Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Up on the Housetop by Brian S. Roe

Blog Post “Mark’s Shining World” 12-18-2010:

“Good to see my corporate masters are doing so well right before the holidays. Yes that’s right, Allied Intelligence Technologies is running deep in the red. Bonuses are going to be slight if nonexistent this year. It’s stupid that we come to rely on them but the last couple of years have been sweet. Now when we don’t get them, and need them. They pull them away like we’ve been bad puppies or something. I guess it’s like feeding birds or a stray cat. If they keep feeding us we’ll keep showing up.

XMas is going to be a little barren for the family this year. I’ll still get them all something but I’ve got a ton of DVDs and games that need bought for little ol’ me. And since I can’t count on The Fam to get the right ones then the responsibility falls on my capable shoulders.”


Blog Post “Mark’s Shining World” 01-14-2011:

“Well a big fucking Happy NEW Year to you A.I.T.!!! Lay me off?! Me? I’m not saying that I will but I could shut your whole little playhouse down. I’ve got the I.T. keys to your kingdom babies. And to walk me out on a Friday? In front of everybody else? Were you trying to piss me off? Were you trying to get me to shut you down? I can you know!”


Tweet from MFMark 01-15-2011:

“drunK man drunk. fuck them all man. drunk”


Tweet from MFMark 01-16-2011:

“puking should help my abs.”


Blog Post “Mark’s Shining World” 01-18-2011:

“So I got some friendly emails reminding that I need to keep my mouth shut about certain things at the old corporate slave holders. I guess they actually take those contracts I signed serious.

Fine bitches, fine. I can post what I want and you can’t stop me from speaking my mind.

I got a pretty good severance deal and unemployment for at least six months.

Time to hit Game Stop and Safeway, and stock up. MF Mark’s going into hardcore hibernation.”


Blog Post “Mark’s Shining World” 01-20-2011:

“The rest of you suckers better be on my junk. i’m livin the fucking life. I got the fridge full of pizzas, burgers, pop, and other shit. I spent 1000 dollars flat on DVDs and games. I’m fucking unplugging for a while. No computer shit. No TV. Just me in my crib playing games and watching movies. I don’t want to see nobody. I don’t want to go nowhere. Y’all just gonna haf to git along without me. This is MuthaFuckin’ Mark OUT!”

*

What day was it? Mark rolled off of the futon and stood on unsteady, chubby legs. He stumbled into the kitchen and tore open a pack of Pop Tarts then opened the fridge and saw that his supplies were getting low. Fuck. Back out into the world soon.

He stank, he’d been wearing the same clothes for a couple of weeks. His skin had gone bad from all the sugar and fat he’d been dumping into himself. He went to the bathroom to piss. The smell that came out of his sleeping pants disturbed him. Guess it was time to shower again.

No clean towels, he used a pretty clean t-shirt instead. Whatever. Fresh clothes made him feel better. That and a couple of cans of soda. Ride that sugar rush man! Might as well get to the store while he gave a shit.

He’d seen only one person in the two months of his self imposed exile from humanity. About a month back the mail lady had pounded on his door and dropped off a bag of letters, flyers, and other shit from his mailbox. She seemed a little shocked that he was still alive. Yeah mail lady, I’m still alive and kicking!

As he tied his tennis shoes he looked over the wreck of his living room. So much trash, foam noodle bowls stacked feet high. Paper plates, soda cans, and cardboard rounds from so many frozen pizzas. He smiled at his junk fueled debauchery. He kicked through a stack of plastic wrappers as he walked to the patio door.

The blaze of light hit his eyes like a punch to the face as he twisted the vertical blinds open. The courtyard of the apartment complex was green and sunny. It actually looked pretty nice outside. He looked over at the paused video game screen on his TV. One more level of Zombie Massacre and he’d have finished one of the most grueling video games he’d ever played. One more level and then he’d start Murder Corps: San Antonio. But first he needed to lay in more supplies.

The light from the patio door was so bright that it took him a moment to tell what had actually happened. The TV screen blacked out. What the fuck? Not only the TV but all of the power in the apartment. The sound of the refrigerator stopping seemed oddly ominous to him.

His phone had died weeks ago and in a fit of spite he hadn’t recharged it. Now he couldn’t call the power company to see what was up. Not that they ever had an answer. Maybe he’d call while he was at the store.

There was a man walking across the courtyard. Drunk or crippled the man zig-zagged back and forth with no real sense of direction. Great, Mark thought. I have to walk right by that idiot to get to the car.

As he was watching the man he noticed a woman who was standing down by one of the apple trees in the courtyard. She was swaying a bit and gnashing the air with her opened mouth. What was her deal?

Mark opened the sliding door and walked out onto the cracked concrete of his patio. He pulled the screen closed behind him and yelled to the woman.

“Hey! Are you okay? Do you need some help, or, something?” He didn’t really want to help but he wanted her to go away. Maybe if she knew somebody was watching her she’d get the clue and go trip somewhere else.

The woman turned towards him and for a single beat of time seemed to be ignoring him. Then her pasty eyes lit up and she stumble-sprinted towards him, lurching up the grass incline that led from the apple tree. She breathed out like she was trying to scream. But her vocal chords didn’t make sound, only a long rasping exhalation.

“Awesome!” Mark thought. They were doing a zombie walk! He’d been in one last Halloween with a bunch of his friends. Annie had done some amazing make-up that had actually made him a bit sick to his stomach when he first saw it. They’d had a great time walking down the street and grossing out the squares in the cafes along the avenue. Zombie walk! Hell yeah!

And then a smell hit him. Puke rot worm dirt hell vomit kill dead maggot rat shit hole burn cry scar grave rip bile pus infection Oh God mommy make it stop! It was the smell of summertime bait shops and the bottom of damp stones, biology class fetal pigs and infected toenails.

The smell woke him up and made him woozy. The woman was still coming for him but having trouble getting up the hill. The smell. It can’t be real.

He saw the drunk man weaving towards him making the same empty and mostly silent roar, his black teeth opened like a bear trap heading straight for Mark.


The screen door was suddenly against Mark’s back as he scrambled backwards. He tried to push through the screen but it wouldn’t give. He didn’t want to turn his back but he couldn’t reach behind him at the same time. They were so close now.

The smell coming from both of the stumbling figures was a noisome shock attack, it made him want to dig into the concrete to get away. Some part of his brain was firing that had never fired in his twenty-eight years. Lizard brain primal, full flight mode engaged. He finally tore through the screen and landed in a heap amongst the garbage in his apartment.

He scrambled up out of the trash. They were on the porch. He rolled over the futon. They were at the patio door. He ran to the front door and undid the lock. They were in the room.

The chain was still on the door. It opened and then bounced out of his grip. The man and woman were stumbling over the futon and garbage in the living room. Mark grabbed the door handle and pulled with a power fueled with desperation and total terror. The chain ripped out of the doorframe and Mark was out of the door before it hit the wall and bounced shut.

Two story apartment building, four apartments on the bottom floor, four on the second. Front and rear doors that opened away from the building, mail boxes attached to one wall, a central stairwell.

At the front of the building two teenagers pushed against the door and smeared their ragged lips against the tall glass windows beside the door. They didn’t seem capable of understanding how the door worked. The back door didn’t have windows beside it but Mark could hear bodies thumping against it. Up. He had to go up.

