By Sean E. Graham
Sean E. Graham on Smashwords
Copyright © 2011 by Sean E. Graham
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Table of Contents
Five Minutes in Africa
Johnson’s Hot Tubs
Jacob Fine Clothiers
Also by Sean E. Graham
MAGGIE WATCHED THROUGH HER EXPENSIVE SUNGLASSES AS THE WORKMEN FINISHED LAYING
THE LAST OF THE BRIGHT GREEN SHAG CARPET. SHE WAS INDOORS AND THE ROOM WAS DIMLY LIT,
BUT SHE WORE THE GLASSES JUST THE SAME—THEY HID HER BLACK EYE WELL.
“MA’AM,” THE CREW LEADER SAID, “WE’RE ALL FINISHED HERE. A FEW THINGS TO BE
AWARE OF… LET THE CARPET SETTLE FOR A FEW HOURS. TRY TO STAY OFF OF IT. I SEE YOU
DECLINED THE SPRINKLER SYSTEM, SO YOU’LL NEED TO WATER IT ABOUT ONCE A WEEK IF IT
DOESN’T GET ANY ACTION, AND IF I WERE YOU I WOULDN’T BE STANDING AROUND ABOUT NINE
O’CLOCK OR SO; THIS MODEL TENDS TO PREFER A LATE SUPPER. IF YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS, CALL
THE SERVICE NUMBER ON THE INVOICE. YOU DECLINED THE WARRANTY ALSO, CORRECT?”
“YES,” MAGGIE SAID. SHE DIDN’T BELIEVE IN WARRANTIES; THEY WERE A SCAM AND A TAX ON
“OOH… YOU KNOW IF…” HE STARTED.
WITHOUT SKIPPING A BEAT HE CONTINUED, “WELL, YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE ANY ISSUES ANYWAY.
THE SHAG 3000 IS A SOLID CARPET, BEEN AROUND FOR YEARS. NO FAILURES, NO CONVICTIONS TO
DATE. NOW THE 2000…THAT WAS A DIFFERENT STORY.” THE INSTALLER SHOOK HIS HEAD. “A
“I WISH IT WAS AVAILABLE IN DIFFERENT COLORS THOUGH,” SHE SAID, RUNNING A FOOT OVER THE
LIME GREEN CORDS.
“I’M TOLD THE FACTORY IS WORKING ON A WINE RED COLOR. THAT SHOULD HELP WITH STAINS,
BUT YEAH, FOR NOW IT’S JUST THIS GREEN COLOR. HAVE A NICE DAY, MA’AM.”
ROGER STEPPED THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR, TOSSED HIS KEYS INTO THE DISH ON THE FOYER
TABLE AND SET HIS BRIEFCASE DOWN. ONE STEP INTO THE LIVING ROOM HE WAS STOPPED IN HIS
TRACKS, THOROUGHLY CONFUSED BY THE YARDS OF LIME GREEN SHAG CARPET THAT NOW
COVERED HIS ONCE-OAK FLOORS.
A NOTE FOLDED LIKE A TENT SAT ON THE SOFA TABLE. I’LL BE HOME LATE. DON’T WAIT UP. HE PUT
THE NOTE BACK DOWN.
“Figures.” Defeated, he shook his head. He pulled a black velvet case from his inside suit jacket
pocket and placed it next to the note. Was he a fool? Could such a gift really work?
In the kitchen he pulled a microwave dinner from the fridge. Lasagna is what the box said and
the outer picture reflected this promise, but the actual product was something different entirely. It
spun in the microwave, bubbling and popping as he watched and thought of times not so distant
when they would eat meals together. The machine dinged and he returned to the sofa with a
bottle of wine to help take the edge off. He considered the meal he’d laid out on the coffee table.
It looked so wrong—a good wine next to a steaming pile of dog shit in a cardboard tray. Almost
right, and in a bizarro world it would have been, but here it was wrong, wrong like his marriage.
How had it come to this? The present course seemed so drastic yet necessary and ultimately
unavoidable. He hoped that the velvet box would set things straight, right so many wrongs. They
had been in love once.
He toasted love and downed five-year-old wine from a plastic cup. The bottle of wine was
emptied before the tray of lasagna product, and soon Roger lay with his head back on the sofa
snoring like a yeti.
THE FIRST SENSATION FELT LIKE A DOG TUGGING AT THE SHEETS, EAGER FOR A WALK ON A BRIGHT
SUNDAY MORNING; JUST A GENTLE PULLING AT HIS SOCKS. ALL IN WITH THE BOTTLE OF WINE AND
NOT A NATURAL DRINKER, ROGER WAS ABLE TO IGNORE THIS. THE SECOND SENSATION FELT LIKE
HIS FEET WERE BEING FED INTO A WOOD CHIPPER.
ROGER SCREAMED, ROCKED FORWARD ON THE SOFA AND TRIED TO JERK HIS FEET UP, ONLY THEY
DIDN’T MOVE; THEY WERE HELD FAST TO THE FLOOR. PAIN SHOT UP HIS LEGS AND HE DOUBLED
FORWARD SCREAMING. EYES STARING DOWN AT HIS BLOODY FEET AND THE NEW CARPET, HIS MIND
REELED, TRYING TO COMPREHEND WHAT HE WAS SEEING.
EACH TWO-INCH CURL OF GREEN SHAG HAD TRANSFORMED INTO A SEGMENTED WORM-LIKE
CREATURE, A HIDEOUS ANNELID ROOTED AT ONE END TO THE CARPET UNDER MESH, WITH A MOUTH
LIKE A CIRCULAR BUZZ SAW ON THE OTHER. THEY LATCHED ONTO HIS FLESH LIKE TINY BEAR
TRAPS, SOME CHEWING SO DEEP THEY HAD EMBEDDED THEMSELVES IN HIS FOOT AN INCH DEEP.
THE BLOOD FROM HIS ANCHORED FEET SPATTERED AND RAN IN RIVULETS INTO THE CARPET,
WHERE IT DISAPPEARED IN A RUSH OF SLURPING SOUNDS. TO HIS COMPOUNDING HORROR, ROGER
SAW THAT THE ENTIRE CARPET WAS MADE UP OF THESE CARNIVOROUS CRAWLERS, EVERY ONE
WRITHING AND TWISTING IN A BLIND QUEST FOR PREY.
ROGER STOOD AND PULLED AT HIS LEGS WITH HIS ARMS, BUT THEY HARDLY MOVED, THE CARPET
CORDS STRETCHING THEN RETRACTING LIKE ELASTIC BANDS. THE EFFORT THREW HIM OFF
BALANCE AND HE FELL FORWARD, CRASHING THROUGH THE GLASS COFFEE TABLE AND HITTING
THE DEADLY CARPET WITH THE FULL LENGTH OF HIS BODY. THE CARPET-WORMS MADE QUICK
WORK OF HIS CLOTHES AND DUG INTO HIS SOFT FLESH WITH THEIR RAZOR-SHARP MOUTHS.
HE TRIED TO REGAIN HIS FOOTING BY PUSHING OFF WITH HIS ARMS, BUT HIS HANDS WERE CAUGHT
BY THE WORMS AND HE WAS FACE-PLANTED HARD INTO THE CARPET. THE SCREAMS REACHED A
CRESCENDO BEFORE STOPPING AS HIS MOUTH WAS TORN FREE AND HIS FACE VANISHED IN A SPRAY
OF CRIMSON. HIS JAW, NO LONGER ATTACHED TO HIS SKULL, DANCED ALONG THE CARPET LIKE A
MARIONETTE AS THE WORMS FOUGHT FOR THEIR SHARE. ROGER’S CORPSE TWITCHED AND
UNDULATED FOR A FEW MORE MINUTES LIKE A ROCK STAR RIDING A WAVE OF CHEERING FANS,
GROWING SMALLER AND SMALLER AS THE CARPET FEASTED UNTIL ABSOLUTELY NOTHING
MAGGIE RETURNED HOME LATER THAT EVENING, SAW ROGER’S KEYS ON THE ENTRYWAY TABLE,
THE SHATTERED COFFEE TABLE IN THE LIVING ROOM, AND CALLED OUT TO HER HUSBAND, WHO DID
NOT ANSWER. SHE SMILED WITH RELIEF AND WALKED GENTLY ACROSS THE SATIATED CARPET TO
THE SOFA TABLE. THE COFFEE TABLE HAD BEEN HER CHOICE, IT ADDED A CERTAIN SOMETHING TO
THE ROOM, BUT HE HAD ALWAYS HATED IT. EVEN WITH HIS DYING BREATH ROGER HAD MANAGED
TO TAKE IT FROM HER, BUT IT WAS ALL OVER NOW, THE FISTS, THE SCREAMING, THE INFIDELITY,
NOTICING THE VELVET JEWELRY CASE, SHE COCKED HER HEAD LIKE A DOG WHO HAS
HEARD A SOUND ONLY DOGS CAN HEAR AND THEN SHOOK HER HEAD. ROGER, ROGER, HOPELESS
TILL THE END. SHE LONGED TO ADD “ROMANTIC” TO THE DESCRIPTION OF HER HUSBAND, BUT
“HOPELESS” WAS MORE ACCURATE. THE LID FOLDED UP AND INSIDE WAS A SPARKLING DIAMOND
NECKLACE. WELL, SHE HAD EARNED IT. NO SANE PERSON WOULD DISPUTE THAT. MAGGIE DRAPED
THE JEWELS AROUND HER NECK AND FASTENED THE CLASP. THE CENTER STONE HUNG AT THE
CREST OF HER CLEAVAGE. BEFORE STEPPING BACK TO THE FOYER MIRROR, SHE NOTICED A SMALL
ENVELOPE TUCKED INTO THE BOX’S LID. SHE PULLED IT OUT AND UNFOLDED IT. INSIDE WAS A
PICTURE TAKEN FROM A DISTANCE OF MAGGIE AND HER NEW FRIEND, THE MOST RECENT ONE,
ENTERING A HOTEL. THE PICTURE SLID FROM HER FINGERS AND WAFTED TO THE CARPET. SHE
UNCONSCIOUSLY READ THE NOTE ALOUD, “I KNOW.”
As she spoke, she felt something jump on her neck and instinctually swatted at what she assumed
was an insect. It jumped again, then something slithered along her chest. That sensation started
Maggie’s hands flapping at her chest and neck, throwing her hair up as she stomped up and down
with the heebie-jeebies.
The slithering persisted. The necklace drew up tight around her throat. She pulled at it, but it
wouldn’t give and actually seemed to shift away from her. The necklace constricted, tightening
around her lithe neck, a four-figure garrote, as she clutched at it, digging manicured nails into her
own flesh in vain effort as her vision narrowed. Darkness encroached. The front door, the end of
a narrowing tunnel, was a thousand miles away. Her knees hit the carpet. She gasped, fumbled
for her cell phone, dropped it and landed on her face. The diamonds glimmered, winking in the
light. A thin ring of blood appeared around her neck as the necklace pursued its death embrace.
The wound, a slow-leaking faucet, dripped onto the shag in sparse red droplets. Maggie was
almost unconscious when the Shag 3000 woke.
THE GAME WAS SHOCKER. IT WAS YOUR BASIC TRIVIA CHALLENGE. CONTESTANTS WERE ASKED
GENERAL-KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS ON RANDOM TOPICS RANGING FROM THE MATING HABITS OF
SQUIRRELS AND DUNG BEETLES TO POP CULTURE AND HISTORICAL EVENTS. THE FORMAT WAS A
NOD TO THE OLD-SCHOOL DAYS OF THE INDUSTRY WHEN REALITY MEDIA AND GAMING WAS JUST A
FAD AND NOT THE FOUNDATION OF THE ECONOMY.
Several hundred would-be contestants formed a line that wrapped around the dilapidated
studio and down the block. They huddled under threadbare tarps and other makeshift protection
against the drizzling acrid rain. Smog, thick, gray and black, obscured a hand in front of your
face and drew tears from your eyes. It was like a living thing, an ancient being, a tenement
neighbor swirling and permeating every crevice of the shrouded city. The fire-stack walled
citadel was an aquarium. Man lived amidst the smog like fish in the sea.
Prize money, one hundred dollars to the finalist, was the reason so many braved the outdoors. It
was nice money, would put food on the table, but it wasn’t big money and ninety of the hundred
were studio-bucs. Only ten were actual, real open-market dollars. But the entry fee was nominal
for freelancers, nothing at all for licensed union members, and the physical price of failure was
But Reginald Holms, a.k.a. Grinder, wasn’t in line for the hundred bucks. He needed the
money, everybody did, but he wasn’t destitute like the rabble behind and in front of him. He still
had company chits left over after his unceremonious release from the ShowPro-Reality Corp
stables that would keep him in corporate housing and corporate store NearFood for a few more
months. And that’s all the time he needed to get things right.
Rotary carts rolled through the street. You could hear them minutes before you saw them. Street
urchins—kids, criminals and washed-up adults that couldn’t cut it as pros—pedaled bicycles
with a fan blade apparatus suspended overhead or mounted out front, each pedal crank turning
the gears that turned the wheels that turned the blades. Coal smoke parted before them, driven
away by the pressure of the sweat-powered fans like demons before an exorcist, temporarily
revealing the mass-consumption street monitors hanging like billboards. Brilliant LED light
struggled through the haze, casting idle watchers in yellow-white sheen.
The rotary carts rolled through, their masters, their slaves struggling over massive potholes and
the garbage that littered the streets. Years ago officials attempted to make a game of city
maintenance; government crews competed for prizes by completing the most road repairs, but in
the end there was just no getting around it: asphalt was boring and no one was watching and soon
no one was competing. Now no one maintained the roads. All the laborers had moved on, tasted
manufactured fame, saw the dollars and set out to become reality stars independent of their
Dozens of screens played the latest episodes of reality television; people trapped in a house, the
poor and starving alongside the pros all competing for food, races, sex games and on and on
down the street, each new obscenity revealed with each cycle of the rotating-fan gear. A series of
smaller screens running along the road at eye level displayed people living out their lives
perpetually watched by a million tiny cameras cast like a net across the city and the world: an
Asian woman cooking NearFood noodles in a wok; a split view, one side showing a man reading
a paper while defecating in an outhouse, the other side revealing snow drifts so high the small
structure was nearly buried.
One row above the squatting man Reggie watched an uptown family eating actual beef
sandwiches while they watched a tenement family of five struggling, searching dumpsters for
food. On the uptown family’s living room screen a black man, skeletal and lean, dug through a
pile of alley rubbish. Above him was a row of screens that ran the length of the brick alley wall
displaying the same channel of the up-towners watching him. He stopped, picked his teeth with
something he’d just dug out of the trash and stared at the screen. The scene perpetuated into the
ether, one watching the other on and on.
A commercial played on the giant screen nearest the Shocker contestant line. It was a
ShowPro-Reality Corp recruitment piece: A young woman’s voice overlaid flashing images of
healthy, athletic men and women competing in a variety of events. “If you want to be the best,
you need help from the best. ShowPro-Reality has more Elite Class reality gamers on the circuit
than any other professional management firm in the world,” dramatic pause. “Go Elite. Go
The shining text and the ShowPro image of a chrome globe held by a chrome, featureless,
genderless giant gave way to Grinder’s sweating, bleeding face. It filled the three-story screen.
Reginald watched himself rappel down a cliff side, scramble across a beach strung with barbed
wire and dotted with fragmentation mines and leap across a finish line just as a second man
dropped from the cliff, hitting the beach hard. Close-up of leg fracturing. Close-up of face
contorted in pain and determination.
THE SCREEN CUT TO REGGIE, FROZE ON HIS FACE IN MID-FLIGHT ACROSS THE FINISH LINE. IT WAS
TWISTED WITH EXERTION. “ELITE” APPEARED ON THE SCREEN AND THEN HE WAS GONE. THE SMOG
PUSHED ITSELF BACK IN AND OBSCURED THE SCREEN AS IT TRANSITIONED TO THIS WEEK’S EPISODE
OF OUTCAST WHERE TWO WOMEN WERE BEATING EACH OTHER WITH RUBBER CLUBS IN AN EFFORT
TO GRAB A STEEL HOOP AND DROP IT OVER A STAKE IN THE GROUND. THE WINNER MOVED ON TO
THE NEXT ROUND. THE LOSER WENT HOME, IF THEY COULD STILL WALK. THE SHOW CUT TO A
CLOSED INTERVIEW WITH ONE OF THE WOMEN TAKEN PRIOR TO THE ONSCREEN ACTION. SHE BEGAN
BADMOUTHING HER OPPONENT AND THE OTHER CONTESTANTS SHE SHARED A HOUSE WITH.
The ShowPro commercial footage was from the final episode of Do or Die, shot a full year
earlier. Minutes after Reggie crossed the finish line, the man dragging himself across the sand
behind him was pulled into the ocean and drowned on worldwide television. He had lost. There
was no second place in Do or Die. The show, and that episode in particular, garnered the highest
ratings in Media Mass, Inc. history and catapulted Reggie, screen name Grinder, into the
The coal smog filled the void behind the rotary carts completely. It rolled in like a living thing,
groping, clinging to everything it touched. As it washed back in Reggie thought he saw a pair of
shredded sneakers tied with wire and twine around small feet. But the smog was relentless and
the shoes disappeared. He almost gave up his place in line, stepped into the street after the
wearer of the shoes, but something in him held him back, the greater cause. Soon, pal, soon.
An older couple ahead of him in line was staring at him like they had seen a ghost. He hoped
they hadn’t recognized him, weren’t going to ask for an autograph. He dropped his head and
pulled his poncho hood down over as much of his face as it could manage, tightened his tattered
overcoat and welcomed the ashen air. For the first time in his life he was grateful for the smog.
REGGIE WON SHOCKER. KNEW HE WOULD. TRIVIA WAS PART OF BASIC TRAINING. ANY
CORPORATE-SPONSORED GAMER KNEW EVERY USELESS FACT CONCEIVABLE. CATALOGUES OF THE
STUFF HAD BEEN IMPLANTED IN HIS SUBCONSCIOUS WHILE UNDER HYPNOSIS. MANY TIMES EVEN
REGGIE WASN’T AWARE HE KNEW SOMETHING UNTIL THE WORDS FELL FROM HIS LIPS. HE HAD SAT
CONFIDENTLY AND WATCHED HIS CLOSEST COMPETITOR, AN OLD GUY WITH FIVE KIDS AND A WIFE,
GET COOKED ALIVE WITH ELECTRICITY RELEASED INTO WIRES CLAMPED TO CONTESTANTS’ BARE
FLESH WHILE THEY SAT NAKED IN FRIGID BUCKETS OF WATER ANSWERING STUPID-ASS QUESTIONS
ABOUT SQUIRRELS SCREWING.
The electricity was cued by incorrect answers and released from its copper confines by a
monkey trained to throw a lever whenever a midget tossed him a NearFood cookie. The camera
always zoomed in on the animal’s face. The little prick seemed to be smiling every time he
dropped the lever. Adding insult to injury, the poor bastard had lifelines still on the board when
his own life was carried away on the current. Amateurs: they paid in blood and tears every time.
He pocketed the ten real dollars and gave the studio-bucs to a kid in the audience because he
reminded Reggie of someone. The kid smiled, said “gee thanks, mister” and ran off to the studio
store, probably to waste the bucs on mugs and t-shirts plastered with the studio logo while he and
his family would go hungry tonight and the next and probably the next.
Most of the audience had recognized him from Do or Die and later from Gross Me Out, How
Much Is Too Much and the rest of his pedigree, and Reggie had to break into a trot and lower his
shoulder a tad to get through the mob. They wanted his signature, wanted professional tips,
wanted to know why he had done it, why he threw it all away for a kid. But ultimately they
wanted his ten bucks.
The ten real dollars would come in handy no doubt, but Reggie had played Shocker because
oddly enough it was a qualifier. The winner logged ten professional qualifier points,
union-backed credits. The runner-up, or the runner-up’s next of kin, logged five. Shocker was
small time, low on the ratings. It sat somewhere below Rancor on the charts and just barely
above the street games played for NearFood scraps and filmed for dead-air filler between the
blockbuster hits on worldwide. No, it wasn’t qualifier material, not by the traditional standard,
but what the hell: credits were credits.
Two girls ran past him in the smog as he made his way home, one nearly colliding with him
head-on. “Out of the way, asshole,” one girl said as she tried to decipher a map or clue or some
such shit written out on studio paper made to look ancient and mysterious. Cameramen
clambered behind them, trying to run with relic cameras weighing them down like anchors. Low
budget. Run, Run or Last One Home Loses a Digit or one of a thousand other struggling shows.
A thirty-minute walk later, Reggie was pushing through the lower door of ShowPro-Tower. It
was a nice building, lots of chrome and glass. It rose high above the city’s unfettered coal-smog
cap and most other buildings, providing the top-level residents, the reality professionals and
studio execs, actual exposure to the sun. Reggie knew this because he had lived in the top levels;
eighty-seventh floor, compartment 2C, to be exact. Of everything he had given up, he missed the
sun the most.
That was before Do As I Say, Not As I Do.
Now he lived on the fifth floor, a move he made to stretch the remainder of his corporate chits
and one he regretted more often than not. The entrance for floors three through thirty was in the
rear of the building. The front door, the door to floors thirty and above, was guarded around the
clock by large men with a list. If you were not on the list you did not try to enter the front door.
Once, a young producer looking to make a name for himself ramped up a black market spinoff of
Catch Me If You Can where teams of contestants tried to outsmart various corporate security and
snatch artifacts from inside the gleaming towers. Filming was cut short when the producer’s
body was found stuffed in a pothole the morning after the first shoot.
The hall was cluttered with garbage and overflow tenants. A person could sleep in the hall for a
real dollar a day or fifty studio-bucs if they were redeemable at the right studio. Media Mass
money got you an extra night. Global Messenger, Inc.… eh, not so much. Union credits were a
different story. Cashing in a single union credit could get you a day in a private room, with heat,
cooling and running water.
