Tuesday, January 31, 2017

200 Souls [Short Story]





Out the window. Up the fire escape. Across the rooftop, over the ally to another roof. Every footstep he took, I matched, tumbling through the maze of the city. About to cross another gap between rooftops, he looked back to see where I was. A mistake on his part. Fatal, as it turned out. His timing off, he plunged down to the earth below. Spread out on the concrete. Neck broken. A bloody mess.

I turned around and headed back the way I'd come. I felt robbed. The knife in my hand felt robbed. I tucked it back inside my jacket. No real need to run now, I took my time across the roofs, till I came to the one where my car sat parked below.

"We should check in on the girl," he whispered to me. I don't know why he always whispered. It's not like anyone else could hear him.

I nodded and took the fire escape down two flights to the window that I'd exited shortly before. She was sitting at the table. Around her, things were strewn across the floor, broken and spilled. An ode to the fight I'd just had with the freshly spattered man.

"Sorry about the mess," I said.

She looked up startled for a moment but calmed instantly when she saw it was me. Humans are funny. Save someone's life and they instantly trust you. I could just as easily be a murderer, but how would she know?

"Don't worry about it. Thank you for saving my life," she responded.

She was pretty; black, athletic, with long dark hair and chestnut eyes. Her hair was messy and her clothes torn. That was only to be expected after what had almost happened.

"Happy to do it. Listen, should we get you to a hospital or something?"

"I'm fine. What happened with that guy?"

He looks like a Jackson Pollock.

"He looks like a Jackson Pollock," I responded. 
I have a bad habit of speaking my mind.

"Pardon?"

"He fell off a roof as I was chasing him," I course corrected. "He's dead."

"Oh. That's...good."

She was looking at me funny and I could guess why. I was dressed like a Victorian gentleman, complete with long coat and cane. Well, the cane I'd lost in the fight. I took a moment to locate it and retrieve it.

"I guess I should be going," I said.

"I'll see you out."

I stood in the doorway. A dim lit light in the hallway shined just brightly enough to guide you to the stairs. I smiled at her, as we stood there, unsure of what else to say.

"Ask her about him," he hissed at me.

I sighed.

"Did you know that man?" I asked.

She shook her head no, but I could tell she was holding back. So I probed deeper.

"No? Should I tell the police he just followed you home?"

"The police? Do we really need to get them involved?"

"Of course," I lied. "A rapist is dead, in part, because of me. The police are going to want to know what happened."

"He wasn't raping me, he was trying to kill me. But I understand. do you think you could at least wait till morning? It's been a long night and I really need some time to process things."

"Ask her about who's in her closet," he whispered in my ear.

"Not at all. Goodnight to you," I said, ignoring him.

She bid me goodnight and closed the door. As I walked down the hall he materialized beside me. Short, skinny, and white with a stupid, push broom mustache. He was also dressed like a Victorian gentleman, though he had a bowler hat atop his scraggly brown hair.

"There's a man in her closet, tied at the hands and feet," he spoke.

"Don't care. Not my concern. That counts by the way. I'm at 14 now. She makes 14."

"That would only be the case if you had saved her life. She's still going to die tonight unless you intervene."

We had reached the stairs now and were descending.

"That man, by her own mouth, was there to kill her. I want credit for it, damn it."

"Alright. Since that was half the job, I'll credit you half a soul. If you're content to just have half, then by all means go home and celebrate."

We had reached the outdoors. The night was damp, but fresh. The city lights illuminated the streets, offering passerby a false sense of security. At home, a bottle of scotch was waiting for me. I hate to disappoint an old friend, especially when it's a liquid dinner date. But I'd waited a long time to move up in numbers.

I took the fire escape again. It's a good thing I'm in excellent shape, otherwise I might find this up and down exhausting. I arrived, out of breath, at the window I'd been in and out of all night. Inside I crept, looking around. She was gone, replaced by the body of a dead man who, by the looks of things, had been shot a half dozen times.

