Whacked!

A mob story about finding inner peace.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

The glaring sun beat down on a dry patch of grass right next to the old, abandoned railroad. The area was silent with the exception of the warm breeze breathing through the long, brittle blades swaying side by side. This forgotten industrial block had been abandoned for close to a decade now, rarely seeing any visitors besides your usual tramps and vagabonds looking for a dry place to sleep. But today, a new traveler had arrived. A lone coyote weaved through the grass patch, hot on the scent of fresh dead flesh. He had followed his snout on this trail for hours and he was close now. His heart raced with anticipation, his eyes darted back and forth, his wet nose fluttered violently whilst his tongue wagged heavily back and forth with each dry pant.

He stopped at the top of the hill and looked down at four black town cars parked in the old abandoned lot next to the old abandoned factory. The sun beamed off the chrome lining around the town cars’ tinted windows. The scent was coming from the trunk compartment. From the trunk compartment of all of them. The coyote wiggled his nose. No. Just three of them.

His tail wagging, the four-legged traveller raced down the hill, kicking up dirt clouds as he went. He had to be quick! Soon the flesh would rot and be of no use. Once at the foot of the hill he pawed at the first town car, but it was no use. It was locked shut. The delicious meat was trapped in there. He let out a soft whimper and tried his luck at the second car. The same problem occurred.  Then he tried the third. No luck. All of them were locked shut. The coyote somberly realized that he was wasting his time and decided it would be a better idea to head back into the bush before the humans that owned those town cars returned. He could smell them near. They were in the factory…they were predators.

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

Four men in suits sat around a long table dead in the center of the old abandoned factory. Each of them were impeccably dressed in Italian designer three piece suits and well-jeweled in gleaming gold and silver. These were tough men. Vicious men. The vast space between them and the rows of shattered windows remained silent, echoing every clink of a Rolex, every face scratch, every shift in a seat.

Donny JeBroni sat at the head of the table. He was the eldest of the four and the head of the infamous crime syndicate. After taking a sip of his water he placed the slender glass down on the table. He picked up his satin napkin and dabbed the bead of sweat rolling down his bald head. His took his time, cleared his throat and then spoke, “Welcome and respect to the three families from the east, west and south, for coming to this monthly congregation. As we all remember, at last month’s meeting I swore vengeance on my enemy, Joey Twinkle Toes. I am happy to announce, as of last Thursday, Joey Twinkle Toes has been whacked.”

Two of the men surrounding him rapt softly on the table, nodding their heads. They approved of this.

Next to Don Donny sat Vinnie Malone of the east side. He was short but built sturdy and strong. After adjusting his tie he leaned in and spoke, “At the last meeting I too vowed vengeance on my enemy—on that no-good rat, Jimmy the Rat. As of this morning, Jimmy the Rat has been whacked.”

Once again the other men rapt on the table gently, nodding their heads. They approved of this also.

Next to Don Vinnie sat Southy Joe from the south. His face was long and thin like the rest of his body. The emerald green suit seemed more draped on him than tailor fitted. His expression of discontent matched the discontent he felt about his tailor’s work. This was not new. Even the highest paid tailor found it a near impossibility to fit his odd angled, slender figure. Many of them had quit, given up. Needless to say, there were a lot of missing tailors in the south. He crouched over the table, eager to for his turn to speak. “And as we all know, I had some problems with my most recent tailor. That Polish hack couldn’t dress a salad! Look at me! Such disrespect! So you know what I did? I strangled him with a wire and then I shot him in the head! Bing! Then I cut him up into little tiny pieces and I buried him in a cornfield!”

The other three stared at Southy Joe, leant in. He looked back at them wondering what they were waiting for. Then it came to him. “Whacked,” he said, rolling his eyes. “He got whacked.”

The three men relaxed, nodded and rapt against the table. They approved.

Donny JeBroni raised his hand for silence and extended his arm towards Willy the Bodybag from the west. “And Willy the Bodybag! What about the vengeance you swore at last month’s meeting?”

Willy the Bodybag adjusted the cufflinks on his brown suit, cleared his throat and pulled in his chair. He ran his ringed fingers through his silver-fox head of hair and spoke in a tone of voice that wasn’t the usual cold, merciless Willy. His voice was lighter now, not timid but very much apprehensive.  “Yes. Um, last week I did do that. I did swear vengeance on my enemy from the competing family in the west, Don Fazool. The truth is, is I saw Don Fazool face to face just the other day. We were both at the orange stand buying oranges. I had the chance to whack him and I didn’t whack him.”

Southy Joe cleaned out his ear with his pinky. “I’m sorry, I must have not heard you so good. Did you say you didn’t whack him?”

Donny JeBroni raised his hand for silence. “Please, Southy Joe. Some respect. Bill Bodybags is a cold-hearted killer. To suggest that he would forego a chance at vengeance is an insult. You must have heard him wrong.”

“No,” said Willy, somewhat embarrassed. “He heard right. I didn’t whack him. He was right there and I didn’t whack him.”

“Why not?” asked Vinnie Malone. “Were you out of bullets? Was it the cops? I hate those fucking cops.”

“Fucking cops…” muttered Southy Joe.

Willy the Bodybag shook his head. “No, I had bullets. Wasn’t the cops either…I just had a change of heart.”

Don Donny looked back at him, lost. “A change of heart? What do you mean ‘a change of heart’?”

“I mean, I changed my mind,” answered Willy. “You see as I was looking over to him, reaching for my gun, I realized something. It occurred to me how many people I’ve whacked over the years to get to where I am. And when I looked inside myself and saw what kind of person I have become…well, it made my stomach turn just a bit. Not with regret, not with remorse; it was like when you’ve eaten the same thing every single day for ten years and one day you decide, that’s it. I never want to eat this again. I’m sick of it. I’m tired and worn from it. It no longer satisfies me. Even the smell is enough to make me nauseous. That’s how I feel about all this whacking.

You see, when I was younger I thought maybe I would have to kill ten, twenty people max to assert my place and be safe from my enemies but, the truth is, it never stops. There’s always someone else that needs to be whacked. They’re out to whack me before I whack them; I’m out to whack them before they whack me. I’ve become a lonely, untrusting and paranoid old man. And all of this leaves me feeling very tired and unfulfilled. Will there ever be a day that I don’t have to look over my shoulder? Will there ever be a day I can stop whacking all these shmucks and settle down? A time where I can enjoy my life rather than fighting for it? A time of peace?”

Vinnie Malone’s face went cautious. “You ain’t going soft on us, is ya, Bodybag?”

“If wanting to live a life free of looking over my shoulder, free of greed and of pride is called soft. Well, it doesn’t sound so bad. It sounds kind of nice actually. In fact, I would be willing to give away my fortunes to obtain it.”

“But if we stop killin’ people, howz we gonna punish those no-good-stinkin’ rats when they go to the cops?” asked Southy Joe.

“Our lifestyle invites all kinds of conflict,” said Willy. “I mean, the cops want to set us up, informants want to give us up for reduced sentences. And so what do we do? We whack the cops and we whack the informants. We whack everybody. The guilt of all the people I’ve whacked just sits right here on my chest and, guys, it’s suffocating. Really.”

“I think Willy the Bodybag is on to something. The more people we kill, the more enemies we make. Maybe, instead of whacking our enemies in the territories we are looking to take over, we can buy them out. And then, if they still refuse, then we whack them.”

“Hey, ya,” said Vinne Malone. He appeared as though he had just had a revelation. “Give them a chance to join us before we whack them! That’s pretty smart, Willy.”

“Yeah,” agreed Southy Joe. “Good plan, Willy! We can expand our numbers and grow our syndicate by buying out the competition. Merging, like corporations! That way we can take over more territories!”

A soft applause went around the table but stopped at Willy the Bodybag.

“That’s not what I was getting at,” said Willy. “Why do we always need to expand? To take over more and more territories? Why is it never enough?”

“It’s simple math,” answered Donny JeBroni. “More territories mean more money rolling in. More money rolling in means more politicians in our pocket, which means the cops ain’t hassling us for putting the drugs and the girls out on the street.”

Vinnie Malone and Southy Joe agreed.

“Okay,” said Willy the Bodybag. “But if we stopped putting drugs and girls on the street we wouldn’t need to worry about the cops, which means we wouldn’t need to pay off politicians which means we would have to spend less money and would be financially secure with less territories.”

Southy Joe pet his pencil moustache. “So then what are we selling if we ain’t selling drugs and girls?”

“How about shoes?” said Willy.

Southy Joe recoiled. “Sorry, I don’t think I hears you right…did you say fucking shoes?”

“Everybody needs shoes,” explained Willy the Bodybag. “And we would be helping people get to where they need to go. We would be a positive contribution to our community.”

Donny JeBroni took a calm sip of his water and placed the glass down. “I think Willy the Bodybag has a point,” he said. “It’s time we focused our efforts away from drugs, guns, prostitution and gambling. These things have poisoned our communities for too long. Familia, destroyed. With our fortune and our political friends we should be investing in a future for the next generation. Things like clean, renewable energy and better schools for the children. And shoes for the people’s feet so that they can walk around the town without stepping on glass or rigid stones.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Willy exclaimed.

Don Donny continued on, “Starting immediately our organization will cut our ties in the narcotics business and go completely legitimate. We will make our fortunes by crafting high quality shoes for other legitimate business men like ourselves is. Not one more man shall be whacked, does everyone understand?”

Willy nodded, satisfied. Southy Joe and Vinnie Malone,though reluctant and confused, nodded as well.

“And in closing,” said JeBroni. “I would like to thank Willy the Bodybag for having the bravery and the respect to bring up these issues to the family.”

Willy stood up from his chair and gave a small bow to the Don, Vinnie Malone and Southy Joe. “You have always been reasonable men,” he said. “You won’t regret this, I promise! Thank you and respect to you all. Now I must take my leave. I’m trying out this new thing called Yoga. I hear it really helps center your energies. Ciao.”

And with that, Willy the Bodybag walked out of the old abandoned factory with the weight on his chest lifted and a new hope for the future.

For a moment the other three men sat in silence around the table, casually sneaking peeks at their shoes while they thought the others weren’t looking. Finally, Donnie JeBroni looked up and said, “Someone needs to whack Willy the Bodybag.”

Vinnie Malone and Southy Joe both let out a sigh of relief.

“I was just thinking that,” said Vinnie.

“The guy’s talking about shoes…” said Southy Joe.

The End

Sailor Dee’s Rehab Center for Awkward Adults

When Max is videotaped fiddling with himself at work, it seems the whole world is out to get him. But a trip to the Rehab Center for Awkward Adults might help put things into perspective.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

When a video of Max fiddling himself in the staff bathroom of his work showed up on the internet there were many questions to be asked. And while Max had been asking himself things like “Who would put a camera in a bathroom?” and “Is that even legal?” most of the internet was wondering what kind of creeper-pervert would give himself an orgasm while he was on the clock. Max had become somewhat of a celebrity around his city of Vancouver. Everywhere he went he was met with snickers and cold glares of disgust from the people he passed. Some even went so far as to cross the street at the sight of him. Max didn’t have many friends to begin with but with this popular scandal making the rounds it had completely cleared his social schedule. All the servers at Burger Barn that used to say hi now completely ignored him, going out of their way to avoid even the briefest of eye contact. And his boss, Chef Jason, didn’t make it any easier for him. Even in the middle of a complete kitchen white-out he would tease him.

“Nice dick,” Chef Jason would say loudly in Max’s ear. “I’ve watched that video like ten times! It keeps getting funnier! My baby sister has a bigger dick than you!”

Max would hang his head and go back to his work in silence.

One day Max sat on a dock at the peer. His legs dangled off the ledge while he tossed pebbles out into the ocean. As a kid he could never really get them to skip so he just kind of gave up on it. Now he just liked to hear the sound the stone made as it breached the water’s surface. In a way Max envied those stones, sinking down to the unknown depths of the sea, engulfed in its embrace, falling comfortably away from the chaos of the world above. He stared down at the water below; his distorted reflection looked back at him waving back and forth—completely undone.

When he looked up he saw a silhouette of a sailboat approaching, drifting out of the sunset like some painting in a dentist’s office. As it came towards him it seemed to be heading right for him. He pushed off the wood planks and got to his feet. He could see well now. There was a single man at the helm, thin framed and wrapped in a pink striped t-shirt with an exceptionally deep collar. His eyes were as blue as the ocean and his smile was cheerful and inviting. He stood proud with one knee on the nose of the boat, his fists against his hips, looking much like how you would imagine an explorer in the olden days. As the boat pulled up to Max, the sailor brushed the blonde curls from his forehead and dropped the heavy anchor into the shore. He gave an eager wave over to Max who was not quite sure what was happening. “Are you lost?” asked Max. “The marina is over that way.”

The flamboyant stranger smiled and shook his head. “No, Max. I think it is you who is feeling a little lost right now, am I right?”

“Maybe,” Max replied. “But how do you know my name?”

“You’re famous, are you not?” asked the Sailor. “The viral video of you jerkin’ your gerkin’ in the staff bathroom of the Burger Barn?”

Max frowned and looked back down to the water. “Oh. You’re one of them…Look, could you just leave me alone?”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” the stranger said. “You see, I’m here for you. And so that being the case, leaving you alone would be quite counterproductive. And to answer your first, rather rude, assumption. No, I am not one of them. I am something much, much better.”

“Are you, like, a lawyer or something?”

The Sailor stuck out his palm and as he shook Max’s hand he introduced himself, “I am Sailor Dee! And I am here to take you with me on a journey to the fourth dimension where resides my ever-enjoyable, always-educational, Rehab Center for Awkward Adults!”

Max scratched the blonde shag on top of his head. “Uh, is this a joke or something?”

Sailor Dee’s smile dropped. “No, it’s not a joke. Now can you hurry up and get in the boat? These people over at the seawall are looking at me like I’m trying to kidnap you and rape you.”

“Those people are looking at me,” Max sighed. He tossed another pebble out into the water.

The Sailor leaned in and whispered, “Max, if you don’t get into this boat right now I swear to beautiful baby Jesus that I will pull up this anchor and beat you to death with it, do you understand me? It is of the utmost importance we get sailing before nightfall.”

“Why’s that?” asked Max.

Sailor Dee huffed, “Because then the day will be gone. And once the day is gone that means a new one is on its way. Today won’t matter anymore.”

“Pff! Says you!” laughed Max. He stepped into the sailboat. “Alright,” said Max. “I’ll go. It can’t be much worse than this.”

The Sailor took the anchor hoisted above his head and placed it gently down on the floor. “Good choice.”

The sun was almost halfway under the horizon when the two of them sailed off into the vast Pacific with nothing but the whoosh of the waves and the squawks of seagulls in their ear while a gentle evening breeze kissed upon their face.

They sailed all night and had come to shore by morning. Max had walked the shoreline many times but didn’t recognize where they were. There were no people, no dogs, there was no litter, no pop cans, no plastic bags or even cigarette butts. The beach sand was pristine and untouched. From there it turned into plush, grassy hills for as far as the eye can see.

“Where are we?” asked Max. “I don’t think I’ve ever been to this part of the beach before.”

Sailor Dee docked the anchor and stepped out onto the sand. He wore white loafers with exposed ankles. “You’ve never been anywhere like this before, pumpkin. You won’t find this place on any fairy tour. Not unless I’m the fairy giving the tour!” He laughed gently at his cleverness.

Max got out of the boat and followed the Sailor up the hill where a large wood cabin stood at the top. The closer that they got to the cabin the more Max got a look at its intricate carpentry and decorative windows. It was something out of an old fairy tale about dwarves and a princess. This was a comforting sight and made Max feel it was less likely this man had brought him here to kill and/or rape him.

As they got even closer still, Max noticed two other people waiting at the circular entrance to the architecture. They both seemed about his age. There was a girl; she was short and stalky, draped in a baggy green sweater with a game controller printed on the center of it. A frizzy, orange mane fell on her shoulders and thick spectacles rested on her freckled button nose. The other was a boy; dark skinned, tall and lanky. The sides of his head were shaved and on top he had long purple bangs that hung over his brow like eye curtains. His T-shirt was black with a white skull in the center and on his wrists were bracelets with spikes coming out of them. Not real metal spikes, plastic ones painted silver.

“It’s about time you got back here,” said the girl, her arms crossed and a pout on her face. “We’ve been bored out of our trees!”

Sailor Dee replied, “I told you I had to get one more, my sweet. This is Max.”

The girl looked Max up and down. “He doesn’t look so awkward,” she said. “But he does look really familiar…” She continued to examine him for a moment but failed to make her desired connection.

Sailor Dee opened up the cabin door and ushered them inside.
Besides a long couch draped with colorful quilts and some chairs around a wooden coffee table, furnishing in the cabin was sparse. A thin layer of dust and settled over the cracked hardwood floor that creaked under their feet as they entered. The dust combined with the beaming sunlight coming in through the window illuminated a soft glow throughout the main sitting room but much of the rest of the cabin remained hidden in shadow.

The girl walked over to the far wall and pulled down a crossbow from the center of a rack that also held a long sword and a spear. “While we were waiting for you we couldn’t help but notice your nice collection of murder weapons,” she said accusingly. “What’s going on here? Do you, like, hunt humans or something?”

Sailor Dee chuckled. “Heavens no, my sweet. Those are not my weapons…they are yours.”

A wide smile broke on the girl’s face. “Really?”

“Come now,” said Sailor Dee, motioning to the chairs around the coffee table. “Take a seat.”

The girl put the crossbow back on the rack and joined Max and the other boy at the table.

Sailor Dee clapped his hands together. “So! Here we are! Welcome to Sailor Dee’s Rehab Center for Awkward Adults! Each one of you has been out casted by your respective social circles. We are here to find out what can be done about that. Before we begin, does anyone have any questions?”

The purple haired boy raised his hand. “Where is this place?”

“You have come to an island of the fourth dimension. For the most part, this island is a beautiful place. Here in the fourth dimension, consciousness and emotion are allowed to run free without the rules and confines of your dimension.”

Max raised his hand. “Well, if this is such a beautiful place then why do we need weapons?”

“It is better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them,” Sailor Dee replied. “Now why don’t we go around the group and introduce ourselves.” He pointed to the purple-haired boy. “You first.”

The boy sunk in his seat, embarrassed to have been singled out. “I’m Darron. There’s a million reason why the guys in my neighborhood don’t like me. See, in my neighborhood all the guys think they’re real gangsters. They sell coke and smoke weed, I don’t do drugs. They listen to Trap music, I listen to emo. With all the stories in the news recently about kids getting shot by police in America there’s been a real anti-white movement. The call it black unity, but when I didn’t want to protest a bunch of them jumped me. They call me cracker-jacker and Oreo.”

“Oreo?” asked the girl.

Darron sighed. “Black on the outside, white on the inside…Anyway, the only reason I didn’t protest is because we don’t have those problems in our city. Half the cops are black. There’s no racial tension, or at least there wasn’t until all these news stories started coming on the news. But that’s America. There are a lot of things wrong with America. Why are we going to let their problems poison our neighborhood? If we’re going to get mad about that, why aren’t we getting mad about famine in Somalia? Or child soldiers in Africa? There is so much pain all over the world…I just end up blocking everything out and playing video games online at home.”

“Good call,” said the girl.

“Well, I think it was very brave of you to stand up for your beliefs even if it made you unpopular…more unpopular. And this brings us to the first step of rehabilitation.”

“What’s that?” asked Max.

“Never believe that just because it is the popular view that it is the correct view. It has been proven throughout history that this is far from the case. Most people just agree with whatever the popular view is to avoid being singled out or persecuted as you have been. From flat earth theory, to civil rights, to laws on abortion and yes, even homosexuality! There was a point in time where if you were to say something positive about homosexuality you would be hanged! And in today’s world, if you say something negative about homosexuality you would also be hanged; maybe not from a rope, but from the judgements of your peers around you. All the general population has done is switched sides on who they hate.
It is the individual that incites social change, not the general population. The individual stands forward and says he will no longer be part of the way things are. Many agree with him, but do not speak up out of the fear of persecution. The individual is mocked, ostracized and rejected by the “respectful” people of society to the point where the people who share his belief can no longer watch him suffer alone. Inspired by his bravery they join his side.
Then the sympathetic see this and decide that, even if they do not agree with the choices and beliefs of these people, it is better to peacefully disagree than to continue to humiliate them. They too join the other side. It is only after they have become the minority in their hatred that the general population switches sides, playing as if they had been there all along. And so the cycle goes on and on, from the way we see Muslims, to global warming, to even the consumption of meat!”

A small smile broke from Darron’s nervous facade. “Thanks,” he said. “I never really thought of myself as brave before.”

“Is it my turn?” asked the girl, throwing her frizzy ends behind her shoulder.

“Of course, my sweet,” the Sailor smiled.

She took a deep breath. “Okay…I am an outcast because my friends are fucking assholes. All they do is go out every night, get hammered, do coke and have sex with a bunch of random dudes. So I stopped going out with them. I started playing this online game, it’s so cool, it’s called Soul Sniper—“

“Oh, man! I love that game!” Darron blurted out.

“Awesome game,” Amy replied. “Anyway now my friends call me a nerd and a spaz. Like just because I don’t want to piss my life away on coke and booze I don’t matter anymore!”

“Hmmm,” hummed Sailor Dee. “Do you ever miss the social aspect of going out?”

“Not really,” said Amy. “It’s the same thing every night. Getting belligerent, grabbing coke and then sitting there flapping our gums about utter nonsense for hours. I can’t live like that. But it’s not like I don’t talk to people. I talk to the gamers online. They’re funny, we joke around. Everyone except for this one guy D. FenderBender. He’s a real dick!”

Darron’s eyes went wide under the purple curtains hanging over his eyes. “I’m D. FenderBender!” he said. “You’re not AimShort, are you?”

Amy was flabbergasted. “Get the fuck…You’re D. FenderBender?! The avatar that follows me around killing me all the time?!”

Darron gave a goofy giggle. “Yup…”

She scowled. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fantasised about killing you…choking the life from you with my hands around your neck—“

“Whoa, whoa,” Sailor Dee butted in. “What a wonderful coincidence! But let’s not forget about Max over here.” He pointed to Max who stared down at his shoelaces and asked, “What made you an outcast?”

“I’m an outcast because someone put a hidden camera in the staff bathroom of my work and filmed me jerking off.”

Amy’s eyes lit up behind her thick spectacles. “I knew you looked familiar! You’re the jerk off guy!” She laughed. “Damn, dude. You got a small dick.”

Max sighed. “Thanks…”

“You masturbated at work?” asked Darron. He was torn between being disgusted and being intrigued. “Why?”

“Boredom, I guess,” answered Max. “Whenever I work at a job too long I start to get destructive. At the job before this one I started stealing the wine and getting hammered on shift. The job before that one I just stopped showing up. I guess when it really comes down to it: I hate where I am in life. I’ve been working in restaurants for over ten years and I’m sick of it. I hate the work, I hate the shit money, I hate the people…I hate myself for still doing it.”

Sailor Dee thought about it and asked, “But if you don’t like the people you work with then why do you care what they think?”

Max shrugged. “No one wants to be known as the creepy pervert.”

Sailor Dee docked his fists on his hips. “And who says that you’re a creepy pervert? The people who put a hidden camera in a private bathroom and then uploaded a video of you to the internet for everyone to see?”

“He’s right,” said Amy. “You may be weird and you may have a small dick but I would say filming a person jerking off without them knowing and then putting it on the internet is way creepier than the act of jerking off. People jerk off. I have three older brothers. The house is sixty percent cum. They don’t do it at work though, that’s crazy. You need to get laid, man.”

“Oh, fuck you!” Max shot back. “You stay at home and play video games all day. What kind of a life is that?”

