STUDENT VANISHES DURING SCHOOL LOCKDOWN

MIMS HallwayMysterious “Creatures” That Terrorized Students May Have Been Mass Hallucination

Police and school officials are baffled after a student vanished during a lockdown at the Mystic Island Middle School. Jacob Grist, an eighth grader at Mystic Island Middle School, disappeared “into thin air” during the emergency lockdown at the school, police said. The school was put in lockdown because of an apparent “hallucinatory incident.”

Dispatchers received a 911 call from the school around 8:00am. The caller, one of the school’s secretaries, reported that “creatures had overrun the school.” She went on to describe the creatures as “giant dogs,” “skeletons and zombies,” and a “gorilla.” Upon arrival at the scene, Police Officers Jordan Raymond and Andrew Mann confirmed that there were apparently “creatures terrorizing the school.”

“It was unbelievable. Literally unbelievable,” Officer Mann said, “I know it sounds crazy, but I was fighting off skeletons and zombies. I had to rescue several of the children from their grasps.”

Officer Raymond and the school’s art teacher, John Berkley, ran through the halls to direct students to safety. They reportedly came upon Jacob Grist and another student, Tommy Rogers, being terrified by what appeared to be a gorilla and a wolf. When Officer Raymond drew his gun, the creatures and Jacob Grist vanished. Tommy Rogers fell to the floor with apparent chemical burns from a magic marker someone used to draw on his arms and torso.

Police Captain Gerald Orvac said, “Needless to say, we are still trying to determine exactly what happened, which seems, at the moment, to be an impossible task. We can only assume that this was some sort of mass hallucination.”

Paintings of the creatures were found on the floors throughout the school. “Chemical analysis of the creatures show they are comprised of common acrylic paints,” said Captain Orvac, “but they are proving to be very difficult to remove from the floor. We aren’t sure what the paintings represent. Maybe, if this was a mass hallucination, they served as some kind of suggestive catalyst.”

Investigators from the FBI and Homeland Security were called in to be sure the event was not a terrorist chemical attack, but they could find no evidence of any chemical residue.

“I have no explanation at all for what happened,” said Principal Michael Cooper. “All I know is that I saw monsters attacking the school. And there must have been some kind of mind-altering property to whatever caused the incident, because I know I reacted in a way very unlike myself during a lockdown. I had a definite rare moment of confusion.”

Police are still searching for Jacob Grist. Police said that Jacob’s step father, Dennis Walsh, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound two days prior. Captain Orvac said, “We are not sure if Dennis Walsh’s death is in any way connected to Jacob’s disappearance at this time. The circumstances surrounding his step father’s death are still vague, but we can’t rule out that some kind of hallucinatory agent could have been involved in that too.”

Jacob’s mother, Joanne Walsh, is pleading with the public to provide any information at all that could lead to finding her son. Jacob is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Police urge anyone with information on the incident at the middle school or to the whereabouts of Jacob Grist to call them immediately.

The Ring

mystic-island-map-v2_03Pay attention. This story is true. And there is a moral. And maybe a test.

Imagine sitting in a car in the parking lot of The Whale’s Tale restaurant, one of those trendy seafood places, where the wait staff wear pins to show how hip they are. You’re not from the island, and you are sitting with a few buddies, waiting to head off to one of the only still-functioning drive-ins on the East Coast. Your buddies are blazing up beside you, and you look out the windshield to see a wave of cats scrambling through the parking lot. There’s about five or six of them. One of your buddies hands you the pipe and you wave him off. For one thing, you don’t smoke, but more because you can’t take your eyes off what comes behind the cats. An old woman waddling along on her trunk legs as rolls of fat drape her body, ballooning her thighs and calves, blending her breasts and stomach, dripping down her right arm like candle wax. Her left arm, however, is not the same bloated distortion as the rest of her body. Her left arm is withered and twisted, like the first dying branch of an under-watered plant.

This woman shuffles out behind The Whale’s Tale, to a place where the restaurant shares a dumpster with The Dutch Horse Pub next door. The woman pushes the glasses to her face and she peers into the dumpster with beady eyes. She then smooths her downy white hair that dances as wisps in the breeze, and she begins rummaging in the dumpster. Some of the customers coming from the restaurant—the ones from off-island that The Whale’s Tale and drive-in are supposed to attract for summer business—think this woman rummaging so intently in a dumpster, with her rolling fat, withered arm, comical fishbowl glasses and cotton swab head, is some abomination against beauty and good taste. But there was a time when this woman was considered quite beautiful and full of life and spirit.

In 1967, this woman had gone to the drive-in, long before it was the hipster retro-relic that it is now. The woman saw Cool Hand Luke, and she ate dinner in the restaurant that is now The Whale’s Tale. This was back when it was a Chinese restaurant. The woman was on a night out with her fiancé, and during dinner, she and her fiancé began having a playful argument. The argument had most likely started out as being about Paul Newman, probably about how she loved his blue eyes. To this day, she has no concept what the argument was about, or how playful it had begun. But, by the time she and her fiancé had made it out to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, the playful argument had become an all-out fight. Who knows how such trivial things can escalate, but they do. And no one can be sure what was said to climax this fight. But the fight did climax, and it climaxed with the woman taking the engagement ring from her finger, storming to the back of the Chinese restaurant, and throwing it into the dumpster that was back there.

Her fiancé watched her do this from the sidewalk. He watched it with a perfect mask of shock and horror. And that look would follow the woman from her dreams for many years to come. After she’d thrown that ring away, her fiancé began to walk backwards, speechless, trying to separate from the hurt she’d inflicted upon him, edging backward into eternity. Her fiancé stepped off the curb and backed into the street, where, of course, as fate likes to play its games, a truck ran him down. And then it was her turn to wear shock and horror’s perfect mask.

About a week after her fiancé was mowed down by a truck, the woman returned to the Chinese restaurant. But she did not return there to eat. The woman—her clothes now ill-fitting and ill-matched, her hair no longer perfectly styled, her makeup no longer perfectly applied—wandered, disheveled, as if sleepwalking to the dumpster. The woman began digging through the trash, searching for the ring, as if finding it and replacing it to her finger would somehow bring back that fateful day from her past. Somehow bring back her fiancé from the grave.

The husband and wife owners of the Chinese restaurant came out to the dumpster. They recognized the woman and they took pity on her. When they asked her what she searched for, she did not answer. The woman just looked into their eyes. Her eyes looking as if searching the distant reaches of Heaven and Hell. She simply raised her hand and pointed to her ring finger before returning to her rummaging. The Chinese couple, recognizing what she was alluding to, climbed into the dumpster and helped her search in vain for the ring.

When the woman returned the next day, the couple did not help her search again, but they did offer her food, which she refused. And the woman continued to refuse that food as the Chinese couple offered it every day to her for the next almost thirty years.

Then people from off the island bought the Chinese restaurant in the late 90s and turned it into The Whale’s Tale. The new managers no longer offered the woman food. They didn’t offer the woman help. They didn’t offer the woman sympathy. The new managers shooed the woman away, along with the countless cats that now accompanied her, hoping for scraps as she dug through the dumpster’s contents. The new restaurant’s managers cursed the woman. They berated her with nasty names. They called the police.

When the police arrived, some of the older officers knew the woman’s story, and they would shrug at the complaining manager. But the newer police officers would drag the woman off in a cruiser. And when she returned the next day, they would drag her off again.

