BRIEF DEBATES: Batman vs. Superman or Superman vs. Batman

REVOLUTION JOHN: We should stage a debate among two great friends on the Batman vs. Superman situation, or, as I prefer to call it, the Superman vs. Batman situation.

JERENY TACKETT: I’ll lay it out this way. Sure, anyone can beat Superman with Kryptonite, including you or I. Now, acquire some Kryptonite. Go on, I’ll wait. It’s pretty much a thing in the comics that Kryptonite as you might expect is exceedingly rare. The only bits of it on Earth are traded among villainous characters for exorbitant amounts of money. Bruce Wayne could afford this but since he is not typically privy to such villainous underground networks (the bad guys gotta have their resources too) nor would he do business with them if he did, it’s left to him to create a synthetic form of Kryptonite. Something he is suited to as he is a chemical engineering genius. Now that you have the Kryptonite, gear up in some armor so that you can get close enough to Supes to use it. Go on, I’ll wait. Yeah, Bruce is also a mechanical and electrical engineer so he can invent stuff like heavily reinforced battle suits. Heavy enough to withstand a punch from Superman. Now that you have your have your armor and your Kryptonite, you have a Superman who is basically a mortal man, but a mortal man trained in fighting skills (in the comics he was trained in some martial arts by Batman. Ha!) but he also knows some basic Kryptonian combat systems as his father’s left behind training holograms have taught him. So, go fight him. Again, Batman is uniquely suited to this as he is competent in 127 forms of martial arts and is actually a trained assassin although he does not use his skills to kill. Add to all of that the fact that he’s a genius and the world’s greatest detective and you’ve got a dude that the comics have shown is pretty much capable of beating anyone. I mean, in the Justice League storyline Rock of Ages he defeated one of the Gods of Apokalips. Yeah, he beat a god. He also beat Hulk in a rare Marvel crossover. Of course he has to use gadgets and strategy to accomplish these things; he is human. In fact he’s the only human capable of hanging with a group (Justice League) made up of aliens with superpowers or mutated/enhanced humans. Most of the other characters have a particular weakness or weaknesses which can be exploited. Batman’s only weakness and one that proves time and again to not be a weakness at all but perhaps an asset is his humanity.

RJ: Well put. However, it begins and ends with the fact that Batman can die and Superman can’t. Superman did have his power drained and appeared to die after battling Doomsday but some time spent in the regeneration matrix in the Fortress of Solitude fixed that nicely and resulted in his inevitable return to full power. Batman is the superhero of Man, but Superman is the Superhero.

JT: Actually Batman has died a couple of times and returned as well. Remember it’s a comic book universe where anything can happen.

Plus, Superman only has super powers because of our sun. On Krypton he had no super powers, so his powers are circumstantial and based on where he’s fighting. Where he’s fighting (most of the time anyway) is on Earth, the abode of Man, and thus being a homeless guest on our planet is second to the hero of Man by default but that’s neither here nor there. Who’s to say what effect Krypton’s red sun would have had on someone like…Batman. On Kal-El’s planet the roles might have been switched. Somehow I don’t see him being quite as resourceful as Bruce Wayne in dealing with an alien who acquired super powers through the rays of his home planet’s sun. We’ll never know though.

RJ: Fair points all, though you rightly mention it’s neither here nor there. I would point out (in honor of what I have now named in my head The Great Friend Superhero Debate) that your admittance to Batman’s immortality (which I intended to leave silent in the background as an accommodating gesture) does work powerfully against many of your earlier points on Batman’s general, I don’t know, regular billionaire flesh and blood guy status. If both he and Superman are immortal, then there is no Vs. situation to consider. There can be no actual end to a battle. It’s possible that’s where the conversation would remain. I’m not sure, honestly. I suppose, as with a boxing match that works out to full rounds, there could be judges who could consider punches thrown/ punches landed. On related notes, I think it’s great that an indestructible dude took karate lessons from a guy who can get the same skinned knee as I can. That’s actually pretty cool. And a little insane, yep. So I would definitely have difficulty with making a case for Superman’s sanity. I mean he already has split-personality disorder, not to mention massive daddy issues. Resourcefulness is a round the Bat would certainly take, but Superman, packing admittedly a huge mental deficiency, would take most of the rest, celebrating by lapping the planet a few million times before the judges had left their seats. Batman is the poster child of, as you said, humanity; Superman is literally a god. Resourcefulness and ingenuity can only hold off an act of god (so to speak) for a certain amount of time. But then I stray. The instinct is to side with humanity against any god. And that instinct works out fine as long as the gods allow it. With Superman as a victor, humankind loses. But the hurricane doesn’t hear this; it simply rolls on, eating up our best intended defenses along the way.

JT: In the end, they’re both immortal as long as the comic book writers want them to be. The resurrection of both of these characters was pretty contrived in all cases and existed solely because some comic book writer decided that he wanted to write another story about them. Neither will ever be killed permanently as, again, they’re fictional creations who are brought back time and again due to their immortality in the eyes of fans. However, if we want to go by a real world sort of thing, neither of them are actually immortal in the literal sense of the word. Superman has many powers but that isn’t one of them. He can be killed permanently, as can Batman. Now, taking purely to history Batman has beaten Superman in the seminal work, The Dark Knight Returns. However, he had previously taken measures to stop himself before any terminal end was brought to the battle, not to mention the whole Batman doesn’t kill thing. So he wouldn’t have killed him anyway, but…he could have, at least in that story. Whoever writes the story though will pick their favorite and he’ll come out on top. In my stories Batman will always come out on top because Superman isn’t literally a god. He’s just another being in the universe who had the good fortune of ending up on a planet that made him powerful. Batman is smarter than Superman, I don’t think that’s a point that can be argued, and in my book the brain will always find a way to beat brawn. However, the battle between the two will always end the same way…when they realize they’re actually on the same side and they decide to stop fighting each other and face the bigger threat. I haven’t seen the movie yet (and whatever happens in the movie will not be canon for me as the comics always trump the movies), but I already know that’s how the battle will end. It is the dawn of the justice league after all.

RJ: Good debate. Fun.

 


 

JERENY TACKETT is a father, husband, poet, pagan, nature lover, ghost hunter, scribe, cryptozoologist, noisemaker, codebreaker, and liberal. Sometimes NSFW. Find him on Twitter @JerenyTackett.

 

SHELDON LEE COMPTON is the founding editor of Revolution John. He is the author of three books. Visit sheldonleecompton.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

SPECIAL PROJECT: MALALA by Jon Sindell

I’ve got a beautiful terrarium next to my computer with a crazy cool suspension bridge I built out of popsicle sticks. The bridge crosses a river of real water with a mossy bank I keep gorgeously green with twice daily mistings. When I look up from the computer, I can see the top of the George Washington Bridge with all of the phonies streaming into Manhattan, and I smile because the odds are I have personally taken down dozens of them, especially celebrities and phony do–gooders. Also the terrarium’s mossy bank has real rocks, and under the rocks are live pillbugs. And I’m PillbugKing80.

My economically useless history degree helps keep me king. It’s not that ignorant fools can’t look things up to catch up to my knowledge, but when you’re mixing it up in a hot comments thread, you want to strike fast and hit hard, and the ready knowledge in my head lets me do that. Plus, I’m prepared.

Example. Last night I took down a bunch of Thomas Jefferson apologists with a riff on his slave mistress Sally Hemmings and their six children by quickly accessing a hundred–and–eighty–page bank of my past comments that I have meticulously indexed, complete with links to legitimate authority. They were dead on the ground in the flash of a musket.

Once I went after “the great Abraham Lincoln,” as one admirer slobbered, by talking about how he slept in the same bed as his roommate, Joshua Speed, planting the seed that the great man was gay, heehee, though my gun misfired because gay is in, and the Lincoln fans all thought that was cool. So I talked about his depression, but that’s so last millennium nobody cared. So I dropped the A-Bomb, that the “Great Emancipator” didn’t even want to end slavery, haha, using the (admittedly out–of–context) line in the Greeley letter `if I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it’ bla bla, and sat back smoking an entire doob with a pillbug in my hand while some guy wrote a hardcore FIVE–HUNDRED WORD rebuttal with all the arguments I’ve heard ten million times. To which I replied, “Man, you’re so in denial” with a yawn emoji, because that’s what you do, you hit `em hard and melt into the jungle. Tweaking these tail–chasers is the best!