“Hey!” yelled Darron. “You don’t talk to her like that!”

“Don’t tell me what to do, asshole!” barked Max. “What about you? With that chick haircut! And who the hell still listens to emo?!”

“Now, now!” the Sailor intervened. “This is a perfect time to introduce the second step of your rehabilitation!” He stepped into the shadows and emerged with a large chalkboard on legs and wheels. He picked up a piece of chalk and began to write.

When he was done, Amy read it out loud, “Mind Ya Business.”

Sailor Dee put down the chalk and dusted off his hands. “Three words that will keep you out of enormous amounts of unnecessary drama. You see, we all have different likes and dislikes, we are bound to disagree with one another eventually. And when this happens you can let it get the best of you or you can…” He tapped against the chalkboard.

“Mind Ya Business,” they answered.

“Very good,” replied Sailor Dee.

“But I was minding my own business,” Darron objected. “That’s why I got jumped in the first place!”

“My friends could use to mind their business,” Amy added.

“Mine too,” agreed Max.

“Controlling the actions of others is a futile cause. This step is not for them. It is for you. Just as you must be free to do things they do not favor, so must they be free to do things that you might not like. Even if that includes judging you.”

Amy’s head retreated into the collar of her sweater like a turtle. “Wow,” she said. “That’s pretty deep.”

“But what happens when they go out of the way to fuck with you?” asked Max. “When they make it so you can’t mind your own business?”

Suddenly there was a shift in light in the cabin as outside the glass the beaming sunlight was suffocated by a stream of troublesome black clouds rolling in. The sky turned cold and grey. Sailor Dee ran over to the window and looked out to the hills. “I was afraid of this…” he said.

The three of them joined Sailor Dee at the window and saw what he saw. Approaching through the valley was a large crowd, they were disgruntled and looking for trouble.

“Who are those people?” asked Darron.

There was a shakiness in the Sailor’s voice when he answered, “They are the bitter army. The bringers of misery. Victims turned agents of the evil King Fearandoubt!”

The crowd was thick and made up of many, men and woman alike. From forty-year old bartenders, to failed musicians, to scorned lovers and many others who never found their happiness.

“What do they want?” asked Max.

“They want to drag you down to the depths of their misery,” said Sailor Dee. “And unfortunately each one of you is at a risk of becoming one of them!”

“What can we do to stop it?” asked Darron frantically.

“The third and final step to your rehabilitation,” said Sailor Dee. “If you want your happiness—you have to be willing to fight for it!”

Max headed for the rack of weapons on the wall.

“Where are you going?” asked Amy.

Max took the crossbow from off the rack. “Sailor Dee is right. If we don’t fight these fucks, we’ll become these fucks! We have to take a stand!”

Amy looked to Darron, “What do you say? Join up for a kill streak?”

Darron smiled. “Let’s do it.”

They took their weapons; Amy the sword and Darron the spear. Max kicked open the door to the cabin and the three of them headed out into the hills towards the crowd—the battle had begun!

One by one the arrows Max flung
Whilst the soldiers of misery kicked and they swung
A spear in Darron’s hand pierced through the lung
Of a woman who’s prudish and mad she’s not young
And Amy’s broad sword jabbed and spilt blood
Of insecure thugs mad at what had not become
And when all had been slayed and the battle was won
They looked down at the bodies, proud of all they had done

From behind them came a slow clap from the soft, slender palms of Sailor Dee. He gazed at the fallen soldiers of misery with a proud smile. “You did not disappoint,” he said.

Amy had a grin cemented to her face. “That was better than any video game I’ve ever played…”

“That felt good,” smiled Darron. “Long overdue…”

Max smiled quietly to himself as if an answer had struck him. “I think I finally know what I need to do…”

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

“I quit.”

Chef Jason smiled back at Max, unconvinced. “Yeah, right!”

“I’m serious,” said Max, packing up his clothes from his locker. “I’m done.”

“Is this because of the video?” laughed Chef.

“It’s more than that,” Max replied. “I’m worth more than this shitty job, these shitty people. It’s time I started believing that.”

Chef Jason was speechless. “So…what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Max with relief. “But anything is better than this bullshit.”

“You think this is going to stop the video from going around? I’ve been showing everybody!”

“I don’t care,” grinned Max. “Have fun watching me jerk off with the rest of your faggot friends.”
And with that, he walked out. As he was leaving Chef Jason called out, “Yeah, well, you have the smallest dick I’ve ever seen!”

Max continued on. He didn’t have a snappy comeback and he didn’t get the last word, but all that didn’t matter. Chef Jason, or any chef for that matter, just wasn’t his business anymore. And it felt good.

Outside Amy and Darron sat on the bench while Sailor Dee stood in the sailboat parked in the handicap spot. Their heads perked up when they saw Max approaching. “Did you do it?” asked Amy.

Max nodded.

“How do you feel?” asked Darron.

Max laughed despite himself. “Good, actually…Really good.”

Sailor Dee twirled the keys to his sailboat around his finger. “Well, it seems my work here is done. Does anyone need a ride?”

“I don’t know if that’s gay humor or not, but we’re fine,” said Amy. She smiled at Darron and slid her hand into his. “We’re going to play some Soul Sniper.”

The two of them said goodbye and walked on into the day, hand in hand.

“Well, it looks like they are going to be alright,” said Max. “You think there is someone out there for everybody?”

Sailor Dee smiled, “Sometimes there’s two.”

Max chuckled under his breath. “Alright, Dee. I’ll see ya.”

“Let’s hope not,” said the Sailor. And then he and his sailboat floated off into the sky, further and further until they were completely out of sight.

Max continued to walk through the strip mall parking lot, kicking a small pebble along as he went. On his way he came across a young woman crying on a bench in front of another restaurant. Her head was buried in her palms and her hair hung over her face. “What’s wrong?” asked Max.

She shook her head, still buried in her hands. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “You’ll think I’m gross…”

He sat down beside her. “Try me…”

She sniffled and wiped her nose, running her hands through her hair. She sat up a little straighter now, but still looked down at her shoes. “Fine, fuck it. Who cares, anyway?” she said. “My boyfriend just broke up with me because we were out to dinner and when I came back from the bathroom I told them they had these new gizmos in the toilets in the girls’ bathroom that shot water up into your bottom region when you flushed. Anyway, I told him I stayed in there a little longer than I should have because it felt kinda good and he flipped on me. He was all like, ‘What, I’m not good enough for you? You have to masturbate?” And I’m like, ‘It’s just an orgasm! Masturbating is like shaving my legs. It has nothing to do with love!…I don’t know. I must sound crazy to you…” She started sobbing again and buried her face back into her hands.

Max smiled. “You don’t sound crazy at all.” He extended his palm to shake her hand. “My name’s Max,” he said.

She lifted her head and clumsily brushed her bangs away from her face. When she finally got a good look at Max she smiled, “I’m Jennifer,” she said, shaking his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

The End

Timestopper

An inventor and his brother attempt to stop the hands of time in order to save their mother.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

Tom Needly stood by his mother’s hospital bed looking down on her frail figure wrapped in thin sheets of cotton. The room was quiet now that the hospital security had made those pesky reporters wait outside the building. Tom thought they acted like Vultures; all trying to get a pick at a wounded piece of meat.

Uncle Maury sat in the chair by the window. He cleared his throat loudly while he flipped through the channels on the in-room television bolted to the ceiling. He stopped at the local news and gave a raspy chuckle between wet coughs. “It’s us!” He said, pointing to the screen where local bronzed-skin newsman Terry Aiden stood at the entrance to the hospital dressed in one of his usual well-tailored suits, holding a long stemmed microphone. Behind him the rest of the vultures had gathered and they looked anxious, waiting for something—or someone, to arrive.

Todd Needly bowed his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and his index finger letting out a long, disgruntled sigh. “Turn it off,” he said.

His uncle appeared deaf to the request, his eyes still locked on the screen, his mouth hanging open in the form of a loose, childish grin. He put down the remote on the coffee table and lent back in his chair. As he did his gut drooped out from his worn “Green Bay Packers” t-shirt and settled over his belt buckle. He looked over to Todd and said, almost teasingly, “I bet they’re talking about your brother…” Then he reached back over to the coffee table with a cough and a grunt, picking up the remote and turning up the volume on the television to drown out the systematic beeps of his sister’s heart monitor. Todd resigned and joined his uncle by the television as Terry Aiden spoke into the camera.

“It has been four years since Alan Shaman, commonly known in the pharmaceutical world as ‘The Shaman’ went into hiding with the promise that when he returned he would have with him an invention so ground-breaking that it would, quote, ‘change the world forever’…”

Uncle Maury pointed to the picture of Alan they had framed on the screen. “You guys really look alike,” he said. He used his pinky finger to dig in his ear like a dog trying to scratch out a flea.

“Everyone says that…” muttered Todd. Their eye’s remained with Terry Aiden on the television as he continued on.

“Shaman is, of course, famous for his work done with corporate pharmaceutical giant PharmTech including, but not limited to the popular “Dat!”; a lovable hybrid of both the feline and canine genome. Shaman was also the engineer of the highly controversial sperm count accelerator “Spackletine”. Although the product highly increased the counts in low-sperm patients it was also responsible for a 10% autism rate which sparked outrage all over America by the families affected. Many people accused Shaman of “playing god”. But, despite the protests and the lawsuits, these scientific discoveries made Alan Shaman the first billionaire ever to come out of Normanview Falls—“

Click! The screen went black. Uncle Maury looked up to Todd who held the remote with a grip so tight the blood had rushed from his palm leaving it a ghostly pale white.

“I guess he’s not in a big rush to get his inheritance then,” Uncle Maury joked.

“I don’t know why he’s even coming back at all,” Todd sighed under his breath. He walked back to his mother and watched her as she slept. A silence hung in the room that seemed to intensify with every beep that came from her heart monitor.

Beep…..beep…..beep….

“Holy shit!” cried Uncle Maury suddenly. Todd’s head sprang up to see Uncle Maury kneeling on his chair looking out the window down towards the hospital entrance, his hands and face pressed against the glass like a fifth grader on a school bus.

“What is it?” asked Todd, quickly coming to see what all the fuss was about.

Outside, the reporters gathered by the entrance began a mad-dash swarm over to a slowly approaching pearl white stretch limousine. From up on the ninth floor it looked more like ants swarming a sugar cube. Uncle Maury looked to his nephew and grinned from ear to ear. Todd jerked away at the sight of his uncle’s yellow stained teeth. “He’s baaaack,” sung Uncle Maury.

Todd hung his head and groaned.

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

Alan Shaman took the last sips of his 7 & 7 and placed his rock glass back on the side bar counter of the limousine. The leather seat crunched as he sat back against it. He looked out at the crowd of press trying unsuccessfully to get a glimpse inside the tinted windows and, with a grin, looked over to his driver and said, “Hey, James. You know what would be funny? You should roll down your window and have your dick hanging out so when they come rushing over they get smacked in the face with a creamy old penis!”

The driver’s eyes met Alan’s through the rear-view mirror with his usual solemn expression. “I don’t think so, sir…”

“Aw, c’mon! It’ll be funny!” coaxed Alan.

“I would still rather not, sir,” the driver repeated.

Alan groaned. “Fine! Have it your way. But I’m rolling up the privacy glass on the way home.”

Alan reached over to the door and pressed down on a button. The tinted window that separated the driver from the rest of the limo slowly buzzed upwards until the driver could no longer be seen. He grabbed his Ray Ban sunglasses sitting by the ice bucket and put them on. “Okay,” he sighed. “Let’s do this…”

As the back door to the limo swung open the mob of reporters came swarming over followed by their camera man and photographers trying to hurry the best they could while lugging their heavy hardware with them. “Mr. Shaman! Mr. Shaman!” They cried over the harsh clicks and whooshes of pictures being snapped. The flashes lit up the front steps of the hospital as if it were the red carpet at the Oscars.

Alan put on his widely publicized magazine cover smile as he moved through the crowd, up the steps to the hospital entrance. At the top of the steps he turned to them and said, “Thank you all for coming! It’s great to be back home.” His smile remained wide and stiff.

Paula Jean from the Normanview News called out, “Alan, where have you been?”
Donald Jacobs from Channel 8 yelled, “Is it true about the rumors that you have been collaborating with the military?”

Terry Aiden stood at the front of the pack, “Alan, can you tell us anything about the new invention you’ve been working on?”

Alan put his hands up, signaling the crowd for silence. The crowd obliged.

“Yes, it’s true!” said Alan. “It’s true that I have been collaborating with the government and, while the details of the project are still classified, I can tell you that this invention will forever change the world we live in. This invention will be my legacy!”

The crowd of reporters came back at him with an onslaught of inaudible barks and hollers as he entered the hospital. They chased him all the way to the front entrance where they were stopped by two security guards who looked almost frightened by the mob. After all, Normanview Falls was a small town and rarely saw such excitement within its borders.

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

Back in the hospital room Todd Needly’s head looked up to see his wife, Maggie, come rushing into the room holding little baby Thomas close to her breast. Behind her followed his thirteen year old daughter Julia who dragged her feet as she walked, a droopy pout hanging from her face.

“I’m so sorry,” Mrs. Needly said to her husband. She wrapped her free hand around his neck and stroked his hair lovingly. “I came as soon as I got your message. Is she okay?”

“The doctor says she’s stable for now,” answered Todd. He looked over to his daughter sulking by the bathroom, kicking up imaginary dust. “What’s the matter with Julia?”

His wife rolled her eyes. “She was supposed to go to the mall with Steve today, so she’s upset. Were we that selfish when we were kids?” She motioned to baby Thomas. “Can you take him?”

Little Thomas squirmed and whined as Mrs. Needly handed him off to his father but soon, with a little rocking, went back to the comfort of sucking on his pacifier. Mrs. Needly took off her trench coat and hung it on the coat rack. She pulled down on her sweater which had been slowly riding up her stomach while she was holding Thomas and gave herself a quick pat down to remove food, formula, or any other foreign objects that seem to magically appear among the company of small children. You wouldn’t know it by her tangled hair or the stress bags forming under her eyes but in high school, when her and Todd had started dating, Maggie was one of the most sought after prizes in all of Normanview Falls. Now it was her thirteen year old daughter, Julia, who was quickly growing into a beautiful young woman. Something that her father was less than ready to admit.

“Hey there, Maggie,” said Uncle Maury from his seat.

“Hey, Maury,” she returned, forcing a smile the best that she could. “I’m so sorry. Are you alright?”

Uncle Maury responded with an empathetic nod and turned his attention back outside the window. Suddenly his eyes became wide as, through the reflection in the glass, he saw a familiar figure enter the room. A grin spread across Uncle Maury’s face. He turned around from the window to see his billionaire nephew at the doorway. By this time the other members of the family had noticed his presence also.

Alan stared back at them behind his Ray Bans wearing the same magazine cover smile he gave the reporters outside. “Well, don’t all say hello at once…”

Todd lifted his eyes from where his mother lye and met eyes with his brother but only for a quick second before his eyes sank back downward. “Hey, Alan,” said Todd, his eyes locked on his mother. “It’s good to see you…”

“Take of those sunglasses,” said Uncle Maury. “You’re inside. It’s rude.”

Alan chuckled softly and removed his Ray Bans. “Good to see you, Maury. I see you haven’t changed.” He shifted his focus to Julia standing by the bathrooms with her arms crossed. He gave a small wave to which she returned with a quick smile, gone as soon as it arrived. “Wow,” said Alan, now looking over to Maggie. “Her fake smile is almost as good as yours.”

Maggie’s hair fell on her shoulders as she tilted her head and smiled, the grip on her husband’s arm seemingly tightening. “Good to see you again,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”

“I was wrong,” said Alan, his grin stretching upward. “Yours is still much more convincing.” But Maggie didn’t hear him or at least that is how she made it seem.

Alan’s eyes shifted to his mother under the covers of the hospital bed. Tubes stuck out of her arms connected to the multiple blinking, buzzing machines that surrounded her. His smile was gone now. He walked over to the bed and looked down at his mother. He couldn’t help but notice how much she had aged since they had last seen each other. It made his stomach turn just a bit. Four years was a long time to be away. He lifted up her hand, tied with a bulky pulse reader, and held it. It scared him a little. He felt that all it would take would be one hard squeeze and her frail bones would turn to dust. The skin sagged between her fingers like a bat wing, veins and spots made her skinny arms look like a road maps. It was not the same hand he used to hold as a child; the hand that would keep him safe when they crossed the street, the hand that would hand him presents on Christmas morning and smile as she watched him with a look of excitement on her face that would match, if not trump, his own. It was the same hand that smacked him in the face the first time he ever told her to fuck off. She had struck fear into him that day. But she was not scary anymore. She was sick. She was dying.

He watched as her chest struggled to expand and then collapsed. He met eyes with Todd at the other side of the bed and, for a moment, the confident facade and dropped from Alan’s face and he was just the little boy looking to his older brother for answers. Though he was hard pressed to admit it, Alan always envied Todd’s ability to stay calm when things went wrong. Todd gave him a reassuring nod. Though they had their fights, though they disagreed on practically everything—they were family.

Beep…..beep….beep….

“I need to talk to you,” said Alan to his brother. Uncle Maury’s and Maggie’s eyes darted in their direction. “…in the hallway,” he finished. Alan’s confident facade had returned.

****************************
Out in the hallway Alan pulled his brother to the confines of the water fountain. His eyes darted all around looking for any press that had managed to slip through security. Maybe they were impersonating visitors. Maybe they were impersonating doctors. But there was no one around, except for an old lady with a walker about a hundred meters away at the service desk. She didn’t seem to pose any harm.

Todd pulled himself from Alan’s grip. “What’s all this about?”

Alan looked at his brother, his eyes glimmered as he said, “I think I can save her.”

“Who? Mom?”

Alan nodded eagerly.

Todd laughed it off. “You’re not a doctor, Alan. You’re a circus pharmacist at best…”

Alan’s ears started get red, as they did when he was upset. “I’m going to forget you said that,” he said. “Especially when I tell you what I’ve been working on all these years.” His eyes widened as he indulged the dramatic pause and then, finally, he said, “Todd…I found a way to stop time.

By this point Todd had dealt with just about enough. “What the hell are you talking about?” he asked. As quick as he did, he regretted it. When it came to Alan, Todd usually ended up sorry he encouraged him.

But Alan was not one to be deterred by skepticism. “Time is movement, right? There is twenty four hours in a day which is an equal division of the time it takes the earth to complete one full rotation. And a year is measured by the time it takes the earth to revolve around the sun. But what if you could stop the movement? If you could do that than you could stop time. You could remove yourself from the current of the universe and remain in that same moment—forever. And guess what?…”

Todd couldn’t help but bite. He always bit. “What?”

“We created a program…a system of satellites rather, that could do just that. Stop the hands of time!”

It was such an unbelievable proposal and yet, coming out of Alan’s mouth, Todd had a hard time doubting it. Still, he tried his best. “You can’t just stop time.”

Todd’s pessimistic attitude was nothing new to Alan. He was ready with a response before Todd’s contradiction had even left his lips. “Yes, we can. We did already. Once. For twenty-four hours.”

Todd’s curiosity once again got the better of him. “You did? And what happened?”

Alan bowed his head and bit his lip. “You, uh, remember those earthquakes and tsunami’s that fucked up Fukushima?”

Todd shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Are you saying you caused the nuclear disaster at Fukushima?”

Alan shrugged innocently. “Well, something has to be said for the poor planning of the Japanese. I mean, have you ever looked at Japan on a map? The last place you should be putting a nuclear power plant is on that little turd in the ocean.”

Todd let out a tense sigh. “Jesus Christ, Alan…”

Alan’s fingers beat against Todd’s chest. “But it works! Everyone on earth got one more day of life thanks to us.”

“And how many people had to die for that?” asked Todd.

Alan put his hand up apologetically. “Okay, yeah. There were some casualties. But Todd, we can save mom’s life! And none of us would ever age, or grow old, or even die!”

Todd stood silent. Despite his moral objections to the consequences of his brother’s actions, the thought of saving his mother from death could not be ignored. But there was something else. “You know how many nights I wished that I could stop my daughter from growing up? Julia used to adore me. Now she just puts up with me. Soon enough she’ll meet a guy, get married…she won’t need me anymore.”

“We can stop all that,” Alan said. “And save mom in the process.”

“So…How do we do this?” Todd asked. He was embarrassed for even humoring the idea.

“The control center is not too far from here. If we take the jet we can get back in twelve hours, tops.”

“Alright, fine!” Todd broke. “But we have to be quick.”

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

Todd stared out the window of Alan’s private jet looking down at the cotton candy clouds. It was calm and peaceful up there alone in the sky. People didn’t even exist from that height. A sharp jingle in his ear brought Todd back to reality. He darted his head away from a rock’s glass filled with two fingers of aged scotch and ice. Alan gave it one more little shake for good measure. Todd could not resist. He took the offering and sat back in his seat. He stirred the drink carefully in his hand. Smelling it. Savoring it. “Haven’t had one of these in a while,” he admitted.

“Seriously? It’s the drink of the Shamans. But I guess you’re not a Shaman anymore, huh?”

“I only took the Needly name because the press wouldn’t leave me alone. Not to mention the protesters showing up at our door. What about you? Are you even a Shaman anymore? We haven’t seen you around in over six Christmases and God knows how many Thanksgivings. We don’t even set a place for you anymore.”

Alan rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. What am I really missing anyway? Everyone sitting around twiddling their thumbs, relying on baby Thomas to do something cute to take attention off the fact that we have nothing to say to each other? Or Uncle Maury’s endless lectures on all the reasons I’m not a real man. Like, Jesus Christ, I’m a billionaire! I’m sorry I don’t know how to build a fucking birdhouse! I’m out here making real change in the world!”

Now it was Todd’s turn to roll his eyes. “Oh yeah, the Dat was a real important scientific discovery. Forget AIDS and cancer; let’s make a cat-dog.”

“It was important!” Alan shot back. “Cat people and Dog people have been at war for years! I created the bridge to peace!”

“Yeah, you’re a real Gandhi when it comes to pets,” Todd snickered, gulping the rest of his whiskey.

Alan’s ears started to get hot. “Yeah, well, only one of us has his own private jet, so…”

Todd slammed his rocks glass down into the cup holder. “That’s always what it comes down to doesn’t it? You have money and I don’t!”

Alan became defensive. “Hey, it’s not my fault you stayed in Normanview. You had all the same advantages that I did.”

“I stayed in Normanview to be close to my family! Because family means something to me!” He gave a short, broken laugh. “And what really gets me is I know you’re still mom’s favorite. And you were a horrible son to her. As a kid you gave her nothing but grief and as an adult you are practically non-existent. And she still talks about you like you’re this—this—this perfect guy! But you’re not perfect, Alan. Not even close.”

Alan gazed down at the quickly melting ice cubes in his glass. His eyes remained there as Todd waited for one of his usual smart ass replies…but there was nothing.

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

As the jet touched down Todd got a glimpse of the compound through the window. It was a cold steel octagon in the middle of the wavy grasslands. Besides the armed guard at the entrance-way, there was no one for miles and miles. He started to fidget, rubbing his knuckles and tapping his feet. “I don’t know about this Alan,” he said. By this time he was almost squirming in his seat.

Alan laughed like he had seen this before. “Will you relax?” he said. “It’s no problem.”

Todd let out a long sigh of relief. “So, I’m allowed in with you then.”

Alan laughed even harder. “No, not at all. This is federal top secret shit. They’ll kill you.”

They exited the jet, clanking down the steel steps. Todd’s eye’s remained fixed on the guard. The more he tried not to look, the more he ended up looking. He leaned into his brother and whispered to the back of his head. “So what the hell are we supposed to do?”