"Make him talk, will ya'?" I said to my companion.

He reached through the floor underneath the corpse and pulled something up. A moment later our sieve looking friend was gasping.

"Where's the girl gone to?" I asked the reanimated man.

"What's happening? Who are you?" he asked back.

"I'm Ian, this here is Thornton, and you're dead. Now that were all caught up, why don't you tell me where the girl went?"

"She's gone after McLaren. I'm dead? Oh, God, I am! I remember."

"Who's McLaren?" I demanded, shaking him.

"God, I'm sorry. I shoulda listened to my mama. Please God, forgive me."

Suddenly, a light flashed over the goon, illuminating his body. A second later his soul was gone.

"Son of a bitch," I spat.

"It's your own fault, for reminding him he was dead. Once a soul is reclaimed after death, it's taken immediately."

"Yes, thank you, Thornton, I remember. Doesn't really help me out right now though, does it?"

"I'm just saying..." Thornton just said.

I rifled through the twice dead man's pockets. There was no wallet or anything that could ID him. I did however find a matchbook. Little tip out there for you amateur sleuths, there's always a matchbook. I don't know why --maybe people really love fire-- but there's always a matchbook.

The one I got off the corpse directed me to a dive bar across town. I grabbed Corpse-y Magoo, and hefted him up the fire escape to the roof. Thornton helped for a change. Once on the roof I hefted him into the ally down below. Best I could do with limited time. That taken care of, I headed down the fire escape for what I hoped was the last time.

Back in my car, I headed to the bar. Thornton sat patiently beside me. Cops were already blocking up the road by where the first body had dropped. I circled round, heading down a side street. It was a cool night and I drove with the windows down enjoying the wind drying the sweat off my head.

"You know, I have to admit that was impressive," I said to Thornton.

"What's that?" he responded.

"In the time we walked down the stairs, she killed him and managed to get down the fire escape."

"You would find that admirable," he said in disgust.

I smiled and drove on. The dive bar on the matchbook was closed when we got there. I peered through a window but no one seemed to be home. Just to be sure, and because I'm polite, I knocked. When there was no answer, I felt satisfied in having done my due diligence. Using the brass knob on the end of my cane, I smashed a window and let myself in.

The bar was not what I expected. For one, there was no bar. For two, it was stacked full of boxes. I slit the one on top and had a look. It was full of matchbooks like the one in my pocket. The label on the side was a little more helpful as it was addressed to a Sean McLaren. The address was to the bar, but at least I had a first name to go along with the last.

"Got any ideas on how to find this Sean McLean?" Thornton asked.

I looked up from my phone. "Really? It's called Google, ya' nob. I realize you've been dead for some time, but that's no excuse for not keeping up with technology."

The search results led me to news stories about a suspected drug lord. From there it was a couple quick jumps to connect him to a Chinese restaurant. I helped myself to a box of matches. I could feel Thornton's scowl as I loaded the box into the back of my black, '65 Ford Falcon.

"What do you need with all those matches?" he asked.

"I don't know. I just really love fire, I guess."

Ming's China Palace wasn't far from the bar. I enjoy Chinese food as much as the next person. If tonight's events could be resolved without too much violence, I'd have to see if they were any good. That said, I would not be entering via traditional means. Whatever hope I'd had of not using anymore fire escapes that night was quickly dashed by the site of the young lady I'd saved earlier, entering a window three stories up.

"Drug dealing Chinese restaurant...what a cliche tonight is turning into," I muttered to myself.

I climbed up the stairs, as quietly as I could, thankful that this was a much shorter trip up. At the window I stopped and peered carefully around the edge. Inside was well lit. My young friend was sneaking up on a man twice her build. A moment later and she had him in a choke hold. He struggled, lifting her into the air and bashing her against the wall.

"What are you waiting for?" Thornton poked at me.

"She seems fine so far. I wanna see where this goes."