He edged his way to the bottom of the stairs. The two teens began to furiously push against the glass. It will hold he thought, it will hold. He focused on the teens as he grabbed the railing at the bottom of the stairs. Then he heard a rasping hiss and looked up and behind him at the top of the stairs. An old woman, gray hair and frumpy dress, made her hands into claws and stepped off of the top step.

Which she completely missed and hurtled down the stairs towards Mark. Her black-gummed mouth seemed focused on his neck as she flew down towards him. Gut reaction saved him. As she fell Mark twisted and flattened against the wall. The old woman face planted on the bottom stair with a sickening crunch. Her momentum flipped her body over so she was still looking at Mark. With her head snapped back against her shoulders. And then she started to crawl towards him.

Mark flew up the steps as quickly as he could. He missed one and ripped his shin open. He quickly got to his feet again and topped the stairs. He felt nothing in his leg; shock had set in deeply.

The woman was crawling slowly up the stairs, her head crunching on its broken vertebrae. She would reach him in a couple of minutes.

Even as Mark had run back into his apartment there had been a small yet nagging doubt that this was an amazing and disturbing put on. The best zombie walk ever, super make up and acting, and a stink bomb designed to mind fuck anybody who smelled it. Although his body had reacted without him he would have been okay if someone had shouted “Surprise!” “You’ve been punked!” “Candid Camera!” God how he prayed that that was the case.

But as he watched the broken old woman drag herself up towards him he realized exactly what she was and what had happened to the rest of the world. All of the movies, and books, and games, and Oh God it can’t be real! He knew it already. So much fiction had told him exactly what to expect, there was a survival guide for Christ’s sake! He had killed millions of zombies in video games. Last year he had acted like one in Annie’s disturbing makeup.

Here it was. Crawling up the stairs towards him. Real. Horrible. And hungry.

There was a laundry room on the top floor and Mark walked back to it. He couldn’t run anymore. Like prey that knew its time was up but still couldn’t lay down to die. A sense of utter calm caused by too many nerves and neurons firing. He looked at the ceiling and saw an access hatch to the roof with an attached folding ladder. He reached up, grabbed the cord, and pulled the ladder down. He climbed up the ladder. He opened the door to the roof and climbed out.

*

Journal Entry 1:

“What day is this? April something? I’ve been living up here for a couple of weeks now, hidden in a space between two buildings where they can’t see me. As long as I stay hidden and don’t make noise they just mill around. But the second they spot me they rush against the building like a wave of walking corpses. No, not like. That’s what they are.”


Journal Entry 2:

“I’m writing this in a Batman notebook that I found on one of my apartment scavenging missions. I found a way to swing down onto the second floor balconies that lets me have access to all of the second floor apartments. I get canned goods and dried food. I even found a pistol and box of bullets. I figured out a way of getting water from the hot water heaters. It tastes nasty but is clean and doesn’t make me sick.

The little cubbyhole on the roof is getting pretty cozy. And thank God I found a box of earplugs. When the air gets moist their vocal chords start to work again. A couple of thousand rotten voice boxes moaning at you will surely keep you from falling asleep.”


Journal Entry 10:

“I found a girl on the roof of one of the other apartments! Her name is Theresa. She was sick in her mom’s apartment when everything fell apart.

We had to figure out a rope bridge to get her over to me. I was so afraid that she would fall. But I also knew I would dive down after her.”


Journal Entry 14:

“It’s getting colder. They are getting sluggish, slower. Good to see that even though they’re against the laws of God they still have to obey thermodynamics.

We’ve cleared out several apartments and started knocking holes into the walls of the other buildings. We’ve got enough food and vitamins to last for a while. We found another gun. It seems so worthless.”


Journal Entry 16:

“Theresa’s asleep on the pallet, covered in sleeping bags. Her hair is getting long but she always keeps herself clean and beautiful. Her body smells sweaty, smoky, but so alive. I kissed her and she jerked awake reaching for the pistol. Then she saw it was me, smiled and went back to sleep.”


Journal Entry 20:

It was a warm, moist day and it made them so loud. We have been trying to build up the roof shack and every time I moved the whole mass of them followed me and roared at me. I got pissed off and stood on the edge of the roof. “Hello Cleveland! Are you ready to rock?” I had the largest crowd ever assembled and the fuckers just wanted to eat me.


Journal Entry 28:

“Really cold tonight. We’ve rigged up a small stove so we’re warm. I remember reading My Side of the Mountain so I made sure we had vents for air. We slept well.”


Journal Entry 29:

“We woke up to a surprising sound tonight. The sound of the wind. We haven’t heard anything so subtle in months. We looked down and all of the bastards are frozen. But their eyes still glisten with frost as they look up towards us.”


Journal Entry 32:

“We’ve decided that we have to leave while we can. We’ve exhausted the food here and don’t have what we need to grow it. I figure we have another solid month of freezing weather.

Maybe with so many of them frozen around us there will be clear spaces somewhere to the north. And honestly we just need to move. We feel trapped on our little island, trapped and slowly sinking.

This will be the last entry for a while.

We leave tomorrow.”


Bio:
Brian S. Roe lives in this very same apartment, minus the food garbage and at least for now the zombies, and often ponders how screwed he would be if an actual zombie plague occurred. And while a part of him really has no problem with becoming one of the walking dead, he’s really never been much of a joiner. Living in Indianapolis is too much like being surrounded by zombies anyway.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Inescapable Sound of December (and November too Somehow)

Tis the season to fight. The next round will rock the titles of classic Christmas music. If you are one to celebrate the day Jesus was born, you will probably know most of the songs we use this December. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, I’m sure your local malls, radio stations and TV specials have given you a festive—if a little aggressive—crash course. Either way, Title Fights wants you. Your level of interest in Holiday Cheer isn’t much of a factor. We want you to take a Christmas title and go another direction with it. This coming round embodies the unifying nature of Christmas or, if Christmas isn’t your thing, the unifying nature of yuletide marketing.

If you want to fight this December, email us at titlefights@gmail.com, tell us you’re interested, and we’ll send you a title of your very own. The deadline to get a title is Christmas day. The deadline for submitting is New Year’s Eve. Good Luck.

That's the End of the King Arthur Round

Well, the title kind of said it all, didn't it?

Let the Boy Show You by Brian S. Roe

Screen door creak and slam. Tolliver’s arms full of brown paper grocery bags, frozen foods falling from the top. Pizza rolls, corn dogs, and crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches threatened to tumble from the moist rips at the lip of the bags. The supermarket had those white plastic bags but Tolliver didn’t like those. They felt like they came from another time. He liked the brown paper bags, they felt like childhood and home. He remembered his regular task of putting the canned goods away every week after the family grocery trip. They always ate sandwiches on those days so mom wouldn’t have to cook.


Tolliver stamped his foot loudly. Shut up down there!


He walked back out to the van and brought in two cases of soda. He still missed the tall, returnable glass bottles of his childhood. One of his earliest sexual memories came from the thought that his lips were touching the same bottle that hundreds of other lips had touched. The thought still made him shiver with secret delight.


Another noise from the basement. Another muddy boot stamp on the linoleum.


He turned on the gas oven and went into his bedroom.

When he came out he had changed into a terry cloth bath robe and slippers. He still wore his white socks and threadbare white briefs. He was still too nervous to buy new underwear so he tried to make these last. The thought of the girl, it was always a girl, at Kresge’s looking at him as he bought underwear filled him with a falling elevator feeling. Maybe he could get them some other way.