When nothing else is happening it’s fun tweaking Elizabeth Warren fanatics with her phony `I’m a Native American’ meme, and it’s especially fun tweaking black icons since the PC police will kill you if you say one thing against black celebs in the open. I’ve taken down Al Sharpton with the Tawana Brawley hoax, and Jesse Jackson with his Jew–baiting and his jailbird son, and The Saint himself, Martin Loser King, a proven plagiarist and big time adulterer. “Reverend,” gag.

Of course JFK, that goes without saying.

Phonies, all.

Which Holden Caulfield called everyone, correctly. Which he would even call his own creator if Holden was real, a sexually predatory hermit who drank his own piss. You can practically feel his idolaters breaking down crying in front of their screens!

Of course I’ve shredded Mother Teresa, the “saint” who furnished substandard care to the sick and proselytized them to her cult of suffering by calling pain the “kiss of Christ.” And Christ, yeah, I’ve brought down the Prince Of Peace himself many times on historiographical grounds.

And César “Santo” Chávez, qué facil — he called illegals “wetbacks” and partied with Marcos!

They’re all of them phonies, white, black, and brown. Sanctimonious bullshit artists who cannot fool “all of the people all the time” because the PillbugKing is on the job!

And I’ve got a Special Projects file for the toughest nuts to crack. Paul Newman’s a cold case because I’ve never found anything on him except a weak–sauce divorce. Jack Benny, Jimmy Stewart, and a few more of those “Golden Age” Hollywood icons are cold cases too, though who knows what was hidden under their rocks in an age when you could still hide your dirt. Maybe some grandchild will sell some private letters.

For now, my number one Special Project is Malala Yousafzai. Got shot in the face for going to school, check. Crusades for education for girls, check. Nobel Peace Prize winner, check. And with the Nobel, a half share of the $1.1 mil prize money, plus a lifetime of dining out on the dingus, plus foundation perks and hordes of sycophants who’d do anything for her. It’ll be hard to penetrate the fortress built around her by her PR handlers, but a great hacker may do it one day, or a paparazzo might catch her showing some skin on the Costa Del Sol, or kissing a girl through an uncurtained window. Or someone with an iPhone might catch her buying gold jewelry with her do–gooder’s loot. Or some bitter coworker will leak that she’s hired some idiot cousin to work at the Malala Fund. Or she’ll be caught on mic throwing down some Jew–hating. Because she is young, and life is long.

And I’m watching.

 


 

JON SINDELL wrote the flash–fiction collection The Roadkill Collection (Big Table Publishing, 2014) and the long–story collection Family Happiness (2016). He curates the San Francisco–based reading series Rolling Writers and is a fulltime personal humanities tutor. He used to practice law.

 

 

 

3 STORIES by J. Bradley

 

XENOMORPH

Helen holds it in her arms. It coos, opens its hands, closes them. “Want to hold him,” she asks. I don’t correct her. I take it into my arms. I pretend to marvel over this alleged miracle of whiskey and two broken condoms.

 

 
THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

Neil cries when the clown crouches down. The clown honks its nose and Neil wails.

“He’s too young for this,” I say. “We shouldn’t have brought him here.”

Helen pulls the stroller away from the clown, turns it so the handlebar is within my reach. “You never want to do anything fun with him,” she says. I hear a whip crack, a lion roar in response. I cringe.

My father once held me over the lion habitat at the local zoo. He said it was so I could get a better look at them. I knew he wanted to feed me to them when his grip faltered for a moment. He put me down before my mother could catch him.

 

 

 

FIELD TRAINING

Pinpricks of blood emerge from beneath what’s left of the shaving cream on my left cheek. I soak the razor in the sink before taking another pass.

My father only shaved after we moved into a new place. I would watch him inspect what was left of his beard before he squeezed a dollop of shaving cream into his palm. He always made me scrub the bathroom sink after until there was nothing left.

Neil laughs when he sees toilet paper freckling my cheeks. He shakes his head after I offer to teach him how to shave.

 


 

 

J. BRADLEY is the author of the flash fiction chapbook, No More Stories About The Moon (Lucky Bastard Press, 2016), and the linked short story collection The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016). He lives at iheartfailure.net.

 

 

 

THE HOARDER’S WHOREHOUSE by Matthew Dexter

A canoeing roach of Sour Diesel burns my callused thumb. I assess an orchestral cavernous labyrinth of junk swallowing me and Mr. Wiggles. It’s been years since I clipped his wings. We reek of rainbows and funk. Mr. Wiggles scrutinizes my wrinkles with vulgar obscenities.

My piano looms, crusted in coagulated feces, out of tune. Mr. Wiggles spans kaleidoscopic with whisky enchantment from cobwebbed corners to cracked windows camouflaged with tinfoil. I fumble between boxes, broken lamps, and beach glass beneath electronics caked in boogers. Layers of loogies illuminate antiques inherited from Maureen’s mother.

Fluorescent phlegm shimmers: a decadent middle finger to Mother Nature. Truth be told, Maureen ate herself to death three decades earlier. Her skeleton lies with a condescending smile atop a carton of Camel Menthols beneath the house. I built this bitch with my hands before arthritis, obesity, diabetes, and gout turned me into Henry Tudor.

“Henry the hoarder!” kids shout from the street.

My mother’s a whore and my house is a shit hole. The bathroom is immaculate though. That’s where I poop and fap. I’ve never seen it because I’m blind, but Mr. Wiggles climbs his little ladder whenever the toilet flushes and squawks, “Clean as a whistle, rainbow sprinkles, steamy dump!” Nobody knows who taught Mr. Wiggles to talk. He was trained when Maureen brought him home from the fall firehouse raffle but too shy to say anything for four months.

I swagger through mildew boxes, my eyelids scarred from Marlboro butts, invisible to the earth. Nagging kneecaps sculpted with scabies. I’m spun again. Eggshell ashtrays are sharpened scalpels. Cigarette ashes snowing, a litter of kittens scrambles toward my camel toe. I’ve been melting into my Paula Abdul bikini for nine lives. I grapple with garbage, groping my way through mazes of coagulated mozzarella. My fingers rub Styrofoam, cardboard, wood, wool, heavy metal, plastic, aluminum, an angry wad of hairballs. Scavenging among charcoal drawings of The Jazz Age, I embrace furry mice, fire ants, strong armies of termites gnawing in squalor. There’s a collage of toenail clippings and pubic hairs on a rusty makeup mirror. An ineffable savagery shakes the walls—trumpets triumphantly wailing—the braille, every inch of misanthropy—my gospel metamorphosis.

I need to hawk something. I have no money. Need to feed my face. Mr. Lewis never returned. That’s odd and ominous. Mr. Lewis with the abhorrent misshapen skull who drives the DeLorean and expectorates saliva and makes me call him “valedictorian” before spewing meritorious memories—mostly from his glory days in Baraboo, Wisconsin—attending Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. His orange ponytail and bony little piggies are atrocious. I fondle his lipomas as he mounts me on the kitchen island doggy style between my pirate tattoos.

Mr. Lewis has a heart condition. He’s addicted to tangerine marmalades and cumquats. It’s been eight days since he last came over. I know he’s dead. He always knocks every other night. He pays me four thousand pesos weekly. That’s two-hundred-forty bucks according to today’s exchange rates. All depends on crude oil prices and shit like that. Mr. Lewis lights his farts on fire and sprints across the front porch, hurdling ratty furniture after he burns his cheeks or anus. Inhale my squash and singed hairs as Carl The Cat springs into my lap every time the cider flame bounces across his whiskers.

I come across the plastic bag of king-sized sheets. These are nice sheets. An avalanche of mothballs bounces upon my blistered big piggy. Most of this crap was inherited from Maureen’s mother eleven years ago. Mr. Lewis had been making angry love to Captain Hook since Maureen’s funeral. He dug her grave and it tore him apart when my chubby ass swaggered to toss a wad of dirt and a daffodil onto the shabby mahogany coffin.

“You’re a fat fuck!” says Mr. Wiggles. “Take it up the fireman’s pole—gaaaawk, awwwkk—bona fide butt pirate!”

