Thursday, July 18, 2013

Issue #56 -- July 2013

By Steve Prusky

Willy is a bitter man. By birthright, he inherited the same fifty-two-card deck as the rest of us, including two jokers. During the sixty five years he has trod this earth he drew no face cards; no aces, kings, not even jacks, just low numbers, two’s and three’s mostly--in spades--and even then never a pair, a wild card, three of a kind, a full house.

Willy is content to wallow in despair, embellish the history of his misfortune, guzzle rat piss bourbon, narrate myriad tales of him--the luckless loner--versus the world. Most importantly, to Willy at least, he has me, his involuntary confidant, personal bartender, the imagined friend who slings short shots and diluted cocktails to him and the bedraggled few during the late hours on graveyard at the Pair-a-Dice Lounge. Fremont and Eastern, the corner the Lounge occupies, is the premier skid row that sets the bar all other Vegas skid rows mimic.

By mid-shift, the early morning crowd has thinned. My slit-eyed house pimp is off to fuck his favorite filly. Springer, the resident rock ho, gave up selling sleeve jobs for a hit and left with an all-night trick. The prowling undercover cop slithered out early, shed the glued-on beard and guinea tee to cruise other parts of town on his endless quest to cuff potential felons, streetwalkers, smack back nodding junkies. The prison-inked Aryan Brother biker is finished feeding the last of his meth money to the bar top poker machine. He pounds his beer mug on the video screen, shattering both, and slowly saunters toward the door. He is in no mood to stop if I threaten a Metro call. I am no mood to keep him occupied until the police arrive. That leaves me alone with lost-in-the-sauce, swimmy-headed, talky Willy and a destroyed poker machine.

Willy wanders in here this morning already half drunk, probably eighty-six’d from the Sunset Bar two blocks north on Eastern. Willy visits the Pair-a-Dice on occasion. This morning he continues to drink his breakfast on my shift in this mausoleum for the breathing dead. He starts right in where he probably left off with the previous bartender. “Life cheated me,” Willy says wearing a downtrodden pout. “I never got a break. No chance. Ninth grade as far as I got. I had to claw my way through existence on my wits alone. . .”

It is immediately evident what wits he has have done him little good. I focus on his silhouette in the krypton orange neon glow of humming beer and liquor signs attached to the wall behind him. Inch-long curling hairs sprout from his ears. A thriving grey beard approaches its fourth day of fruition. His blank, thousand-yard stare accentuates fleshy dark puffy circles around his yellowing eyes. His turkey neck flaps when he talks, his bulbous jowls undulate in rhythm with each vowel. His body must have the shelf life of a Twinkie, although by his appearance death is just one more shot of no name bourbon away. He is gaunt, sagging flesh that once held genetic substance dangles loosely from his boney arms. His only nourishment now is hard liquor, and an occasional Karl's Jr. Happy Star. He exists as if he still stands in the soup lines of the Great Depression unable to venture beyond the past. When he gives it all up to feed the worms, my guess is his last words will be, “It was a shitty life and now this!”

"So, what is it today Willy, bourbon or bourbon?" I say.

"Always a wise ass huh! A shot for each fist . . ." Then he starts again, ". . . Deserted by my parents, my ethnic heritage stripped from me. Divorced twice; bitches got it all both times." Willy tinctures each lament with various shades of anger, self-pity, contempt, but is his tirade more a cloaked appeal for empathy than a complaint?

"How so? How did that come about?" I say.

"Set up another shot, pour yourself one too and let’s talk about it." I suspect I will hear an excess of ‘oh poor me’s’ this morning.

"Why do I set myself up for this?" I mumble.

"What?" Willy says. I'm unable to understand why he glumly back strokes laps around his shallow pond of emotional penury with no interest in reaching shore.

"Nothing Willy . . . nothing. Crown Royal for me, well, bourbon for you, right Willy?"


I take a twenty from the bottom of his neatly organized stack of bar top bills. Willy, like the select few who call the Pair-a-Dice home until dawn, is too content in his misery to end it with a knife to the spleen, or a quick bullet to the brain. He is intent on drinking himself to death and he is failing at it, but he certainly excels in the effort.

"Now, what were you saying?"

I pour two shots. Willy swills his as if shooting cheap liquor is an art. He quietly stares somewhere far beyond this life, well past me, ignoring the reality of the present, silently waiting for the warm alcohol rush to take effect. I sip mine dry and pour two more.

