, awaiting an explanation from his wife. “Oh, don’t give me that look!” she snapped at him. “I saw you checking out that frizzy haired, white girl lawyer! You pervert!”

The hearing came to a close and pew by pew the spectators exited the gallery. It was less than a month before the nine Justices of the Supreme Court came back with a final ruling on Fort Knight v. U.S., deciding if he was indeed guilty of the crime of treason. But maybe, just this once, the conclusion to the story is best left unrevealed. Maybe, just this once, it would be better to simply pose the question to the reader…what do you think?

The End

While secretly taking ballroom dance lessons to surprise his fiancée at their wedding’s ceremonial first dance, Jordan falls into an adulterous relationship with his dance teacher.

The First Dance

While secretly taking ballroom dance lessons to surprise his fiancée at their wedding’s ceremonial first dance, Jordan falls into an adulterous relationship with his dance teacher.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

I leaned over, pressing my hands against my thighs and exhaling heavily. “I need to quit smoking…”

Dayna sat on the bench, leaning back on the dance studio window, giggling at my exasperation. She put her tiny hand in front of her mouth, in an effort to dilute my embarrassment.  “You’re doing fine,” she assured me. “You’re fiancée is going to be so thrilled when it comes time for the first dance. You’re going to blow her mind.”

I let out a sharp cough and straightened up, saying, “I’m going to blow a lung…”

Dayna picked up her jet black ponytail resting gently over her shoulder and swung it behind her back, getting to her feet and giving me a playful smack against the chest. “You’re doing fine,” she repeated. “You’ve made so much progress in just a few lessons.”

This was true. Somehow, though I could not tell you exactly how, Dayna had managed to teach this old dog some new tricks. I was no longer the worst dancer I knew. My whole life I had been cursed with two left feet. It took about five minutes of dancing in front of the mirror in third grade, for me to realize that. And so, instead of trying to get better, I came up with any excuse I could to avoid things like school dances or nights out at the club; from faking colds, to lying about previous engagements I had to attend, to straight up trying to convincing myself, and those around me, that dancing was a practice strictly for squares, gays, and Melvins.

Now, in my early thirties, I could run from it no longer. I would be on the spot. The idea that there would be a room full of close family and friends all watching my every step, pulling out their phones and recording the entire spectacle, cementing in stone that its reference was forever only a quick scroll away…well, it was enough to induce a frantic panic attack at the mere thought of it. But fear was not something easily discussed with a girl like Shannon, my bride to be. She was perfect, and she expected just the same from me.

And in most aspects of my life, I was perfect. If not perfect, I was damn above average, that’s for sure. I had managed to keep my hockey body, though hadn’t been near a rink in close to a decade. I had a closet full of designer shoes and suits. I whitened my teeth. I drove a Benz. The payments were a little rich for my blood, but I took the hit anyway and bought the thing brand new. You see, Shannon expected a certain standard from the man she chose to be her mate. And who could blame her? She was Barbie doll beautiful. A head turner. An alpha. If I couldn’t be the desired second half to her puzzle, there was about a million jigsaws out there, ready to take my place.

That was the reason for taking the ballroom lessons. When the time came to lead Shannon onto that dance floor, and all the eyes were fixed on us, I wanted to be able to give her a first dance fit for a princess…If I didn’t, there’d be hell to pay.

“Okay, ready?” asked Dayna. She had no problem letting me take a breather here and there, but she was always eager to get back to task. I suppose she didn’t want me to think she was wasting my money.

I nodded. Then she walked over to the stereo on the floor, graceful and rhythmic in her strides, as was her demeanor. She was like a swan. She pressed play on the boom box and immediately the familiar Waltz melody exhumed from the speakers. Her slender figure, wrapped in black leotard, bloomed towards the ceiling. She turned her body and stepped towards me. In my head, I could hear her gentle voice keeping time over the melody, “1,2,3. 1,2,3.”

I took position over the imaginary box at my feet. We had started with the tape strips on the ground in the shape of a square, but surprisingly, I had figured out the succession of steps in the first couple lessons and no longer needed a guide. My left hand stretched out and interlocked with her right, my right hand resting on her left shoulder blade.

“Remember,” she said. “Palm cupped, fingers together.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, cupping my palm and sliding my fingers inward over her back. Her body shivered for just the slightest of seconds.

“Now,” she continued, clearing her throat. “We need to get rid of that slouch.”

I straightened up my neck, consciously adjusting to the correct posture. As I did so, our eyes met. For a second, I was not able to look right at her, and my eyes darted quickly to the left. I scolded myself for my cowardice and quickly turned my gaze back to her. It was not because my eyes didn’t want to look at the young woman in front of me; in fact, it was quite the opposite. I was actually very taken by her. Her features were more subtle, her make-up less dramatic than most, but her beauty was present in a classical sense. It was simple and honest. Dayna seemed like the kind of girl you dream about as a boy, in grade school, when the idea of true love is first instilled in your mind, before the harsh realities of life came crushing down on you.

And on that night in particular, it had been notably hard to hold her gaze. I felt as if she would take one glance into my quivering eyes and immediately know of the very private dream that had played out in the depths of my unconscious as I slept next to my fiancée the previous evening. Granted, having a familiar person appear in one’s dream is usually nothing to get worked up about, or even something worth remembering. But this dream was different. This dream…I could not forget.

We were high above the clouds, weightless and free of the constructs of gravity. Below us was the most magnificent of sunsets, surrounding us in a blanket of soft oranges and reds for as far as the eye could see. A choir of trumpets and strings played a familiar melody all around us. We stared into each other’s eyes without a wisp of hesitation, our souls every bit as interlocked as our bodies. Her hair blows carelessly behind her. Her face tilts, only slightly, and draws close to mine. Our eyes close and our lips touch. But I can see every moment, from every angle, as if watching on the silver screen.  The sleeve of her dress, red as blood, falls loosely over the length of her arm, exposing the top of her breast. Her skin, like caramel, calls for me, screams for me…I cannot deny its siren song. I kiss softly on her chin, down her neck. Her head bends backwards, welcoming me in. Her hips press tight against mine. She dips back, deeper. And then…

Then I wake up in my bed, the rod between my legs pulsing upwards, against thin cotton sheets.

It was Shannon who received the benefits of my primal desire that morning, but it was Dayna who deserved the credit for my enthusiasm and stamina. As I climaxed, I closed my eyes and Dayna’s face and body appeared once again. I sunk back down on my pillow and, as Shannon nestled close and rested her head on my chest, Dayna’s specter evaporated into the ether.

It was this flash of recollection of the previous night’s occurrence that broke my concentration from my current reality, causing me to lose timing and foolishly step on Dayna’s toes. She yelped and let go of me. Out of reflex, my head looked downwards to assess the damages I had just inflicted on my poor teacher. Unfortunately, her instinctual reaction was to do the same, and our heads smashed together with a dizzying clunk.  It sent us both back a few steps, disheveled.

“I’m such an idiot,” I muttered, condemning myself. “Are you okay?”

Despite her obvious pain, she flashed a forgiving smile. “It’s fine…I think I might need to sit down for a second tough.”

And so she did. I followed her to the bench by the window and took a seat next to her, unsure of how to help and kicking myself for my clumsy idiocy. She removed her hand from the crown of her head and looked up to me, concerned. “Can you feel if there’s a bump?” she asked.

I inched closer to her as she lent into me, lowering her head for my inspection. I gently ran my fingers over her scalp, my heart sinking as I felt the swollen elevation. “A little,” I winced. “God, I’m such a twit.”

Suddenly, she broke out into a sharp laugh, even snorting for a slight second before she caught herself and once again put her small hand over her mouth to stop herself. Her head raised and her ponytail fell to the side. Once again we were eye to eye. “Twit?” she mimicked. “Who says twit?”

My shoulders dropped and I relaxed a little. “Well, I was going to say cunt,” I said. “But I wasn’t sure how you would take it.”

She laughed again, seemingly coming out of the physical anguish to which I had just put her through. She slapped a hand down on my thigh. “You’re funny, you know that?”

I looked up from my feet, back to her. Her gaze remained on me, still. Without a word. Without a blink.

Then, void of meditation, as if I were being pulled by some sort of cosmic force greater than you or I, I leaned in and drew my lips to Dayna’s…

***********************

When I walked into the condo, Shannon was still in her office wear, sitting crossed-legged on the couch and resting a glass of red wine elegantly on her knee. But the television was off and she was sitting in silence, which was odd to see. She always had to be talking, or moving, or cleaning, or fidgeting. But that day she sat perfectly still and calm, watching me close as I stepped into the apartment.

The smell of Dayna’s perfume on my collar, a scent that had been a pleasant afterthought on the drive home, now made me sick with worry.