“Mr. Wiggles, apologize now,” I say, “…or eyeball shots of Don Julio when we find some salt and something to sell.”

“Gaaaaaaawk,” says Mr. Wiggles, “another chubby jackass, jackass!”

“Mr. Wiggles!” I say, “I’m warning you.”

I know they’re king-sized sheets because Maureen’s mother sold them in bulk to the ladies who puffed blunts of hash dipped in formaldehyde and honey behind the Dumpster belonging to Good Taste Chinese Take-out in Tenafly, New Jersey. Whenever food gets delivered to my house, I duct-tape the money and a post-it note to the shredded screen door and Mr. Lewis shuffles a couple chaise longues crusted with parrot dung which makes it obvious for delivery drivers that this house is a castle for a filthy vulgar. Rotting Jack-O-Lanterns, flayed vultures, and decapitated squirrel skulls adorn the red bricks leading to my lair.

My front porch is monstrous. Even Ethan the charming quixotic mailman has sharted on more than one occasion. Delivery dudes would shit their pants if they came inside. They take the cash and bounce. I hear their vehicles and motorcycles leaving skid marks, dogs barking, chipmunks scaling rhododendrons, azaleas pinkening, neighbors cursing the speed with malt liquor bottles between callused fingers clutching Subaru keys with bumps of cocaine—shards of King Cobra glimmering on cotton candy puke-stained asphalt.

Carl cleans the bathroom but is a hoarder himself. He once had an affair with one of Nancy Reagan’s sons. Carl inherited a million dollars from his anti-Semitic, racist grandmother. Now I’ll need to find somebody else to scrub the toilet and make me climax with my thumbs inside a jar of Skippy Natural Super Chunk Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter.

“You’re a hairy monster,” says Mr. Wiggles. “Moooooooooooooonsteeeer.”

I shart, but holding the laptop on my belly. I know what to do. It’s voice-activated and accustomed to my stutter. I burn another tree. I wave the sheets in ballooning ripples like a parachute in gym class—expanded my lungs with the inertial majesty of a blimp to my snatch and snap a photograph—post it in one of the local Facebook groups where greedy and cheap bastards forage for things others leave behind. One woman’s rot is another man’s treasure. It’s not easy being a hermaphroditic hoarder.

“Ugly fool,” says Mr. Wiggles. “Your ship is sinking, shipwrecked slut.”

That’s the first time I heard Mr. Wiggles squawk that one. He has reserves in his repertoire he holds for decades—always waiting for that perfect moment to ejaculate genius. Some spiels he’ll practice when I’m sleeping. Vituperative obscenities and odes he’s been saving for my death. I haven’t lived in decades. I succumbed to sludge. A catacomb left from a tinfoil window.

The kittens are licking my sack and labia. I post the price and wait for somebody “normal” to comment. A lady expresses interest. A man offers an extra ten dollars. I’m giving the sheets away at a humongous discount. The mouse floats between my fingers with the visceral ancient wisdom of the Ouija board. My calluses linger over his mysterious profile picture. Men can be dangerous and atavistic—they can’t be trusted by a blind lady. I tell the woman to come pick them up at her convenience.

I give good directions and head trepanation. Believe in no borders, no Jolly Rogers, no fully closed fontanelles to prevent the blood flowing freely in my brain: swooshing from lobe to lobe like an overflowing bathtub. Just Say No is a curse from an obstinate ostrich of a witch who watched homosexuals with dyed ponytails marching and dancing on her fancy television screens as their partners burned in Hell. Nothing to interfere with digestion after dining with silverware polished to perfection in an immaculate mansion built by slaves.

When the woman arrives, the house reeks of rotting flesh and wet cardboard. I piss myself and black out. She knocks and knocks. The sheets are on the folded lawn chair where the Domino’s delivery driver leaves the pepperoni pies. The linen hasn’t been removed from its zippered plastic. My skin itches. Mosquitoes feast on our eyeballs. Fireflies flutter from gutters of dead leaves toward the heavens. This is the first time sunlight sheds its rattlesnake illumination on Egyptian cotton ivory with the inertial coil of a waning safari chasing the last glimmers of dusk. The Red Oaks are bare but for branches with golden and brown freckled leaves. She keeps knocking, till the distinct twinge of the door handle bursts my putrid bubble, the clack of brass against frame. I scream louder than ever after.

“Get out!”

Mr. Wiggles attacks. It’s an atavistic ambush. He’s ripping my eyeballs from their sockets. The woman strips my clothes as I kick and claw her armpits and cheeks. She leaves hiking socks on my crippled, bloated, arthritic feet. The beast binds me with an 8-follow-through knot with the climbing rope me and Maureen used in Bridger-Teton National Forest when we went repelling with Gremlins. We skinny-dipped that night in the Jacuzzi and got our kicks with a case of Fat Tire and a flame of cocaine prior to getting booted from the Cowboy Village Resort for “indecency.”

The woman from Facebook duct-tapes my privates but says nothing. We’re whirling wild toward a black-hole. She rolls me onto the ivory and seals the cotton with the majesty of an old elephant giving birth. I listen to the moans of a million Mayan virgins folding burritos. This beast has eleven fingers. I’m sure of that. Mr. Wiggles is giggling demonic, an orgiastic convivial fury flowing from rainbows of blood-soaked wings. Arches and towers crumble with lamentations, smoke swirling from the oven where carrot cakes are burning, yearning to enter my belly through the hairy glory holes of twin nostrils. Bottle Rockets and Roman Candles skyrocket from moldy crevices and orifices. The stucco ceiling and walls closing inward—crushing silhouettes and spider webs—till there is no difference between blindness and vision.

The beast is breaking my joints one-by-one. Fast, furious, famished, fungus ridden, and full of flamboyant reverence—two volcanoes erupting in unison. I see a canoe in the distance covered with snow. The storm creeps closer as the eye wall coiffures my bangs and every translucent solitary confinement of Heaven’s transcendence comes crashing down.

 


 

MATTHEW DEXTER is an American author living in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. His fiction has been published in hundreds of literary journals and dozens of anthologies. He writes abhorrent freelance pieces for exorbitant amounts of pesos to pay the bills while drinking cervezas in paradise with tourists. He is the author of the novel The Ritalin Orgy (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2013). His second novel, third novel, debut memoir, and debut story collection are forthcoming.

 

SWEET RAGE by Frank Reardon

Merry took the pocket knife out from her back pocket and placed it on the night stand. Duncan, the Bakken roughneck she picked up at the bar, was half-dressed and wrapped in the sheets. She kicked her jeans off and climbed in bed. He moved towards her. She ignored him, fluffed up her pillows, picked up a book, and leaned back.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“What’s it look like I’m doing?”

“Reading a book?”

“Bingo.”

“Well, um…I thought, well…yeah…”

“Just stop there.”

“Stop what?”

“Whatever you just tried to pass off as a coherent thought.”

“You asked me to come home with you. I just thought we were going to…”

“Well, right now I’m reading my book.”

“Should I leave?”

“Did I say that?”

“No. What should I do?”

Merry reached behind her head into the bookcase behind the headboard, grabbed a random book, and tossed it at him. He picked it up and looked at it.

“The complete poems of Anne Sexton? What the fuck is this?”

“It’s a good book. Read some. It’ll give you some perspective.”

“Look, bitch, I didn’t come here for perspective. I came here to fuck.”

Rolling her eyes she placed the book face down on her lap

“See that big knife on my nightstand?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“I use to gut and skin deer. If you call me a bitch again, or use any derogatory comment about me in my house, I’m going to bury the blade underneath your chin.”

“Wh-what,” Duncan stuttered.

“Complete sentences, please.”

“Why am I even here? Why did you bring me here?”

“The only reason you’re here, and it might be the whiskey floatin’ around in my head, probably is considering you turned out to be a baby, but you look good and have rough hands. I like rough hands. Too many men have soft hands. And there’s nothing worse than having a man with soft hands grabbing at a woman’s body.”

He moved his hand under the sheets, massaging her calf then her thigh. She kept reading. He tried the mid-thigh. She didn’t flinch. He moved his hand to the front of her cotton panties. She turned the page and continued reading. He moved his finger and tried to push through the blue fabric. She grabbed the knife from her nightstand, opened it, and showed him the polished, sharp blade shining in the glow of the lamp. He jumped out of the bed naked.