"So, go on Willy, I got 'till eight." We clink and tip our glasses empty. I earn forty dollars a shift to be an understanding ear feeding the peevish their appeal for sympathy.

"What luck I have." He lights his first Pall Mall of the morning and holds the smoke in to calm his nicotine jones. He sarcastically rasps his lament in a guttural growl while his lungs absorb another dose of carcinogens, "Went from Litvak immigrant parents to a Catholic orphanage, survived the Great Depression, the Army and World War II all inside the fifteen worst years of my life." He forcefully blows jet-like contrails of grey/white smoke through his nose.

"What's a Litvak?" . . . Will I regret asking? Will his reply be one of the reasons why I drink too?

"A Lithuanian Jew. I grew up during the Great Depression a first generation American born Jew in a Catholic orphanage. . . Another round, one for you too."

"A Lithuanian Jew in a Catholic orphanage. That's a new one." All right, I take the hook--he has me. I must be polite. It's a bartender’s essential task to stand by and listen when drunk fucks like Willy vent. "I gotta hear this one Willy." I slur a bit--I'm four shots of ahead of Willy's visit. I silently toast Willy’s generosity--I refuse to hear his diatribe sober. I sink twenty in the dollar bar top video slot machine a stool down from Willy--no luck.

"Ma and Pa emigrated from Lithuania in 1918. I'm the youngest of thirteen brothers and sisters. I was born in '24. Pop deserted us just before I turned eight in January of '33. We were always hungry after that and not just for dinner either." I dig in the till, play another twenty on my machine, get a free pass on two of a kind; it all disappears on four diamonds and a spade. I sink a dollar in, it deals a hand, I hold off on the draw to leave the video screen active; no one else will play it lit.

"Your mother couldn't find work?"

"It was the Great Depression idiot; no one had work."

"Yea, that's right. I forgot about the Depression." I hold back a yawn, pour us both another shot. "On me," I say. He quaffs his drink slower when the house buys.

"Ma handed me over to St. Joseph Orphanage in south Milwaukee that winter. The place is an asphalt parking lot now."

"No Jewish relief society?"

"Not in a town filled with immigrant Polish Catholics, German Bunds peopled by Nazi sympathizers. The orphanage was on the corner of 18th and Euclid, near a part of town called Polonia: another word for 'Little Poland' if that tells you anything about the ethnic character of the institution. I never saw mom and pop again. I don’t recall what happened to the others, my brothers and sisters I mean. They were older. A few spent maybe a year, two, or three at St Jo's, turned eighteen and left. The rest were old enough to strike out alone. Don't even know their names . . . Set up two more." I pluck another twenty from the stack next to his empty glass, ring up two shots, keep the change, heart-felt sympathy from a captive audience costs.

"Do you remember your parents’ names?" I sink fifteen more in the machine full up at five dollars a hand, draw five times; get nothing better than a pair.

"Nope, forgot those too."

"How long were you in the orphanage?" I glance up at the clock. End of shift is an hour nearer.

"Long enough to forget my heritage and . . ." Another drunk arrives from the Eight Mile Bar a mile east of here. I hustle toward the new drinker in mid-sentence. ". . . Hey! I'm talking here," orphan Willy says.

"Be right back."

The morning star peeks over Sunrise Mountain. Shift change traffic rumbles both ways on Fremont to and from the downtown casinos. I return to my complaining stray. It's 6:30 a.m. My shift ends at 8:00. I make eighty dollars in tips off Willy the past few hours, owe the till forty and there is still a stack of Willy's bills on the bar. The place fills up fast with speedy-eyed graveyard Keno runners, leathery-faced Black Jack dealers, egotistic pit bosses dressed in ill-fitting, unaltered, off-the-rack J.C. Penny suits. This is the late night set just off shift from Jackie Gaughan's El Cortez Casino a mile and a half west on Fremont. They huddle at the pedestal tables farthest from the door. They hunch over their drinks like pointy-eared, concave-cheeked Nosferatu knock-offs avoiding the destructive light of the morning sun blazing through the poorly tinted glass door. The late comers line the bar and risk a tap on the shoulder from the deadly Gamma rays of day. They get drunk, loud and boisterous within an hour. I ramp the jukebox volume to the top peg, glasses rattle, the bass pops eardrums. The carousing throng joyously bellows inebriated laughter, the chancy ones slam the red buttons on the video machines betting on the draw, others pound the bar demanding another round. I have a profitable drunk fest going. I collect my tips from a tall chrome tumbler and donate the money to my machine. I am still in debt to the house, take twenty more from Willy and play it; he is too drunk to notice.