The new restaurant’s trendy, young staff would scoff at the woman. They would make fun of the woman. They would shout cruel things to her. The customers, heading into the building for their trendy meals, would sneer at the woman. They would complain to the manager about her. The customers did not want the sight of a woman battling the past, searching for salvation, mourning a moment never to be redeemed, to interfere with their appetites. Their appetites were very important. And they paid good money for a meal not to be ruined by such sights.

Only The Whale’s Tale’s kitchen staff ever showed any sympathy for the woman. The kitchen staff, as with many kitchen staffs, was of Central and South American decent, and they understood the bad luck of the woman’s plight.

So, to this day, this old woman comes to this dumpster to search for her lost ring. One waiter at the restaurant, one a little more sensitive than the ones scoffing and shouting vulgarities at the woman, once said, “The only things that are definite in life are death, taxes, and that old lady digging in the dumpster.” A Brazilian dishwasher once said of the woman, “Even though blood still pumps through that woman’s veins, she is a ghost. That dumpster is haunted, and it will be forever.”

So what did happen to the ring the woman threw away so many years ago? Well, it fell to the bottom of the dumpster, was transferred to a garbage truck, dumped in a landfill, squashed into an egg roll, swallowed by a seagull, shat into the sand of a beach, and washed away on the tide. It was a fate similar to the ring’s owner: a woman swallowed by fate, shat out by life, and forever wandering the tide of regret.

The End

The Smell From My Brother’s Room

Brother's Room

E.B. Richardson
The Smell From My Brother’s Room

What is that smell from my brother’s room?

 

It’s eerie and frightening like impending doom.

 

What is that smell?  What is its host?

 

Dead leaves, rotten eggs, old cheese, a wet bag?

 

Whatever it is, it smells gross!

 

What is that smell from my brother’s room?

Could it be a mutant plant or alien flower in bloom?

 

What is that stench he has to endure,

a growing disease, or maybe a cure?

 

What is that smell?  I simply must know.

 

I’ll muster my courage, I’ll muster my strength,

and into my brother’s room I will go.

 

But wait!  I don’t know what’s behind that door.

 

What if it’s a monster with bad intentions at its core?

 

I could knock, and then, “Come in,” it might hungrily implore.

 

Or…

 

What if it’s a giant dragon in there today,

whose mouth fills up the entire doorway?

 

I could walk through that door into certain death.

That smell I keep smelling could be its bad breath!

 

What if it’s a troll looking to deposit

missing kids into my brother’s closet?

 

I could scream all I wanted, I could cry and stomp all aflutter.

They’d never find me, not in that closet’s clutter.

 

What is that smell?  I’ve got to know.

 

Is it a body he’s hiding?  My brother does like Edgar Allen Poe.

 

So… Is it a dragon’s bad breath?  Or a monster’s BO?

 

My brother’s untimely death?  Ah, that’s wishful thinking, I know.

 

Is it a flatulent ghost?  Or some gobbledy goo?

 

A diseased host?  Wait, don’t vampires smell, too?

 

That’s it!  The suspense has become much too thick!

 

I’ll just peak in the door.  I’ll just look real quick.

 

Here I go for the doorknob… Did I just hear a clatter?

 

I’m going to open it… I hope I can hold onto my bladder.

 

I’m opening the door.  Boy, it smells foul!

 

I’ll slam it shut again, should anything howl.

 

And there we have it… the source could be no other;

 

the smell in the room is only my brother.

 

 

The Umbrella

The BarHarvey Paine sat at a round, beat up table in The Captain’s Quarters. He watched as Fred stumbled from the bathroom and stretched for the bar like a marathon runner for finish tape. “I’ll take anoder one,” Fred demanded with slurred voice, pulling a worn, crumpled dollar bill from his pocket and handing it over like his soul to the devil.  The television over the bar squawked about the recent assassination attempt on President Reagan. The newscaster’s voice said, “Once again, President Reagan has been shot. Details are still coming in at this time, but we have reports that the president and two other men, one of which may be James Brady, have been gunned down by an unknown shooter.”

Fred gripped the edge of the bar, closing one eye to get a better look at the television screen. “Good,” he bellowed, “I wisssh they killed the muva Fuga. He’s a fuggin actor, not a prez-dent.”

The bartender of the Captain’s Quarters at that time was Gray Lewis. Gray was drying a clean glass with a dirty rag and he didn’t bother to look at the man gripping his bar. Gray said, “Take it easy, Fred.”

Fred, who complained about four prior presidents while gripping the same bar, pointed at Gray, Fred closing one eye again to get a better view. He said “Look, you led me tell you something about Prezdent Reagan.” Of course, Fred could say all he wanted, Gray wouldn’t bother to hear it.

Charlene, the waitress at The Captain’s Quarters, stood beside Harvey’s table. “That’s something about the President, huh?” she said.

Harvey flinched. He hadn’t noticed that the woman was standing beside him. “What?” Harvey said.

Charlene said, “The President. Getting shot and all. It’s kind of crazy.”

“Oh, the president, yeah.” Harvey didn’t look at the waitress or the newscast on the television, or at Fred any longer, for that matter. He now stared at the beer bottle across the table from him, the bottle a twin of the one in his own hand.

Charlene said, “You want me to put that on ice, hon?”

Harvey regarded the beer for a moment and said, “Um, no, it’s fine, Charlene, its owner should be here any minute.” Harvey reached for a pack of cigarettes sitting in the center of the table, but when he noticed the bar’s front door open and shut, he stopped, pushing the cigarette pack back to the table’s center. A well-dressed man, younger than Harvey, more clean-cut than Harvey, slighter than Harvey, stepped into the bar. The man scanned the bar, his eyes fighting their sudden plunge into the dimness of The Captain’s Quarters. When the man’s eyes were adjusted, he spotted Harvey. Then the younger, better dressed, slighter version of Harvey approached the table. Harvey said to Charlene, “In fact, here he is now.”

Charlene turned and spotted the man, and without a word, she slinked away into the corners of the bar.

A smile touched Harvey’s mouth—the smile vacant from his eyes—Harvey saying, “Tom, my loving bro. I bought you a brew.”

Tom looked down at his brother, Tom regarding Harvey’s ringed eyes and the scruff stretching across his chin like corn ready for harvest. Harvey inflated his chest, lifting the listless, wide shoulders drooping beneath the faded fatigues jacket. “You’re drunk,” Tom said.

“And you’re ugly,” Harvey said, “but I’ll be sober in the morning.”

“No you won’t,” Tom said.

Harvey nodded, and with a nasal chuckle, he said, “All right.” Harvey then motioned to the chair across the table from him. “Have a seat. You’re looking good.”

Tom glanced around the bar as he pulled the chair from the table. He sat down across from his brother, looking a moment at the beer bottle before him. He motioned to the beer, saying, “This mine?” Harvey stared at the beer in front of his brother. He nodded, as if responding to a question asked by the bottle. Tom took a sip from the beer and then studied the bottle’s label. “So, how’re you doing?” he asked, he, too, seeming to address the bottle and not the person across the table from him.

Harvey said, “Tom, let’s skip the bullshit, what do you want?”

“What do you mean?”

“What are you doing here? Why did you call me? What do you want?”