“You’re out of your fuckin’ mind,” he said, getting dressed. “I don’t need this shit. I’m going back to the bar. I’m done with you, you crazy bi…”

“Don’t even,” she replied.

“Have fun reading your poems,” he said, putting his boots on.

“Now that I’ve seen that pig-in-a-blanket you called a ‘big cock’ earlier, it would have been a waste of my time.”

“I would’ve given you the best fuck you’ve ever had,” he said, standing half out her apartment door.

“I highly doubt it,” she replied, putting her hand down her panties.

“Hey, look, let’s start over,” he said, watching her pleasure herself while she read.

“Lock the door when you leave, please?”

Duncan sighed, turned the inside lock on the knob, and slammed the door. Merry laughed at the sound of his pathetic boots stomping down the wood stairs. She put the book down, rolled her blue eyes, and kept going until she finished herself off.

As she stepped out of the shower and began combing the knots out of her hair, the phone rang.

“Hello?” she asked.

“Miss Meredith Shaw?” the voice asked.

“Speaking.”

“Miss Shaw, this is Linda Robinson. I’m a nurse from Merton’s Nursing Home.”

“Okay?”

“It’s almost time.”

“How long?” Merry asked.

“Doctor Higgins said it could be any day, any hour. You should come here.”

“Okay. Okay,” she replied, thinking. “I’ll be there in an hour.”

She slammed the phone down and let the towel drop to the floor. She was shaking from the cold and the anger tunneling through her body. Instead of tears, she was full of rage. She’d always been full of rage. A sweet rage her mother called it. She pulled her jeans up with a rough jerk of her hips and forced a faded gray Grateful Dead t-shirt over her torso. She laced up her hiking boots, pulling the knots as tight as she could, then put her blonde hair into one large braid, her fingers a tense red. She couldn’t stop thinking about those words her mother used to describe her. It had been years since she’d heard her mother’s voice say them. She missed her mother, Vanessa, every day. But not enough to cry. She never cried.

She opened her night stand and removed a sealed syringe she had stolen from a diabetic friend a few months back. She went into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of Windex from under the sink and an empty cup. She took the cap off the syringe and filled it with the Windex she had poured into the cup. She tossed the blue syringe into her purse, shoved the pocket knife in the back pocket of her dark Levis, snatched the truck keys, and left.

It was near two in the morning as she drove down the dark highway. She could see the city lights of Minot off in the distance. They glowed enough for her to see the desolate prairie on either side of her tiny beat up Ford pickup. The tall brittle grass pushing through the two inches of frozen snow was certain death conquering aging life. She wondered how many bodies had been buried out in the prairie, how much blood had been spilled over the years. She had seen it a few times herself. It no longer fazed her. It hadn’t since she was a teenager. She knew death came in the quiet, the in-betweens, pushing up all around people when they least expected it.

She drove past the dirt access road that would’ve taken her to the old family farm. She kept her eyes on Minot, trying to ignore the road. The farm had been dead to her for a long time. A place of horrors. The place that killed her mother when she was twelve-years-old. Her mind began slipping back to her childhood. She couldn’t remember a happy day living on the Shaw Farm. She turned on the stereo, letting the Workingman’s Dead CD play. The music helped her focus. It kept the mind from digging up the ghosts that had haunted her for the last sixteen years. Minot was getting closer. She turned up the radio and mouthed the lyrics. The past slipped away with the roadkill in the tail lights.

There were few lights on inside Merton’s Nursing home. A few were on in the hallway that led up to the nurses station where Merry could see an older black woman with glasses sitting alone, reading a magazine.

“Hello,” Merry said.

“You lost, dear?” the woman asked, keeping her eyes on the magazine. “Visiting hours don’t start for another three hours.”

“I’m Meredith Shaw here to see Matthew Shaw.”

“Oh, yes, dear. He’s awake. I told him you were coming. I’m Nurse Robinson, the one who called you. I think he’s cheered up a bit.”

“Cheered up?”

“Yes, he has…and thank Jesus for that.”

“Mmmhmm,” Merry replied, holding back an assortment of four letter words.

“Doctor Higgins said it could be anytime now. Any day.”

“He still in 305?”

“Sure is. Just need you to sign this here form and you can go in.”

Merry grabbed the clipboard and signed her name. She paused at the box that said “relation.” She hesitated before putting anything down. Her mind drifted. She thought about the Hunter boys who lived on the farm next to hers. After her mother died, her father was too busy sucking away his sores at Hal’s, The Ranger, or from a bottle in the living room to notice she was off with the neighbors. She was twelve years old; Clyde and Brian Hunter were a few years older. They fished. Threw rocks at turtles. Climbed trees. Everything remained that way until Clyde Hunter started to take her into the abandoned grain silos out by Ferry’s Butte. It wasn’t too long after when Brian Hunter started following his brother into the silos.

When she was fifteen, the Hunter boys vanished. Gail and Murray Hunter looked for their sons for days. The police and the whole town combed the prairie for evidence to their whereabouts. An entire week went by before a few young kids found the Hunter boys, or what was left of them, inside the inner charred remains of the silos. When the investigation was concluded, the forensics team established that it was Brian Hunter’s charred flesh and skeletal remains nailed into a few beams like a crucified Jesus. His head had been bashed in with a blunt object. There was very little left of Clyde. A few ribs, his skull, and a leg bone. Forensics concluded the fire started with Clyde and spread outwards, burning the bodies and the inside of the silo. A few drifters were arrested, but charges were never filed. Gail and Murray Hunter wept and clenched Merry’s shoulders at the wake. They both knew how important their sons were to her. Merry wrote the word “daughter” in the box and tossed the clipboard at Nurse Robinson.

 

The beeps from the different machines filled the half-lit room. Her father, who was fifty-eight, looked like a ninety-year-old corpse lying in the bed. There were tubes in his nose, an I.V in his arm, and an assortment of colored wires attached to his chest. His chest heaved slightly in rhythm with the beeping. She put her purse on the floor and took a seat across the room from him.

“If you only knew how this felt, girl,” he groaned.

“Huh?” she asked.

“Everything. How everything feels backwards.”

“They’re givin’ you medicine for that ain’t they?”

“Morphine. Doc Higgins says I can use a pump. Alls I gotta do is press a button. But I can’t. Don’t have the strength no more. Not even to reach. Ain’t right that a man can’t relieve his own pain. Ain’t right that a man shits himself all the time.”

“You’re sick. The nurses are here to help.”

“You mean the witch out there? Don’t make me laugh, girl.”

“Want me to go talk to her?”

“Won’t do you no good,” he said with a cough. “She’ll just wait until an orderly comes by, but those cunts are nowhere to be found. They’re always out smoking, drinking, or fuckin’.”

“Fucking?”

“Yup, couple of queer orderlies they have working here. Always off in the distance somewhere whispering and touching balls and fingering assholes. I heard them fucking in my bathroom one time. Pants down to their knees, humping. They laughed at me when they came out of the bathroom. Left me sitting here in my own shit.”

“I think you’re imagining things.”

“No. One of them even winked at me when he came out of the bathroom.”

“Doctor said with the morphine, the other drugs, and after years of drinking every day, that you’d have some delusional thoughts. If only he knew you had been thinking that way your whole life.”

“There’s no telling you, girl. You’ve been that way since you were a child.”

“Stop there. I don’t have the time nor the patience to be reminiscing.”

“See what I mean? Just like that. Just like your mama.”

“Don’t talk about her,” Merry replied, looking out the window.

“She was my wife. I loved her, regardless of what you might think.”

She thought about how much he “loved” his wife. One afternoon while Merry was standing on the faded porch that hadn’t been painted in years, Matthew dragged Vanessa by her shirt collar through the swinging door and down the stairs like an animal he was about to put a bullet in. Vanessa’s skin peeled and bruised through her ripped shirt as she kicked and screamed. Merry remembered the fearful pleas her mother made, how they echoed and drilled into her bones even as she clenched a teddy bear, using it as a shield. Her father’s eyes, filled red and cracked like lava, when Vanessa broke free and tried to run. Her mother looking up from the ground, a single line of blood flowing from her forehead after Matthew slapped her upside the head with a metal trash can lid. Merry felt herself running barefoot through the dead, gray fields of the farm; following her father who was dragging her semi-conscious mother by her long brown hair. Matthew dropping Vanessa, pulling down her pants and panties, and forcing himself into her. His words, You’ll give me another child whether you like it or not. Let everyone see it, pounded Merry’s brain. Her mother’s blank eyes drifted across Merry’s tiny, now adult toes.