"The nuns changed my Litvak name from Jakoov Posval to Willy Poplawski so I would fit in with the Polish kids, but the official records the nuns kept tagged me a Jew--the only Jew in St. Jo's. Nuns even taught class in Polish for those that couldn’t speak English. No Yiddish, no Torah, no Talmud for me though." His eyes droop past his cheeks with an 'I feel sorry for myself' frown.

"What?" I run past Willy, drinks in hand stop and say "Oh yeah! Could they do that? Weren't there laws about name changes back then? Doesn't a judge need to rule on name changes?"

"Don't know. Got no birth certificate. Can't say for certain when my birthday is, although I think I'm sixty-five. No Social Security number, no credit cards. Not certain I can recite my service number from the Army. Not even sure of my . . ." I move on quickly; tips are flowing in as fast as I can play them.

"Don't let Immigration find that out," I say the next trip past. "These days they scoop up anyone that can't prove who they are," I say, and trod to the far end of the bar with more drinks in hand.

"They fed us lamb twice a day; broiled, charbroiled, fried, boiled--lamb is lamb. Never chops though. Haven't set a knife and fork to lamb since I left. Attending Mass was mandatory morning, noon and night. I was a conscript Jew for Jesus, a hesitant chameleon--Jew or Catholic, Catholic/Jew--never certain when or where to change color and blend in."

I hint I must clean up, stock the coolers with beer and keep the drinks flowing before my relief arrives. I abandon my machine. Willy contentedly mumbles his monologue to the top shelf liquor on the wall behind the bar. Stoli, Maker's Mark, Sambuca are his attentive audience now.

"The Felician sisters at St. Jo sanitized me, synthesized me, they systematically dogmatized me, nearly Christianized the Jew right out of me. They were staunch, determined to persevere even if the Vatican elected the Dalai Lama Pope. Hell, I'm glad Catholics aren't dunkers; I would have drowned for Jesus too."

I briefly stop on my next trip past him, "Sounds like pretty harsh treatment," I say, well past paying close attention to the reasons for his emotional deficiencies.

"Some of the other kids got adopted, but when a barren young couple interested in me showed up, they passed me over when the nuns told them a rabbi had carved my foreskin."

A player takes over my machine scores a Royal Flush full up the first hand played--four thousand dollars.

"A lot of that money you won is mine asshole. Been playing that machine all morning," I say.

"Your money's mine now," the winner taunts. I get a four hundred dollar tip, probably two hundred more than he would have given had I not complained. My luck is like that, always five dollars short from winning big, but I take what I can get. The lucky one orders drinks all around for over thirty thirsty drunks.

I played two hundred on that machine. I have the rent plus whatever tips are left. Deduct the money I stole from the house and I end up a hundred and fifty ahead. I move faster, I pour single shots, charge for doubles, toss the difference in my tin tumbler. No one in the crowd is sober enough to notice. Fuck the owner's profit margin.

"I left the orphanage at nineteen, in 1942 with no prospects. The Felician Sisters set me up with a job sweeping floors in the college dorms and maintaining Gesu Church at Marquette University . . ."

I field the phone. "Your shit's on the porch. I changed the locks," my fuck-buddy roomy says.

"But, I have enough right now to catch up on my share of the rent."

"Too late prick. You’ve said that before, but come back drunk and broke." She screams, “I'm done with you.” She slams the phone against the kitchen counter as if she aims the earpiece at my temple. I hear white noise on my end, hypnotic white noise.

" . . . They didn't teach high school at St Jo’s." Willy continues. "Couldn't do much with a ninth grade education; no skills much beyond pushing a broom and changing light bulbs. The Jesuit cook took to me and fed me well. I learned to drink flat back right next to him under the spigots of the sacrificial wine casks in the basement under the church. I got drunk and liked it. Been staying drunk to this day."

"So then, it worked out okay for you." I finish washing glasses and changing bar towels, pour two more shots, seize another twenty from Willy‘s pile.