“Well,” Tom said, “I just. . . you know Saturday’s Mom’s birthday, right? And we were wondering if you’re coming home to see her?”

Harvey grinned. “Yeah, I’m jumping out of the cake.”

“Harvey, why are you. . . Why do you do this?”

“Do what?”

“This bullshit act you do,” Tom said. He gestured across the table as if Harvey was a spot of dirt missed by a cleaning woman, Tom saying, “Look at you.”

Harvey looked down, inspecting himself. “Yeah?”

“Don’t you think you’re being a little self-destructive?” Tom said in a patronizing, sarcastic tone. Harvey hated that tone.

“I’m fine.”

“You look like shit.”

“Thanks,” Harvey said. He watched Fred fumble in his wallet for another soul.

“When’s the last time you were sober?” Tom said.

“1972.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“Look, Tom, I’m fine, so you can just. . .”

“You think you’re fine? Look at you.” Tom’s voice cracked on these last three words.

Harvey’s voice was steady. “Look, Tom, it’s nice to see you and all, but I don’t need to listen to your preacher bit today. I’ve already heard enough shit to. . .”

Tom said, “Mom and Dad want to. . .”

Harvey’s voice suddenly rose as he growled, “Fuck Mom and Dad.”

Gray, Charlene, and even the almost comatose Fred, glanced over uneasily at Harvey and his brother.

Harvey lowered his voice and said, “Mom and Dad don’t give a shit. And don’t pretend like they do. They don’t know, or care to know, anything about me. Why? Because they didn’t want to hear it then. And they still don’t want to hear it now.”

“Look, Harvey, we’ve all got problems.”

“Oh, really? And I suppose you know all about it.”

“I’m guessing this is all about the war again.”

“Don’t start, Tom.”

“No, really, Harvey, you’re blaming it all on the war still, right? Same bullshit as before?”

“Tom, don’t start, you don’t know what you’re talking about. So don’t go looking like an asshole, or stupid, or both.”

“Hey, Harvey, I got a news flash for you. War’s over, man. Has been for years. So you can stop fighting it.”

“Stop fighting it? Is that what you just said to me? Huh, College Boy?”

Tom looked down at the bottle in his hand. He muttered, “Don’t call me that.” He took a sip of his beer and then played with the bottle’s label as he gathered his words. Harvey watched the television over the bar, the news showing—for what seemed the millionth time—Reagan waving to the crowd and being sacked by secret service men. Tom said, “Look, Harvey, we all care about you.”

Harvey rolled his eyes.

Tom continued, saying, “No, we do. And we don’t want. . .”

Harvey interrupted him, and in a bellowing voice said, “To have to listen to Dad saying, yep, in W-W-two, we saw people dying, but we didn’t come home to mope and only be satisfied when we lost all our jobs and get so drunk we puke up our guts in the toilet.”

“Harvey, stop the dramatics. You. . .”

“It’s a zit. Get it?”

“Excuse me?” Tom said, raising his eyebrows.

“Animal House, you remember?” Harvey said.

“What are you talking about?” Tom asked, shaking his head.

Harvey shrugged and gulped his beer. He watched the television hanging over the bar, the Secret Service Agents tackling Reagan in super-slow-motion. “I don’t know. That line keeps popping into my head.”

“Okay?” Tom said in the tone of one missing a punch line.

Harvey broke his gaze with the television and looked at his brother, Harvey saying, “You know that scene from Animal House? It popped into my head last night, and it’s been there ever since. It popped into my head when I was bent over the toilet puking out my guts. Is that what you want to hear? That that was my last thought before I passed out, and the pink elephants went once more on parade?”

“That was your last thought?” Tom said, his tone now one who finally got the punch line, but who had deemed the joke unfunny.

“Yeah,” Harvey said.

“Belushi spitting out mashed potatoes,” Tom said.

“Yeah.”

“So, just to get this straight, as you’re puking your guts out, a line from Animal House is what you think of?”

“Yup.”

“Why?”

“Because I forgot my umbrella,” Harvey said.

“Harvey, I’m getting pissed off. What are you talking about?”

“It’s just a little tool I picked up.”

“An umbrella,” Tom said.

“Yeah.” Harvey took a sip of beer and then said, “Whenever a thought creeps into my head that I don’t want there, I snuff it out by concentrating on something else.”

“Like an umbrella.”

“Yeah. Like an umbrella. I open that umbrella in my head, and it fills my thoughts, blocking whatever was fucking with me.”

“What’s this got to do with Animal House?”

Harvey said, seemingly addressing his beer, “I don’t know. Last night I was real messed up. Puking out my guts, and all.”

“Yeah, I think we’ve established that already,” Tom said. “So then Belushi pops into your head?”

“No. I was looking for that umbrella. . . Like I said, I was real messed up, and I just wanted it to end. I even had the .45 to my temple.”

Tom moaned, “Here we go.”

“One second, and it could be over. A lifetime of pain packed into a barrel. And I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to think about. Funny, because it was always automatic—I got more trick umbrellas than the Penguin on Batman—but I couldn’t remember it. I felt like I was dying, like my insides were decomposing, and all I had to do was put myself down like a sick animal. But that umbrella didn’t come. It never came. So I thought about Belushi in Animal House—my favorite scene in my favorite movie.” Harvey took a sip of the beer he’d been addressing, and then he put down the bottle and looked at his brother, his brother silently regarding him. Harvey said, “So, you know, man, don’t go preaching to me about any war being over. That war’s still in me, always will be. It grows in me, eats away like some kind of parasite or cancer. That war took everything from me, and all I’m left with is a fucking umbrella.”

Tom continued to regard his brother in silence. Then he began a loud slow applause, Tom saying, “Bravo, big brother. Magnificent speech. But you forget, I happen to know you’re full of shit. I know that you’re just feeling sorry for yourself. And we are all tired of having to watch you self-destruct. We’re all tired of it. So why don’t you. . .”

Harvey said in a low voice, “You ever see a body?”

But Tom didn’t hear him, Tom continuing on with his own speech, “. . .just let go. I mean, sure, I wasn’t there, sure I don’t. . .”

Harvey said again in his low voice, “You ever see a body?”

“What?”

“A body. You ever seen one?”

Tom said with a dismissive shrug, “I’ve seen a few nice ones at the Naked Eye.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know what you meant. I was just making light.”

“Nothing light about a dead body, “ Harvey said. “Fact, they’re pretty heavy. Dead weight. Where do you think that expression came from? The soul doesn’t weigh much, makes no difference in a body’s heft when it’s gone. So tell me, you ever see a body?”

“Harvey, look, I don’t want to get into. . .”

Harvey’s voice was just above a whisper, “You ever see a body?”

Tom said, “Yeah. Granddad’s wake. . .”

Harvey burst into laughter, “Ha. Granddad lying in the suit he was married in. Lying there, being viewed by his grandson, future Mr. College Boy. They were all so proud of College Boy. Our hero.”

“Harvey. . .”

“Know what happens when Granddad’s lid is shut, And he’s lowered into the ground? They rot you know.”

“Harvey, stop. . .”