“Love? What do you know about love, you damn drunk?” she asked.

“I was good to your mother. I gave her a life, a roof over her head.”

“You drove her to an early grave.”

“It was accidental. Police said just the same.”

“Oh, fuck off. She swallowed more than half of her pain pills.”

“She was always in pain. Wasn’t a suicide. Your mother was too strong for suicide. You know that as well as I do, girl.”

“She was scared of you!”

“Are you ever going to let this go? Your mother didn’t kill herself. No Shaw ever killed themselves. We are strong people. Survivors until the end.”

Merry looked back out the window and watched the pinks and reds push through the darkness of the sky. Dawn brought workers out on the road. Life had to go on even though she was in a room full of open graves.

“I’m never going to let go, you coward. You were the cause of her death.”

“There you go again, blaming everything on me.”

“When are you ever just going to admit it? You are either blind or delusional, probably both, but somewhere in that whiskey bottle skull of yours, the truth is alive.”

“You know, Meredith, after you mama died…”

“You mean when you lived at the bars?”

“Wait a second…after your mama died, I protected you. I never did nothing to you.”

“And you never did anything for me either. I had to grow up on my own. I had to figure out everything for myself. God knows you were too busy drinking to give a shit.”

“I was in mourning, girl. I thought about remarrying a few times when you got difficult, but I couldn’t bring myself to doing it. I loved your mother too much to bring a new bride into the house.”

“Stop! Just stop. You would’ve remarried in a second if a woman would’ve had you. Everyone knew about you…”

“Knew what?”

“Knew why she walked around with either bruises on her face or on her psyche. Everyone in town knew. But the cops never came and took you away because she never admitted it. People are not stupid, even though you’d like to think they are.”

“Grab me that water over there, would you?” he asked.

“Don’t change the subject. Admit it.”

“Admit what? That I loved your mother? I’ve said that several times already. How many more times do you want me to say it?”

“You’re a coward.”

“Was I a coward when I covered for you when you killed those Hunter boys?”

His words got her attention. She looked at him, stunned.

“You didn’t think I knew, did you? I knew those boys had been pawing at you for some time.”

“If you knew, then why didn’t you stop them?”

“What was it that your mother used to say you had? I remember she’d say it to you sometimes.”

“Sweet rage.”

“That’s right, sweet rage. You know why she used to say that to you?”

“She’d say it after I’d get mad.”

“Mad? Heh, girl, you’d rip the sky from its seams during your fits. Ever see what a tornado does to the land after it has ripped through a town?”

“Only on T.V.”

“Well, I have. Back when I was a boy, there used to be a small town bouts fifteen miles south of here. Not many folk. Maybe three hundred or so. Good hard workin’ people. Kept to themselves mostly. The town started to grow. New buildings. Grain mills. Sheriff’s station. Bar or two. People were settled in good until that tornado came through. And it wasn’t no pussy tornado that bounced around in the prairie and knocked down a tree, maybe killed a cow or two. No, it was a beast of a tornado. Shredded the town and killed almost everyone in it. They didn’t know it was coming. There were no sirens or signs back then, it just dropped in. One second peaceful, the next death and destruction. Not many left to pick up the pieces. Whoever survived, I don’t know them by their names, they up and moved. Ain’t nothing left of that town but some foundations. It’s like it never existed.”

“So why didn’t you stop them?”

“The Hunters? Girl, I didn’t have to do a thing. You are like that tornado. Your mama, she added the ‘sweet’ part on account of you being a pretty little girl an’ all.”

“But you let them do what they did for years.”

“I wasn’t sure at first. Then I thought maybe you wanted them to.”

“You are my fuckin’ father. You should’ve came storming into those silos with a shotgun.”

“I think you bashing one of their brains in and nailing him to a beam was justice. I think burning the other and dismembering him was punishment. Don’t you?”

“You no good piece of shit. I was just a girl.”

“Now look at you, a stone cold killer. You want to blame your mother’s death on me, then go ahead. What you did to those boys, well, it’s no different.”

“You ruined Mama. You drove her to death. The beatings, the psychological torture, the rapes. She was a prisoner. Her death was an escape. I did what I did to defend myself. Don’t you even compare me to you.”

“Call it what you like, girl, but you could’ve called the police on those boys.”

“Why? So they could go to a juvenile center for a few years, then be back out doing the same thing?”

“See, you did what had to be done. I never said a thing. I never will. I’m taking that one with me to the grave.”

“Hopefully anytime now,” Merry replied in disgust.

“Good. You hold onto that rage, girl, and stay pretty with it.”

A burst of pain ripped through Matthew’s body. He jerked his torso and started to cough. Merry watched and hoped that it would be his final spasm. But he came through, dazed but still alive. She turned away from him and opened her purse. She looked at the syringe full of Windex. She decided at that moment that pumping his body with substances that would kill him within seconds would be too easy for him. However long he had left, she wanted him to suffer in pain with his thoughts. There was no forgiveness in her. There was no redemption coming from on up high.

“I can’t wait to look at your mother’s face soon,” he said with a cough.

“I don’t think you’ll be going where Mama is.”

“I’m going to die any hour now and that’s what you say?”

“Call ‘em like I see ‘em.”

“Why don’t you just leave, Meredith. We ain’t ever seen eye to eye. We ain’t ever going to. Let me spend whatever time I have left in peace.”

“Someone has to claim the body.”

“You can do it afterwards. Just let me be, girl.”

“Fine.”

She put on her coat, grabbed her purse, and looked at her father’s living yet decaying flesh one last time. Seeing him struggling to cling to life gave her a sense of peace. Knowing he was doomed to die in the prison of his mind settled the rage brewing inside. He coughed some more and spit up all over his chest, his liver kicking and screaming for the rest of his body to die.

“Bury me next to your mother, will you?” he asked, as she headed for the door.

Merry dropped her purse, grabbed a tissue, and instead of cleaning him, she rubbed the vomit deeper into his hospital gown.

“I want to spend eternity next to her,” he said.

She tossed the tissue and leaned into his ear.

“You’ll never spend one day next to Mama. You don’t deserve to spend one second next to her. You think I’m going to allow the same worms that are resting inside of her to burrow their way into you? You don’t get that privilege of sharing her rot.”

He looked at her, nodded, and looked away. “Do with me what you will,” he mumbled.

“I’ll let the state bury you with the rest of the poor and no-name corpses. You won’t even have a stone to show that you ever existed. You’ll vanish with switchgrass roots, forgotten.”

She picked up her purse and walked out the door. She could hear her father coughing as she walked down the hall. The coughs faded the further away she got. Nurse Robinson was gone for the day. There was a new nurse she had never seen before. The nurse smiled at her and she smiled back. She passed the tiny nursing home chapel and looked inside. The stained glass art showed people weeping under a crucified Jesus. She thought of the Hunter boys and her father, but she didn’t need to weep like the people in the stained glass. Only the weak had time to cry. Chicken-shits, she said to herself before shutting the door on the morning light shining through the glass.

She took the elevator to the first floor, stepped off, and passed a man in scrubs mopping the floor. She noticed his wide eyes staring at her. He whistled at the tightness of her jeans. She did nothing about it. When he went to catch a glimpse of her ass after she walked down the hall a bit more, he got more than just her back pockets, her braid, and shoulder blades, he also got the back of her hand with a middle finger she was holding high above her head.


 

FRANK REARDON was born in 1974 in Boston, Massachusetts, currently lives in Minot, North Dakota. Frank has been published in many reviews, journals and online zines. His first book, Interstate Chokehold, was published by NeoPoiesis Press in 2009 as well as his second collection Nirvana Haymaker 2012. His third poetry collection Blood Music was published by Punk Hostage Press late 2013. In 2014 Reardon published a chapbook with Dog On A Chain Press titled The Broken Halo Blues. Frank is currently working on fiction, and short fiction.