“Remember when we used to sneak into movies at the Cineplex on Winfield?”

Todd’s face scrunched up. “The ticket drop? Are you insane?”

Alan continued down the stairs, unmoved. “What’s the problem?” he asked. “I drop the ticket and you follow me in.”

Todd began to lecture him in a whisper, “That was a movie theater! This is a federal top-secret research lab!”

Alan couldn’t help but crack his famous cocky grin. “Tomato, tomato,” he said. “Besides you look just like me. These guys can’t tell the difference, they’re fucking jar-heads.”

“We do not look alike,” said Todd, offering up one final contradiction. They were on the final stretch now, there was no going back. The guard seemed to have his eyes locked on Todd. Does he know? Todd wondered. Can he hear my heart racing? Even when he looked away he could feel the guard’s eyes staring at him, burning a hole through his back. Alan swiped his card and was welcomed with the green light over the swipe pad. The doors parted open and he walked in. Todd looked to the guard. The guard looked back at Todd. In his peripherals Todd could see Alan’s access card lying among some pebbles and weeds.

“Excuse me, sir,” said the guard. His voice was commanding and sharp.

Todd gulped. “Um…yes?”

The guard took two steps forward and bent over. When he re-aligned he was holding Alan’s access card in his hands. He looked at the picture on the ID, then back at Todd. After what seemed to Todd like a year of silence the guard said, “You dropped your card, sir.” He handed it to Todd and returned to his post.

Todd nodded respectfully, trying to pass off his shaking legs as him just being cold. “Thank you,” he said, blowing into his fist and rubbing his hands together. He swiped the card and light went green. The door parted opened and Todd entered the fortress. There stood Alan, waiting for him, wearing that cocky grin like he knew there had been nothing to worry about the whole time. Just like he used to at the Cineplex.

The door closed behind them. Now they were in a long hallway; white, glaring. It was narrow and empty. Their steps echoed as they walked. They passed two doors on the way, both Alan ignored. But when they reached the third door he stopped and put his hand on the gold plated handle. As he gently pushed it open he said, “Welcome…to Jurassic Park.”

Inside the room were more white walls. In the center a long white table held up multiple radar screens and hubs with blinking buttons, switches and L.E.D. lights. At the foot of the table, at each end, there was a pedal. And above each pedal, just below the table’s ledge, there was a lever saluting upwards.

“So, it’s pretty easy,” said Alan. “We step on the foot pedal, pull down on the lever and boom, time stops.”

Todd took a deep breath, staring down the lever. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do it.”

The two of them took their places at each end of the table. Alan stepped on his pedal
first. Todd followed. Alan then reached for his lever and that’s when Todd cried, “Wait! Stop!”

Alan took his hand off the lever. “What? What is it?”

Todd took his foot off the pedal. “We can’t do this,” he said. “It’s not right.”

Alan stepped off his pedal. “What are you talking about, man? We’re going to save mom’s life! I thought you were up for this? I thought you wanted to keep Julia your daughter for a little longer?”

“Julia will always be my daughter,” said Todd. “Sure, I wish she needed me a bit more and I wish she said “I love you” as much as she used to…but at what cost? You said the last time you used this thing you caused earthquakes and tsunami’s…You caused Fukushima!”

“Yeah, but that’s in Japan!” was Alan’s rebuttal. “We’ll be safe!”

“That’s not the point!” Todd exclaimed. “Just because it’s not you who is getting fucked over, doesn’t make it right! Japanese people have families too! They have mothers they care about too! What makes us more special than them? I don’t want to lose mom either, okay? But are we going to stop the whole world from turning just so we can have our way?”

“Yes!” shouted Alan.

“Why?!” shouted Todd.

“Because you’re right!” Alan yelled with a volume that climaxed their back and forth. The statement seem to knock the wind out of them both, for Alan admitting Todd was right was something that in all their years together had never taken place. When Alan spoke again he seemed weaker, exhausted even, from his admission. “You’re right,” he repeated. “I am a shitty son. I was never around, I never called…God, I don’t even know when’s mom birthday is. Whenever she would call me I would always be in a rush to get back to my work. Now it’s too late and I can’t take it back. That’s why I wanted to stop time, Todd. So I could spend some time with her. So I could give her back some of the love that she gave me.”

Todd had not seen tears fall from his brothers since he fell of his bike in the forest when they were just kids. But even after all the years that had passed Todd’s reaction didn’t change. He walked over to his little brother and brought him into his chest, hugging him. “You can’t change the past, Alan.” He said. “But there is still a family waiting for you in Normanview. That never changed, Alan. That never changed.”

Just then Todd’s cell phone began to vibrate in the breast pocket of his sports jacket. He let go of his brother and took it out. It was Maggie. He answered, “Hey, baby. What’s up?”

“Where the hell are you?” his wife asked frantically from the other end.

Todd took a look around at the radar screens and blinking hubs. “I don’t even know,” he replied.

“Well, you better hurry up and get your asses back here. Your mom just had another stroke. The doctor says she’s barely hanging on. Todd…she can be gone any minute.”

“We’re on our way,” said Todd. “Just hold on!” He hung up the phone and turned to Alan. “Mom had another stroke. She’s not expected to recover…”

Alan’s face become hot and his fists clenched. He spun around and punched the wall as hard as he could. “Fuck!”

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

The elevator doors had barely begun to open before Alan squeezed his way through and raced down the hallway of the hospital towards his mother’s room. Todd was there close behind him. At the end of the hallway the rest of the family waited; Uncle Maury, Julia and Maggie rocking little baby Thomas in her arms. And there was one more person: A man in a lab coat talking to Uncle Maury by the door to their mother’s room that was now closed. Alan’s heel squeaked against the floor as he came to a hard hockey stop. Maggie ran to her husband and threw her free arm around his neck. She sobbed into his chest.

“Where is she?” demanded Alan.

“Calm down, Alan,” said Uncle Maury. His tone was soft and nurturing. Alan knew something was very wrong.

“Where is she?!” he repeated, increasing his intensity. He was starting to shake now. The room was starting to spin. A hand came towards him; it belonged to the man in the lab coat. Alan swatted it away and pushed open the door to his mother’s room.

Inside the room was now silent. The machines had stopped buzzing, the lights had stopped blinking and the heart monitor had stopped beeping. In the corner of the room his mother laid in the bed, under the sheets. She looked up at the ceiling, her eyes closed in peaceful rest. He thought back to the Christmas mornings as a child when he would barge into her room and jump on her until she woke up and took him by the hand to the tree downstairs. But this time she wasn’t waking up. She was never waking up ever again. He dropped to her bedside and a stream of tears rolled freely down his cheeks, the bed sheet crinkled and creased in the locked grip of his fists. “I’m sorry, mom,” he cried. “I swear to God, I’m so sorry! I should have been here! I should have been with you!….I’m so sorry, ma…”

A hand on his shoulder pulled him up from his knees; it was the same hand that picked him up whenever he would fall off his bike as a kid. A hand that no amount of money, no amount of press and no amount of success had ever replaced the need for. He heard the calming voice of his big brother behind him, “It’s okay, Alan. It’s okay…”

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

After the funeral Todd gave Alan a ride back to the landing strip where his private jet was waiting.

“So you’re not upset that Julie is going to continue to get older? Y’know, ‘find someone’ and all that?” asked Alan.

“I think I can live with it,” said Todd. “I’m kind of excited actually. I have about a decade of scaring the shit out of a bunch of horny boys ahead of me. It won’t be so bad. What about you? What’s next for the famous Alan Shaman?”

“I have a few things left to take care of on this government contract,” said Alan. “But when it’s up I think I’m going to take a little break. I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving in ages…Think you could set a spot at the table for me this year?”

Todd smiled. “You sure? Even with Uncle Maury undervaluing your manhood?”

Alan returned a smirk. “Ah, he’s not so bad.”

Todd put his hand out. “So, I guess this is goodbye?”

Alan put his hand into his brother’s and shook it. “Let’s call it: see ya later.”

The End

Retarded

Two slackers plan to use a boy with savant syndrome to help then steal an original copy of Amazing Fantasy #15

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

A pair of stubby, blistered hands hovered over the keyboard at the computer hub of the Central Library. Eight fingers and two lazy thumbs were arched at the ready and yet…they did not move. Brett Furlong watched the blinking text bar flashing back at him from the monitor, prompting for an e-mail address. He glanced to his left where sat a scruffy old native man. The beaten-looking man mumbled to himself, his head buried low into his chest and his keyboard untouched. He hadn’t even logged in. Then he looked to his right, where sat a young man watching a Jonas brother music video. He had a blank stare and a goofy smile. There was something off with him; Brett just couldn’t put his finger on what. His bloodshot eyes shifted back to the blinking bar on the monitor prompting him for an e-mail address. Then he looked down to his hands hovering over the keyboard, afraid to begin, for if he started he knew that he would be one of them–the public internet crowd. Ugh. What a bunch of freaks. How had he ever gotten so low as to be among the likes of them?

No time for that now, he thought. Just get this over with and get the fuck out of here!

His fingers went to work.

USERNAME: sexmachine69@gmail.com
PASSWORD: bigtitties

Brett scratched his bald head. With the exception of a few lonely hairs looking like cacti in the desert, its surface was as smooth and glowing as a lane in a bowling alley, wrapped around its sides was a patch of dark stubble that looked like worn Velcro. His free hand rubbed motherly on his rumbling gut. He felt old. There was no question that the sexually adventurous rock star persona of his youth had long since decomposed, leaving this loose lump of hair and skin in its wake. The boy that spawned that sultry handle was dead and gone. And even though Brett new he was long overdue for an e-mail address update, even though he knew that sexmachine69@gmail.com was not helping him in the job market…he never changed it.

Why, you ask? Well, as stupid as it may sound to you, that handle was the only lasting testament to his lustful, exuberant youth. A time in his life he desperately yearned to relive. But here he was: The band, split. The girl, gone. Hair, gone. Life, shitty. If he did get a new e-mail address, no one would ever remember that fun loving goof who could play the shit out of a guitar and go shot for shot with the best of them. That boy, that…sexmachine69, would be lost forever, buried in the ever falling sands of time. Today would not be that day. Brett had more important business to attend to.

Upon signing in he was greeted with a new message notification from Tinder. Its subject read Congratulations, Brett! You have a new match!

Matches for Brett now and days were rare. And when they did occur he usually wasn’t very happy with the results. He had imagined that if he threw out a big enough net and liked as many photos as possible, that he was likely to catch a greater number of fish. But sadly, most of the fish he caught were ones that he was eager to give back to the sea.

But not this one. She was something else.

Arlene. She had this free spirited, party girl thing about her. But also she looked innocent, like the partying hadn’t got the best of her yet. He couldn’t quite nail down her nationality though. She looked mixed. Maybe Asian/white or black/Mexican…but she was flawless. Once again his fingers went to work.

> Hey Arlene! Look at us—we matched!!

Brett stared at the screen for a moment…Delete. Delete.

Maybe just Hey to start, he decided.

He typed the three letters, said one last goodbye to Arlene’s beautiful, racially ambiguous face and logged off from Tinder, heading quickly to his Royal Bank online banking account. There, another homepage prompted him for his card number and password. No matter how many times he punched in his account number, he never did manage to memorize it. He sat there, his eyes darted at the card in his hands, clicking away at the keyboard, sounding more like the second hand on a grandfather clock than a human typing on a computer. Once passed the security questions, he hastily transferred twenty dollars from his savings into his checking account so he could grab a few after work joints. Tonight he was getting high but, with any luck, tomorrow he’d be getting laid.

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

The next day, after he clocked out, Brett headed straight back to the library to see if Arlene had replied. He was in such a rush that he didn’t even change out of his steel toes and dusty work cargo’s. As he opened the door into the mezzanine he heard someone behind him say, “Brett Furlong? Is that you?”

He could see the man’s reflection in the glass. It was a scene kid no doubt; the tight jeans, the vintage rock shirt with the name of the band that they don’t listen to, the leather jacket and of course, the wool toque. Brett just couldn’t identify with the kids who thought looking like a cat burglar was hip. But underneath all the trend and fashion, there was a face that he recognized. But who was it?

The monochromatic stranger stretched his arms out, his tiny, pale wrists shooting out of the sleeves on his leather jacket as he boasted, “It’s me! Steve Collins! From high school!”

Brett looked him up and down. Steve Collins? Steve the dweeb? Could it really have been him? After all, Steve had been quite the loser in those days. Then Brett became suddenly aware of how much he had changed himself over the years. While Steve had been losing his gut, Brett had been putting one on. While Steve had been growing out his hair, Brett had been shedding his. And while Steve was looking sharp and fashionable, Brett looked like an old Polish painter. It seemed as though the two of them had swapped destinies. Brett had not been the kindest to Steve in those years, now he was a little embarrassed by it. It was hard to look him eye to eye but, out of pride, he did.

“Oh, hey Steve,” said Brett. “Long time, huh?”

Steve’s smile grew wider. “I know!” He laughed. “Wow. You…You look different.”

Brett let out a heavy sigh, his gut sunk over his waistband. “Yeah, I know.”

Steve’s eyes blew open like he had just remembered he left the stove on. “Hey, you want to go grab a coffee and catch up real quick?

Brett thought about Arlene’s reply waiting for him on Tinder. He bet it was something cute like Hey or Hey, winky face. “I don’think so,” said Brett. “I have to get some work done.”

Steve pressed on. “Aw, come on. You can’t be that busy. Just a quick one. I know a place around the corner.”

It was strange to Brett that Steve was so intent on catching up. They were hardly friends in high school. Brett was in a popular rock band and Steve watched anime and did math. But he agreed anyway, feeling sorry for the way he had treated Steve in the past. Maybe, he thought, An act of kindness might help turn around his karma, if there ever were such a thing.

Once inside the coffee shop Brett turned to Steve in the line and asked, “So, why were you at the library?”

“Research,” said Steve with a grin. “So, you still in that band?”

“No,” answered Brett. “We split up a few years ago.”

“That’s too bad,” said Steve. “You guys were good.”

“Thanks,” Brett replied.

“So, what are you up to these days?”

Brett pointed to his chalky steel toed boots. “Construction. You?”

Steve opened his mouth to speak, but just as he did the barista shouted, “Next in line, please!”

Brett turned to her. “Hey, can I get a small medium. No room.”

“$2.50,” she answered.

Brett removed his debit card from his wallet and the barista handed him the machine. He looked over his shoulder quickly as he punched in his password and then handed it back to the girl at the counter. “I’m sorry, it didn’t go through,” she said. The machine gave that embarrassing shrill buzz of a denied transaction as the receipt printed out.

“Impossible,” said Brett. He tried again, holding on to the device this time in case the girl had been doing something to mess with it. The buzz came again and ‘Insufficient funds’ flashed on the screen as another denied receipt spewed out of the machine.

“Everything okay?” asked Steve, poking his head over Brett’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” said Brett. He looked up at the cashier and winced. “Sorry, can we just try one more time?”

By now the line was starting to grow and people were beginning to become restless and annoyed. To be safe, Brett used his savings account this time. He knew there was still seven hundred and fifty dollars in that account. But again “Insufficient funds” flashed on the screen. Another receipt buzzed out mockingly.

Steve’s arm came from behind and dropped a ten dollar bill on the counter. “Make that two and keep the change, darling,” he said with a wink.

“Wow,” said the barista. “Thank you, mister!”

By the time the two of them sat down, Brett was starting to panic. “There has to be some mistake,” he said. “I know I have money it that account.”

Steve reached into the inner breast pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a small pile of crisp tens and twenties, neatly stacking them on the table. “What’s that?” asked Brett.

“That is seven hundred and fifty dollars. It’s what was in your savings account. Well, seven hundred and forty dollars now, after the coffee’s and the big tip you gave the cashier.”

Brett leaned back in his chair, “What are you talking about? How do you know how much was in my savings account?”

“I robbed you,” Steve replied. “This is your money. That’s why your card got rejected.”

Brett’s lips sunk into a frown and his eyes became cold and angry. He leaned in and grabbed Steve by the collar, twisting the shirt with his fist. “Listen, Steve the dweeb,” he growled. “You better start making sense—and quick!”

Some of the other patrons had started to look over to their table. Steve offered them a reassuring smile and a friendly chuckle. “It’s okay,” he said. “My friend is just extremely caffeine sensitive.” Brett let go and Steve tried to press out the wrinkles on his collar with his hand unsuccessfully. When he had given up he looked up to Brett and said, “Come with me. There’s someone I want you to meet…And take that money off the table before people start to think we’re coke dealers.”

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

When they returned back to the library Steve led them to the study tables right by the computer labs and they sat down. “So, where’s this person you want me to meet?” asked Brett. Steve pointed over to the computers, where the same young man that sat beside him the day before sat watching that same Jonas brother video with the same glazed look on his eyes and that droopy smile. “Him?” asked Brett, in more of an absurdity than a question. “Isn’t he…y’know…one of those “special” people?”

“Oh, he’s special alright,” said Steve. “But you meant: is he retarded? And the answer to that is yes. Very. But, like a Transformer, there is more to him than meets the eye.”

Brett stared blankly back at Steve.

“Okay,” Steve said finally, shooting off a couple of finger guns. “Have you ever seen Rain Man?”

Brett perched up in his seat now that there was a familiar topic. “That movie with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman?”

Steve’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, yeah!” he nodded. “You know it…So remember when Tom Cruise figures out that even though Dustin Hoffman is retarded he has an amazing ability for retaining information? Like numbers? And then they go to Las Vegas to count cards?” Brett nodded fondly and Steve continued full barrel, “That’s what is called ‘Savant Syndrome’, which is basically the case in where, though most of the parts of the brain that make us our social selves are inactive in these people, another part of the brain, one that us ‘normal’ folk do not have access to, is awakened.”

Brett was started to gain interest. He pulled his seat closer and asked, “What kind of part?…of the brain.”

Steve shrugged. “It’s different all the time. Kim Peek; the guy that Dustin Hoffman’s character is based on had the unique ability of increased memory. He could memorize everything! Books! People’s conversations! Black Jack cards!”

“No shit, eh?”

Steve continued on, “This other guy, Stephen Wiltshire, took a helicopter ride over the city of London and when he got back home he drew an identical image of the view from the ‘copter. Every building, every street, ever car, every lamp post…it was fixed to memory.” Then he pointed to the young man at the computer. “Wally over there has his own mutant powers. Much like Peek, he can retain information at lightning fast speeds; reading lips, counting keys, counting cards—“

“Get the fuck of out of here,” whispered Brett with childish excitement. “So, have you, like, taken him to Vegas? Like in the movie?”

“Unfortunately that Scientologist bastard ruined it for the rest of us. I’d be outed the second I brought Wally into one of those places. But here, at the library, people don’t give a fuck. And that’s how we cash in. Everyday people come here to use the computers; they enter e-mail addresses, passwords, credit card numbers—all of it!”

It suddenly hit Brett like a punch in the face. “Are you saying…that guy stole my banking information when I came in here yesterday?”

Steve leaned in and whispered, but his eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his skull. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Brett found it hard to hold onto his anger. After all, the story was so crazy…it was kind of cool. He found himself wanting to know more. “So, how much have you, y’know, made off him?”

Steve darted back, offended. “Made off him? Brett, I’m not his pimp. I’m not his slave master. He makes forty bucks a week. His mom thinks I give him it to help around the house with chores and learn responsibility, bullshit like that.”

“His mom?”

“Yeah, I’m his Big Brother. I signed up thinking it would be good for my resume…but now that I have Wally, why would I work? This is my job. And it fucking pays.”

Brett ran his hands across the smooth surface of his head, taking it all in. “How did you…how did you discover this?”

“I was logging into my PornHub account, I like to troll the message boards, and I typed in my password. That’s when Wally, at the other end of the couch, shouts out my password at the top of his lungs! While his mom was right downstairs! It wouldn’t have been so bad had the password not been so vulgar.”

“What was the password?”

Steve grinned. “The same as your e-mail password.”

“bigtitties?”

Steve nodded. “Yes. It was bigtitties.”

“Wait a second,” said Brett, his index finger up for pause. “Are you telling me you were on PornHub when you were supposed to be babysitting a dude that’s mentally challenged?”

Steve was again put on the offensive. “Mentally challenged? That kid is a fucking super hero! He’s a cash cow! You’re missing the point, *cough*, uh, to the story…What I was trying to say is…I want to offer you a job. It pays $10,000.”

Brett’s ears perked up like a dog hearing the jingling of a leash being taken off the rack. “What exactly are we talking about here?”

Steve took the green light and began to lay it all down, “The other day Wally was doing his usual run of the labs when this guy sits down beside him and logs into his e-mail. He’s nothing special, generic chubby bald guy—no offense—Later, when I got the codes from Wally, I wasn’t even going to bother checking his account. Guys like him usually have inboxes filled with final notices from collection agencies and Craigslist reply notices from transvestites. Anyway, I’m glad I checked because this guy was the fucking whale of all fucking whales. You ready for this? Right now he is in a bid war for an original copy of Amazing Fantasy #15. I know what you’re thinking: how does a fat bald guy like that have the money to bid on such a rare and expensive comic book?—again, no offense. Well, I dug a little deeper into his e-mails and found a whole bunch of condolence messages from relatives and friends. His mom died and she left him a butt-load of money. I went through the insurance e-mails and everything. Instead of investing the money in GIC’s or RRSP’s or even a high interest savings account, he’s chosen to invest in an original print of one of the most influential comic books of our time!… We’re going to steal it from him. Well…You are going to steal it from him. From his minimum security townhouse in the burbs.”

“You want me to break into this guys’ house?”

“For ten thousand dollars.”

Brett became lost for a moment, day dreaming about what he might do with ten thousand dollars, then he snapped back to reality. He shook his head, “I don’t get it. Why all this for a stupid comic book?”

Steve groaned and buried his face in his hands; knocking his wool toque halfway off his head. “I know you were a sexy, dark disturbed rocker in your youth but please tell me that you managed to learn what Amazing Fantasy #15 was!”

Brett had that blank look in his eyes again.

Steve collapsed dramatically on the desk, causing some of the Asian girls studying in the corner to turn their heads and giggle. Finally, after Steve had shook off his disbelief and recomposed himself he said, “It’s the origin of Spider-Man. His first appearance—ever!” And for the next part Steve made sure he whispered extra softly, “It’s worth half a million dollars!”

Brett’s tongue nearly fell out of his mouth like some sort of 1930’s cartoon. He wanted to scream but, being in the confines of the public library, he had to settle for whispering really, really loud. “Holy shit! That’s nuts!”

Steve nodded eagerly. “It’s a hot fudge sundae covered in nuts!”

He noticed Brett’s eyes shift from left to right, back and forth. “Wait a sec,” said Brett. “If that comic is worth half a mill than why am I only getting ten grand? If I’m the one sticking my neck out, I want a bigger cut.”

“Twenty grand,” said Steve. His voice was firm and his poker face strong. “That’s as high as I’m willing to go. I have expenses and debts, debts more than expenses but we all play our parts right in this and we’ll all walk away with a nice chunk of cash. What do you say?”

Brett nodded in agreement. He pointed over to Wally, wandering aimlessly around the labs as he often did.“And Wally?”

“Wally will get his usual forty bucks a week.”

They both grinned.

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

On the day of the robbery Brett arrived early, sat on a green electrical box down the street from the house they were robbing and opened up a fresh pack of Pall Mall cigarettes he bought at the 7/11 on the way over. He hadn’t had a smoke in over a year; it was one of the few things that had been going well for him in life as of late. But today he made an exception.

