Friday, August 31, 2012

Issue #35 -- September, 2012

up down up right down left up
By David James Keaton

“Ironically, in my solitude, I had created something
that could only be used in concert with another human being.”
-Kurt Vonnegut - “Mother Night”

diamond mining

            The headlights behind me continue to mirror everything I do. Every swerve, sway, weave, drift, and jerk. On the last hill, I put my car in neutral and let it drift backwards a quarter mile but they never got any closer.
            I reach up and flick the rearview with a finger, expecting the headlights to disappear. But they keep pace a steady half mile back. I jam the brakes with both heels, step onto the road, and look back down the moonlit vanishing point. The headlights have stopped, too. Too far back to see anything but those unblinking white eyes, I can’t tell if the driver has stepped out on the road with me. I walk to the front of my car and slowly cross in front of my own highbeams. In the distance, the headlights finally wink at me, one at a time.

*          *          *

            Back in the car, Jay’s calling again.
            "What up."
            "What up."
            "Jay, what’s the most chrome you’ve ever seen on a car?"
            "The whole thing."
            "Yeah. Guy I knew. He started with the rims, moved to the bumpers, the hood scoop, then his hair, then the whole fucking car. When he hit the road, no one could see him. He crashed immediately."
            "I doubt it would be completely invisible. I’m thinking it would be like a mirror, everyone would see their reflections."
            "I was joking."
            Right before I left Toledo the first time, Jay met this girl we (I) called "Tea" because she had this gigantic pyramid of tea tins filled with weed, various drug paraphernalia, and grayish hard candy that had long since lost its rainbow colors. She was what kids these days call a “fake-ass hippie.”  More bandannas than '80s gang movies, tie-dyed crap everywhere, style-over-movement gear, you know the type. But besides all that, I never really liked her to begin with. For me, it was something about the way she transformed herself into what Jay seemed to want even though the smart, sharp-dressed pictures all around her (soon to be "their") apartment told another story. And she also started blaming me for every irresponsible thing Jay ever did, even though, ironically, every girl I’ve known has blamed Jay for every stupid thing I’ve ever done. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Just like her actual personality, probably. Jay’s tendency to date this fake counter-culture type was as confusing to him as it was to me. But she must have seen a police lineup of his former girlfriends to start her campaign. And I probably could stomach some of this if her insatiable quest for a wedding ring from my boy wasn’t so goddamn transparent.
            I studied her hands when I first met her, just like she studied mine. And I could tell her third finger was desperate for a diamond ring just by the way it twitched and pointed at him every time a smile cracked his orange beard in her direction. The rest of her fingers were covered in silver and stone, hip, non-precious stones, of course. But not that one. That finger was thinner than the rest, atrophied, impatiently waiting with a white band between those gnarly knuckles. I could tell it carried more than its share of engagement rings through the years, and it wouldn’t stop fucking twitching until it got another one to weigh it back into submission. I remember sitting at their house one time, playing that video game where the little man with the light on his helmet has to navigate collapsing tunnels and gather as many jewels as he can. I called Tea into the room and told her to watch the screen. Then my thumb tapped the direction arrows on the controller rapid-fire with a carefully rehearsed "up, left, down, right, up, down, up" and the television screen was suddenly filled with hundreds of glittering digital diamonds for my little man to gather at his leisure. "Which one do you want?" I asked her, grinning through my bubble gum. Jay didn’t get the joke, but I know she did.
            "Hey, Jay, can you call me back later?"
           "Yeah, man, got a story for you. Don’t want to waste this alone time..."
            He’s gone, and I check my speedometer. Jay’s phone calls seem to ratchet up my driving to dangerous levels. I look up to the mirror, and behind me I see the headlights taking each turn as expert and as reckless as I do. I also see the heartbeat in my neck throbbing alarmingly, pushing blood, paranoia, and bad thoughts into my head. I remember the first time I heard a teacher talk about that artery, how I thought she was calling it "corroded" and how that name made perfect sense.
            I turn on the radio, fan, and windshield wipers, a combination of buttons, joysticks and switches that I know will momentarily overwhelm the car’s electrical system and draw off the battery, making all my lights dim.
            The headlights behind me pulse in the rearview mirror just like my dashboard.

            A horse pulling an Amish carriage clomps next to me, and I’m grateful they don’t have headlights or I’d prove them right about us assholes.
            See, the thing about jerking off is, if you wait long enough to do it, you don’t have to fantasize about anything.
            You don’t need the face or body of an ex-girlfriend in your brain or what you always did together or even the image of someone else doing the same thing on the page or a videotape. Wait long enough and you won’t need anything at all. It’ll be like blowing your nose, more like a sneeze actually, and with approximately the same level of collateral damage to the environment. And the thing about jerking off in a car, however, is that no matter what you do, you seem to let pressure off the gas pedal and slow to about five miles per hour without even realizing it. I swear I didn’t see that bandanna when I closed my eyes. You couldn’t prove it anyway.
            When I flick a ticking pendulum of semen off the rearview mirror and stop fantasizing about grandfather clocks winding down, I see the eyes idling and waiting patiently for me to finish. We both ease carefully back onto the highway and start driving again.
            Then I turn off the fan, windshield wipers, and radio in a different order this time to see what happens. I’m convinced that by doing this, I’ve somehow just made this car faster, as least for moment. I remember the chase scenes and cheat codes from my favorite video games, glance up at the eyes behind me, and feel the blood returning to my brain and feet until I can finally bury the gas pedal.