He took a grease blackened cookie sheet from the cabinet and laid out his dinner. French fries and soft pretzels from the freezer, corn dogs and pizza rolls from the new groceries. He never read the boxes for each item. He baked everything at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. That should always be enough.


There was another sound from the basement, a grueling sob or the retch of vomiting. Tolliver went into the living room and turned the television up to drown out the sounds. You will not ruin my suppertime he thought determinedly.


He watched a show about people doing something for awhile. All the shows were an hour or longer now. He missed half hour shows. They made cooking easier. After what must have been thirty minutes he went into the kitchen and took out the cookie sheet using an oven mitt that had been his mother’s. The mitt was gritty inside and had a scorch mark along one side from having been too close to a burner. He never washed the mitt. He knew his mother’s sweat had crystalized in the glove and he didn’t want it to ever go away. Whenever he took the oven mitt off he always licked his fingers. He poured the food onto a large melamine serving platter, shook salt over it and poured a large puddle of ketchup in the center.


There was a television show on about something. He watched as he munched the food. some of it was cold in the center, some of it was burnt. He rammed each piece through the ketchup puddle and ate.


He was turning channels when he saw a woman dancing. The camera must have been laying on the ground because she seemed to be taller than him as she shook her ass and tits. Occasionally a man would appear and scream at the camera but it would always cut back to this woman as she shook herself to the beat of the music. Tolliver felt himself getting hard. He opened the robe and touched himself as he watched the woman. After he was finished he turned off the TV and went to sleep.


Sounds from the basement woke him from a dream about his dog.


Tolliver had had enough. He walked into his bedroom and put on coveralls, gloves, heavy boots, and a welder’s mask. He felt like he was putting on armor, like a knight or a riot cop. Then he picked up his bat, a yellow plastic Wiffle Ball bat filled with quickset concrete and a single piece of rebar. The bat was so heavy that he rarely had to swing it with any force to subdue the monsters in the basement. A slight swing seemed to hit them with just enough power. And the plastic didn’t tear the skin as bad so they lasted longer.


Hefting the bat he unlocked the basement door and turned on the lights. Six banks of fluorescent bar lights sizzled on as the monsters scrambled away from the brightness. The walls of the basement were smoothed concrete, as finished and water proof as a swimming pool. The join between the floor and wall was a quarter round fill and the basement floor sank smoothly to a large drain. Metal mesh covered the ceiling and the lights. The stairs had to be lowered from the upper floor and were pulled up every time that Tolliver left the basement. The concrete was stained from the liquids inside of the monsters.


The stairs descended smoothly and chunked nicely onto the basement floor. As Tolliver slowly walked down the stairs the monsters scrambled away from him with more anxiety than they had from the lights. Tolliver grinned beneath the welder’s mask, happy to see the reaction. He loved to see the monsters try to get away from him.


Wait. What’s this? One of the monsters was staring at him, sitting with his back against the wall his forearms propped atop his knees. Just staring at Tolliver with an expression of boredom. The other monsters tried to crawl into the concrete to hide but this one just sat and looked at him.


This couldn’t happen could it? He was the monster’s master. He had collected them, from schoolyards and parks, he had thrown them in here and beaten them into submission. They had to be afraid of him! This wasn’t fair. This little monster wasn’t playing fair!


Tolliver strode over to the sitting figure and rammed the bat into his shoulder. The monster rolled with the blow and grunted.


“ You can go ahead and smash my head in you fucking cocksucker or you can shove that bat up your ass.” the monster said softly.

“ What...wait, what?” Tolliver stammered.


“ You heard me you stinking jack-off. Kill me or go fuck yourself. I’m tired of sitting down here.”


Tolliver hit the kid in the mouth with the bat before he knew he’d done it. Yeah that was right, they were kids. Seven young boys, like he had been once, young boys who had been picked by Tolliver to pay for his own painful childhood. Bullied and alone he had sworn vengeance. But his vengeance had to be against the same type of boys who had teased him. Besides they were easier to beat up than adults.


“ Y-y-ou be k-k-k-quiet.” Tolliver stammered.

“ Y-y-y-you go f-f-f-FUCK yourself!” The kid mockingly stuttered out around a bloody mouth of smashed teeth.


The cable ties around the kid’s arms were looped through ties on the other boys. They were all cable tied together in a mass. This mass now pulled away from Tolliver and pulled the defiant boy along with them. Tolliver took a step towards the boys and then stopped. He had to get out of here fast. He thumped quickly up the stairs and pulled them up behind him.


He wheezed a little as he poured soda into a plastic glass. He threw back the soda like a drunk swallowing a shot of whiskey. How could this happen? All the months that he’d been keeping these kids to beat and abuse he had never had one stand up to him, never heard anything but sweet begging and pleading. Now he had one who would curse and spit at him. He would have to get rid of the new boy. Cut his ties and take him away somewhere. Tolliver knew the boy would have to die but he wasn’t sure where to dump him afterwards.


He needed to sleep, to calm down. He’d understand things better after he’d slept. He went into the bathroom to run a bath and relax.


The roar of the water into the tub drowned out his thoughts for a few moments. He eased himself into the water and laid against the back of the tub. He turned the water off and the silence made his thoughts come rushing back, broken only by the drip of the tap.


How dare that little monster talk back to him? Tolliver was the big bad man now. Tolliver was tough and strong and not afraid. The little monsters had to be afraid of him, wasn’t that right? Tolliver sank down into the water to try to hide from something that he had not yet named.


It was when he sat up again that he heard the voice from the basement. It came up muffled and quiet but still determined and strong. The little monster who’s teeth he’d smashed in. He was talking to the other boys, like he was giving a speech or something. The other kids moaned or whimpered but the kid kept talking. Tolliver reached over and punched the floor next to the tub. A scream that could only be “fuck you!” spat out of the basement. Tolliver stopped himself from punching the floor again. The moans and whimpers of the other boys stopped.


That night Tolliver had trouble sleeping. There were voices from the basement all night long. He wasn’t sure what they said but they sounded secretive and scheming. But if they were trying to keep their talking secret why were they talking so loud? It was like they wanted him to know that they were plotting against him. He no longer heard the defiant monster’s voice as separate from the group. All of the voices whispered in the same low rumble of kids whispering loudly. Even when Tolliver fell asleep their angry whispering was in his dreams.


Time to finish this for once and all. He couldn’t go through another might like last night. He got out of bed and put on his coveralls. There was no sound from the basement. They must all be asleep. Tolliver quickly drank a cup of soda to give him energy. He reached into a kitchen drawer and pulled out a heavy pair of kitchen shears. He’d cut the loudmouth out of the bundle and take him away to kill him. Tolliver would not give up the weeks of pleasant torture that he had planned for the other six. He was still the big man, still the toughest and strongest. The game would still be played by his rules and this time he would win.


The basement door opened quietly, the lights blinked on quickly, the stairs descended smoothly. The concrete filled bat in his gloved hands felt hard and reassuring. He stepped slowly down the stairs into the basement.


Tolliver had expected to see the seven boys asleep in a pile against one wall, the way that they normally would be before he woke them up. He blinked behind the welder’s mask to clear his eyes. None of the boys were asleep.