Where it went, was down. The big man had run out of steam and oxygen. She rode him to the floor like a kitten on a moose. Seconds later she was back up. Just in time for a group of five to enter the fray. None were as big as the moose, but each one had a hundred pounds on her easily. They all had bats and knives. No guns, I was surprised to see.

The first one that came to meet her swung wide. She ducked quickly, and landed a punch in his gut. I looked closer. More than a punch! She'd left a knife embedded in his stomach. He collapsed in a heap, by his moose buddy. Next came two at once. One was brandishing a baseball bat, the other a heavy metal chain. As they swung their respective weaponry in unison, our young heroine leaped into the air, grabbing hold of a light fixture dangling from the ceiling and kicked them both in their faces.

"You know it really is a shame that the criminal world is just as sexist as any other corporation," I said to Thornton who was looking on appalled as the two goons crumpled to the ground. "See how quick and nimble she is? And they don't have any female talent on their side to match her."

The final two chickened out and ran for help. She took that moment to catch her breath. I found myself breathless as well, admiring her dark beauty. The next group that came in was easily three times the size of the first. They had guns too, which hardly seemed fair to me. I'd been enjoying the show.

From the back of the group, a mid 30's Asian guy, stepped out. He wore a perfectly tailored suit and expensive shoes. His expression was of pain, like all villains get when they feign butt hurt over some perceived betrayal. His words soon confirmed my feelings.

"What are you doing here, Neska? This isn't like you," he said.

"You know why I'm here, McLeren," she replied. "What you did to my sister was inhuman."

"That was between me and her. She had a debt to pay and I settled it. As far as I'm concerned the matter is in the books."

"Not between you and me it isn't."

"Neska, Neska, Neska. Do you see all these men with all these guns? I'd hate to see something as beautiful as you ruined. It'd be like defacing a Picasso."

"I will kill you, even if it's with my last breath," she promised.

"Fine, have it your way," he said, waving it off with his hand. "Kill her, please."

Guns were raised. I took this as my sign it was time to intervene.

"We're on Thornton," I said, leaping in the window.

Everyone in the room, while surprised at my appearance, quickly recovered and began firing at me. Neska, took the opportunity to run out of the way. Thornton, my spiritual friend, began swirling around me like a mist. As the bullets ran through his ghostly body they were decelerated to a level that would leave bruises later, but not penetrate my flesh.

What's the point of having a cane if it doesn't do anything, right? I twisted at the top and pulled, revealing a rather cruel looking dagger. This paired with the knife in my jacket, and I felt fashionably attired for the fight. Realizing their bullets were useless, most had dropped their guns and retrieved hand weapons of their own.

I would love to write in great detail about the melee, but the trouble is, when you're in one it's not really as exciting as watching. There was a lot of ducking and dodging. A couple managed to penetrate Thornton's protection and cut me, or give me a good punch, but that was it. Mostly I slashed my way through the lot of them.

I noted at one point that dear, sweet Neska, had joined me in the fight. She was marvelous. Watching her was like watching a ballet bathed in blood. I was actually pleased to be saving her. A sentiment I rarely felt. At last, after what was, again mostly grueling work, the room was littered about with the dead. I looked upon my work and was pleased.

There was only one left to dispatch. Sean McLeren stood against the door looking on. He had that jaded look upon his face that can only come from a life of brutality. I approached him, knives in hand, ready to complete the task.

"What's your deal?" Sean asked me. "Are you a hired hand for Neska? I'll pay you triple if you take her out right now."

"Money doesn't interest me. I owe a debt that needs to be repaid."

"Please, let me do it," Neska implored. "Let me kill that Irish son of a bitch for what he did to my sister."

"Irish?" I responded. "He's Chinese."

"I'm Irish-Korean, you racist asshole."

"Really? Why Chinese then? Why not a Korean restaurant?"

"I hate kimchi," he answered.

"Huh, fair enough. He's all yours Miss Neska."