crayon rubbings

            Doing research for a paper around my ninth year of undergrad in Toledo, I saw a framed charcoal grave rubbing of horror writer H.P Lovecraft lording over a selection of his books in our town’s library. The price tag on it was eighty bucks. Dollar signs in my eyes, cash register noises in my ears, I immediately checked online and saw that grave rubbings of celebrities of James Dean’s stature were going for fifty to a hundred bucks on eBay. See, me and Jay had gone there once before just for the hell of it, and I asked him if he still had the map. He sure did. Roadtrip! We’d actually driven to Shipshawana first to try and find a Amish barn-building in progress, maybe lend a hand. Like we were the first motherfuckers ever to see the movie Witness.
            No luck. So we went for the grave and took a couple Poloroids.
            I quickly tried to gather as many people as possible to spread the misery in case shit went wrong, but Jay and Rachel were the only ones up for it, "Ray" being the essential member of the crew as she was always all "organ-I-zized" (her words) and, as I anticipated, already had a bag of paper and supplies happily swinging at her knees when I picked her up.
            On this particular day, Jay had plans with Tea for later that night, who he’d just met, and you could see from his newborn fist-like face that he needed shit to go smooth so that he could get back in time or else he was going to pull the pin on a grenade. Anticipating Jay’s need for distractions, I brought along my former favorite handheld videogame, the short-lived Atari Lynx, just to keep his hands busy. I would have brought him one of those fake preschool dashboards so he could honk the horn and pretend to drive, if I could have found mine in time, but a tiny hockey game kept his thumbs busy.
            But five hours later, I still couldn't find the graveyard. I swear you could light a city with the electricity coming off the back of Jay’s head when he realized I’d started circling the same block.
            We were going by the old snapshot I had taken and hoping the flat skyline in the background of the photo would be enough of a landmark to go by. But suddenly there were two graveyards in Shipshawana, Indiana. The Amish apparently had the lifespan of mayflies. Me and Ray were running giddy figure-eights in and out of gravestones as Jay watched the sun sink and started to lose his mind. We started weaving slower on purpose and peeking out from behind granite obelisks, trying to eavesdrop on the conversation Jay was having with himself, more of a debate really, each mutter punctuated with a savage rocket of saliva between his own feet. And when we finally found James Dean’s grave, it started raining real hard. Jay didn’t even bother to come look at it. He was clearly nearing a breaking point. I could tell by the way the rain turned to steam before it even hit his head. Ray was frantic, too. If the grave got soaked, the entire trip would be a bust. I didn’t care, and I figured Ray would get over it. But for Jay, wasting this much time was incomprehensible.
            Turned out the grave was covered with so much bullshit that it actually helped our cause. Big plastic flowers and glossy pictures of Jimmy Dean in gunfights poses and at least fifty bucks worth of pennies. I tried wiping it off with the towel I kept in my trunk for exactly this kind of emergency, and now Jay was stomping around the cemetery, smacking himself in the head. Then he started running around the graves, calling everyone names, screaming at the sky, and we gave chase. The only thing that calmed him down was his discovery of a giant, refrigerator-sized tombstone, too big for a grave rubbing, marked with the hilarious name, "Wigger."  Ray started taking pictures while me and Jay struck white-boy gangster poses in front of it, of course, and eventually, we all succumbed to playing the inevitable "let’s find our own names!" game.
            No luck.
            Jay probably would have been okay and resigned to the fact that he would never get back to Toledo anytime before midnight, but I decided to wind him up again. Ignoring the expression on his face that was saying "this close to attacking you, dude," I walked over to my car, stopped, looked around in horror, and pretended I’d locked my keys in my car. He was in slow-motion going for my throat when I ducked for cover and held up my keychain crucifix-style to ward him off. He spit again and closed his eyes to make me go away. At some point, I saw him playing with one of her bandanas, tying it to a tree. I would have fucked with him for it if he wasn’t on such a hair trigger.
            Anyway, the grave was way too wet for charcoal, so we tried to do it with crayons instead. Our soggy wrinkly rubbings looked more like psych-ward art therapy than anything framable, but I carefully rolled up rubbing after rubbing until we represented each color in the crayon box. Even the white one. I figured it was worth a try, in case the invisible letters showed up after it dried.
            Postscript to that trip. The soggy grave rubbings eventually got posted on an online auction, but, unfortunately, I included a picture next to the description. A couple weeks later, I got a dollar thirty taken from my checking account for eBay fees, which put my account under zero because I routinely took my accounts right down to the fucking nub. Still do. So I got a fifty dollar insufficient-funds fee. I tried explaining the situation to my "personal banker," but despite that title, she wasn’t all that interested in the details of my life. I still have a stack of sad, wrinkled grave rubbings stashed somewhere in a poster tube waiting for a good home just like the mangiest cats at the shelter. I’ve tried to give them away now and again at various sweet parties, but people always seem to forget to pick them back up on their way out the door. That’s okay though. It wasn’t the last scheme to crash and burn. It’s for the best. The only thing I might handle worse than disappointment is success. And the only thing I handle worse than that is everything else.
hockey strikes