Instead they all sat facing him, as much as the cable ties would allow, and glared at him with a feral anger. It was a more pure version of the anger he had felt as a bullied child but Tolliver had always had his anger dissipated by doting parents and junk food. None of the boys seemed to blink, they tracked his movements as a group, each set of eyes and each head slowly nodding as he walked down the stairs. The mass of boys was suddenly very solid and very dark., They seemed to breathe together, the mass of heads, bodies, and limbs rising and falling slowly with each breath, in the rhythmic way that a prowling lion breathes. Tolliver began to sweat behind the mask.


*******

When the patrolmen finally walked down into the basement of Tolliver’s house they found something that had once been a man. Although it still mewed and squirmed it could no longer be called a man or even a human.


Small sets of hands had dragged Tolliver down as he reached for the troublemaking boy. The hands had long nails that crept under Tolliver’s defenses and scratched and tore at his skin. The boys moved in a mass, like an amoeba moves, and pulled him down to the concrete floor.


Their childhoods had been stolen by Tolliver in an attempt to torture away his own feelings of weakness. But the seven little boys had taken it all back using a pair of kitchen shears and a concrete filled Wiffle Ball bat.


*


Brian S. Roe narrowly escaped a situation once, too. Most of the time, though, he was unable to escape and found himself very Stockholm'd. He has acclimated very well to the sunlight, though, the internet and prose. One day his diaries will outside the Bible, because only in the his diaries will there be more violence and redemption. I'll make sure of it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Use Your Mighty Wisdom by Jimmy Callaway

Two hours now after his arrest, Bronson knows there are thirty-four and a half acoustic tiles in the ceiling of this room. The table is about ten and a half hand-lengths long by exactly seven wide. He knows that his Batman and Robin t-shirt is pre-shrunk, 100% cotton, and should be machine-washed cold with like colors. He knows that there are sixteen shoelace eyelets in each of his shoes, and that “Material Girl” has been stuck in his head since he woke up this morning.

What he doesn’t know is what this asshole Detective Mazursky has been doing these past two hours. And as the big, dark-skinned cop himself shoves back into the room, slamming the door behind him, Bronson doesn’t know that he’ll bother to ask.

“Do you know just how much shit you’re in, Goodale?” Mazursky says.

“Man,” Bronson says, “I just wanna get outta here. I don’t even know what this is about.”

“So you’ve really got no idea, huh?” Mazursky leans on the table knuckles first, and puts his face right in Bronson’s. He smells like tea.

“No, I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about,” Bronson says.

“Goodale, I saw you running from the scene with my own eyes. I chased you into that store myself!”

“I was running because I had to take a shit, and they know me in that store—”

Mazursky slams his palm on the table, and Bronson bites off the end of his sentence. “Don’t get fuckin’ smart with me!” Mazursky screams, and then lowers his voice. Very husky, very Dirty Harry. “Now, here’s how this is gonna happen. I’m gonna ask for your supplier’s name. You’re gonna give it to me. Then we’re gonna go talk to the DA’s office, and you’ll be on your way. Got that?”

“Look, sir, Detective,” Bronson says, “I really don’t know what you’re talking about, honest. Wait, wait, before you yell at me again, I just wanna say, since I’m under arrest here for whatever it is you said I did, I just think I ought to be able to call my lawyer, that’s all.”

Mazursky frowns at him, then laughs. Laughs out loud, and a fleck of his spit lands on Bronson’s lip. Bronson doesn’t wanna move to wipe it away, so he slowly moves his lip, trying to get it off his face, all without taking his eyes off the big detective in front of him. It’s not easy.

Still laughing, Mazursky sits seven hand-lengths across the table from Bronson. Bronson wipes his mouth quickly while his back is turned. “So,” Mazursky says, “you’re completely innocent, yet you want a lawyer. Why would you want a lawyer if you’re innocent?”

“Look, no offense? But I don’t think I should answer any more questions. I mean, you’re, y’know, obviously convinced I’ve done something wrong here, and since I don’t know what you’re, uh, talking about, it only seems, y’know, fair that I have a, uh—”

“‘A, uh, A, uh,’ listen to you, Goodale, you’re stammering and stuttering like a retard.”

Bronson frowned at him. “Hey, there’s no need—”

“Your ass is mine, you fucking little weasel! You’re under arrest, get that through your fucking skull! All the lawyers in the world aren’t gonna change that. The only people who can possibly change that are you and your scumbag running buddy.”

Folding his arms, Bronson sat back in the chair. He tried to put just a little bit of hurt on his face. “If you’re just gonna yell, I don’t see—”

“Shut up, shut up and listen. Now, I’ll explain it so even you can understand: you and your buddy, you’re the lowest rung. The dumb-ass street guys. You’re caught, it’s over for you. Now, it doesn’t matter to me if you take the fall for this shit all by yourself. But my boss and his boss, they want the next rung up. See? You follow so far?”

“Not at all, no.”

“You give me a statement, where you got the stuff, who you work for. Then you walk, just like that. I’ll even get you a cab. But you’ve got to do it right now, because I’ll tell you what, my partner’s in the next room right now with this Lienhardt asshole of yours, offering him the very same deal.”

“Sir, look, I dunno why you dragged me and Mal in here, okay? I don’t know anything about suppliers or higher rungs or anything like that. All I know is that you said when you handcuffed me before that I got a right to an attorney, so I’d like to call him now, if that’s okay with you.”

Oh, man, Mazursky really looks like he’s gonna blow his top now. Lookit him, clenching his jaw like that, his skull is gonna pop out of his head.

A knock at the door. Another cop comes in, a guy in uniform. “Detective?”

Mazursky tamps it back down, straightens his tie and goes over to speak with the other cop in low, buzzing voices. They pepper glances back at Bronson. Behind the befuddled look Bronson’s plastered to his face is: “‘Cause we are liii-ving in a material world, and I am a material girl! You know that we are liii­-ving…”

The other cop goes out, gently closing the door behind him. Mazursky ambles back over to his chair and sits down, all shit-eating grins. “Well, that’s about it, Goodale,” he says.

“I can go?”

“Oh, no, no, no, no. No, that’s about it for you,” Mazursky says, “Your buddy just gave you up.”

Bronson rubs his chin. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You’re accusing Mal and I of possession of stolen goods or whatever, and now you’re telling me that Mal has shifted the blame all on me and this, uh, supposed supplier of ours, and now I’m gonna go to jail and Mal gets to go. That’s what you’re telling me.”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you. Now you’re getting it.”

“Uh-huh.” Bronson sighs, rubs his face.

“But here’s the good news. Your record’s pretty much clean, a couple chicken-shit misdemeanors. Lienhardt there, he’s got an actual record. Assault, B & E, shit like that. I’d much rather have a guy like him, a danger, off the streets, and let an idiot like you skate. So I’ll offer you the deal one last time. What do you say?”

Bronson looks at him.

“I don’t know what you’ve got to think about here! You still tryin’ to protect your buddy? The one who just now sold you out? C’mon, man, don’t be a sap all your life! What do you say?”

Bronson smiles.

#

“Let me get this straight,” Mal said. The waitress came by, and he waited until she’d refilled his coffee cup and gone. “Your girlfriend said I tried to get into her pants, and you believed her.”

Bronson balled up his napkin, smoothed it out again. “No, no, of course I don’t believe her. I’m just telling you what she said.”

“Yeah, but why? Why tell me this?”

Bronson shrugged. “I dunno, conversation? Now you’re pissed off, I shouldnt’a said anything.”

“No, I’m not pissed off. I’m not. I just…” He let out a breath, wiped his glasses off on his tie. “C’mon,” he said, taking a last sip of coffee and grabbing the check.