"Naa, the war; that was the worst of it. I got my draft notice just after my nineteenth birthday in January of '43. Wasn’t out of the orphanage nine months. I was pissed, about to implode. It wasn't fair," he says. "But I expected it; in early '43, the war going badly, just out of the orphanage, the summons to serve was no surprise, but its implications were. A draft notice during World War II was as close to a death sentence one gets without trial. Ill fate. My bad luck I guess. Life owed me better than I got. I had just traded the strict discipline of the orphanage for the stricter discipline of the Army, but the Army came nowhere near preparing me for Eniwetok, Saipan and Okinawa. Learning to survive during the insanity of combat is brutal on the job training."

I sense an epic war story coming, but Willy's eyes roll up behind his lids, too drunk to share any lengthy tales.

My sleepy-eyed relief arrives, stops this side of the glass door and looks around in shock. Her face turns raspberry red. She places her palms to her ears, drags her fingers through her over-dyed red hair. She is not ready for this rowdy crowd at eight o'clock in the morning. She looks at me terrified, angry, turns toward the door to leave, thinks on it a moment and turns back my way. Willy crosses his arms on top the bar and lays his head on fleshless bony pillows. I come round to the drinking side of the bar and order my off-shift comp Long Island Ice Tea. I sit next to a sultry, Paris Hilton, "What the fuck do you want" type tit dancer I know. She has a cultivated, sinewy, boy/girl body built for rapid, acrobatic sex. We get friendlier than we should, briefly talk of screwing the day away, but agree our friendship is too good to destroy over a twice stepped on eight ball and an earth-tilting orgasm. Instead, she helps me play my money on the dollar bar top slots. We agree that if she wins on her machine, I get half. "Honky-tonk Women" roars from the jukebox. Mick Jagger drawls "Sitten' in a bar, tippin' a jar in Jackson." The music bounces off all four walls, the vibrations knock a cue stick off its rack.

My relief shakes Willy by the shoulder. "Up," she says. "Can't have you sleeping on the bar." He's too drunk to move. His bar top cash disappears. "Let him be," I say to her, "He's an orphan. He paid the price of admission." My tit dancer friend and I keep playing slots, drink, fondle. We get the spins by noon. My four-hundred dollar tip is gone. I have enough money left to stay overnight in a bug-infested room on Charleston and Fourth.

The aged stuffiness of my room is an orgy of every secretion deposited on the sheets since the motel became a third rate way stop for short stay whores and their johns. The neighbor to my left is a heroin addict I have served drinks to before. Through the wall to my right I hear a woman moaning "Oh daddy, oh daddy, ooohhh," as her headboard thumps the wall in rhythm with her lover's strokes.

I lay down, drooling drunk, clothes on. The overused sagging mattress strains my lower lumbar. I stare blankly at the old-fashioned popcorn speckled ceiling. It's 1:30 in the afternoon. Darkly smoked windows convince day to remain night. I'm no less a waif than Willy. This hotel is my orphanage, the room my dorm. I'm a lone cast off foundling no one will adopt; the Pair-a-Dice, Vegas nights, elusive jackpots, poor Willy's plight are my bunkmates here. Before I pass out, I imagine hearing the dead bolt click to the locked position at the hand of a phantom Felician sister on the other side. She will keep me here until my fellow orphans' beckon we gather at the Pair-a-Dice next graveyard shift.

Steve Prusky is a native of Detroit. He has been a resident of Las Vegas for the past twenty-seven years. Steve credits Joe Clifford, Bukowski, Faunte among those who have influenced his prose. His fiction has been featured in Circus of the Damned, Flash Fiction Offensive, Out of The Gutter, A Twist of Noir, The Legendary, and others.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Issue #55 -- July 2013

By Ryan Sayles

Jim tried one more time to shove his sandpaper-dry tongue through the gym sock stuffed and duct taped into his mouth.

No good. The tape only clung to his stubble and pulled little pinpricks out of his lip, his chin. The taste of the sock was well-marinated in sweat and foot powder. It must have been worn for a week straight before it rubbed the roof of his mouth. Before it wrapped his swollen tongue and squeeze-dripped between his teeth. What were left, anyway.

Jim strained and then dropped his head back on the table. The wood and his skull thumped together, and all he could think about was how that one sound scattered out into the concrete room. Grey and dank. Water-stained. Crumbling.

They were underground somewhere. The seeping coolness told him that. Empty. The average concrete basement, an average of six feet below the surface, it averaged about sixty-five degrees, right? Been a long time since he thought about that.

And besides, the soft way the chill licked his skin drew out the goose bumps. Did nothing for him now.