            Jay almost got away from her at least once or twice. He actually dumped her so many times that it got to be a running joke, even with her. One time, I stopped by to finish our real-time six-month videogame hockey tournament. Somebody said the Red Wings had just lost the Cup to the Penguins, and even though we ended up living in Pittsburgh, we could give a fuck about those idiots. We considered video games much more important.
            Right before I got there, unknown to me, Jay had gone out the back door down to the dumpster. Tea buzzed me up, thinking I was him coming back from taking out the trash.
            I walked in saying "Where's Jay?" a split second before I noticed the boxes everywhere. She looked at me all serious and goes, "He left me again. Thanks for asking, asshole." And I didn’t know what to say and just started mumbling, "Uhhh, really sorry to hear that. I didn’t mean to...uh..." as I backed out the door.
            She got so close she was almost on my toes, and she said, "Have you ever thought about us?"
And right before I said something I would have regretted forever, Jay kicked the back of my knee behind me as he came back in and goes, "What up, fool?" She laughed and said, "Got ya!" and poked me in the chest and then went on with whatever she was packing, more than likely more evidence she needed to destroy to complete another personality change. I had to give her a little credit for the joke and thinking on her feet like that, and I think it illustrates our little not-so-friendly competition for our boy.
            I’d really love for her to know as much about him as I do. About how he values his relationship with certain videogames so much that he would never ever ever consider cheating. This really isn’t the case with her.
            The rules for playing our beloved hockey tournaments were complicated. In spite of them involving a decade-old, out-of-date system and a very unsuccessful and inaccurate depiction of the sport, for nostalgia’s sake it was our favorite and we took playing it very seriously. Way past its six-month expiration date. However, my own relationship with that game wasn’t too serious for me to try cheating every chance I got. Not Jay. The closest he’d come to cheating was denying that I would score, regardless of what the game was telling him. Bastard would yank on his controller cord and say, "Look, it wasn’t even plugged in! It’s cool. We’ll just adjusted the score in our heads. Okay, that says 5 to 19. It’s actually tied up 3 to 3. Let’s go..." 
            His fear of the popular myth that one limb grows stronger with the loss of its equal prevented him from playing the game, as I requested, with one thumb tied behind his back. But I do know he used a cheat code at least once. Problem was I could never prove it because I wasn’t sure what the code actually did. At first, I thought it was for invincibility. But that made no sense and could never really be tested because there were no weapons or fatalities on that virtual ice, and, of course, most hockey games aren’t played to the death. Then I thought it was for infinite lives. Again, no way to test that. Finally, I was convinced it was for slow motion, and that it only affected my skaters, and that it was a change almost indistinguishable by the human eye. The cheat code could have slowed me down just enough to miss intercepting that pass, just enough for him to get the jump on a computerized goalie that had memorized his every tactic, just enough for me to miss snagging an elusive loose puck in a corner that was rendered on the screen only slightly smaller than garbage can and with the same maneuverability. This sneaky slow-motion cheat code would be undetectable if I didn’t check the game clock on the screen with the one on my wrist. Games that should have been over by midnight would creep over into daylight, and I could never figure out why. Just like a three hour drive that, for some reason, seems to last three days instead.
            The only cheat I’ve ever seen successfully applied to this particular game was one of those joke codes that the programmers slip in to entertain themselves while clacking away on potato-chip covered keyboards in their cubicles. It was referred to as the "Lamaze Cheat" and if you tapped the right sequence of buttons, the tournament slots would fill up with games already played and jump straight to the final face-off. If you were playing "real-time" as me and Jay did, this would eliminate a six-month season, or, in the event of the hockey strikes that were a running gag in the League in the real world, a nine-month season. You’d think this inside joke would be enough for it to earn it’s nickname. Not quite. You see, besides jumping ahead nine-months to game seven of the finals, this code would also afflict every member of both teams with large, bulbous stomachs that hindered game play so severely that it was never worth bothering to cheat at all. The huge pregnant bellies on the digital men was funny enough, but soon we understood that either these little players couldn’t take a hard check to the midsection as successfully as before or, at least, our subconscious was making us flinch every time it happened so that all momentum of the match was lost. This was more than enough to psychologically fuck up our thumbs and make the game unplayable.
            Jay claimed he knew a code that gave you a gun, but he said it was a secret.

cheat code ethics

            I’m unsuccessfully trying to trick the mirror car into taking on-ramps with tiny squirts of turn signals and swerves when the phone starts bouncing impatiently on my seat again. I answer it and hope the shadow in the car behind me has to deal with the same phone call.
            "Duuuuuude, got some strange!"
            "From a stranger, I take it."
            "Stranger and stranger! Where you at?"
            "Outside of Pittsburgh."
            "Holy fuck you drive slow. So, get this, I'm at work…"
            "Since when?"
            "That hotel bar. I told you about that."
            "You got a job in the last three hours since I left and had some kind of adventure?"
            "No, man. This happened a couple days ago. Anyway, there’s this girl there for a convention, so I chattered her up a little bit at the bar while she waited for her team or whatever, and she’s telling me she’s there for seminar on environmental stress as a PR person for this mining company. And I start telling her all about hiking and being 'at one with nature,' too, you know?  And I ask her about what she thinks about mining diamonds. And get this! She tells me that she thinks it's ridiculous 'cause they can be man-made without seriously damaging the eco-structure, but no one ever bothers to do it that way. So, dude, I'm all excited because, dude, she works for a mining company and she agrees with me about the evils of mining diamonds? What are the chances?!"
            "Can I call you back?  I have a situation with this rearview mirror that..."
            " I buy her drinks for a couple hours, and I start to realize that she ain’t leaving! Seminar’s way over, and she actually ends up staying until I get off work. And we grab a table while their vacuuming and talk more about how our personalities and philosophies and respect for all living creatures is similar and how, at our respective jobs, we’re basically doing the same thing to..."
            "What?  How are you in any way 'doing the same thing?'"
            "...and pretty soon we're back up in her hotel room where I start fucking the shit out of this silly bitch. She tells me that she hasn't been fucked like that in a long time even though she has a serious boyfriend at home in Canada that she's been with for years. And she's fucking hot."
            "What exactly does she look like? You?"
            "Dude, she's hot. Kinda big, but cute. It’s not as important as what I’m about to tell you. So, while she's working on me, dude..."
            He pauses a moment, thinking he’s adding some suspense.
            "Dude. Dude. Dude. I decide to stick a finger up her ass. You know, for kicks?"
            At this moment I glance up and see a sign, of course, telling us both that we’re going the 'Wrong Way.'"
            "I’m, like, laughing and I tell her, 'Invader, sector nine!' and make this cute little alarm noise at the top of my lungs. And she starts going, 'Oh, my god, what are you doing?'  And I'm cramming my finger up there like I'm scratching a stack of lottery tickets and holding up the line at the gas station. And now she's like, 'Oh, shit. That’s not bad. I’m embarrassed because no one's ever done that.' So I say to her, 'Well, if you think that feels good, you're going to love this.' And I flip her over on her back and doink! jam my shit up her ass. She's all squirming around at first, but then gets into it, saying the same nonsense, 'I can't believe I actually like this,' and 'I don’t know why I never thought of this before,' and 'Is this a good idea medically?' and yap, yap, yap..."
            At this point I think I hear a voice in the background and ask him where Tea’s at, worried that he’s going to get busted.
            "I don't know. No, that’s not her. She's out of town, looking for another house. Did I tell you she’s knocked up?  I’m gonna be a dad. Hold on..."
            I hear a long string of keypad tones as his pushes buttons on his phone.
            "Who are you calling, man, I’m still..."
            He pushes about nine more buttons then sighs in my ear.
            "Was that supposed to be a song?"
            "No,  dude. You don’t remember?  That was the code for invincibility from Carjacker, the greatest game of all time."
            "No, I don’t remember. Maybe it’s the code that gives you another car just like the one you’re driving. Anyway, where was I?"
            "You had fingers working her ass like a grave rubbing."
            "So I’m hooking my thumb in her mouth and I’m cracking this ass for hours, dude! It's in-fucking-credible. But when I leave, I sneak out thinking I can't have her looking me up or I'll get caught. So I don't leave a name or nothin'. And on the way home, I stop at a gas station to wash my face since it looks like a week-old glazed donut so I can risk creeping back in the house. But dude, dude..."
            Now he’s finally whispering.
            "…dude, she's cool. You know why? Think about it. She's a PR person for a mining company and she totally agrees with me about the environmental distress caused by diamond mining and the rape of the environment and the impact of our..."
            "What would your girlfriend think if she knew all this?  Or how about the guy who sent his little princess off to her seminar with a tender kiss at the airport, and she comes home fucking reamed and acting different somehow that he just can’t put his finger on?"
            Jay starts laughing and describing tiresome reunion scenarios.
            "Put his finger on! No shit! Yeah, like, what’s up with the weird way she’s started bringing him his her ass! And how lately he keeps losing the remote her ass! Poor Canadian bastard, but he really should have been taking care of business instead of just watching all that hockey. Hold on, man..."
            He starts pretending we were talking hockey as he’s setting the phone down.
            ", if Detroit loads that team like Colorado did back in '99, hell, like we did with the '98 version of the same season, they wouldn’t need to stack so many defensemen up against..."
            The end of his phone thuds again, and I hear his voice fade off around a corner. Then, I hear the distinct sound of someone breathing who's trying not to breathe. I stop making airplane noise with my lips and yell out:
            "Hey! Finish the story about fucking that chick in the ass!"
            A girl’s voice. Slow and sinister. And a question with no question mark.
            "What did you just say."
            "Wrong number." 
            I hang up. Oops. The phone starts hopping in my hand. I hit the button but luckily don’t get it up to my ear quick enough.
            "What the fuck?!"
            "Sorry, Jay. Thought we got unplugged. You’ll make a great dad, motherfucker."
            I hang up again. And again. And again.