“You’re not pissed?”

“No, I told you. But I got something at home I think you should see.”

Mallory at the park with some dude. Mallory at the zoo with some dude. Mallory slow-dancing with some dude. Mallory with her tongue down the throat of some dude. All the shots were clearly taken from a distance, but all the shots were clearly of Mallory fucking around, in at least some capacity, on Bronson.

“Jesus Christ,” Bronson said.

“Yeah,” Mal said.

“Where’d you get these?”

Mal said, “Stillwell had a few days off the other week. I slipped him a few bucks, hoped my gut feeling was wrong. But this broad’s trouble, man.”

“Man, you said you weren’t pissed off at me. But now, what, you’re showing me these to get back at me for—for—”

“Okay, now I am getting pissed off,” Mal said, “Use your fuckin’ head, will ya? This broad’s trying to make herself feel better about, y’know,” he gestured at the photos, “by trying to make you jealous or some shit, make you think I’m the problem or something. Meanwhile, I’m the one watching your back.”

“Yeah,” Bronson said, “Okay. It’s just—fuck, man, lookit this asshole!” He held up a photo of Mallory at a sidewalk cafĂ© with some dude. “He’s got a pony tail, for chrissake!”

“Yeah, I know. Look, man, here’s my point. I’ve got no reason to try and fuck you over on anything. None. Okay? We’ve known each other too long and been through too much shit. Right?”

“Right.”

“So next time some twat tries to make you think otherwise, you know what to say. Right?”

#

“What do you say, Mr. Lienhardt?”

Mal says the exact same thing he’s been saying for the past two hours: nothing. Mal has only one thing to say to Detective Lapierre here, so he wants to make sure he times it just right, that he gets his cue right on the nose.

But not yet.

Lapierre sits there, all mustache and tolerance, and exhales knowingly. “Mr. Lienhardt, I’m a patient man. But even I have my limits. I wholly respect your right to silence, if that’s what you want. But allow me to once again go over the facts.”

Mal sips at his coffee. It’s not bad, really, for police station coffee.

“Fact: Detective Mazursky and I arrested you and Mr. Goodale fleeing the scene of a crime.”

Fact: these two dickheads happened to drive past the little shop of stolen textbooks that Mal and Bronson had set up in an old van, selling them to college kids over near State. They got the van, which gives them nothing since Mal stole it the night before. They got the books, which also gives them nothing as Mal and Bronson wore gloves the whole time they handled them. If these cops had some sort of buy-in going, they might have caught Mal and Bronson red-handed, game over. As it was, Mal was sure they’d just fallen ass-backwards into this extremely minor operation. Every pig has his day, after all.

“Fact: the stolen goods you had are not illicit. So you’re in less trouble than if it were drugs or porn or something. But the amount of books as well as the amount of cash found on your person will show to a judge that you and Mr. Goodale exhibited a level of criminal sophistication, which can in turn lead to a more severe punishment.”

Fact: it’s not against the law to have a fat wad of cash on your person. These cops must think Mal’s an idiot. It is against the law to run from a peace officer after he’s identified himself as such, yes, but Mal and Bronson could have been running for any number of criminally unsophisticated reasons.

“Fact: we are far more interested in your supplier here, Mr. Lienhardt. No offense, but you and your buddy are fairly small potatoes. But if you guys cooperate with us, give us a statement, agree to testify, then things will go so much easier for you. And that is very much a fact.”

Fact: Mr. Bob Romano could have both Mal and Bronson killed right here in the holding cells of this cop shop. But really, more than that, let’s say they give Romano up and live to tell the tale, what are they gonna do for work then? No one’s gonna let any kind of rat hang around, not even Romano’s competitors. So what then, pull up stakes? Get real jobs? Mal will sooner blow this pudgy little detective here than even ask for an application down at the Subway. And that’s a fact you can hang your hat on.

“Now, this isn’t a fact so much as speculation, Mr. Lienhardt, but hear me out. I’d say you’re made out of a little sterner stuff than Mr. Goodale. And my partner, who is not a very patient man and can—strictly between you and me—be a real asshole when he wants, is in the next room giving your partner the same speech. Only he’s not gonna be as nice about it as I am. And I’ll tell you another thing, Mr. Lienhardt, between you and me, I don’t think Mr. Goodale is gonna be cut out for it.”

Mal looks at him.

“I know, I know, you don’t wanna turn your back on a buddy. I can respect that. But think about it, Mr. Lienhardt. You’ve been to jail, you can handle it. Mr. Goodale, he’s got some priors, but I don’t think he’s looking to return to lock-up. In fact, I think he’ll do about anything to stay out of jail, including throwing you and your supplier to the wolves, so to speak. Now maybe I’m wrong. But then again, why take that chance? Why risk your own neck for a guy that wouldn’t stick his neck out like that for you?”

Mal holds Lapierre’s gaze for a second, then looks up at the clock, at his coffee.

“So, given all that, Mr. Lienhardt, given all these facts before us. What do you say?”

Mal clears his throat.

#

“The fact is,” Louis said, “the guy’s just gonna have to do a little bit of time.”

“How little?”

Louis shrugged. “Two, three months, tops.”

“Fuck,” Mal said, “That’s the best you can do?”

“Hey,” Louis said, removing his smoked glasses, “I know he’s your friend and all, but watch your fuckin’ tone with me, kid. I’m doing you a favor even taking this case. You think I got nothing better to do?”

“No, but—”

“Do you?”

“No, Louis, look. I’m sorry, it’s just—”

“Hey, c’mon,” Louis leaned forward on his desk and smiled. “You’re worried about Bronson being locked up for the first time. But you’ve been in county before, right? It’s a picnic, even for a guy like him.”

“I was driving,” Mal said.

“Uh-huh,” Louis said, “Wait, what? When?”

“That night. I drove into that lady’s yard, not Bronson.”

“Are you shitting me? Oh, man!” Louis sat back in his chair and held his sides as he laughed.

“C’mon, man, it’s not that funny.”

“No, no, you’re right, it’s not. It’s actually a lot funnier!” And then he roared some more laughter, so Mal could see his fillings. Mal sat there and fumed as Louis got himself back under control.

“All right, all right, all right,” Louis said, “Okay, tell me what happened.”

“All right, what happened,” Mal said, “We were out at the bar, but Bronson was getting over a cold, so he didn’t feel like drinking. I, on the other hand, very much did.”

“Why didn’t you just have him drive home?”

“Well, I fuckin’ know that know, man! I was wasted, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Y’know, it was only a few blocks—”

“All right, all right, go on.”

“So I’m trying to change the tape, I take my eyes off the road for one second. Next thing I know, we’re in this lady’s begonias.”

“Right, Mrs., lets’ see...” Louis shuffled some papers on his desk, “Mrs. Johanson.”

“Yeah, I guess so. So Bronson shoves me out the driver’s side and tells me to run. I say, what the fuck you doing? He says with my record and all, it’ll be easier for him to wriggle outta this, especially since he was sober. All he had hanging over him is that failure to appear, and what is that? A fine?”

“Well, normally, yeah. But Mrs. Johanson is married to an Officer Larry Johanson. So, you know. If Officer Larry whispers in the judge’s ear...”

“Yeah, I get that, but...fuck.”