A single bulb dangled from the ceiling, naked as Jim was. It was half-burnt out. Jim couldn’t tell if the buzzing he heard was from the bulb, his own ears, or maybe flies off in the distance. Flies circling someone else this guy killed.

The guy, who was near enough to Jim, stood over the only other piece of furniture in the room. Another wooden table. Jim’s weary eyeballs studied the man like he was a piece of art. The man was maybe fifty-five, still a solid ten or fifteen years younger than Jim. His hair and eye color didn’t matter; Jim would not later be describing him to the police. Pigs were never any help, especially not to Jim’s kind.

The man wore sweats and a white t-shirt, both flecked with Jim’s blood from the beating on the street. Jim could still taste all that copper, tacky and cold now inside his mouth. Jumped. Coward. You look ’em in the eye first, Jim thought. I always did. See if they’re brown or green or blue.

Then you whip ’em.

If the man could tell Jim was studying him, he didn’t let on. He was absorbed in his preparations. Almost in admiration. The man picked up an implement, a tube maybe six-inches long. Some funky design on the end. A balloon-shaped feature. Jim couldn’t tell from the distance. It wasn’t that far, but his vision trembled from the final kick to the teeth that blacked him out. It resounded.

With eager fingers, the man picked at the tube’s balloon-end like a sculptor tweezing off yesterday’s dried clay from his tools.

Jim recognized the way the man carried himself. Righteous, righteous, righteous. Endowed with greater purpose than what he saw around him. The ferocity to make it happen. Jim was used to being that man. He racked his strangled mind to discover a way to prevent this.

Jim tried to speak. His words gnarled by the sock, by his newly missing teeth, the split in his lip. It was mush. All his words were mush. The man turned around.


“That was mush, Jim. Hang on.” The man turned back around, looked down at his spread.

He shuffled through the various screw-on tips, feeling the characteristics. Different surface textures, sharp points, dull bulbs, barbed features and the spiraling, alien designs. So many to choose from. If only this could last months.

Even the shaft thicknesses differed greatly, like drum sticks. A jazz drummer who graced across his instrument with toothpicks had no need for the tree trunks a marching snare drummer swung.

He set the tips down, lined up like scalpels on a surgical tray. He ran his hand across them, just a faint breeze, titillated by contact here and there. The metal, the plastics. What they meant. This was finally happening.

He turned, studied Jim as he slowly, lazily walked nearer.

“Now Jim, I can’t remember this room smelling like shit before we came in here,” the man said. His goatee was white as snow. His temples as well. The man looked like yesterday he was eighteen, vibrant and fulfilled, but whatever happened during the night aged him forty years. “Funny. It stinks so bad now it’s hard to believe you did that all by yourself.”

Jim, splayed and bound to the table, burned holes in the man with a gaze reserved for the insane and predatory. The man smiled.

“You can call me Cenric. It’s Old English for ‘bold power.’ That’ll do for now.” He reached out and touched a tattoo on Jim’s chest. “Unless, of course, you can remember my actual name?”

Jim’s eyes crawled along every crevice, every detail and crow’s foot on Cenric’s face. Name? I should know his name? Jim’s mind raced along the back roads of his memory. Clawing at the dirt, pulling handfuls of grass and roots, throwing them over his shoulders. Digging. The frost heave of sixty years made it a tumultuous effort. Hard to jump from what was happening to who this guy was to what his five senses were screaming about to—

“It’ll come.” Cenric said. “You look road weary. What’s the cliché? Rode hard and put away wet? Yes. Of course, in an hour that will have new meaning. But these tattoos…cheap ink. What do they make that with, anyways? I saw a special on TV once. Made me think of you. I saw some Mexican using candle soot, baby oil, and shampoo or some such. Not very sanitary, I must say.”

Beads of sweat, instantly cool in the concrete air, cut lines down Jim’s temples and pooled on his ears. He could feel a puddle develop on the nape of his neck. The sensation of them tracing the outline of the tape over his mouth. Carving paths between his thighs. Wet fingers.

“You’re still fairly rock-solid for your age,” Cenric said, examining him as if he were a science specimen. “I never cared for the way some people’s hair would turn a tobacco yellow rather than just white. Even grey.”

Jim thrashed as best he could. This was killing him. Cenric smiled. Jim’s kidneys slapped up and down against the table. His fists clenched, jerked against the ropes. His ankles burned as they twisted against their binds.