“No, they do. Bugs crawl in and out of their nose and mouth. I’ve seen plenty of dead bodies. Skin gets bloated and this weird color, like it’s pale, but not. Like a purple tinge or something. And sometimes the eyes are open, and you can see his last expression and wonder what was going through his mind at that final moment. Mom? Dad? Wife? Children? Or just, Fuck, this is it, this is really it, I’m dying. I can still see them, those bodies.” Harvey reached for the pack of cigarettes sitting in the center of the table. “I lie in bed, and they’re there, hovering above me like ghosts. I throw the covers over my head, but I know they’re there. They’ll always be there.” He extracted a cigarette and lit it with a silver plated lighter. He inhaled the smoke and then allowed it to seep from his mouth and nose. He looked at his brother as if he’d forgotten he was even sitting there. “Want a cigarette?” Harvey said, nudging the cigarette pack toward his brother.

“Haven’t smoked in years. You know that,” Tom said.

“Oh yeah.” Harvey took another haul from the cigarette and looked at his brother. He said, “You know anything about fear? I mean real fear. Know what it’s like to hit the ground because someone lit off a bottle rocket? Or the panic when you step out your front door and a little kid sneaks up with a toy gun, hollering, Bang.

“You’re blaming little kids now?” Tom said.

Harvey looked at his brother with weary contempt. He brought the cigarette to his lips, the end igniting with an orange flicker. He let the smoke roll slowly from his mouth, the smoke hanging in the air above the men like whales fluidly diving and rising toward the ceiling. “I’m not blaming anyone,” Harvey said. “I’m simply telling you what it’s like late at night, the darkness creeping upon you, and you wait, tensed, ready for something to spring from the dark, and your fear, and nightmares, and reality become one big blur.

“Get a nightlight.”

Harvey ignored his brother’s remark and let another drag of smoke roll from his mouth. He said, “You see, you try and find a reason to stumble out of bed in the morning, and sometimes the only reason you can muster is to find something to dull the pain.” He gulped the last of his beer and held up the bottle, saying, “It just helps me get by.”

“Everyone else gets by,” Tom said. “Look, Harvey, you’ve never bothered telling anyone what happened to you in the war, but there were thousands of guys, just like you, and they find ways to get by.”

“Look at Dad,” Harvey and Tom say this at the same time.

Tom shrugged, disgusted.

Harvey looked off toward the bar, as if focusing on a distant, phantom horizon. Harvey’s voice took a dreamy quality as he said, “Know something? It was easy to find a reason to get up in the war. Always a reason to get up there. Number one, the bugs stung you awake. And when you did wake, you sometimes thought you were home. Sometimes you’d wake up forgetting about the war altogether. But then you opened your eyes and the illusion was gone. Yeah, it was easy to get up when you had something to work for, like staying alive. I remember this one dawn Charlie stumbled over us. What a fucking mess. I shot bolt upright in a sleepy daze, saw tracers scurry through the camp like fireflies, heard crackling pops like firecrackers on the Fourth of July. . . and the yelling. The yelling seemed louder than the actual firefight. Some commanding, some panicking, some screaming like a little kid getting stung by a swarm of hornets. I looked at my buddy, Bobby Carrigan. We called him Bobcat. We looked at each other, my heart pounding in my chest like the artillery fire, and we couldn’t say anything, not a goddamn thing. Yet whole conversations passed in that split second look into each other’s eyes. I remember noticing my weapon was already in my hands. It was automatic, like a baby reaching for its mamma’s breast, but I didn’t know where to fire, which way to run. I wanted to find better cover, but I didn’t know if I’d just run into enemy fire. Bobcat shouted verses of the Hail Mary: ‘Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. . .’ and I felt something spray in my face. I looked down and Bobby’s blood was all over me, I could taste it, smell burning flesh. I remember the noise he made, high pitched, like a dog getting hit by a car. We looked at each other for the split second before he hit the deck, and you know, whole conversations can pass in those split second looks, and his was a look of. . . confusion. Good guy Bobby. Anyway, I got up and ran then. I ran pretty fucking fast, never letting go of a round. I kept my head down, held that rifle tight, crashing through bushes, almost tripping over my own feet, rocks and debris flying by my head, and bullets zinging past my ears with high-pitched buzzes like screaming bees. And I stumbled into a small clearing, and I. . . I saw one running, his back to me, and I felt my weapon go off. It vibrated in my hand, I couldn’t let go of the trigger. I emptied the entire clip into that gook’s back, and every time a round hit, he let out a higher screech. Like some horrible instrument playing scales. He didn’t even know he was in my sights, he was just running, like me. And I knew if I looked into his face, if I looked into his eyes, I knew what I’d see. Wife. Mother. Father. Or just, fuck, this is it, I’m really dead.” Harvey stood, looking down at his brother, Harvey saying, “I sent that gook running straight to hell. No one saw his last moment, but me. To everyone else, he was just another body found in the jungle, but for me, he’ll always be running.” Harvey pulled a couple of faded, crumpled bills from his pocket and slapped them on the table. He said, “And I’ll always be running after him, clinging to a goddamn umbrella.”

Harvey walked from the round, beat up table to the bar’s front door. He plunged from the darkness into the bright daylight, a ghost of a satisfied smile stretching across his lips.

Tom sat alone, staring at his beer. He glanced at the pack of cigarettes his brother left on the table and he reached for one.

The End

Salt and Lime

LilithMake no mistake about it, Satan is strikingly beautiful. She is tall, seemingly, but in reality, she is no taller than any given observer. It’s more that her presence breaks down the laws of relative height, increasing her stature and dwarfing her surroundings. Her features are delicate, doll-like. Her full, pouty lips appear as if hand painted. And her eyes shift color—from silver to gold—depending on the light…or her will. How do I know all this about Satan? I’ve met her, know her well. But this story isn’t about my association with her. This is the story of Christopher Foster, and the wager he made.

So, picture Satan sitting there, just as Christopher saw her, turned with her long, bare legs crossed at the thigh, running parallel to the bar, her thin torso fluidly bending, seductive, serpentine. With one hand, she rubbed her thigh as if adjusting her short, black dress, her other hand fidgeted with one of her opal earrings. Her red hair was drawn atop her head, revealing the back of her swan neck and making visible a twisting tattoo at the top of her spine. The tattoo appeared to be an infinity symbol, but, like all aspects of her, appearances are deceiving, prejudiced by the perceptions of the weak-minded and the weak-willed. The disproportionate length of her legs and torso, the perfect flow of line and form, gave her the impression of an El Greco painting. But there was one feature that overpowered all else: her eyes—one’s attention always went to her eyes, and it was her eyes that caught poor Christopher Foster.

A word about Chris, a man creeping through his mid-thirties, a man not unattractive, but not altogether noticeable, a man set mid-point along charisma’s bell-curve. Chris and Satan sat in The Dutch Horse Pub, the bar around the corner from Chris’s Mystic Island home. The place used to be known as The Captain’s Quarters, but the name was changed in the early nineties to try and make the place more trendy. It didn’t work. Fred, the drunk that was a fixture on the other end of the bar, virtually homesteaded the barstool he now occupied in the 1970s. Chris had gone into The Dutch Horse Pub merely to relieve the tension brought on by his middle school students’ determination to not learn. He had no intention of meeting anyone, let alone a beautiful woman. He was never the type to pick up women anyway—his sense of small talk dulled by innate shyness and his year and a half of marriage with Molly. But, against convention, common sense, and the tidal pull of his marriage vows, Christopher Foster found himself sitting—although the place was virtually empty—immediately to the left of this woman at the bar. Chris ordered a scotch, seemingly the right drink to untie the monkey-fist knot in his head. Generally, he relaxed in front of the television with a beer, but with Molly away for the week visiting her mother—a woman with a knack for tying monkey-fist knots in her own right—Chris decided to seek the white noise company of bar chatter.