strange, stranger, strangest

            When I hit Fairmount, Indiana, I think that it makes sense that I’m back at this grave one more time. So many people fuck around with it, I’m surprised nobody’s tried digging anything up. Or digging anything down.
            Up down up right down left up…
            I always regretted not taking a handful of pennies off that headstone to cover some of the expenses of those roadtrips. I don’t make that mistake again. Even if it just pays for a couple feet of gasoline, it’s worth it just for how wrong it feels to steal them.
            I glance up to my rearview mirror and the sight of the headlights makes me hit the brakes with both feet. My car pitches sideways and almost into a ditch. Looking back, the eyes are gone. I can’t believe it. I count to a hundred and look back again. Still gone. I step out onto the road. My first footsteps in another state. I start walking back down the Morse code of dots and dashes and stop when I hear the rumble of the car. It’s sideways, too. That’s why I couldn’t see its eyes. And there’s the shadow of someone on the road, exactly halfway to me. I wave. It waves. I hold up my other hand. It does, too. We’re not close enough to make out any details like sex, race, or number of fingers. I put my bad hand down. It follows. Then I put my hand up. I get an idea.           
            Up, down, left, right, down, left, up. Now there’s four headlights behind the shadow. I do it again. Now there’s six lights. One more time. Up, down, left, right, down, left, up. Now there’s eight. I think I hear a laugh, and then we’re both running back to our cars.
            Inside, I delete Jay’s number from my phone.
            A mile later, I follow those same directions, of course substituting “down” with “neutral” and rolling backwards at a couple red lights until the cars behind me honk in fear and anger. After I complete all those turns, I look to the clock on the stereo to see if it’s slowed down. It’s blinking zeros, as if the girl who owned it never bothered to set it, so I can’t tell. It could be the battery finally giving out. I hope that I didn’t accidentally speed everything up with the wrong code. I promised myself I’d only drive for three hours, not three days. Then I type the last code into my phone and stop my car.
            On the road, I walk around my car to see if anything in the distance winks, and near the graveyard, I notice a pink-and-purple bandanna tied to the lowest limb of a dying tree near the ditch.
            The bandanna is at face level. Closer until it’s at eye level. Bend my knees until it’s nose level. The sweet rain and sweat and the idea of breathing in the scent of my first local redlines my senses so fast that I have to put a hand on the trunk to stable myself. The tree rocks under my weight. Leaning forward, I see a ring that her salt has burned deep into the bark. I bury my face and smell deeper. Deeper until I sneeze.
            The headlights flicker to get my attention, and I’m halfway to the other car before I notice a gun has appeared in my hand from nowhere. And I’m halfway home before I stop seeing the disbelief in her eyes, her naked hand up in horror like a child who thinks if she can’t see you, you can’t see her. And I’m halfway to the state line before I stop thinking about that bandanna detonating behind her windshield like a burrito in the microwave. I’m halfway to hell when I realize I’ll never stop this car again.

David James Keaton’s fiction has appeared in Pulp Modern, Needle, Crime Factory, Beat To A Pulp, and Thuglit, among others and is forthcoming in Drive-In Fiction and the Pure Slush novel-in-stories Gorge. He has a zombie fiasco called Zee Bee & Bee available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and is also the editor of Flywheel Magazine. He thinks cheat codes are for pussies and only uses them if he has to. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Issue #34 -- August, 2012

by Chris Leek

By the time I was eighteen, my old man was a two time loser. Just one more bar fight away from a permanent six by eight room down at Carson City. He’d only got out of there in January, paroled six months early from a five stretch. That was a pretty easy ride considering he’d left a guy shitting through a tube, all over some $20 whore from Elko.