I stepped aside and offered her a knife. She took it from my hand and approached him. Out in a flash came his gun. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought to frisk him. I was so quick to let her have her revenge for...whatever, and now I was about to lose my 14th soul. I started to run, to head her off, but as it turned out she was quicker than I was.

The knife I'd given her flew threw the air, and landed in his arm, causing him to drop his gun. She quickly followed after, landing on top of him, a syringe in her hand. God knows what was inside it, but a moment later he was writhing in agony. Another moment later, and he wasn't doing anything ever again.

Danger seemingly over, Thornton stopped spinning his protective mist around me and materialized as a man again.

"Well done," he said.

Neska looked up from the man she'd just killed to me.

"Who and what are you guys?" she asked.

I looked at Thornton startled, then back to her.

"You can see him?" I asked in return.

"Of course I can. I'm not going to miss two dudes dressed like Pride and Prejudice."

"Double huh. This is an interesting development, to say the least. Anyone up for Chinese?" I wiped my dagger clean and inserted it back in the cane, before heading out the door.

"Is he serious?" she asked Thornton.

"You get used to him after awhile," he responded.

Downstairs I ordered myself some lo mein and crab rangoons. They were okay, but nothing special. McLeren should have stuck to drugs and left the food business to the experts. Still, food is food. I sat there eating it as a barrage of questions were hurled at me. Who was I? Why had I helped her? How did I know to help her? Why didn't the bullets kill me? How does Thornton...Thornton? I happily ignored her, choosing to focus on my food instead. Thornton, not able to partake in the meal, filled her in on the details.

"200 souls?" she asked.

"Yes, madam," Thornton replied. "A debt to be repaid to the universe by Mr. Caliber for his sins."

"What sin did he commit?"

I wiped my mouth and answered that one.

"Quite a few, but in this instance murder."

"Who did you kill?" Neska asked.

"Me, of course," Thornton spoke nonchalantly.

I stood up and threw some money down on the table before continuing.

"Well, this stroll down memory lane has been fun, but I really only stayed this long cause I was craving Chinese. I think I'll head out."

"Wait," she said, pulling on my sleeve. "I'd like to help. I have skills --ones you don't even know about. I think I could you help with your quest."

I laughed. "I don't do sidekicks. You can lose souls that way. Best of luck to you, 14."

I exited, leaving Thornton to handle any unfinished business he might have. I got as far as opening the door before I turned around. I walked back slowly to my dinner dates and slumped down in my still warm booth. Thornton was twirling his thumbs and rolling his eyes innocently, like this was some damn Laurel and Hardy routine.

"Did you forget something?" asked Neska.

"It would appear that I'm without a mode of transportation currently as my car is on fire," I responded and glared at the ghost beside me.

"I certainly hope you don't think that I would..." Thornton responded, over-dramatizing the hurt in his voice. "That is to say, what did you expect, hauling a big box of matches around like that in the back of your car?"

"Uh-huh." I sighed and prepared to swallow my pride. "Neska, I don't suppose you could give me ride?"

"Of course," she replied. "It's the least I can do."

"Splendid!" Thornton exclaimed. "Now you two will have a chance to talk more."

"Sometimes Thornton..." I said, rubbing my wearied head. "Sometimes I wish I could kill you again."


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Amalgamation of Mr. Tex



I am starting
Staring, feeling
I am...

Two inches from my face
A broken record
Catching reflections from my eye
Something missing
What's inside?
Aren't you curious to find you?
Floating on a river bound to hit Kingston Bay
Iceland, Greenland
Someone stop that mean man
Don't you let him get away
Enough to make you fade


Sure as I stand here
Sure as you stand there
I've dowsed the lantern
Ok, sure, so she's sure she don't wanna go?
Ok, sure, so she's so sure she don't wanna go


Mr. Tex is shyly waving
Bowing to pressure
That he pressured himself into
Sure as I'm waiting for
Sure as she's not