Now, listen, Satan isn’t, as most people may believe, an embodiment of evil. Satan is temptation—temptation stripped to its purest form—and it is man that sinks to evil when answering her siren call. The danger in Satan is not a malignant heart. The danger of Satan is that she is a woman, and man is weak.

The bartender—the same nondescript, stereotypical character that inhabits countless movie and television bars—set a glass of Dewars on a cocktail napkin. Chris sipped the drink, the liquor burning and puckering his lips. He felt the girl to his right staring at him. He didn’t dare look at her, but the more he resisted turning toward her, the more the urge to do so overwhelmed him like an unscratched itch. The girl mercifully broke his torment by speaking first, inviting—commanding—his attention. Satan’s first word to Christopher Foster was harmless enough. She said, “Hi.”

At first, Chris stole quick, sizing-up glances to his right, determining if she was speaking to him. When he finally turned to face her fully, he fell into the two silver pools of her eyes, lost, drowning. He somehow climbed from their depths—almost gasping—and uttered a response. “Uh, hi.” He then retreated to the safety of his drink, regarding the glass like a gambler pondering a bet.

“Let me guess,” the girl said.

Chris looked at her. The smile on her face was that of a child first discovering some miracle of nature.

“You’re a teacher,” she said.

He was going to respond, but the fish scale flicker of her eyes caught him again, dragging him into those silver pools once more.

“Am I right?” she said.

“Huh? Um…yeah. Yeah, I am a teacher. How did you know?”

“You have that exhausted, fear-for-the-future look that can only come from working with America’s youth. Let me guess, middle school?”

Chris smiled. “You’re good.”

“I know people.”

“And what is it you do?”

“Guess,” she said, shifting on the stool, her knees brushing his thigh. She then, with the quick grace of a magician, released her hair, shaking her head, strands the color of sunrise, falling, cascading over her shoulders and down her back, reaching to her waist.

“Huh?”

“It’s your turn to guess my profession.”

“I wouldn’t dare.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“I don’t know. Offending you.”

Her eyes widened, flickering like lightning jumping clouds. “Offending me? Now you have to guess.”

“Nah, really, I don’t think I should.”

“Why would you think your guess offensive?”

“Because I’m guessing you’re no school teacher.”

“On what do you base that assessment?”

“I don’t know,” Chris shrugged, again retreating to his drink.

“Shall we make things interesting with a wager?” she said. She ran her finger along the lip of her wine glass.

“What’s the bet?”

“A drink. A shot.”

Chris shrugged.

“Do we have a bet?” she said.

“I guess. But I don’t want to be patronizing by saying you must be a model or an actress, although you very well could be. And I certainly don’t want to suggest you’re a stripper or something, but I’d say you definitely make your living with your looks.”

He suddenly wondered where had his innate shyness gone?

“You said it,” she said.

“So which is it?”

“Which is what? Which profession is mine?” she said.

“Yeah.”

“If you can’t really guess, then I can’t really tell.”

“But you said, you said it,” Chris said, “suggesting I guessed correctly?”

“The it you said was nothing. You never guessed at all. You made assumptions, not wanting to patronize or offend. You were being safe, not taking responsibility for what you say. If you can’t state your true thoughts, then I don’t want to hear them.”

“What a jip,” Chris said. He sipped his drink. “So who won the shot?”

“We’ll both do one,” she said, and when Chris looked up, he found the bartender standing before them as if conjured from thin air. “Two shots,” the redhead said to the bartender. “Of what?” she said to Chris.

Chris raised his hands in a helpless, clueless gesture.

“Shall we go for flavor or damage?” she said.

“Maybe a little of both.”

“Two Red Deaths,” she said to the bartender, her eyes not leaving Chris.

“Our liquor license is only good for three-liquor drinks,” the bartender said.

The girl’s gaze flashed onto the bartender. “Is that really a problem?” she said, her eyes a deep gold.

“No, not really, I guess,” the bartender said, whisking bottles from a speed-rack with the quickness of a gunslinger.

“Red Deaths might be a little more damage than taste,” Chris said.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No, just dangerous.”

The drinks appeared before them.

“Maybe we should have a taste for danger,” she said, holding the shot between her thumb and forefinger.

“What should we drink to?” Chris said.

“I chose the drink; you choose the toast.”

“To a taste of danger,” Chris said, raising his shot.

“Amen,” the girl said, clinking his glass with her own.

They drained the drinks.

Chris winced.

“Danger never tasted so sweet,” the girl said, licking her fingers where some of the drink had spilled.

“So now what? Are you going to guess my name, too?” Chris said. He placed the empty shot glass across the bar, as if trying to distance himself from it.

“I wouldn’t want to amaze you with my powers of perception.”

“Yeah, all right,” Chris chuckled. “Well, I bet I can guess your name in less tries than you can guess mine.”

“Oh really?”

“Do we have a bet?” he said.

“You’re on,” the girl smiled. Her hand extended toward him. He took it, her fingers, caressing his palm, seemed to run down his arm and grip his sex. He shifted on the stool, not wanting to release her hand, but needing to. He lifted his scotch to occupy his hand.

“All right,” he said, lifting the glass toward his lips and grinning, “take your best guess. What’s my name?”

“Christopher.”

All expression slid from his face. He lowered the scotch. “How did you do that?”

“Lucky guess,” she said.

“No, really, how did you know my profession and my name?”

“No, really,” she said, her gold eyes leveling on him, her childlike smile vanishing, “it was a lucky guess.” Her tone had such conviction that he pursued the subject no further. “So,” her smile returned, “you have one guess for my name.”

“I don’t have a chance.”

“There’s always a chance,” she said, her eyes flicking silver again.

Chris drained his scotch. He slurped an ice cube between his teeth and took the opportunity to have a good look at her. He started at her stiletto shoes, making her long legs look impossibly longer, and then he moved up to her ankles, noticing on one of them the tattoo of a cross—three nails were driven into its points, but a crucifixion victim was noticeably absent. From her ankles, her contoured legs were an endless journey to the rolling hills and planes of her hips and stomach and breasts. He abandoned this journey before reaching her eyes. He looked over her shoulder, avoiding her gaze. “Charlene,” he said, “No. Serena. No. Alana. It’s something unique. It’s…”

“I’ll give you one hint,” the girl said, “it’s the name of the first woman.”

“Eve?”

“Lilith.”

“The first woman of what?” Chris said.

“The first woman, period.”

“Did someone recently rewrite Genesis without my knowledge?”

“Yes,” she smiled, “only, not recently. Eve was Adam’s second wife, made from his rib—an unimportant, nonvital extension of his body. She was created to be subservient, to honor him and bear his children. Lilith, on the other hand, was created along with Adam, made from the same earth as Adam. She and Adam were equals, each with independent, strong wills. But we know what happens to strong willed women. Adam found her to be difficult, labeled her a bitch, and had God cast her from Eden.”

Chris raised his eyebrows. “If Lilith and Adam were equals,” he said, “then why did God cast out Lilith and not Adam?”