The long suburban street was quiet; the bread winners all at work, the kids at school and the wives out of their daily routines or inside busy with laundry and small children. As he smoked Brett watched a pair of playful crows chasing each other about, occasionally landing on a branch to rest their wings before they went at it again. The sun shined down on the road, warming it and warming Brett. He found himself jealous of the crows’ freedom, of how they got to hang around in the sun all day and play. He hoped that with the twenty thousand dollars he was going to make off the caper that he might be able to afford his wings, to fly far, far away from it all. And, if he was lucky, take Arlene with him.

He was torn from his fantasies when Steve puttered up in an old, bulky cargo van. Brett flicked his smoke and pushed off the green box, meeting Steve on the driver side as he was getting out. “You made it,” said Steve.

“Yup,” said Brett. He got a look in the van and saw Wally sitting there in the passenger seat, mumbling to himself. Fish in a barrel, he kept saying. “What’s he doing here?” Brett asked.

“Relax,” Steve sighed. “He’s here to help you grab the comic. Plus, if things go wrong, he makes an excellent fall guy.”

Brett looked over to Wally still buckled up in the passenger seat. Fish in a barrel. Fish in a barrel. “You’re going to pin the robbery on him? But he’s in your care; it will lead right back to you.”

Steve put his hand up for silence, “I told you already, his mom thinks I have him doing chores. I’ll just say he wondered off from cutting the grass while I was taking a dump. I only live a few blocks away. Its believable, trust me.”

“Okay, whatever. Let’s just do this,” said Brett. “How am I getting inside?”

“Well, I’ve been watching this guy through his Roger’s home security feed. I got the codes in his e-mail, hacked in without much problems. Best I can tell the package was delivered yesterday and he is keeping it in a storage closet under the stairs. I’ve also learned that every morning after a coffee he spends about twenty five minutes in the shitter and cracks the window just a tad to air out his filth until he comes home for lunch. Today was no different.”

“Even with a comic in there worth half a million dollars?”

Steve laughed. “I know, right? This geek is more retarded than Wally,” he said, jerking his thumb towards Wally in the passenger seat. “So,” he continued. “Are you ready to get fucking rich?”

Brett took a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”

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

The gate to the side of the house creaked loudly. Brett assumed that if he opened it slow, it would make less noise. This was not the case. The rusty hinges grinding against each other sounded like an elephant blowing a battle cry out its trunk. Someone had to of heard that, he thought. He hadn’t even broken in yet and already he was having regrets. This wasn’t like him, he didn’t do stuff like this. He couldn’t turn back now though. That would just be one more thing Steve the dweeb could rub in his face.

He decided to keep on, but every few steps he would have to turn and signal to Wally to hurry up and get a move on. Wally didn’t much react to verbal commands; Brett found more luck with a snap or a wave. These signals became more and more dramatic each time he had to repeat himself. It was all very frustrating. By the time they got to the bathroom window, left open just a tad as Steve said it would be, Brett had come to terms that he was not going to get much help from his autistic assailant. “I’m ditching Wally,” he said into the walkie-talkie that Steve had given him before they separated.

There was a brief silence from the other end and then, with a pop of static, Steve’s choppy and distorted voice returned, “It’s your call, bud. He can be the look out. If anyone finds him there, they’ll just think he wondered in. The cameras have been cut so you are clear to go. Get in there and let’s get this over with…”

Brett turned to Wally, “You stay here, okay?”

The young boy looked down at his shoes, muttering. Fish in a barrel. Fish in a barrel.

“Forget it,” sighed Brett.

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

The window slid open in a pale blue, modestly decorated bathroom and a pair of black runners pushed their way inside knocking figurines of The Hulk and Captain America off the window sill and into the toilet with a plunk! The shoes became legs, the legs became a body and then, after the intruders’ pudgy gut had squeezed its way through, there came a shiny bald head glowing red from both exhaustion and embarrassment. The intruder, however discombobulated, was in. He used his walkie-talkie to notify his accomplice back in the van.

A sigh of elation came from the other end, “Yes! Great news, Brett! The comic is in the storage room under the stairs to your right when you exit the bathroom. Go get that sucker and we’re out of here!”

Brett took a deep breath, opened the bathroom door and crept into the hallway. His heart pounded so hard he thought it was going to tip off the neighbors. With each step he half-expected someone to jump out at him; the police, the guy who owned the house, the Texas chainsaw massacre guy, a fucking two-headed tiger, who knew what unseen danger was waiting for him…

The hallway opened up into the main living room and Brett’s eyes fixed on the storage closet under the stairs. On the right, just as Steve had said. The comic seemed to call to him from behind the wooden door; its energy grabbed hold of him and started to pull him in like a tractor beam. In his trance he managed to walk into a small coffee table where sat a framed picture of the homeowner on his trip to the Grand Canyon. Both the picture and table were sent to the floor with a loud crash!, sending little shards of ceramic all across the tile flooring.

“Fuck!” he gasped, frozen still, waiting for the two-headed tiger to jump out and rip his face off. But there was no tiger, only an angry Steve shouting from the other end of the walkie-talkie.

“What the hell was that?” the distorted voice demanded. “You can’t be walking into tables like that!”

Brett’s face twisted as he brought the walkie-talkie to his lips. “I thought you said you cut the camera feed…”

There was a long pause before Steve returned. “I did,” he said. “But I could hear the smash from outside! You need to hurry up and grab that shit before we all get arrested!”

That was a sentiment to which Brett could not agree to more. He dashed to the closet and swung open the door like a madman. There it was, staring back at him in all its nerdy glory, sitting in its plastic wrap packaging on a packed box labelled VHS, was Amazing Fantasy #15.The familiar superhero in red and blue tights swung high over the city on a web. The cartoon text read, “Introducing Spider-Man”. The top right corner boasted its original sale price—twelve cents. Brett swiped it from the top of the box and barreled out of that house like a freight train.

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

After parting ways with Steve and Wally, Brett rushed over to the library so he could finally see if Arlene had replied to his message. He sat down next to an older, white man with pop bottle glasses and a comb over. As he logged into his Tinder account he found himself hiding his password from the old man. After all, he knew what kind of crazy people were out there. Once logged in he saw that Arlene had replied. His day was getting better and better. The message read:

>Hey, Cutie!

Fireworks blasted off in his belly and a small smile crept further and further upwards until it seemed his face had split in half. He couldn’t remember the last time someone referred to him as ‘cute’. That Arlene, she sure was a gem. But Brett had never found much luck with the ‘gems’ in the past strictly for the reason that those kinds of girls are all looking for men with money. But now, with the twenty grand coming his way after Steve found a buyer on the black market, he would be one of those guys. And he was going to spoil this girl, he decided; limo rides, fancy dinners with steak and lobster, maybe even dessert. You know you’ve made it when you can think about getting dessert. He opened up a chat box and typed:

>Do you like Steak and Lobster, Arlene?

His heart nearly skipped a beat when he saw she was replying just then. A moment passed, and then two, and then…

🙂

She used an emoticon! That was a sure sign of flirtation. His fingers danced across the keyboard as he punched in his next question:

>Would you like to get some Steak and Lobster with me?

There was a pause, one that to Brett seemed like forever and then, finally, she replied:

>Sure. Where?

She said yes! Brett was ecstatic. He gave her his number so she could text him on Friday to let him know where the limo should pick her up and said goodbye, signed out from the computer and headed back out into the city streets. He probably could have flown home that day, gliding softly on the wings of new love, just like the crows from earlier…

As Brett fiddled with his keys in front of his apartment building he noticed there was man by the mailbox, smiling at him. He had never seen the man around the building before but even still, the man seemed to recognize him. He smiled at Brett like they were old friends and even started to make his way over. He gave a neighborly wave and said, “Brett Furlong? Brett Furlong is that really you?”

Here we go, thought Brett. Another old fan about to comment on how much hair I’ve lost. “Yes, that’s me.” He said. “May I help you?”

The smile dropped from the strangers face as he pulled out a badge from the inner pocket of his jacket. “My name is Detective Mallory Heinz,” said the man. “Brett Furlong, you are under arrest for breaking and entering and theft over five thousand dollars—“

Brett swallowed hard and turned to run, but it was no use. Police in riot gear began to reveal themselves from the sides of houses, behind cars and trees; all of them pointing their weapons directly at Brett’s head. In one last Hail Mary effort, Brett turned back to the detective and with his most innocent face said, “There must be some kind of misunderstanding. I didn’t do any of that.”

Two large policemen grabbed him; one to hold him still, the other to put him into handcuffs. The cold steel closed tightly around his wrists. “I hate to tell you this,” said the detective, taking his time in reproaching. “But we have the whole thing on film. The homeowner had a security system in the house. You didn’t even wear a mask. Your fingerprints are everywhere. Brett…exactly how stupid are you?”

The detective had to have been lying. He had to. Otherwise that would mean Steve had lied about cutting the camera feed. And that would mean Steve had been setting him up to take the fall all along…

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

A satisfied smile smeared across Steve’s face as he sat back in the driver’s seat of the van parked in the driveway of Wally’s mother’s house. He had just left an anonymous tip with the local Crime Stoppers Hotline, reporting he had seen a bald man creeping around a house over on Landen Avenue, leaving with what looked to be a comic book. Brett, that poor sap, had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. How pleasant, Steve thought, that not only did he find someone to take the fall for the caper but also got to get a little revenge on one of the many “cool” kids from high school that never gave him the time of day.

He had been so lost in his day dreams he almost forgot that Wally was still in the van with him, only coming back to reality when he saw the boy pick the comic up from the center consol. He felt a sudden panic, as one would when a toddler picked up a glass vase. “Easy there, bud,” said Steve. He talked calm and slow, as one would to a jumper out on the ledge of a skyscraper. He slowly started to lean in, careful not to make any sudden movements, careful not to trigger one of Wally’s wild fits. His hand reached to snatch it back when suddenly…

BAM! A bang on the driver side door.

Steve turned around expecting to see the pretty Mrs. Henderson standing there in that floral dress he liked, asking how her son’s day was and then taking him inside for dinner with a smile and a thank you and a wave goodbye. He wasn’t expecting a gun and a badge belonging to Detective Mallory Heinz to be pointed directly at his face as the man yelled through the glass, “Get the fuck out of the car, asshole!”

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

The interrogation room was small and hot. The chairs were stiff and hurt your back. It was the kind of conditioning the cops used to break down suspects, Steve knew that. But Steve had a plan. He had a fail-safe. Detective Heinz walked in the room holding a coffee in a Styrofoam cup and a file folder. He sat down across from Steve and gave him a good stare, the kind of stare where you almost squint. That’s what they do to make you nervous, Steve knew that.

“You’re probably wondering why I dragged you down here,” said the detective. He gave his coffee a stir and a sip.

“I would say so!” said Steve. His voice cracked just a little. It hadn’t done that since high school. “I was just dropping off my autistic little brother. You see, I’m in the Big Brother program. What’s…what’s all this about?”

“Well, I’ll tell you Steve,” the detective started. “There have been a string of fraud cases in the area lately. Mainly funds being taken out of accounts, emptying of savings, things like that. It was really driving us nuts over here at the station. After all, a serial fraudster is like a serial rapist. They’re not going to stop until they fuck and destroy everything in their path. And like a serial rapist we have to figure out how this fraudster picks his victims. What do all these people have in common? And can you guess what we found?”

Steve shook his head. But he knew. He had planned for this.

The detective continued, “They had all recently been to the library to use their computers. So we pulled up the camera feed and can you guess what we saw?”

Steve knew that Wally was the one who would be in that feed next to those people, not him. Now he could pin the whole thing on Wally and walk away Scot free. He gave a long, dramatic exhale and then an empathetic head bow. “I think so,” Steve said. “I had suspected Wally, the boy from the program, might be using the computers for things other than YouTube. You see, he has what is called savant syndrome and he is capable of retaining a lot of information at remarkable speeds. If he wanted to, he could know what someone was typing into a computer just by watching the movements of their hands…Are you saying that Wally did this?”

Detective Heinz laughed quietly to himself. “Wow, Steve,” he said. “Trying to pin these crimes on a mentally challenged boy? I’ve heard some excuses in my day but…wow…ain’t that something.”

Steve raised his voice, “I’m serious! Check the cameras, you’ll see!”

The detective opened up the file folder and revealed a small stack of surveillance photos from the computer labs at the library. “That’s exactly what we did,” said the detective. “And little Wally, he wasn’t in them. But you were.”

Impossible, Steve thought. He scrambled through the pictures, picked one up and said, “Look! He’s right beside him!”

But Wally was hard to see. The way the camera was angled, the other man blocked Wally’s face completely; all you could see were his arms.

“That’s what you say,” said Detective Heinz. “But he’s pretty hard to identify in that picture. But you know who isn’t hard to identify?” The detective pointed to the picture where Steve stood by the water fountains looking incredibly watchful and guilty.

Steve scoffed and flipped through the next one, and then the next and then a next. In every picture Wally had been completely unidentifiable, blocked by a homeless man standing around doing nothing, a security guard standing around doing nothing, some post, some lens flare, some shadow. And in every one there stood Steve modelling varying shades of guilt. How, he thought. How is this possible?

And then it hit him.

Stephen Wiltshire, a twenty-two year old autistic savant, took a helicopter ride over London and when he returned home was able to draw an exact replica of the landscape down to every street, ever car, every mailbox. With the capacity to retain that amount of information at a glance then could it not be possible for Wally to have taken one look at the computer labs and have known exactly where each camera was, where they were pointing, and where he would have to sit to not be seen. It made sense now why sometimes he would see Wally walk around aimlessly before settling at a computer. Wally had outsmarted him. He had been dooped…by a retard.

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

Mrs. Henderson cleared the dishes from the table. It was a late dinner tonight, with all the commotion, the police, and the questions, poor Wally must have been scared half-to-death. It was nice now that things had calmed down. The police didn’t tell her much. But it was scary to think that the man she had left in charge of her poor son was not the man he claimed to be. “Aren’t you going to eat your cake?” she asked her son Wally sitting at the table.

“I can eat cake in my room,” said Wally.

Mrs. Henderson smiled. “I suppose that would be fine, dear. Bring your plate back when you’re done, okay sweetie?”

“I’ll bring my plate back when I’m done. I’ll bring my plate back,” said the boy, shuffling off to his room.
Wally went upstairs and closed his bedroom door behind him. He placed his plate of cake on his dresser beside the lamp, sat down on the bed and lifted up his shirt, removing a comic book wrapped in a shiny coat from his waistband. He stared at it for a moment before he took it out from its shiny coat and held it in his hands. He liked the funny pictures. Eating his messy cake, he flipped through the pages under the lamplight. The red and blue guy was funny, but the old man died at the end and that was sad.

When he was done, he tossed the picture book under his bed and licked the chocolate off his fingers. He lay back on his pillow and stared up at the roof. He laughed softly, as to not be heard by his mother. Like fish in a barrel.

The End

The Dick

Stuck in the rain, a private detective tracks down his clients cheating wife while mulling over the many downfalls of his chosen profession.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

There’s a hole in my shoe, I know it. My socks are fucking soaked. I can’t find it, but it’s there, that sneaky bastard…

Rain. Always with the rain in this town, even at Christmas. Just once I’d like to have a gentle snowfall. Like in that movie Home Alone, when his mother finally comes back for him and that emotional soundtrack music kicks in. I can hear it in my head despite the heavy claps of raindrops against the concrete. God, I love that flick. Every year, when it comes on during the holidays, I watch it. Well, I used to anyway. Before I became a fucking dick. Now I spend my nights creeping around the city taking pictures of infidelities to which I return to curious parties for a nominal fee.

Over the years though, this business has really taken its tole on me. When you’re constantly around the worst in people, you start to turn into one of them. You inherit both the paranoia and the desire for lustful acts of deceit, you inherit the self-loathing.That’s why Susan left. She said I’d changed. I don’t think she’s wrong.

This hole in my shoe is driving me fucking nuts. It’s like the titanic in there. I wish Mrs.Bronson would hurry up and get on her knees, slide off her panties or anything that would make a good picture to bring back to poor old Mr.Bronson, who is probably back at home in his recliner, rocking back and forth in a desperate panic. Sorry, old chum. It seems your worries were justified. I wish it wasn’t me who had to give the news to ya. I hate that part. There’s always a fountain of tears and sobs, followed by a complete breakdown of motor skills…Poor saps. They spend a fortune on these girls and this is how they’re repaid. I don’t know if I trust a single one of these dames anymore…

That’s what this job has done to me; turned me into a cold, untrusting pessimist. All I really want is some snow outside my window while I’m sitting on the couch in an ugly Christmas sweater watching Home Alone. Maybe even just a shoe that didn’t have a fucking hole in it would be nice. I’m walking on water like I’m Jesus over here! Fuck…the world needs that guy back like nobody’s business.

Oh! Here we go! Mrs.Bronson is taking off her top. She’s got a pretty nice rack for an older broad. I guess its time to burst in and snap my bread and butter. I’ll let these two guys walking towards me pass first.

I hear one of them say, “So, you want to go grab a beer or something?”

“Nah,” said the other one. “Home Alone is on cable tonight, I’m gonna sit on the couch in my ugly Christmas sweater and watch that shit. I fuckin’ love that movie.”

I sigh and pull out my camera. “Fuck,” I mutter to my feet. “I hate my job.”

 

Calvin: Die for something

A dark tale that shows its never too late for redemption. Even for a wayward vagabond like Calvin.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

I stabbed him. I don’t know if he’s dead, but I know I stabbed him pretty damn good. I felt the pressure release as the tip of the blade punctured his skin…then it sunk right in there. I hope he’s not dead…someone has to tell these cops that they shot the wrong guy. I’m the hero, here.

That punk Officer Needs has been dying to pull the trigger on me since he got on this beat. He finally did it, that little shit-fuck. Coming around the downtown east side like fucking RoboCop, gettin’ in everyone’s business–who the fuck does he think he is? I saved that little girl. Fuckin’ prick…fresh out of the academy, prick. I swear to Christ I saw him smile when he did it too. Like he was proud of himself. I saved that little girl. Lars, that sick, child-molesting, fuck was headed straight for her. What was that woman doing bringing her little kid around these parts of town anyway? People shooting up, smoking crack, selling themselves…Who am I kidding? That little girl has probably spent her life watching that kind of stuff, what, with a mom like that, scoring dope with her little kid…

Fuck. I’m bleeding pretty bad here. I’m wrapped tighter than one of those fucking Egyptian mummies and still I’m bleeding. I didn’t even know I had this much blood. I real nice sight I am, aren’t I? Good thing you aren’t alive to see this, ma. You never did like when I came home with cuts and bruises from sports…mainly fights. I could really use your nursing skills right about now, ma. No foolin’.

It’s okay. Three more blocks and I’ll be at Winky’s. He’ll stitch me up. He’ll fix me. His set up ain’t nuthin’ like the hospital…but Winky ain’t ask no questions. Things are going to be okay. They are. Just get to Winky’s.

I really got myself in a bind here, didn’t I? I guess I’m gonna have to hop a boxcar out of the city and keep movin’. That’s okay, ain’t nuthin’ keepin’ me here anyway. I’ll just start over. I’ll start fresh. Yeah, ma–again. Last time I saw you alive you said I needed to stop drifting, that I needed to live for something. Maybe after Winky gets me back to normal, I’ll move somewhere far. Move somewhere peaceful. Maybe get a job on a farm, really get back to the roots of human nature. That would be living. No laws, no class…No Officer Needs. Maybe I’ll meet a girl out there too. A real nice girl, pretty and soft-spoken…but funny too. Not so plain and boring. Heck, maybe plain and boring wouldn’t be so bad.

I wonder what that little girl will grow up to be? She has a chance now. Lars, that fuck, he would have fucked that little girl and then he woulda killed her. From the first time I saw him in the shelter, I knew he was bad news. His eyes are what scare me the most about him, always did. I take back what I said about wanting him to be alive. I don’t care if I go to jail, I hope I killed him. I’m glad he’s fucking dead, the world is better for it. I don’t mind what they say about me, what they do to me. My whole life people been throwin’ dirt on me. It ain’t hurt like it used to.

This bullet, though. This hurts. Only two more blocks and I’m there…but every step is like being scalded with hot coffee. Worse even. Maybe I’ll just sit down on this curb and rest for a minute. I need to take the pressure off….Gee, the night sure is quiet tonight. No more sirens, I guess they forgot about me. Heh, just like everyone else in my life. Ah, who can blame ’em. I ain’t never been no good for nobody.

There’s a funny taste in my mouth. Tastes like metal. I have to remind myself to ask Winky about this. I should get back on my way, this bed sheet is soaked in blood. Come on, get up…

Please, get up. Please….Not like this. I can’t go like this! For fuck sake, I saved that little girl! I can’t die here on this street corner alone! Please, I haven’t done enough! I can do better just…just give me one more chance. Please, get up!

No. This is it. Is it going to be okay, ma? Does it hurt much when it happens? You would have been so proud of me, ma. I saved that little girl tonight. I saved her…

The End

 

Master of Space

An aging space captain with a plummeting reputation embarks on one last mission to prove that you’re never too old to do great things.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

Jonas Harper, Space Log: 008, Space Date: November 5, 2316

It’s been two days since I came out of cryo-sleep. Though I am still tired and groggy from the re-animation process, the doctor assigned to my care has assured me that I am doing exceptionally well comparatively and that this pulsing headache and stomach pains will soon come to pass.

Despite all of that, I did find the energy to leave my quarters earlier in the day and shuffle myself to the cafeteria on our floor. Though the food on this station still leaves much to be desired, it is still ions ahead of the colorful paste they were feeding me back at Space Core. But I suppose that is obvious when you compare the simple budget of the U.S. Space Core to the bottomless black budget account of the Galactic Liberation Foundation.

As my strength returns, so does the familiar child-like wonder that has consumed me since the day I found out I would be interviewing Capt. Michael for our “Where Are They Now?” segment of next months episode. Being a television personality has granted me the opportunity to meet all sorts of celebrities, but none with the level of fame that the Captain holds. No name in the history of mankind has ever been both praised and cursed in the way that Captain Dan Michael’s name has. To some, he has been defined as a Messiah, a protector of all that is good. To others, he has been called a destroyer of worlds, a demon-spawn who breathes decay into all he comes into contact with. All throughout the universe, lines have been drawn, sides have been chosen. But I did not travel all this way to be swayed by the opinions of others. All I really know is who Captain Dan Michael was to me.

I was only a child during the Dragimian Occupation, unable to grasp the true severity of the ongoing war. While my parents sat horrified watching the holo-deck in the living room, the four-armed reptilian race invading planet after planet, seeking to destroy all electromagnetic technology, I hollered and cheered on each wave of Federation Ships that were sent out to battle the Dragim Empire.

Many people of Earth were against our involvement in the war. They said it was foolish to expend resources on a battle so far away, that our participation would only anger the Dragimians and lead Emperor Xanthok and his blood-thirsty reptilian army back to our planet to enslave our race and destroy our technology. You see, I did not know this as a kid, but it’s not just machines that emit electromagnetic frequencies,the human brain radiates these signals as well. The thought of getting their brains scooped out of their skull and stomped on scared a lot of people and understandably so. Then, on the other hand, there were others, like my parents, who believed that if someone is in trouble and you can help them, no matter what race they are or how far away from the planet they may be–than you should help them. No questions asked and no thank-you needed.

Night after night we sat glued in front of the television watching the battle unfold. Then, one night, it was over. A news report came on the New World Media saying that the evil Emperor Xanthok had been taken into Federation custody, brought down single-handily by a young, brave soldier known as Private Dan Michael. The victory was celebrated throughout the galaxy and the newly appointed Captain of the new Galaxy S-5 battleship became a symbol of hope and peace to us all.