“All right, all right,” Cenric said, patting Jim on his quivering chest. “Let’s talk about power, shall we?” Cenric turned and strolled in a wide arc. Power. How to demonstrate power? Cenric considered using a .22 to kneecap Jim, then draw a .357 magnum for the other kneecap. Just for comparison. Cenric considered many things, really. He made lists, crossed out ideas, added new ones. Jotted notes in the margins. If only this could last months.

He turned back. Met Jim’s eye. “Let’s talk about power.”


The drizzle from the sock ran down Jim’s throat in a sour mash river of vomit and rubber.

The man, this Cenric or whatever, he was possessed. By what was the question. Jim knew he would die here if he didn’t become a player in this game rather than the ball. Whatever was the motivation would determine how he would die.

Jim knew four murderers. Tyson was a gang banger who shot some other banger over turf or dope. Good riddance. But Tyson just wanted to do it and get it done, so he shot the guy on his front stoop in the middle of the day. Boom. Done. On to bigger and better things, until the other banger’s mother squealed to the pigs. Tyson took a deal; he knew how black trials went. Jim didn’t like that guy when they met, and he didn’t care when word came ’round that Tyson got plugged. Good riddance.

Daniel wasn’t a real murderer; he came home while his whore wife was fucking the neighbor. A baseball bat and a black out later and the happy couple were dead. That was revenge. Insanity by way of love. He was proud of squaring away that tramp, but he wasn’t cut from the same cloth as a real killer. He wound up sucking a lot of dick.

Bounce was a crackhead and killed another crackhead for a rock. A single fucking rock. The pains of jonesing. That was an itch. He OD’d on toilet hooch. He probably would have lived if anyone gave a shit enough to tell someone.

But Dick Morgan, that guy was a killer. A real killer. Everybody flowed around him. The man was blank, but he was there all at the same time. On a subconscious level it was disturbing. Nature didn’t do that often. Dick Morgan tied up women and dissected them. Played kitchen scientist and was rumored to have been fond of injecting them with cleaning chemicals and juices from raw meat just to see what the reaction would be. He carried himself the way Cenric did, but Jim could see the trembling rage beneath Cenric’s skin. Dick Morgan didn’t have that. Dick Morgan was calm as a small pond.

So Jim knew what that meant. This was going to be a poor death. He tried to work up a tear, let it run down the side of his face the way they always seem to do in the touching moments of Hollywood movies. The tear that turned the tide. Jim tried tilting his head just right so the ammonia smell from the sock could rise up, sting his nostrils, his eyes. It didn’t work. No matter how potent the gym sock was, Jim had smelled worse in his life.

He’d smelled real tears.


“Power. Power is defined as the ability to do or act. Also, the possession of control or command over others.”

Cenric rubbed his mouth, swallowed his salivating excitement. “For instance Jim, right now I have total power over you. I have the ability to do or act all over your wrinkled, punched-in ass. I have possession and control of you. If I so desire, I can go outside to my car, remove the battery and bring it in here. I can then alligator clip it to your nipples or your testicles. Spend the next several hours lighting you up, one Die Hard at a time. That’s power…within the context of our situation.”

Cenric used a fingertip to trace hard circles around Jim’s nipples. His face was placid as he did.

“Jim, have you ever had power?” Cenric asked this as he took hold of Jim’s right hand, looked at the tattoos on the fingers. He crossed the table, examined the other hand. “Love mutt, how cute.”

Jim’s fists clenched. He’d had love tattooed across the first segment of his right fist thirty years ago. Mutt inked across his left fist just after. It was the nickname he’d given himself. An inside joke.

Cenric drew a pocket knife. The blade snapped open with a sobering clink. The tip, gleaming and unnerving, hovered like a gnat just above the surface of Jim’s unblinking eye. “Still think you’re a love mutt?”

Jim’s tongue stabbed at the inside of the sock, even as the blade lowered further. The rhythm of the jabbing cranked up, then mashed against the sock and shoved shoved shoved as the tip dug in. Jim blinked hard, and even as his eyelids fought the pressure his head knew better than to squirm.

The wet pop echoed off the walls.

Jim’s lungs burned and his throat so raw as he screamed against the gag.

“That was mush, Jim. Hang on.” Cenric put the knife to his lips and let the fluid languidly run down his tongue. He resumed his lazy strolling arc. “Sorry, Jim. Got ahead of myself there.”