Shannon placed the glass of wine gently on the coffee table and once again leaned back on the couch, running manicured fingers through her platinum highlights. “I came to see you at the office today,” she said, finally. The words stabbed me in the gut like a shiv. “I saw you leaving as I pulled in,” she continued. “So I followed you…”

Though my face remained stiff as stone, the wind had been knocked out of me and my heart beat faster and even faster yet. I had been caught. And still, in that moment of vulnerability, I felt little remorse for my actions. When I was inside Danya, rolling about on the hard dance studio floor, I felt more alive than I had in years. Maybe my father was right…maybe Shannon wasn’t the girl for me.

Shannon got up from the couch, readjusting the silk blouse tucked in the high waistline of her skirt. “I saw everything, Jordan,” she said. “I can’t even believe it…”

Meaningless words dripped from my lips. “Babe…I’m sorry…It was a mistake…”

But that was a lie, and I knew it.

“Well, yeah, it was,” she stated firmly. “But still…I’m impressed.”

Suddenly, the spinning room stopped dead. Even my heart seemed to stop its pounding, so my ears could make sense of what had just been said without distraction. “Impressed?” I uttered.

A thin smile curved upward on her face. “Taking ballroom dance lessons for the wedding? That’s so…romantic!”

I let out a concealed sigh of relief. She hadn’t seen everything.

Her heels clacked on the hardwood panels as she headed towards the bathroom. “Take as many lessons as you want, babe,” she teased. “Because you need lots of help.” She laughed to herself as the bathroom door shut behind her.

As I heard the running water of the shower, I knew I was safe. I dropped onto the couch and took a sip of wine from Shannon’s lipstick stained glass. I leaned back, relaxed, and closed my eyes, only to find myself high above the clouds, with a magnificent sunset below me, radiating the most vibrant oranges and reds for as far as the eye could see. A choir of trumpets and strings played a familiar melody as Dayna’s voice whispered softly in my ear, “1,2,3. 1,2,3…”

The End

crime drama, parody, short stories, law and order, csi, victim squad

Victim Squad

If you like Law and Order: SVU or CSI, then you can’t miss the hard-hitting Victim Squad!

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

268 Glenn Street

March 4, 2018 9am

Detective Richards converged on the scene, parting his way through the crowd of concerned neighbors gathered on the usually quiet suburban street. He avoided their peering, suspicious eyes with the humble understanding that men of color, especially those with authority, were not something the simple people of Laketon were used to seeing. Glares of distrust were something the lead detective had gotten used to in his time at the academy. It only made him work harder, to set himself above the stereotypes and prove himself a respectable man of the law.

His broad shoulders dipped beneath the long strip of yellow police tape, separating the residents of Glenn Street from the crime scene. He spotted the new kid on the squad, Detective Denslin, by the front walkway, talking to one of the uniforms, and walked across the lawn to meet his partner. “What’d ya got for me, rook?” he asked.

The young detective brushed his highlighted bangs from his brow and looked down at the note pad in his hands. He took a moment to adjust the chain around his neck that held his newfound badge to the elite crime force known as the Victim Squad. “The neighbor across the street called it in,” said Denslin. “She said she was out watering the grass around nine, and heard screaming. Then she saw the unsub take off down the street on a red BMX. A few of the other neighbors reported seeing someone riding on a BMX as well.” The new detective led his superior up the walkway and put his hand around the knob to the front door of the three-bedroom, semi-detached home. “I warn you…” he said with caution. “It’s not pretty.”

The two detectives stepped into the front hallway of the home to see a few more uniforms and the crime scene photographer huddled over the body of the victim. The corpse laid bottom up, his face wading in a pool of blood and his throat ruptured open. His pants were pulled down around his knees and something had been jammed into his rectum. Detective Richards knew right away what he was looking at…but he wished to god he hadn’t.

“The victim is Carl Maxwell,” briefed Detective Denslin. “The uniform that responded to the call found him in a pool of blood. His penis had been severed and inserted into the anus…Like I said, it isn’t pretty.”

Detective Richards shook his head. “No, rook. My ex-wife isn’t pretty. This is downright ugly.”

Victim Squad Headquarters

March 4, 2018   11am

“What’d you find?” asked Lieutenant Fox, leaning back on the corner of a desk and awaiting the response from her lead detective, Detective Richards. Her voice was nurturing, and yet firm and commanding. In her twenty years with the squad, she had learned that a female agent must be as soft as her silk blouse, but as sharp as her heels.

Detective Richards stood up from his desk, surrounded by his team. You would think by the bland, florescent lights, rows of desks, and the file cabinets lined up against the wall, that the Victim Squad’s day to day hovered on the mundane, if not boring…but you would be greatly mistaken.

“We have an eye witness statement that puts our unsub fleeing the scene on a red BMX,” announced the detective. “No signs of forced entry, meaning the victim most likely knew the suspect.”

“We talked to the victim’s parents,” added the young Detective Denslin, brushing his highlighted bangs from his brow. “They insist that we follow up with a man by the name of Ted McNally. Apparently, Chad and Todd got into a heated argument at the gym they frequent. The victim told his parents about it, which they found odd. Chad liked to keep to himself. He read a lot of books.”

Detective Cheryl Mable, the new transfer from the south, let out a heavy, longing sigh. “I love me a book worm…”

Lieutenant Fox turned her gaze on the blushing detective. “Well, this book-worm just became worm-food. We need to find this killer before anyone else’s dicks end up in their asses…Detective Mable, rook; I want you to go back to the gym and find out what you can about this Ted, the victim was having problems with…”

58 Ninth Road

March 4,2018  1pm

After a short visit to the local Fit Bodies, Detective Mable and Detective Denslin ascertained the address of Ted McNally and converged on the scene. After knocking on the front door and waiting without a response, they decided to check around the property. When they got to the side of the house, Detective Mable gave her partner a nudge and pointed to a red BMX leaning against the side of the brick house. “I reckon this Ted fella is going to have some explaining to do,” she noted.

The rookie stopped and scratched the shag at the back of his head. “Seems kind of odd, doesn’t it?” he said. “If this was your getaway ride in a vicious murder, would you just leave it for everyone to see?”

Mable’s eyes darted to the front of the house and she gave her partner another nudge. “Why don’t we ask him?”

Detective Denslin followed her attention to the front of the house, to see a man that fit the tall, dark and handsome description of Ted McNally, dressed in a red windbreaker suit, walking up the driveway towards the home. He looked up from his sneakers and noticed the two detectives in the alleyway. Then, he looked down the street. In just a spit second, he took off, running down the street as fast as his gazelle-like legs could carry him.

The two detectives looked at each other.

Detective Mable sighed. “I really didn’t want to run today.”

Detective Denslin flashed a devilish grin. “Come on. I’ll race ya.”

“I never could turn down a challenge,” she said.

And with that, the two officers took off on foot after the suspect. He was fast, almost too fast, even. But thankfully for Detective Mable and Detective Denslin, the suspect turned into an alleyway between the suburban residents in an attempt to jump a fence into the backyard and was faced with an obstacle to which he could not overcome. As fit as he was, he was not expecting a wild and snarling pit bull to be patrolling the grounds of that particular property, and when the vicious beast came barrelling towards the fence upon the suspects arrival, even as the peak physical specimen he was, he had no choice but to abandon his getaway plan. By the time he hopped down from the fence on which he was perched, the Victim Squad had already converged on the scene.

The detectives drew their issued firearms, while Detective Denslin flashed the badge hanging from a chain around his neck, and announced them. “Victim Squad!” he yelled. “Freeze!”

The suspect, breathing heavy, put his hands up in forfeit. “Don’t shoot me, please!” he huffed.

Detective Mable unlatched her handcuffs from her belt and apprehended the suspect. She gave them an especially hard tightening. “Yeah, well, for making us run after you, I shoulda…”

As she escorted the suspect towards the unmarked car up the street, while trying to keep the blonde strands of hair from her face, she turned to the rookie and said, “By the way, lil’ buck. We don’t say freeze anymore…”

Victim Squad Headquarters

Interrogation Room #4

March 4, 2018 3:30 pm

“Whatever you guys think I did, you got the wrong guy!” pleaded Tom McNally, sitting in a chair across the table from Detective Denslin and Detective Mable.

Detective Denslin leaned back in his seat and folded his arms. “So, why did you run then? And don’t tell me it was cardio day.”

“I didn’t know you guys were cops,” answered the suspect. “All I saw were two people creeping around my house and I bolted.”

Detective Mable took a sip of coffee from her Styrofoam cup. “You must have a lot of enemies, if seeing two people by your house made you that paranoid…What about Chad Maxwell? Was he an enemy of yours?”

Ted McNally’s eyes opened wide. “That’s why I was nervous!” he explained. “We got into an argument at the gym the other day and he threatened me. That guy is a real weird-o, you know that? He sits at the leg machine and reads horror novels! Who knows what’s going on in that creeps mind…” Then he paused, calculating. “Wait…Is that what this is about? Creepy Carl?”