It was too much for my mom; just the thought of him back in our house sent her off the deep end. I come back from work, banging the snow off my boots and found her sitting buff naked on the cold kitchen floor, rocking back and forth, just sort of hugging herself. On the table was a letter from the parole board saying how they were letting good old Brad Fisher out early on account of him being a reformed character and all.

Soon as she got her senses back she took off for family in Mesquite. I didn’t blame her one bit. I was young back then but I remember well enough the bruises he’d put on her. It got so some days her face looked like banana that had gone over. If I had any sense I would’ve gone with her, but sense was hard to come by when I was around Jaycee Morris.


The day Lester Smith pulled on his pants for the last time was as fine and warm as any that spring. It was past noon on Saturday I was working out back on my truck while my old man was sleeping Friday night off in the house. He’d been home three or four months by then and so far we’d rubbed along okay, mostly by keeping clear of each other.

“Hey Pete.”

I looked up and saw Jaycee walking toward me across the meadow, her bare feet caked in drying mud from the creek. She was wearing nothing but Daisy Duke cut offs and a little white t-shirt she’d tied in a knot so as it showed off her tits. I swear she was like a vision sent from heaven.

Jaycee lived across the drift in a two room tar paper shack with her Grandma and a party of scrawny chickens. She was bare seventeen years old and had these huge blue eyes that were too big for her face, dirty blonde hair that never saw a brush and chipped pink nail polish on her fingers and toes. She was no more than skinny white trash but to me she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I would have walked through fire for Jaycee and she knew it.

“Did you fix your truck yet?” she asked, sliding up next to me and peeping under the hood.

“I almost got it,” I said, although that beater was never more than 20 or so miles away from another breakdown.

“Give me $10 Petey?” She asked knowing I got it ’cause I’d been paid.

“For what? I gave you $5 just last night.”

“If you give me $10 you can take me to the drive-in tonight and I’ll do that thing with my mouth,” she said, twisting her hair around a finger and looking up at me with those enormous eyes. She played me like a god damn slot machine and knew exactly how hard to yank the handle to make me to pay out.


It was getting on for dark when I finally coaxed that tapped out engine back into life. Jaycee had spent the afternoon lying off in the long grass, bumming my cigarettes and picking the dirt from under her nails with a twig. I had some ideas about what we could do when I joined her in the grass but as the motor spluttered and caught she jumped up, and climbed in the truck.

“C’mon Pete let’s go, or we’ll miss the start of the movie.”

By the time we got to the Motor-Vu the place was full to bursting. It was the first night of the new Rocky movie; I don’t remember which one but they were all much the same. I had to go park way over in back. The warp in the old plywood screen meant that from here it would be like watching through the bottom of a milk bottle. I found a spot, killed the motor and pulled the speaker in, hooking it on the window.

“Petey will you go get me a soda?”

“Hell Jaycee, the movie’s starting.”

“Aw go on, pleaseee, I’m real thirsty.” Those eyes again, I had already lost.

I hiked across the lot and stood in line at the concession stand, watching the action playing above me on the screen. Stallone was hitting some black guy and getting punched back, every blow sounded like a steel hammer pounding on a box girder.

I bought a big chug of soda and went to find chemical Eric. He was at his usual pitch behind the john and I managed to score a couple of bennies from him for two bucks a piece. I swallowed them both down with a gulp of coke before walking back through the endless rows of cars and trucks. You could see the folks inside, lit by the dim glow of the 7W bulbs hung on the speaker poles. Slices of life played out in those little capsules of light; people eating, talking, kissing and fooling around. It was like walking past the row of TV sets in old Hobson’s electrical store.

When I got to my truck there was a guy in bib overalls leaning in my window. Jaycee’s tongue was busy counting up his fillings. She saw me coming and pulled back, the guy turned around, squaring up to me.

I could feel the bennies kicking in, my blood pumping round me like it was in a real hurry and my dick stood out from my pants so as you could’ve hung a bucket from it.

“What the fuck are you lookin’ at dickweed?” he said.

He’s big as a horse but kinda dumb looking with a flat face that seemed like it might have some rooms available for rent behind it. I ain’t much of a fighter but I ain’t a coward neither so I fronted him out.

“You got your hands on my girl and my truck, either one’ll be enough to get you trouble.”

“Yeah, well fuck you, she don’t see it that way, do y’ darlin’?” he said all smug like.
Jaycee just sat there not saying nothing, looking at us and grinning like a cat that’s got the cream.

“Fuck you back asshole,” I said, dropping the coke and balling up my fists.

He swung at me then, like a rusty gate. Maybe it was the speed running through me but everything from there on happened like it was in slow motion.

I ducked his haymaker real easy and drove a fist into his gut; he folded over with a sound like steam escaping.

“Get him Pete, hurt him, hurt him bad,” Jaycee screamed out the window.

So I let fly with a big uppercut that caught him flush on the jaw and broke my little finger, but I didn’t feel it ’till later. He let out a groan and went down against the door. All around us headlights were snapping on and I heard people shouting. I got the crazy idea that they stopped showing Stallone and it was my fight playing on the big screen.

I don’t know if it was Jaycee yelling me on, but I did something I ain’t proud of then and laid my boot to his head. Blood splattered up the truck and his face skewed sideways with a horrible cracking noise.

“Jesus Petey, you done near killed him,” Jaycee said peering down out of the window, still grinning.


The pickup tore up rubber and spat out gravel as we slewed away from the drive in. I drove that pile of junk like it was a Pontiac Grand Prix and I was Richard Petty on the flag lap of the 500.

“Does your hand hurt much?” Jaycee asked as we hammered up the highway touching on 70.

“Some.” I said looking at my swollen knuckles and the new kink to my little finger.

“Am I really your girl Pete?”

“You know you are Jaycee, I just wish you’d act like it now and again.”

“You think they’ll call the cops?”

“Yeah… maybe, hell I don’t know.”

“Don’t be mad Petey,” she said and slid across the seat cozying up to me.

I put my arm around her bony shoulders, the cops didn’t matter then.

“We should go away you and me, just leave, maybe go and stay in Mesquite with my mom.” I said.

“What do I want to go to Mesquite for, I like it here.”

“Maybe it’ll be better, you know someplace else.”