Cenric watched through a glaze of giddiness as Jim writhed in absolute torment. The man’s body was alive with a slithering electricity; seizing every muscle from his toes to his forehead. Yanking the tip of every nerve and pinching. Doing something to act out how much losing an eye really hurt.

Jim’s good eye was crying. His deflated eye was weeping. His eyebrows flexed hard enough to break stone and his mouth tore at the tape. Let him get it undone. Cenric wanted to speak with him anyway.

Still tasting the fluid on his lips, Cenric said, “I think you have wielded power in your former life, Jim. Considerable power.”

At those words, Jim’s overly taxed body dropped back onto the table. It ground to a halt. No winning here.

Cenric took a photo from his back pocket, an old 5x7, ran his fingertip down the picture as his lips trembled. “Candace. White girl, twenty-two. In nursing school. Brown hair, brown eyes, short with large breasts, looked sweet and naïve.”

He hung his head over Jim’s. “You know Jim, like the others.”


The searing agony in his eye socket could not drown out the next words, or the hollowness in which they were spoken.

“My Candace, her hair was brown but only when it was cloudy. It was chestnut in the summer sun and walnut in the winter light. Her eyes were brown but not the dull color of it you see in so many other people’s eyes. They were deeper than that. They held hopes. She was short. Her head fit right under my chin. Her breasts fit into my chest and my—odd to say it but—my gut fit under her breasts. We were matching puzzle pieces.”

Jim tried to shake his head. The jostling just made his burning eye socket explode again and again. He absently kept tonguing the sock. All at once the dry thing blew out through the bottom of the gag, peeking out like earthworm. Newly energized, Jim frantically worked it around. Futilely trying to sever the duct tape glue from his stubble as if getting it off would change things.

A bleak smile inched across Cenric’s face as he hovered, delighted. “Wanting to talk, Jim? Do you want to join our discussion?”

Jim nodded frantically. Eye screaming. Cenric unceremoniously gripped the tape and yanked it back like he was pull-starting a lawn mower. Jim’s mouth flooded with the sweet smells of the shit-tasting air. Might as well have been a cold draft beer.

“I got married at eighteen!” Jim shouted. “Alice! We were high school sweethearts! We saw Grease at a double feature at a drive-in and listened to Andy Gibb on the radio! Billy Joel, the Bee Gees! Alice loved sour cherries and potato salad! She tattooed my name on her shoulder! I’m human, man! I’m not some fuckin’ sex slave torture mannequin! You gotta understand I have feelings and a daughter and I-” A hand over his mouth. Firm and silencing.

“Candace was naïve,” Cenric said. Jim’s interruption just a paper-thin reed in a Zen stream. The captor’s narrative flowed around it without so much as leaving a wake. “She was sheltered growing up. That’s probably why she thought it was safe to walk through a four-block stretch of bad neighborhood at dusk. Cost her, though. Just like the others.” He lifted his hand.

“GET ME THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!” Jim screamed. He was met with a punch so hard the exclamation point of his statement was knocked across the room like a broken tooth. Jim’s head went with the roll; heat spread through his jaw. Oddly thankful for the blood cascading inside his lips. His mouth was so dry he welcomed any moisture.

Cenric wagged a finger, scolding. “No outbursts. We’ll discuss this like gentlemen.” Shook the sting out of his fist, paced.

Jim, bleeding from everywhere on his face, he couldn’t help but laugh. Absurd. “Gentlemen? You stab my fuckin’ eyeball, beat me senseless and tie me naked as a jay bird to a table and you want to discuss this shit like gentlemen? Fuck you! FUCK YO—”

Jim’s gut blew out with a hammer fist raining down. Jim could feel himself trying not to shit right there on the table as the force caved in his pelvic bowl. Did he piss himself? He didn’t know. Jim did taste the vomit and he choked it back. There was never a better gag than stomach contents. It made the sock look weak.

Cenric leaned over Jim, placid surface, raging just below. “All I want, Jim—”


“—is an apology,” Cenric said. “I want you to tell me how sorry you are for Candace. For what you did to her.”

Cenric clenched his right hand around the roll of pennies he had inside it. If necessary, he’d strike Jim’s gut again, but he wanted the words.