Reggie stepped over the sleeping bodies and a woman with a foil bowl cooking something that
might have been wind-cart kill from the night before, until he reached his door. A soft voice
almost startled the key card from his hand.
“When will you be finished? It’s lonely here.”
Reggie turned and a small boy was standing behind him. He was filthy, wore too-large clothes
and had a gash running left to right across his forehead. The blood was dried, dark and mixed
with the grime on his face seamlessly.
Reggie knelt to meet the boy’s sorrowful eyes. “Sorry, buddy. Still working some things out.
Won’t be long now.”
The boy smiled. “Okay.” And he kicked at an empty can of NearFood paste and headed down
the hallway the way Reggie had come. The can skidded against the road kill cooker’s foil, but
she didn’t seem to notice.
“See ya later,” Reggie yelled after him, but the boy didn’t look back.
Reggie’s room was ten by ten. He shared it with three other minor league players and they shared
a community bathroom down the hall with fifty more minor leaguers and hallway dwellers.
Gerald was sitting on the sofa-thing that lined the east wall watching the giant-screen television
that made up the entire west wall of the room.
“There he is, the man!” Gerald said with faux adoration. Gerald weighed five hundred pounds,
which would have been fine if he was eight feet tall, but he wasn’t. The top of his skull was five
feet two inches from the bottom of his foot. He made a living competing in televised eating
contests. The man had once eaten ninety-seven NearFood pies. The screen bounced from Haters
to the worldwide standings as Gerald mashed the remote with sausage fingers. A list of names
filled the screen in vertical columns. At the bottom right a page indicator told them they were
viewing page one of four thousand four hundred and fifty-two. Gerald skipped to the last page.
Eight names from the bottom flashed “Reginald Holms.” They didn’t even list his screen name
anymore. Grinder: there were studio t-shirts printed with the name once, coffee mugs too.
“Ten big ones. Nice work, my man,” Gerald said and extended a closed fist. Reggie bumped it
with a closed fist of his own. He was humoring his roommate. He didn’t feel like celebrating. His
participation in Shocker was borderline humiliating.
“This cat, Tiger Lily, is making moves though. Check him out,” Gerald said, shaking his head.
Several hundred slots above Reggie was someone with the screen name of Tiger Lily. Tiger had
nearly five hundred union credits. The name was flashing, which meant a change in ranking
within the last twenty-four hours.
“Thanks, man,” Reggie said in response to his roommate’s initial congratulations before moving
on to someone neither of them knew. He edged past the sprawled man’s legs and found his place
on the room-length couch and plopped down, dimly aware that he was being followed and
focused on by uncountable cameras within his own room. He wondered sometimes what screen
his life was played out on and who might be watching, who might care? “Where’s Jim?”
“Haven’t seen or heard from him in a day or two. He went down to StudioCom to get into As
Nasty As You Want To Be. New season. ShowPro gig.”
“He already did Nasty,” Reggie said, confused. He let the ShowPro reference drop. The agency
had shown a lot of interest in Jim since Reggie’s fall. It was a point of tension between the
“Some kind of survivor reunion series circle jerk, you know—a ratings bit.” Gerald flipped back
to Haters and the two watched as racists and purists and nationalists and every other kind of -ist
screamed their points of view at each other. At the end of each episode one contestant was voted
off the island they were all secluded on. With enough votes, the banished, along with their
extremist views, could be sentenced to rotary cart duty, an actual correctional facility, or even
Reggie indicated his understanding with a grunt and lay back into his corner of the sofa bed. He
paid most of the rent, and that entitled him to certain things like the third of the sofa with the
armrest/headboard. Gerald paid the least, which put him sleeping on the floor or in the middle of
the sofa with his head next to Reggie’s feet, but since Jim would be away for a while the two
enjoyed the extra leg room and Gerald’s use of Jim’s share of the sofa bed would be their little
secret. But if the fat man left any stains behind the jig would be up. And Gerald was the type of
guy who left stains behind.
“Thought you had more credits though, Reg? Seems like you did,” Gerald said. The last words
fought their way through a mouthful of NearFood. “Fucking studios, man.”
“Eh, studios. Someone’s got to pay the rent.” Reggie pulled an overused, sleep-soiled sheet over
his head and tried to doze while people screamed at each other on the wall screen.
Reality stars, the good ones anyway, liked to say the world was home to two kinds of people:
stars and props. You were either in the spotlight or you were background. But sometimes even
the background could make a buck.
Reggie stopped caring about life several months back under the fixated gaze of ten billion
eyes condensed into a few hundred street cams that watched him from around the world as he
lived the life of a reality star. Do As I Say, Not As I Do, or DAD as it was called on the street, was
the big show, primetime. If you were a reality gamer—and everybody was—you wanted your
shot at a show like DAD or maybe the two or three other big-money, big-future shows like Do or
Die and All Ate Up. It meant food, real food, on the table for a long time. It meant sleeping in an
environmentally controlled space. It meant survival. And it took five hundred union credits and
three top-place finishes in any other ranked show just to be considered for entry.
This season’s scenario was a legal drama. A retro bit that had Reggie “Grinder” Holms playing
the part of a sleuth, which meant something like a detective back in the day, a cop. Now it meant
something totally different, which was part of the show’s premise, its draw: humiliation. He was
to be Her Majesty’s Royal Sleuth Holms for the next five months, if he lasted that long, which in
today’s vernacular meant something along the lines of Her Majesty’s Royal Prick. Hilarious.
He was walking down a side street. Giant stationary fans mounted in the streets and on rooftops
blew continuously overhead, keeping the smog at bay and providing a better viewing experience.
On the ground in the mouth of an alley perpendicular to the street, a man and a woman were
having sex. They wallowed in the filth of the alley tearing at each other’s clothes like animals.
The man was screaming, “Spank me, spank me.” His voice had energy. His eyes did not. He
wore a wedding ring. She did not.
DAD was a game of virtual control. Viewers, and upon occasion the studios when things got
boring, told the participants what to do and when to do it with the end goal of completing their
assigned task. Reggie doubted that copulating like wild pigs on the street had anything to do with
the completion of these two participants’ weekly tasks. It was something to liven things up, get
the show’s pulse pumping.
SEVERAL TIMES THROUGHOUT AN EPISODE A PARTICIPANT WOULD ENCOUNTER A RUBICON, A
DECISION POINT IN HIS CHARACTER’S STORY. VIEWERS COULD ENTER POSSIBLE PLOT TWISTS AND
ACTIVITIES THROUGH THEIR INTERACTIVE WALL SCREENS. THOSE ACTIVITIES WITH THE HIGHEST
AGREEMENT RATINGS FROM OTHER VIEWERS WERE FORCED ON THE CONTESTANTS. FAN FAVORITES
PROCEEDED NICELY THROUGH THE GAME WITH THE AID OF HELPFUL, PROGRESSIVE ACTIVITIES
THAT MOVED THEM TOWARD THEIR WEEKLY EPISODE FINISH LINE AND INEVITABLY THE SEASONAL
FINISH LINE AND VICTORY.
Participants with low ratings in the polls, however, usually found themselves fucking in the
streets while their wives and family watched on television, asking people to kick them in the
balls for no apparent reason or other hysterical acts that caused them pain and/or humiliation at
best and at worst prevented them from reaching the finish line altogether, thereby jeopardizing
their continued participation on the show. The three contestants with the worst finishing times
each episode were at risk of being voted out.
Grinder was a fan favorite.
The man Reggie recognized as Bob the Butcher, the leading suspect in a murder case Reggie was
following. The woman, probably a prop, Reggie couldn’t place and he didn’t want to stare. Her
eyes were no more alive than those of the man on top of her. She may even have been crying, but
at least she was getting paid either way—probably in studio-bucs, but hey, it was something. If
the Butcher was eliminated he got exactly squat for his troubles and maybe less than that if the
polls didn’t go his way. All those union credits, a fortune, wasted. Ol’ Bob took a shot at the big
time when he could’ve kept his family in NearFood for years, heated their tenement for ten
winters or even moved them uptown. The pro circuit was no place for a family man.
Reggie idly wondered why he wasn’t arresting Bob right there, but it wasn’t in the cards for him
tonight, and besides, it was only the third episode of the season. He would have to putz around
their closed-course game world for weeks before getting close to Bob. Following instructions,
Reggie continued down the alley pretending not to notice the suspected killer spanking an
unnamed woman; he was looking for a yellow cow. That’s where the instructions left him. The
yellow cow undoubtedly held another Rubicon.
The street twisted and turned, but finally he came to the yellow cow. It was plastic, battered and
hanging from the arch of a butcher shop aptly named…The Yellow Cow. It was Bob’s place.
Reggie expected to find evidence of murder: hacked-up bodies, jewelry from the deceased,
something like that. A little bell jingled overhead when he stepped through the door.
The place was empty and dark, but the low smog kept at bay by the studio blades reflected a
gray, hazy light from public viewing screens all over the city so he could still make out hanging
carcasses of animals behind the counter. Below a pig hanging by its hind feet was a red button
mounted into a podium-like stand, and below that was the word “Rubicon” imprinted in black
letters against a bright yellow background. He walked over and pressed the button.
All contestants wore a wrist monitor. Reggie’s began to vibrate immediately after he pressed the
decision button. Reggie pulled his sleeve back to reveal a wrap that extended up most of his
forearm and contained a digital display. So many viewer suggestions blazed across it Reggie
gave up trying to read them. Each one was followed with an associated ratings number: burn the
place: 57; look through the back room: 150; turn around and leave: 40; kill him: 400.
Kill him? Him who?
A boy jumped out from behind a butcher’s block holding a six-inch carving knife. He wore jeans
several sizes too large, a bloody t-shirt and shoes held together with twine and wire. A prop. The
boy was crying; his tears cut grooves through the gritty muck that clung to his face.
“Leave my pa alone,” the boy managed. This was apparently Bob the Butcher’s son. He was not
in the script. The boy was a prop.
The wrist monitor vibrated and the suggestions toggled between calm the boy and kill the boy,
with calm the boy leading in popularity by a hundred ratings points. One eye on the blade the
other on the wrist band, Reggie circled, waiting, breath held, for direction from his masters. He
wasn’t a killer. He would not kill…period. His actions led to the death of others in game play,
but never by his own hand. They knew the rules, the consequences of second place. He simply
outperformed them. A justification no doubt, but it was all he had, all that kept him marginally
sane. He wouldn’t kill.
The vibrating stopped.
REGGIE LOOKED DOWN, EYES CLOSED, TOOK A DEEP BREATH. HE OPENED HIS EYES AND EXHALED
HEAVILY. CALM THE BOY HAD WON OUT BY A SLIM MARGIN OF THIRTY POINTS.
He kneeled and reached out to the kid. The boy, sobbing now, stepped in and jammed the knife
into Reggie’s shoulder. Reggie screamed, fell back on his ass and the boy kept coming, shaking
his head, crying, “Please don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me. I’m sorry,” even as he stabbed
again. This time the blade missed and Reggie rolled and let the boy fall on his own momentum.
“What are you doing?” Reggie snapped, clutching his shoulder. “I’m supposed to calm you. You
don’t have to do this.”
The boy shook his head. “They made me.” He tried to whisper.
Hand a starving kid a stick of NearFood and a blade and tell him to kill someone. The fucking
studios. I guess random sex wasn’t enough to keep the ratings rolling.
His wrist buzzed again and both players stopped. Reggie slowly pulled back his sleeve again and
bit his lip. Kill him: 500.
Their eyes met for just a second and Reggie’s grew wide as the boy lunged.
“Don’t hurt me!” the boy cried, his words diametrically opposing his actions.
Reggie caught the boy’s wrist, again letting his attacker’s momentum take him, and flung the kid
into the shop’s wall, twisting the knife free as he did. A move he learned in ShowPro training
The boy lay in a heap, crying loudly, clutching his broken wrist. Reggie held the knife now. It
caught hazy light and gleamed. His arm vibrated—Kill: 700. Kill: 800.
Reggie knelt beside the boy, this time not reaching out to calm him, but to grab him by the hair
and pull his throat closer. The penalty for disobeying the Rubicon commands, the viewers’
commands, was immediate elimination from the show, a lost contract with ShowPro and
probably public execution. There were not a lot of rule breakers walking the streets.
The fucking studios.
But Reggie was no killer of kids and he found it hard to believe that the world at large wanted to
see kids be killed. Maybe overall ratings were low. Maybe tonight had been a ratings dud.
Maybe the producers needed something to give the series a shot in the arm, stir some
controversy. Whatever the case, the situation Reggie now found himself in felt totally contrived;
it reeked of studio manipulation.
Damn it all. He was no kid killer.
Reggie let the kid fall back onto the floor and tossed the knife across the room well out of his or
the kid’s reach. He didn’t believe the kid was a killer either, but clearly his back was against the
wall both literally and figuratively. His mother and father probably had pneumatic bolt guns to
their heads at this very moment.
Reggie’s wrist band stopped vibrating, went dead. Men in riot gear seemed to materialize from
the ether and batons rained down on Reggie. One of the last things he saw, an image that would
never leave his mind, was of a black club caving in the top of the boy’s skull. Watching the life
drain from those young eyes.
In that moment something changed in Reggie. People described critical points in their lives,
times where they could bear no more, with words like snapped, breakdown, collapse. But for
Reggie it was more of a fusing, a mending of something that had snapped long ago. As he
watched the boy die, he realized that he had been broken down for a long time; he had been born
into brokenness. The world was broken.
Reggie escaped death after a massive outpouring of viewer support spared him. He lost his
ShowPro contract, status and relatively plush lifestyle, but he lived…and they would regret that.
He would make them regret that.
EVERYONE WORKED FOR THE STUDIOS. ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
REGGIE SAT ON HIS THIRD OF THE SOFA BED WITH A SMALL FOLDING KEYBOARD IN HIS LAP.
A THIN CABLE RAN ACROSS THE FLOOR AND INTO ONE OF A DOZEN SERIAL PORTS BEHIND THE
WALL SCREEN USED FOR MAINTENANCE, UPDATES AND OTHER TASKS THAT REGGIE WAS NOT
AUTHORIZED TO PERFORM. THE WIRELESS KEYBOARD ISSUED WITH THE ROOM AND MATED TO THE
WALL SCREEN LAY ON THE FLOOR, ITS ACTIVITY LEDS AMBER IN IDLE MODE. AND IDLE IS JUST
WHERE IT WOULD STAY. TRANSFERRING CREDITS ILLEGALLY WAS NOT SOMETHING HE WANTED
THE STUDIOS OR THE UNION TO KNOW ABOUT, AND AN UNPROTECTED WIRELESS CONNECTION OF
ANY KIND, MUCH LESS A STUDIO-PROVIDED CONNECTION, WAS TANTAMOUNT TO POSTING A SIGN
OUTSIDE HIS DOOR: HACKING, DO NOT DISTURB.
GERALD WAS AT THE MEDIAMAX GYMNASIUM TRAINING FOR A NEARFOOD WING-EATING
COMPETITION TO BE HELD IN THREE DAYS. AND THE LAST TIME THEY HAD SEEN JIM IT WAS ON THE
APARTMENT WALL SCREEN. HE WAS BEING VOTED OFF AS NASTY AS YOU WANT TO BE FOR TRYING
TO DO SOMETHING PARTICULARLY HEINOUS TO A HOUSEMATE. APPARENTLY JIM COULD NOT BE AS
NASTY AS HE WANTED. THAT WAS WEEKS AGO. THEY DECIDED A FEW DAYS AGO THAT THEY
NEEDED A NEW ROOMMATE. GERALD DIDN’T KNOW IT JUST YET, BUT HE WOULD SOON NEED TWO
His fingers played across the keys like a concert pianist. The wall screen, usually displaying the
latest programming, now jumped from database to database displaying only command line
prompts and drive indicators. Reggie found his file, found Tiger Lily’s file and stopped.
He tabbed down from the database window to a small single-line oval window at the bottom of
the screen. A blinking cursor awaited him. At the cursor Reggie typed when/where? and waited.
A moment later there was a response: 1350 Planters, Warrens—30mins. Credits now.
Reggie tabbed back up to the database window and pressed enter and watched as his queue of
credits dumped into Tiger Lily’s. Grinder dwindled to zero as Tiger’s topped out at seven-fifty.
He closed out the session as soon as the transfer was complete, unplugged the keyboard and
stuffed it into the duffle bag that was his closet sitting to the side of the sofa. Fifteen minutes
later Reggie was walking in the clean wake of a small pack of rotary carts into The Warrens; a
dozen square blocks of downtown that made Old Town look new; slums within slums. The carts
broke off and headed back uptown on their endless route through the city and Reggie continued
on through the haze.
He followed the muted glow of television screens grimy and unattended down Planters Avenue
and into a warehouse so bleak and dark that even the screens and their LED images could not
penetrate its abyss. A bay door with the numbers 1350 painted above it had been left partially
open and Reggie ducked and slipped inside without a glance behind him. With any luck he was
nothing more than an apparition in the muck, gray against swirling gray. He could not afford to
be the focus of any street screens for passive viewers to ogle. Not yet, not now.
Inside all was darkness. He stood for a moment, unsure of what to do next. Water dripped into
more water from somewhere in the deep. Plop. Plop.
“You’re late.” It was a scratchy voice, harsh.
Reggie struck a match. The yellow light fell on a hunched man in blackened coveralls and
bandana. His eyes were slits and laced with red. Black soot covered his face except for almost
white skin around his eyes where goggles perpetually rode like ticks on a dog’s back.
The man shot across the room quicker than Reggie would have ever imagined. He scurried low
like a crab and swatted the match from Reggie’s hands. It went out and darkness prevailed.
“Fuck’n idiot,” the soot-covered man snapped. “We’ll be on fifty thousand TVs in seconds. That
what you want, Mr. ShowPro?” his voice was a rasp hamstringed by a mounting case of lung rot.
They stood in silence for a moment then Reggie asked, “Tiger Lily, huh? The name doesn’t suit
you.” Everyone worked for the studios one way or another, and this filthy, hunched man was no
different. He was a miner. If they had screen names at all they were called things like Thrasher
and Macerator, not Tiger Lily or anything else ending in lily. They spent sixteen hours a day or
more, sometimes living in the pits for weeks at a time, walking on their knees in spaces kept
narrow by the studio-owned mines to keep operational costs low, pulling coal from the earth
beyond the stack walls in the Wastes to feed the electrical plants that turned the sky into ash and
powered the studios—the lights, the action, the screens, the cameras…the hundreds of thousands
“Funny man, ah? You think this is for me, Mr. ShowPro genius? You think I risk this for me, a
busted miner?” He shook his head in disgust and irritation then cut to the chase. “You got the
rest of the money?”
REGGIE PULLED OUT A PAPER SACK AND STUCK HIS HAND OUT BLINDLY. HE KNEW THE MINER WAS
WATCHING HIM. A LIFETIME IN THE MINES AND GENERATIONS WORTH OF MINERS, THE MAN COULD
SEE HIM IN THIS PITCH NEARLY AS WELL AS REGGIE COULD SEE UNDER STUDIO LIGHTING. THE
MINER TOOK THE SACK AND REGGIE HEARD HIM RIFLING THROUGH ITS CONTENTS. FIVE HUNDRED
DOLLARS REAL MONEY AND ANOTHER TWO IN STUDIO-BUCS.
“WHAT’S THIS SHIT? STUDIO-BUCS? WE DIDN’T DEAL FOR NO STUDIO-BUCS. I GOT PLENTY OF SHIT
PAPER, BOY.” RUFFLE OF PAPERS HITTING THE FLOOR.
“IT’S ALL I GOT.”
“IT AIN’T ENOUGH.”
“THIS IS HAPPENING TONIGHT. YOU CAN CASH IN OR NOT. EITHER WAY THE PAYMENTS STOP. THE
UNION CREDITS STOP.” REGGIE HALF EXPECTED TO GET BRAINED WITH A MINER’S PICKAXE, BUT
THE SILENCE STRETCHED WITHOUT WORD OR ACTION FROM EITHER MAN.
THE MINER GRUNTED, “THE STUFF’S IN THE CORNER. EVERYTHING YOU ASKED FOR. DON’T MOVE.
COUNT TO FIFTY. USE ALL THE DAMN MATCHES YOU WANT AFTER THAT.” REGGIE HEARD THE MAN
SHUFFLE OFF IN HIS AWKWARD MINER’S CRAB WALK.
REGGIE DIDN’T COUNT, BUT HE DID WAIT, MOTIONLESS, BARELY BREATHING FOR A LONG TIME.
LONG ENOUGH FOR ANOTHER PASS OF ROTARY CARTS OUTSIDE, THEIR OPERATORS’ FACES
SLATHERED IN GRIME AND CONTORTING WITH EACH PRESS OF THE PEDAL. WHEN THE SMOG
RETURNED AND THE DARKNESS WITH IT, REGGIE EASED HIS WAY FURTHER INTO THE WAREHOUSE,
FEELING HIS WAY WITH AN OUTSTRETCHED FOOT BEFORE MAKING HIS STEP UNTIL HE FELT DEEP
ENOUGH THAT A MATCH LIGHT WOULD NOT DRAW ATTENTION FROM THE STREETS OR THE FOCUS
OF UNSEEN CAMERAS. A FINAL GLANCE UNDER THE HALF-OPEN BAY DOOR AND HE STRUCK THE
MINERS HAD LUNG ROT. MINERS WERE HUNCHED AND BROKEN-KNEED FROM LIVING THEIR LIVES
IN SHALLOW SHAFTS WALKING MORE LIKE INSECTS THAN MEN. MINERS HAD PINK SALIVA AND
RED-TINGED TEETH FROM BLEEDING ESOPHAGI. MINERS HAD EXPLOSIVES.