“Look, kid, I did my best. But with time served, he’ll be outta there before you know it. So just go down there, visit, put a little something in his commissary. Hell, bring him some of those comic books he likes so much. It’ll make the time go quicker for both of you.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“C’mon, bubby, buck up! Y’know, you’re a lucky guy to have a friend like this.”

Mal looked up at him. One corner of his mouth tugged itself up a bit. “And that’s a fact, counselor,” he said.

#

“What do I say to that?” Bronson says, “Well, that’s simple.”

#

“I say,” Mal says, “Give me my fucking phone call.”

*

Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, CA. Thanks to Josh Converse for line edits, and a very special thanks to Michael Berberich for technical advice. Please visit attentionchildren.blogspot.com for more.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Your Life Belongs to Your People by Richard Jay Goldstein

The Bear, the King, let fall the bear skin robe which was the emblem of his kingship. He was naked, as befitted the moment. Signs were drawn on his skin with the proper red paint, as also befitted the moment. Glyn had known the Bear before he became the Bear, could almost remember his old name. Hadn’t his name been Wirt? Strange it was so hard to recall, since it had only been one year. Wirt was only one year or two older than Glyn, but of course the Bear was immortal.

The Bear stepped into the cave of hot water, stooping. Steam wavered around him and he disappeared into the dark of the cave, where it was otherwise forbidden to go. Gwenour, his Queen, stood nearby, holding a wooden cup in one hand, an iron knife in the other. Her name had been Brianna, before she became Gwenour a year ago. Her eyes were closed as she stood, waiting. Behind Gwenour stood the Blind Lady, called Isobail Isilis, the ruler of the priestesses of Great Danu, who was the Mother of All and the Protector of the Cauldron of Earth. Isobail Isilis was old, old and blind, and no one Glyn knew remembered her name before she became Isobail Isilis.

The morning wore on. The young boy who acted as eyes for Isobail Isilis fidgeted restlessly. Everyone, the whole of the people, stood watching. No one spoke. Steam poured from the mouth of the cave of hot water.

The Bear stepped out of the cave. His red paint signs ran and dripped, melted by the hot wet air of the cave. The Bear stood facing his people. His eyes were dilated, his face slack. A murmuring came from the gathered people.

Isobail Isilis heard the murmuring. She stepped forward, faced the Bear with her blind eyes, and spoke in a voice cracked with age. “Your life belongs to your people.” She turned to face the people, and said it again. “Your life belongs to your people.” Finally she faced the priestesses of Danu, and said it a third time. “Your life belongs to your people.”

One of the priestesses gave Gwenour a shove. Gwenour opened her eyes and stumbled forward. She looked up at the Bear, who had been her king and husband for a year, and said in a small voice, “Your life belongs to your people.” Then she raised her iron knife and plunged it into the Bear’s throat. Bright blood sprayed out. Gwenour raised her wooden cup and caught some of the blood in it. The Bear did not cry out or flinch. As his blood geysered, he slowly turned and sank to the ground.

The priestesses of Danu rushed forward, each pulling an iron knife from her robe. They descended on the body of the Bear like crows, and sliced off his flesh, which they threw to the people. The whole of the people surged up, holding their hands out for the flesh of the King. Glyn surged up with the rest. It was good fortune to swallow a bite of the King, the Bear, and bad fortune not to.

Your life belongs to your people.

The people crowded, shoving, elbowing, crying out like birds. The priestesses of Danu cut and sliced the body of The Bear, threw the dripping pieces into grasping hands, until only bones and guts and brain remained. These would be burned in the dark of the midsummer moon, and the ash cast into the cleansing wind, and blown out over the Salt Sea.

Glyn had his small piece of the King. He gulped it down, tasting the rust of the blood, like old iron.

The young woman who had been Brianna, before she became Gwenour, and the Queen to the King, now became only a priestess with no name, and joined the ranks of the priestesses of Danu.

A drum began beating, filling the clearing among the tall dusty fir-trees, echoing off the cliff face which contained the cave of steam. The young women of the people slowly gathered into a ragged circle—women who were not yet married and had not borne children, but who had begun menstruating. They danced, stepping to the drum-beat. Outside the circle of young women the priestesses of Danu formed a larger, a looser circle, not dancing, holding their iron knives high so that they could be seen by the sky. Beyond that circle was a crowd of married women and married men, and old men and old women, and children. But within the circle of dancing young women were all the young men of the people, those who had begun to grow beards, but who were unmarried and had no children of their own. These young men milled about, stepping to the beat of the drum, Glyn among them.

The circle of priestesses of Danu opened on one side, and blind Isobail Isilis walked slowly through, her hand on the shoulder of the boy who was her eyes. She carried the bear skin which had been worn by the Bear, the King, and by the Kings before that one. Isobail Isilis walked slowly among the dancing women, turning her blind eyes this way and that, sniffing. She stopped before one young women who was tall, and pretty, although Glyn supposed Isobail Isilis could not know that. Glyn knew the young woman’s name to be Edana, and knew her to be a fiery person, easily angered. He knew this because he had once called on her, in her mother’s house, and been rebuffed.

Now Edana would become Gwenour, the Queen, and then a priestess after the new King was consumed by his people, and she would not be an ordinary wife and mother. She had been chosen by blind Isobail Isilis.

Isobail Isilis placed the bear skin in Edana’s hands and walked slowly toward the center of the dancing circle, leaning on the boy who was her eyes. Edana followed, chosen, her head hanging, her feet dragging in the dirt. The ragged circle of dancing women parted and the blind Priestess walked slowly among the milling young men. The young men did not look at her. They milled and danced. Isobail Isilis sniffed the close air, full of steam from the cave, and sweat, and dust, and the dry breath of the overhanging fir trees. She turned her blind eyes back and forth. She sniffed and looked with her blind eyes, choosing. She put out her hand and caught the arm of a young man, and leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. She had chosen. It was Glyn. The new Gwenour draped the bear skin over his shoulders, and he was the Bear, the King. Like Edana, he had been chosen.

Glyn thought his heart would stop. For a moment he could not breathe. It was a great thing to be chosen to be the Bear, to be the beloved of Danu, the Goddess, but it meant he would never do the many things he had thought he would do. It meant his life was no longer his own and would last only another year. But he held his chin up and tried to look proud. Edana who had once rebuffed him, fiery Edana, would be his Queen, his wife.

“Your life belongs to your people,” said Isobail Isilis.

“Your life belongs to your people,” shouted the people.

“Your life belongs to your people,” shouted the young men and the young women, glad they had not been honored by being chosen.

A year passed.

Glyn was no longer Glyn and was now the Bear, but in his heart he remained Glyn. He wondered if other Bears had found this to be true as well. He lived as King and Queen, man and wife, with Gwenour who had been Edana, and who still seemed to him to be Edana. They lived together as required, and they coupled as expected, under the watchful eyes of the priestesses and the blind regard of Isobail Isilis, because that was needed to make the land fertile and game plentiful. But they did not live in harmony. That was not required. They rarely spoke and their coupling was devoid of joy. Glyn had thought that possessing Edana as his Queen would be one pleasure of being the Bear, but he knew that she would have still rebuffed him if she had not been Gwenour.

As the Bear, Glyn blessed the fields and the wooden plows of the tillers, blessed the fish in the river, blessed the stone and bronze weapons of the hunters before they set out. The best foods were given to him and to his Gwenour, the choicest meats, the ripest fruits. Young mothers brought their new-born babes to him for blessing. This brought tears to his eyes, and to Gwenour’s eyes, because they both knew they would never sire children or bear children themselves. The women who were Gwenour never conceived. Never. To become priestesses after their year as Gwenour they could not have children. Glyn suspected that something was given to them, an herb perhaps, in the secrecy of the women’s house, which prevented conception.