 

 

 

EVANGELIZING EACH OTHER by Donal Mahoney

Just as Protestants are told to rescue Catholics so they can be saved, Catholics are told to evangelize Protestants to bring them into the fold. Catholics are also told to do their best to bring lapsed Catholics home.

Lapsed Catholics aren’t too difficult to approach if a practicing Catholic wants to do that. Lapsed Catholics know what you’re talking about so you hope that if you can plant a seed, Jesus Christ will one day flood them with grace and bring them back to the Sacrament of Penance before they die. ASAP is preferable but a death bed reconciliation with Jesus also works.

Evangelizing folks who are not Catholic, however, is another matter, especially if they happen to be Protestant. But Protestants, depending on their denomination, at least have some common ground with Catholics. It’s not as difficult as it would be starting from scratch with a Buddhist over a cup of tea.

A Protestant believes what a Catholic believes about the Trinity, three Persons in One God; Jesus as Savior and Lord as a result of His crucifixion and resurrection; and the Holy Spirit indwelling in the soul of the believer as well as in the Church. Protestants and Catholics believe many other things in common as well but they also have a passel of disagreements. Most Protestants, except perhaps for some Anglicans, do not share what Catholics believe about the Blessed Virgin Mary and that can be a problem in trying to evangelize them.

I have always enjoyed listening to Protestant preachers on television if only to learn what they tell their congregants. It gives me some idea what I might want to talk about–and not talk about–should I ever fall into conversation with a Protestant about Catholicism. Certainly enough Protestants have evangelized me and I appreciate their sincerity. I have long thought Catholics could use more than a little of their energy and devotion to bringing others to Christ.

I have found over the years that Protestant preachers run the gamut from the outspokenly anti-Catholic to those who seldom make any reference to Catholicism. At either end of the spectrum, however, Mary is not a factor for Protestants except occasionally among a few anti-Catholic preachers who like to take a swing now and then. There is one preacher out there, now long of tooth and beloved by his followers, who always seems to get a jab in about “Marian idolatry.” I understand that he is only doing his job. The problem is that he and his associate pastors are basically wrong about many of their contentions involving Catholicism. I could give them some good stuff Catholics moan about but they probably wouldn’t listen. But this particular preacher still thinks Catholics worship not only Mary but statues. Completely wrong.

As a result of listening to Protestant preachers I’ve learned that talking about Mary is not a good marketing tool unless a Protestant brings her up. Personally, I wouldn’t mention Mary at all until a Protestant has become serious about Catholicism but is still bothered by Catholics’ veneration of the Blessed Mother. Then I’d begin with the difference between veneration and adoration if that needed to be explained.

From listening to Protestant preachers, I learned that if I talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit the conversation might last for awhile. If I do it right, the Protestant may begin to think differently about Catholicism. I might even mention God the Father now and then although I don’t hear God the Father mentioned often during Protestant services on TV. But then I seldom hear about God the Father in Roman Catholic homilies as well. And except on Pentecost I don’t hear the Holy Spirit mentioned often, either. And for me, therein lies the rub, so to speak.

Not all Protestants may understand that Catholics agree that when Christ ascended into heaven He sent the Holy Spirit to protect the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The Church was bruised before, during and after the Protestant Reformation due to faults in the Catholic Church and due to various personal interests of Martin Luther not conducive to his life as an Augustinian monk.

I’m not concerned about who bears the greater fault, if any, with the dismantling of the Church during the Reformation. Nothing essential was stripped away from the Catholic Church at that time and over the centuries a great deal of tuck pointing has helped to repair some of the problems Luther rightly complained about. So now one of the challenges is to explain to Protestants why it’s important to come back to the Catholic Church, to put it bluntly and simply. For me, the most important reason is to receive Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist rather than settle for a symbol in a cracker and grape juice.

I don’t think it will become any easier to evangelize Protestants until the Catholic Church begins publicly to talk about the Holy Spirit and God the Father more than it does about the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am not saying Catholics should decrease their veneration of the Virgin Mary. I am saying that perhaps their veneration should become more private while their adoration of the Holy Spirit and God the Father becomes more public. Let Protestants hear Catholics speak about the Holy Spirit and God the Father as much as they now hear them talk about Lourdes and Fatima.

I’m not saying that for the sake of converting Protestants we should ever deny that Mary is the only perfect, sinless human being who ever lived and who ever will live; that she is the Mother of the Son of God, and that she is the most important intercessor for us with her Son. At the same time, I think it’s important for us to tell Protestants that Catholics are as free as they are to pray directly to Jesus Christ, the one and only mediator with God the Father.

In order to help Protestants understand Catholicism better, I believe that Catholics must talk more about the Trinity–the Father, Son and Holy Spirit–or Catholics will not reach Protestants in what is said by some to be as many as 30,000 Protestant denominations. There will be plenty of time to tell Protestants about Mary and her role in salvation history once they understand Catholicism is based on the same faith they have in Jesus Christ, His Death and Resurrection, and in the Trinity.

I hope I have said nothing blasphemous or heretical here. I simply want to see more Protestants receive the Eucharist and the other sacraments and to do that they must become Catholic. For reasons too numerous to go into here, Catholics do not have a communion table open to all. One has to accept Catholicism in its entirety and be in the state of Sanctifying Grace to receive the Holy Eucharist.

I started thinking about the 500 years of separation between Protestant and Catholics when I read that Pope Francis plans to go to Sweden in 2017 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with the Lutheran Church of Sweden.

Privately, it’s not something I will celebrate.

At the same time, I realize that the Catholic Church did much that was wrong that helped lead to the Reformation and that Luther accurately pointed out many of those errors before he left the Augustinian order and started his own church. And I will wish all those who celebrate the anniversary of that earth-shaking and heaven-shaking event all the best when it occurs.

Meanwhile I’ll do what I can, given the opportunity, to tell anyone who will listen the difference between the reality of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist and the symbol of a cracker with grape juice. As a Catholic I never leave church without the former.


 

Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, DONAL MAHONEY has had poetry and fiction published in a variety of print and electronic publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his work can be found here: http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html

 

 

ANIMAL DANCING by Jesse Eagle

 

There was a savage thunderstorm outside. Water was inside the walls. My sister and I hid under a blanket together, peeking through a hole we’d ripped in the old wool, watching the group home hallway. It was loud. All the kids were up and alive, wearing new temperatures, animal dancing, like the storm was finally letting them live. One of the kids walked by our bedroom door with a flashlight duct taped to the top of his head. He was speaking his own language. He looked like a God. More kids followed. My sister and I held our breaths and watched the hallway, the kids. We didn’t know what to worship. Police sirens moved through the city like power lines and we pulled the blanket tighter, grinding our teeth. Lightning flashed across the room and the hairs on my sister’s arms stood up and soon the thunder cracked so raw and rumbled low under our bed, shaking the whole home. All the kids in the hallway screamed out their hearts. It was our first year there, as orphans. My sister was smiling. I could tell by her ballooned cheeks. “Like blue spears. The lightning looks like blue spears on the walls,” she said, and under the blanket I moved closer to her and put my lips against her lips and inhaled as much as I could from her, and then we shut our eyes down temporarily.

 


 

 

JESSE EAGLE is the editor of the online flash fiction journal DOGZPLOT.

 

 

 

BONES OF WEED by Chris Milam

 

The odor of fossilized urine clings to denim as you
bash asphalt, miles and miles of steps to libraries,
dollar stores, and church lunches. You feast on canned
delights and expired bread. You see pollution in
bathroom mirrors, a reflection of not a man, but
a theory of a man. Your abused skin is a pale map of
sustained neglect. Your eyes, once lively blue, are
lacquered shade now, torched glass. You shave with
donated razors, savage thrusts before someone walks
in. You stroll away, plucking discarded cigarettes off
the ground. You depress the trigger of a shoplifted lighter
and inhale the holiest goddamn taste in the world. Three
drags of nicotine rapture fortifies you with the energy to keep
moving: to abandoned houses, rotting box trailers, the
woods behind the shopping center. Any place where you
can crawl into solitude and dissolve inside nightfall’s lullaby.
Aluminum light poles will watch over you like distant parents,
rogue guardians of the displaced and vanished.