PARTIALLY OBSCURED UNDER A CANVAS TARP WERE TWO CRATES MARKED WITH SKULL AND
CROSSBONES STAMPS AND THE WORDS “HITECH BOOM-BOOM, INC. DANGER.” THE DEAL HAD
BEEN FOR FOUR CRATES, BUT REGGIE DIDN’T THINK IT WOULD MATTER. HE HAD GUESSED AT THE
AMOUNT REQUIRED TO BEGIN WITH. BLOWING THINGS UP WASN’T SOMETHING THEY TAUGHT IN
THE SHOWPRO STABLES. ALTHOUGH RATINGS WOULD HAVE SOARED, EXPLOSIONS WOULD BE HELL
ON STUDIO GEAR.
LIKE A MASSIVE FENCE OF CONCRETE PICKETS, THE SERIES OF GREAT STACKS EXTENDED INTO THE
SMOG CAP THAT THEY ENDLESSLY VOMITED. THEY RAN ON FOR MILES, SURROUNDING THE CITY,
GROWING SMALLER BEFORE FINALLY DISAPPEARING INTO THE CLOSE, GRAY HORIZON.
THE PLANT WAS AWASH IN WHITE LIGHT, A BASTION IN THE PERPETUAL GRAYNESS.
DOZENS OF POLE-MOUNTED SPOTLIGHTS PANNED THE GROUNDS AND THE SKY. THE RAZOR-WIRE
FENCE WAS LINED WITH SMALLER LIGHTS. THE GATE WAS CRISSCROSSED WITH MORE LIGHTING.
MORE STRINGS OF LIGHTING AND LIGHT TOWERS LINED THE WORKING AREAS OF THE
PLANT—CONDUITS, BURNERS, TRANSFORMERS, CATWALKS AND SCAFFOLDING. PLANT-FUNDED,
PRIVATE BRIGADES OF ROTARY CARTS CONTINUOUSLY PATROLLED THE CAMPUS IN CIRCLES AND
THE SCENE WAS GLUTTONOUS. MILLIONS WENT WITHOUT ELECTRICITY FOR SUCH BASIC NEEDS AS
HEATING AND COOLING WHILE THE STUDIOS GOBBLED UP ALL THE WATTAGE THEY COULD GET
THEIR HANDS ON. UNLESS YOU COULD PAY IN CASH OR CREDITS YOUR OUTLETS COULD HANDLE
ONLY ENOUGH WATTS FOR A WALL SCREEN. MORE DRAW THAN THAT AND THERE’D BE A KNOCK
ON THE DOOR. LIGHTS OUT.
ALTHOUGH THE EXTREME LIGHTING HAD NOT BEEN UNEXPECTED, IT WAS NOT PLANNED FOR
EITHER. FOR ALL HIS INTELLIGENCE, NATURAL AND SHOWPRO GIVEN, BEYOND THE ILLEGAL
SIPHONING OF HIS UNION CREDITS IN EXCHANGE FOR EXPLOSIVES, REGGIE’S PLAN HAD NOT BEEN
WELL THOUGHT OUT. ALL HE KNEW WAS THAT HE WANTED TO HIT THE STUDIOS WHERE IT HURT.
HIT SHOWPRO WHERE IT HURT. MAKE A POINT. YOU COULDN’T HURT PEOPLE, HUMILIATE THEM
AND GET AWAY WITH IT. YOU COULDN’T HURT KIDS. NOT IF REGGIE GRINDER HOLMS HAD
ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT.
THE HARD PART WOULD BE GETTING THE EXPLOSIVES, AND HE HAD WORKED THROUGH THAT.
ONCE HE OBTAINED THE EXPLOSIVES, IN HIS MIND’S EYE, HE WOULD SIMPLY MARCH INTO THE
PLANT AND BLOW IT UP. AND THAT’S WHAT HE INTENDED TO DO.
REGGIE WALKED UP TO THE FRONT GATE. A GUARD STEPPED FROM A SMALL SHACK AS REGGIE
APPEARED FROM THE SMOG. LOOKING REGGIE UP AND DOWN HE SAID, “I KNOW YOU. YOU’RE
THAT GUY, THE CHEATER. YOU LOST OR SOMETHING?”
REGGIE STOOD THERE FOR A MOMENT JUST STARING AT THE MAN. SLOWLY HE LIFTED HIS PONCHO
TO REVEAL THE STICKS OF EXPLOSIVE TAPED TO HIS BODY AND THE WIRING RUN UP HIS SLEEVE.
WITH HIS OTHER HAND HE HELD OUT A DETONATOR. “OPEN THE GATE.”
THE GUARD HESITATED, TURNED AND EYED THE SHACK, TOOK A STEP TOWARDS IT.
“DON’T DO IT. YOU CAN GO HOME TO YOUR FAMILY TONIGHT, HAVE A NICE DINNER, KISS THE
KIDS, OR YOU CAN DIE. YOUR CHOICE.”
“WHAT KIND OF SHOW IS THIS, PAL? PLANTS ARE OFF-LIMITS. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT. YOU’LL
PAY.” HE WAS NERVOUS, BUT STILL TRYING TO HOLD UP THE SECURITY GUARD BRAVADO.
“I’VE ALREADY PAID. JUST OPEN THE FUCKING GATE,” REGGIE SAID WITH THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF
HYSTERIA. HE WAS FINE, FELT GOOD, CALM. SHOWPRO HAD TAUGHT HIM HOW TO STAY CALM IN
TENSE SITUATIONS. THANKS, SHOWPRO.
The guard walked backwards and entered a sequence into a number pad mounted near the gate
latch. The gate opened, lurching and jolting. “You know everyone is watching. They’ll catch
you,” the guard shouted after Reggie, who was already inside and disappearing into the maze of
the plant’s inner workings. A few seconds later the alarm sounded.
People burst from doorways running. Most of them were working men and women, but security
was not far behind. They came visors down, batons at the ready. Their eyes searched frantically
for someone to hurt. From one doorway marked “Control Room” stepped a young boy wearing
denim jeans too big for him and sneakers held together with twine and wire. He strolled over to
Reggie as people barreled past him.
“Hey,” the boy said softly. There was no gash across his forehead.
“Hey, bud,” Reggie said.
“Didn’t think you were going to make it.” He took Reggie’s free hand, the one without the
detonator in it, and they walked together into the depths of the electrical plant.
The plant was fully functioning within twelve hours of the explosion. During that time district
substations took over the lost load. Not a single broadcast to a single wall screen was disrupted.
Thousands watched Reggie strapping explosives to his body by match light in an
abandoned downtown warehouse. As interest peaked, thousands more street screens were
auto-tuned by intuitive ratings sensors to Reggie’s impromptu staging area, and thousands of
other viewers consciously flipped channels as word and auto-advertisement spread. By the time
he reached the plant gates, millions of screens worldwide were broadcasting Reggie’s actions to
billions of viewers. When Reggie blew himself and a portion of the plant up, the event registered
the highest ratings in media history, surpassing Reggie’s previous record with Do or Die by
millions. The studio-bucs rolled in faster than they could be printed. Everyone wanted “Grinder”
THE MINER STEPPED THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR, HUNCHED AND TIRED. THE COMPANY HOUSE
THEY LIVED IN, PAID FOR IN COMPANY CHITS, SAT NEAR THE MINES BEYOND THE STACK WALLS AND
THE CITY. THE WINDOW PANE SHOOK AROUND THE CLOCK FROM THE AFTERSHOCK OF
EXPLORATORY BLASTING. IT HAD TAKEN HIM HOURS TO WALK THE MILES INTO THE WASTES. HIS
KNEES AND HIPS SCREAMED AT HIM. HE TOOK HIS SOOT-CAKED BOOTS AND COVERALLS OFF IN THE
MUDROOM AND WALKED INTO THE KITCHEN WHERE HIS NIGHTSHIFT COUNTERPARTS WERE
BREWING NEARFOOD CHICKAREE IN THE GLOOM OF CANDLELIGHT. THEY EXCHANGED GRUNTS
AND HE CONTINUED THROUGH INTO THE SINGLE ROOM HE AND HIS WIFE SHARED WITH THEIR BABY
GIRL AND TWO OTHER NIGHT-SHIFTERS WHO HAD ALREADY LEFT FOR THE SHUTTLE. HIS WIFE WAS
FEEDING THE CHILD, SWAYING GENTLY BACK AND FORTH ON A ROCKING CHAIR HE HAD FOUND IN
AN UPTOWN ALLEY YEARS AGO.
WHEN HE ENTERED THE ROOM SHE GESTURED WITH A FINGER TO HER LIPS FOR HIM TO BE
QUIET AND AS USUAL TO TAKE OFF HIS CLOTHES BEFORE COMING INSIDE. SHE FOUGHT A TIRELESS
BATTLE AGAINST THE COAL SOOT AND DIRT THAT PERMEATED THEIR HOME, OWNED IT. HE HUNG
HIS UNDERGARMENTS ON THEIR DESIGNATED WALL HOOKS NEAR THE DOOR. SHE HAD TRIED TO
GET HIM TO HANG THEM IN THE MUDROOM, BUT THERE WERE OTHER WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN THE
THREE-BEDROOM HOME, FAMILIES OF THE OTHER MINERS THAT WOULD SEE HIS NUDITY, AND SHE
WOULD NOT HAVE THAT. OFFICIAL STUDIO POLICY WAS NO MORE THAN TWO FAMILIES TO A SINGLE
HOME. FIVE FAMILIES LIVED HERE.
NAKED HE WALKED OVER, KISSED HIS WIFE ON THE HEAD AND PULLED THE SHAWL AWAY FROM
HER BREAST, EXPOSING THE SILENTLY SUCKLING BABY.
“I SAW THE WALL SCREEN, EARLIER. THAT MAN…HE…” HIS WIFE WHISPERED AND COUGHED INTO
A TISSUE MISTED RED.
“IT’S DONE,” HE CONFIRMED WITHOUT REALLY ANSWERING HER UNFINISHED QUESTION. THE MAN
HAD DIED, HAD BLOWN HIMSELF UP. FOR WHAT REASON THEY WOULD NEVER KNOW AND HE
DIDN’T REALLY CARE AND IN TIME NEITHER WOULD MISSY, ALTHOUGH HE KNEW SHE WOULD
DWELL ON IT FOR WEEKS, FEELING RESPONSIBLE IN SOME WAY FOR THE MAN’S DEATH, WONDERING
IF WHAT THEY HAD DONE WAS RIGHT, IF THE END JUSTIFIED THE MEANS.
BUT FOR HIM THERE WAS NEVER ANY DOUBT, NEVER MORE THAN A PASSING THOUGHT ABOUT THE
MAN WHO HAD TRADED HIS CREDITS FOR BOOM-BOOM. HE WAS FULLY GROWN AND MADE HIS OWN
DECISIONS. ONCE, WHEN EZRA WAS A TEEN, HE’D APPLIED FOR A SPOT ON RANCID. HIS LEGS KEPT
HIM FROM PASSING THE TRIALS; TOO SLOW, NOT BUILT FOR THE KIND OF SPEED NEEDED TO
COMPETE IN THE GAME. A MIN’AH ALWAYS A MIN’AH, BOY. ONLY FUTURE THE PITS FOR YOU, HIS DAD
TOLD HIM WITH A SMIRK THE DAY HE RETURNED FROM TRYOUTS WITH A PINK REJECTION SLIP IN
HIS SOOT-STAINED HAND. LOOKING BACK EZRA WASN’T SURE IF THINGS WOULDN’T BE BETTER IF
HE’D DIED A REALITY STAR RATHER THAN LIVED A MINER. BEFORE HE STEPPED INTO THE FIRST
RUNNER’S CHUTE HE HAD TO SIGN A WAIVER FREEING THE STUDIO OF ANY LIABILITY SHOULD HE BE
INJURED OR KILLED IN THE COURSE OF THE COMPETITION. IN THE DOCUMENT HE WAS REFERRED TO
AS A “WILLING PARTICIPANT.” THAT’S WHAT GRINDER WAS: A WILLING PARTICIPANT.
On the screen now, in the lower corner was the timed-out messaging session with Grinder. The
words Your session has expired due to inactivity blinked on the screen in white letters against a
black background. Grayed out behind it were her last words to the person that would save her
daughter: 1350 Planters, Warrens, 30mins. Credits now.
She had waited for a response, but gave up after several minutes and tuned into the warehouse
where Ezra waited even though he told her not to, that ratings sensors would follow and send a
thousand others after her, but she had to see for herself that the deal was complete. When the
man, screen name Grinder, appeared under the door her heart caught in her throat and she didn’t
breathe for a full minute. It was actually him: Reginald “Grinder” Holms, ShowPro champion.
When Ezra came home that day months ago and pulled her into their back room and shut out all
the lights and whispered into her ear that a man had been hanging around the mine for the last
week or so and that evening at shift’s end the man—who was the Do or Die champ from last
year, that Grinder fella—approached Ezra, she hadn’t believed him. And when he told her what
that Grinder fella wanted she definitely hadn’t believed him.
It was a trick, she said, probably a show making a fool of poor mining folk. But Ezra was firm:
no, not this time, not this guy. He’s done, washed up since he flipped out. It’s real, Missy, it’s
real. This is our chance. She followed her husband’s instructions, created an account under their
baby girl’s global identification number after she made him promise that the girl would never be
a part of the games, the shows, and he did, swore it. The man Grinder had handed Ezra a fancy
keyboard and instructions and she, being more technically inclined than her mate, followed them
to the letter.
She waited three days, staring at the screen night and day watching for contact as she’d been told
to do, tiny keyboard in her lap, and the first time that oblong bubble popped up on their wall
screen she almost screamed out loud. It started with a single word of white letters on a black
screen: Hello. She had typed back the word hello, not sure what else to do, and after a few
choppy statements Tiger Lily, a.k.a. Mira Johansen, only daughter to Ezra and Missy Johansen,
had one hundred credits in her account. Missy started to cry.
IT WENT ON THAT WAY FOR MONTHS; HER CRYING BOTH WITH JOY FOR HER BABY GIRL AND
SADNESS FOR WHAT THIS GRINDER MAN MIGHT BE GOING THROUGH—WHAT COULD PUSH A MAN
TO BARTER HIS LIFELINE FOR BOOM-BOOM?—AND EZRA COMING HOME EACH NIGHT COUNTING
THE CREDITS IN SILENCE WHILE HE SHOVELED IN TEN THOUSAND CALORIES IN NEARFOOD GRITS.
“IS IT ENOUGH?” SHE ASKED, LOOKING DOWN AT THE BABY AT HER BREAST.
“IT WILL HAVE TO BE. SHE GONNA HAVE BETTER THAN WE EVER DID. SHE AIN’T GONNA DIE OF NO
LUNG ROT, NO COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER.” THE CHILD MARY SHAW, SCREEN NAME TIGER LILY,
PULLED AWAY FROM HER MOTHER’S BREAST, STRETCHED A TINY ARM AND CURLED UP FOR A NAP.
(Originally published by Blood Bound Books featured in Seasons of the Abyss)
The radio crackled on the kitchen table. A man’s voice emanated from the speakers, raspy and
dry. He coughed. “This is WJGK, government radio.…” He went on to the day’s pollen count,
“…so stay indoors,” the disc jockey finished.
“And try not to breathe,” Aaron said to no one. He was alone downstairs in their
suburban home. His wife, Ann, was in bed upstairs. Outside a thick fog of allergens floated
through the air, shrouding the world in a yellow-white haze. Across the street, over his
waist-high grass, he watched a car smolder. Mowing had become impossible months ago, the
idea of maintaining a lawn laughable now, and he had been concerned the fire might spread, but
it hadn’t. A dead dog lay in the street, its body covered in pollen. Half a dozen red blossoms
grew from its carcass.
The government DJ moved on to the death toll: “…nationwide, three hundred more have
perished since Sunday. Rossweed pollen, the likely cause of death.…” Aaron flipped the power
switch and the static-laced voice vanished. The rest would be a repeat of the previous months.
He scratched under the surgeon’s mask that never left his face then ran his fingers along the
window. Outside the microscopic particles followed his fingers. He pressed his palm against the
glass and removed it. The pollen left a detailed mirror impression of his hand on the glass, right
down to the love line in his palm. Sentient and aggressive allergen, he recalled from early news
broadcasts, from a time when there was an actual media and more mattered in life than the pollen
count. For the thousandth time that morning, he checked the wet rags that lined the windows and
A thud sounded overhead.
AARON LEFT THE WINDOW AND WALKED UPSTAIRS, HIS FEET DROPPING LIKE DUMBBELLS, THE
EDGES OF HIS VISION RUNNING BLACK. FROM THE TOP OF THE STAIRS HE COULD SEE THE MASTER
BEDROOM AND THE PAINTER’S TARP TAPED OVER THE DOORWAY, A FILM OF YELLOW POLLEN
COVERING THE INSIDE. THROUGH THE POLLEN, BEHIND THE FROSTED SHEET OF PLASTIC HE COULD
SEE THE END OF THE BED HE ONCE SHARED WITH HIS WIFE AND THE UNTOUCHED CASES OF WATER
AND CANNED GOODS HE HAD FORCED HER TO KEEP.
FOR THE FIRST FEW DAYS AFTER ANN BEGAN COUGHING, THEY WOULD LEAN AGAINST THE WALL
NEAR THE COVERED DOORWAY AND TALK TO EACH OTHER. MOSTLY FUN STUFF; EMBARRASSING
MOMENTS, OLD FRIENDS, FAMILY, FUNNY MOVIES. ONE NIGHT, ANN RUBBED A CLEAR SPOT IN THE
TARP AND PRESSED A BLOODSHOT EYE TO IT AND THEY WATCHED THEIR HONEYMOON DVD FOR
HOURS ON REPEAT. THE LAST TIME THEY SPOKE SHE COULD BARELY BREATHE. HE HAD SAID HE
LOVED HER AND THEY PRESSED THEIR HANDS AGAINST THE PLASTIC AND SHE TRIED TO RESPOND,
BUT COULD ONLY MANAGE A GURGLING WET SOUND THAT WAS TOO MUCH FOR AARON TO BEAR.
HE HAD LEFT HER THERE THAT DAY AS SHE HAD ASKED HIM TO DO WHEN THE END WAS CLEAR, AND
HE HAD NOT GONE BACK UPSTAIRS SINCE.
A COLORLESS HAND LAY ACROSS THE FLOOR NEAR THE DOOR AND HE HAD TO FORCE HIS STEPS
FORWARD. THE SMELL OF FECES AND BITTER BODY ODOR HUNG IN THE AIR. THROUGH THE TARP HE
SAW THE RED BLOSSOM GROWING FROM ANN’S HAND, A GIFT OFFERED UP TO WHOEVER SHOULD
FIND HER LIFELESS BODY. THE ROOTS SPROUTED FROM HER PALE FLESH LIKE VENOUS EXTENSIONS.
MOVING CLOSER, STRETCHING THE TARP INWARD LIKE A BABY’S FOOT TESTING THE BOUNDARIES
OF HIS MOTHER’S WOMB, THE PLASTIC MOLDING TO THE CONTOURS OF HIS FACE, AARON ANGLED
TO SEE MORE OF HIS WIFE. TEARS FELL. THE POLLEN FOLLOWED THE CURVES OF HIS FACE FORMING
A YELLOW, POWDERED SKULL ON THE INSIDE OF THE PLASTIC. ANN’S FACE, POINTED TO THE
CEILING, WAS PALE AND BLOATED. MERCIFULLY, HER EYES WERE SWOLLEN SHUT. BURST BLOOD
VESSELS CRISSCROSSED HER SKIN IN CONSTELLATION LINES. A RED BLOSSOM SAT IN HER MOUTH.
AARON LEANED FURTHER, THE PLASTIC PULLED, THE TAPE POPPED SLIGHTLY BUT HELD. HE
WANTED TO KISS HER, CARESS HER, TAKE THE GIFT FROM HER HAND. WHY HAD HE LEFT HER?
WHAT WAS THE POINT OF GOING ON AT ALL AND WITHOUT HER, TRAPPED ALONE IN HIS LIVING
ROOM AS THE WORLD CRUMBLED AGAINST THE HEEL OF AN ANTIGEN? HE THOUGHT OF HER FINAL
MOMENTS; SUFFOCATING, THE POLLEN FILLING HER LUNGS, THE SEEDLINGS SPROUTING IN HER
ORGANS, HER SOLITUDE AND THE LONELINESS SHE MUST HAVE FELT, THE ABANDONMENT.
“ANN.” HE PUSHED THE TARP AND THE TAPE GAVE WAY. IMMEDIATELY, YELLOW-WHITE POLLEN
WASHED OVER HIM. IT PULLED AT HIM, SOUGHT HIS MOUTH, HIS NOSE. AARON SAT NEXT TO HIS
WIFE AND PULLED HER INTO HIS LAP AND KISSED HER OVER THE FLOWER IN HER MOUTH. IT WAS
SWEET TASTING, THEN BITTER, ITS PETALS SHIFTING AROUND HIS TONGUE.
HE LAY BESIDE HER, INHALED DEEPLY AND WAITED FOR THE COUGHING TO START.
(Originally published by Bloodmoon Rising eZine, January 2011 edition)
Although the revolver was much smaller than the basket of fruit that was the centerpiece, it
dominated the tabletop. The deep red runners that flanked the basket, normally adding richness
to the room, now paled in the presence of the weapon, the rich red submitting to the dominance
of gunmetal gray.
The fruit itself, plastic lemons, drifting along on their endless, non-biodegradable
journey, seemed ready to shrivel up and die, more than willing to give up immortality to end
their misery. In fact, since the accident the entire house seemed ready to implode on itself in utter
Mike sat at one end of the table staring at the pistol, simultaneously disgusted by and pining for
it. Monolith of sorrow, a bottle of cheap liquor loomed on the table, its life partner the glass
nowhere to be seen—there was no need. In his hand was the locket he had given Amy on their
first anniversary. Inside was a picture they had taken while on their first date. In this picture she
was beautiful and not dead.