30 years has passed since the events that took place that evening and it has been a long, rocky road for the Captain ever since. First it was the tabloid articles exposing his lavish, party lifestyle. Then came the rumors of drug use and alcohol, the embarrassing penis photos and assault charges. After the shoplifting scandal at the Milky Way Space Mall, it was the rehab. And then, just when everyone thought it couldn’t get any worse, the news story got out that the Captain had fired on and destroyed a moon orbiting Romillia 6 in a failed attempt to capture the terrorist Quinzar Ali. After this ill-planned and highly destructive act, the Captain became a galactic pariah. But, even though a word of praise is seldom heard of Captain Michael anymore, I still remember him as the force of good he once was. I hope, with this article, that I will be able to remind people of that. Anyway, I must take my leave as I am becoming fatigued quite quickly. Tomorrow, the Galaxy S-5 will dock on the space station and I will be escorted onto the seasoned Federation battleship to conduct my preliminary question period with the veteran Captain. How exciting!

Perliminary Question Period Transcript, Space Date: November 6, 2316

Jonas: Are we…Are we rolling?

Federation Public Relations Representative: Yes, we have begun. Now, I will remind you once more before the Captain joins us: Upon his arrival you will stand up, salute and stay at attention until the Captain relieves you. I also must mention again that you are to stay away from any questions regarding the Rebellion Army. As the official stance of the G.L.F. is that a rebellion army does not exist, any questions about the Rebellion Army’s existence would be to imply direct dishonesty among the Federation to the people of Earth and this will not be tolerated, understood?

Jonas: Understood.

PR Rep: Good. The Captain will join us now. Stand up and salute.

>Door opens.

PR Rep: Captain Michael, may I present Jonas Harper of the New World Media Channel.

Captain Michael: At ease, Jonas.

Jonas: Thank you. Before we begin I would just like to tell you that you were a great hero of mine as a child. I come in peace, I suppose is what I mean to say.

Captain: A heart-warming sentiment, my earthling brother. I trust your stay on the S-5 has been antiquate thus far?

Jonas: Exceptional, sir. It seems like something out of a resort hotel, less a battleship.

Captain Michael: Yes, well, it may not have some of the flash or the new fancy gizmos of the new Galaxy S-6, but this old girl has been a faithful companion on many grave and dangerous adventures throughout this spacedom. So then! Where will we begin?

Jonas: I’d like to start from the very beginning–with your childhood. More importantly, your parents…

Captain Michael: Yes, of course. My mother was a school teacher and my father was a Secretary of Defense for the United States government. It was hard for me growing up, especially in school. Kids can be so cruel, you know. Imagine how they teased when they learned that my father was only a mere secretary

Jonas: But–

Captain Michael: But, indeed! It only made me push myself harder to conquer that adversity and rise above the shameful mediocrity of my family tree. Academics however, was not my strong suite. Things like numbers, data, science…These things meant nothing to me. Legends don’t sit around and solve equations, they get out there and they kick ass! Young, inspired and craving adventure, I decided to apply for the United States Space Core. And, after passing my entrance exam with flying colors, I became a cadet.

Jonas: Thirty years ago, on a liberation mission to the planet Zeta4B during the Dragimian Occupations you were separated from your battalion. It was on this legendary mission that you stormed an enemy stronghold and single-handily defeated the evil Emperor Xanthok. Can you take us back to that moment and tell us what was going through your head…paint the picture for us, if you will.

Captain Michael: Wow…Okay…I haven’t grown so old that I’ve forgotten, I hope…Like you have already said, I was separated from my battalion on planet Zeta4B, following the trail of a couple of Dragimian foot soldiers. To my surprise, the trail led me right to their base where they stood at the gates. Suddenly, I saw Emperor Xanthok exit the base and start a conversation with the two foot soldiers. I knew I had to act quick, for a chance to get that close to Xanthok were few and far between. Without thinking of my own personal safety, I selflessly leaped from my hiding spot and fired off two shots from my phaser, subduing the two guards. Then, I point my phaser to the Emperor and, looking him dead in his black eyes, said, “Long Live the New World!” before I fired off the shot that knocked him unconscious. Soon after, my communications with base returned and my battalion was able to trace my location. And that is the story of how I defeated the Emperor.

Jonas: Wow, incredible…I’m speechless.

Captain Michael: Understandably so.

Jonas: Following the Emperor’s arrest, you were recognized for your bravery with the prestigious Metal of Heart and a promotion to Captain of this very ship. It was there that you adopted the famous white and yellow uniform with a large lightening bolt embroidered in the center. A symbol that became known throughout the galaxy for the heroism it represented. How was it that this lightening bolt, now worn on all Federation uniforms, came to be?

Captain Michael: It’s poetic, really. As the Federation ship left planet Zeta4B, I looked out a window into the far reaches of space and there I saw a lightening bolt, as big as the ship itself, flash in the darkness as if God himself was there, riding along with us…guiding us.

Jonas: I’m sure you mean metaphorically. Like, you metaphorically saw a lightening bolt in space.

Captain Michael: No, literally. I literally saw the lightening bolt flash before my eyes…As big as God himself.

Jonas: It’s just…It’s just that a lightening bolt in space would be physically impossible. There’s no atmosphere in space.

Captain Michael: Yes, but this was deep in space. Very far out in space…

Jonas: That wouldn’t change anything. You see, the electrons can’t ionize without an atmosphere and so a lightening bolt would be impossible to see in space. You must be mistaken…

Captain Michael: But this was really far out there…

PR Rep: Maybe we should move on to the next question…

Jonas: Yeah…um…sure…The years following your rise to fame, you were in the headlines weekly it seemed. But more and more the articles printed were less about your military endeavors and more about your moonlighting and your celebrity lovers.

>Captain laughs.

Captain Michael: Yes…crazy times those days were. As it has been disclosed many, many times before, I was on a lot of drugs for mostly all of the 70’s. You know, celebrity status and all…

Jonas:Your first marriage to famous actress and model Julie Santina last only a short forty days. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Captain Michael: Ah, Julie…She was a firecracker, was she not? Unfortunately our union was based more on politics than passion. After our highly publicized moon wedding, she went back to earth and I went back out to deep space. Both her career and my public approval rating were sent through the roof, but when the cameras turned off there was not enough foundation to keep us afloat. It’s heartbreaking, really…And then when word got out of my…umm…infedelities, the marriage just crumbled.

Jonas: I do recall when the story broke. I believe the number of alleged mistresses who had come forward was thirty-seven.

Captain Michael: Thirty-eight.

Jonas: Oh, my mistake.

Captain Michael: Amazing is it not? I would have never in a million years have thought that human sperm would be compatible with the reproductive organs of an alien species…but here we are.

Jonas: Are you saying that there were…bastard children?

PR Rep: That’s not at all what the Captain is saying…Is there a point to all this?

Jonas: Well, yes. It was about this time that public opinion of you on Earth started to fall, especially among women. I wondered if it was this shift in popularity, and the drugs of course, that may be partly responsible for the destruction of the moon orbiting Romillia6.

Captain Michael: (sighs) I suppose this had to come up sooner or later…I was chasing down a terrorist by the name of Quinzar Ali and his ship landed on Romillia6. We had strong reason to believe that the cruiser in which he was in was hauling weapons of ultimate chaos. We urged the Romillian leaders to hand over the fugitive but they refused…

Jonas: Why did they refuse?

Captain Michael: Because they hate us! They hate our freedom and the freedom we provide the galaxy! They’re the ones who started the god damn Rebell–

PR Rep: Captain Michael! I do not know what you were about to say because you didn’t say anything, but I would highly suggest you rethink your answer.

Captain Michael: (groans) Listen, Jonas. The Federation will not negotiate with terrorists. That’s page one stuff. Yes, I took a lot of heat for what I did. Many people thought blowing up that moon was an over-reaction. Whose to say, really?…I will say this, though. If I had known that not having a moon would have caused the planet to flood like that…I might have rethought my methods. Who knew, right? Look, I know it’s not a perfect situation but protecting the universe never is. We did what we thought was right…

PR Rep: I think we should move on.

Jonas: Sure…The Galaxy S-5 has been sailing the stars for over three decades. You’ve led countless missions in aid, in battle and in liberation. In all your travels, have you ever seen him? The fabled warrior they call ‘The Hand’? Does he really exist?

PR Rep: Okay! I think we’ve asked enough questions for the preliminary’s. The Federation does not acknowledge the existence of this so called “Hand”. He is a rumor. A myth. I think it’s time you went back to your quarters for the evening. Tomorrow you can ride along with the crew on a routine patrol.

Jonas: That would be wonderful, thank you. And thank you, Captain Michael.

PR Rep: Cut tape!!

Jonas Harper, Space Log: 009, Space Date: November 6, 2316

I can’t believe I’m writing this but…I just interviewed Captain Dan Michael! I feel like a gitty little teen. I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t catch on to his sense of humor, though. I mean, the whole thing about the lightening bolt had to have been a joke. And you would have to be absurdly stupid to mistake a Secretary of Defense for a receptionist…Wow. Brave and funny. You don’t see much of that now and days.

He’s put on weight, aged a great deal since I remembered him, but he looked real to me…a little broken, but real nonetheless. I guess since the separation with Nancy, I’ve been a little broken too. Maybe in some strange way, the Captain and I are more alike than I ever thought–two defeated men struggling for redemption. Maybe that’s just the writer in me, searching for a deeper meaning that isn’t really there. Anyway, I must take my leave. The Public Relations Representative has told me I won’t be allowed to record during my ride-along with the helm crew…but I’m a journalist and learned a long time ago that there’s always a way around these things. I’ve managed to bring two miniature recorders with me, stitched in both my shirt and my pants. They operate on a powerful wireless frequency that sends everything recorded to my hard drive in my quarters on the ship. I will be able to have a live audio feed and none will be the wiser…

Jonas Harper, Shirt Microphone Transcript Feed, Space Date November 7, 2316

>sliding doors open

Jonas:…Thank you.

Dragimian Escort: Blanaqkystai!!

Captain Michael: Ah! Jonas! Welcome! I see you have met Bok Bok. He’s a Dragimian, you know. Quite progressive is it not? Not many space captains would hire Dragimians, what with their hatred for technology, their primal blood lust and over all poor etiquette. Especially not that young Captain Williams piloting the Galaxy S-6. You know what that makes him, don’t you? A racist!

PR Rep: Captain, we talked about this. You can’t keep accusing fellow Federation Captains of being racist.

Captain Michael: Well, then–Where’s his Dragimian? Sure, he commands the new, fancy Galaxy S-6, but tell me, where’s his Dragimian?

Jonas: Are you saying you hired a Dragimian just so you could look progressive?

Captain Michael: Of course not! Bok Bok is highly qualified for this job, isn’t that right, Bok Bok?

Dragimian Escort: Bakqwnaki! Bakqwnaki!

Captain Michael: A loud bunch, aren’t they…Yes, um, sure! Thank you Bok Bok, that will be all!

>sliding doors close

 

Captain Michael: He sure does like to jerk around uncontrollably, that Bok Bok.

Jonas: And scream.

Captain Michael: Yes. And scream. Very loudly…Now! Let me introduce you to the fabled crew of the Galaxy S-5; My eyes! My ears! My faithful companions!

Bobby: Easy on the cheese, uncle Mike.

Captain Michael: I told you–while on duty I am not your uncle, I’m your captain. And it’s Michael, not Mike. You don’t abbreviate last names.

Bobby: But your last name is a first name.

Captain Michael: Yes, I know! All great men have two first names, everyone knows that!…Ugh…(To Jonas) I promise the introductions will get better as we go. This pale-faced monstrosity is my nephew, Bobby Gizowitz.

Jonas: Gizowitz?

Captain Michael: Yes. Gizowitz. Despite my best efforts to convince her otherwise, my sister married a Jew. A ginger jew. This pudgy, freckled ball of shame is what came out of her.

Bobby: Thanks, uncle Mike!

Captain Michael: You are a constant disappointment to me…(To Jonas) I took the boy under my wing after he managed to get himself kicked out of every private school his parents sent him to. Bobby is our acting Head of Reference, or for short–HOR. (To Bobby) You’re a dirty, dirty Hor, aren’t you?

Bobby: Stop it, unc. You’re making me blush.

Captain Michael: You’re always blushing, you genetic abomination…

Jonas: What are the responsibilities of a Federation Head of Reference?

Bobby: I’m in charge of looking up the files n’ shit. For instance, if we pass by a planet and what to know what the fuck we looking at, I just say, “Computer! What the fuck are we looking at?”–and it tells me.

Captain Michael: It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Bobby: No it isn’t.

Captain Michael: ANYWAY! NEXT! we have my number 2 man, our lead navigator–Kort.

Kort: Greetings, Earthling.

Jonas: Greetings. My name is Jonas.

Captain Michael: Kort joins us from planet Zeta4B. I don’t know if you know much about the Zetans, but they are said to be one of the most intelligent races in the universe. They believe in logic over emotion…though I can’t be sure that they feel any emotion at all, really. It’s all logic with them. Always. Except for that god awful spiral of hair around that gigantic melon of theirs. I don’t see anything logical about that.

Kort: The pattern of our hair acts as an extra protective layer that mimics a small hairline fracture in our skull which allows flexibility during increased brain function. So, in fact, it is entirely logical.

Captain Michael: (To Jonas) See? This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about…Anyway, he is the best navigator I have ever seen, but he’s just horrible at parties. Next on the list, a space crew would not be complete without a sassy black woman! Over there, up by the monitors, is our galactic ambassador, Sasha Banks. Sasha, say hello to Jonas.

Sasha: Hey, sugar.

Jonas: It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Captain Michael: Sasha is an educated diplomat, learnt in over forty different alien dialects, trained in five of the seven deadly arts and, if I may say so, not so hard on the eyes.

Sasha: Oh, Captain…

Jonas: This is great. I would love to come around and ask each of you some questions if I could

Bobby: No way! I ain’t talking to no fucking press.

Jonas: It will be off the record, I swear. But it would help me get a more well-rounded view of the captain for my report. Just a few short minutes of your time is all I ask.

Kort: I have no objections.

Sasha: Oh, you want to know about the Captain, do you? (laughs) Okay, sugar. You came to the right spot. Come on over.

Sasha Banks Interview

Sasha: So what would you like to know, sweetheart?

Jonas: Okay, well, why don’t we start with how long you’ve known the Captain.

Sasha: I have been employed as the Galactic Ambassador of the Galaxy S-5 for twenty years now. I’ve been with the Captain almost since the beginning. The original ambassador, Franklin Franklin, died off a supposed heart-attack…I don’t believe it…The Captain was widely known for being highly medicated during those days. I think the boy just did too much an OD’d. Things were different in the seventies…Deep space travel was new and there wasn’t any supervision. When I came on board, the Captain was a wreck; hooked on Alertin, smelling like bourbon and vomit—it was shameful. So I pulled up my stockings and said, “No more!”. That’s when the Captain began his road to recovery. It wasn’t easy and his head took a real beating…I believe that was partly responsible for his decision to destroy the moon on Romilla6…His head just was not in a good space.

Jonas: Were the two of you ever…romantic?

Sasha: On the record? No. The Captain is married to the ship and that’s the way he likes it and that’s the way it has to be. But just between us girls, I might be the only resident on the Galaxy S-5 who can get away with calling him by his first name. But don’t you go putting that in your article, now.

Jonas: Of course not. I would just like to get a better idea of the Captain’s personal side.

Sasha: Look, I know back on Earth the public sees us as some sort of militant scum, led by an over-privileged, irresponsible party animal. The rest of the crew can’t speak Dragimian, but I can. When your escort was over there screaming in the elevator, he was telling us that you have a recording device on you. The frequencies are like nails on a chalkboard to him…Can you imagaine the pain he goes through everyday working on a ship that sends out nothing but high powered frequencies? But despite all that, he comes to work everyday and does his job. Why? Because he wants to be something more than just another Dragimian warrior. And as for the Captain…before you go back to Earth to tare him apart, you should know that I have never met a man more honest, more loyal, and more committed to the safety of the universe than that man over there–Captain Dan Michael.

Jonas:Thank you, Sasha…for keeping that between us. But you should know, I did not come here to tare him, nor you or the crew, apart. If anything, I’m hoping to sway the public opinion to be a little more open-minded.

Sasha: That sounds just fine, sugar.

Jonas: Well then…I should continue onward. It was a pleasure to meet you.

Sasha: You as well, honey.

Kort Interview

Jonas: Hello, Kort. Would it be okay if I asked you some questions now?

Kort: Please.

Jonas: Why don’t we start with how long you’ve known the Captain?

Kort: I applied for the Liberation Federation after my home planet, thanks to Captain Michael, was freed from Dragimian rule. My father insisted it was only logical that I would join those my liberated my people to travel the universe and liberate other alien races facing the same oppression.

Jonas: There are some people back on Earth who say that the Federation no longer is the savior of those facing oppression, but the oppressors themselves.

Kort: Yes. Humans. They are quite an interesting species. They wear their pride with such confidence…as if it is a blessing. I cannot say that I agree for the most part. It is logical that when a being faces an obstacle, or challenge, he has but three choices: Conquer, Accept or Submit. Humans however, look at problems at such distances and make judgements on how the problems should be fixed, while neglecting the very problems that are of the up most importance, staring them in the face. This is why most earthlings care more about the political wars of deep space and not the rapidly depleting ecosystem of their home planet.

Jonas: If this is the case, why have you continued to loyally serve under and Earthling Captain?

Kort: If all beings in the universe are composed of the same matter, it is logical to assume that we would inherit the natural traits of the universe around us, which is composed of both great logic and immeasurable chaos. It is quite simple, depending on where you are standing, to say that one trait may be more valued than the other…but they are both very real. They are both very necessary for the grand theater of life to continue. This is why…(To Captain) Captain, an unidentified Federation cruiser had appeared on radar.

Captain Michael: Switch to hailing frequency!…Unidentified Federation cruiser…Identify yourself!

(No response)

Bobby: The cruiser model matches one that was stolen a few weeks ago by rebel soldiers.

PR Rep: Remember, guys! The Federation’s stance on the Rebellion is that there is no Rebellion.

Captain Michael: Oh, cut the shit! No one’s recording, we don’t have to continue this circus! There very much is a rebellion. They’ve been stealing Federation cargo ships for years now, living off our bounty! Led by that bastard Zetan, no offence, Kort—Quinzar Ali!

Jonas: Quinzar Ali? I’ve never heard of him.

Bobby: I got this one, uncle Mike…Computer! Who is Quinzar Ali?

Computer: Mother: Zarakin Ali, Father: Unknown. The leader of the Galactic Rebellion. Also the first being born of both Zetan and Earthling blood. Widely known for his desire to destroy his opposer. Recently captured by Captain Bill Williams during a secret mission to planet Titan.

Captain Michael: It should have been me on that mission, not that pretty boy Williams…Follow that cruiser!

Kort: The vessel is heading towards a black hole.

Captain Michael: And now the universal question…if I enter the black, could I get back?

Sasha: I don’t know, Captain. Could you?

Kort: Captain, the Galaxy S-6 has appeared on radar. Captain Williams is hailing us.

Captain Michael: Ugh. Put him on screen!

Captain Williams: Hello, Captain Michael.

Captain Michael: To what do I owe this pleasure, Captain Williams?

Captain Williams: We are in pursuit of the stolen Federation cruiser. You may stand down, we’ll take it from here.

Captain Michael: Oh, no way. This is my patrol so you may stand down and we’ll take it from here.

Captain Williams: Well, this is my investigation. Stand down to a superior officer!

Captain Michael: You are not my superior! You’re a Captain, I’m a Captain. We’re the same.

Captain Williams: That we are not. People actually respect me. I have a better ship. I have a better crew. I am younger and more ruggedly handsome than you ever were. I’m not some train wreck who doesn’t realize that he should have retired years ago. Do yourself a favor and stay back on this one, old man. Let the professionals work. Captain Williams, out.

Captain Michael: Grr! That does it! Kort, you follow the cruiser through that black hole, you hear me?

Kort: Yes, Captain. Passing through in 10,9,8,7….

Sasha: Hold on, y’all.

Kort:…4,3….

Bobby: Fuck

Kort:….1….

Jonas: Oh, god….

((End Transmission))

Jonas Harper, Space Log: 010, Space Date: November 7, 2316

Things have taken a horrible turn. I fear that I may not make it home alive to complete my piece on the Captain. Yes…The Captain. In the last hour I have learned perhaps too much about the Captain, things I wish I didn’t know. Captain Dan Michael is nothing but a fraud.

When we came out the other side of the black hole, there was an ambush waiting for us. An absolutely enormous battleship, one twice or three times that of the Galaxy ships hovered above us, locking us in their abductor beams. I watched as Emperor Bok Bok and another man, a Zetan, appeared on-screen. He quickly introduced himself as the Rebellion Leader, Quinzar Ali.

“You must all be very confused,” he said with a grin. “I’m sure you all thought that Xanthok and I were both safely tucked away in a dark cell somewhere…Not anymore! Hehehe. You see, Captain Williams, it was my plan for you to catch me all along. It was the only way I could get into Space Jail to break out Xanthok just in time to capture both of you! Gentlemen…it is time to pay for your crimes against the universe.”

Captain Michael scoffed, “Way to go, Captain Williams…rookie.”

It was then that the four-armed beast known Xanthok joined the conversation. His mechanic translator that wrapped around his jaw reverberated his words to us as they unfurled in a chilling monotone, robotic voice that seemed it could come from Satan himself….if Satan was a robot…or something.

“Dost thou speak? Thou who hast convinced those of this universe that it was he who subdued the almighty Xanthok?”

“Yes, indeed!” Laughed Quinzar. “You had the whole universe fooled, didn’t you, Captain Michael? But the truth is that it was not you who defeated Xanthok all those years ago, was it? It was the assassin known as “The Hand” that came to your aid and captured Xanthok. Then he disappeared before your battalion joined back with you and you took the credit! Poor form indeed, old man!”

The Captain hung his head.

“Is this true?” asked Sasha, knowing full-well that Zetans never lie. Her only hope was that the half-human part of Quinzar might be shining its way through.

But it wasn’t.

“It’s all true,” said the Captain. “I lied about it all. I was rescued by the Hand…”

PR Rep: Juuuust great….

A heavy silence fell over the crew, myself included, as all the faith we had put in this man as leader, as a soldier, as a role model for good in the universe…crumbled with the foundation that it was built upon. We forgave him for his drug use, his womanizing, blowing up moons and all the other crazy headlines in which his name appeared because it was him who single-handily took on and defeated the Dragimian Emperor. But it wasn’t him. And he said it was.

Quinzar Ali salivated at his victory. “Once you have been beamed onto cargo bay, you will be arrested. Any resistance would be highly illogical. Quinzar–out!”

They’ll be coming for us anytime now. I managed to get back to my room to record this final entry. I hope, somehow, this gets back to the people of Earth so that they may learn the truth about Captain Michael’s “heroic” past. For now I remain scared, wishing that Nancy was here, wishing we could stop our fighting and hold each other once again. I could deal with all the things about her I hated….I just want someone to hold. I miss the Earth so bad, I miss my wife. It’s lonely out in space.

In all of this drama, one thing has made me laugh. The Captain’s nephew, Bobby, has decided that he would like to be interviewed after all. He says he wants to die with a clean soul. I reminded him that I was not a priest, nor was the interview meant to be any sort of confession…I still don’t think he understands. He’s in luck though. I have decided to smuggle another one of my miniature recorders along with me when we are apprehended. I suppose it’s the reporter in me…Even in the face of certain death, I’m still searching for the big story.

Jonas Harper, Shirt Microphone 2 Transcript Feed, Space Date: November 7, 2316

Bobby: Is it on?