Mr. Tex
Insert time, name and date
File please
Take your place
Gotta catch the ferry outta here
Gotta chase the ferry out of fear
Hold on there
Hold on there
Still two vacancies left offshore
Still two rooms
We can take two more

Mr. Tex step inside
Let me be your shadow
Let us be your guide
If you have any questions, as I'm sure you may
You might wish to sail down the Hudson Bay
A man looking in a mirror
May see himself in you
A reflection of a man may show himself in you


Mr. Tex have a seat
Let me take your bags
Let you rest your feet
In case you haven't noticed, on the far wall
A vacant hole calls, beckoning to all
The other day three men stepped in
--Three men are only one--
One copper, one gold, the other tin
How you start isn't how you begin
Sit here, for now they're done
A little alchemy
A little fun
This ship we're on
Has a way
To make firm wakes from day to day
From here to now the party starts
Would you care for a dessert from our cart?


I am starting,
Staring, feeling
I am...

Looking at my feet
A glass shattered on the floor
Reflecting an image I don't know
Something missing, Something new
Aren't you curious,
What's inside you?
Floating on a river bound to hit Baffin Bay
Scotland, England
Someone made that mean of man
Couldn't let us get away
Enough to watch us fade


Sure as we stand here
Sure as we stand there
I've dowsed the mirror
Trying hard to look away
Wish to God I wouldn't stay


Poor Mr. Tex
Along with his friends
Found our beginning
At each other's end.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

After the End [Short Story]





I turned off the TV and headed to the back of my house where my bed awaited me. I understood what they were saying on the news. It was no longer some weirdo in front of the Supermart accosting me with a sign that proclaimed 'The End Is Near.' This was the actual moment. No more clever theological discussions and no more political pundits talking turkey. All the talk was about to disappear forever.

THE APOCALYPSE.

The words bounced around in my head as a small smile crawled up one side of face coyly. I guess I've always been a bit weird. While most kids were playing soccer in the schoolyard, I was sitting alone in the sandbox, pondering the end of civilization or reading books on survival. A queer kind of neurosis that wouldn't ever really allow me to do anything with my life. After all, if the end were to come, what difference would any accomplishments make? And now I had heard the words spoken as gospel on the lips of talking heads.

I grabbed an extra blanket and spread it out on my bed. Most of my life has been a sleepless dream. Insomnia comes in many forms and I've experienced them all at one time or another. Yet that night I was tired and knew I'd have no troubles falling asleep. As I slowly undressed, I began thinking of all that would be gone come the morning.

No more Mrs. Lafiter and her morning routine. Every morning at 6:05, regardless of the weather, she could be found walking her dog on our quiet, suburban street. Every morning for the past 6 years since I'd moved to Maple street, I'd awoken to the sounds of that damned dog. A chuckle escaped my lips at the thought of a peaceful dawn. Mrs. Lafiter would be gone forever. For that matter so would that poodle-dachshund, thing.

My second grade teacher had once overheard me talking about the end to myself. You may have guessed, I was bullied quite a bit. At the moment of eavesdropping I was fantasizing about all the bullies in my world dying. Simple, childish way of lashing out. My mother came to take me home early that day. As we drove home in our old, midnight blue Mercury Cougar station wagon, she didn't say a word to me. In fact no one did the rest of the day. We ate dinner in silence. In the morning we resumed as if nothing had happened. I just inherently understood, it was something for me to be more careful about in the future.

Even now I was still sensitive to bullies. Even when they weren't mine. Reginald Peterson lived three doors down from me. I thought of him as I slipped on a stained white t-shirt. Reggie as my neighbors called him, was a bully like the ones I grew up with. I remember one day I saw him beating on a child half his size. The eyes were pleading to me for help. I stepped in, and Reggie ran off afraid. I've never thought bullies running away was cowardice. More strategic. I saved a boy that day from further hurt, but I had opened the door to a lot of pranks. Flaming bags and toilet paper rolls became an everyday part of life. Reginald Peterson, he too would be gone now.