Detective Denslin opened up the file folder sitting on the table in front of him and took out one of the crime scene photos, sliding it across the table to McNally. “It seemed Carl’s life turned into its own horror movie.”

Ted McNally peered at the photo and cringed, covering his mouth as if he were about to be sick. “Ugh…god…What’s…what’s that thing coming out his butt?”

“His penis,” answered Detective Mable. “So maybe you should tell us what it is you two were arguing about.”

Ted McNally slid the picture back over to the detectives, unable to look at it any longer. “Over some girl he was crushing on at our gym. He thought I was trying to make a move on her…which I wasn’t. She was way old. But every time she came to talk to me, Carl would lose it. So I told him to get lost. But I didn’t kill the guy!”

“What’s this woman’s name?” asked Detective Denslin.

Ted McNally let out a soft, assured chuckle. “I don’t know the name of every girl who flirts with me. Now am I under arrest, or can I go home?”

“Cool your jets, sparky,” said Detective Mable. “So then, where were you last night?”

“I was sleeping,” he replied, coldly.

“That’s a pretty weak alibi,” returned the detective from the south. “You’re telling me that a young guy like you, handsome and fit, probably a hit with the ladies, probably a nice throbbing trouser-snake in those track pants, was in bed sleeping by nine pm on a Sunday? You think a jury will believe that?”

“It’s no secret that Sunday is Funday,” added Detective Denslin. “Everybody knows that.”

“Yes. I’m sure,” the suspect answered. By now, the young man was void of any and all courtesy. “I go for a four in the morning run every Monday. The whole street knows that. Go ahead and ask them.”

“Oh, don’t you worry, playboy,” said Detective Mable. “We will.”

“Tell us about the red BMX bike we found at the side of your house,” said Detective Denslin, throwing the lack of courtesy back in the suspect’s face. “Multiple witnesses said they saw the killer flee the scene on a bike just like it.”

Ted McNally didn’t flinch. “So what? The bike’s been sitting at the side of my house for years. I don’t lock it. The neighborhood kids use it sometimes. You think a ride a bike at my age? What am I?  A loser?”

Meanwhile, in the next room over, Detective Richards and the Lieutenant stood watching the interview through the one way mirror.

“What’d you think?” Lieutenant Fox asked her lead detective.

“As a black man, I’ve seen a lot of things,” said Detective Richards. “From growing up in the projects, trying not to get caught up in drugs and gangs, to fighting to gain respect from my unit, despite my color…I’ve learned to trust my gut. And my gut tells me that this isn’t the guy we’re looking for. I think we should visit this girl the two men were fighting over. It might open things up.”

“Couldn’t hurt,” said the Lieutenant. “Get the rook back to re-interview the eye witness that saw the perp take off on the bike. See if she can narrow down the description. If the neighborhood kids have been using that red BMX, our list of suspects has just increased immensely. Let’s trim it down…before the killer trims another penis.”

266 Glenn Street

March 4, 2018 8:45 pm 

Detective Denslin knocked on the door to the house and stepped back onto the paved walkway. The solar lanterns following the pathway up to the front door had started to flicker light and turn, now that the sun was all but beneath the horizon. Dusk was a peaceful time on suburban streets like Glenn Street. The lights were now on inside the homes, the SUV’s were now parked in the front drives for the night, and families were gathered around dinner tables and television sets, enjoying the warm comforts of their residents. Must be nice, thought Detective Denslin, as he buried his face into the collar of his leather jacket in an attempt to block the chilly breeze sweeping through the neighborhood.

The front light switched on and a moment later, the door opened, answered by a slender man, still dressed in slacks and a pressed button-up. His hairline had started to thin, retreating to higher ground. His eyes were heavy and dreary. “May I help you?” he asked, looking the detective over with some confusion as to why the young man was standing at his door.

Detective Denslin unzipped his leather jacket and flashed the badge hanging around his neck. “Detective Pat Denslin of the Victim Squad,” he announced. “Sorry to be bothering you so late, but I took a statement from your wife earlier today about the murder that took place across the street. I was hoping to get a few more words with her, if I could.”

The slender man nodded in an attempt to convey empathy and motioned for the detective to come inside to the front hallway. “My wife told me what happened,” he said, closing the door behind them. “How horrible…I’ve been at my office late all week. Tax season is killing me. But this whole ordeal has me concerned for the safety of my wife when I’m at the office late. It’s a shame about that young man…He was quiet and kept to himself…but always very polite to me.” He walked to the foot of a winding staircase and called up to his wife, Judy.

In a moment, Judy peeked over the railing and saw the detective she had spoken to earlier, looking back up at her. She smiled and started down the stairs, petting the jet black bob on her head with care. Her bangs came down low on her brow, just above her eyes. She brushed them from her face to greet the detective with a warm smile and a handshake. “Hello, again, detective…Denslin, was it? I was just about to hop in the shower. Is everything alright?”

“Sorry to bother you at such a late hour, Mrs. Davis,” said Denslin. “There’s been some new advances in the case and I was hoping that maybe you could help us a bit more with the description of the unsub that rode off on the BMX.”

She nodded, understandingly. “I’m not too sure what else I can tell you,” she said. “He was wearing track pants and a hoodie and rode a red BMX bike.”

“What about his face?” asked Denslin. “Is there any features you remember? Could it be possible that this was a kid? A minor?”

She shook her head vigorously. “No, definitely not. He was a man, in his thirties, I would say. He was a real pretty boy, if you know the type.”

Detective Denslin reached into the breast pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out one of his cards. He handed it to Mrs. Davis. “Okay, thank you. If you remember anything else, please don’t hesitate to give me a call…”

Mr. Davis put a gentle hand on Detective Denslin’s shoulder and motioned him to the door. “I’ll walk you out,” he said kindly.

As the two men walked down the paved walkway of the front yard, Detective Denslin’s phone began to vibrate in his pocket. He took it out and check the screen. It was Detective Richards. He turned to Mr. Davis and smiled politely. “I have to take this,” he said, stepping off the pathway, onto the lawn. He answered the call and put the phone to his ear. “What’s up?”

“Just got some new info, rook,” said Detective Richards. “We just came from the gym and found out that the girl these two guys were fighting over was Judy Davis. The same Judy Davis that lives across the street from the victim. The same one you interviewed this morning.”

Suddenly there was a loud, crisp PSST!  from behind the detective, and in just a moment he was struck in the back of the neck with a quick, high pressure stream of water. Before he knew it, he was struck with another stream, then another. The spray seemed to be coming from all around him. “I’ll call you back!” he yelled into the phone before shoving it back into his jacket pocket and raising his arm to block his face from the systematic shots of water.

He turned around and noticed thin black cylinders, which had not been there a moment before, poking up from blades of grass on the plush front lawn and ejaculating a high pressured mist over the span of the front yard. Quickly, he ran back to Mr. Davis, who stood bone dry on the walkway and looked very amused at the soaking wet detective.

“Those come on every night?” asked Denslin, wiping his face dry with his palm.

Mr. Davis grinned. “Like clockwork.”

Reacting, Detective Denslin withdrew his firearm and started back up the pathway towards the house. Mr. Davis hurried after him. “Where are you going?” he asked.

“Mr. Davis, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take your wife in for questioning!” the detective yelled back.

“For what?” asked Mr. Davis.

“For murder,” answered the detective.

Victim Squad Headquarters

Interview Room #4

March 5, 2018  9am

“Why didn’t you tell us that you knew the victim?” asked Detective Richards, leaning on the desk over Judy Davis, who, at the moment, was looking much less presentable than she had the night before. The concrete slab she had slept on in the Victim Squad holding cell was anything but comfortable. Her neatly trimmed bob cut was now tangled in a mess, with renegade strands of black hair sticking out every which way, and her maroon sweater was now creased and wrinkled from being used as a makeshift pillow all night. Bags of exhaustion hung low under her eyes as she turned to her public defender for council. The thin bald man, dressed in a mustard suit, gave her a nod, encouraging her to answer.

She turned back to the detectives saying, “Yes. I know him. He’s my neighbor. Of course we know each other.” Her tone was slow and impatient.

“But he was more than that, wasn’t he?” Detective Denslin purposed. He leaned back in his seat and folded his arms. “You guys were gym buddies. The clerk at the counter said he would see you two leaving together on several occasions.”

“How about it?” said Detective Richards, looking her deep in her eyes. “Were you two having an affair?”

She cringed. “Ew! No! Never!”

“What about Ted McNally?” asked Denslin. “The camera footage shows you two getting pretty close by the water fountain.”

She scowled. “Ted is a jerk. Just like the rest of those pretty boys. Those two were always fighting over me. If you should be questioning anyone, you should question Ted. Him and Chad didn’t get along at all.”