It was in this state that he spent most of his nights, and days for that matter, and this is where the
phone call found him. The next morning Moffett was at his door and in moments they were on
their way to the docks. Mike could not explain why he had agreed to go or why he had even
answered the phone, but he knew the call and ensuing offer had probably saved his life, or at
least postponed his death. Perhaps his survival instinct had cried out from his subconscious for
help and Moffett had answered.
It was raining outside and cold, the wipers trenching through the mounting water and sleet with
great effort. Soon they were pulling into the harbor parking lot. It was early and still dark, but the
place was bustling with the life of the commercial fishing industry.
At the end of the third pier was the Dragon, a.k.a. Chatter Box after its captain who probably
wouldn’t take his hand off the microphone for the next month. The Dragon’s small crew scurried
around the ship like ants whose mound had just been kicked in. Mike smiled despite the
melancholy that was his new abettor.
They climbed onboard and the crew gathered. There were handshakes and manly team hugs all
around. Mike had sailed with these men in seasons past and knew them well. He had taken a
break to test the construction industry with his brothers, but that was all over now.
“GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK, SON,” JERRY MCGINNIS, THE SHIP’S CAPTAIN, SAID WITH A CLAP ON
THE BACK. HE ALMOST ADDED HIS CONDOLENCES, BUT DID NOT; THE MOMENT JUST DIDN’T FEEL
RIGHT, AND WHAT DID IT MATTER ANYWAY? SHE WAS DEAD AND THAT WAS THAT.
“WHO’S THIS?” MIKE ASKED.
“OH, THIS IS WILLIAM. WE MET A FEW YEARS BACK WHEN …” THE CAPTAIN STOPPED. “HE’S A
GOOD HAND. I VOUCH FOR HIM.”
“NEW GUYS ARE BAD LUCK,” MIKE SAID.
“THAT’S WHY YOU’RE HERE, MIKE, BALANCE THINGS OUT. SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW, OR
“WE’RE NOT GETTING MARRIED, JERRY, WE’RE GOING FISHING.”
THE DRAGON USED A SURROUNDING NET TO CATCH ITS FISH. A SMALL BOAT IS USED TO ENCIRCLE
THE SCHOOL OF FISH WITH THE NET, WHICH IS THEN CONNECTED TO THE PRIMARY VESSEL AND
HAULED IN AT THE APPROPRIATE TIME, HOPEFULLY DRAGGING FISH WITH IT.
Jerry held the ship steady as the crew prepared to lower the small boat. Mike pulled the
short straw and would be piloting the craft around the shoal of salmon they had come upon the
afternoon of their first full day at sea. The crew stared over the side at the school of swimming
Moffett manned the crane, deftly lifting the boat out of its cradle and easing it into the water.
Mike threw a rope ladder over the side and swung his leg over the bulwark, straddling it. As he
followed with his left leg, the locket slipped from the pocket of his rain suit where he had
absentmindedly tucked it before they located their quarry.
He lunged back over the bulwark, but his right foot caught in the top ladder rung and his chest
fell against the low wall. His outstretched arm fell short of the locket by several feet. The gold
plated prize slid along the deck back and forth in time with the ship’s rocking.
William appeared from nowhere and scooped the locket up. He held it out to Mike, who grabbed
it immediately, but William did not let go. The chain strained between them as Mike pulled back
on the locket.
“Let her go,” William said.
Mike was stunned. “What did you say?”
“Let it go. I’ll keep it safe for you.”
Mike ripped the locket free. “No, thanks.”
The rest of the day was long and full of fish and hard work, with more of the latter than the
former. It was after midnight before Mike made his way back to the crew’s berthing, a tiny room
consisting of four bunks with matching lockers. William was already below sorting through his
belongings. Mike stepped up to his own locker and saw that William’s was filled with a bizarre
collection of trinkets: jewelry, photographs of people, key chains, charms, a small stuffed bear,
and even a rabbit’s foot.
“That doesn’t look like the luggage of a man going to sea,” Mike said, opening his own locker.
“Each to his own. We all carry baggage through life,” William answered.
“Wow. That’s deep. So tell me how you know Jerry again,” Mike said, pulling a clean shirt from
“I helped him through a rough patch a few years ago,” William said. It was well known that the
captain’s daughter had died three years earlier from leukemia.
“Yes. He was in much the same condition as you are now.”
“And what condition would that be, given that you know nothing about me?”
“You think you have nothing to live for, nothing left to do but die. You’ve given up. Jerry had
given up in those days as well.”
Mike slammed his locker shut. “You don’t know squat about me, pal.” He pushed William back
against the bunks. “Touch this locket again and I’ll break your fingers.” And he started up the
“I know more about you than you think, Mike. For example, I know you have nightly staring
contests with a revolver.” He stepped toward Mike. “And that it was your fault that night on the
Their eyes locked. “Who are you?” Mike demanded, more threatened by the man’s insight into
his life than he was angry.
“Who I am is irrelevant. I’m here to help you through an inevitable decision, Mike,” William
said frankly, eyes unwavering.
“Stay out of my way.” Mike gave the smaller man a shove for effect and left the room.
“I can bring her back,” William said after him, but the door had shut.
Mike sat alone drinking cold coffee at the only table in the small space that served as the crew’s
mess. It was the culinary version of the crew’s berthing; function before form, Spartan in every
“Ahh, coffee pot, microwave and mini fridge; what more could a fisherman ask for?”
Jerry said, entering the room. He slapped Mike on the shoulder, spilling coffee down Mike’s
front. “Mind if I join you?”
“You’re the captain,” Mike said.
“Right you are.” And he sat down across from Mike. “I understand you met William?”
Mike sipped his coffee and pretended to read the Ahogo/Choking poster for the thousandth time.
“I see.” Jerry shifted in his seat. “He can change your life, Mike. He changed mine.”
“I just want to be left alone.”
“Left alone to do what? To wallow in self-pity? To ruin your life and the lives of your and
Amy’s families? Is that it?” Jerry said, his voice escalating gradually.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Depression, suicide? Roulette with a full cylinder? You think that kind of crap only affects you?
You have a chance out here to make things right one way or another.”
Jerry grabbed a napkin from the dispenser on the wall and pulled the pen from behind his ear. He
wrote something on the napkin and passed it across the table to Mike.
“This is the same deal he offered me three years ago. Remember, what goes on at sea stays at
sea.” He leaned across the table. “If you can’t let her go, die a hero.”
The Dragon rocked like a see-saw in the giant swells, the birthing pains of a massive storm they
had crossed paths with hours ago. Mike stood on the ship’s bow sipping from a small flask and
rolling the locket in his fingers. He split his glances between Amy and the raging ocean. Silent
tears cut a path down his cheek.
“I know you’re there and I know what you are. You’re a monster!” Mike yelled.
“MONSTER TO SOME, ANGEL TO OTHERS.” WILLIAM STEPPED FROM THE DARKNESS.
“I HAVEN’T GIVEN UP; YOU’RE WRONG.”
“SO GIVE ME THE LOCKET AND LET HER GO.”
MIKE STARED AT THE LOCKET, OPENED IT. SHE WAS SO BEAUTIFUL. “NO.”
“THEN BRING HER BACK. IT’S THAT EASY.”
“IF I DO THIS SHE’LL BE BACK, AMY WILL BE BACK?” MIKE LOOKED DOWN AT THE CHURNING
WATER, THE WHITECAPS CLAPPING TOGETHER LIKE THE TEETH OF A READY BEAST RAVENOUS AND
“BACK AND AS BEAUTIFUL AS EVER.”
“I MISS HER SO MUCH.” MIKE WAS SOBBING NOW.
WILLIAM MOTIONED TO THE BLACK VOID THAT WAS THE OCEAN.
MIKE EDGED CLOSER TO THE RAILING.
“I DON’T WANT TO GO. I CAN CHANGE, I JUST NEED TIME. THERE HAS TO BE ROOM TO NEGOTIATE.”
WILLIAM SHOOK HIS HEAD, STARING INTO MIKE’S EYES. HE RUBBED HIS HANDS TOGETHER
EAGERLY, SAYING NOTHING. THE IMPLICATION WAS CLEAR: THERE WAS NO TIME AND THERE
WOULD BE NO NEGOTIATIONS.
MIKE REGRESSED. HE STEPPED ONTO THE BOTTOM RUNG OF THE RAILING. “I SHOULD’VE PAID
ATTENTION … ON THE ROAD.”
“YES.” WILLIAM’S EYES WIDENED WITH ANTICIPATION.
“IT’S MY FAULT … THE GUILT … IT’S TOO MUCH.”
“TOO MUCH INDEED, MICHAEL.”
“AMY! I’M SORRY!” THE DRAGON LURCHED BACK WITH A SWELL AND FELL HARD INTO ITS
TROUGH. MIKE SCREAMED AND WENT OVER THE RAIL HEADFIRST AS THE SHIP PLUNGED INTO THE
EMPTIED GAP OF OCEAN. THE SEA DEVOURED HIM IN A SINGLE CHURNING SWALLOW, HIS CRY
SILENCED BY THE RAGING WIND AND WATER. THE LOCKET SWUNG FROM THE RAILING, TWINKLING
RED AND GREEN IN THE SHIP’S RUNNING LIGHTS.
It had been a worthwhile trip, a good trade. He had no use for the innocent souls; they weren’t
his thing, so to give her up was just fine. He preferred the guilt-ridden, the more turmoil and
hopelessness the better, and Michael was a perfect specimen. He tossed the locket in the duffel
and made preparations to move on; there was a woman in Dallas holding on to a cufflink that
was ruining her life. She needed help with a decision.
The moment Mike went over the Dragon’s side, a tiny patch of earth in the cemetery of a small
Alaskan town shifted ever so slightly. In moments dirt began to push upward and out in a tiny
eruption as a decaying hand punched through the fresh sod. Rain began in a slow drizzle and
steadily grew into a downpour, each drop washing away the dead skin and rotted fibers, the
hallmarks of death. Soon the hand was delicate, soft and white … again. The headstone above
the hand read, “Amy, You Are Loved.”
The jurors sat stone-faced as the witness described the horror she had discovered in the alley that
fateful night. It was hot in the courtroom, and beads of sweat clung to the woman’s upper lip and
danced as she spoke. The prosecutor paced back and forth, periodically placing his pen to his
mouth as if in deep thought, but actually punctuating points he wanted the jury to pay particular
“And Mrs. Vasquez, do you see the man you saw that night in this courtroom?” the
prosecutor said. Mrs. Vasquez nodded. “Can you point to him?” She pointed a quivering finger
at the defendant.
“Let the record show that the witness is pointing to the defendant, Mr. Alberto Sanchez,” the
prosecutor said. “Mrs. Vasquez, based on the blood spatter and the position of the knife, would
you surmise that the defendant, Mr. Sanchez, was the assailant?”
“Objection!” shouted the defense attorney. He stood, “All due respect to Mrs. Vasquez, Your
Honor, but she is a waitress and does not possess the technical skill necessary to make that
“Your Honor, I am merely drawing from the firsthand knowledge of the only eyewitness left
alive. You don’t have to be a forensic scientist to figure this one out,” the prosecutor said
smugly, smiling at the jury.
The judge eyed both men and then the jury. “Counselors, approach the bench,” he said.
The two attorneys stepped up to the bench, each prepared to fight to the death for their clients
and for justice.
In a whispered tone the judge said, “Counselors, it appears we are at an impasse; Mrs. Vasquez
was indeed in a position to logically make a determination, but Counselor Turner is correct in
that she is not a qualified crime scene investigator.”
“Your Honor, I would disagree that we are at an impasse. The law is clear—” the defense
attorney attempted, but was cut short.
“Law! We don’t have time for the law, man! A life is at stake, for God’s sake!” the judge
shouted. “No, the only way around this is…”—the two attorneys tensed in expectation—“a
He rose from the bench and pounded his gavel. “The court will adjourn while preparations are
made. We reconvene in the parking lot in one hour. Today we joust!”
Breastplate donned over his Armani, the defense attorney straddled the bicycle and waited for his
aids to ready his weapons. A woman in a sleek pinstriped pants suit and heels handed him a
shield. To his right a third-year man, promising, would be partner one day, handed him his lance.
It was state issued, chipped and battered.
“You got this, Harvey,” the man said as he gently lowered the helmet onto his boss’s
“I’ll teach him to lead a witness!” And the defense attorney dropped the visor. It landed with a
Fifty yards away, the prosecutor was likewise prepared. His staff scurried away and both men
looked to the judge and jury, saluted with a raise of the lance then faced each other and saluted
again, although halfheartedly; their respect was for the system, not the man. The courtroom
audience and jury stood in the parking lot amongst the cars and sat on bumpers and hoods. The
court reporter stepped to the center of the joust lane, untied her neck scarf and held it in the air.
“Joust!” the judge shouted and the neck scarf fell. Cheers erupted from all sides.
Both men pushed off and began to pedal awkwardly, wobbling for the first few feet before
momentum came to their aid. They closed on each other quickly, lances held high, hate in their
eyes. Sunlight sparkled off of the razor-sharp ends as the lances lowered, in striking range now,
searching for their targets like hellhounds.
They hit each other like freight trains, and both men fell from their metal steeds, the bikes veered
off, handlebars wobbling out of control as they disappeared into the crowds. Prosecutor was on
his feet quickly. “Sword! My sword!” he said, hand outstretched.
One of his staff ran onto the lot carrying a large broadsword. He handed it to the prosecutor and
dusted off his own suit before hurrying back. Prosecutor ripped his helmet off and tossed it to the
ground. He circled his foe, a mask of death-lust on his face.
Defense Attorney was slow to rise. The prosecutor’s lance had pushed up under his shield,
pierced his breastplate and broken off in his side. Two feet of wooden shaft jutted from his chest.
He staggered to his feet, arms swinging like a rag doll, blood hanging from his mouth in long
stalactites. His aid with the pants suit ran out, sword in hand. He took the blade, but the weight of
the weapon dragged him to one knee. His aid shrieked in terror. Powerless, he watched as his
“Object to this!” the prosecutor yelled and hefted the sword over his head. Simultaneously the
defense attorney lunged forward and plunged his sword into the abdomen of the prosecutor,
running him completely through and twisting the blade, his intestines spilling onto the pavement.
The prosecutor stumbled backwards, death-lust gone, replaced with only shock and surprise now.
The sword fell from his hands and hit the ground a moment before his lifeless body did.
It was minutes before the bailiffs could regain order; the audience and jurors were wild with
shock and horror at the spectacle. The prosecutor’s staff laid a sheet over his still body and
waited for an ambulance. The defense attorney was helped by his staff back to the courtroom,
where the trial was resumed. He sat at his desk, blood pooling under his chair, gasping for the
sweet air his punctured lung would never find.
“All rise!” the bailiff shouted. Everyone but the defense attorney stood.
The judge took his seat on the bench. He slammed the gavel down hard. “Sustained!”
(Originally published by Blood Bound Books featured in Seasons of the Abyss)
It was a cold, crisp morning. The sun was low in the east and climbing. A few dedicated joggers
could be seen here and there like asylum escapees, their breath clouding up before them. The
Stars and Stripes lined the block in various forms; windsocks, banners and of course flags jutting
from every other porch like spears on an ancient battlefield. Sue stepped on the porch, balancing
her briefcase, purse and a travel mug of coffee, and caught sight of the flags lining her block. She
glanced at her own rusty flag mount next to the door and sighed, “Jon, you forgot the flag! It’s
Jon grumbled from somewhere in the house. Sue grimaced, shut the door and left for
work. She drove into the sun, squinting as she pulled the visor into place, and completely missed
the band of soldiers walking down the sidewalk.
They had come from the same place, wore the same flag on their shoulders, but were from
different times. Transparent shadows, some wore the drab green long coats and flat metal
helmets of World War I, others the pot helmets of World War II and still others the jungle
camouflage of Vietnam. Across the street a squad of desert-fatigued Marines advanced in pairs,
leapfrogging from yard to yard.
They approached a house with no flag. The squad leader crouched and held up a closed fist. The
others stopped. The leader made several hand gestures and two soldiers wearing black sunglasses
unlatched the front gate and ran low towards the house. They stopped at the door, throwing
themselves hard against either side. One of the men knocked on the door.
A full minute later the door opened and a man in a robe peered out rubbing the sleep from his
eyes. The soldier who’d knocked raised his pistol and shot the man in the side of the head. His
body bounced off the doorjamb and fell backwards. The second soldier reached around the door
and tossed a grenade inside. Both men sprinted from the porch as the entryway exploded. A
group of World War I soldiers found the next house without colors. They kicked the door in and
disappeared inside. Gunfire and screams echoed through suburbia.
Jon heard the knock on the door as he climbed down the attic ladder, red, white and blue flag of
the United States of America in hand.
“Coming.” Jon tried not to knock anything over with the flag pole on his way to the door.
He opened it and found himself staring at two guys that should have been saving Private Ryan.
He thought he could see the street behind them, through them, but that had to be the morning
The soldiers looked at Jon, then at the rolled-up flag in his hands, then at each other. One of them
shrugged. His partner tipped his helmet to Jon slightly.
“Thanks for the support, sir; the boys on the front really appreciate it.”
Five Minutes in Africa
(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY PILL HILL PRESS FEATURED IN DARK THINGS I)
THE NATIVES WERE RESTLESS. THEY SURROUNDED THE LAKE, THEIR ARMS IN THE AIR, HANDS
FISTED, SHOUTING THINGS IN A LANGUAGE NONE OF THE CREW UNDERSTOOD, BUT STILL THE
MEANING WAS IMPLICIT; THEY WERE PISSED.
JACOB LOWERED THE THIRTY-POUND CAMERA FROM HIS SHOULDER AND WIPED HIS BROW.
“THIS GIG DOESN’T PAY ENOUGH,” HE SAID TO THE GIANT BLACK CROCODILE THAT FLOATED HALF
SUBMERGED LIKE AN EMPTY COFFIN ABOUT A HUNDRED FEET FROM SHORE. THE CREATURE WAS A
TRUE LEVIATHAN, TWENTY FEET IN LENGTH, PROBABLY HALF A TON IN WEIGHT, THE LARGEST
REPTILE ON RECORD SINCE MAN WALKED THE EARTH. IT HOVERED THERE, ITS BLACK RIDGES
PARTING THE MUDDY WATER LIKE KILIMANJARO THROUGH THE CLOUDS TO THE WEST. IT WAS
STILL, UNPERTURBED BY THE RUCKUS AROUND IT, ITS YELLOW EYES UNMOVING, BUT ALL SEEING.
THEIR GUIDE DID HIS BEST TO CALM THE CROWDS, BUT IT WAS AN UPHILL BATTLE; SISYPHUS WAS
MORE SUCCESSFUL AT HIS ENDLESS QUEST THAN ABUTU, THE UNLUCKY GUIDE, WOULD EVER BE.
THE ANGER AND FRUSTRATION WAS VISIBLY MOUNTING AND NO ONE, CERTAINLY NOT SOME
SELLOUT TO THE WHITE MAN, WAS GOING TO CALM THINGS. A STONE WAS HURLED THROUGH THE
AIR AND SPLASHED HARMLESSLY INTO THE BROWN WATER, PUNCTUATING THE TANGIBLE ANGER.
“BOSS, THEY DON’T WANT US HERE,” ABUTU SAID TO THE PRODUCER.
“WHAT’S THE DEAL, ABUTU? WHY ARE THEIR PANTIES IN A BUNCH?” DANIEL PORTER, THE
SHOW’S PRODUCER, SAID, WAVING AT THE GROWING CROWD.
“THE ORISHA, BOSS, IT’S SACRED. THEY DON’T LIKE WHAT WE’RE DOING.” ABUTU POINTED TO
THE MAN STANDING ON THE LAKE’S EDGE WITH A HIGH-POWERED RIFLE AIMED AT THE MASSIVE
CROC. “IT’S DISRESPECTFUL TO THE SPIRITS.”
“ORISHA? WHAT THE HELL IS AN ORISHA?” DANIEL SAID. “WE’RE LOSING OUR LIGHT. WE’VE GOT
TO MOVE ON THIS. THIS IS BIG.”
“THE CROC, BOSS, IT’S A SACRED THING. THE ORISHA, THE SPIRIT OF THE PEOPLE, LIVES INSIDE THE
ANIMAL. PROTECTOR OF THE PEOPLE. CURSE FOLLOWS THOSE WHO HARM ORISHA. WE SHOULD
“AH SHIT, THAT’S A LOAD OF CRAP, MAN. IF WE DON’T GET THIS SHOT, YOU DON’T GET PAID. NOW
LET’S GO! EVERYONE, PLACES!” HE TURNED FROM ABUTU AND BEGAN BARKING ORDERS
THROUGH A BULLHORN.
“MAYBE WE SHOULD GO. I MEAN, WE HAVE FOOTAGE OF THE THING. WHY TEMPT FATE? THEY
LOOK … BLOOD LUSTY, MAN,” JACOB SAID.
“Blood lusty? This is history, man; that damn thing is enormous. Now get rolling or you don’t
get paid either.”
Jacob shrugged and took position opposite Aaron, the other cameraman, on the other side of the
small body of water. The gunman, a local bushwhacker hired by the network for pennies a day,
relaxed his stance, shook out his arm and then aimed the rifle again.
“Where are my favorite cameramen?” Daniel said and held a thumb up until the two cameramen
returned the gesture along with rolled eyes.
Luke Spearman tossed a quick thumb in the air and rolled up his sleeves, pulled knee-high
waders over his khaki cargo pants and forded into the water.
“Hair and smile check, please!” he yelled then patted his gel-frozen hair and lit up the camera
with a perfect smile.