So would all the rest of my neighbors. The ones who whispered rumors as I walked by. Those who talked over fences and parked cars, discussing my eccentricities as if I couldn't hear them. But I heard. I knew their laughter. Soon they would all be gone and silence would prevail upon the earth.

I closed my eyes. An image of a thousand butterflies filled my head. When I was 16 my parents took me to mexico for a festival that celebrated the arrival of the Monarch Butterflies. I had learned in science about the path they take to migrate each year. It was fascinating to me, the life and death cycle. My parents saw it as a chance to encourage a more normal behavior in me.

I was dazzled by the site of them fluttering through the sky. A cloud of red and black wings, swirling around within itself. I couldn't quantify it. They weren't a liquid, yet the way they moved, was fluid in the sky. A pool of water swimming through the air, creating tiny eddies of butterflies. I felt drawn to them, the way I sometimes felt when visited the ocean. I wanted to become a part of it. I wanted to join my soul to that liquid.

Sleep came then. I lay in my bed, not bothered by the sound of something whistling through the sky. The shaking of my house that followed, rocked me further and further away. While I dreamed of Mexico and monarchs, I was blissfully unaware that power had gone out all over the city. Had no idea about the fires that sprung up in a forest a mile and a half away. Even the churning of concrete as the ground opened wide, rippling down the middle of Main Street, held nothing for me. I slept more soundly then I ever have in my life.

Hours passed, before I awoke. The sound of barking outside my house sat me upright. I looked at my alarm clock but discovered there was no power. I grabbed my watch from the side table. 6:06 am. I couldn't believe it. That damn dog had survived. It didn't occur to me that I too had survived. I got up quickly and looked out the curtains ready to see what the apocalypse had wrought. What I saw was unbelievable. Hurriedly I got dressed and headed out the front door.

"Howdy, Neighbor!" came the cheery salute from Mrs. Lafiter.

I looked around. There was damage everywhere. Several houses were in various stages of collapse. At least three different cars had large rocks, possibly meteorites, crushing them. There were many cracks and crevices dotted around the street. I saw Reginald Peterson peering into one and pointing out things to a group of smaller children, who were intrigued. Various mothers were scolding them and yelling at them to come back away from the fissures.

"What the hell happened?" I asked Ben Palmer, the local handyman.

"What do you mean 'what happened?' The apocalypse happened," he responded.

"Yes, but why are we still alive?"

"Isn't it wonderful?" Mrs. Palmer jumped in. "I heard it on my husband's old shortwave radio. No casualties."

"Yeah, and not just here. The whole world is shot to hell but no one is dead." This last came from Michelle Edenberg, who held on to the hand of a squirming four year old girl.

"The end of the world came and no one died?" I asked aloud, more to myself than anyone else.

"Not yet," Ben answered. "From what they're saying on the shortwave, every nation has been leveled. It's going to take decades to rebuild. Power plants are down all over the world. I'm not even sure how the shortwave is still operating. I'll tell you what though, everyone's on their own. We're going to have to figure out how to survive."

I smiled, for the first time in my life feeling no dread hanging overhead. More than that, feeling like I had purpose. Like I belonged. The apocalyptic child had come home.

"You're in luck," I said, "I know all about surviving at the end of the world."



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Strikes Again, Claims Life Of 'All For Love'



'All For Love' 1993-2016 

2016, malicious and devastating as it's been, claiming the lives of our favorite celebrities, has left us with yet one more fatality. The song 'All For Love' has died at the age of young age of 23. Featuring the vocal talents of Rod Stewart, Sting, and Bryan Adams (who also penned the song) it was a part of The Three Musketeer soundtrack. Known for the video attached to the movie in theaters, it famously featured the three virtuosos singing about their love for one another.

While the cause of death is yet undetermined, 'All For Love' is said to have died at its home in San Diego, CA with its partner of ten years, Berlin's 1986 hit 'Take My Breath Away'. It is survived by Bryan Adams, Sting, and Rod Stewart. For now.


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