“We tried that theory,” said Detective Richards. “But we came up with another one. In your statement you said you came outside at around nine to water the front lawn, when you heard screaming.”

Detective Denslin leaned in closer to Mrs. Davis. “But you have automatic sprinklers.”

“So here’s what we think happened,” continued Detective Richards. “You and the victim were having an affair. When you started to flirt with Ted McNally, the victim became jealous and threatened to tell your husband about your extra-marital activities. You couldn’t bear to be outed by such a horror-novel-reading geek and so on the evening of March 3rd, while your husband was working late at the office, you dressed up in track pants and a hoodie and paid Chad Maxwell a visit.”

Her hair fell over her face as she looked down to her lap and whispered, “No…”

Detective Denslin continued. “He let you in. That is why there was no sign of forced entry. You entered the house and slit his throat right there in the front hallway. Then, you pulled down his pants and severed his penis, inserting it into the victim’s rectum. Then, you took off on the red BMX you had stolen from the side of Ted McNally’s house, so you could pin the crime on him.

Mrs. Davis continued to look down at her lap. The public defender spoke for her. “This is ridiculous!” he exclaimed. “These are just wild accusations with no concrete evidence!”

Detective Denslin looked to Mrs. Davis and said, “We took the bike to the crime lab and they found a jet black hair on the handle bars. If you’re innocent, then provide us with a DNA swab to prove the hair didn’t belong to you.”

Suddenly, Mrs. Davis started to sob uncontrollably. Seconds passed and then, she lifted up her head and looked up to the rookie detective. “I couldn’t let that dweeb ruin my marriage…” she uttered.

The public defender sunk in his seat.

Mrs. Davis went on, “We had sex once and he became obsessed with me. I tried to flirt with Ted to show Chad I wasn’t into him, but that just made him angry. He threatened to tell my husband. I couldn’t let twenty years of marriage come to an end because of a stupid, childish mistake…I had to do something.”

She buried her face in her hands and cried, until the cold steel of handcuffs clamped tightly around her wrists. “Judy Davis,” started Detective Richards. “You are under arrest for the murder of Carl Maxwell. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, can and will be used against you in the court of law…”

Donelly’s Pub

March 5, 2018 8pm

The Victim Squad converged to their regular back booth in the dim lit pub, unwinding from the conclusion of another case. Lieutenant Fox raised her wine glass of Merlot to toast her team, “To another case in the books, and a job well done.”

The team raised their glasses and took a drink.

“It’s tough, you know,” said Detective Mable, running her thumb back and forth slowly on the neck of her bottle of Budweiser while she thought out loud.  “Women have made so many strides on becoming strong as a unit. We’ve worked so hard to set ourselves a part from the cruel nature of men. Then, a girl like this comes along and starts chopping off penises and shoving them in behinds. It kind of makes me think that maybe men and women aren’t so different after all.”

Detective Richards took a sip from his pint of stout and rested his glass on the coaster in front of him. “There’s going to be some bad apples in every demographic. The important thing is to not let those bad apples spoil your view on the whole bunch.”

“Yeah,” agreed the Lieutenant. “The fact is, there are bad people everywhere. It’s our job to sort out the bad ones from the good.”

“Yeah,” added Detective Denslin. “And we didn’t even find a hair on that bike. I just lied about it.”

The team all shared a hearty laugh.

“Lying about evidence to force a confession,” chuckled Lieutenant Fox. “Classic…”

“Sounds like my ex-wife…” said Detective Richards.

“I reckon you’re going to fit right in, rook,” said Detective Mable.

 

The End.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

roundfirelegends, short fiction, short thrillers

Breaking Up with Bobby

A tale about a girl who plans to break up with her boyfriend…but fears the consequences of his temper.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

He used to tell me that he’d die for me. And like the naïve freshman I was, I believed him. I thought we would be together forever. I mean, when we first started dating, he wouldn’t go anywhere without me. Recently it seemed he wouldn’t let me go anywhere without him. I couldn’t even say hello to another guy without inciting some sort of heated argument. I couldn’t remember the last time we were just…happy. As the engine to Bobby’s Jetta puttered into silence, I reminded myself of this. I coached myself to stay strong and focused on what I had come there to do.

Bobby took the keys out of the ignition and turned on the radio. We relaxed and looked out across the endless night sky of Mary’s Bluff. I couldn’t tell you why I chose our old make out spot to break up with him. Maybe I wanted it to end in the place it all began. So I could remind him of how it used to be. It didn’t help that the radio was playing our song. Ed Sheeran’s voice used to give me goosebumps when I was there in the Jetta with Bobby. Not anymore. I reached over and turn the dial on the stations.

Bobby was caught off guard. “I thought you loved that song?”

I shrugged. “It’s played out.”

He just nodded and went back to looking out onto the bluff. Shouldn’t that have hurt him? That I didn’t even want to listen to our song anymore? Well, it didn’t. We sat there in silence while the news played over his radio.

“The police are still on the hunt for what the papers have been calling, ‘The Rain City Rapist’. Last week marked a third victim in this string of assaults that have left the town’s residents afraid to leave their homes at night. The suspect is believed to be five foot ten inches and of a trim build. He is believed to be armed and dangerous. Do not approach if seen. Call police immediately.”

Bobby switched off the radio. “Enough of that shit…” he muttered.

The car was quiet now. A part of me wondered if Bobby might be the rapist. The description they gave fit him. And whenever people talked about it, he would change the subject right away. And there had been days where, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get a hold of him. I laughed off the thought for how crazy it sounded…but still. When Bobby went off the handle, he was a completely different person. It was scary.

“So, why are we here?” he asked. He leaned back against the driver side window, looking back at me.

My heart beat faster. “We need to talk, Bobby…”

He laughed. “We couldn’t do that at Brett’s house? Johnny and Brett are watching the game. We can still make it before half, if we leave now.”

I shook my head and looked down at my hands interlocked on my lap. “No…Bobby, I want to break up.”

I couldn’t bear to look back up at him, but in the corner of my eye I could see him staring back at me. He chuckled softly. “Fuck off,” he said. “You’re losing it.”

“I’m serious,” I stated. I was firm in my tone. “I think we’ve run our course.”

He pushed off the window and sat upright in his seat, slouched over and staring at the steering wheel. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” he said under his breath. My eyes drifted to his hands on his lap. They shook for only a moment before they clenched into fists.

I trembled. Why did you pick such an isolated spot for this? I yelled at myself in my head. There wasn’t anyone around for more than a hundred yards each way. And right in front of us was the edge of a rocky cliff, a hundred feet above the crashing shores of the Pacific Ocean.

“Is it another guy?” he asked. His voice had gotten louder, accusatory.

“No, Bobby. I—“

“Don’t lie to me!” he shouted. He punched the steering wheel and the whole car shook.

“Bobby, please—“

He punched the steering wheel again. This time the horn went off. “I swear to fucking god, Jenny! If it’s another guy, I’ll—“

I clicked open the passenger door and got out of the car. The chill of the night hit my skin and I shivered. I looked all around for someone I could flag down…but there was no one. That’s when Bobby got out of the car and started towards me.

“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” he shouted. The wind carried his voice off into the sky.

I stepped backwards toward the edge of the cliff. “Don’t hurt me, Bobby!” I screamed. “I’m sorry, okay? Just don’t hurt me!”

He stomped through the weeds and sand. I watched his fists, clenched and shaking. I stepped back again, but he grabbed me by the arm and squeezed. “Look at me,” he said. But I couldn’t. My eyes were shut and my head was turned away from him. He gave me a shake. “Look at me!” he yelled. I sobbed and turned my head slowly, peeking open one eye, then another. He stared back at me, breathing heavy through his nose. Then, slowly, like I was dumb, he said, “Get in the fucking car…now.”

***********************

Twenty minutes had passed on the dashboard clock while we sat inside his Jetta, both staring out our own individual windows. I was afraid to say anything out of fear he would explode and turn his fists on me. He never had hit me before. But he had definitely lost it a few times and that wasn’t something I wanted to happen out on this deserted bluff.

Finally, after muttering obscenities under his breath for almost a half-hour, he turned to me and said, “What is it then, Jen? Why don’t you want to be with me anymore?”

By this point, I couldn’t take it anymore and broke. A cool stream of tears ran down my warm cheeks as I whispered, “You’re not you anymore.”

Just then I could hear footsteps stomping heavily towards the driver side door. I let out a sweeping breath of relief. Someone had heard him yelling. Someone had come to save me…

Bobby’s door swung open and an arm, wearing black gloves and a black long sleeve shirt, reached into the car and grabbed Bobby by the shirt, dragging him out of the car and onto the dirt road. Bobby was stunned at first, then started to scramble to his feet. That’s when the stranger pulled out something shiny from his waistband and clubbed Bobby across the face with it. I heard a heavy clunk and Bobby dropped back to the floor like a ragdoll. A heavy worry fell over me that this stranger may not have been the hero I thought him to be.