The seasons hurried past. Never had Glyn known a year to evaporate so quickly. Sometimes in the dark of midnight, lying sleepless, Glyn thought about fleeing his blessing, slipping out in the dark. But where would he go? The lands of the Bear extended far, valley to hill to valley, to the coast of the Salt Sea, all along the River, and to the north where the blue people lived who did not know Great Danu. But who would not know him? Every tiny farm, every hunting camp, every village, every gathering of priestesses, would know him as the renegade Bear, the Bear who withheld his life from his people, and risked bringing the anger of the Goddess down on the land. Even the other tribes who lived to the south and to the west, and across the Salt Water, would refuse to shelter him.

Spring came. Snow melted and the ancient forest filled with green and with bird-song. Summer came, and midsummer, and the Day of Devotion, when the Bear gave his life to his people.

Glyn and Edana coupled one last time, as was required. Edana was taken away by the priestesses because she would now become one of them, and no longer be Edana or Gwenour. Glyn was washed by other priestesses, and his hair braided, and the special signs painted on his body with the red paint which only the priestesses knew the secret of making. He was wrapped in the bear skin of his office.

As the sun climbed to zenith, the people gathered again, coming from every part of the land. When they were assembled, blind Isobail Isilis appeared with a new boy who was her eyes. The old boy had grown older and gone back to his village. The Bear was led forward to the mouth of the cave of steam. Gwenour stood nearby, holding her oak-wood cup and iron knife. Glyn did not look at her, or at the things she held.

Glyn dropped his bear skin and stood naked, so the people could see that he was without flaw. Then he ducked his head and stepped into the cave.

Inside was dark and warm billowing steam. Glyn’s eyes adjusted to the dim light and he saw a rocky passage, its floor muddy and green with moss. At the end of the passage was a rocky bay with a spring of boiling water welling up. At the back of the bay was a shelf and on the shelf a bed of sodden straw. Thin light filtered through the steam from outside. An old man was seated by the spring on a bench of stone. His skin was as pale as mushroom, splotched with red, and hung loosely. His hair was lank and thin.

“Come in, Bear, and sit here with me,” said the old man. His voice was weak and moist. “My name is Aiden, which is strange since my name means fire, yet I spend my days here drenched in the dark.”

Glyn sat on the bench near, but not too near, Aiden. “Who are you, Aiden?” he whispered.

“I am the brother of the blind chief of the priestesses, who is called Isobail Isilis,” said Aiden, “although when she was simply my sister her name was Morgane. When she became Isobail Isilis she banished me to this cave, because of something I had learned—which I may reveal to you, or I may not. I had the choice of immediate death or living here in the dark and doing a service for each Bear, and coincidently for the priestesses of Danu. The Priestesses bring me food and change my bedstraw. If I were to step outside, my life would be forfeit. I often think about doing so.”

“Why don’t you?” asked Glyn.”This seems a miserable existence.”

“Because of two things, one known and one secret. One is, there is a fungus which grows here in the damp which brings on a stupor when eaten. I give this to each Bear, if he wishes it, to make what follows easier, which is the service I provide. Sometimes I eat a little myself. I do not know if the Bears did this before I came here, or who may have given it to them, but they do since I came, and I have been here many years and seen many Bears. But the second thing, the secret thing, is that I still hold a hope for a truly courageous Bear.”

“It seems to me just being the Bear requires courage enough,” muttered Glyn.

“Yes, it does,” agreed Aiden. “But what I have in mind requires special courage, and a quick mind. So far, every Bear has listened to my proposal, then asked for the fungus, and gone out to be devoured by his people. I suppose many of these Bears were true believers, who believed in the power of Danu, and that being killed and eaten is what it means to say the King’s life belongs to his people. Now, what about you, Bear?”

“My name is Glyn.”

“Very well, Glyn,” said Aiden with a small smile. “That is a good beginning. What about you, Glyn?”

“What is it that you ask?”

“It is this,” said Aiden. “The power of the priestesses of Danu, like all things, has grown old and brittle. Perhaps there was a time when we needed to believe we required the blessing of the goddess to prosper, but no more. Now we know if we plant a seed, and if there is sufficient water and sunlight, the plant will grow. We know if a hunter is skillful, and if he seeks the proper game in the proper season, he will succeed. We have no need to placate any goddess.”

“But is it not Danu who brings the sun and the rain, and regulates the seasons?” asked Glyn.

“Perhaps. Or perhaps the deity who does all this is male. Or perhaps the deity is neither. Or both. Or perhaps these things operate on their own. What we do know is that in the memory of humankind they have never failed. Not for us, who pray and sacrifice to Danu, nor for barbarians who do not. But look, we men are stronger than women. Women are slaves to the cycle of their bodies. They are incapacitated by child bearing. That is why the priestesses never consort with men. But that, if anything is, is unnatural.” Aiden leaned forward and put his pale, clammy hands on Glyn’s shoulders. “There is one thing they have which allows this perverted imbalance of power. Iron.” Aiden sat back.”But I have the secret of making iron, which I learned by secretly following and watching my sister. But I was caught, and that is why I am confined to this cave.”

“I don’t understand this,” said Glyn. “What do you want of me?”

Aiden struggled to his feet. “I want you to become King,” he hissed. “I want you to live and be King, and grow old as King, and your sons after you. I want you to wrest power from the priestesses, and take it for your own. I want to humble them, and humble my sister, and make men the masters. I want to teach the secret of iron-making to the people, and use iron as it was meant to be used, for tools, and plows. And weapons. I want to come out of this cave to be your advisor and minister.”

“But the King’s life...” began Glyn.

“Yes, the King’s life,” interrupted Aiden. “It belongs to his people. His life, Glyn. Not his death.

Glyn’s eyes widened. He felt as though the sun rose in his thoughts. His mind raced. He saw how all this could be. How he could live. What he would say. He jumped to his feet. “I will do it,” he shouted.

“Less loudly,” cautioned Aiden. “Sound echoes from here. And there is much to plan.”

Aiden and Glyn sat together in the shadows and the steam, and talked, and planned, while the people and the priestesses waited outside in the sun. Glyn and Aiden talked and planned for hours. Then they rose and walked slowly toward the cave mouth.

“One last thing,” said Aiden. “I doubt anyone remembers that Isobail Isilis was once Morgane, or that she had a brother, or that his name was Aiden. We are old and those who knew us have mostly died. Perhaps Morgane herself has forgotten who she was before she was blinded by the priestesses to become their Blind Lady. And, after all, she is blind. How would she know me now? Nevertheless, I shall now become Merwyn, which means friend from the water in the Old Speech. The friend and counselor to the new King.”

The sun rode the western sky when Glyn came out of the cave. Gwenour stepped forward. But Glyn held up his hand and Gwenour stepped back. The priestesses blinked, and Isobail Isilis raised her head. They had all expected a stupefied Bear to emerge from the cave, dulled and ready for sacrifice, because that was how it had always been.

Instead Glyn held his hand up, and stood firmly and tall, and spoke to the gathered people with his eyes bright. “The life of the King belongs to his people,” he shouted.

“The life of the King belongs to his people,” repeated the people, puzzled.