“How the fuck should I know?” the girl said. She sipped her wine. Her eyes were two gold suns partially eclipsed by the black holes of her pupils. Those two pupils reflected no light; they were wells and Chris was falling into their bottomless depths. Her voice brought him back. “You owe me a drink,” she said.

“All right, Lilith, what will it be?”

“Loser’s choice.”

Chris scowled. “Okay, let’s see…how about…I don’t really know any drinks…um, I don’t know, how about Sex on the Beach?”

“It’s not the warmest night for that, but Black Rock Beach is a short enough walk,” she said coyly.

“You sure do play hard to get.”

“Two tequilas,” she said to the bartender, who again appeared before them as if from thin air. She then turned to Chris. “I don’t play at what I’ve already won.”

“And what game is that?”

“Life.”

“Life’s a game?”

“Absolutely.”

“What do we get for winning?” Chris said, lifting the shot of tequila and picking up the lime that was set before him.

“You win the only thing you can take with you when it’s done,” she said. She took the lime from his fingers.

“And what’s that?”

“Memories,” she said. She ran the lime along the contour of her neck. “The one with the best memories wins.” She sprinkled salt along the same contour she had run the lime across, and she pulled back her hair, offering her neck to Chris.

Chris stared at her, paused, started forward, paused again. He looked helplessly into her eyes. She arched an eyebrow. He leaned in, licking the salt from her skin, and he downed the shot. He reached for the lime in her fingers, but she jerked it away, placing the wedge between her teeth and smiling—the smile not so childlike anymore. Chris stared at her, paused, started forward, paused again. He blew out a stream of breath, took the lime’s exposed half in his teeth, and tugged. Her mouth, unyielding, met his, her full lips brushing across his. He pulled away, feeling lightheaded—unsure if it was the alcohol or her kiss.

“Whoa,” he said—it was all he could think to say.

The girl again licked her fingers, grinning.

“I suppose that now I have to put salt on my neck?” Chris said.

“Why dull the taste,” she said, draining her shot and sliding the glass across the bar’s top.

Chris watched the glass come to a stop, and said, “So who’s winning?”      “Winning what? Life?”

“Yeah.”

“Not you,” she said.

Chris twitched his head, lowering his brow. “What makes you say that?”

“You can’t win if you don’t want to.”

“What makes you think I don’t want to?”

“The way you skirted the issue of my profession, the way you always defer the choice of drink to me, the way you hesitated licking the salt from my neck or taking the lime from my teeth. You’re afraid to live life, never mind win at it.”

“What? Just because I hesitated taking a body-shot means I’m afraid? Did you ever think that maybe I hesitated because I’m a married man?”

“Happily?”

“Of course happily.”

“What’s your wife’s name?”

For a panicked moment, he couldn’t remember. “Her name? It’s… Molly.”

“Are you sure?”

“What? Of course I’m… hey, look, what are you implying?”

“If you’re happily married to Molly, then why are you sitting here beside me?”

“What do you mean?”

“The bar’s virtually empty, why did you choose to sit beside me?”

“Jesus, I was just sitting beside someone to talk to.”

“Why didn’t you sit beside that guy over there?” she said, motioning toward Fred.

“What? Look, you need to get over yourself, all right?”

The girl stared at him, silent for a moment, and then, nodding slowly, she turned her bare legs away from him. Facing the mirror over the bar, she pulled up her red hair again. Chris could now see that the tattoo that had appeared as an infinity symbol was, in fact, a twisting configuration of three sixes, or nines, or both. She stood from the stool and began to walk away. Before Chris could conjure the words to bring her back, she turned to face him, leveling her gold gaze upon him. “Well?” she said. “Are you coming?”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if Chris followed her or not? Do you really need to ask? Of course he followed her, and that night, pure attraction became pure desire, and Chris swam freely in the silver pools of the girl’s eyes. When it was over, Chris lay in his bed, his will a desolate landscape leveled by a force of nature, and he looked up at Lilith. She was sitting up in the bed, her body outlined in the dim light. Chris saw another tattoo, this one cupped in the small of her back. At first, he thought the tattoo was of horns, but upon closer inspection, he saw that they were wings—upside-down angel wings.

“What do these mean?” he said, tracing the tattoo with his finger.

She shifted her upper body to face him, the sweeping hourglass of her torso turning, and she placed her weight on one hand, her long hair falling over the front of her shoulder. Her gaze fell on him, direct and undeniable. “Those are my angel wings,” she said, pouting.

“Why are they upside down?”

Her eyes lowered, her full lips looking incapable of ever producing that childlike smile, and with a voice, solemn and distant, she said, “Because I’m no angel.”

Now, listen up, because here’s the moral of this tale—surely, a story of a man’s dance with Satan would have a moral. Surely, there has to be a price for sin. What was Chris’s price, you ask? Was it his soul? No, not in the direct sense, anyway. True, Chris did lose part of his soul that night, but Lilith didn’t take it. Was the price of his sin Molly discovering his infidelity? Actually, no, Chris and Molly remained together—seemingly happy—till death they did part, old and gray, Molly never the wiser to Chris’s betrayal.

But don’t worry, Christopher Foster did pay. He paid the highest price of all: the memory of the redheaded girl, the image of her eyes regarding him over her shoulder, her hair cascading, lips pouting, that perfect gaze carved into his memory. And to his dying day, old and gray, that image never left him, his longing to hold her again growing stronger with each sunrise and sunset. And, true enough, when he died, memories were all that he took with him, but with that one memory, there also came the longing, and he was never quite sure if he had won or lost.

The End

The Doppler Effect

DopplerThe faster he ran, the faster the breeze. His feet crackled and popped the fallen leaves and thin twigs. He stopped, the breeze stopped.

The Doppler Effect…

“ReeeEEEouououou…” the sound rose and fell in his chest and throat.

“Paul!” his mother’s voice called. It was a far voice.

His finger streaked in front of his eyes like a supercharged windshield wiper. It created dark trails.

“Paul!” his mother’s far-off voice called.

He ran. The shades of fire hanging from the trees’ limbs blurred into a wall of bleeding hues.

The Doppler Effect is…

The Doppler…

The Dop…

Dop…

The Doppler…

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

He stopped running. The breeze stopped.

He saw Mr. Hayward. Mr. Hayward looked at him.

Mr. Hay-ward. Hay-ward.

Mr. Hayward had brown eyes. This time, Mr. Hayward’s teeth weren’t showing.

Mr. Hayward was on top of the girl from downstairs.

Cin-dy. Cin-dy.

The Doppler Effect is a change in a sound’s frequency…

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

The girl’s eyes were blue. Her eyes did not blink.

Mr. Hayward held his hand over the girl’s face.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

The breeze rushed by his face. The leaves’ colors blurred in bleeding, fiery hues. His feet struggled to keep up with his body.

“ReeeEEEEouououou!”

The girl’s eyes were blue. They did not blink.

Mr. Hayward hurt the little girl.

The girl’s eyes were blue.

Mr. Hay-ward.

The Doppler…

“ReeeEEE…”

His mother stood before him. Her face was close. Her breath was warm. “Paul,” his mother’s voice said. Her voice hurt his ears. “You don’t run on me like that. You don’t…” Her face moved away. Her voice wasn’t loud anymore. “You need to stop…” she signed the final word, hitting her hands together as if cutting something, “…when someone says, stop.” She cut her hands together again.

His finger streaked across his vision like a supercharged windshield wiper. His finger stopped and his hand was in his mother’s hand.