I wiped the tears from my eyes so I could see. The figure in black approached the car; Bobby lay out on the ground behind him. I could hear a tiny voice in the back of my head saying, “Get up, Bobby! Get up!” The roof of the Jetta gave a low thump as the man in black smacked his hand down and leaned over, looking into the car, at me. It was the first time I got a good look at him. I gasped at the sight of the wool ski-mask pulled over his face. His blue eyes watched me from inside the mask while I sat frozen in my seat, huddled against the passenger door. The voice inside my head said, “Run. Run now.”

Once again, I clicked open my door and ran out into the night. I made a break towards Main Street in the distance. I could see a red pick-up truck about to make a turn on the road into town. I screamed for help while I waved my hands in the air frantically. But the truck drove off up the road and out of sight. That’s when I felt the cheap fibers of his dollar store gloves cover my mouth, while his other arm wrapped around my waist, pulling me tight against his body. My feet kicked wildly as I tried to break free of his grasp…but his hold on me was too strong.

“Shut the fuck up,” he growled. “I have a gun.”

He threw me down on the ground beside the car and pulled out a chrome revolver from his waistband. Then he got on top of me and pressed the nose of the gun hard against my forehead. I closed my eyes and cried while his free hand ran back and forth on my chest, pressing and squeezing. I could hear heavy pants from under his ski mask. His hand ran down my stomach and grabbed at my crotch, rubbing against my zipper. The pants got quicker. Then, I heard, “Hey, fuck-face!”

My eyes flicked open, seeing Bobby standing over my attacker, his shirt stained with dirt and blood. With a kick to the jaw from Bobby’s boots, the attacker rolled off me and the revolver dropped out of his hands, just under the fender of Bobby’s Jetta. Bobby dropped to his knees and started throwing down fists to the attacker’s face. Then Bobby screamed out in agony and jumped to his feet, holding his side. “You fuck!” he screamed. “You stabbed me!”

The attacker remained silent and scrambled to his feet. I saw the blood stained switch-blade gripped tight in his hand. Bobby let go of his side and I watched the bloodstain bloom under his shirt. He looked at me for just a moment before his attention went back to the attacker who had made his way to the front of the car and was bending over to pick up the revolver. Just as his glove wrapped around the gun’s handle, Bobby lifted his leg and threw a hard kick into the attacker’s backside. The hit sent the attacker face first into the dirt like he had been a baseball player sliding into home plate.

That’s right, I thought. No one messes with my boyfriend.

That’s when the attacker flipped over on his back and pointed the gun at Bobby. A flash of light and a deafening bang followed. Bobby stumbled back, gripping his stomach. The attacker shot again. Another flash and bang followed. Bobby dropped to the ground hard; a plume of dirt rising up from under him.

I saw the switchblade lying in the dirt, reflecting the shine of the moonlight above us. As the attacker got back to his feet, I scrambled to mine and darted to the knife on the ground. As soon as it was in my hand, I leaped onto the attackers back and wrapped my legs tight around his torso.  I hammered the blade into his neck, over and over. I closed my eyes and didn’t stop for one single second. The attacker fell to his knees. Then into the dirt. I kept stabbing. I didn’t stop until he had completely stopped moving. And even then, I jabbed the blade into him some more. When he had been motionless for some time, I sighed heavily and got to my feet. The night was quiet once again. I could hear the crickets chirp. My breath steamed slowly up to the starry sky. I looked down at my crimson stained arm, holding the switchblade tight. My palm opened and the knife dropped into a patch of weeds beside my sneakers.

I ran to Bobby and knelt down beside him. He was losing a lot of blood and the color had flushed from his face. I squeezed his hand and told him that everything was going to be okay. And then, just before he died, he told me that he loved me. I sat there with him in the dirt until the police arrived.

*******************

As I sat in the back of the ambulance with a blanket wrapped around me, I was approached by one of the officers on the scene. “You holding up, okay?” she asked.

I nodded.

“We’re going to get you to the hospital and get you cleaned up. Just sit tight.”

I nodded, my eyes looking down at my lap. Then she asked if Bobby had been my boyfriend. I told her he had.

“He must have really loved you,” she said. “Most guys might have just ran.”

I looked up at her and wiped the tears from my face. “Not Bobby,” I said. “Bobby was a good guy.”

 

The End.

tragically hip, gord downie, probation, bar fights, love story, never kissed a girl, short stories, roundfire legends

Never Kissed A Girl

After fourteen years in prison, serving a sentence for manslaughter, Louis goes back home to his old town to start again. But can he readapt to life on the outside?

 Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

Watching Louis walk out those penitentiary gates was a fucking trip. If it wasn’t for those gleaming blue eyes beaming back at me, I swear I wouldn’t have even known it was him. He was practically unrecognizable. Maybe it was the lack of smile that did it. Though he had been gone for fourteen years, I still remembered that famous Louis smile between his chubby, blushed cheeks. But that was all gone now; the smile, the cheeks—all of it. He had become a man in that place. Those blue eyes remained fixed on me as he slowly cruised towards my red civic. His stare was cold, calm, and, I have to say…a little fucking frightening.

When Louis went away all those years ago, it was the biggest news our small town had ever seen. I don’t think I had ever seen a reporter in Streetsville in my entire life before that day. But when Louis stabbed Joey, it brought out all of those media types. The reporters came with their vans and fat camera men, which brought out the nosy old neighbors, and before you knew it, the whole fucking town was on their front porches gossiping about the stabbing. I wasn’t there to see it, though I wish I was. Maybe I could have done something to stop it. But I was at a park on the other side of town with my hand up Stacey Webster’s shirt. How the fuck was I supposed to know?

“Long time,” said Louis. He reached out and shook my hand. They were rough and callus…but that grip. Geeze. It was clear by his physique; he had made good use of his time in the yard.

I gave him a good smack in the arm. “Too long, buddy…”

*************************

“So, listen,” I said. I signaled right and took the highway on ramp back towards Streetsville. “I figured since you went away at fourteen, there’s a few things we never got to do together. Like, drink our first beer together. Unfortunately, I can’t share that experience with you. I’m drunk pretty much every day. But I can still share your first beer with you. I mean, that is something you have yet to do, right? They don’t have beer in prison, do they?”

Louis’ head remained staring out the window, as it had been the entire drive. He nodded. “I’ve never had a beer. That is correct.”

I laughed at a thought of it. “Well, we’re about to change that tonight, my friend!” I gave the steering wheel  a little drum roll, to see if I could get a smile out of him. But no. Louis just kept watching the sound barriers whiz by. In another attempt to draw him into conversation, I turned on the radio.

“Shit, yeah,” I said. “Tonight’s going to be a good night. Have some brews, have some laughs…shit! We might even get you laid!…That would be another first for you, right? Or did you meet a nice fella up in the pen?”

Louis head slowly turned in my direction and looked me dead in the eyes. It spooked me a little and I put my eyes back on the road. “I’m sorry, man.” I said. “That wasn’t cool.”

His head turned back to the window. “No,” he said. “I’ve never been with a girl.”

I turned up the volume on the radio, trying to drown out the tension. Poets, by the Tragically Hip was playing. I turned it up a little more.

“Hey, did you hear Gord Downie died?” I asked, a desperate attempt to reroute our conversation.

Louis nodded. “I heard the C.O.’s talking about it. Cancer, right?”

I shook my head. “Fucking cancer, man.”

*******************************

We sat at the wood inside Panda’s Billiards, sharing a pitcher and watching the Leafs-Canadians game. One of the new bartenders was working. I didn’t know him so well, but he had been there long enough to know I was always in the fucking place, so he treated me pretty well. I don’t know why I liked going to Panda’s so much. It was a dive bar, and I didn’t play pool. But more often than not, I would run into some of the old crew and we would have some beers and reminisce about the old days…maybe do a few lines in the bathroom.

“Holy shit!” I cried, grabbing on to my toque, eyes fixed on the television. I gave Louis a shove. “Did you see that goal?”

He was spinning his coaster on top of the bar, not even watching the game. I don’t think he was even watching the coaster. He just had that same glazed over look of funk that he had in the civic.

I sat down in my seat and slouched. “What the hell, man? This original six hockey, here!”

Louis let out a sigh. “Sorry, man…just not really into it.” He raised his glass and an eyebrow. “The beer’s good.”

I smiled. At least I got some sign of life from him.

It was at that point that the short Asian girl that was sitting a couple seats down from Louis, leaned in to him and said quietly, “I don’t blame you. I tried to get him to put on the new Trailer Park Boys episode, but he said only sports.” And then she rolled her eyes and waved her hands around dramatically. I could see the bartender, I forget his name, look up from cutting limes and shoot her a dirty glare. But besides pissing off the guy who was pouring her drinks, she also managed to, believe it or not, force a small smile onto Louis face. Thank god. I was starting to think I might never see that smile again.