“What if it’s not?”

I couldn’t think of an answer to that, it was hard to think straight when Jaycee had her hand in my shorts.


The pickup wheezed as we bounced up the rutted track to my place. It wasn’t even midnight but my old man’s rusted-out Ford was there so I sent Jaycee packing for home with a squeeze of her ass.

“I meant what I said ‘bout us going away,” I said.

She stood on tip toe and kissed me, biting my lip so hard I could taste blood.

“See ya’ tomorrow Rocky,” she said and ran off around back giggling.

I followed her and went in the back door hoping to avoid my dad. Usually on a weekend he would come back from the State with a mean skin full looking for someone to take it out on, either that or he would get all melancholy for my mom and start in crying about how it weren’t fair. I soon learned it was best not to be home on a Saturday night. I wet a towel under the kitchen faucet and wrapped it around my bust hand.

“That you boy?” he called from the front room.

He was sat on the ruined couch, the stuffing poking out from the cushion behind his head made it look like his hair had gone mad. I could see right off something was wrong, he was drunk but beneath it he was scared too. I ain’t ever seen that in him before.

“I got trouble,” he said looking at the floor

“Bad?” I asked him knowing there weren’t any other kind in our house.

“Reckon so, I need you to do something for me and I need your truck.”

“What for, I just got it running?”

“Follow me.”

He took me out front and opened the trunk of his Ford. I noticed his hands shaking as he fumbled with the latch

“Is that Lester Smith?” I asked peering at the crumpled body among the rusty tools and empty beer cans. He was hard to make out with his neck all twisted around like that but I could still read Lester’s Bait & Ammo sewed on his shirt pocket.

“Yep, I guess it is,” my dad said, rubbing his chin.

“How… What… Is he dead?”

“It weren’t my fault, hell you know I liked Lester.”

“Then why the fuck is he in the trunk?”

“It was just damn crazy. I was coming back from the State, I guess I had a drink or two but I was alright. I come around the corner by the bait shop and there’s Lester stood in the road. He’s got a bottle in one hand and his dick in the other; hollering at the moon like a banshee and taking a fuckin’ wiz in the middle of the street, before I knew it I’d flipped him clean over the roof... Like I said it weren’t my fault.”

“Then if it was an accident, why didn’t you call an ambulance or something?”

“I dunno, I got out and seen he’s all mashed up and I guess I just panicked.”

“Shit.” Was all I could think to say.

We stood there both of us just staring at Lester and him staring back without seeing us through his one bloodshot eye, the other one wasn’t there anymore.

“You know what the law thinks of me; they’ll try and stick me with murder this time for sure.”

“Then what the hell do we do?”

“I figured I’ll take Lester out to the hot springs ; the holes in the ground up there go real deep. I’ll need your truck though, the Ford’s about had it, besides there’s bits of him stuck all over the front. It'll need you to go burn it out.”

There was nothing to say, blood was blood and he was mine, no matter what I might think about it. I went and dragged an old tarp out from under the porch and together we lifted Lester out of the trunk and dumped him on it. His head was nearly on backwards and he was already starting to stink up. I could feel myself getting sick and forced it away. The old man rolled him up and we carried him to the bed of my pickup.

“You get in a fight boy?” he asked, noticing the towel around my hand.

“Yeah, but it weren’t nothing,” I said, thinking the cops might be asking me about something other than Lester Smith in the morning.

“Over that Morris girl I’ll bet, I knew her father, they ain’t a good family.”

Somehow he forgot we were carrying a stiff in a tarp and imagined ours was a whole heap better.

We heaved Lester up and he landed in the bed of the truck with a dull thud.

“Take the Ford out in the desert and make sure you torch it good, if anyone asks just tell them it got stolen.”

“Okay, assuming they believe someone’s desperate enough to steal that piece of shit what then?”

“I ain’t going to be around for a while, I guess maybe for good, so you gotta look to yourself from now on boy.” He said and held out his hand to me. I ain’t ever shaken my old man’s hand before and I don’t suppose I ever will again.


It was getting light as I walked back through the scrub, a smear of dirty smoke stained the pink dawn sky behind me as the Ford burned down to its rubbers out past the drift.

I walked past Jaycee’s house, startling some chickens that went flapping across the door yard. I thought about her curled up inside all naked under her blanket. I wished I could stay, wished she would come away with me.

I wished it could be different.

Chris Leek lives mostly in Cambridge, England, and occasionally in Henderson, Nevada. He writes mainly for the hell of it and perhaps also for the good of his soul. His work has been widely published on the web, recent examples can be found at The Molotov Cocktail, Near To The Knuckle and In Between Altered States. More can be found here:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Issue #33 -- August, 2012

by Fiona Johnson

Beeny found a mangy dog, dead for days. It was lying on the council rubbish dump and he knew it would make perfect target practice, a gift from the gods. He wondered what damage a handgun could do to real flesh. Would there be a thwump as the bullet hit the carcass?

He poked at its scrawny arse. Would the bullets go right through the dog’s body? Gingerly he toed it again. Gave him a funny sensation the dog could still jump up at him, suddenly spring back to life.

“Agh! Fuck, shit!” Beeny swung round to see that Jango had pounced ninja-like at him, pulling his parka hood over his head. Bloody hilarious.

“Oh man, that was dead brilliant. Look there’s keech running down your leg!”

“Fuck off Jango, there is not; you’re just a fuckwit. The gun could’ve gone off, I could have just pulled the trigger…”

“Aye, and shot yourself up the arse!”

Jango laughed at the funniest stunt he’d pulled for a long time but Beeny seethed with indignant rage.

“Its no’ a real gun anyways,” pointed out Jango, “do you think I’m daft. Where would you get a real gun, you know, one that fires actual bullets?”

“Is so real!”

“Don’t be stupid, give it here. Let me see, it’s one of them imitation jobs.”

“No, it’s mine and it’s the real fuckin’ deal. It’s a semi-automatic Makarov pistol. So stick that up yours!”

“Bollocks! You been having a wiki-leak again? Let me see it.”

Jango held out his hand for the gun.