Jonas: Yes, I’ve just switched it on.

Bobby: Does it smell like poo?

Jonas: No…a little.

Bobby: So…what are you gonna ask me?

Jonas: I’m not sure. This isn’t exactly the ideal situation for an interview; what, with all of us locked in this dirty cell below the ship, waiting to be executed…its kind of hard to organize my thoughts.

Bobby: Aw, c’mon dude. You said you would. Don’t be all bummed ’cause you found out my uncle is full of shit. I’ve been dealing with that my whole life.

Jonas: Have you?

Bobby: Look, he’s always talking about how he took me under his wing with this job and I’m ungrateful and all that…but he has had his whole life handed to him. I don’t think he’s ever really worked a day in his life. Who is he to give me shit?

Jonas: To be clear, I’m more upset that I’m about to die than anything. But please, tell me, what do you mean when you say his whole life has been handed to him?

Bobby: Oh, don’t be such a twat! We’re not going to die. We’re always getting into some epic battle or being seconds from death. Pretty much every week, it seems. But it always works out somehow. And what I meant was, the only reason uncle Mike got into Space Core in the first place was because of my grandpa. Same with the Federation.

Jonas: The Captain said he passed his entry test with flying colors.

Bobby: Captain says a lot of things, usually all bullshit. Just like his promotion to Captain. The only reason he got it was because everyone thought he bagged Xanthok alone. Yeah, right. Xanthok is a beast, uncle Mike is a pussy. Only a bad ass like the Hand could stop Xanthok. Man, the Hand is so fucking cool. But see? That’s what I’m saying. I would make a way better Captain. I didn’t have shit handed to me. My dad worked in demolition and my mom was a teacher. My last name was fucking Gizowitz! I heard it all, man! Giz-on-tits, or Giz-ow-its-in-my-eye. Man, my ass got beat more in grade school than any of these four-armed fish freaks could ever do to me.

Jonas: So, you’re not scared?

Bobby: Fuck, no. Thug life, motherfucker.

Kort: There is a guard approaching…

Sasha: They’re going to kill us…

Bobby: Okay, now I’m fucking scared. We’re gonna fucking die, man! Holy shit! I can’t die! I’m a virgin, man!

Captain Williams: Though I can assure you that is very embarrassing, you need not fear for I, Captain Williams of the Galaxy S-6, will save you!

Captain Michael: Oh, shut up, Bill! You’re just as screwed as the rest of us!

Jonas: There seems to be a lot of tension between them.

Bobby: Yeah, uncle Mike is pretty butt-hurt. He thought he was going to get the Galaxy S-6. He blows up a fucking moon and thought that he was going to be appointed Captain of S-6. He also has this thing, which my mom tells me all men in the Michael bloodline have, where they think a man with two first names is a sign of greatness. Now, in comes Bill Williams over here; he’s younger, successful, praised by the public–he’s pretty much all the things that uncle Mike wishes he still was…And he has two first names—that are the same name! So yeah, uncle Mike don’t like. Anyway, you better turn off that recorder and shove it back up your butt. If Xanthok’s guards find that on you, you are fucked.

Jonas: Aren’t we headed to be executed right now, anyway?

Bobby: Yeah, well…There’s dying and then there’s dying, you understand?

Jonas: Oh…right.

((End Transmission))

 

Jonas Harper, Space Log: 011, Space Date: November 8, 2316

Wow…I can’t believe it. Bobby Gizowitz was right. Despite certain death we escaped the grasp of Xanthok and Quinzar. For the purpose of record, I must recount the details of our escape before they evade me…

As we were led into the chamber in which our execution was to take place, we were greeted by our two captors.

“The fabled Federation leaders, both young and old, brought to their knees by the wrath of Quinzar Ali!” Laughed the Zetan with Earthling blood. “And to make it even sweeter, they helped make it all happen by sending me to the very prison in which Xanthok was being held! How very illogical! HAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“Way to go, Captain Williams,” said Bobby, dripping with sarcasm. “Way to fuck us all over.”

All traces of courage and bravery within the young Captain had been replaced by a sulking pout of someone who was ill-prepared for the responsibilities of his ranking.

“I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “How was I supposed to know?”

“Alas! The time of retribution is upon me!” Xanthok’s translator spoke out. “The human who boasted of my capture now lies on his knees before me! What say you, human?”

“How can you be so evil?!” I protested. They had us beat and yet they pushed and pushed until they had us stripped all dignity. I could not watch this anymore.

One of the guards standing behind me struck me in the head and pushed me to the floor. Then he kicked me hard in the gut and I rolled over on my side. I gasped, the wind knocked out of me.

When I looked up, Xanthok and his guards were jerking about uncontrollably, just like Bok Bok had the day I interviewed the crew. I also felt that my butt had become loose again. Then I saw it, blinking red beside Xanthok’s slimy, green foot was my recording device. It had fallen out when I was kicked and turned on somehow. I remembered what Sasha said about the frequencies of our technology being like nails on a chalkboard to them.

She saw what had happened too and knew just the same as me the reason the Dragimians were losing control. Siezing the moment Sasha jumped to her feet and with a loud, “Hiya!”, gave one of the guards a powerful roundhouse kick that dropped him like a brick. Bobby caught on, turned around and dropped the other guard with a hard right hook between its shiny, black eyes.

I looked behind me and saw Captain Michael in combat with Quinzar Ali. He was losing bad. Quinzar was young, quick and fueled by hate, while the Captain’s old age and lack of physical fitness was getting the best of him.

I spun over and yelled at Captain Williams, “Help him!”

But he was paralyzed in fear, catatonic and rocking back and forth with tears in his eyes. I could not believe it. Say what you will about the morality of Captain Michael but at least he was trying. At least he wasn’t going down without a fight.

Around this time I saw Xanthok heading for the recording device. Though his movement was slow and disorientated from the electromagnetic signals, he would surely get to it soon if not stopped quickly.

Just then, an air shaft above our heads opened, its gate flying off its hinge and hitting the floor with a sharp clank! I watched as a mysterious intruder dropped from the opening and landed gracefully, barely making a sound. The stranger wore a helmet that covered his face beneath a shaded visor, but it was clear by the looks on everyone’s faces that it was only me who had never seen this man before.

“It’s the Hand!” yelled Bobby.

That’s when I knew that I was in the presence of the legendary assassin. He had come, just as he did thirty years ago, to save the Captain once again. And there I stood with front row seats to it all. His appearance though, was much less than legendary. His chest and shoulder armor had been out-dated for decades and, besides his purple and cream schemed helmet, was the only armor he wore on his body. Underneath that was a dirty, dishrag of a t-shirt, ripped department store jeans and sneakers, as if he could have been anyone of the kids I would see standing in a circle, rapping in front of the convenience store at the end of my block. But he was black. No other species in the entire universe shares the skin tone of the African descendants of Earth. The Hand…is an Earthling!

We stood as spectators, our jaws hanging open as the battle between the Hand and Xanthok ensued. But, in his weakened state, the Dragimian Emperor was no match for the quick-handed assassin whose blows came fast, fierce and always directly on target.

It must have inspired the tired Captain Michael, for he began to fight back too. His defense became quicker and more focused. He threw his entire body weight into his punches and wore down his opponent blow by blow. Before long he had gained the high ground on Quinzar as well, exposing the true strength of the seasoned veteran.

When the two villains had been defeated, Captain Michael turned to the assassin and extended his hand. “Thank you,” he said. “I promise, this time I will give you your full credit.”

The Hand put his hand into the Captain’s. “Don’t,” he replied from under his mask. “I work better as a myth. No one comes looking for me.”

We watched as the Hand became engulfed in a beautiful blue illumination and then, in an instant…was gone.

The young Captain Williams got to his feet and joined us. “We did it!” He said. “We stopped the evil forces!”

Sasha Banks rolled her eyes. “We? Honey, I don’t recall you doing a whole lot but rocking back and forth…”

“Yeah,” said Bobby. “Even I punched someone, you pussy.”

That made us all laugh. Everyone except for Captain Michael.

“Enough!” he ordered. His commanding tone demanded everyone’s attention and the laughing stopped. “Do not forgot that I too lied about my bravery when I was young like Captain Williams. In many ways his cowardliness here tonight reminds me of my formal self. And if I can be the brave, victorious Captain that I am today, if I can taste my retribution and drink upon the tears of my enemies…well then, there is still hope for him as well, is there not?”

Captain Williams eyes became brighter. “Really? That…That means a lot. I’ve always really looked up to you…I guess I just acted so poorly toward you because I wanted to show you I was proud and headstrong—like you.”

“Do not give up,” said Captain Michael. “There is greatness in you yet. After all, you bare two first names. To be great is your birthright.”

Quinzar laughed from the floor. “This all means nothing!” He shouted out. “I will have my vengeance! Mark my words! The Federation will kneel before Quinzar in the end! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…..”

He laughed for quite sometime after that…

Anyway, my epic space adventure has come to a close. I’m now on my way back to the space station to return to cryo-sleep. I got my interview and have witnessed a moment in history that will not be soon forgot. Now I will return to Earth to complete this “Where are they now?” feature on Captain Dan Michael. I think the answer to that question is quite simple…protecting the fucking universe.

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Othersiders

A story about a boy and a girl….and a skeleton, in a suit, named Abe….in a bar….in purgatory. Oh, and it’s a romance.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

A man opened his eyes from the darkness and found himself alone. He had no recollection of his past and not the faintest clue as to who he was or how he had arrived in his present situation. It was as if, before he had opened his eyes just moments previous, there had been nothing at all.

The crate in which he was encased moved slowly down the elevator shaft, deeper and deeper until the hard pitter-patter of raindrops crashing against its roof softened, dissipating into dead silence, while the red and blue lights that had been bleeding through the cracks in the wood faded to empty blackness.

The crate came to a stop with a shake and a thud. Then, rattling chains sent the elevator door chugging upwards, revealing a large underground room with a long, rather busy bar, dead in the center of things. It was hard to tell just how large this subterranean bunker was, as the shadows surrounding the bar were so deep and thick one could not tell just where the room began and where the room ended. In fact, if it were not for the glowing balls of light that gently hovered over the bar and its patrons, giving off a soft, but effective, illumination, there would be no way for one to find his way at all!

The man walked carefully over to the bar, still very confused and thus, very cautious. With no empty bar stools in sight, he wedged himself in between two other patrons, hoping to signal the bartender and get some answers…or a drink at the very least.

Asking any of the gentlemen beside him for answers to their location seemed futile as they made it very clear with their body language upon his approach that they were not looking for any friendly conversation. The man to his left, whose face was hidden by a milk white fedora pulled low over his head, was dressed in an impeccable milk white tuxedo with a blood-red pocket square poking out from the breast pocket. Upon the mans arrival, he turned away and kept his eyes down on his drink, still yet to be sipped. It was a green concoction of sorts, one that everybody across the wood was sipping on at some completion or another. Everybody except him…and the man to his right. This man was dressed far less elegantly than the tuxedo-wearing anti-socialite to his left. And though he wasn’t hiding his face under any hat, his shaggy mane and beard did a good enough job of that for him. This one did not share the calm confidence that was evident in the man in the suit. This one was nervous, shifty eyed and perhaps just as lost as the man whom just arrived.

“Where the fuck is this bartender…” the shaggy haired man muttered himself, nervously running his fingers through the thick mess over his forehead.

As if out of nowhere, the bartender appeared before them. The young, trim and handsome man, whose smile seemed too convincing to be trusted, placed two short glasses on the bar and, from a martini shaker, poured out the same green liquid that the rest of the patrons seemed to be enjoying into their respective glasses, filling each to the very rim.

“Excuse me—,” said the man. But when he looked up from his drink, the bartender had vanished as quickly and mysteriously as he appeared, leaving them with drinks but no answers.

Instantly, the shaggy haired man tilted his head back and swallowed the juice in its entirety. He slammed down his empty glass and gave a long sigh of refreshment,  while wiping a few left over droplets off his beard. Quickly afterwards, his eyes blasted open with a terrible, frightening look of regret. It was if, like out of some Shakespearean tragedy, he had been poisoned! He stumbled around in his stool for a moment, frantically trying to catch his breath. Then, the look of regret transformed into a blank stare of sedation and he stopped his fighting. He stood eerily still, like a wax sculpture or a stone statue. Following that short phase, a third stage began. The man began to weep uncontrollably. This was the hardest to watch for the man standing beside him, to see a full grown man so strong and mature lose all control of his emotions in the childish manner in which he did.

“Please…,” He sobbed. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…”

Suddenly, a hole opened up beneath the stool in which the man wept, sucking him down to a wild pit of fire below. The hole closed and the man was gone, his bar stool sitting empty, with the exception of a small stream of smoke floating up towards the glowing balls of light above. None of the people at the bar seemed to notice. No one except the man who had just arrived, the man who had seen it all happen in front of his very eyes, the man who now stared down at his own drink with heavy second thought.

“Memory overload,” said the man in the suit next to him. “He drank too fast.”

Looking up from his own glass, that which had yet to be sipped, the man whose face had been hidden under his milk white fedora was now exposed, revealing a face that was not a face at all–but a skull of bone with the hollowest of eye sockets, cheek bones with tremendous peaks and valleys, and a dark, empty mouth which was guarded by two rows of slowly rotting cartilage that one might have called teeth at one point or another. This stylishly dressed skeleton motioned to the now empty bar stool and smiled at the very confused, very bewildered newcomer staring back at him.

“Maybe you should sit down,” said the skeleton, taking a second to straighten out his golden cuff links.

“I think I would rather stand,” said the man.

“However you prefer,” the skeleton replied. “But would you like to know where you are?”

“Yes, please,” said the man.

“Well, okay then,” the bone-man smiled. He paused a moment for dramatic effect and then leaned forward and shouted, “You’re dead!

But the severity of the skeleton’s animated reveal were lost on the newcomer.

“Of course. How silly of me,” said the skeleton. “One cannot understand the weight of death without first knowing the meaning of life. Perhaps you should take a sip from your drink, it will help clear some things up for you.”

Obviously, after seeing what had happened to the other gentlemen who had drank the green drink, and seeing that the skeleton had yet to drink from his cup, he was reluctant to follow through on this request. Still, the skeleton pressed on.

“Just a small sip,” he said. “It will help, I promise.”

And so, still cautious but desperate for some sort of answer as to who or what he was, he took a small sip from his glass, swished it around in his mouth for a moment, then swallowed it down.

His eyelids squeezed shut and his eyeballs fluttered violently back and forth underneath them. And then, they opened.

He looked back up to skeleton and said, “My name is James. I-I can remember things now…”

“It is very nice to meet your acquaintance, James,” said the skeleton, extending his bony hand. “My name is Abe.”

“Nice to meet you, Abe,” said James. “That is quite a convincing skeleton costume. It looks very real.”

“Realer than most, this for sure,” said Abe with a nod, “So, tell me James…What do you remember? Do you remember where you’re from?”

“Seattle,” said James. “Seattle, Washington.”

“Ah, yes…The home of the great Kurt Cobain! He was a lot of fun that one, but rather in a hurry I must say…not one for small talk. But I digress, please, tell me, how did you enjoy Seattle?”

“Mostly I remember the rain…” said James. “It always rained. I remember sitting by the window, wanting to go outside and play, and my mom saying I couldn’t. I had to wait until there was no more rain…sometimes it would be weeks before it stopped.”

“Ah, yes” said Abe. “I hear living women can be quite stubborn. What about your dad? Why didn’t you just ask him?”

“I never knew my dad,” said James, hanging his head. “That really bothered me. Especially going over to my friend Peter’s house and seeing how much fun having a dad could be. Peter’s dad had this really cool Dodge Charger he would always be working on in the garage. Me and Peter would hang around and pass him the tools he needed from his tool box. Sometimes, after his dad had gone inside for a drink, me and Pete would sit inside the car and pretend we were racing…”

Then James’ smile faded, “My mom died of cancer when I was nine…I remember sitting in the seat beside her hospital bed…I was angry that she wasn’t trying to get better. I felt she was going to leave me, just like my dad did. On the day she died I was there, sitting beside her. She took my hand and squeezed it, tighter than she ever had before, she said, ‘When the hourglass drops it’s last grain of sand, I will fear not the dark if you’re holding my hand.’…and then she was gone.”

Then, his eyes widened as if he had come to a startling realization.

“Oh, my god,” he gasped. “I’m dead, aren’t I?”

Abe frowned sympathetically, “You and everybody here.”

For the first time James took a good look down the busy bar. What he saw was something more horrible than he had ever seen before. There was a man huddled over the bar, lost in his own thoughts, with a large knife in his back. There was a younger girl, who looked very pretty with the exception of the ruptured, bloody flesh across her wrists, whose eyes suspiciously shifted back and forth across the bar. Her eyes turned and connected with James’ as he gazed.

Her eyebrows furled. “What?!” She screamed at him. “What are you looking at, huh?!”

James, embarrassed, look back down to his drink.

“Where are we?” He asked Abe softly, stuck stiff, afraid to look up again.

“You’re in hell,” answered Abe plainly. Then he shifted in his seat. “Well, not yet,” he corrected. “That guy you just saw get sucked into a pit of flames–he went to hell. But here is more like limbo or purgatory. It’s the souls weigh station, you could say. That drink in front of you contains all the memories of your time as the living. Once the drink is drank and you have seen the mistakes of the life you’ve led, the hole will open and you will fall into eternity…into the fires of hell.”

“But I’m Catholic…” said James.

Abe laughed, “Oh, that doesn’t matter. Down here we have Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Mormans…You see, the living have always been so concerned about who will be waiting at the gates of heaven, they never cared to realize that hell doesn’t discriminate.”

“So who goes to heaven?” asked James.

Abe pointed his bony finger up towards the glowing balls of light that floated above the bar.

“The souls that made it to heaven are these things. They light up the room so shit-bags like you and me can find our way to the bar…to the drink.”

James scratched his head. “Yeah, but if you couldn’t find your drink that means that you couldn’t drink your drink. And if you never drank your drink, you’d never have to go to hell.”

Abe’s rotting mouth broke into a smile. “Now you’re talking my language,” he said.

“Is that why your drink is still full?” asked James.

“Yes, sir,” Abe replied. “I’ve been here for quite a while and seen many people come and go. Because I have no real sense of time, I don’t know just how long I have been down here, but I have seen many fashion trends. When I first arrived, everyone was wearing robes…if that. Lots of loose baggage I can tell you that!”

“But you’re wearing a suit,” James noted.

“Good point,” said Abe. “I’ve been updating my style as the fashion of the dead has evolved. I was given this little ditty as a gift from a man named John Dillinger. He said he had spent his whole life taking things from people, it was time for him to give something back. A real nice guy that Mr. Dillinger…Of course, my vocabulary also had to be updated throughout the ages. When I got here everyone was all, “Thou” and “Thee”. “Gay” meant “happy” and “fag” meant “a bushel of kindling.”

Abe put his finger into his drink and gave it a stir, “See, though I have no memories of my own life, I have been around long enough and heard enough stories from the other patrons, that I have pieced together a pretty good picture of what the living world is all about. Maybe I have an even better idea of how the living work because I have heard generations and generations worth of stories. Stories from the rich, stories from the poor, stories from the pretty, stories from the ugly…Good God! I should write a book! Oh, but who would read it…”

But James had stopped listening for quite some time. Something had pulled his attention back to the elevator in which he arrived. That something was a girl. This girl was something of a mess; her bangs fallen carelessly over her brow, mud stains splattered across her jeans and a large tare across the side of her shirt…but she was the most beautiful thing that James had ever laid eyes on. He just could not look away. Her eyes though, were glued to something written on her inner forearm. Even as she stepped towards the bar, her eyes remained lost over the words written on her skin.

At last, she looked up from her arm and scanned the bar. When she met eyes with James, she stopped dead. They stood there for several moments, staring at each other from a distance, stuck in this strange tractor beam that seem to be pulling them towards each other. Step by step, she approached, but not fast enough for James it seemed. He got up from his stool, moved by his desire, or his need rather, to be as close to her as possible, as fast as possible. Only that would extinguish the burning fire in his stomach.

There they stood, face to face, toe to toe, eye to eye, examining each other, both of them trying to figure out what it was that was causing this connection far too strong to be overlooked.

“Hey,” said James.

“Hey,” said the girl.

James motioned to the bar stool that had recently freed up. She smiled and followed him over, taking a seat. Just as their smiles seemed impossible to break, so seemed the same for the silence, as both of them seemed much too afraid to say the wrong thing to say much of anything at all. The tension broke as the bartender appeared to deliver the girl her drink, then, disappeared all the same.

As the two of them looked down at the green liquid, a bulky, hair-filled arm suddenly nudged between them and a heavy hand slammed down against the wood of the bar. In only a quick second, James had found himself boxed-out by another man much bigger than himself.

The man looked down, leaned in close and said, “Hey, babe. Welcome to the bar. My name’s Dusty.”

The girl nodded and smiled, but James could see she was scared and uncomfortable.

“You’re probably pretty confused,” said the Brut calling himself Dusty. “I mean, you’re new, you don’t know anyone…shit, you don’t even know yourself yet. It would be real easy for someone to come along and feed you a pack of lies…take advantage of you.”

The girl squirmed in her seat as Dusty took another step closer.

“I’ve been here for a while, babe,” he said. “I know the 411…that’s directory assistance. That means I know where it’s at. I could help you. I can keep you safe and tell you all about who you are. You don’t even need to drink, I’ll tell you everything, babe. For instance, I know that band that’s on your shirt…”

He pointed to her top which had ‘The Wrecks’ printed in bold letters.

“Yeah,” he continued. “They’re not really my style. They’re more pussy rock for kids who like to slit their wrists…”

“Hey! Asshole!” shouted the pale, young lady with the ruptured flesh across her wrists. She had been eavesdropping from a few seats down as the man with the knife in his back was not really much for conversation.

“My point exactly,” said Dusty. He turned his attention back to his prey. “Anyway baby, that stuff is kids music. I’m in to more…adult stuff, if you catch my drift.”

“Can you go away?” she asked, turning away. “Can you leave?”

He grabbed her by the arm and spun her back towards him.

“Hey!” barked James. “That’s enough! She said get out of here!”

The man turned around and met James eye to eye. Or perhaps chest to eye would be a better description as, after all, the man was at least twice James’ size.

“Oh yeah?” said Dusty, giving James a hard shove that sent him tumbling into Abe. “And what’s a little pussy like you going to do about it?”

Some of the nearby patrons stopped their conversations and looked over.

“He won’t have to do anything,” said Abe. “You just broke the cardinal fucking rule, ya big oaf. You’re outta here!”

And sure enough, two uniformed security guards dressed in black appeared behind Dusty and apprehended him, pulling him away towards the shadows. His confident facade melted into panic and terror, for he knew where they were taking him. He had seen it happen once before.

“Wait!” He cried. “I shouldn’t have done that! I’m sorry! Give me another chance!”

But his cries fell on deaf ears and before long Dusty had vanished, dragged into the shadow black by the two uniformed security. Then, the patrons turned back to their conversations and things were quickly as they had been.

“Bar fights might go over well in the land of the living…but down here, fighting among the souls is forbidden.”

“Where are they taking him?” James asked.

“Back up with the living,” said Abe. “To wonder the earth for all eternity–as a ghost!”

“That’s not fair!” exclaimed James. “This guy grabs girls and starts fights and he gets to go back with the living? He gets out of hell?”

“As a ghost,” Abe repeated. “No one sees a ghost, no one listens to a ghost, most people don’t even believe that ghosts exist. No one will love a ghost, no one will hold a ghost or kiss a ghost. Now, and for all eternity, he will have no one. Loneliness is all he will ever know. He will watch people celebrate their joys and their achievements, but will be cursed never to be part of it…never to be acknowledged. This is a fate worse than hell. Sure, hell is hot and the work is thankless and never-ending, demons feed on your displeasure and drink upon your despair, but at least you suffer with your peers. At least you’re part of something. At least the devil knows your name.”