“Okay, it’s time to go home.” Her voice rose and fell like the Doppler Effect.

The Doppler Effect…

The Doppler…

Doppler…

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He squeezed his mother’s hand with both of his. He and his mother stopped walking. He squeezed her hand harder.

“ReeeEE—”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“—Eouououou!” He tried to breathe out Mr. Hayward. He squeezed harder.

“Paul, let go,” his mother’s voice said with her Doppler voice.

He squeezed harder.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Paul, you need to let go,” his mother’s voice said as she pried at his hands.

He found her arm between his teeth and he bit down.

***

A goes with the As. He stacked the wooden tiles into neat columns, creating a tiny city of teetering skyscrapers. The M goes on top of the M, atop the M pile.

Doppler…

“ReeeEEEouououu…”

“You need to sort the tiles quietly,” his mother’s voice said.

The S goes on the Ss. The D goes on the table. O. P. P. L. E. R.

The Doppler Effect…

His mother appeared. She mixed the letters into the pile of tiles. “You need to finish sorting the letters before you watch your video.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

The girl had blue eyes.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He knocked the wooden tiles onto the floor and jumped.

“Pick up the tiles,” his mother’s voice said. She pointed to the floor.

He tried to grab his mother’s arm to squeeze and squeeze.

“Pick up the tiles,” said his mother’s voice.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He tried to hold his mother’s arm.

Fingers buried into his skin like a bird’s talons, piercing and poking and pushing him sharply.

“Pick up the tiles,” his mother’s voice said. She pointed to the letters on the floor.

He picked up the tiles. He put the tiles on the table. He sat at the table.

The E went on top of the Es. The M went on the M pile.

He arranged the tiles into an order his father once showed him.

“Paul,” his mother’s voice said. “I told you to stack the…” She stopped. “Aw. Thank you.” Her voice’s frequency rose high.

His mother hugged him. It got very tight. He squirmed away.

I LOVE MOMMY was ordered in a line on the table.

The words put into that order brought a hug. The letters looking like: DRINK brought juice. SNACK brought food. HURT brought comfort. DOPPLER brought…

The Doppler Effect…

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

“Paul, stack the tiles and then you can watch your video,” his mother’s voice said.

He finished stacking the tiles.

He went to the television.

He pressed the small, sleeping, white triangle. The voice said: “The Doppler Effect is a change in a sound’s frequency, the pitch rising as the sound waves approach, and then lowering as the waves travel away.”

A train barreled toward him, its whistle blowing: ReeeEEE, rising in pitch, and then, ouououou… dissipating when it passed.

He pressed the button: RR.

“The Doppler Effect is…”

His finger streaked in front of the screen.

There was a knocking.

His mother opened the door.

Mr. Hayward walked in through the door.

Mr. Hay-ward.

“The Doppler Effect is a change in a sounds frequency…”

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

ReeeEEEouououou…

“Hi, Burt,” his mother’s voice said.

“Hi, Carol,” Mr. Hayward’s voice said.

Mr. Hay-ward. Hay-ward. What color are Mr. Hay-ward’s eyes? Mr. Hay-ward lives in the building. If you need help, you go and see Mr. Hay-ward.

“The Doppler Effect…”

Press: RR.

“The Doppler…”

“The Dopp…”

“The Dopp…”

“Paul, don’t you want to say hello to Mr. Hay-ward?” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward’s teeth were showing. “Hello, Paully.”

What color are Mr. Hay-ward’s eyes?

The girl’s eyes were blue.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He felt himself jumping, his body rising and falling, his toes applauding the floor. Each time he landed jarred his body. He grunted shouts with each jump, creating a rhythmic drumbeat with his voice. “Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…” He tried to shake out Mr. Hayward.

“Paul. Paul,” his mother’s voice called. “Why don’t you watch your video?”

The train made its call: ReeeEEEouououou…

“He’s upset about something today,” his mother’s voice said. “Wait here and I’ll grab you the rent check.”

“The Doppler Effect…”

“The Dopp…”

Mr. Hayward was kneeling beside him. Mr. Hayward’s face was before his. Mr. Hayward’s teeth were showing. But not the way they usually did.

“Now, you look here you little retard,” Mr. Hayward’s voice said. “I know you can’t talk, and you keep it that way. Got it?”

“The Doppler Effect…”

“The Dopp…”

Mr. Hayward took away the RR.

“Listen to me, you little shit, don’t ever think about telling anyone what you saw today. I’ll kill you, got it? I’ll…”

Mr. Hayward’s teeth showed the way they usually did.

“Oh, look Paully, here comes the choo-choo,” Mr. Hayward’s voice said, rising like the train’s whistle.

“Here you go, Burt,” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward put the RR back in his hand.

“The Doppler Effect…”

“Thanks, Carol. Well, I’ll be seeing you then. See-ya later, Paully, buddy.”

“Paul, don’t you want to say goodbye to Mr. Hay-ward?” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward’s teeth were showing.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He grabbed Mr. Hayward’s arm with both hands and squeezed and squeezed.

“Okay, Paul, you need to let go,” said his mother’s voice.

“Whoa there, Paully buddy, I’m gonna need that arm.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“ReeeEEEououou…”

Mr. Hayward’s arm was between Paul’s teeth and he bit and bit.

***

The fork scoops the food into your mouth.

He tasted the sweetness of the chicken.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into Paul today,” his mother’s voice said. “It seems like I had him stacking Scrabble blocks all day.”

“Really?” his father’s voice said.

“He bit me and Mr. Hayward,” his mother’s voice said. There was no frequency change in her voice.

“ReeeEEEouououuou…”

“Paul,” his father’s voice said. “We eat our meals quietly.”

Paul stopped.

“He was really upset about something,” his mother’s voice said.

The fork scoops the food into your mouth.

He tasted the sweetness of the chicken.

“Where did he bite you?” his father’s voice said.

“On the arm,” his mother’s voice said.

“No,” his father’s teeth showed. “Where did he bite you, geographically speaking?”

“In the woods out back,” his mother’s voice said. “He bolted again. He bit me on the way home. He got pretty far this time. He was in the Price House’s yard.”

“He always gets riled up when he’s been running like that,” his father’s voice said.

“But he’s never had a problem with Mr. Hayward,” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward has brown eyes.

“And he was watching his video when it happened. He usually never gets upset when the video’s on,” his mother’s voice said.

The Doppler Effect…

“ReeeEEEououou…”

“Paul,” his father’s voice said.

He stopped.

“Did he break either of your skins?” his father’s voice said.

“No,” his mother’s voice said. “But mine hurt, so I know it must have really hurt Mr. Hayward.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

The girl’s eyes didn’t blink.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He was jumping again, and grunting his drumbeat breaths.

“Paul,” his father’s voice said.

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…” He kept jumping.

“Paul,” his father’s voice said.

But he couldn’t stop.

***

The spoon scoops food into your mouth.

He tasted the sogginess of the cereal.

His mother put a stack of pages on the table beside him.

He saw Cindy.

Cin-dy.

Local Girl found dead.

Her eyes were gray.

Her eyes didn’t blink.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…” He was jumping beside his chair.

“Paul,” his mother’s voice said. “Paul, eat your breakfast.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Paul…”

He had his mother’s arm and he squeezed.