 


 

 

CHRIS MILAM lives in the bucolic wasteland that is Hamilton, Ohio. He vapes strawberry shortcake e-liquid like a madman between frequent naps. His stories have appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Jellyfish Review, Bartleby Snopes, the Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere.

TWO GRAND by Rusty Barnes

Kraj caught up with James, the man who owed him money and favors, by following him to his car behind the Topps supermarket. James had left a trail of piss behind him. Kraj figured he was lucky he hadn’t started pissing inside the store. Kraj took a collapsible baton from his left sleeve and ducked behind a Dumpster. Only a long row of shopping carts stretched like a section of intestine between them. James fiddled with his keys, trying to get them out of his damp pants, and Kraj took the opportunity and after winding up, slammed the baton between James’s legs.

James collapsed with a gurgle, cupping his nuts with both hands. “Where is my money, stupid fuck?” Kraj said.

“I don’t have any of your money, I told you. Mikael has it,” James said between his teeth.

“I have already spoken to Mikael. You are lying to save your teeth,” Kraj said.

“I am not lying. Go ask Mikael,” James said. Kraj flipped the baton hard onto James’s forehead.

“Give me your wallet,” Kraj said, disgusted. James had forty dollars and a debit card in his mother’s name. Kraj took it all and tossed the wallet on the ground beside James, who was crying now.

“I don’t have any money to get home. That’s my gas money.”

“Don’t forget the meth,” Kraj said. “Degenerate scum.”

“I don’t do that shit no more,” James said, trying to get up. Kraj whipped the baton at the inside of James’s left leg. Two hits and James went down again. “Why do you have to do that?”

“Keep lying,” Kraj said. “I’ll beat you blue.” Kraj looked off into the distance toward the Southport Correctional Facility. His uncle had worked on one of the units that built the prison. It was a so-called supermax facility for very dangerous men. Kraj feared it, and he operated his life and business next door to it. It should have served as a warning, but after war, what could phase him? He threw a five-dollar bill at James, who grabbed it out of the air.

“Thank you,” James said.

“Fuck off. Mikael better know something, or I come back to you.”

“All I know is, I don’t have it,” James said. He’d gotten some color back to his face, but his left leg would be in pain for a while. Enough of a warning, Kraj thought. He nodded at James and turned his back around the corner of the building into the parking lot. Kraj sat in the front seat of his cramped Subaru and rubbed his forehead. James, the club’s manager, had really been his last hope. He knew even if Mikael had his money, made by working security at Mikael’s club, the decision on whether to pay it would go over Mikael’s head and become Rick’s decision, and Rick didn’t like being forced into anything. The tough guy thing would not go over with him.

The engine started with a cough and Kraj directed the Subaru into the drive-through of the McDonald’s at the end of the strip mall. He wanted to see if Camilla was on shift. He attended the drive-through at least three times a day whether or not he wanted their shitty coffee and toadburgers, because Camilla had captured him in a way no woman except his sister ever had. She stood a measly inch over five feet and weight maybe 90 pounds, all of it in ass and jet-black hair. Her Spanish was good, so she was a shift manager now. Occasionally she would give him timed-out food, but that wasn’t why he came. He loved her, and she knew it, but didn’t return the sentiment, so she treated him poorly, and he in turn treated his collections route contacts poorly. The line sat five deep today, though. The thirty-five bucks he had in his pocket was it until Mikael ponied up the cash, or God forbid, he had to take up with Rick.

The drive-through attendant it was not Camilla, Kraj noted sourly. “Can I have a coffee, two cheeseburgers and a large Diet Coke?”

“Hi sweetie,” the attendant said. Kraj ignored her.

“Does Camilla work today?” Kraj asked.

“No, sweetie, but I’ll be here after my shift,” she said, bending over at the window and showing him the top of her breasts.

“No, thank you,” Kraj said absent-mindedly. He barely heard her say fuck off through his preoccupation. She handed him the drinks first then he waited another 30 seconds for the bag.

“Have a nice day, asshole,” the attendant said.

“Thank you,” Kraj said, driving out into the bright sunlight.

***
As it turned out, Kraj had wasted the drive to the club. Mikael wasn’t there, and he couldn’t break the rankings for a measly five hundred bucks, even if it was the only thing holding him solvent. Kraj owed everyone except his landlord, who let him stay in his one-room basement hovel as long as he cut the grass and did other household tasks to her approval. He had a can of tuna left and maybe three eggs. The 35 dollars he had left got him a big bottle of vodka and a couple limes. Vodka gimlets all night long. Just as he had turned into the street, Mikael came charging in on a Kawasaki Ninja, so Kraj turned around in the middle of the street and angled back into the parking lot, where he caught Mikael with his helmet still on.

“Mikael, you skinny whoremonger,” Kraj said.

“Why do you talk like that?” Mikael said. “It makes you seem more foreign than you already are.

“My English is good,” Kraj said. “Better than yours.”

“But I get more pussy,” Mikael said, and winked. Kraj had no response. “You want your money, hey?” Kraj nodded from his car seat. “Here you go.” Mikael handed him five hundred dollar bills from a fanny pack.

“That thing makes you look gay,” Kraj said, indicating the fanny pack. Mikael shrugged, and Kraj backed up rapidly, turning up the street instead of down, toward his place, but instead, toward the strip mall McDonald’s. Sometimes Camilla came in on her off-days to do the deposit and daily numbers. Kraj could feel his day getting better by the second.
***
The strip mall business had calmed considerably by the time he made it back to the McDonald’s. He parked near the back door so he could see Camilla come in and out. Kraj saw immediately he’d guessed correctly. Camilla’s 2009 Pontiac Vibe was parked near the grease trap. He took a knife out of his pocket and quartered a lime in his hand, then filled his plastic soda glass halfway with vodka, dumping half the lime in it as well, two pieces. The vodka tasted vaguely of Diet Coke, but he didn’t care.

It was probably odd, this thing he had for Camilla. She did resemble his sister, but he didn’t want to fuck his sister. The reasoning made sense to him, and hopefully he would never have to explain it to anyone but himself or a prison shrink, if things went really badly. He shuddered as the hot vodka hit his stomach. Glancing at the dashboard, he could see it was only 2:25. She generally made the money run before three, since the banks closed an hour after that. So he had 40 minutes to kill, give or take.

He kept the engine running so he could max the AC, and soon the temp had lowered into his tolerable range, near freezer-cold. He’d gotten through around half the vodka and his thoughts were expansive. Today the world was lovely and green and as long as the vodka held out, he’d be comfortable.

At 3:15 Camilla walked out with huge eyes, her hair tied back in a bun, a blue bag of cash, and a man behind her, also in a uniform, but holding a semi-automatic handgun at her waist. Camilla looked so scared! Kraj reached under his seat for his handgun and thrust it, his old Glock 19, into the front of his slacks. It had been with him a long time. He debated getting out of the car then and there, but the strip mall would soon be full of people for the shift switch, and he didn’t want to cause a scene. He let them get into Camilla’s car and after five minutes followed them to the First Bank of Elmira, just a few blocks away.

Friday, the bank parking lot jacked full of cars, and Camilla parked near the back. Maybe she’d noticed Kraj following them. Kraj got out of the Subaru and slammed the door, making the man with the gun look his way. Kraj saw the hole appear in his car before he heard the soft spit of the silenced handgun. Camilla screamed. Kraj took three steps toward the man and let go a shot of his own, which missed the man. Another two step put him right at the man’s throat, which Kraj grabbed with one hand, clubbing at the man’s head fiercely with the Glock. By now Camilla had climbed the man’s back and begun to scratch at his eyes. The man in the uniform showed no sign she was even there, tossing her off with one hand while the other tried in vain to get Kraj’s hand from his throat. Kraj brought the Glock back up and shot the man in the stomach.

The man slapped at Camilla and knocked her down on his way into the front seat of her car. He got in and started in and careened out of the parking lot and into the wind. Kraj helped Camilla up as he tucked the Glock into his slacks again.

“You OK?” Kraj said, breathing hard.

“I’m fine,” Camilla said. “Scared a little.”

“Too bad he got away with your money,” Kraj said, patting her on the arm.

“Fuck that noise,” Camilla said. She held up the blue canvas bag as a totem. Sirens began to cut through the air.