The girl leaned forward and softly whispered, “Excuse me…would one of you mind telling me where I am?”

James paused for a moment, trying to figure out the best way to break the terrible news that Abe had broken to him.

“Maybe you should take a sip of your drink,” said James. “It will help.”

She looked at him doubtfully.

James laughed. “I get it. I felt the same way…but trust me. Just take a small sip.”

Taking his advice, she put the glass to her lips and carefully tilted it upwards, swallowing a tiny mouthful. Her head dropped and shook as one would when they sneezed. And like a sneeze, it was over in only a second.

Her eyes now open, she looked up and said, “My name is Natalie.”

James smiled. “Nice to meet you, Natalie,” He said. “My name is–”

Before he could finish, Natalie cut him off. “You’re name is James,” she said. “But everyone calls you Jimmy…I-I know you.” Even she seemed surprised by this.

“Oooo, the plot thickens!” said Abe, doing his best ‘spooky skeleton’ voice. But even for a spooky skeleton, it wasn’t very convincing.

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember you, though I wish I did,” said James. “How do you know me?”

“That’s okay,” said Natalie. “I don’t see how you would. We never spoke to each other. You used to come visit a boy that lived across the street from me. Peter was his name. You guys would skateboard in front of the house and fool around with Pete’s dad’s sports car.”

“The yellow Dodge Charger…” gasped James. “I remember that!”

“Yeah. So, anyway, I would see you two out there when I was out playing jump rope with the girls. I thought you looked a little like Peter Pan, which I liked. I really liked all those old Disney movies; Snow White, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty…there was always some boy that came from afar to rescue a girl from her misery. I suppose, back then, I wanted to be rescued from my misery…”

She looked up to James, “But I don’t want to bore you with all that.”

“No, please, I’m interested,” said James. “What did you want to be rescued from?”

“Well, my mom divorced my dad and moved us to Seattle. I was this little girl who lost all her friends, didn’t know anybody, didn’t have a dad anymore. I don’t know, that was hard for me, I guess. I just felt like my parents cared more about fighting and who was to blame than they did about me. I never felt safe with them…I just wanted someone to make me feel safe.”

She lifted up her hand to brush her bangs out of her face and as she did James caught a glimpse of the text written on the inside of her forearm.

He pointed to it. “What does that say?”

Natalie looked down. Her eyes widened when she noticed it. “Oh! Cool!” She exclaimed. “I got a tattoo! I always wanted one of these as a kid. Um, hold on, it says, ‘When the hourglass drops its last grain of sand, I will fear not the dark if you’re holding my hand.'”

She sat back and smiled, “Aw, that’s really nice…”

James was flabbergasted. “Where–Where did you hear that?” he asked.

“I’m not sure,” said Natalie. “Why?”

“My mother told me that when she was in the hospital. I never told anyone that.”

Abe leaned over and said, “Not that you can remember, you haven’t. But there’s still quite a lot of juice left in your glass.”

James lifted the drink to his lips. “You’re right,” he said.

“Wait!” Cried Abe. “I was just kidding! The more you drink, the closer you are to hell!”

“It doesn’t matter,” said James. “I have to know.”

“Know what?” asked Natalie.

James shot back a gulp of green juice, turned to Natalie and said, “Who you are to me.”

His eyelids closed, just like before. And, just like before, when they opened once again, he was full of new memories. He turned to Natalie and smiled.

“I do know you,” he said. “You were a bartender at Duke’s, a restaurant by my place. But this was a long time after the days of skating in Peter’s driveway. In fact, by the time I first met you, me and Peter stopped hanging out all together.”

“That sucks,” she said. “Why’s that?”

“Peter’s dad had promised him that if he graduated with a B+ average that he would get the Dodge Charger…I had been living with my uncle since my mom died and was getting into a lot of trouble. I guess Pete figured I was too much of a risk. Maybe he was right. I got expelled my senior year for fighting. Some guy pulled a knife on me, so I sent him to the hospital. Anyway, we lost all touch after that. I don’t know if he ever got the car or not.”

“What a shame,” said Abe.

“Fuck you, Abe,” said James.

Abe shook his head and said, “The attitude always starts when the adolescent memories kick in.”

James turned back to Natalie. “That’s when I met you,” he said. “I was working in my uncle’s shop, working on muscle bikes, chopping up the occasional hotbox, shit like that. Duke’s was just around the corner, so after work I’d stop by for a beer or two. There you were, lighting up the bar. In the beginning it was for the beer but after a while, I was coming in there just to see you…I just wanted to see you, y’know, hear how your day was. You made me smile…I know it sounds stupid, but it’s true.”

“Why didn’t you ask me out?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” grinned James. “You were always talking about these playboys you were dating; doctors, lawyers, shit like that. I mean, I was working in my uncle’s garage chopping stolen cars and fixing bikes. Wasn’t sure you’d go for a guy like me.”

Natalie rolled her eyes, “So I became a bartender did I? Ugh, how cliche…I never would have thought I would have done that as a kid…not after seeing what alcohol did to my parents.”

Jimmy laughed. “Oh, you did more than that,” he said. “A good girl you were not.”

She gasped and smacked him in the arm, “No way! What did I do? What?”

“Are you sure you want to hear this?” asked James.

Yes!” said Natalie.

“Are you sure?” asked James.

Natalie grabbed him and gave him a shake. “Jimmy! Stop it! Yes!”

Finally, Abe could take it no more. “Oh, just tell the fucking story already!” He cried. “Jesus Christ!”

“Okay! Okay!” said James. “So, one night I come into the bar, right? It starts of just like any other night. I’m drinking my beer, you’re complaining about one of your creepy regulars and a shitty date you had the week before. You got a text from a friend asking you to come to a club…Somehow, you convinced me to go with you–”

Natalie interjected. “We went dancing? What’s so bad about that?”

“Well, I didn’t finish,” said Jimmy.

“Well, by all means,” she said. “Continue.

“I will,” said James.

“Thank God,” said Abe.

“Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was going to say, on the way to club you stopped at your dealers house to grab cocaine!”

Her hand shot up in defense. “Uh-Uh! No way!” She protested. “There’s no way in hell I did cocaine! Alcohol, maybe, but definitely not cocaine! I hated drugs as a kid.”

“Well, that may be so,” said James. “But like the skeleton told me–There’s a whole lot left of that drink. Why don’t you find out for yourself if you don’t believe me.”

“Fine,” said Natalie. “I will.”

She put her head back and swallowed a gulp. Her head dropped and shook. When she rose, she turned to James, half-smiling and half-ashamed of herself, she said, “Ugh, that was my coke.”

James laughed and smacked his hand down on the bar. “She remembers!” He shouted. “So, tell me, what was your grand downfall into the dark world of narcotics?”

She sat back in her seat and looked at him, “Well…you, actually.”

“What do you mean, me?” asked James.

She looked down at her worn pair of Chucks, trying to put her thoughts together. “Well…and this is kind of embarrassing, but…I had a pretty big crush on you in high school. You were a senior and I was a freshman. I would see you in the hallways or hanging in the front foyer…I thought you were such a bad boy. I mean, you smoked, you drank, you skipped class and got in fights…I guess that I just wanted to be the type of girl that a guy like you would like.”

“I’d go fishing at the liquor store at lunch so I could have a Mickie in my purse for third and fourth period, I started smoking too…God, I wanted to impress you so much. And then, when you got expelled for fighting, I was absolutely heartbroken. I thought that was it. I thought I’d never see you again.”

“I’m sorry,” said James. “I didn’t know.”

“Don’t be,” said Natalie. “It wasn’t your fault. I was a stupid girl rebelling against the world because I was lonely. Anyway, after that I started to sleep around a lot. I can’t tell you how many times I rode in the passenger seat up to Andrew’s Point, in some different car with some different guy that hoped I would be his conquest for the night…Oh, by the way. Peter did get his dad’s yellow Dodge Charger. I would see him up there a lot. He wasn’t the smoothest with the ladies though. There were many nights his date would storm off and he would gave to go roaring off after her.”

“But that was my life. A free spirit, I suppose. Though sometimes I did feel chained to that lifestyle…Anyway, I got a job bar-tending at Duke’s and that’s when you started coming in. You’re hands were dirty from working in the shop all day, you smelled like gasoline and cigarettes…how could I not want to fuck you, right? I couldn’t ask you out and you never made a move, so, when Shannon asked me to go to the club with her, I invited you. My heart was pounding so fast…”

“Really?” said James. “You seemed like you didn’t even care.”

Natalie blushed. “I have a good poker face. Something I learned through my years of drunken promiscuity.”

“Do you remember what happened at the club?” asked James.

“Of course,” she said. “Me and Shannon danced while you stood by the wall, as stiff as a board.”

James grinned. “I don’t dance, okay? That wasn’t something I was taught growing up.”

“Oh, you weren’t that bad,” she said. “I mean, I literally had to back into you and put your arms around my waist…but you got it.”

James smiled in reflection,”We had sex that night. I remember being scared I was going to get coke dick and fuck it all up….”

She threw her head back and laughed. “Honestly, I don’t even think the sex even mattered to me that night. I was just so happy that, after years of watching you from afar, I finally had you in my bed.”

“And that’s when I told you,” said James.

“Yup,” said Natalie. She looked down at her forearm and grazed her fingers across the tattoo. “As the sun was coming up, I made a joke that you’d probably never come by the restaurant again. That’s when you said…”

Jimmy reached over and slid his fingers into hers, saying, “When the hourglass drops its last grain of sand, I will fear not the dark if you’re holding my hand.”

Natalie smiled and pressed her lips tightly on his.

“Okay! That’s enough!” Yelled Abe, waving his hands in the air. “Geese! This is purgatory not prom night!”

Natalie pulled away and opened her eyes. “What’s with the skeleton?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you what’s with the skeleton!” Abe grunted. “Look around you! You’re dead! Pits of fire are swallowing people down into hell and you two are kissing! Am I the only one who thinks that this is absolutely bat-shit crazy?!”

“I think I know what’s bugging him,” said James.

“Oh, you do, do you?” said Abe. “Well, please then, enlighten us.”

“You’re jealous,” said James.

“And why would I be jealous?” asked Abe. “I’m sitting over here with a full cup. Meanwhile, you two have already drank more than half!”

James shook his head. “Sure, you’re safe over there with you’re glass untouched. You’ll have a seat at this bar for as long as you want, long after everybody has taken their last sips and disappeared into the flames of hell. But still, Abe, I pity you.”

“And why is that?” scoffed the skeleton.

“Because everything you know has come from the experiences of someone else. You don’t know who you are, who your family is, you don’t know what brings you joy or what scares you. Sure, you can say that you’ve never felt loss but you have never felt love either. You have never loved or found out what it means to be loved. You have no idea what it means to be connected to someone. Because, when your connected to someone, it doesn’t matter if your glass is half-full or half-empty, whatever comes your way, you’ll handle it–together.”

Abe stared down at his drink. For the first time in a long time, there was no quick or witty comeback.

James turned to Natalie and said, “I can’t even remember if we saw each other again after that night. Even if we didn’t, I’m happy I met you, Natalie. I really am.”

Natalie lifted her glass. “Curious to see where this goes?”

James smiled and lifted his glass to hers. “How far do you want to take this.”

“Fuck it,” she said. “All the way.”

“You guys can’t be serious!” cried Abe. “Don’t you know what’s waiting? Hell! Fiery, burning, hell!”

Ignoring Abe’s commenr, Natalie leaned in to James and whispered, “When the hourglass drops it’s last grain of sand…”

Then, they squeezed each others hand tight and shot back the rest of their glass until not one drop remained. Their remaining years flashed before their eyes. Indeed, they were spent together. Images of warm summer nights on the beach, drinking beer as the sounds of laughter and tide crashing softly behind them made up the soundtrack to their life. These memories blended into whole days spent in James’ room under the thin cotton sheets, lost in each others arms, locked into each others gaze. And even as the relationship matured with responsibilities like their first apartment, promotions and less time at home, and even other suitors, their flame for each other burned just as high as it always had.

There may have been doubts at points, some vocalized more than others. There were fights; on some days it seemed they couldn’t bare to even look at each other…but no one made her laugh like he did. On their fourth anniversary James came running into the bedroom dressed up as Peter Pan. Natalie almost peed her pants at the sight of her tough, motorcycle riding boyfriend in lime green tights. But that’s just the kind of man Jimmy was to her. The one who held the power to make her cry, but always made her smile. The one who made her feel as if she was standing on the ledge of a skyscraper and yet she was never afraid to fall…because with him, she was safe.

On the night that James proposed, they drove up to Andrew’s point after going to see ‘The Wrecks’ play at a club downtown. They sat on the bench, his leather jacket wrapped around her as she rested her head against his chest. That’s when he asked her to spend the rest of her life with him…and she said yes.

Almost on cue, out of some cheesy romance, it started to rain. Before long it was pouring down, pounding against the pavement. The two of them jumped on the back of James’ bike and headed quickly down the mountain. Natalie squeezed him extra tight as they came around a sharp bend. That’s when they were blinded by the headlights of a yellow Dodge Charger. The car slammed on its breaks, drifting into their lane. Jimmy swerved to the right, Natalie screamed into the night and then…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza Guys

When a boy and his cheating girlfriend get caught up in an assassination attempt, they are taken on a journey through the city’s underbelly with two odd and out-spoken hit-men.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

They say that everybody has had a bad day every now and then. Whether it be called the Law of Averages, Murphy’s Law, or just plain old bad luck, everybody goes through a time where the odds seem unfairly stacked against them. For Chad Wright, on this particular and peculiar day in June, the odds, much like the world around him, seemed to have had completely abandoned him.

When he had left work that day, hopping into his “Midnight Blue” Mazda 3 and driving off in a hurry, excited to surprise his girlfriend with two tickets to her favorite band The Wrecks, he had not expected that he would find her in her room with another man. But sadly, this was the case. At first, his girlfriend Melony was caught off guard, then she became angry at Chad for not calling first, then she became very apologetic, full of tears and admitted that, over the last six-months, she had been having an affair with this man she called Victor…and she was in love with him.

It might have not been so bad if Victor had not been so ruggedly handsome and his penis much larger than Chads, but again, sadly this was the case. Boiling in a stew of anger, hurt and jealousy, Chad stormed off down the stairs and out of the house, for he had been raised to know that if you didn’t have something nice to say, than you shouldn’t say anything at all.

He climbed into his “Midnight Blue” Mazda 3, started the engine and pulled out of the front driveway. As he drove down the winding hill towards the front gate, he saw another pair of headlights approaching. At first glance it appeared to be a taxi, but as it drove by him he read the text lit up across the sign on the roof.

“Pizza Guys,” he read. “…Delivering Last Meals.”

Now, if Chad had been thinking clearly he might have found this particular slogan to be a tad off-putting, but in the hurricane of emotions running through him he just was not thinking straight. Finally, he could take it no more and he put the car in park. He gave himself a good look in the rear-view mirror and asked himself, “Are you just going to let them fuck and eat pizza?”

A grin broke across Chad’s face and he put the car in reverse as he decided–No. This time he wasn’t just going walk away. He didn’t know exactly what he was going to do, but he wasn’t walking away. His whole life he would run away when things got heated…not this time. And if that Cris Angel, sexy Jesus-looking hippie tried to pipe up, Chad was going to pop him one in the nose without a second thought.

The Mazda 3 sped backwards up the winding path, swerving into a patch of daises and crushing a pair of solar garden lights beneath the heavy rubber of his tires before it came to a park beside the beat up box civic that had drove passed him on the way in. He got out of the car and stormed up the steps, afraid that if he paused, even for just a moment, he might lose this newfound bravery and intensity.

The Pizza Guy’s had left the front door open slightly and he could hear them talking to Melony inside but it was muffled and hard to make out exactly what was being said. Seizing the moment, Chad took a deep breath and then, raising his leg, kicked the front door with all his might. The door swung open violently and hit one of the Pizza Guys in the back which knocked him off balance, causing him to drop the pizza box in his hands.

Chad smiled knowing that their dinner was now ruined.

But when the box hit the floor it did not SPLAT! like Chad had expected. Instead, it landed with a heavy KLUNK! and instead of a cheesy slice of pepperoni sliding across Melony’s parents’ marble floor it was, to everyone’s surprise, a shotgun that had its barrel sawed-off and shortened.

Victor looked down at the gun and back up to the Pizza Guys who looked down at the gun and then back up at each other. Everyone remained silent and still for a moment and then Victor spun around and made a hard dash for the kitchen.

“Fuck!” cursed the delivery man Chad had hit with the door, chasing after Victor.

Panicking, Chad turned for the front door but felt a large hand plant firmly on his shoulder. He turned his head and saw the hairy knuckles and gorilla-like arms of the other delivery guy spin him around.

“You’re not going anywhere,” said the Pizza Guy.

Never before had Chad seen a man with an eye-patch like this man wore. Such a dramatic costume piece belonged in pirate movies or other far fetched action films. Although, the present situation Chad had found himself dealing with was indeed itself something that seemed pulled out of a blockbuster Hollywood feature.

“Go stand over with your girlfriend,” the delivery man ordered.

Chad was disgusted by the thought of it. “No way,” he replied.

The delivery man withdrew a pistol that was tucked between his protruding gut and his waistband. Pointing the barrel at Chad, he repeated his command. This time Chad was a little less disgusted by the thought of it and walked over beside Melony.

At that minute the blonde Pizza Guy with aviator shades, who was much skinnier than his dark, stubbly, eye-patch wearing counterpart, came back into the front hallway gasping for breath and soaked with perspiration.

“He…He got away,” he panted, bending over and gripping his stomach. “He’s too fast…Jesus Christ…How can a junkie run that fast? It’s insane! He’s like a cheetah…or a gazelle…”

“Please don’t kill us!” begged Melony, tears rolling down her cheek. “My parents–they have money! Lots of money! There’s all kinds of jewelry in their room. Take it! Take all of it!”

“Will you fucking relax?” said the one with the eye-patch. “We’re not here for you, we’re here for your junkie boyfriend.”

“Me?!” Cried Chad. “But I’ve never done drugs my whole life!”

“Not you,” the one with the eye-patch replied. “The one she’s actually having sex with—Victor!”

The skinny blonde one stood up, straightened out his hat and aviator sunglasses and picked up the sawed-off shotgun that still lied on the floor saying, “We woulda popped him too if it wasn’t for you knocking me with the front door!”

“I’m sorry!” Chad pleaded. “Please don’t kill me!”

“Quiet, kid. We ain’t gonna kill ya,” said the one with the eye-patch. “But my colleague is right when he says you owe us for that little blunder. You and your girlfriend are going to take a ride with us, help us find Victor. And then, if the four of us still can’t find him, then I’ll kill you.”

The two armed Pizza Guys led Chad and Melony outside the house and down the stairs where the old box civic and Mazda 3 sat along with Melony’s parents new Navigator SUV in the front driveway.

The blonde one with the shades turned to his partner and said, “If Victor goes to the cops, they’ll be looking for pizza delivery cars. Maybe we should switch rides–take the Mazda 3.”

The one with the eye-patch laughed, “If there’s one person that junkie ain’t going to, it’s the cops. Besides, I’d rather get thrown in jail than be caught cruising around the city in that chick car.”

Chad looked up from his sneakers where his eyes had been firmly planted and said,”Hey! It’s not a chick car.”

“It’s a total fucking chick car,” said the one with the shades. “You have no balls, buddy.”

Before Chad could protest the fact that he did indeed have balls, he was thrown into the backseat of the civic by the one with the shades. Melony was ushered by the one with the eye-patch around to the front passenger side and pressed in just the same. Then, the one with the patch came around the front of the car and got into the driver’s seat. The engine hacked and coughed while the old vehicle struggled to start but, after some time, the box civic puttered off down the driveway towards the front gates and all that could be seen in the night was the glowing Pizza Guys sign winding slowly down the hill.

“Listen,” said Chad after they had gotten back out onto the public streets. “You can let us go and I swear we won’t do anything.”

“I know you won’t do anything, kid,” said the one with the shades. “You’re a Mazda 3 driving little bitch with no balls.”

“I have balls…” Chad said softly in his defense.

“I don’t know about that one,” said the one with the eye-patch. “How did you let another guy shoot on your net?”

“My net?” asked Chad.

“That’s a metaphor for pussy,” said the one with the shades.

“And you’re the goalie,” elaborated the one with the eye-patch. “Other dudes are the players. It’s your job to make sure those other players don’t get their puck in your net.”

“In my pussy?” asked Chad.

“No. In her pussy,” said the one with the patch.

“Oh,” said Chad.

“But Victor got his puck in her net,” the one with the shades pointed out.

“Oh, he pucked the shit out of her,” said the one with the patch. “He pucked her two ways from Sunday.”

“What does that even mean? Two ways from Sunday?” asked the one with the shades.

“I don’t know,” said the one with the patch. “My mom used to say it all the time.”

“Ah, your mom. Now there’s a woman who could suck a proper dick.”

“Not funny,” warned the one with the patch. “You’re going to hell for that one.”

“Oh! That’s the reason he’s going to hell?” Melony blurted out. “Not for the fact that he kills people?!”

The one with the patch turned and said, “Hey! There’s a major overpopulation problem right now, sweetie. We’re just thinning the herd. Besides, the people we kill are bad people. And we get up real close and shoot them in the head so there’s no chance of any civilian casualties. You should be mad at the real murderers–the soldiers who drop bombs on villages from thousands of feet in the air and kill whole families!”

The one with the shades kissed his teeth, “Nah, but I seen that ‘Support Our Troops’ sticker on that Navigator parked in your driveway…”

“And besides,” continued the one with the patch. “Who are you to lecture us on morality? Ever hear of a little commandment called Thou shall not commit adultery?”

“We’re not married,” said Melony.

“Well, there ya go. Sex before marriage, you still fucked up.”

“Can we just drop this, please?” said Chad, burying his face in his hands.

The patch-wearing delivery man scoffed, “Geez, kid. Don’t be such a safe-space, little pussy…Fine! Everybody, let’s change the topic. The princess doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“Doesn’t matter anyway,” said the partner. “We’re here.”

Chad and Melony looked out their window but failed to see where “here” was. They did not seem to be anywhere besides parked on the side of the street in the poor part of town. The part of town their parents would always warn them never to go to. The part of town that was filled with addicts, beggars, crazies and all of the other undesirables that can be found in the cracks of society.

“Where exactly is here?” asked Melony.

Here is where your junkie boyfriend scores his heroin,” replied the one with the patch.

“Why do you keep calling Victor a junkie?” She asked, quite obviously offended by the accusation. “He’s been clean for five years!”

The Pizza Guys both laughed, then the one with the patch said, “Sweetie, you’re going to have to start accepting the fact that Lover Boy lied to you about some things…a lot of things.”

Why would he lie to me?” she asked.

They both laughed again. Then the one with the shades answered from the backseat plainly, “To fuck you.”

“And then rob you,” added his partner, opening the driver side door. “Now get the fuck out of the car.”

Once away from the safety of the civic, Chad and Melony followed close behind the Pizza Guys who looked very much out of place in this neighborhood with their matching bright red fleece golf shirts and their red trucker hats embroidered with a large animated pizza slice in the center. They didn’t seem to notice or care. Chad figured it was because they had guns. People’s opinion of you matters significantly less when you’re holding a sawed-off shotgun in your hands.