“Check,” Aaron said, adding several colorful adjectives to describe Spearman.
“And … action!” Daniel said.
The crocodile had not moved a scale since the native scouts found it early that morning. It
appeared not to notice the crew or the crowd even now. Jacob thought of carhops and ’50s
drive-thrus and imagined the scouts on roller skates bringing the crew to the beast on a plastic
Luke began reciting every known fact about the Nile crocodile and a few tidbits he probably
made up himself that very morning—“…crocs can reach speeds of twenty miles an hour over
land … bury their prey in rocks for later…” and on and on. He pushed through the water with the
grace of a gazelle striding across the plains, making all the right hand gestures, punctuating all
the right moments with his million-dollar smile and hitting all the right voice inflections. He was
ten feet from the giant animal before Luke disengaged the camera and looked at the croc.
“Now a black croc is a rarity, a real treasure, but a specimen of this size is absolutely
astonishing,” Luke said. Famous for his disregard for safety, he stopped within five feet of the
animal, a quarter of the creature’s body length and well within striking distance.
Luke was about to tell the viewers not to try this at home when the giant beast whirled on him,
its huge mouth opening wide, three-inch teeth unsheathing like blades. The jaws clamped shut
around Luke’s midsection, covering him from shoulder to hip, and reptile and television host
disappeared under the brown water in a splash of churning brown froth.
The rifleman emptied his clip into the water without result and with little accuracy. A second
later blood pooled on the surface like an oil leak where Luke Spearman, charismatic voice of the
Natural Channel and cash cow, once stood.
Jacob yelled and fell backward into the brush, scrambled and ran back to the rented jeeps parked
twenty yards from the lake. Popping in a fresh clip, the bushwhacking sentry scanned the water’s
surface for a target, but it was flat again, a tabletop of glass.
Daniel stared motionless at the lake. “Cut.” It was barely a whisper. “Oh my God, cut.”
The crowd went ballistic and began throwing anything that wasn’t too heavy to pick up at the
crewmen. Aaron continued to film through the melee, a digital sniper panning for his target. The
water bubbled near him and from across the lake the gunman unleashed a volley of lead without
prejudice, striking Aaron in the leg; the cameraman went down screaming. A split second later
the croc sprang out of the water in front of the gunman, snatched him up by the legs and
vanished into a shroud of mud and blood. Two shots rang out as the gunman went under.
Two aids, rented natives, ran for Aaron and dragged him to the jeep through a hail of fists and
stones and laid him in the rear compartment, where he rolled up like a fetus. Jacob pulled the
canvas cover over the roll bars and shouted his apologies through it at the enraged villagers while
he zipped up the doors, but not before his nose was broken by a nice-sized fist.
After an eternal moment, the rare crocodile, sacred spirit of the people, floated to the water’s
surface, white-scaled belly pointed to the sky in abandonment of its soul. The gunman was still
trapped in its maw; a rag doll, a bloody rag doll. His gun was stuck in the monster’s mouth
between his own leg and the croc’s lower mandible. Two large holes could be seen in the
underside of the creature’s neck. The entire nightmare took five minutes.
The natives fell on Daniel, who they had identified as the leader and reason for the whole mess
and who had been shock-frozen in place since Luke vanished. The producer was punched in the
face, a barrage of heated fists took him to the ground and stomping, kicking feet followed. Jacob
ripped through the jeep’s door, barreled into the mob despite the additional abuse he knew he’d
absorb, and pulled Daniel to his feet. Stones rained down on them as Jacob and Daniel piled back
into the vehicle, Jacob behind the wheel, and they sped off, leaving behind thousands of dollars
in television equipment and a second jeep. The local crew hired by the network was left behind
as well, to feel the wrath of their countrymen. Through the rearview mirror, Jacob saw them
being pulled into the lake by the mob; he yanked the mirror from its mount as a young porter was
pushed face first into the water.
After filing the appropriate papers with the local government, they were not so politely asked to
leave the continent and never return, and early the next morning the surviving crew of The
World’s Rare and Wonderful was double-fisting tiny bottles of airline liquor. Jacob watched the
day’s footage on his laptop. It was the largest crocodile on record, so they had gigabytes of stills
and video pre-catastrophe, but between both cameras—Jacob’s and Aaron’s—there was only
three minutes of useable footage of the attack and of the giant crocodile and general chaos
“I can’t believe you’re watching that! You’re a sick a puppy,” Daniel said between
“I JUST CAN’T BELIEVE IT.” JACOB SHOOK HIS HEAD AND TRIED TO BREATHE THROUGH HIS MOUTH
AND NOT HIS SMASHED NOSE. “DAMN THING WAS SO FAST.” HE PLAYED THE FOOTAGE BACK AND
FORTH FOR A FEW MORE MINUTES THEN NUDGED DANIEL.
“YOU SEE THIS GUY OUT THERE YESTERDAY?” HE SAID.
“IF HE WASN’T BEING MAULED BY A GIANT LIZARD OR PUNCHING ME IN THE FACE, THEN I DIDN’T
“THIS GUY.” JACOB POINTED TO THE SCREEN. THE VIEW WAS FROM GROUND LEVEL, PARTIALLY
OBSCURED BY FOLIAGE AT THE LAKE’S EDGE. APPARENTLY AARON’S CAMERA HAD CONTINUED TO
FILM AFTER HE’D BEEN SHOT AND DROPPED IT ON THE GROUND. THE CAMERA LOOKED OUT ACROSS
THE WATER AT THE DEAD CROCODILE. ON THE BANK OPPOSITE THE CAMERA STOOD A BLACK MAN,
SLIGHT BUT MUSCULAR, WEARING AN ELABORATE HEADDRESS AND A LARGE ORNAMENTAL
NECKLACE THAT COVERED MOST OF HIS CHEST. HE WAS STARING INTO THE CAMERA.
“NO. WHAT IS HE, SOME KIND OF THROWBACK? AND SO WHAT? JUST ANOTHER NATIVE WAITING
HIS TURN TO PUT A FOOT IN MY ASS. LEAST THE SAVAGES DON’T WEAR ANY DAMN SHOES.” HE
FINISHED ANOTHER TINY BOTTLE WITH A SINGLE GULP.
“BUT LOOK AT THIS.” JACOB REWOUND THE FILM TO JUST BEFORE THE GUNMAN WAS TAKEN AND
THE KILLER SHOTS WERE FIRED. “LOOK … HE’S NOT THERE.” HE PLAYED IT BACK AND FORTH.
“GATOR LIVING—NO GUY; GATOR NOT LIVING—GUY. THERE. NOT THERE. THERE. NOT THERE.”
THE FOOTAGE ENDED WITH SOMEONE PICKING UP THE CAMERA, ITS VIEWPOINT SPINNING INTO THE
SKY, NOW GRASS THEN THE JEEP AND AARON WRITHING IN PAIN. THEN IT WENT DEAD.
“OH, WHO GIVES A SHIT?” AND DANIEL PULLED HIS GUCCI LIGHT BLOCKERS OVER HIS EYES AND
ROCKED HIS SEAT BACK. “AND IT’S A CROCODILE, BY THE WAY, NOT AN ALLIGATOR.”
“I NEVER SAW HIM,” JACOB SAID.
“WELL YOU WOULDN’T HAVE. YOU RAN LIKE A WEE GIRL,” DANIEL SAID.
“Saved your ass.” But Daniel was out already, either physically or mentally. As Jacob replayed
the film again, the man in traditional native dress looked at him. Not at the camera, because
Jacob’s current position in the airline seat was high and to the left of the camera angle while the
film was being shot. The man on screen had turned his head and was now looking up at Jacob.
He had the vertical slivered pupils of a reptile.
Jacob shifted in his seat, positioning himself high and right of the camera angle. The man’s gaze
followed him. He stared at Jacob for a moment then pointed a finger and wagged it in a
come-hither motion. Jacob blinked, rubbed his eyes and closed the laptop.
“I NEED ANOTHER DRINK.”
THEY CIRCLED LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT FOR ALMOST AN HOUR THANKS TO THE
ENDLESS RAINS OF EL NINO. AFTER GRABBING THEIR BAGS THEY HEADED OUTSIDE AND WATCHED
THE THICK AIRPORT TRAFFIC GO BY IN THE DIRTY, SMOG-FILTERED RAINWATER.
“NETWORK WANTS US TO TAKE A FEW DAYS OFF. I NEED TO PROVIDE A STATEMENT, BUT
YOU GUYS TAKE IT EASY,” DANIEL SAID. “TAKE-IT-EASY. YOU DESERVE IT. THAT WAS SOME
SERIOUS SHIT,” HE EMPHASIZED AND DUCKED INTO A YELLOW CAB. WHEN NOT ON A SHOOT
DANIEL COULD BE A NICE GUY, TOLERABLE ANYWAY. JACOB BELIEVED THAT HE DID ACTUALLY
CARE ABOUT HIS CREW. JUST DON’T RUIN THE SHOT.
JACOB GRABBED THE NEXT CAB. “WILSHIRE AND EIGHTH,” HE SAID TO THE DRIVER. THE DRIVER
EASED INTO TRAFFIC, BUT DID NOT ANSWER. “HEY, WILSHIRE AND EIGHTH.”
“I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE,” THE DRIVER SAID. HIS ACCENT WAS THICK. HE LOOKED AT JACOB IN
THE REARVIEW MIRROR AND BLINKED HIS YELLOW, REPTILIAN EYES.
“OOH!” JACOB JUMPED BACK IN HIS SEAT. THE DRIVER SLAMMED ON THE BRAKES AND TURNED TO
FACE JACOB, ONE SCALED CLAW DIGGING INTO THE HEADREST OF THE PASSENGER SEAT.
“EASY, PAL! IF YOU’RE STONED YOU CAN GET THE HELL OUT OF MY CAB RIGHT NOW.” THERE WAS
NO ACCENT; HIS EYES WERE BLOODSHOT AND HEPATITIS-YELLOW, BUT NOT REPTILIAN.
JACOB EASED BACK IN HIS SEAT. “NO, SORRY. JUST EDGY … LONG FLIGHT.”
THIRTY MINUTES LATER JACOB WAS PULLING UP TO HIS MODEST L.A. HOME AND TWO YOUNG
GIRLS RAN OUT TO MEET HIM. HE SCOOPED BOTH OF THEM UP AND TWIRLED THEM.
“I MISSED YOU GUYS!”
“WE MISSED YOU, DADDY!”
“WELL, DID ANYONE MISS ME?” JACOB’S WIFE JENNIFER STEPPED FROM THE HOUSE AND JOINED
THE EMBRACE. “ARE YOU OKAY?” SHE KISSED HIS BANDAGED NOSE.
He nodded. “Fine. Merely a flesh wound. Okay, girls, inside.” He let them go and paid the cab
and he and Jennifer walked in behind the girls.
“So Luke is…”
“Yeah. It was terrible, Jennifer,” Jacob said. “Terrible.”
“Fine. Shot, but fine. They took him straight to the hospital for a checkup.”
“And the security guy, did you know him?” Jennifer said.
“No, he was assigned by the network. Local guy.” He stopped. “Look, I need a break from it.
This has been the longest forty-eight hours of my life.”
“I understand.” And he believed her. That night they watched old movies and ate popcorn on the
couch. He fell asleep exhausted and dreamt of crocodiles and ancient African natives and
severed limbs floating in his cheap, aboveground swimming pool.
Outside the rain fell.
Daniel went straight from the airport to the network office and gave them an official statement.
He listened as they discussed how and with whom they would replace Spearman and brought the
house down when he began framing the mega-episode “record croc kills adventure superstar in
epic battle.” The show must go on, after all. After the high-level pieces were in place he grabbed
a company car, and ten minutes after walking through the door of his not-so-modest L.A. home
he was popping a colorful medley of prescription sedatives that he did not have a prescription for
and falling into bed.
A sound woke him early in the morning.
He rolled over in bed and knocked the alarm clock off the night stand and faded back to the land
of almost asleep, but not quite. That’s when he heard the noise from downstairs and he realized it
wasn’t the alarm clock. His heart threw itself against his chest wall. He sat up in bed listening,
his mind trying to process his options; call the police, go downstairs and whoop some ass or hide
in the bathroom until it all went away. He was alone tonight, no girlfriend present, and so options
one and three were totally viable. He waited and listened.
His heart began to slow and he decided that option two was probably the way he was going to go
if he had heard something, but he hadn’t—and then he heard the sound again.
“Shit,” he breathed. “Shit. Shit. Shit.”
It was a grating sound, like something heavy and rigid dragging across the ground. The rain
outside was distorting things so he couldn’t tell where it was coming from exactly, but it was
definitely downstairs. Still nursing wounds from his last beating, he was not too excited about
seeking out another, but it was his house, his castle. He would go down, but take the cordless
phone; split the difference between hero and coward. If he scared some crackhead off no one
needed to know about the phone. And if he was getting his ass kicked again he didn’t care what
people thought. He eased out of bed and tiptoed across the wood floors to the door. He stopped
Daniel grabbed a cheap trophy he had been given by a tree-hugging naturalist group for some
crap he threw together on geese. The trophy itself was some sort of plastic mold of a guy holding
a camera, but the base was marble and octagonal with many sharp edges. He flipped it and held it
by the plastic guy like a bat. Phone in his other hand, back to the wall, he descended the spiral
The first floor was all chrome and black and glass modernistic furniture. Abstract paintings that
didn’t mean shit to him but cost a lot of money hung from the walls. Floor-to-ceiling glass
formed the back wall of the living room and opened to a large infinity-edged pool and expansive
patio designed for parties—Hollywood parties. Rain and lightning tossed shards of alternating
shadow and light across the stamped concrete in short bursts. Floats and avant-garde sculptures
flashed into view then disappeared.
The kitchen was open to the living room and Daniel could see it was clear of intruders. He knelt
near the bottom of the stairs and scanned the living room. The furniture was mostly low profile
and lean, so the entire first floor was visible; again, no scraping, dragging intruders in sight. He
relaxed a little and stepped into the living room.
“Okay, douche bags. Danny boy is here if you want a piece.” Leaning towards the kitchen, he
placed his hand to his ear to better funnel the pleas for mercy. “Nothing? That’s what I thought.”
A shadow moved in the corner of the kitchen near the hall that led away from Daniel to the guest
bathroom. Daniel puckered.
“Oh shit,” he breathed. “Hey! Lights!” and the lights came on and Daniel, proud of himself for
remembering the automated lights and not pissing himself, ran around the other side of the
kitchen island to head off the intruder. When he cleared the narrow partitioning wall he saw
nothing but the commode at the end of the short hall trying to hide behind the partially shut
“Lights,” someone hissed, and the lights went out again. Daniel had to fight hard not to drench
his leg in urine. Shadow in the foyer behind him, something touched him on his bare arm and his
legs were moving before he realized he had asked them to, his socked feet slipping on the wood
floors like a cartoon character before taking purchase, and then he was off towards the back door
away from the foreign toucher at the front.
Dragging. Scraping. But not coming from the foyer or the kitchen. It was coming from the back
patio. Daniel skidded to a stop, whirled with the trophy extended behind him, but caught nothing.
A quick glance revealed no intruders, no one chasing him.
He stabbed in 911 with a shaking finger. Without the benefit of the lightning the world outside
was a void of absolute darkness. He pressed his face to the glass, but all he could make out were
three long dark shapes in the pool, oblongs darker than the surrounding darkness. His party
floats. He waited for lightning to strike.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?” Daniel’s phone said.
Lightning cut the sky and Daniel immediately wished he had chosen both options one and three
and was currently hiding in the bathroom upstairs calling the police. The dark objects in the pool
were not, in fact, floats, but large, black crocodiles. They floated just below the surface of the
water, their entire armored mass—greasy black with no white underbelly to be seen—visible in
the pool’s clarity. They stared at him with yellow, unblinking eyes.
The dragging sound again just outside the glass, and on the next lightning flash he saw its source.
A giant crocodile fifteen feet in length was slowly crawling across his patio. A metal outdoor
chair was hooked on its tail and being dragged across the concrete with each step the reptile took.
Daniel bit his tongue to stifle a scream, then screamed, dropped the phone while the operator
probed uselessly for information, and pushed off the glass heading deeper into the darkness of
the house, his survival instinct judging the earlier shadows and movement to be less deadly than
the family of man-eaters outside.
The crocs shot from the pool with single-mindedness. The monster on the patio burst through the
glass wall—the impressive wall that had seemed like such a good idea when it was installed and
had single-handedly gotten him laid at least twice—and belly ran across the wooden floors, its
feet hardly touching the ground. Its mouth clamped onto Daniel’s foot and he went down easily
under the creature’s strength.
He groped for purchase on the nearby coffee table then remembered the trophy and reached back
and struck the animal between the eyes. The trophy promptly broke; the marble base bounced off
of the thick hide and skipped across the floor. The crocodile paused and for an instant a second
set of eyes, higher on its head, above the reptilian eyes, opened and shut quickly. They were the
sparkling green eyes of Luke Spearman.
Daniel screamed and the croc rolled to the left, twisting and breaking the producer’s leg at the
knee. The other three creatures crashed into the chic living room and swarmed him. To his
horror, Daniel watched as a human mouth appeared between the sleek under-scales in the neck of
the beast above him. The scales parted and a pink, swollen tongue slipped out and licked pale,
purple lips and Luke’s voice said, “Did you know African crocodiles can reach land speeds of
twenty miles an hour?”
A second mouth opened between fissures of scales. “Hair and smile check, please.” The mouth
grinned and Luke’s perfect teeth shone through the darkness. Daniel felt a cold, dry finger caress
his cheek and heard laughter from a form in the darkness just beyond his vision; then the
reptilian talons tore his flesh into ribbons.
The ceaseless rain drowned out the producer’s screams.
The next morning Jacob showed up at the studio where they shot their fixed sets and held staff
meetings. Daniel wasn’t there and no one had seen or heard from him.
“Aaron’s still in the hospital. Haven’t seen Danny. Thought you were off?” said the receptionist
between smacking gums. A large, pink bubble emerged from her mouth and exploded.
“No Daniel?” Jacob said.
“Nope. He was here yesterday. Said he’d be back in a few days. Said you guys were taking some
time off. Why are you here anyway? I wouldn’t be here.”
“Workaholic I guess. Thanks.” He needed to get back to work, take his mind off the trip. Talk to
someone who had been there, experienced what he had experienced. The dreams and the cab
driver were a little unnerving, and Jacob wasn’t one to drop things or move on just by lying
around the house. He needed to grind through things, and work, the beginning of it all, was the
best place to do that, despite what Jennifer thought.
Jacob left the studio and headed for the hospital. An hour later he was walking into Aaron’s
room. The injured cameraman was in bed with his leg propped up in a sling.
“Yo, man!” Aaron said. He looked pale, but otherwise his vibrant twenty-something self.
“What’s this?” Jacob pointed to the leg. “I thought you were good to go?”
“Man, you won’t believe it. Turns out—shocker, brace yourself—the government clinic across
the pond didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. My leg isn’t just broken, it’s
completely shattered. And, wait for it … totally infected. That infested pond water, they say. I
think it was the layer of crap under that nurse’s nails. Did you see that shit? Nasty. Doc says I’ll
be here for weeks. Says I coulda died.” Aaron tended towards the dramatic. He tapped the IV
stand. “Upside is … the drugs are great.”
“Too bad, man,” Jacob said. “Hey, heard from Danny? Missed him today. Need to know what
the plan is.”
“Haven’t seen or heard from the dude. Not that I’m worried about it. This is all covered by
workman’s comp.” He smiled and hit the plunger on his morphine drip. They chatted for a bit
longer until Aaron’s conversation drifted towards pink elephants and clowns and someone
named Lola, then Jacob left. An hour later he was pulling up to Daniel’s house. Cops littered the
street and a dozen onlookers in deck shoes and tennis whites loitered outside the crime scene
tape that cordoned off the house. This couldn’t be good. Jacob knew Daniel dabbled in
narcotics—most did in the business—and had connections with a seedy crowd. The rich could
shelter themselves only so much. You did enough dope and eventually it caught up with you; he
suspected Daniel did enough dope.
He parked down the street and walked back.
“What’s going on? My boss lives here,” Danny asked a cop standing near the tape barrier.
“Can’t say, buddy, but I’ll take your name and number. Detectives will want to talk to you later.”
Jacob gave him the info and headed back to his car, but on the way noticed a neighbor’s gate was
Acting before thinking, he impulsively decided the uniform’s answer wasn’t good enough and
hung a sharp left and disappeared into Daniel’s neighbor’s backyard. He duck walked to the
shared wall and peeked over.
Through the intense privacy landscaping Jacob watched flashes of cops and crime scene
technicians scurry around Daniel’s backyard like ants. Then he saw something that sent his hope
meter plummeting. A wide swath of dark, dried blood ran the distance from Daniel’s living room
to the pool. The back glass wall that Jacob’s girls thought was so cool was completely shattered
and the pool water was an impenetrable red-brown, not the crystal-clear saltwater that it usually
A diver popped his head up from the pool water and pulled his mouthpiece out. “He’s down
here; stuffed under a bunch of rocks. Looks real fucked up too.”
Jacob’s heart and head sank. He dropped his forehead to the stone wall and took a deep breath.
When he looked back into Daniel’s yard the lean black man in the headdress and necklace was
standing at the pool’s edge. A red sarong covered him from the waist to his bare feet. He was
staring at Jacob. He smiled, exposing black, oily teeth.
Jacob pushed back from the wall. He wasn’t sure if he screamed, but he heard one cop asking
another if he heard something and so he duck walked back out the way he had come and was in
his car five minutes later. Back on the interstate, he called the hospital and was put through to
“Dude, what’s up?” Aaron shouted into the phone with his usual unending energy.
Jacob cut him off before the customary rambling could begin. “Daniel’s dead, man. Murdered
“What the fuck?” Aaron shouted into the phone. “Murdered?”