“Let’s get out of here, Kraj said. “I can’t involve the police.” Camilla nodded and got into the passenger seat. Kraj got in and handed her his drink. “Have some,” he said. She took it and drained what was left. “You’re something else,” Kraj said. He turned out into the traffic. “Where to?” he said.

“Your place,” Camilla said, the hint of a nasty smile on her face. “I think that man got away with all our money. All two thousand bucks of it.”

“Two grand?” Kraj said incredulously.

“That could make a hell of a party,” she said.

“It’s possible,” Kraj said, then began laughing. Camilla joined him. The cops thundered past them in all kinds of a hurry. Kraj was just glad he’d cleaned his room this morning. It was the best of all possible worlds.

 


 

 

Rusty Barnes, a member of the National Book Critics Circle, has published three books of poems and three books of fiction, including the flash fiction collection Breaking it Down and the novel Reckoning. His work has appeared in over two hundred journals and anthologies, among them Post Road, Change Seven, Red Rock Review, Barn Owl Review, and Interstice. He is sole proprietor of Fried Chicken and Coffee, a blogazine of rural and Appalachian literature and concerns.

FUN WITH OBSESSIONS: An Interview with Author Rusty Barnes

ridgerunner

REVOLUTION JOHN: So you’re writing crime fiction these days, and kicking ass, as usual. You write across a wide field of forms and genres, man. What led you to make the full commitment to crime novels?

RUSTY W. BARNES: Nobody was kicking down my door with publishing opportunities based on my novel manuscripts or good looks, and I was laboring over words trying to write what would serve as my entry into the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL sweepstakes of time, which was Reckoning, my first novel. It took me ages to publish it, written in 2008 and finally pubbed in 2014, after trying agents and big publishers with which I had minimal chances. I took some time off to write poems and decide how I wanted to spend my writing life from there on out. Jedidiah Ayres sent me an email about my story collection Mostly Redneck, and we began chatting, as you do, and I liked what I was hearing about the books he was publishing (Peckerwood is a great one), and I slowly made friends in the online/indie crime scene. Thomas Cobb, author of Crazy Heart–yes, that Crazy Heart–and Shavetail and a bunch of other unfairly little-known books, a great literary friend of mine, was also writing a crime novel. I thought, if Tom can write one, why not me? So I did. I noticed a lot of people writing lots of short novels, harkening back to the golden age of pulp books, where many writers cranked out a million words a year. So I wrote a short novel. No agents, as usual, were interested, but one of them suggested I try the indie crime imprint 280 Steps. I sent the book in, the publisher accepted it, and soon after, a sequel. In 2014-2015 I ended up writing four of these short novels of 40-50K. I just finished the third book in the series for 280 Steps, and I have another standalone novel I’m about to send out. I’ve also got some crime stories that I’m treating as a novel-in-stories, which will be ready soon.

So I guess I’m a crime writer for the near future. It fits in with all my obsessions. Most important, I’m having fun.

RJ: It’s working for you, man. Ridgerunner, the first book you published with 280 Steps, was great. And something I noticed while reading it was that, although you were clearly writing within a certain genre, you retained your poetic use of language for the most part, your poetic expression when diving into character. So now you’ve finished that three-part series for them. I have to think having several books out there, especially in a series, will increase the number of times you find a royalty payment in the mailbox. We don’t write for the money, exactly, but that’s probably going to be nice.

RWB: I’m glad you noticed I tried to keep my style, my style. My crime fiction seems to a bit more streamlined than my ‘litfic’, but I didn’t make any changes to the way I write for these books. I just made them shorter, topping them out at 45K or less. Short read-in-one-sitting novels.

I hope royalties come. People seem to like the idea behind Ridgerunner so I hope it sells. I wish I knew what else to do to make it sell. I’m sending out a lot of short stories and flash fiction, trying to keep my name in the public eye, before pub date. I don’t really know what else to do.

RJ: I see you have been immersing yourself in reading noir and pulp and crime literature. What amazing reading have some of us missed? Do you have two or three writers who are emerging as high water marks for you as a reading writer?

RWB: Oh wow. I’ve discovered a whole genre’s history lately, and it’s been so much fun. Authors I’ve read recently include many contemporaries: Anthony Neil Smith, Christa Faust, Jed Ayres, Jake Hinkson in particular, Ryan Bradley, Heath Lowrance, Matt Phillips, James Sallis, for writers that are new to me. There are many more. In a historical sense, the writers that have become important to me are all over the place. I’ve loved David Goodis, Gil Brewer and especially Charles Williams, Jim Thompson, from the pulp legends library. Holdover stars for me include Robert Parker, James Lee Burke, Eric Rickstad, Paul Doiron, Urban Waite, Ben Whitmer, Ace Atkins. Sorry, two or three don’t cut it. I read much more than I write.

RJ: I love that you read more than you write, Rusty. I’ve been trying to do the same for the past three years or so. Do you always read as a writer? If not, how do you turn that switch off and just enjoy reading a good book? Turning the switch off is something I’ve yet to manage.

RWB: I used to read as a writer almost exclusively, trying to suss out what was working, but it made me unhappy, let’s say, to imagine readers doing the same thing to my work. My flaws are so apparent to me I try not to think of them unless I’m expressly doing something to improve.

I want to get lost in a story. I like pretty language, but I like stories more. People; Action, Consequence. Things happening, in other words. I don’t always get there, but I try.
I give up on books a lot more these days. In the old days, I would plow through something even if I didn’t like it much because I thought the writing might teach me something, even small, that I could use somewhere down the line. I don’t have that kind of patience or desire anymore. If something sucks now, I just quit on it.

RJ: I’ve started doing the same thing. I know I don’t have another forty years to spend wasting time on books that don’t do it for me. Let’s talk a little about how other writers seem to judge writers of popular fiction. What do you say to writers of “literary fiction” who maintain crime, romance, horror writing, etc. is formula fiction? Who, basically, contend it is lesser fiction.

RWB: I don’t pay much attention. If the work comes via formula, you’re doing it poorly. I wrote a lot of stuff with crime in it to begin with, so to switch to a focus on crime and exploring what happens when you strip a character of all the things that make them happy to see what they will do, well, that’s a lot of fun. I don’t want to be exploitative, but I like the fun of writing fistfights and gun battles and cheap sex, seeing what people will do when the chips are down. Hell, what will they do when there are no chips left to be down?
That doesn’t mean I won’t write litfic again. It’s in my bones, so to speak.

RJ: How important is promotion, Rusty? I mean, writers today, especially small press writers, seem to have to wear a few hats, not the least of which involve marketing and promotion. This seems new, a thing attached to the new technology, social media, etc. Thoughts?

RWB: It’s important. So important. I don’t know how to do it. No one in the midlist or indie press has the money to do it well. So we all promote ourselves to the extent of our self-loathing on Facebook and Google+ and on blogs, and hope that our publishers will give us high-res pictures and some places at which we can beg reviews. It kinda sucks, in short.

Honestly, I don’t mind doing it, but I also notice the number of friends in my Facebook feed go down by one or five every time I self-promote. What can you do? I’m not going to let my books die because I’m too shy, even though I probably am shy.

My rule of thumb is that for every message I put up about my work online, I have to promote other people’s work five times. That eases my conscience, and I read so much I never run out of people or posts to promote. But, of all the hats I wear, self-promoter feels the tightest.

RJ: The question I’d ask myself—

Who is the writer you always go back to?

RWB: It’s Larry Brown, far and away. I’ve read everything he saw fit to print many times, so it’s not as if I consult him or read him every month, but his is the narrative voice in my head when I try to write, and since I’ve committed some of his work—mostly from JOE and BIG BAD LOVE–to memory, I can call on him like I did last night. I felt like shit, was depressed, the new antipsychotic making me so fucking tired, yet antsy at the same time, and I was like, I can’t do this. Then I thought about the narrator LB watching Sheena Baby—hope I got the name right—wobble away with her fine ass sticking out, trying to get a ride. I figured, if Larry could write that when he didn’t feel up to it out there in the cool pad or wherever he was doing his writing at the time, at the firehouse or at his in-laws, I think I can sit here in my comfortable house around my wife and kids, making all the noise in the world (I prefer it that way), and crank out a thousand words. It’s the way I live and breathe.

PURCHASE RIDGERUNNER