“Paul…”

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…”

“Paul…” his mother’s voice said. The sound of wooden tiles pouring onto the table hurt his ears.

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…” He jumped and jumped and jumped.

“Paul…”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He jumped.

Fingers poked and buried into his skin.

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…”

“Paul…” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Sort the letters,” her voice rose in frequency.

The Dopp—Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Paul, sort.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He knocked the tiles onto the floor.

“Paul, pick up the letters,” his mother’s voice said, rising in pitch.

The Doppler Effect is …

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

He picked up the letters.

“Paul, sort,” his mother’s voice said.

He sorted.

E on E. D on D. M on M.

Cin-dy.

Cindy had blue eyes.

F on F. E on E. S on S.

His mother went away with the bowl of cereal. He sorted. The dishes made a loud noise in the sink.

He arranged the letters. He put them in order. The letters stretched across the table beside the picture of Cin-dy.

He heard a sound like air rushing from his mother. She stood beside him. Her hand covered her mouth.

Sprawled across the table were the ordered letters: MR HAYWARD HURT THE GIRL.

The End

Thank-ya Very Much

TreeBobby McFarland stormed out the back door, the hinges squealing, the screen’s frame slamming shut, bouncing open, and slamming shut again. “Bobby McFarland, don’t you slam that door,” his mother called.

“Yeah-yeah-yeah,” Bobby grumbled.

“Bobby McFarland, where are you going? It’s getting dark,” his mother called with the edge of worry in her voice. The same edge of worry she always had when Bobby headed out the back door after dinner.

“To have a smoke,” Bobby said. He said this loud enough so his mother knew he answered, but quiet enough so she didn’t know what the answer was.

“What was that?”

“I’ll be back later,” he called over his shoulder, digging a pack of Marlboros out of his pocket and beating it on his palm. He didn’t really blame his mother for the worry in her voice. How many kids was it now? Seven since his mother was a little girl growing up here on Mystic Island. Three kids missing in Bobby’s lifetime. And throughout all that time, countless rumors had gathered about the disappearances. Rumors continuing to gather like moths on shit. Or was it flies on shit? Moths to a flame. Bobby couldn’t remember the saying, and what’s more, he didn’t care about the saying. Nor did he care about the rumors. Kids have been vanishing in Parson’s Woods since the turn of the century—maybe even before. Why? Because kids are dumb. And Bobby wasn’t dumb enough to get lost in any woods. Especially woods on an island. Just walk in any direction and you’re eventually gonna hit civilization, or water. And don’t bring up the whole “no remains were ever found” crap either. “There’s this little thing called the Circle of Life,” Bobby would say, “Things eat dead things lying on the ground, end of story.”

The mutt from next door, Ginger, came running up to Bobby. The dog always tagged along with him when he went into the woods for his smoke. And, as usual, when the dog trotted up to him, tail wagging, Bobby kicked the thing aside, snarling, “Get lost, you dumb mutt.” And, as usual, Ginger looked up at Bobby as if asking: Why, Bobby? Why me? But even with this nightly routine of boy kicking dog and dog looking distraught, the dog continued to follow Bobby into the woods, its tail wagging as if expecting something new and exciting to happen.

Bobby unwrapped the cigarette pack’s cellophane wrapper and tossed it on the ground. He had swiped three packs right out from under Old Man Wilkins’s nose. The old coot didn’t even notice. He never noticed when Bobby McFarland left Wilkins’s General Store with pockets full of merchandise. Candy, sodas, comics, magazines, cigarettes. “Just put it on my tab,” Bobby would say to Old Man Wilkins. Just loud enough so the old man could hear he said something, but quiet enough so the old man couldn’t tell what it was he said.

Bobby loved that one. Just put it on my tab. He always gave himself a good laugh with that one. He’d walk down the street, chuckling and waving to an unseen audience. He’d curl his lip, and in his best Elvis voice, say, “Thank-ya. Thank-ya very much.”

Bobby flipped a cigarette to his mouth, trying to catch it mid-flight. He missed it and had to frantically rescue it before it fell to the ground. With a second try, he snagged the cigarette like a trained seal catching a fish reward. “Oawh! Oawh!” he barked, clapping the backs of his hands like flippers. He then pulled matches from his pocket and with one hand, opened the matchbook cover, folded over a match, and struck it with a magician’s precision. The match flared with a hiss and lit the cigarette, flooding Bobby’s young lungs with smoke. “Ahh,” Bobby sighed. “Cigarettes, what any thirteen year old needs to grow up big and strong.” Bobby laughed at this. “Cigarettes…” he coughed a laugh mingled with smoke, “…big and strong. I love it.” He stopped, lifted his arms, and with his best Elvis voice and curled lip, said, “Thank-ya. Thank-ya very much.”

Bobby began his evening stroll again, rolling the cigarette pack in the sleeve of his t-shirt. On the t-shirt was the drawing of a bearded man with a beret seemingly orbiting the Earth. A caption read: BEAT-SPUTNIK IS OUT THERE. Ginger continued to follow Bobby into the woods, still with seemingly great interest. Perhaps trying to figure out why Bobby McFarland was just so mean. “Oawh! Oawh!” Bobby barked in his seal voice, bending over and thrusting his freckle-strewn face at the dog, his features cutting into his big, round head like a jack-o’-lantern. Ginger cocked its head in a questioning manner. Bobby yanked his hand up, as if going to strike the dog. Ginger backed away with confused hurt in its eyes. “Ginger’s such a wimpy name for a boy dog,” Bobby said. He then continued deeper into the woods. Ginger following him.

Night had almost taken over the woods. The shadows deepening. Bobby finished his cigarette, flicking it off into the trees, and he said, “Smokey the Bear says, only you can cause good forest fires.” Bobby laughed. That was a good one, he really liked that one. “Only you can cause good forest fires, that’s rich.” Stopping, Bobby lifted his hands in the air, and with curled lip, once again said, “Thank-ya. Thank-ya very much.”

Bobby tried to take his next step, but his foot seemed stuck to the ground. He tried shifting his weight to rewind his last step, but his other foot wouldn’t budge either. He grabbed his right thigh, trying to pull it forward, but it felt as though his feet had sunk into cement. “What the…” he said to himself. He looked at Ginger.

The dog cocked its head.

“What’re you looking at?” Bobby said.

But Ginger only cocked its head again, watching.

Bobby bent over to examine his sneakers. “What’s going on here?” he said, trying to pry his fingers under the soles. He untied the sneakers and attempted to pull his feet from them, but it felt as though his feet had grown right through the sneakers’ bottoms, attaching to the ground. “What is…”

Bobby’s toes shot through the fronts of his sneakers, bursting from the canvass, stretching before him like snakes. Bobby squealed as his toes slithered and writhed, and then burrowed deep below ground.

“What’s happening?” he asked Ginger.

The dog sat on its haunches like a person sitting to watch breaking news on television.

“Oh God,” Bobby said, his knees drawing together, his legs fusing into a solid form, becoming a texture like bark. Bobby gave one, final scream, raising his arms, his fingers shooting out, extending from his hands, stretching and twisting, the top of his head exploding into a bouquet of branches and twigs.

In the middle of the forest stood a new tree. Ginger rose from its haunches, tentatively approached the trunk, sniffed at it, and with a twinkle in its eye and lift of its leg, it urinated on the gray bark before trotting off for home.

The End