The girl was cute, I’ll give him that. Thin strands of hair fell in and out of her eye line, forcing her to keep brushing at her little button nose to push the hair behind her ear, while she swiveled back and forth in her bar seat. She was a little too Plain Jane for me. Where were the heels? The bracelets? The hair-do? A girls got to accessorize. But poor Louis had been locked away for more than a decade, so I could forgive him for his lack of standards.

“I guess I’m just more the ‘read a book’ type,” said Louis. He finally let go of the coaster, sat back in his seat, and placed his hands down on his thighs.

With a flick of the wrist, she sent the curtain of black hair on the side of her face behind her shoulder and leaned in, pointing her skinny finger in Louis’ face. “What’s the last book you read?” She squinted and looked Louis in the eyes, questionably.

Louis didn’t flinch. “I just finished Oliver Twist. Why do you ask?”

She dropped her pointed finger and returned back to the short glass of what looked to be a gin and seven with lime that waited for her at the bar. She leaned over and took a quick sip from the straw. Then she sat back in her seat and shrugged. “A lot of people brag about how much they read. So they sound like they’re smart. But really, they’re full of shit.”

“Do you read?” Louis asked.

She shook her head proudly. “Nope! But I don’t go around telling people I do. I don’t even know what an Oliver Twist is!”

“Well, I’m not too sure who the Trailer Park Boys are, so we’re even. How’s that?” replied Louis.

She laughed and went in for another sip from her straw. Then she bounced up off her seat and skipped off towards the bathroom. As soon as she was out of earshot, I turned to Louis and said, “This is it, man! This is the one! You’re going home with her tonight and you’re going to fuck her brains out!

He took a sip from his beer, savored it for a moment before he swallowed, and then turned and looked me in the eye. “Danny, I’ve never even kissed a girl.”

I darted back in my seat, alarmed by what I was being told. “Never?” I asked. “Not even with Anita?”

He shook his head. “She wouldn’t let me.”

“That fucking prude,” I muttered, shaking my head. Then I was hit with a thought and darted up in my seat. “Hey, this is just like that Tragically Hip song. But that guy was thirty eight. You’re twenty eight. Still…sad story.”

Just then our new Asian friend returned from the lavatory, but this time, instead of sitting in her original seat, she grabbed her short glass and took the seat next to Louis. I decided right then and there that I was going to play wing-man and get Louis laid, even if he didn’t know how to get it done for himself. All I needed was a good icebreaker. Then it hit me.

“Hey,” I said to her. “Did you know this guy just got out of prison today?”

Her eyes shifted to Louis, whose eyes shifted to me. I knew it wasn’t something he wanted to talk about. I knew that before the sharp glare came my way. But everyone is a sucker for a good prison story.

“You did? For how long?” she asked.

He watched the bubbles in his beer slowly rise to the foamy surface. “Fourteen years,” he said after a moment.

She leaned back. “Wow…well…I mean…You look good though. Healthy.”

There was silence. Everyone took a sip of their drink, looked around, and checked the score of the game on the TV.

“So…what did you do?” the girl asked, finally.

“I stabbed a boy,” he said. He didn’t sound proud of it, or ashamed. It just came out matter-of-factually. “It was self-defense. He had come with his friends to jump me. But he died from the wound. I was sentenced to fourteen years.”

“That’s so long,” she said, almost to herself, in a whisper. Then she looked up at Louis and asked him, “Don’t you feel like your life has been stolen from you?”

Louis seemed amused at the question. “Stolen? No. That boy’s life was stolen. A father and their mother had their son stolen. I did what I did because I was forced. Given the same circumstances, I can’t say that I would have done anything differently. But I had to answer for it. I had to serve my time. My life wasn’t stolen. Gord Downie was stolen. Look at all the good he had done. That’s not fair. That’s stolen.”

She nodded and returned to her straw. “Truth, yo.”

I had been gazing around, not paying much attention, since no one was talking to me, when I saw something I wish I hadn’t. Coming through the front entrance in her oversized sunglasses, and some ridiculous feathered coat, was Anita Townsly and her super dick of a fiancé, Barry Levi, the big shot banker. What that blonde diva and her perfect mating specimen were doing in a place like Panda’s was beyond me. They were much more the type to be eating steak and lobster specials at the Keg. But then it hit me. I had made a Facebook post that said I was coming there with Louis. I had Anita on Facebook. It was hard to forget with how many selfies she posts. She must have come to see Louis. She was his first, and only, girlfriend.

By the time this had all clicked together in my head like the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle, Anita and Barry had already made their way over to the wood. She click-clacked over in her six-inch heels, looking like a fucking penguin with its little arm flaps waving up and down. She gave Louis a big hug and choked him with her feathers. He smiled at first, I’m guessing from her jacket tickling his face, but when he saw who it was with their arms around him, his smile dropped on a button.

“Danny said you’d be here, but I didn’t believe it. I had to see it for myself,” said Anita. She stumbled back a few steps but Barry put her back on balance. I wish he had let her fall. I could have choked her for saying that. And by the look on Louis face, right then he was thinking the same thing about me.

“It’s been a while,” said Louis, turning his head from me to her. “How’ve you been?”

“I’ve been good,” she said. And then she laughed. “Compared to you, I’ve been great.” She pointed to the blue-shirted, white collared grease ball beside her and tugged on his tie just a bit. “This is my fiancé, Barry,” she said. “He’s a financial advisor.”

Did he tell you to buy that coat made of crows? I thought.

Barry looked Louis up and down with that sideways smirk of his. With all the fake tanning the guy did, I was pretty sure that was as far as his pumpkin face could open. “He doesn’t look like a murderer,” he said back to her.

“He’s harmless,” she said, smacking Louis in the shoulder. He just stared up at the television. Suddenly Louis was very interested in the hockey game. “That Joey deserved what he got…fucking goon,” continued Anita. “Anyway, we have a little party to get to at the Keg, so bye. It was so nice seeing you again, Louis…even if you are hanging out with bar trash like Danny.”

“Go fuck yourself,” I said, taking the last swig of my pint, while signaling what’s-his-face for another.

“Watch your mouth, perv,” Barry warned, stepping forward. “Anita told me all about your little crush on her in high school.”

I let out a loud, Ha! “Crush? I wouldn’t go that far, buddy. I jerked off to her yearbook photo a couple times, I’ll admit that. But back then, she had some rocking titties.”

Anita rolled her eyes and teased her blonde mop. “You sure know how to make a girl feel special, don’t you, Danny?”

“Hey,” I replied. “I said back then. You peaked a long time ago, babe. Now all that’s left is to grow old with…that fucking dude.” I chuckled a bit. “What boring sex you must have.”

That’s when Anita’s face lit up about as red as her boyfriends.

“Okay, guys,” said the Asian from her seat, playing referee, with her skinny arms out between us. “We were actually just trying to have a conversation, if that’s okay.”

Anita kissed her teeth. “Excuse me?” she said.

“Yeah, who brought Pocahontas to the party?” laughed Barry. “Don’t they have reservations for you people to drink on?”

The Asian’s back arched up while her eyebrows arched downwards. “I’m Filipino, you dumb dumb!”

“Yeah, there’s only one redskin here, Barry. And it’s you,” I added.

“Fuck you, and this fucking house maid,” Barry shot back.

That’s when Louis stepped off his stool and took a step closer to Barry. “I think you should watch how you talk to the lady,” he said. His voice was calm and even toned.

Barry’s shit eating grin returned. “Lady? She looks like she’s fifteen years old!”

Louis took another step towards Barry. “I said, watch it,” he repeated.

“Or what?” said Barry. “Fuck off, ya goof!”

Louis froze and his fists clenched. I had never been to prison myself, but I knew that goof was not an insult that went over well with convicts. And just like that, Louis’ right fist came up, swung, and plowed through Barry’s perfect jawline. Barry dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes…but Louis wasn’t done. Something in him just snapped. He pounced on top of Barry’s stomach and started lacing him, one punch after another, until Barry’s nose exploded like a paintball bullet. Anita screamed, the bartender ran for the phone, and me and the Asian just stood there, stunned. I ran over and pulled Louis off Barry, who was murmuring inaudible words as his head rolled back and forth on the floor.

Anita ran over to her fiancé and knelt down beside him. She looked up at Louis, in tears, screaming, “You’re fucking insane! You’re a fucking animal!”

It didn’t take too long before red and blue lights came flashing in the front windows from the parking lot. The front door swung open and three uniformed police rushed into the pool hall with their guns drawn. Louis stood still and slowly put his hands behind his head.

“It was him!” yelled Anita, pointed to Louis. “He’s a convict! He’s fucking crazy!”