“Naw, you’re not having it. I got it last night in the pub from a Polish guy, took me out the back. He had it wrapped up in a black bin bag.”

“And what? He just ‘gave’ it to you?”

“Stop being a wanker, course he didn’t.” Beeny kicked at a stone, hitting the dead dog. “He said I could have it on a five-day trial and if I like it I can buy it off him for a hundred spondulicks.”

“And this Polish guy just let you walk away with it? What did you do? Stick it up yer jumper?”

“No…Aye…well, what else was I supposed to do with it?”

“What was the Polish guy’s name? Did he give you his mobile number?”

“Don’t know and nope.”

“And you don’t think that there’s anything unusual about all that? No wee bells ringing or no wee lights coming on in that huge brain of yours?”

“I’ve just got it for five days. If I don’t like it he’ll take it back…”

Jango closed his eyes and rubbed his close-cropped head. Never in his life, knowing already how stupid and naive Beeny could be, did he ever, ever think that he was this stupid.

“Give me the gun.” Jango stretched out his hand.

“No. Fuck off. It’s mine.” Beeny stuck the gun into his parka pocket.

“Is it loaded?”

“Aye. Course it is, it’s a bloody gun!” Beeny grinned at Jango and stuck his chest out, proud of his new found power.


“What? You’re just jealous ’cause I’ve got a piece and you haven’t. With this I’m going to hit the high times. I don’t need you any more and your poxy wee robberies. Now I can do anything I want and get some real dineros.” Beeny turned, and just to make the point to Jango about what a big man he now was, he fired off a couple of rounds into the dog’s rear end. “You wee shitting beauty!”

“Stop it! That’s enough. Fine, if you’re sure that’s how you want it.” Jango looked Beeny straight in the eye. “So come on, share your master plan because this I have to hear, and put the bloody gun away.”

“K Jango, Here’s my offer. Let’s do a job on Friday night but this time I’m in charge. I’ll call the shots and you’ll go along with me. Let’s see if you can take it Mr. I Know Fuckin’ Everything. I’ll select the target and then I can have first dabs at the good stuff for once. Got it? Do we have a deal?”

Jango nodded his head. Give Beeny enough rope and all that…

“Is that an affirmative?”

“Aye, it is. You’re on. You’re the big man. Let’s see what you’re made of.”


One a.m. and Jango cut the lights in the battered white transit and crept into the crescent. There’s not many posh areas in Irvine but Beeny had managed to find one in a secluded, green-hedged and wrought-iron gated oasis, far away from the damp high-rises and pigeon-splattered pavements of their more regular stomping grounds.

“You sure about this Beeny? Is this not a wee bit out of our league?”

“Fuck’s sake man, I tell you, I know what I’m doing. This is an old house, the windows and locks are going to be dead easy to do. A wee breenge from your shoulder and we’ll be in.”

“And your auntie told you this? Is she sure? Sounds a bit too good to be true to me!”

“I tell you, it’s true. She’s cleaned for them for years and she says they’re so fuckin’ rich, go abroad on holidays all the time but too fuckin’ stupid to put in proper double glazing or new locks on the doors! Anyway, folk like them, they’ll just claim back on the insurance if anything is missing. It’s win, win.”

“Right, okay, what do you want us to do?”

“She says they’re all out tonight, away to some big do in Glasgow so all we do is get in and back out without the neighbors seeing us. C’mon.”

Leaving the van at the end of the drive, Beeny and Jango slid out, stayed off the crunching gravel and stepped out into the pitch-blackness. They could just make out the house in the distance with its white painted gable looming. Silence hung in the velvet air. Beeny gripped the gun.

An owl hooted and Beeny’s heart froze before doing a triple flip.

“Get a fuckin move on man,” wheezed Jango.

Heading off again, at a brisker pace, Beeny repeated their mantra, “Quick in, quick out.”

A few minutes later they reached the side of the building, quickly slipped around the corner and looked for the back door. Reaching out his hand, Beeny felt the cold iron of the doorknob, gave a quick breenge to the door with his shoulder, the lock gave way and they were in. Standing in the dark of the room, they both gasped for air.


Upstairs, old Mrs. Reynolds stirred in her bed. She had changed her mind about going out but woke when she heard the slightest creak coming from the ancient oak floorboards. Beside her Hugo sniffed the air, hair on the scruff of his neck already standing on end.

“What is it boy? Do you hear something?”

Stepping into her slippers, she got out of bed; Mrs. Reynolds patted the dog on the head as they both listened for any more movement.


The dog moved first, heading straight for the door with Mrs. Reynolds only a few steps behind. Pretty sure somebody was moving around downstairs in the old laundry and they’d just walked into the old tin bath that sat in front of the sink where the family put their outdoor shoes before tramping mud through the house.

“Shoosh boy, let’s take this quietly, we don’t want to give ourselves away,” the old woman whispered to the dog, keeping a hold on his collar to stop him from bolting down the stairs as he so obviously wanted to do.

“Right Hugo, let’s go see who we’ve got visiting tonight, shall we? Let’s have a bit of fun with them!”


“Could you not see that great big tin bath right in front of your nose, you stupid eejit?”

Beeny glowered back at Jango, “It’s fine, chill, there’s naebody at home, it doesn’t matter. Come on. Quick in, quick out.”

Jango shook his head and sighed at Beeny, hoping for once that their luck might be in.

Beeny knew he needed to open the door from the laundry just far enough, squeeze through, head into the hallway, look for the room on the left where he’d been told to go by his auntie; look for paintings and small knick-knacks. Better money than Xboxes and Argos jewelry.

“This way Jango, come on, get the bags ready,” Beeny whispered over his shoulder as he pushed open the sitting room door.

Once inside he shone the torch around and gawped at the opulence; over-stuffed sofas, open fire with a high mantelpiece, grand piano covered in family photos and glass display cabinets clinging to every wall.

“I think we’re in fuckin’ Buckingham Palace, Jango!”

The boy stood in awe and it was only when Jango threw the bags down on the floor beside him that he awoke from his stupor and remembered why he was there.