“Yeah. I don’t know for sure, but his house is crawling with cops and there is a lot of blood. A
lot of blood.”
“Holy shit, man. You should call the network or something,” Aaron said.
“Cops will be calling any minute probably. Hell, they may have known this morning. Have you
seen anything weird since … since the croc, since Africa?”
“Seen anything weird? Dude, I’ve been pump’n morph into my veins for two days. Everything
I’ve seen is weird.”
“Come on, man, gimme a break. Anything weird … I mean really weird, like you truly thought it
was real, but it wasn’t—an African guy, native, old, all done up in some old-school garb?” He
didn’t mention the eyes.
Silence on the line. “Aaron?”
“Oh yeah, man, just thinking. Nope, I don’t think so, man. Nothing that matches that description,
although I probably will now … power of suggestion mixed with sweet drugs.”
“Okay, look. If you see anything like that, anything that makes you think of the trip, call me right
“Yeah, man, yeah, no problem. I’ll call if I see any old-school African dude, whatever.” Then,
“Man, Daniel’s dead, dude.”
Aaron reached over to hang up the phone and saw the wash basin on the cart next to his bed.
Sponge bath time! There was a god. He must have been morph-dozing when it was delivered. He
pressed the call button and lay back and closed his eyes.
A finger touched his hand and he heard water dripping from a wrung-out sponge. His
“I’m a dirty boy,” he said, laughing. He was harmless, but liked to kid the nurses. He opened his
eyes, expecting to see medical staff, and froze. A clump of tangled black string like something a
plumber pulled from a drain was floating in the pan-sized basin. The mass began to move;
slowly expanding, it rose from the basin like a sprouting flower. Aaron called for a nurse and
hammered the morphine plunger.
The matted string took shape and Aaron recognized it now as a wad of hair. The mass grew
wider and the emerging black hair soon gave way to pale, bloodless flesh, and then Daniel
Porter’s baby blues appeared, followed by his nose and mouth, and soon his entire head sat in the
basin dripping with the red-brown African lake water. Daniel’s mouth opened wide, yawning
like a creaking door, and brown water from his hair ran into it, mixed with his saliva and drained
from the corners of his mouth. Behind the producer’s head the lean black man in the headdress
stood. A headless Daniel stood next to him wobbling on his feet. The spirit pointed to Aaron and
Daniel mimicked the spirit man, raising his own pale, bloodless finger.
“It’s time,” the black man said.
“Oh shit!” Aaron jerked away and kicked out with his good leg, knocking the cart over. The
plastic basin bounced on the floor, sending brown lake water everywhere. Daniel’s head rolled
under the bed and disappeared.
“What’s going on here?” the nurse said from the doorway. “Are you okay?” She rushed in and
tried to get Aaron situated back in bed.
“But…” Aaron pointed to the basin and the headdress-wearing black man who was no longer
“Okay, okay. Let’s get you situated and calmed down, okay?” As she spoke Aaron could hear
something sopping wet sliding across the linoleum under his bed; he thought of Daniel’s head
walking across the floor, a hellish cephalopod using its severed neck muscles for propulsion.
Jacob was almost home when his cell phone rang. A feeling had been building in him since
returning from Africa, a feeling of dread. Add Daniel’s bizarre death, the witch doctor
hallucinations, or whatever the old guy was, and dread became the understatement of the decade.
He was flat out scared; scared for himself and his family. He flipped the phone open. It was
“Dude. I told you I would call,” Aaron said.
“The old-school dude. He was here … and Daniel … sort of.” Aaron explained the whole
episode. “Probably the morphine.”
“Probably not. I see ’em too and I’m not hopped up. I’m headed that way,” Jacob said.
Jacob arrived at the hospital thirty minutes later and found Aaron in a wheelchair sitting in the
large hospital shower. The water was running and Aaron was washing himself. He saw Jacob
“Dude, a little privacy. Oh, and the old-school dude ruined my chance for a sponge bath, so that
means you owe me.” He held the sponge out to Jacob with a smile.
“Something is up, something weird. You’re … we’re not safe,” Jacob said, grabbing for Aaron’s
wheelchair. As he did so, the water from the shower began to run red-brown, stained by clay of
the Dark Continent.
“We gotta go, Aaron.” Jacob, frantic, pulled on the chair. It struck the toilet bowl at an angle and
dumped Aaron on the floor onto his casted leg. Aaron yelled.
“Damn, man, what’s up with that?” Aaron winced and hissed with pain.
Jacob tried to right the chair as the brown water flowed, but it kept catching on one thing or
another. He tried to pull Aaron and slipped himself, falling hard. He scrambled on his hands and
knees towards the door, screaming for a nurse. Aaron was clutching his damaged leg with one
hand and holding his torso up with the other.
Jacob reached the hall door. “Nurse! Help!”
A thin layer of red-brown water had formed in the shower, completely obscuring the sterile white
tiles. Eyes appeared just above the surface—yellow, reptilian, predatory—unmoving yet all
“Who’s my favorite cameraman?” Aaron heard Daniel ask, and he turned towards the shower
and saw Daniel’s head sitting on the tile floor. “You’re my favorite cameraman, Aaron!” it said
with glee and slithered towards Aaron, its exposed neck muscles and severed spine propelling it
like a spider across the wet floor, just as a giant croc erupted from the layer of lake water in the
shower, rising high into the air using its tail as a spring, a deadly jack-in-the-box whose last note
had sprung, and came down on Aaron head first. Its jaws clamped shut for an instant and
released just as quickly before it vanished back into the murky water.
Jacob returned a split second later, having seen no one outside, to find Aaron’s lifeless body
lying on the floor; several inch-wide holes spread out across his chest and face pumping dark red
arterial blood. A black mass of hair disappeared into the drain followed by the receding pond
water as a nurse skidded into the bathroom behind Jacob and slapped her hands to her mouth.
“My God, what have you done?”
“What?” But as the question left his mouth he knew the answer, knew what the scene looked
like. The nurse ran from the room and Jacob was right behind her. She darted for the phone and
he for the staircase. He was in the parking lot before security could gather themselves and was
calling Jennifer as he raced from the hospital, sirens echoing from somewhere.
“Hello,” Jennifer said.
“Get the girls and pack some things. We’re leaving tonight,” he said.
“Leaving? Jake, what are you talking about?”
“I can’t explain, just trust me.”
“What’s going on?” she insisted.
“Listen. Something is going on. Daniel, Aaron … dead. We started something in Africa, I don’t
understand it myself, but we’re not safe. We need to get out, lay low, your parents’ cabin—hell, I
don’t know, but we can’t stay. Are the girls okay?”
“Yes, they’re fine. Jennie is right here and Kate’s in the tub.”
Then it hit him; the lake, Daniel’s body in the pool, the basin, the shower … the brown water
everywhere. It was the water. All the bastard, the spirit of the people, needed was water and he
could reach you.
Spirit of the people. Protector of the people.
“Get her out of there. Get her out of the water now!”
Jennifer knocked on the door. “Kate dear, it’s time to finish up. We need to go. Daddy has a
surprise … camping trip planned.” She stepped into the bathroom and without looking at Kate,
because the girl hated it, began to gather their toiletries.
“Mo-o-o-m …” Kate said. “Privacy-y-y.”
“I know, I know. I’ll be out in a sec. Just wrap it up, please. We don’t have much time.” She was
walking out with an armful of sundries when she turned to her daughter.
Their five-year-old daughter Kate was sitting towards the middle of the tub stacking clumps of
bubbles like a tower near the faucet. Behind her in the water Jennifer saw something flicker. She
Just above the surface of the water, barely a foot from Kate’s back, lurked a pair of eyes …
human, baby blue eyes set in raised sockets of black scales like mouse holes in the white suds.
Jennifer caught her heart in her throat and dropped the toiletries. “Now, Kate, look at me. Don’t
turn around. Look at me and stand up nice and easy and come to me.”
“But Mom!” Kate protested.
“Do it, damn it. Do it!” Jennifer shouted. Kate looked physically hurt by the words, but she
obeyed. She stood and Jennifer reached out and yanked her by the arm as the blue-eyed creature
lunged forward, exposing an elongated, deformed human mouth full of thick, jagged teeth. It
looked like a human face had been stretched over a long reptilian skull. The creature was scaly
and oily black and had a long crocodile-like body with the hands and feet of a man. It shot
forward and bit hard into the tub faucet and fixtures, tearing them from the wall.
Jennifer pulled her daughter from the bathroom, slamming the door behind them. It splintered
outwards and a stretched, greasy human nose poked through the hole.
Jennie, their oldest daughter at eight years old, stood in the living room wide-eyed, the television
remote in her hand. Something grainy played on the flat screen above the fireplace; a brown lake,
a half-eaten man caught in the mouth of a belly-up crocodile. Screams of anger and pain
exploded from the surround sound. Behind Jennie, with his arms on the girl’s shoulders, was the
spirit man. His grin was black and rotted. Liquid dripped from his mouth onto Jennie’s head, but
she was unaware.
“What’s going on, Mom?” the girl asked. Jennifer screamed and yanked her daughter away. She
passed through the man’s phantom grip without resistance and the ancient spirit laughed.
“In the car, Jennie. Run to the car now!” Jennifer said. They raced through the kitchen and
finally to the garage, the kids screaming in confusion and terror.
They piled into the sport-utility vehicle and Jennifer slammed it into reverse and drove right
through the closed garage door and out into the street in a shower of wood shrapnel. They
skidded on the sheet of rainwater in the street, and the car spun 180 degrees away from the house
and up over the opposite curb and into their neighbor’s front lawn.
In the side-view mirror Jennifer saw the human-reptilian beast slide across the garage. It crashed
against the far shelving of paint cans and lawn utensils, gathered itself, sniffed the air with its
human nostrils and lowered its stare on the idling SUV.
Kate and Jennie looked out the back window and screamed, “Oh my God, Mom, what is that
Jennifer pressed the gas and … went nowhere.
The creature sprinted for its prey.
Jacob whipped the tired sedan around the corner and gunned it down his suburban block. He saw
their SUV spinning madly in the neighbor’s lawn, grass and mud flying, the rear end of the car
sinking slightly in the rain-soddened yard. Then he saw the hideous crocodile beast racing across
the street and he stood on the gas pedal.
Even with headlights bearing down on it and the whine of an overtaxed engine closing,
the croc-creature never lost its dogged focus. Jacob t-boned the monster at fifty miles an hour.
The front end of his car caved in, but because of its low profile the animal didn’t fly into the
windshield like a deer might, which was a long overdue lucky break. Instead it rolled underneath
the car and Jacob felt two distinct thuds as the front and rear tires crushed the croc.
The car fishtailed as Jacob slammed on the brakes and came to a stop. He jumped out and met
Jennifer and the girls who were already running his way. The crocodile beast flopped in the
street, spasming in pain, an almost human cry emanating from its long snout. Jacob hustled his
family into the sedan and threw himself back into the driver’s seat.
He looked out across the dash at the wet road and was not altogether surprised as it darkened
from the relative clarity of L.A. rain to the red-brown of the African lake. The lean, muscular
man in the headdress was walking towards them, walking across the water, atop the water.
Daniel, Spearman and Aaron followed him, their chins touching their chests. He was walking
them along by a long leather thong tied to their necks. An empty loop dragged in the water
behind Aaron. The ancient spirit of the people pointed to Jacob and curled his finger, beckoning.
Yellow reptilian eyes appeared just above the surface of the river-street; one pair, two, ten …
countless predatory eyes reflected in the overhead streetlights.
“Jake, what the hell are you doing? Drive!” Jennifer said.
The car rocked and buckled as the crocs attacked the vehicle. A crocodile slithered onto the hood
and hissed at them. Others threw themselves against the side windows. The rear window
shattered and a long tail groped inside like a tentacle, followed by pairs of jaws snapping and
Jacob gunned the car; it spun out, slid sideways to the right, then caught on the unseen tarmac,
lurched forward a few feet before striking something unseen. The crocodile flew off the hood
and disappeared into the water. The front tires exploded in a deafening blast and the front of the
sedan began to sink into the street. Brown water lapped over the headlights and began seeping in
Jacob watched his coworkers and friends. They would not or could not return the gaze. He
thought of the tragedy on the lake, those five minutes in Africa that changed their lives forever.
Thought of the others involved and realized there were none; the African crew members were
probably dead before their flight had left the ground, which left the Americans—all of whom
were clearly accounted for.
“It’s me, Jenn. It’s me,” he said, speaking to his wife but looking at the spirit man waiting for
“What are you talking about? We can run. Whatever is going on here, we can still run,” she
pleaded. Jacob saw his girls pinned in the rear floorboards, terror in their eyes, their screams
vibrating in his head, gnashing teeth slicing the air inches from their bodies.
“No. You, the girls, you’ll never be safe.”
“What are you saying?” She grabbed him and they embraced, but before he could go on and
explain the inevitable truth, that he had to die or they would all die, the driver-side door
disappeared in a teeth-gritting blast of ripping metal; they saw it sink under the water clutched in
the mouth of a giant croc-beast just before another animal lunged into the doorway and took
Jacob at the hip. He cried out in pain and wrapped his arms around the steering wheel.
A second crocodile clamped his jaws over Jacob’s shoulder. They reared back in unison and
pulled Jacob out of the car, ripping the wheel and steering column out of the dash. Jacob flailed
and yelled for his wife then disappeared under the murk, his cries cut short as water gurgled in
his mouth and filled his lungs. Jennifer lunged across the seats, reached for him, caught his shoe
as he went under, and it slipped off in her hand.
“Jacob!” Jennifer screamed.
The other crocodiles immediately abandoned the car and dove after their prey goal. The water
churned and frothed, a twisted mesh of scaled limbs, pink flesh and blood. Jennifer recoiled into
the car, screaming in horror and sadness, reaching a hand back for her girls, her mind unable to
comprehend what she had just seen.
The waters calmed and gradually receded from the car. The scaled limbs became less frequent
and the rivulets of Jacob’s blood drifted down the street in the flow of fading, ruddy water. Soon
the street was visible again and the beasts were gone. Jacob’s body was nowhere to be seen, his
debt paid in full to the spirit of the people. Their family sedan was still buried up to the dash in
the asphalt like a Detroit dinosaur in a tar pit. The ebony man stared at Jennifer blankly then
turned. The last noose was filled now. She caught sight of Jacob as he turned in obedience to the
leash. He didn’t look back at her, there was no final goodbye. The quintet walked down the
street, fading further into the ether with each step.
THE SUN WAS BEATING DOWN; THE HEAT, LIKE PHYSICAL MATTER, WEIGHED ON HIM, OPPRESSIVE
AND THICK. GRASS SHAVINGS CLUNG TO HIS BODY AND CLOTHES, HIS SWEAT-SATURATED CLOTHES
FLYPAPER TO THE CLOUD OF DUST AND DEBRIS THAT ENCIRCLED HIM AS HE MOVED ACROSS THE
BRIGHT GREEN LAWN. THE MOWER SPUTTERED, CUT GRASS OOZED FROM UNDER THE CATCHER AND
JEREMY KILLED THE MOWER; ANOTHER BAG FULL. HE WAS WIPING SWEAT FROM HIS BROW WHEN
MRS. JOHNSON STEPPED ONTO THE PORCH.
“JEREMY, OH, JEREMY!” SHE WAS WAVING A COUPLE OF BILLS—JACKSONS, HE HOPED,
BUT LIKELY HAMILTON’S. THAT KIND OF FORTUNE WAS NOT IN JEREMY’S DAILY ENSEMBLE OF
“YES, MRS. JOHNSON,” HE SAID, PUTTING HIS BEST EDDIE HASKELL FACE FORWARD. HIS SMILE
WAS FAKE, HE DIDN’T LIKE HER; SHE WAS CHEAP AND PICKY, BOTH UNDESIRABLE
CHARACTERISTICS IN A CUSTOMER, BUT HE NEEDED HER.
“I NEED TO PAY YOU NOW. I HAVE TO RUN SOME ERRANDS.” SHE HANDED HIM THE BILLS—A
HAMILTON AND A DAMN LINCOLN. WHAT THE FUCK? HE STARED AT THE LINCOLN, CONFUSED. A
MOMENT OF AWKWARD SILENCE PASSED. “YOU KNOW LAST WEEK YOU MISSED THE SIDE YARD.
BILL … MR. JOHNSON HAD TO TOUCH IT UP, AND YOU KNOW MR. JOHNSON HATES YARD WORK.”
“UH, OKAY. SORRY ABOUT THAT.” DAMN SHE WAS CHEAP. HE WONDERED IF SHE WOULD CARE
HOW MUCH MR. JOHNSON HATED LAWN WORK IF SHE KNEW HOW MUCH MR. JOHNSON DID NOT
HATE MRS. VERNON WHO LIVED A FEW BLOCKS OVER. LAWN BOYS KNEW THINGS.
He looked at the bills a moment longer. Lady Johnson had written the customary “thanks for the
hard work!” on the ten spot and ended it with a smiley face. Idiot.
Jeremy finished up as Mrs. Johnson drove away in a pearl-colored luxury SUV, then he walked
the mower six blocks to a friend’s house and knocked on the door. A teenaged boy answered.
“Dude, your mom is going to kill you. I’m all for rebellion, but damn, man,” Anthony Craig said,
smacking down some potato chips. He wiped greasy fingers on a striped t-shirt. “I’ll meet you in
the garage.” And he shut the door. Jeremy went around front and waited. There was an electric
hum and the door began to rise, creaking and groaning, the motor screaming for its life. Jeremy
pushed the mower inside.
“I need to use your shower.” He didn’t wait for an answer. After cleaning up he pulled a fresh
pair of clothes from his backpack and swapped them for his grass-stained work clothes. He went
downstairs, where Anthony was watching a show about crime scene investigators that wore
low-cut blouses and listened to rock music while they tested vital evidence. “I’m outta here, man.
Same time tomorrow.”
Anthony shook his head. “Whatever, dude.”
He caught the bus two blocks over and was walking in the front door of his house thirty minutes
“That you, Jeremy?” his mother asked from the kitchen.
“Yeah, Mom. Gotta go. Meeting Jamie,” Jeremy said, running up the steps.
“Hold it right there,” she said, half running into the hall. “Do I smell grass? Is that grass?” She
sniffed the air.
“Mom,” he groaned. “We played some football at gym today, that’s all.” He threw his arms up in
“If you’re mowing lawns again, you’re out the door, buddy.” She pointed a thin finger at him. He
crossed his heart with his hands.
“Promise,” he said. They glared at each other for a second, waiting for the other to crack, and the
beginnings of a smile appeared at the corner of her mouth. He knew he was in and he bolted for
Jeremy’s mother fought back tears. While her son sang the latest top 20 in the shower, Jessica
Moran stepped into his room and opened his backpack. She found the clothes he had worn today
and sniffed them deeply; grass, sweat … was that oil, a little grease on the pocket? She dug in
the pocket and found the bills, unfolded them and read the message. She laid the money on the
desk and went out into the back garden and cried. It had started again.
Ronald sat in the recliner yelling at college basketball players on television. A coffee table
covered in beer cans and fast-food wrappers separated him from the source of his angst. A player
in a red and black jersey missed a free throw and Ronald squeezed his beer can until it buckled
and his knuckles went white.
“Boss, you shouldn’t get so worked up. It’s just a game,” Ox said. Ox walked in from the
kitchenette with a bologna sandwich. Ox looked like an ox.
“Shut the fuck up, Ox, I got money on dese bums,” Ronald snapped. “Speaking of bums, did you
make the collections today?”
Ox dropped himself into the loveseat across from Ronald and took half the sandwich in a single
bite. Speaking around the meat product and bread, he said, “Yeah, but you ain’t gonna be ’appy.”
He washed the sandwich down with a beer. They looked at each other in silence.
“Well, what the fuck? I’m sit’n here like what the fuck? What are you wait’n for?”
“Okay, okay.” He pulled out a roll of wet greenbacks and tossed it to Ronald, who snatched it
out of the air and rifled through it, licking his finger with each flip of the bills.
“It’s short.” His chest on his chin, he looked up at Ox.
“Turbo. He’s been coming up short the last few weeks. I think he’s hold’n back.”
Ronald sat forward in the chair, the attached ottoman folded in. Sweat glued his wife-beater
undershirt to his thick chest hair.
“Let’s pay the little bastard a visit.”
Jeremy stepped out of the shower, dried off. He clinched his teeth in the mirror, scratched at the
canine and ran his tongue over it. He needed to look good. He was seeing Jamie tonight for the
third time. Things were going well, but he needed something to tip the balance, send her over the
edge. With today’s earnings he was up to seventy-three dollars, twenty short of the necklace he
had picked out for his girl. Three more yards with no kicker to Ronald and he was good with
enough left over for a nice dinner at Chili’s. It would be a night to remember. There would be
time to pay Ronald back before the dummy even knew he was short.
From his window he saw his mother sitting in a lawn chair, the hose running into a flower
pot that overflowed with soil-laced water. It ran across the porch, painting it a brown in the hot
sun. His eyes drifted to the dresser and the money.
“Shit.” His mind racing with the ramifications of being discovered, he panicked, shooting around
the room throwing clothes into his backpack. He pulled some jeans on and a sweatshirt and left.
Mrs. Craig woke in the night to a noise downstairs. Mr. Craig was cutting timbers inside his
nasal passage and would not have heard a locomotive running through the house. She shoved
him. He rolled over, the sawing ceased, silence hung in the air, taunting, teasing. Then the mill
resumed operations, the shift change complete.
“Roger!” she hissed and punched him in the shoulder. Roger shot up.
She grabbed him, placing her hand over his mouth. “Someone is downstairs.” She mouthed the
words. His eyes widened. The noise, metal on metal, downstairs. The pair of crime fighters slid
from the sheets and eased down the stairs.
The noise again. From the garage?