Through the cloak of darkness that hung over the night all that stood out were the whites from the eyes of the tramps and transients that followed them as they made their way across the road. This was a terrifying sight for the two kids at first but they soon realized that the vagrants and vagabonds were already comfortably wrapped in the cocoon of their sleeping bags and had no intention of moving.

The four of them entered an alleyway where a man stood by himself, rolling a quarter back and forth on his knuckles. Like Victor, he had a thin frame, long greasy hair and was covered in tattoos.He saw the Pizza Guy’s approaching and reached for his pistol, but he was too late.

“Don’t even think about it, Wes” warned the one with the shades. He lifted the sawed-off and pointed it to the long-haired man.

“Who is this?” asked the man they called Wes. “And who told you my name?”

The one with the eye-patch twisted Wes’ arm and slammed him face first into the brick wall, “We know a lot of shit about you, Wes.”

Wes winced and groaned, “You guys ain’t cops, we own the cops…Who the fuck are you?”

“We’re the fucking Pizza Guys, what’s it look like?” said the one with the shades, still aimed on his target.

“And we’re delivering last meals,” said his partner.

Wes laughed, “Oh yeah? Since when?”

“Since nunuya freakin’ business,” said the one with the eye-patch. He pushed on Wes arm still twisted in his grip, letting him know that his next answer had better be something less sarcastic. “Where’s Victor?!”

Wes screamed out in pain, “Argh! No! I swear! I haven’t seen him in ages!”

“See?!” said Melony. “I told you!”

The man with the patch paid no attention to the girl and continued to examine the witness, “Listen, fiddlesticks! I know Victor is a great custy and you don’t wanna cut off the money train by ratting him out, but listen to what I’m saying to you! This guy owes money to some very bad people! Does the name Tommy Cirvini mean anything to you?”

Wes’ face turned ghost white, “Tommy Cirvini? Are you fucking serious?”

“Serious as satellite radio, homie,” said the one with the shades.

“Alright! Alright!” He conceded. “You just missed him! He grabbed a point and said he was heading to the Bathhouse! That’s all I know, I swear!”

The one with the patch let go of Wes’ arm and started to walk away.

“Look out!” Yelled Chad.

The Pizza Guy’s spun around to see Wes pulling out his pistol. Without a second thought, the one with the shades lifted the sawed-off and fired off a deafening blast. Wes was lifted from his feet, his chest splashing open like a water balloon and, when he finally landed smack down on the concrete…he was dead.

Melony screamed out, “Oh my god! You killed him!”

The one with the shades watched the body on the ground for a minute to make sure it wasn’t getting up and then, he turned to Melony and said, “Uh, yeah? That’s kinda what we do.”

Once the four of them had returned safely to the car, the one with the patch turned to Chad trembling in the backseat and said, “Thanks for the heads up back there, kid. I’m Dallas. The guy beside you is Page.”

The one with the shades turned and smiled.

“Dallas and Page?” said Melony. “So you’re like a cowboy and he’s some sort of scribe?”

“No, not at all,” said Dallas. “We took our names from the greatest wrestler of all time–Diamond Dallas Page.”

“Creator of the greatest signature move of all time,” Page added. “The DDT.”

“Can’t forget the Diamond Cutter, though,” said Dallas. “That shit was fierce.”

Melony huffed and rolled her eyes, “Who the hell is Diamond Dallas Page?”

The Pizza Guys just looked at each other and shook their heads in disbelief.

“Kids today…” said Dallas as he started the civic and pulled off into the night.

“They don’t know shit,” said Page.

 

Once they had been driving for a little while longer, Chad spoke again. “That guy said Victor was going to the Bathhouse. He didn’t mean like a Bathhouse Bathhouse, did he? Like with gay men?”

Page nodded, “Yup. Besides being a junkie, he also sucks fags’ dicks for money.”

“No way,” said Melony with a smirk, “Victor is not  gay. Trust me, I would know.”

“I didn’t say he was gay,” said Page. “I said he sucks fags’ dicks for money.”

He had a tone in his voice that made it clear he was starting to get annoyed with all the things the young girl thought she knew.

“You don’t have to be gay to suck a dick,” said Dallas. “There’s a lot of money in male prostitution. It’s actually one of the mob’s lesser advertised business ventures. And your pal Victor was working out of a bathhouse run by Tommy Cirvini, who you may not know, but for all intents and purposes, is the king of this city. And when you work for the king of the city, you owe the king his cut. Unfortunately, Victor picked up a pretty bad smack habit along the way and decided to stop paying his penance. Now he’s in some trouble.”

“Wait,” said Chad. “If the Bathhouse is run by this mobster guy, and Victor is going to the Bathhouse, won’t they just get him there?”

“The fags don’t know Victor has been missing his payments,” said Dallas. “Only Victor and Tommy Cirvini know that.”

“And you,” said Chad.

“And us,” confirmed Dallas.

“And us,” said Chad.

“And now you two as well, yes,” said Dallas.

“Can you stop using the word fag, please?” said Melony. “It’s super offensive.”

“Oh, here we go!” said Page. Though his eyes were not visible under his aviator shades, everybody knew his eyes were being rolled. “What’s wrong with the word fag? I didn’t say ‘kill all fags’, nor did I say ‘lynch those faggots‘ or ‘fuck a faggot in the ass with a grenade“, no. All I did was use the word fag to describe a homosexual. There’s nothing sinister behind it.”

“It’s what you’re implying,” said Melony.

Page groaned, “Let me stop you right there, Thought Police. Don’t you ever tell me what I’m implying. I said it, I know what I’m implying. You want to know where being offended derives from? When people get offended it means there was something about that topic of conversation that makes them uncomfortable within themselves, something that they don’t want to think about, something they don’t want to face. So instead of looking within themselves to face whatever is making them uncomfortable, they run from it. They tell you not to talk about it. They tell you it’s offensive.”

“I kinda know what you’re saying,” said Chad. “I called a black guy ‘colored’ once and he lost his shit. I mean…they are colored. What am I supposed to call them?”

Dallas and Page looked at each other and then broke out into laughter.

Chad, feeling a little more confident, asked, “So how did you guys become hit-men?”

The two stopped laughing on a button.

“Take off your hat, Page,” said Dallas.

Page did as he was requested and removed his trucker hat, revealing a large shiny bald head with the exception of a few blonde straws reaching over to the other end like a desperate hand in the one hundred meter dash reaching for the finish line. The sight of this sent both Melony and Chad aback as, by the shaggy blonde mess that had been sticking out of Page’s hat, they had assumed he had a flourishing head of hair. Though they tried their best to avoid eye contact, they couldn’t help but stare.

“Now take off your glasses,” said Dallas.

Page did as he was requested and removed his aviator shades, revealing a pair of bright baby blue eyes. One of those eyes however, was lazy and stayed staring at the bridge of his nose despite the fluent activity of its counterpart.

“Look at this bald-as-fuck, lazy-eyed monster in front of you,” said Dallas as he motioned to Page with one hand while driving with the other. “What exactly do you think the world has to offer an ugly cocksucker like this, huh? I got the answer for you–not fucking much! Do you think its a coincidence that most of the people who live a live of crime happen to be ugly as fuck? Society creates its own monsters by rejecting those who don’t correspond to popular opinion. So we got two choices; deal with the shitty hand the world has given us or go criminal.”

“This killing people shit keeps us paid,” said Page. “And we’re doing society a favor. We’re making the world safe for you fucking Beverly Hills bastards.”

“Oh…” said Chad. “But you kill who Tommy Cirvini says to kill.”

Dallas paused, “Yeah, well…We all gotta choose a side.”

The rest of the ride was silent after that.

Before long they were surrounded by the bright lights of the downtown skyscrapers and, after exiting on an off-ramp, they found themselves driving down a long strip of local college students on their Friday night pub crawl. Finally, they pulled up to the Bathhouse.

“Alright,” said Page, loading his shotgun. “Everyone put on their gay faces. Dallas: you’re cool, you already have a dick hole in your face.”

“Not fucking cool, dude,” Dallas replied. “But seriously, it might get squirmy in there so, I can’t believe I’m doing this but…”

Dallas pulled out a small revolver from the glove box and handed it to Chad who held it in his hands like a new-born baby, afraid to make any sudden movements…or any movements at all for that matter.

“But I swear to God,” said Dallas. “If you try to go hero on me, my partner will shoot you and then he will kill your girlfriend, your mother, your father, your grandfather–if he’s still alive, your grandmother–same stipulation…Shit, if you were involved in some sort of Big Brother program, which judging by what we know about you, you probably are–we’ll kill that fucking kid and his poor double shift working single mother too.”

“And I’ll do it too,” said Page plainly.

“I got it,” said Chad.

“Good,” said Dallas. “Now tuck it in the back so you don’t shoot yourself in the dick.”

Chad did as he was told and tucked the gun in the back. “Got it,” said Chad.

Dallas smiled, “I learned that little trick from a dude I met in the bin. A guy called Spinz…”

“Well that’s just riveting,” said Melony. “But what exactly is your plan? You’re just going to run in their shooting?”

“Hey, Melony…” said Chad softly.

Melony spun around, “What, Chad?!”

He leaned forward and said what everyone except Melony seemed to be thinking, “Why don’t you SHUT THE FUCK UP?!”

She darted back, frozen. Not in fear, but in shock, from a side she had yet to see in Chad until that every moment.

“They haven’t steered us wrong yet,” he continued. “We follow their lead.”

The box doors of the civic clicked open and the four of them got out, concealing their individual firearms and heading across the street to the red light in the distance.

Before they got to the staircase leading down to the front entrance, Chad turned and said quietly to Dallas, “You’re not going to open fire on all these gay people, are you?”

Dallas stopped in his tracks, “What the fuck did I tell you? We kill the bad guys! Victor! The guy who was six deep in your girlfriend a couple hours ago, you remember him? Stop thinking about fags, you fucking faggot! Now straighten up and act gay as fuck!”

Page chuckled, “Easy to say from a guy wearing a golf tee two sizes too small for him.”

“I’m serious, Page!” warned Dallas. “Fuckin’ game faces, you hear me?

The door to the Bathhouse opened and the doormen was met with four smiling, happy faces surrounding the doorway like a pack of eager Christmas carolers. And, much like their Christmas caroler appearance, they spoke in chorus with a proud but painfully awkward, “Heeeyyyy!”

The doorman scanned over the odd quartet for a moment and then ushered them inside. Once in the main hallway of the Bathhouse, there was another man behind a glass wall who asked Chad what kind of accommodation he was looking for. Chad, who was quite nervous, began bumbling nonsensical words and sounds until Dallas finally stepped forward and spoke for him, saying, “We’ll take a viewing room, please.”

“Fantastic,” said the man behind the glass. “30 dollars.”

Dallas gave Chad a nudge in the arm, “Pay the man.”

“Why me?” asked Chad.

Dallas groaned, “‘Cuz you’re the fucking ten thousandth customer, just fucking do it!”

Chad shook his head in protest, “I really don’t think it’s my responsibility…”

Melony rolled her eyes, “Oh. My. God! You guys are ridiculous! Here…”

She pulled out two twenty dollar bills and slid it under the opening in the glass. The man then took her money and gave her the appropriate change as well as the keys to their rooms.

“Everything okay?” asked the man behind the glass.

Melony shrugged, “They just have a serious case of blue balls…”

“I see,” said the man with a smile. “Manuel will show you to your room. Enjoy!”

And just as the man said, the doorman ushered the four of them down the hall to their room.

Once inside, Chad said, “Did you see all those holes in the hallway wall? Looks like there was already a shootout in here…”

Page chuckled, “Those ain’t bullet holes, buddy.”

“So what now?” asked Melony. “How do we find Victor?”

Dallas passed the bed and pulled back a large set of curtains on the far wall as he turned to Melony and said, “It’s not going to be easy. One of us is going to have to stay here and stake out the viewing rooms. Then, either Page or myself will go door to door and see if Victor is in any of the private rooms–”

Melony raised her hand, “Uh, Dallas?”

“Quiet,” said Dallas. “Meanwhile, Chad or you will have to scan the glory holes to see if you can find his dick. Melony, I would suggest you since you’ve seen a lot of that dick and you know what to look for…”

Chad interrupted, “Dallas?”

“This is no time to be self-conscious, kid,” said Dallas. “Your girl cheated on you, it sucks, I get it. But we need to keep our eyes on the prize.”

Finally, both Melony and Chad pointed to the viewing window behind Dallas and screamed, “Dallas! Look!”

Dallas turned and looked through the window into the next room. There, laid out on the bed, getting his penis sucked, was Victor.

“Motherfucker…” whispered Dallas to no one.

Then, he and his partner raised their weapons.

Page smiled as he cocked back the hammer of his sawed-off, “Ding-Dong, bitch!”

What followed was a storm of bullets that hailed into the next room, blasting through the window that separated the lodgings and sending thousands of tiny shards of glass crashing to the floor. The man sucking Victor’s dick sprang up and jumped from the bed like a grasshopper, fleeing the room in seconds.Victor however lied perfectly still, for he knew how pointless it would be for him to run away from his attackers.

Dallas walked through the shattered glass, his weapon still aimed directly at Victors’ head, “Get the fuck out here”

Victor did as he was ordered and, cupping his testicles, got off from the bed and carefully stepped over the jagged shards of glass, into the next room.

“Please,” begged Victor. “Don’t kill me. I’ll get Cirvini his money, I swear! I swear to you!”

Melony, who had been absolutely heartbroken at the sight of her boyfriend getting his dick sucked from another man, broke into tears and came rushing over to him, banging her fists on his chest as she cried out, “How could you do this to me?! You told me you love me!”

At that very moment, Victor knelt to the floor and picked up a jagged piece of glass. Then, he grabbed Melony and pressed it to her throat.

“Back off!” He screamed. “I’ll kill the bitch! I swear I will!”

Dallas took a cautious step forward, “Don’t be stupid!”

Victor pressed the edge of the glass into her neck, piercing her skin enough to send a single drop of blood running down the length of her neck.

“Not another step!” Yelled Victor. “I mean it! I’ll kill her!”

BAM!

A sudden, deafening pop filled the room and Victor dropped from behind Melony, dead. But the bullet did not come from Dallas’ glock, nor did it come from Page’s sawed-off. In fact, everyone stood still for a moment wondering just where the shot had come from…until they saw Chad in the corner, his revolver in his hands and a stream of smoke rising up from the barrel.

Dallas smiled in relief, “Nice fucking shot, kid…”

At that moment the Pizza Guys lowered their weapons and Melony ran into Chad, throwing her hands around him and bursting into tears.

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

After a long, silent drive back to Melony’s parents’ estate, Chad and Melony were let free from the box civic.

“You really went above and beyond the call of duty today,” said Dallas, leaning out the driver side window. “If you ever want to join the team, let me know.”

“Thanks,” said Chad. “Uh, how do I find you?”

Dallas chuckled, “Just order a pizza.”

And with that, the two Pizza Guys drove off down the hill towards the front gate and out into the early morning.

As Chad and Melony stood there in awkward silence, Melony finally broke the tension.

“Listen, Chad,” she said. “I just want to say, I’m sorry…I-I never meant for you to get hurt.”

“Then why?” asked Chad. “Why did you do it?”

She shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know. Victor was just so dangerous and mysterious…I just couldn’t help myself. I mean you’re super nice to me but…sometimes you’re too nice. And you’re so plain and boring…and you drive a Mazda 3.”

Chad looked at his feet, “Oh…”

Then she grabbed his hand and pulled it close, “But tonight you proved how brave you can be! You saved me! That’s when I knew you could be dangerous, you could be a bad-boy!”

“I loved you so much,” said Chad. “For so long I thought that if I could just date someone who was really pretty, then that would make me a better person, that it would raise my value as a man…But I know now that I was wrong.”

Then he pulled his hand from hers and continued, “Maybe the reason that I was so plain and boring with you was that you didn’t inspire me to be anything but. Tonight I realized it has been a long time since I have been inspired, probably because I have spent all my time trying to be the man you want me to be instead of finding a girl who loves the man that I am. You are a spoiled, selfish and inconsiderate human being, Melony and I mean this when I say it…Go fuck yourself!”

And with that, Chad left Melony alone on her front steps as he got into his “Midnight Blue” Mazda 3 and drove off out into the world with his head held high…and his balls firmly back in place.

The End.

 

 

 

 

The Writer

How far would you go to tell the perfect story?

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

My therapist, Dr.Raymond, has cleverly deduced that I suffer from mild paranoia. But, what the simple doctor does not understand is that I am not paranoid, I am prepared. You see, it is all a matter of perception. Dr.Raymond’s reality was linear one; he saw things in the first person, subjectively, in a straight line. I, on the other hand, saw reality in the third person, objectively, as the narrator, with a birds-eye view scanning realities infinite depth and possibilities. And that being the case, along with the knowledge of the sins in my past, my fear of being tracked down and plotted against was not one of paranoia, but of sound logic.

Much of that fear drives from guilt, I am sure. It is the little bit of human feeling left in me that clings to man’s etiquette, believing I should answer for the crime I committed. I saw a priest who told me that feelings of paranoia are signs of the guilty soul screaming for confession. But God has seen what I have done and on that day of judgment if he cannot see the reasoning to my actions well then He is just as short sighted as Dr.Raymond. Until that day I remain, Grant Hull–New York Times Bestseller. The author of “Held Up”, critically praised as, and I quote, “The most realistic depiction of the life of a bank robber in our time.” My book has given me literary recognition, public praise and wealth beyond my wildest expectations. Does this not prove, even as we punish and imprison the thieves, rapists and murderers, that society secretly has a passionate yearning to swim in the dark thoughts of society’s most evil creations?

The publishing industry knows this and year after year they publish weak attempts to capture the life of society’s darkest. The books are penned by authors who pull their research from dramatic fiction or Hollywood movies. But when these “authors”, if that is what they choose to call themselves, draw upon inauthentic sources like Hollywood, they produce an inauthentic story. Then, the game of broken telephone begins and author after author draws upon the inauthentic stories before him, creating an even more far fetched attempt to capture the essence of the bank robber, the rapist, the murderer. But those books will come and go quickly, making a small profit but quickly forgot by the eyes of society. I wished to be not another waste of paper, but one of the great writers of our time–Of all time.

If you look at the great authors of the past, such as Charles Dickens with Oliver Twist, or George Orwell with Down and Out in Paris and London, two undeniably honest commentaries on economic, social and moral abuses of the ruling class–these works only achieved such high levels of authenticity from the authors actually taking to the slums and living with the down and out characters they would eventually reflect in their books. To write great literature it is imperative that you know your characters intimately.

When I first created my protagonist, he was so far from my country boy persona, I couldn’t relate. Jimmy, my bank robber, was a down and out kid from the Bronx who could no longer stand his bottom of the list place in society, and so, turns to a life of crime. I didn’t know a thing about city life or desperation–so I researched. I read every book on bank robberies I could find, I watched every heist movie there ever was, I listened to every gangster rap album I could get my hands on. I learned much about the topic and it help me to create much more depth and authenticity to Jimmy and the characters around him. For example, I had originally intended Jimmy to burst into the bank guns blazing, wearing a gorilla mask and telling everyone to, “Get the fuck on the floor!” while shooting off a couple rounds into the roof. In the movies, this seemed pretty standard but in real life, Hollywood’s portrayal of the bank robbery is heavily flawed and out of date. Bank security has come a long way over the years. Maybe in the 1920’s John Dillinger and his gang could burst into the place with guns drawn and shoot it out with police, but not today. In today’s banks, each teller has a panic button under the desk, so it was imperative that at all times throughout the robbery, the only person who knew the bank was being robbed was the single teller, and only when Jimmy was close enough to her to monitor her hand and knee movements. The best way to achieve that would be with a simple note handed to the teller once he was called from the line.

See how much research helps create authenticity?

But these were things any and every author would do in preparation for their story. I didn’t want to be just any author. I knew I needed a more aggressive approach if I was to be remembered with the likes of an Orwell or a Dickens. Over a scotch in a hotel lobby, I came to terms that the only way to capture the raw energy of a bank robbery was to actually rob a bank. I chose a Royal Bank across town as the target. At first, I just stood in the lobby and watched. I watched the customers, I watched the tellers, I watched the cameras–I even watched the half-dead security guard habitually putter about back and forth before he eventually found peace in a plastic seat next to the front entrance. Now and days, banks don’t carry much cash in the drawers and I did not have the equipment or the man power to try and successfully take the vault. But, again from my research on bank security measures, I knew that most tellers kept  a “robbery bag” around that they were to give to the robber if ever faced with the situation. That’s what I wanted to leave with. I knew the bills were marked but I didn’t care, I wasn’t going to spend any of it. It wasn’t for the money; it was for character research. I needed to witness the look of fear in the teller’s eyes when I handed her the note threatening to kill her if she did not co-operate. I had to document the doubts and second-thoughts that would race through my head just before handing her the note and I needed to experience the pounding heartbeat and surge of adrenaline I would feel as I walked out the front door with that heavy bag of bills.

And so, on a chilly day in September, I walked into that Royal Bank on Main St. and stood in line. I wore a hat, sunglasses and a fake mustache to disguise myself from the recording cameras. One by one I watched the person in front of me break from the line and approach the teller until, all too quickly, it was my turn to step forward. I kept my hand steady while handing her the note that warned her that I was armed and would shoot if she made any signals or reached for the panic alarm. It instructed her to quickly give me the robbery bag and everyone would be safe.

The moments from when I handed her the letter to when she gave me the bag under her desk were the most intense. The fifteen or so seconds seemed like an eternity. I thought my heart was going to beat right through my chest and land in her lap. It was not so much the teller that had me so on edge, she was scared and I knew they were trained to co-operate. It was the customers behind me. I was sure one of them had seen me hand over the note and would attack me from behind, but I couldn’t look behind me without arousing suspicion from security and I couldn’t risk taking my eyes of the tellers hands. Finally, she reached over the kiosk and handed me the unmarked bag, holding in her tears to the best of her ability. I turned and, bursting with elation and disbelief, quickly walked through the front door, passing the senior security guard who may or may not have been taking a quick midday nap. I couldn’t say for sure, all I could see was the street outside–complete tunnel vision. Once outside, I walked around to the back of the building where the taxi I had arrived in waited for me on a back street, completely unaware of what had just happened. He dropped me off at a McDonalds a few blocks down where I disposed of my disguise before hopping on a bus back to my neighborhood to count the score.

Now that I had experienced the rush of criminality, I was ready to translate my recent enlightenment to paper and bring Jimmy from the Bronx to life. I understood him now. As I wrote the novel I was constantly expecting the police to come to my work or come to my home and take me away…but they never came. Three months after the books completion, with a little luck and a great agent, “Held Up” became a New York Times Best Seller and I had hit the big time. I did not need to spend the cash from the robbery, I was selling millions of books. Why? Because readers recognize authenticity. They really do.

I had trouble during the book tour, though. I was forced to grab a pushy fan by the throat to remind him of who he was disrespecting. I don’t deal well when dealing with the readers. The one’s who read my story, living my experiences vicariously, never having enough guts to go out and do what I did. They used my experiences to escape their dreary, safe and pointless lives. How I loathe them. But it was this incident during a book signing in Los Angeles, that my publishers came together and decided I needed to see a therapist, throwing Dr. Raymond, uninvited, into my life, to accuse me of this paranoia.

Things are better now that the book tour has ended and I am back home in the comfort of my writing studio. Just the other day I received a call from my agent letting me know the publishers have green lighted my next novel proposal. With the recent popularity of the murder mystery genre, I have decided to create a story from the point of view of the killer. Genius is it not? I am happy to say, I have already begun my research. And I swear, to both myself and my readership, that I will pen the most authentic look into the mind of a murderer that mankind has ever had the privilege to gaze upon…

The End