“Right, come on, grab stuff and fill the bags up, but watch out just in case the corgis bite your ankles,” Jango laughed as he pushed past Beeny.


Behind the sitting-room door Evelyn stood with Hugo, listening to her two unannounced visitors. Chuckling, she waited her moment, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before they attempted their escape. Saw her son’s fat face discovering he’d been burgled. Lazy toad. Deserved everything he got.

“Okay, Hugo, here we go, remember to play along with me,” and at that she let out a terrified moan.

Beeny and Jango froze in their tracks, unable to move or breathe.

Pushing the heavy white door open, Evelyn asked, “Is there anybody there?” in her best shaky old woman voice. She flicked on the light switch and saw the two scallies in front of her.

“It’s okay missus, just don’t move and we’ll be out of here.” It was then that they saw the dog move from behind Evelyn’s legs and heard the low growl.

“Shit Jango, she’s got a dug! A bloody big Alsatian!”

Beeny, gun out of his pocket, waved it at the old woman.

“Lose the dog missus or I’ll shoot him, I will, just you watch!”

“You’d better do as he says missus, that gun could go off at any time. Come on, don’t be daft about this.”

Evelyn, standing up straight, smirked at Beeny and Jango, no flicker of fear, and addressed them both, still holding onto her snarling dog.

“Do you think I’m some useless, old codger? My name is Evelyn Reynolds and I’m 83 years old, but I’m not gaga despite what my family thinks.”

“Nobody said you were gaga gran, but seriously, we don’t want to hurt you.”

“Hey missus, the dug gets it if you make one wrong move,” Beeny spat out at her trying to keep the fear from his voice.

“Come on then, just do what my mate says. We’re no’ wanting any trouble, we’re just taking a few things. Be sensible, move the dog.” Jango tried to look reasonable holding his hands out in a gesture of trust.

“I don’t know who you are and I don’t actually care,” explained Evelyn, addressing Jango, “but I’ve got a plan, if you would care to listen. I’ve seen more of life than you ever will, you know.” Evelyn looked at Beeny straight in the eye. “I got my pilot’s license at twenty-three, flew solo across the Atlantic to New York where I met my husband, a wealthy investment banker. I returned to Scotland when he died ten years ago.”

“I’m not interested in your life story granny! Move the dug now!” Beeny headed towards Evelyn.

“You don’t scare me young man. Before I had my two children I canoed down the Orinoco River, I’ve climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and trekked to Machu Picchu long before tourists could go there on a bus. A burglar or two is nothing to me; in fact the thought of a bit of excitement is quite delicious! Living with the family as the ‘aged granny’ is quite suffocating and if you would put down that little toy you call a gun, I’ll tell you what we are going to do. Let’s have some fun!”


Evelyn led the way upstairs taking Jango and Beeny to the master bedroom.

“This is where the real loot is,” announced Evelyn, “so let’s hurt the bastard and make it really count!” The tough old bird slid open the huge walk-in wardrobe lined on every side with hangers of suits and dresses organized by color, while beneath lay shelf upon shelf of shoes of every colour and design.

“This boys, is what my son fritters his father’s fortune on. Go look for yourself, every one has a designer label, Savile Row, made to measure, cashmere, Italian leather and as for her,” Evelyn spun round to the opposite side, “straight from the catwalks of Paris and Milan! Shoes that she’s never even worn once. This is what they live for, this is what my children value.”

Evelyn’s eyes blazed as she remembered trekking in the Himalayas, crossing the Andes and seeing the street children in Calcutta.

“Help yourself to whatever antiques you wish, but first I need you to destroy every item in here. Slash, rip, tear. Make sure everything’s destroyed. Then tie me up and leave me downstairs for Roger to find on his return. Hurry, time waits for no man, as someone once said.”

“Are you mad? You’ll just report us to the polis as soon as we’re gone. You’ve seen us both and you’ll be able to pick us out in a line up any day,” Jango exclaimed.

“No, I certainly will not. I’m a woman of my word and the reward for me will be to see the horror on my son’s face when he discovers what’s been done. As far as being able to identify you, I’m perfectly capable of telling the police that my attackers were two young men of Eastern European origin who spoke with heavily accented English.”

Beeny and Jango stared at each other.

“Now do we have a deal?” Evelyn stuck out her hand.

“Deal!” Beeny and Jango replied together.


Back in Jango’s flat the next day, as they examined the loot spread out around their feet, the boys watched a bit of TV and drank a couple of tins.

“Did that really happen, man?”

“Aye, it did, I think anyways, bizarre old bird though!”

And in other news, an 83-year-old woman has had a lucky escape after being tied up during a robbery at her son’s home where she lives. The robbers escaped with an unspecified amount of antiques whilst also causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to the family home. When called to the house in the early hours of this morning, the police discovered a handgun that has been identified as the weapon used in a recent hold up at a post office in Kilmarnock.”

“That wouldn’t be your gun they’re talking about by any chance?”

“Aye, I think it might be…” Beeny stared down at his left sock and tried to
maneuver his big toe back inside the hole it was sticking out from.

“So you actually did realize the gun was hot and the Polish guy had dumped it on the
first sucker he could find? My god, Beeny, I never had you down as being as smart
as that!” Jango ruffled Beeny’s hair.

“Eh, well, actually…I think I just put the gun down on a shelf when we were ripping
up the clothes and I…eh…just forgot to pick it up again…”

“Oh shite! You’re a jammy wee dodger!”

Beeny grinned at the compliment from his mate as he popped open another tin.

“Cheers, mate.”

Fiona Johnson, aka McDroll, is the author of the serialized crime novel The Wrong Delivery
and the short story collection Kick It Together; a mix of drama, crime, noir and comedy. The charity anthology The Lost Children was the culmination of a 50th birthday project that benefits Protect in the US and Children 1st in Scotland through sales on both sides of the Atlantic. Other short stories by McDroll are littered around the online world, most notably in Shotgun Honey, The Flash Fiction Offensive and Near 2 the Knuckle as well as in the anthologies Off the Record, Burning Bridges and True Brit Grit. She reviews & blogs here:
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