Two of the officers held their pistols on him while the third took Louis’ hands and clicked on handcuffs. The whole spot stood silent and watched as they escorted Louis out into the parking lot.

“What’s going to happen to him?” asked the Asian girl, looking up at me.

I shrugged. “Assault is a breach of his parole…his ass is going back to prison.”

She gasped softly.

“It’s a shame, too,” I said. “Poor bastard never even kissed a girl.”

Her head spun around back to me. “What did you say?”

“What did you expect?” I answered. “He’s been in jail since he was fourteen. He’s never kissed a girl before.”

Her eyes drifted to the right and then to the floor. That’s when she turned around, almost running into Anita nursing her fiancé back to life, and raced out into the parking lot. I wasn’t about to just stand there with my thumb up my butt, so I followed her outside.

As I got out into the smoking pit, followed by a large crowd of people who were just as curious as I was as, I watched her march across the parking lot over to Louis, who leaned on the back of the patrol car, still in handcuffs. Even the cops watched with open mouths, while she went right up to Louis, grabbed him by the hair on the back of his head, pulled him close and, standing on her toes, pressed her lips against his. The two cops in the front seat looked at each other, each one waiting for the other to say something, but they both just kept watching. I swear, with the way she was kissing my boy, the red and blue lights flashing on top of the patrol car might as well have been laser lights in a downtown club on a Saturday night, or the fireworks by the bay on New Year’s Eve. Then, when she was finally done and dropped back on her heels, she said something to him. I was too far away to hear it, but damn, whatever it was, did it ever bring back that famous Louis smile. I swear man, it was god damn poetic

The End

 

************Dedicated to the memory of Gord Downie******************

 

 

 

 

runaway stories, short stories, train tracks, escaped convict, molestation, abuse

The Tracks

A runaway and his best friend prepare to spend the night in an abandoned boxcar. It will be a night that will change their lives forever.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

By the time that I left my house and headed down Conway Street to meet Tommy, the sun was low in the sky and the evening had cooled right down from the irregularly warm late September day. Mom had yelled at me as I left to take a jacket. I thought she was crazy. About two blocks into my walk I started to think maybe a jacket wouldn’t have been that bad an idea.

Tommy didn’t say why he wanted me to meet him at the Hasty Market but he had that disappointed tone in his voice again, the one that usually followed with a story about his old man getting drunk and beating on him or his mom. It was around the time that his dad usually got home from the bar, so I figured that’s what it was.

I felt sorry for Tommy, even though Tommy was not the type of person anyone needed to feel sorry for. He was a street smart, resourceful and headstrong kid. Some people couldn’t believe he was only fourteen. But life was always throwing him a curve ball. His mom was a pill popper, his dad was a drunk. If that wasn’t enough, the teachers at school considered him a write off and a waste, though I can be the first to say that he didn’t give them much reason not to. The town cops were always pulling him over and giving him the business. Even my mom didn’t like us hanging out together. She said he was a bad apple. But she didn’t know Tommy like I did. Sure, he had a temper and a loud mouth. But he had to put up those walls to keep the kids at school from ripping on him about being short, poor, and the son of a couple good-for-nothing parents. He had to build those walls to keep his dad from having the satisfaction of seeing him cry when he was laying the buckle on him. So, yeah, I felt sorry for him. But he didn’t need it.

When I got to the Hasty Market he was out front perched up on a bike rack, sipping the last sips from a can out of Lucky Lager before he tossed it into the corner. His dad had an endless supply in the cold cellar. Tommy saw me and smiled. His palm ran over his buzz cut, his white XL t-shirt draping loosely over his skinny arms. His t-shirts were always vibrantly bright. His jeans were scuffed and ripped, shoes covered in mud, but his t-shirts were constantly Tide commercial white. I stuck out my wrist and he clocked it with his own.

“Sup?” I asked.

“Fucking ol’ man is wasted again,” answered Tommy.

“I figured,” I replied. “So, where to? The tracks?”

“Guess so,” he shrugged. “I’m fucking starving. How much money you got on you?”

“Not much,” I said. I pulled out my chain wallet and ripped open the Velcro strap, peeking inside and doing an inventory of the assorted coins. “I got, like, a buck fifty.”

“Do the looky-loo. I’ll make a candy run.”

I rolled my eyes and started towards the door. Tommy sat still, awaiting my response.

I looked back at him. “Come on then, you felon.”

A wide grin stretched across Tommy’s face. He hopped off the bike rack and followed me into the store.

Inside, I walked straight over to the Indian guy at the register while Tommy disappeared into the isles of chips and chocolate bars. I watched the clerks eyes follow Tommy on the bubble mirrors.

“Excuse me,” I said. The clerk’s eyes now shifted over to me. I placed a pack of gum on the counter along with the buck fifty I had in my wallet. “Do I have enough for this?”

The clerk’s eyes moved down to the mess of change scattered on his counter and after doing a quick scan and some math he said, “No.”

“That sucks,” I said. I put the pack of gum back on the display and collected my coins. Tommy was behind me when I turned around.

I started walking for the door and I was halfway out of the store when I heard Tommy mutter, “Fuck…”

That’s when I turned around and saw one of the candy bars Tommy had stuffed in his waistline lying on the floor. I looked up, the Indian guy had seen everything. “Hey!” he yelled. He started to come out from behind the counter.

Tommy looked to him, then to me. Then his eyes lit up and he yelled, “Run!”

I ran out of that store and across the parking lot faster than I’ve ever ran in my life. And me and Tommy weren’t strangers to finding ourselves in situations where we need to run like hell to save our asses. When we got to the road we didn’t stop. We had to dodge a few cars; one of them almost beaned Tommy. But once we got across the road the clerk had stopped chasing us. He couldn’t keep up, no doubt. We were pretty fast. Tommy always said we would be great at track if track wasn’t for pussies.

It didn’t take us long to get to the school. We slowed down as we jogged through the soccer field, laughing. I say ‘soccer field’ but that thing was more like a dirt pit. We’d come back in from Phys Ed. looking like we were out there digging for dinosaur bones.

We had slowed down to a walk when Tommy lifted up his shirt and showed me our score. Minus the one that dropped in the store, we had six chocolate bars. I caught a glimpse of Tommy’s abs as he handed me a Mars bar. He had a whole six pack. I didn’t have anything. I wasn’t fat or anything like that; I was just soft around the edges. I always envied people who had good abs.

I opened up the candy bar and said, “Guess we won’t be going back there anytime soon.”

Tommy shrugged, in the middle of chewing off his first big mouthful of a jumbo Mr. Big.

We walked in silence for a bit as we ate, kicking up dust as we went. Finally, I said, “Oh! Shit! I got some news.”

Tommy nodded, interested.

“I got into Cawthra School for the Arts! I’m transferring there next semester.”

He threw the wrapper to his jumbo Mr. Big behind him and patted me on the back. “You fucking actor. Good job, Ethe. You’re one step closer to getting famous and leaving this shit hole.”

Tommy had always been my biggest supporter in my dream of becoming a Hollywood actor. He said if anyone could make it out of Streetsville, it was me. But still, I knew it would be tough for him once we were separated. Everyone knew Tommy but there were only a select few who really knew Tommy, you get me? We had never been apart from each other before.

“Look at this ugly piece of shit,” said Tommy, pointing to a poster taped to a lamppost.

I threw my wrapper on the ground and walked over to see what ugly piece of shit Tommy was referring to.

The poster said “Wanted” and it had the picture and description of an escaped child molester named Francis Montgomery. He was ugly, that’s for sure. He had a long, narrow face and a crooked nose, as well as a severe under bite that made him look like a horse. And he was bald with long, stringy strands of brittle hair hanging off the sides of his head.

“Damn, man,” I said, shaking my head. “Why do child molesters always have to look so much like child molesters?”

Tommy laughed. He had this deep chuckle which was pretty contagious. I guess since Tommy rarely laughed, whenever he did, it was nice to hear. You wanted to be part of it. I couldn’t help but laugh too.

“Fuck this guy,” said Tommy. He spit on the page. “Come on. Let’s go.”

*******************

As we passed the baseball diamond we saw Derek Scott and George McNally leaning on Derek’s Accord. They were two years ahead of us in high school, a couple of real cool jocks. Their parents had money and all the girls drooled over them. They were the type of guys that Tommy hated.

Tommy pointed to them, or the two girls who were with them rather, and said, “Isn’t that Melony and Heather?”

I squinted at the blonde and ginger haired girls in the distance. It was them. They were in our grade; we had been in the same school since kindergarten. I had a crush on Heather since we were kids. I never told anyone, but I think Tommy knew. He was always bragging about my acting accomplishments to her. “Yeah, that’s them,” I said.

Tommy laughed again. “Should be those dudes faces on that poster,” he said. “Grade eleven’s trying to fuck grade nine’s…fucking losers, man.”