“You owe me that, Jim.” Cenric’s eyes dragged themselves slowly across Jim’s quaking body. The papery skin, old and worn. The shitty tattoos, the sheen of sweat. The way his toes twitched nervously, uncontrollably. His bony fists squeezing themselves bloodless. How this feral animal of man selected Candace, dragged her off to—

“I don’t owe you shit, you fucking crazy cock sucker!” Blood spit up with every word. Cenric stepped back, watched the geyser.

Jim thrashed about, a marlin hooked and on the deck; a badger gnawing at its foot caught in a trap. Cenric recognized it as a last stand. One final, grand effort. Jim was being defeated, dominated. If only this could last months.


“For what? For fucking what?” Jim screamed.

“For kidnapping and raping my Candace.”

“You’re fuckin’ high if you think—”

“James Lee Cartwright, born September 21st, 1959, you were convicted of three counts of aggravated rape thirty-four years ago and now you’ve been out of prison five months. You’re registered on all the FBI websites. I testified against you. After Candace talked to me all those long, long nights ago. Those nights where she would relive it. Relive you. It rotted her. It took her sweet naiveté and it left a cancer. An all-consuming, devastating sickness that polluted her every fiber. Her soul. Now, don’t fuck with me. Tell me why I testified against you. Tell me before I start treating you the same way you treated her.”

Fine. Jim’s eyes changed complexion. He didn’t know what this man had in mind, but Jim knew he was completely insane, and he did not believe for a moment he was bluffing. Jim was intimately familiar with baseless posturing. He knew what it looked like when those guys in the pen would talk out their asses when they were backed into a corner. If this crazy bastard ass-raped him and then forced a blow job, Jim would never sleep again. Then he really would cry.

“Fine.” Jim felt small, and it wasn’t Jim’s place to feel small. To be weak.

Jim tried hard to push the miniscule whimpering out of his head, the door mouse of fright scurrying about in there, he couldn’t make it disappear. It grew. Like Mr. Hyde it grew gigantic. This unnamed man had Jim exactly where Jim liked his women to be.

All that rage bubbled up. All that poison filling him, he cultivated and polished it for years as he fed on it and grew strong. It made him into a certified Greek titan. But now it left him when he needed it most. Fuck. This was the way it was going to be? Fine.

“Fine,” Jim said. His voice hard. Sharp. The way all those years in the pen made it. “You testified because she was dead. Cunt couldn’t handle my cock so she punched her own ticket.”

“That’s the Jim I know.” Cenric said, so relieved the room’s atmosphere shifted. “Alice left you when she found out. Laura cut you out of her life. I remember your daughter looking at her own newborn baby girl, then back at you. Like you were going to fuck that kid also. Probably would have. Sold everything to pay the attorney. You were exposed that day, Jim. I was a part of that.”

“Fuck you, monkey dick,” Jim growled. “Candace was a sloppy piece of ass. Not worth the rusty knife I cut her with.”

Cenric smiled, fulfilled. “Now, we can get down to business.”

He dropped his pants, stepped out of them. He went back to the tray and pulled out the strap-on belt system he bought from the fetish store.

“Thirty-six years ago you robbed me of my wife. Candace and I were married seven months when you came along. She never got past it. Never got past you. Not even for me. Your power was too…well, powerful, I guess. You still possessed her even after you left her for dead, the taste of shit in her mouth. When she killed herself what she was really doing was finishing what you started. I’ve spent thirty-six years salivating for this. And now, I’m so amped up to possess you, to let you experience me, I don’t think I need the strap-on. My erection is rock-solid.”

Cenric selected one of the tips and screwed it into the receptacle on the groin of the belt. “Of course, my erection isn’t ten inches long with rough-edged studs and a sharp point.”

Jim’s eyed widened as Cenric smiled. Strutted over. With a laugh he said, “Funny thing. My name is Jim also. I figured you would’ve remembered that. But oh well.”

Cenric used a single finger to pull a dangle of sweat-soaked bangs out of Jim’s face. He wanted to see it. “All right, love mutt, let’s do this. Let’s experience power.”

Suddenly Jim regretted everything he had ever done. And as he began to scream, he shouted those regrets out loud.

Jim’s entire life, excruciatingly bemoaned with every push, push, push.

Ryan Sayles's debut novel, The Subtle Art Of Brutality, is out through Snubnose Press. He is a founding member of Zelmer Pulp, works at Out Of The Gutter Online Magazine and The Big Adios. His fiction has appeared in around than two dozen online journals, ezines and print. He may be reached at Vitriol and