“Oh, screw this. I’m calling the cops,” Roger said and quick-stepped into the kitchen and dialed
the three magic numbers. Twenty minutes later a police officer was knocking on the front door.
Mrs. Craig ran to the door.
“Good evening, ma’am. Did you call 911?
“Yes, I’m so glad you came. I—”
“Is anyone hurt?” he continued.
“Hurt? Well no, we heard—”
“You should step outside, ma’am.”
The Craig’s followed the officer around the front of the suburban house. Mrs. Craig gasped at the
open garage door. Roger checked his sedan and the tools that never left their outlined stations on
the wall; the Craig garage is where virile tools went to die. All was in order.
“Everything’s here, officer,” he said.
Anthony had come downstairs when he heard the knock on the door and saw the cop car from his
bedroom window. Now he stood behind his mother, staring open-mouthed at the empty space
that was the hallowed parking spot of his father’s lawn mower.
“What’s wrong, sugar?” his mother asked.
“Nothing.” Anthony slinked away as the cops ran through the required questions. He ran upstairs
with the cordless phone under his shirt and into the bathroom and dialed. The receiver picked up
on the other end and a weary but awake voice said hello.
Ox kicked in the door of the abandoned house. It flew off its hinges and hit the floor with a loud
clap. He walked into the hallway banging a bat against the wall every few steps.
“Wakey, wakey, fuck-oh’s.”
Ronald came in behind him. He lit a cigarette and waved out a match. The hall opened into a
living room. Ox took two steps in and Ronald snapped on a heavy flashlight. Two weed eaters
and an edger lay on the floor among scattered garbage. The room smelled like piss and cut grass.
Three or four skeletal figures huddled in the corner shielding their eyes from the light.
“Tell me where Turbo is, you douche bags!” Ox yelled and brought the bat down on the edger’s
gas tank. It cracked open and the smell of the gas-oil mixture began to fill the room.
One of the cowering figures reached out impulsively. “Ohh, man …why, man, why?” he
pleaded. Ox raised the bat over a weed eater.
“Where is he?”
Ronald walked over to the grass-heads and kneeled. He took the face of the emaciated man in his
hands. “Tell me where your little friend is.”
The man shivered and began to cry. Ronald began to squeeze. “Break it.”
Ox smashed the head of the weed eater. The wire guard shattered, plastic pieces skidded across
the floor. The dwellers of the house moaned and pressed themselves impossibly into the corner.
“Last chance. Where-is-Turbo?” Ronald said, his face a gnat’s ass from his prey’s. Rancid breath
hovered over their faces, and the grass-head’s wasn’t very fresh either.
“I don’t know, man, I swear, I don’t know,” the man begged.
Ronald jabbed the skinny man with the end of the flashlight. “You’re lying!”
Ox grabbed the last weed eater and began to bend the metal tube.
“Ahh, shit, man. Okay, okay! He’s mow’n, man, fuck!”
“Good, good. Keep it coming. Where?” Ronald growled. Ox bent. The man wept.
“The Palisades,” he said, and Ronald threw the man’s head back. “Now was that so hard?” He
started back to the hall. “Bend it, Ox. Make sure these douches never mow again.”
Men whistled and jeered at Jessica in her minivan as she followed the train of low-riding mowers
down the strip. The metallic-painted machines popped up and down on hydraulics. Chromed
blades spun, unguarded, beneath many of the riders. Spinner rims danced along their endless
journey. One rider had an airbrushed shade covering depicting an Aztec warrior holding a fallen
maiden in his arms atop an ancient temple. Scantily clad women prowled the sidewalks and
hollered at passersby, “I’ll cut yo’ grass fo’ five dollahs.” Heavy-bassed music played from a
dozen sources. Her rearview mirror vibrated with the beat. A group of teen agers, stained in
emerald, were popping and locking around a radio, their bodies moving like double jointed
Jessica stopped in front of a group of men standing on the street corner, mowers by their
sides, weed eaters leaning against the nearby wall. They tried to stare fear into her, but she had
been down this road before, many times, both literally and figuratively. Now, the only thing she
feared was losing her son.
“I’m looking for my son, Jeremy Moran. Have you seen him?” she asked bluntly.
A man tucked a burning cigarette behind his ear. He wore a hairnet and white tank-top shirt, a
wife beater she knew the shirt was called, and high-waist trousers, “You in the wrong place lady.
Tricks like you get got out here, yo.”
Jessica nodded, “Yeah, yeah, I can pay. Jeremy Moran, have you seen him?”
“Who the fuck is Jeremy Moran, lady?”
She ignored the profanity and handed him Jeremy’s sophomore class picture. He took it and his
“Oh shit, yo!” he said excitedly and showed the picture to the others, who laughed animatedly.
“This ain’t no Jeremy, mommy. This here is Turbo, yo.” He slapped the photo against his other
palm as he spoke.
“Okay, Turbo, whatever.” She had forgotten her son’s street name since his last relapse. The
memory pained her, “Can you tell me where Tur … Jeremy is? He’s my son.”
The group of men looked at each other. They were gangbangers, killers, addicts and … sons.
They all had mothers—at least they did at one point—and memories.
Hairnet handed the picture back, “Palisades, lady.” Then, “He’s real bad.”
Jeremy stood outside the jewelry store, staring in the window, head cocked to the side like a
zombie trying to compute algebra in his head. The necklace was draped over a black, felt display
neck. His clothes were filthy; grass stained, mud, grease, three days’ worth of binge body odor.
Anthony’s dad’s mower was at his side, fuel tank empty, grass clippings draining from the
stuffed rear-mounted catch bag. A sign on the store’s door stated that they would open at 10 a.m.
That was eight hours away. He had traveled an eon in just days and was now so close. He would
wait here until the doors opened.
Jeremy had mowed fifteen yards in the last three days, all in the Palisades, an uppity
neighborhood of the rich and lazy. He ate little, drank little and slept never, and when he wasn’t
mowing he was scouting lawns for the next day. He even made a midnight run once and mowed
a few strips of someone’s yard at two in the morning and then ran. He needed the money, but he
needed the mow even more. All he could think about was Jamie and the balance tipper, and that
channeled into the violent need to mow something. Once he had her, everything would be fine,
he knew that, and he could climb back on the wagon. Lord knew he needed the change in
scenery; the view from rock bottom was lacking.
The necklace glimmered in the overhead display light, the gems winking at him, teasing him.
The street lamp behind him cast his silhouette across the window, but it was not enough to stifle
the balance tipper’s brilliance.
Jeremy blinked and another shadow appeared. It blocked out the entire window. He thought he
might be seeing things; from time to time during his binges he was visited by people that only he
saw, Spirits of the grass, and this felt like one of those times. He was that far gone.
“I don’t want to talk now. I’m almost finished and then I’ll go home,” he told the grass spirit
behind him. “Just need a little more time.” He looked at his watch that had stopped ticking a day
ago and shrugged.
“I’ve ’erd you’ve been a busy beaver,” the grass spirit said.
Jeremy didn’t bother turning around. He had tried to face the grass spirits before, and they had
always managed to elude him. His eyes never left the necklace. “Need to be. I’ve got a girl now,”
he said listlessly, like someone talking in their sleep.
Then the grass spirit grabbed him by the hair and smashed his face against the window.
“You little prick; you think you can hold out on me? Me!” Ronald, Jeremy’s lawn pimp, stepped
onto the sidewalk as the bastard Ox held Jeremy hard to the window. The initial blow split
Jeremy’s check, and now bright blood smeared the glass and dripped on the sidewalk concrete.
He tried to speak, but his words were plastered against the glass along with his blood. “Nooo,
I…” was all that came out. Ox punched him in the kidneys and his legs gave out. Jeremy would
have dropped to the ground if he wasn’t suspended in the arms of the behemoth.
“Give it up. All of it.” Ronald began to rummage through Jeremy’s pockets, pulling them inside
out, dumping dirt and grass on the ground. “You mow whores are all the same, filthy animals,
grass-heads. My dog’s cleaner than you. Least he cleans his own balls.”
Ox finally let Jeremy go, and he dropped like a sack of rocks. Weak from the blows and the
binge, he simply curled up and waited for the beating. Ronald kicked him in the ribs. “Where is
it? Where’s my lettuce?”
Jessica Moran parked far enough away from the men to hide the slight squeak of the minivan
brakes. Far enough away to comfortably open the rear door and lift up the cover to the spare-tire
compartment that no longer held a spare tire and not be noticed. No one heard her pull the riot
shotgun from the spare-tire cavity and unfold the stock. She walk-ran the few blocks to where
she had seen the pigs beating her son and stepped up behind the big bastard pumped the first
round into the weapon’s chamber.
Ox spun, pulling a pistol from his waistband. She shot him in the abdomen as he turned, spraying
his gun arm and gut with double-ought shot. He went down screaming like a twelve-year-old
Ronald stepped back and almost tripped over Jeremy, caught his balance then almost tripped
over Ox. “Easy, lady. I know what this must look like, but you’ve got it all wrong. I’m the kid’s
mentor, his manager. Put the gun away and I won’t even press charges over poor Ox here.” He
gestured to the fallen thug and former lackey and beater of lawn whores.
She pumped the shotgun again. “Your pimp’n days are over, fucker,” she said and shot Ronald,
her son’s ex-lawn pimp in the face. He flipped backwards, completing a full three-sixty in the
air, and landed on his back. What was left of his skull bounced on the pavement with a hollow
sound like a melon breaking. Jessica stood over him, chambered a third round and shot him again
in the chest, opening him up like a blooming flower. Without looking back she blindly aimed the
gun and shot the screaming Ox. The gurgle told her she had hit her target. Silence reigned.
She spat on Ronald’s dead body and turned to her son, who had found an energy reserve and had
crab-crawled several feet away from the flying lead and blood. He was lying against the wall of
the jewelry store near the door, tears cutting paths through the yard dirt painted on his face.
The shotgun hung limp at her side. “You ready to go home, son?” she asked him softly. He
shook his head and began to weep into his crossed arms. Jessica stepped to her son’s side and
touched his shoulder. “It’s time to go home, Jeremy.”
He still didn’t move, just cried in his arms, face hidden in his sleeves. The mother laid the
shotgun against the wall and sat next to the son and put her arms around him. They sat silent for
hours, words unnecessary, nature’s bond between a mother and son enough to convey volumes.
It was all going to be okay and they both knew it, felt it down to their core. This time would be
different. The sun crept over the downtown skyline and she leaned back the worry in her
subsiding for the moment.
“Damn, we got to go, son; I just shot two motherfuckers.”
Johnson’s Hot Tubs
(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON DEATH HEAD GRIN EZINE, AUGUST 2010)
THEY HAD TAKEN PART OF RON’S BACK FENCE DOWN IN ORDER TO MAKE ROOM FOR THE FLATBED
TRUCK. RON WATCHED AS THE MASSIVE DUALLY BEAST TORE TRACKS THROUGH HIS NICELY
MANICURED LAWN, THE DRIVER SMILING THROUGH YELLOWED TEETH. IN ANY OTHER SCENARIO
RON’S BLOOD PRESSURE WOULD BE SKY ROCKETING AND AN ERUPTION OF RED-FACED PROFANITY
WOULD BE EMINENT, BUT TODAY WAS DIFFERENT. DESPITE THE LAWN DAMAGE AND THE FACT
THAT HIS IN-LAWS WERE AT THIS VERY MOMENT TRAVELING DOWN THE INTERSTATE TOWARDS HIS
HOME AND THAT HE STOOD ON THE WRONG END OF A WEEK-LONG STAY WITH THEM, HE WAS AT
PEACE WITH THE WORLD. AS CHAOS REIGNED ALL THAT MATTERED TO RON WAS THE METALLIC
PEARL WHITE HOT TUB WITH SEATING FOR FOUR THAT RODE ATOP THE BED OF JOHNSON’S HOT
TUBS DELIVERY TRUCK.
TWO JOHNSON EMPLOYEES GUIDED THE TRUCK TOWARDS THE PATIO WHERE IT LURCHED
TO A STOP WITH A HISS AND WITH MUCH EFFORT THE INSTALLERS WRESTLED THE TUB INTO PLACE.
THE TWO GUIDES BEGAN CONNECTING THE PLUMBING WHILE THE DRIVER HOPPED OUT OF THE CAB
AND APPROACHED RON WITH A CLIPBOARD.
“I’M SUPPOSED TO RUN THROUGH THE BASIC OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE WITH YOU SIR.” HE
“SURE THING.” RON REPLIED WITH A WINK.
THE DRIVER PAUSED AWKWARDLY BEFORE CONTINUING. “THESE HERE ARE YOUR CONTROLS; TEMP
AND BUBBLES IS ALL IT IS.” HE ROTATED EACH DIAL FOR EFFECT. THE TEMPERATURE DIAL STOPPED
AT 110 DEGREES, WHICH CONCERNED RON. THE DRIVER CONTINUED THROUGH THE MAINTENANCE
PROCESS BUT WAS QUICKLY INTERRUPTED.
“IS THAT IT? I MEAN, WHERE ARE THE OTHER CONTROLS?” RON ASKED.
“WHAT OTHER CONTROLS? ALL YOU NEED IS BUBBLES AND HEAT; EASY SQUEEZY.” THE DRIVER
“NO, NO, LISTEN…THIS CAN’T BE RIGHT.” RON WHISPERED, “I ORDERED THE SPECIAL PACKAGE.”
AND HE WINKED AGAIN.
THE DRIVER PAUSED AGAIN, CHECKED HIS CLIPBOARD AND WALKED AROUND THE TUB AS IF
INSPECTING IT. “NO SIR, NO SPECIAL PACKAGE ON THIS ONE.”
“WHAT? NO!” RON ALMOST SHOUTED, “THE SPECIAL PACKAGE, YOU KNOW…” THE WINK AGAIN.
“I ORDERED THE SPECIAL PACKAGE.”
“No sir.” The driver said flatly. He tapped the clipboard, “If it’s not on this here clip board then it
“Look, call your boss. I ordered the 4 person pearl with the special package.” Now his blood was
boiling. His plan was falling apart because of an idiot clerical error and the week was looking
longer than ever, unbearable even. The driver went back to the truck and made a call to the
office. After a short back-and-forth he checked the clipboard again, smiled, nodded and hung
“My apologies sir. Turns out there was no listing for the Special Death Package you ordered on
“NO! THAT CAN’T BE. I WAS VERY CLEAR. I NEED THE DEATH PACKAGE TODAY!” RON LOOKED AT
HIS WATCH, “I ONLY HAVE A FEW HOURS.”
“SIR, IF YOU’LL LET ME FINISH I WAS GOING TO SAY- THERE WAS NOTHING ON THE INVOICE FOR A
DEATH PACKAGE, BUT THE CORRECT UNIT WAS SHIPPED ANYWAY- FLUKE I GUESS.” HE WALKED
AROUND THE TUB AND PRESSED OPENED A HIDDEN, FLUSH PANEL IN THE TUB’S SIDE EXPOSING A
SINGLE DIAL. “I MUST’VE MISSED IT ON THE FIRST GO AROUND. THESE NEWER MODELS ARE GET’N
RON SMILED AS HIS BLOOD PRESSURE EASED AND THE PLANETS FELL BACK INTO ALIGNMENT. THE
DIAL HAD THREE SETTINGS; FLESH WOUND- SLOW BURN- BOIL ‘EM.
THE DRIVER ROTATED THE KNOB BACK AND FORTH. “I RECOMMEND SLOW BURN SIR, BY THE TIME
THEY REALIZE THERE’S A PROBLEM IT WILL BE TOO LATE.”
JACOB FINE CLOTHIERS
(Originally Published by Pill Hill Press featured in 365 Days of Flash)
“Mr. Jacob!” the woman barked as the bell jingled overhead. She shoved past the other
customers straight to the front of the line and dropped a shoe box on the counter.
“Yes, Mrs. Adams, let’s see what we have here.” Mr. Jacob, the seventy-year-old
proprietor of the family business, said, opening the box. The smell of burnt leather immediately
filled the small shop. Inside was a pair of black dress shoes. The heels on both were charred, and
the rubber on the left shoe was cratered by a small eruption that had occurred from inside the
“I see. This wouldn’t hurt a flea, now would it?” Mr. Jacob said calmly.
“No, it certainly would not.”
“Well, Mrs. Adams, I can gladly provide a new pair …”
“Absolutely not! I looked like a fool. Can you imagine trying to explain something like this?”
The repeat-widower paused, deviance boiling like hot oil in her eyes; Mrs. Adams had a
disturbing, but profitable habit of losing husbands. “Well, can you?”
“No, Mrs. Adams, I cannot. What an extremely awkward position that must have been,” Mr.
Jacob soothed, deftly closing the shoe box and tucking it under the counter. “I hope you will
allow us an opportunity to make this right. Might I interest you in something else, a new tie
perhaps?” He glanced apologetically at the queued patrons and stepped from behind the counter,
an exception warranted by only the best customers. Jacob guided the angry Mrs. Adams to a
nearby circular tie rack.
“These arrived just yesterday,” he said.
Mrs. Adams looked them over and gently touched a bright red and blue tie. “Mr. Adams would
wear this one, I suppose. Horrible taste he has. How does it work?”
Without answering Mr. Jacob took the tie from the rack and knotted a loose double Windsor
around his own neck. Mrs. Adams watched as the tie began to slowly constrict. Seeing the
satisfaction in her eyes, he quickly undid the tie.
“My word.” Mrs. Adams gasped.
He wagged his finger. “A magician never tells his secrets.” She was wide-eyed, but not sold.
“Yes, moving on then …” He walked her towards the back of the store through racks of shirts,
blazers and blouses, each with their own secrets, stopping momentarily to assist a man and
woman who were trying on sunglasses.
“Careful, you two … vision is a wonderful thing, not to be lost foolishly,” Jacob said, smiling.
They responded with smiles of their own, thin and devilish.
At the rear of the store Mr. Jacob pulled out a pair of paisley-patterned boxer underwear.
“Mrs. Adams, now these little gems …” He held them up, simulating the terrible actions the
underwear would perform when actually worn.
“Stop,” she interrupted, eyes glittering with the horrible potential displayed before her. Woe to
the unfortunately wealthy Mr. Adams. “I’ll take three. Gift wrapping is included, I presume?”
THE ETCHING ON THE OPAQUE GLASS WINDOW IN THE DOOR READ MARTIN GROSS – CEO AND
UNDER THAT, BODY SNATCHERS INC. CATHLEEN UNDID THE TOPMOST BUTTON ON HER BLOUSE AND
KNOCKED ON THE DOOR. THE CUSTOMARY GRUNT ISSUED FROM INSIDE AND SHE OPENED THE
“Martin…Mr. Gross, Harvester wants a conference call in five minutes. They’re pissed,”
MARTIN SCANNED HER LIKE A BARCODE. SHE COULD SEE HIS WHEELS TURNING, WELL…AT LEAST
ONE WHEEL ANYWAY, AND SHE SMILED INWARDLY DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE PICTURE OF HIS
WIFE AND KIDS WAS BACK ON HIS DESK. “WHAT NOW?” HE ASKED.
“THEY WEREN’T SPECIFIC, BUT THE LATEST DELIVERY WOULD BE MY GUESS. THEY WERE ON THE
NEWS LAST NIGHT. CONFERENCE ROOM B IN…”—SHE CHECKED HER WATCH, THE ROLEX HE HAD
GIVEN HER FOR THEIR THREE-MONTH ANNIVERSARY—“THREE MINUTES.” AND SHE DISAPPEARED
WITH A FLIP OF HER JET BLACK HAIR. SHE ENTERED THE CONFERENCE ROOM A MINUTE LATER. THE
EXECUTIVE BOARD WAS PRESENT AS WERE THE KEY OPERATIONAL MANAGERS.
“ARE WE DIALED IN YET?” SHE ASKED ANYONE IN THE ROOM. “I SAID—WHAT’S THAT SMELL?”
SHE STOPPED AND SNIFFED THE AIR LIKE A DOG. A MUSKY, SKUNKY AROMA FILLED THE ROOM.
SOMEONE WAS WEARING TOO MUCH COLOGNE, CHEAP COLOGNE, THE TYPE OF SCENT THAT CAME
IN A PLASTIC BOTTLE AND WAS WORN BY LUMBERJACKS.
“WHO THE HELL IS THAT? WHO THE HELL SHOWERED IN COLOGNE THIS MORNING? CHEAP
COLOGNE.” EVERYONE IN THE ROOM BEGAN SNIFFING THE AIR, LIFTING THEIR ARMS, SNIFFING
THEMSELVES AND EACH OTHER. A GENERAL PANIC SET IN.
“Hello, Kevin. This is Cathleen. Good to hear from you this morning. Martin will be here in a
“He’s right here, Kevin.” Martin stepped through the double glass doors like a seasoned
gunfighter. He was a large, square-jawed man, standing just over six feet and weighing over two
hundred pounds and most of it muscle. His high and tight crew cut was not the only holdover
from his military days; he had blood under his fingernails that would never wash away. “To what
do we owe the pleasure?”
Cathleen took her seat next to Martin’s and stared at her note pad. It was only a matter of time.
“Well, Mr. Gross, as I’m sure you know, the last shipment from B.S.I. has posed quite a problem
for Harvester,” Kevin said.
“Oh?” Martin said, pacing the room.
“Hah, come now, Martin. Professional athletes? Really? The last shipment was full of
professional athletes,” Kevin said, exasperation in his voice. “It’s all over the news, Martin!”
“Kevin, I can pull up the minutes from our last meeting, but I think we all remember that
Harvester specifically requested more physically fit specimens. That’s what we delivered. You
place the order. We fill it. No one asks any questions. That’s the way—” Martin stopped dead,
his nose wrinkling in the air.
“I understand that, but this places Harvester in…” Kevin, the contract manager for Harvester
Research, went on about legal liability and payment and so on, but no one was listening; time
had stopped in conference room B.