I didn’t much like Derek or George either, but I wasn’t about to go around saying that out of fear of the repercussions. But Tommy wasn’t afraid to get beat up. He’d say anything to anyone.

“Let’s go a different way,” I suggested.

“Fuck that,” said Tommy. “Come on.”

I huffed and followed him down the path to where the four of them were hanging out. Heather and Melony smiled when they saw us. Derek and George didn’t.

“Ethan and Tommy,” said Heather with a smile. “What are you two goons up to?”

The two boys sneers remained locked on us. Tommy fed off it, oozing with confidence as he said, “Just out for a stroll, ladies. Enjoying this beautiful evening.”

Derek pointed to Tommy’s muddy shoes and said, “Looks like you could use some new shoes, skid mark.”

Tommy shot back immediately, cool as a cucumber, saying, “Sweet, I’ll let your mom know to pick some up for me.”

Melony and Heather giggled.

Derek turned red. “What did you just say to me, you little shit?” He took a step closer but George put his arm out to stop him. His eyes were fixed on something behind us. Derek’s eyes shifted that way too. Heather and Melony’s too. Something had humbled the four of them on a button. Me and Tommy turned around to see what it was.

It was Dion Terrell and his boys. Dion was a black kid that mostly everyone in town feared. He sold drugs, was in a gang, carried weapons, he had been in and out of juvenile correction facilities since he was twelve. Dion and his crew moved like lions around Streetsville. No one fucked around with them.

As they paraded through us Dion scanned us slowly, one by one. I’m pretty sure Tommy was the only one not staring at his shoes. George put out his hand as a sign of friendship. “Hey, Dion,” he said. “What’s up?”

Dion looked him up and down. “You got a smoke?”

George lowered his hand and reached into his pocket for a pack of Player’s. He opened it up and took out three, handing them to Dion. “Take three,” he said.

In my peripheral I could see Tommy rolling his eyes dramatically.

Dion nodded, took the smokes and then he and his boys continued walking down the path, into the catwalk and out of sight. Once they were gone Derek and George returned to their asshole selves.

“Why don’t you two fuck off now,” said George. His hand slid around Heather’s waist as he glared at me. “We’re busy.”

Tommy looked at me and smiled. I didn’t understand why at first. Then I saw him snatch the pack of cigarettes from George’s hand. “Run!” he yelled.

We took off hard towards the catwalk. Derek took a swipe at me, but missed. I didn’t look back, I just kept running. I could hear Heather and Melony laughing behind me. We took off down the catwalk which opened up to a residential street, I could hear George’s feet smacking against the pavement after us. Like we had done many times before, Tommy and I high-tailed it in between a pair of houses and hopped the fence into a backyard, crushing a bed of daisies as we came to the ground. The backyard was empty. We ran through a maze of laundry lines and bedsheets, hopped another fence and found ourselves on a court that led us out to a main road. George had stopped chasing us.

We stopped at the gas station, out of breath from both running and laughing so hard. “I can’t believe you did that,” I said, huffing and puffing.

“Fuck those guys,” said Tommy, grabbing his chest as he wheezed. We caught our breath for a second and then he handed me a smoke from the pack of Player’s while taking one out for him as well.

We sat on the curb and smoked our cigarettes. The sun was sinking beneath the horizon, dimming the sky in an orangey-pink glow. It was starting to get cold. I flicked my smoke as the ember touched the filter and rubbed my arms. Should have brought that jacket, I thought.

A black Pontiac that had been getting gas slowed down as it passed us until it came to a stop. The windows rolled down and a middle aged white guy poked his head out of the driver’s side. He smiled at us. “Aren’t you kids a little young to be smoking?”

Tommy looked right back at the man and, with the straightest face, said, “Aren’t you a little old to be starting conversations with little kids?”

*****************

By the time we got to our boxcar at the train yard it was dark out. We were glad to be within the warmer confines of our car, away from the winds howling against the steel walls. It wasn’t very big and it was completely empty, but the boxcar was like a second home to me and Tommy. It was our hideaway. We’d pass the time playing cards, twenty questions, nickel football, or just smoking cigarettes. That and making fun of guys like George and Derek.

We were just starting to nod off when the noise of footsteps on gravel woke us up. There were people passing by outside. I quietly crept to the air holes and peeked out into the yard. It was Dion Terrell and his boys.

“You fully shot that motherfucker,” said one of his boys. He sounded giddy and excited.

“Shoulda had my money,” Dion answered plainly.

“Better stash that heater, my nigga,” said another.

The rest of the conversation became muffled as they walked out of earshot. Moments later I heard the reverberated clunk of something being dropped in a steel trash barrel.

“What was that?” whispered Tommy.

“Dion and his boys,” I whispered back. I couldn’t help but wonder if that clunk was them ‘stashing the heater’. My curiosity ended up getting the best of me. I got up and headed for the door. “Hold up,” I said to Tommy. “I want to check something out.”

Tommy nodded and rolled over, drifting back to sleep.

Once I was sure Dion and his boys were gone, I slid the door to the boxcar open just enough so that I could squeeze out. Those things are rusty and squeal like all hell when they’re opened. I squeezed out and jumped down onto the gravel. It was still cold, but the wind had died down. I took a second to look around. The yard was empty. I quietly crept along the tracks to the garbage bin and looked inside. Sitting on top of some crumpled paper and some dirt, was a gun. Dion’s gun.

I reached into the barrel and picked it up by the handle. I was extremely careful. I didn’t know much about guns but Tommy knew a bit. His dad had one. I smiled. Tommy was going to flip when I showed him. I walked back to the boxcar, slowly and carefully. I was scared I was going to trip over a track or a piece of gravel and shoot my face off.

As I climbed into the boxcar I noticed that Tommy had moved from out of the light and into the shadows. I knew he was still in the car because I could hear him shuffling around. I was about to call out to him when I heard a voice. It wasn’t Tommy.

“Touch it,” the voice commanded. I could hear Tommy too. But his voice was muffled like someone had a hand over his mouth. “Touch it and I’ll let you go,” the voice said again. “Lick your hand and touch it…Come on, boy. Be nice. Touch it.”

“Hey, asshole!” I yelled into the shadows, raising the gun. “Get off him before I fucking kill you, you sick fuck!”

There was silence. I could hear footsteps and he stepped out of the shadows into the light, taking cover behind Tommy. One hand covered Tommy’s mouth and the other held a pocket knife to his neck. Then I saw his face. It was the escaped molester from the poster we saw earlier.

I pointed the gun at him and he ducked behind Tommy. “Careful, now,” he snarled. “You don’t want anything to happen to your little friend, friend here…”

Tommy bit down on the man’s hand that covered his mouth and kicked back like a donkey, as hard as he could. The old man stumbled back.

“Shoot this faggot, Ethe!” yelled Tommy.

I pulled the trigger but it wouldn’t budge.

“Shoot him!” repeated Tommy.

I yelled back, “It’s not working!”

The old man was now back on his feet and coming for me.

“The safety!” yelled Tommy. “Side of the gun!”

I did as he told me and clicked the safety off and tried again. This time the gun fired and sent me back a few steps. An intense flash of light lit up the boxcar like a camera snapping a picture. The old man dropped to the floor, his knife falling out of his hands. It went dark once more.

Tommy ran over to me and squeezed me in a bear hug. When he let go, he motioned for the gun. I handed it to him.

“Now get out of here,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

Sirens could now be heard in the distance. They were getting louder by the minute. Tommy gave me a nudge to the door. “Get out of here,” he repeated. “Run!”

“I’m not going to leave you,” I said.

“You know my dad won’t give a shit,” he said. Then he smiled, “Enjoy Cawthra, Ethe. Make us proud.”

The sirens were blaring now. I jumped out of the car onto the gravel and ran off into the night as fast as I could. I didn’t stop or slow down until I had reached my front porch…

The next day the story was all over the local news and in the papers. The escaped child molester, Francis Montgomery, had been found and taken into custody with a gunshot wound to the torso. The article said the police ruled the shooting as self defense but charged a minor with illegal possession of a firearm. Tommy was sentenced to a year in a juvenile correction facility.

I never told anyone about what happened that night. I transferred to Cawthra School of Arts and began to chase my dream to be an actor. After Tommy got out, we didn’t see much of each other. I heard he had been seen kicking around with Dion Terrell and his boys. After I graduated from Cawthra I moved out to New York and I got an agent. Nights in the boxcar have been replaced with cocktail chatter and frienemies at some hot bar downtown.

Though I love my life, I miss having Tommy around. My social circle has expanded, I rub elbows with all kinds of high society and schmooze with the hottest rising stars in the industry…but I have yet to come across anyone more loyal than Tommy. I’ll never forget the sacrifice he made for me. He was my best friend. And I’ll never forget him.

 

The End