Martin circled the table, stopping at each individual and sniffing the air over their heads, then
moving to the next, finally stopping behind a man named Alberto, the new junior supervisor of
abductions. Martin took a deep breath and sighed audibly. Cathleen hid her eyes.
“Kevin,” Martin said, “I think we’re having technical difficulties; you’re breaking up.”
“You’re having more than technical difficulties…Martin, listen—there is the matter of payment
for this order…” Kevin said.
“My assistant will call you back when we have things worked out.” Martin reached over Alberto
and pressed the button with the picture of a red phone on it, ending the call.
“Now who the fuck are you?” Martin asked, placing his hands on Alberto’s shoulders.
“Alberto Sanchez, sir, supervisor over abductions for western division,” Alberto said, shifting
uncomfortably in his seat. Martin’s knuckles were white, Alberto’s face was red.
“Oh, supervisor of abduction…western…Cathleen, who hired this piece of shit?”
“You did, sir.” Cathleen hated to say it.
Now Martin’s face was red, but not with embarrassment; he was pissed. He undid Alberto’s
double-Windsor, pulled the tie from his collar like a red silk snake, and wrapped each end around
his hands until there was foot of tie between them. Some board members stared wide-eyed.
Others found other interesting things to look at on the floor.
“That’s impossible. If I had hired him I would have explained that the wearing of cheap cologne
was strictly prohibited in my presence.” And he wrapped the tie around the young man’s neck,
crossing his arms behind Alberto’s head and pulling tight.
Alberto fought hard, kicking and grasping at Martin’s hands, clawing at his eyes. He tried to spin
on Martin, but the CEO was too strong. Martin whipped the younger man back into place and
pulled tighter on the designer noose.
There was a crack from somewhere inside Alberto’s body, and after several terrible seconds he
fell mercifully still. His eyes still bulged from his face as Martin let the ex-supervisor over
western division abductions fall to the floor.
“Now are there any questions about the corporate policy on cologne?” There were none. Martin
tossed the tie onto the lap of the gawking VP of Marketing with a wink. “Get Harvester back on
the phone and explain to them our position. If they don’t pay up by the end of the week I want to
know.” The CEO straightened his jacket, adjusted his own tie, the one he hadn’t committed
murder with, and walked out.
Two stories under the primary business floors of Harvester Research and Science were the
incubator tanks. Rows and rows of nutrient tanks lined the cavernous room, long and narrow like
aisles in a grocery store. The hundreds of human hosts—men, women and children—that filled
them bobbed in the clear gelatinous liquid that sustained their life. They hung suspended in the
fluid, motionless in a fog of chemically induced purgatory somewhere between life and death.
Men and women in white lab coats navigated steel catwalks that overlooked the tanks, taking
readings, monitoring temperature, recording vitals, tending to their crop.
“Host 997 is due for a checkup, Sue. The growth is not progressing as scheduled, the lab
says,” Mike said to his shift partner. Sue groaned and grabbed a long fiberglass rod with a hook
on the end. She fished around the tank, lifting the shaven heads of the human incubators to look
for the correct identifying tattoo.
“Got it.” Sue worked the hook under 997’s arms and pulled the male host through the other
bodies and to the edge of the tank. His chest was flayed open and pinned back against the flesh
of his rib cage. The nutrient gel covered his body in clumps, both feeding it and protecting it
from infection. Inside his chest, disproportionate to his body mass, beat a small heart the size of
an apricot. Mike stuck a metal probe into a socket implanted at the base of the neck. The probe
was connected to the electrical infrastructure and brought data back to a server bank at the end of
the tank. Mike snapped the probe in place and 997 went rigid and his eyes opened wide. Sue
“You’ll never get used to that,” Mike said and chuckled.
“It’s creepy,” Sue said, looking into the washed-out blue eyes of 997. Blue electrical sparks shot
from 997 and arced through the nutrient gel before dissipating. 997’s muscles spasmed, his toes
curled, and data began to appear on the screen of the small computer.
He woke screaming as he had a thousand times before. His muscles twitching and contracting,
pulling his body in unnatural ways as he swam awkwardly up through the miles of thick water
until finally bursting through the surface seconds before his lungs exploded. Blinding light, his
corneas flared. Noise like the rushing of a river across his eardrums; they pounded rhythmically,
warbled in his head.
He fought for his vision as the world spun, and soon the park, the trees, the blue sky, the
smell of her perfume and Rachelle all took shape.
Meeting her gaze under the bright sun was for him both heaven and hell. He simultaneously
never wanted the moment to end and cursed every second for having to relive this final tortured
moment of his memory. Worse still, there was torment in the impotent repetition. After a
thousand reiterations of this time fragment, he knew now that it would be he that would have to
voluntarily, although painfully, pull himself away and let her be brutally taken.
She was beautiful, angelic with long blonde hair, classic face, eyes like soul windows, her
laughter like music. He watched her slice the butter and spread it across a roll for him. They
would share a bottle of champagne in the afternoon sun, kiss and cuddle on the great lawn. The
moment was soon now as sure as the ticking of the clock. She would tell him of her mother’s
planned trip to Europe then offer him a strawberry. Then the men would come from the trees.
“Mom is traveling to Italy this summer. It’s a big deal. Did I tell you?” Rachelle asked.
Only a thousand times, he thought, but he savored her voice like sweet chocolate nonetheless and
hoped that this time he would take the sound of her back with him to wherever it was that he
disappeared to. The place where life ceased, but death never began.
“Here, Jim, they’re sweet.” And she placed a strawberry on his lips. He closed his eyes, trying
not to cry, and bit the end of the fruit. He touched her cheek as the bushes rustled and the gruff
voices crossed the lawn. He stood.
“I love you, Rachelle. Forgive me.” And he ran in the opposite direction of the men just as they
appeared in the clearing. He knew she would cry after him as she had time and again, not
understanding why her fiancé would leave so abruptly, and despite knowing this it tore his heart
to hear her confused and slightly frightened voice echo across the field.
In the beginning he would run to the edge of the wood and watch so that he could follow the men
back out. He would forever pay for that; the image of his life’s love being beaten and raped
before she was taken was seared into his memory.
Now he knew where the men were going because he had been there before, and in fact these men
were only two in a long line of abductors. He had found the original pair and killed them,
smashed their skulls in with a trashcan lid in an alley that smelled like piss, but it didn’t change
anything. He still went back to the place of emptiness and returned an unknown time later to find
two more men and two more after them and two more after them. He realized over time that
these pigs were nothing but pawns in the game and there would always be two more to be
tracked down and killed like animals. He knew now that to end this he must find the king of
So he ran from the park and tried to shut out the screams of his beloved as he laced through the
trees until he found the scooter that he knew would be there with the keys in it. He straddled it
and sped through traffic to where he knew the men were heading. He knew because he had been
there, had been within a gnat’s ass of ending the whole thing more than once, but had always
been cut short and dragged back to the nowhere place before he could bring down the final
He was on the east side of town now and pulled into the alley that smelled like piss and parked
the scooter. A moment later the black van carrying his Rachelle drove past and across the street
the bay door to an abandoned warehouse rolled up and the van disappeared inside. A faded sign
outside the warehouse read B.S.I. – Bailey - Sinclair - Ingram – Attorneys at Law.
He walked around to the far side of the building and slid in through a broken street-level vent
and dropped into a large parking garage. The spots were full of luxury sedans and SUVs freshly
washed and sparkling in the overhead lighting. He crouched and duck walked through the
labyrinth of expensive vehicles under the coverage of the surveillance cameras until he reached
the elevator doors and waited in the shadows. He knew where the cameras were because they
had foiled him many times over.
The elevator chimed.
The doors opened.
A large man wearing a tight crew cut and expensive suit stepped out with a fawning woman on
his arm. This man was the king, the ruler of raping pawns. Through many of the episodes Jim,
ignorant to the point of helplessness and not sure what else to do, had been forced simply to
watch, to observe, and over time realized who the pawns took their orders from.
Jim grabbed the trashcan lid, lifted it over his head and stepped behind the big man…and
crumbled in pain as every muscle in his body contracted, pulling him into the fetal position. God
no, please no! Jim’s innards compressed, the air pushed from his lungs, his vision spiraled then
faded into black.
“DO YOU SMELL THAT?” MARTIN SAID, SPINNING AROUND TO FACE THE PARKING GARAGE
ELEVATOR, FISTS COCKED AND CLINCHED. NOTHING. “DAMN IT, CATHLEEN, IF I FIND ANOTHER
EMPLOYEE WEARING COLOGNE I’LL KILL EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE DAMN BUILDING.”
SHE MOVED CLOSE TO HIM, CARESSING HIS CHEST. “I LOVE IT WHEN YOU TALK TOUGH.”
AND SHE KISSED HIM ON THE LIPS.
HE PUSHED HER AWAY ABRUPTLY. “NOT AT THE OFFICE. HOW MANY FUCKING TIMES DO I HAVE TO
TELL YOU THAT?”
“ESCOBAR!” SHOUTED MIKE.
“WHAT?” ESCOBAR REPLIED. HE WAS STANDING ON THE CATWALK DIRECTLY ACROSS THE
TANK FROM MIKE AND SUE.
“DUDE, YOU JUST KNOCKED MY HOST OFFLINE WITH YOUR DAMN HOST. WATCH WHAT YOU’RE
“Whatever, dude. You get paid by the hour, man. Anyway, an extraction supersedes your
checkup.” He pointed to 997. “Dud, dude. This puppy is ready to pop,” Escobar said as he pulled
the limp female body from the nutrient pool. It had a fully developed heart that beat like a bass
drum in its open chest. It was the third successful harvest from the host this year; 996 was a
virtual cash cow.
Escobar’s host, a female, had bumped into 997 while Escobar was fishing, creating a short in the
nutrient gel that killed the data transfer session with 997. 997 gasped upon contact, eyes bulged
impossibly in its skull before closing again, the blue arcing gone.
“Whatever, man,” Mike said, shaking his head, and reinitiated the data transfer with 997.
The host’s muscles clinched, eyes shot open and the process began again.
Escobar and his shift partner pulled 996 onto the catwalk, leaving only the host’s legs dangling
in the tank. He plugged in the probe and began logging vitals. The assisting tech grabbed a
handful of the nutrient gel and smeared it over the heart while Escobar shut off the organ’s four
valves using the implanted shut-out knobs: tricuspid, pulmonic, aortic, and finally the mitral. The
host’s vitals immediately plummeted, registering numbers incompatible with life. Escobar and
his partner appeared unconcerned. On the catwalk next to them was a small petri dish with some
material in it that looked like clumpy peanut butter. It was called protein composite and was the
reason Harvester existed. It was their moneymaker and they shook it 24/7/365.
Escobar looked at them across the tank and pinched 996’s nipple and blew Sue a kiss.
“Pig!” Sue yelled.
One by one they popped the valve couplings loose, then harvested the ripe heart from the
woman’s chest cavity and dropped it into a gel-filled cylinder. Escobar transferred the protein
composite into the void and stuck the valves into the mix without reattaching the couplings. In
three days the protein mix would form proper biological valves. At that time techs would return
and perform the long-term attachment. Until then the nutrient gel would have to sustain 996. If
not, the dumpster was a short trip away and there were plenty of new subjects.
The first time he smelled the cologne was in his sedan downstairs in the garage while he waited
for Cathleen to finish. He never saw them, but he felt hands around his neck as tight and real as
his own felt around Cathleen’s last night when he had taken her to the edge of death while they
had sex at her downtown condo. He had been short of breath and his neck hurt the next day, but
the only tangible evidence was the lingering smell of dime-store cologne in his car, stuff he
wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. He had the car detailed thoroughly afterward and sprayed with
his hundred-dollar-an-ounce scent. Even now he could still smell it, although he told no one this.
The second time it was in the elevator. Cathleen and he were having sex, and as the door
opened Cathleen screamed. Martin thought it was due to his expert delivery, but soon realized
after he received a crushing blow to his groin that it had nothing to do with him. He went down
hard and felt several kicks to his midsection before everything just stopped. Cathleen said it was
a man wearing cargo shorts and a t-shirt and no shoes at all. She had never seen him before, and
reviews of the security tapes revealed nothing. Again, the only hard evidence that the man even
existed was the lingering smell of cologne and Martin’s destroyed nuts. The man appeared and
disappeared out of and into thin air.
Several other times he had caught whiffs of the scent in the hallways and elevators of the B.S.I.
building. Shortly after the elevator attack Martin instilled the no-cologne policy. He knew that
everyone thought he was crazy, and he couldn’t have cared less; he knew there was someone that
wanted him dead, someone that could move effortlessly through a secure building, someone who
wore cheap cologne, and Martin was going to stop the bastard—it bothered him not that innocent
cologne wearers might die in the process.
A knock on the door and Cathleen entered, skirt riding mid-thigh, one too many buttons undone.
He sighed; he’d complain, but who’d listen.
“Kevin says fuck you. His words, not mine.”
“He’s not paying?”
“Sounds like Harvester’s accounting department is broken. Send in the mechanics.”
Mike handed Sue the pink slip. “We’ve got a term notice on 997 from the lab. Non-viable
“Too bad, so sad.” Sue shrugged and grabbed the fishing hook.
“They want a final download for testing before we dump it though.”
Sue poked through the floating bodies until she found 997 and pulled him to the edge. The heart
was still apricot size and losing color, fading from healthy pink to concrete gray in the last
twenty-four hours. It was barely beating.
“Yeah, it’s been too long. We should have reaped this thing a month ago,” she said.
Mike plugged the handheld computer into 997’s socket. The host’s eyes popped, and blue
lightning zigged and zagged through the life-giving gelatin.
“What separates them do you think?” Sue asked.
“Eh?” Mike said absently. He was watching the data.
“What makes one viable and another not? They’re all healthy, screened, all in the nutrient
formula,” Sue said.
Mike looked up at her. “I’m just a tech, but my opinion…my opinion is that some are too
“Active?” Sue laughed. “They’re vegetables.”
“Well, only sort of. Look at this. All of them have some level of activity, but most are minimal,
and minimal seems to be good.” He handed her the small screen. “What is 997’s brainwave
“Holy cow! It’s off the charts!”
“Yup. Now compare that to Escobar’s 996. Ms. Mass Producer 996 is truly a tomato and damn
“So this poor bastard is alive?” Sue said, shocked. She nudged 997 with her plastic-covered boot.
997 bobbed in the gel.
“Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. I would say that some are less susceptible than others to the chemical
cocktail we give them, and that makes them reject the protein mix and they’re never quite as
deep as the others.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, like I said, I’m just a tech.”
The black B.S.I. delivery van stopped at the first security gate at Harvester Research and
Science. The obese guard walked up to the van, asked for identification, and was shot in the head
with a silenced 9mm round. A man dressed in black tactical gear hopped from the back of the
van, dragged the body into the guard shack, and opened the gate before hopping back into the
The driver followed the well-known route to the unofficial delivery dock at the rear of the
campus and backed into a bay as usual. Two dock tenders approached the van with scowls.
“We don’t have any deliveries scheduled for today, fellas,” one of the men said.
The van’s back doors burst open and five black-clad troopers shot out. The dock men were dead
before their brains registered the events. The lead soldier made several hand gestures and two of
the assassins split off and headed up the hill towards the business end of Harvester. The
remaining three headed into the less well known but wildly lucrative bowels of the enterprise.
Jim slid through the broken vent cover and dropped into the parking garage of B.S.I. once again
and waited. The elevator chimed and the door opened, but no one stepped out. From his vantage
point at the side of the elevator shaft behind the trashcan he could not see into the actual car.
He had to act. He never knew how much time he would have in a given episode.
Jim slowly stepped from the shadows, heavy steel lid in hand like a gladiatorial warrior. He
wished for a gun, a bat, anything, but knew it was futile. He had planted things in previous
sojourns, but they were always gone when he returned, as if his actions in this alternate history
were not lasting, as if he was only a borrower of this time, a renter whose traces of existence
vanish when they do, an apparition.
But the heavy lid was always there. It was part of the true history of this time fragment.
Still nothing, so he moved further. There! Movement!
He lunged into the car, swinging the lid on its horizontal axis like a giant blade, and felt brief
resistance as it struck its target. The momentum carried the lid into the car wall, where it hit hard,
shattering the glass wall and vibrating out of Jim’s hands. Jim ignored it and waded in with fists
until he realized that the target was not the big man with the crew cut, not the king. It was the
woman the king always left with. She lay in a heap in the car’s corner, a deep trench dug into her
forehead, skull dented, eyes open but unseeing.
“Knew I smelled something, you son-of-a-bitch!” Martin stepped from the inside corner, having
just been missed by the follow-through arc of the lid. He was crouching and drove upward and
forward, punching Jim in the jaw with his full momentum behind the blow.
Jim’s head rocked backwards against the wall, shattering that glass pane and dazing him to
incoherence. Martin closed with a knee to the groin, and when Jim doubled over Martin followed
with an uppercut to the nose that sent Jim reeling backwards into the garage, where he landed on
his back with a grunt.
Martin pounced on him, screaming obscenities and telling Jim how long he had waited for this
moment and how Jim was nothing to be afraid of after all. He even mentioned that the cologne
policy may have been a little silly after all. The big man straddled his would-be killer and began
to choke the life from him.
Martin felt the smaller man’s body go limp then contort and writhe beneath him, then despite the
lack of air the man was getting he managed a scream and Martin thought he could see the asphalt
behind the man, through the man, and his grip loosened in the confusion.
The mechanics made their way through the various security posts within Harvester with the same
efficiency they had previously displayed, leaving dead bodies in their wake. Now they padded
silently through the catwalks of the growth chamber, dropping timed explosive charges as they
went. Past the kidney tanks, past the floating liver incubators to the cardiac tanks they drifted like
Mike began to shut down the final data transfer from host 997 when something caught his
eye, movement in the dark gaps of fluorescents. He squinted into the shadows, but saw nothing.
Three red dots appeared in Sue’s stark white coat, then red blossomed in watercolor patterns and
she tipped into the tanks without a sound as Mike watched.
He reached for her, missed completely, and dropped 997 back into the tank with the computer
still plugged in. Blue arcs filled the tank and engulfed 997. The lighting in the growth chamber
began to waver from bright-bright to brown to darkness and back before the overhead bulbs
exploded in a shower of glass. The data servers clustered at the end of each tank began to hum
loudly and started shutting down in twos and threes. Red alarm LEDs lit up across the tank
environment controls. Whole sections of the giant room went black as the cardiac tank went from
clear gelatin to electric blue fluid.
Mike stood, paused, conflicted between giving aid to Sue and just getting the hell out of there.
The decision was made for him as three similar dots appeared in his chest. He clutched at them,
and confusion crossed his face as he stared at the blood on his hands. A trooper rushed past him,
clipping his shoulder and sending him into the now steaming nutrient gel with the cardiac hosts
he had tended to for so many years.
Jim felt his muscles contract, felt the air pushed from his lungs, cried out for mercy knowing he
had missed another opportunity to end the cycle, the misery. He only hoped he would have
As the madman with the crew cut began to fade away and Jim waited for the nothingness,
he was hit with a jolt of electricity. His heart almost jumped from his chest and he felt more real,
more in the present than he ever had before.
His vision came back and the two men locked eyes. Blood gorged his muscles, and Jim grabbed
his attacker’s hands and twisted them outward and away from his neck. The large man’s right
wrist popped as the radius bone protruded through the flesh. Crew Cut screamed in agony.
Jim bucked with his hips and twisted, sending Crew Cut to the left and into an asphalt face-plant.
Jim whirled with his newfound energy and grabbed the man around the head from behind, placed
his knee square in the man’s spine, and pulled backwards with every ounce of strength he could
muster. Both men screamed in unison but for completely different reasons as the CEO of Body
Snatchers Inc.’s neck snapped and the huge killer went limp in Jim’s arms.
Jim collapsed next to the orchestrator of his wife’s abduction and tried to catch his breath. Peace
washed over him as the dark parking garage began to fade and his own heavy breathing began to
sound like a waterfall a thousand miles away.
Rachelle touched his cheek and leaned in to kiss his neck. He smelled good, smelled strong, like
a man’s man. She could never get enough of that smell. He filled their glasses with champagne
and she opened the package of strawberries.
“Mom is going to Italy this summer. It’s a big deal. Did I tell you?” she said.
Although they said nothing to one another, at that moment an uncanny feeling of dread washed
over both of them. They paused from their conversation; he almost dropped his glass of
champagne as their gaze was drawn inexplicably towards the tree line. Birds called in the
distance, a light breeze rustled the leaves, and after a moment the dread passed.
“Here, Jim, they’re sweet.” And she fed him a fat strawberry. It was delicious.
“Excellent,” he said, licking his lips, and he leaned back on his elbows and watched the clouds
drift by. “Excellent.”
She was more interested in watching him than clouds.
“Hmm,” he mused.
“Jim.” She touched his cheek again and he turned to her. “Thank you.”
He tried to discern the meaning of the gratitude from her eyes, but could not. “For what, Rach?”
“I’m not sure exactly. Felt right to say it. Just for being you, I guess.” And they kissed under the
brilliant midday sun.
Sean lives in central Oklahoma with his beautiful wife Tammy. They share their home with a
couple of short haired felines and a pair of three legged dogs. His short fiction can be found in
various anthologies, e-zines and periodicals. Check out his blog at Error! Hyperlink reference
Back to Table of Contents
ALSO BY SEAN E. GRAHAM…
HENDERSON HELL MACHINE
FEATURED IN ‘MONSTER MASH’ BY PILL HILL PRESS
FEATURED IN ‘GONE WITH THE DIRT’ BY PILL HILL PRESS
FEATURED IN ‘DARK THINGS II’ BY PILL HILL PRESS
FEATURED IN ‘DARK THINGS III’ BY PILL HILL PRESS
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