“I have seen the Goddess,” called Glyn. “She appeared to me there in the Holy Cave.”

The people gasped, breathed and swayed. Then they were silent.

“Danu was there,” continued Glyn. “She was there along with her consort, Gwydion, God of the sky. They spoke to me and told me of a new way which is upon us.”

The Blind Lady, Isobail Isilis, now stepped forward, holding up her iron knife. “This is blasphemy, Bear,” she cried. “Your life belongs to your people.”

“Yes,” answered Glyn, The Bear. “My life. Not my death.”

The people began to murmur. Isobail Isilis stopped, confused.

“They—Danu and Gwydion—told me I was to live,” called Glyn. “Live and rule as King, and that my life thereby belonged to my people. That the Sisterhood of Priestesses was still to be honored, but that the rule would be the King’s. That my Queen would be Gwenour, who was Edana, and our sons would be King after me.”

Gwenour turned pale and dropped her iron knife and wooden cup. She stumbled back, but Glyn held out his hand. Slowly, she took his hand and he pulled her forward to stand beside him. She looked him in the eye, hesitated, then stood firmly, her hand held in his.

“As the King will rule the people, so each man shall rule his home. As token of this, Danu placed her hand under the foot of Gwydion.”

The people sighed and swayed.

“And finally,” cried Glyn, “they—Danu and Gwydion—gave to me a wise counselor. He shall be called Merwyn—the friend—and he shall give the secret of iron to all the people, so they might make tools and plows and spears and knives and arrows from it, and prosper.”

Merwyn, who had been Aiden, stepped out of the cave. “I am Merwyn,” he said. “I carry the secret of iron.”

The people cried out at this, because they had not thought anyone was in the cave. Only Isobail Isilis recognized his voice, and remembered Aiden. She threw her knife on the ground and began to shout. “More blasphemy,” she cried. “He is my brother. He is a criminal. A thief.”

But the people shouted louder and drowned her out. “Iron,” they shouted. “We want iron.” Then, “The King. The King. His life belongs to the people. Long live the King.”

Glyn noted that many more men shouted than women. Few women, in fact, shouted. The women must get used to it, he thought. It is the time of men now, He held up Gwenour’s hand.

“Long live the Queen,” shouted the men. “Long live the Bear.” Glyn smiled at Gwenour, and she smiled back.

Isobail Isilis picked up her knife angrily and marched through the people, who gave way and parted for her. She disappeared from the clearing. The priestesses of Danu followed her.

“There will be trouble there,” whispered Merwyn.

“If it comes to battle,” said Glyn, “and if we have iron, we can defeat them easily. Let them keep the secret of the red paint.”

“Iron you shall have,” said Merwyn. “And who can we not defeat, when we have it? Our tribe will be triumphant everywhere.”

“Yes,” said Glyn, the King, the Bear. “And I will be the King, and they will bow down to me.”

The people shouted the title of the King, the Bear, in the Old Speech. “Artos. The Bear. Artos. The Bear.”

*

Not the usual Title Fights one two, eh? I'm always stoked to see what kind of crazy stuff washes up on our shores - whether it's a dirty, nasty, shit-laden noir punch-up or an epic other-worldy coming of age deal. I watched Conan, of course, but I've never read stuff like this before - but it's interesting to think about how all these stories were prompted the same way, the same sort of catalyst gave birth to all of them. Different as all our stories are, they have that in common (wipes tear from eye).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Evil Will Always Hate Good Pt. 1 by Tom Sheehan

At the Last Good Find Saloon, in Tremont, Texas, where two old pards have come in off the trail.

Josh: (tall cowpoke, neat as a pin) Hey, Max, who’s the gent in the girlie boots?

A third man, tall, rugged in the face and across the shoulders, early forties, enters the saloon and walks to the bar. He is wearing a wide sombrero, blue vest over a lighter blue shirt, dark pants and no boots or gun belt. On his feet are strange looking “slippers,” to use another term.

Max: Reminds me of the lady works the post office in Laramie, Suzie something. ‘Member how she hid her feet all the time, the silly looking shoes she wore, like they’d fit a whole horse.

Josh (to the stranger): Hey, mister, how‘d you come by those things you got on your feet? Don’t you wear a real man’s boots like all us others do? Good cowboy boots for wearing working spurs, riding horse, herding cattle?

Stranger (nodding, breaking into a wide grin, looks down at his feet for the longest spell, which seems to unnerve Josh): These things on my feet are my squeakers, as I call them. They make funny sounds when I walk while my real boots are getting fixed by the harness maker down the street. Other than that, my feet are all my own concern, son. And so is what I wear on my feet, on or off a horse.

Josh: You poking fun at me, Mister? I don’t think I like that. What if I was to whip those silly looking things off your feet, them squeakers?

Stranger: Well, son, I expect you’d find one hand broken or one wrist, your tongue hanging out of your mouth more tired than it is right now, and me climbing all over you just for the hell of it.

Josh: Hell, mister, I don’t like your tone none and you ain’t even wearing a gun.

Stranger: That’s the whole point of it, son. I ain’t wearing a gun, so you can’t use yours on me if you had that faulty thought come to your mind, which I observe is busier than it ought to be instead of enjoying your whiskey like you ought, never knowing when you might get the taste of the next one. You’d find yourself in the jail for at least one night and maybe more if you were to pull the trigger on an unarmed man.

Max (suddenly seeing what might be coming): Josh, better let it go now. Now ain’t the time to get this man all riled up. He ain’t done nothin' to you.

Josh: I just don’t like his looks, how he talks, how he dresses. He don’t look like no cowboy to me.

Barkeep (tapping the bar top): Son, pay attention to your pard here, and to the gent you’re antagonizin’. It just ain’t in your best interest to rile him up and get my place messed up over a pair of funny looking feet critters. And he’s a whole lot of right by saying he’ll be all over you in good fashion before you can blow your nose or draw on that gun of yours.

Josh (now looking real agitated): You think I ain’t fast enough to draw and get a bead on him?

Before Josh can move, the stranger slams a fist in his face, pulls Josh’s gun from his holster and trains it on Max.

Stranger: Pick him up real easy, son, and take him outside and dump him in the water trough. Tell him, when he’s fully awake, sober as he’ll ever be, he can get his gun down at the jail. I’m finishing off my drink now and going back to work. Before I get there, you better get your friend put in one of those cells and make sure the door is locked and the keys hung proper. He’s going to be madder than hell later tonight.

The stranger walks out of the saloon, the squeakers on his feet making a distinctive noise as he leaves the room.

Max (as he’s trying to pick up his pal): Barkeep, who the hell is that guy? What’s his name? What’s he do?

Barkeep: That’s Jed Hollander; he’s the head of the Texas Rangers. He’s one of the real good lawmen in the whole territory. Probably the damnedest best one of all. Tell your pard he don’t want him on the other side of anything. And if I was you I’d make sure I get that hothead in jail pronto lest he starts to agitatin’ the law. Won’t pay him to do so.

Max: That man that good? As good as you say?

Barkeep: For ten, twelve years he’s been between whatever’s bad and whatever’s good in all this territory, all the way up as far as Plimpton, and you gotta cross the ferry there to get away from him.

Max (hustling his friend erect, who’s shaking his head, wobbly, like he’s been hit by a mule’s kick): Is he a married man, this Hollander gent, this Ranger?

Barkeep (waving his hands like a flagman on the railroad): Whoa, there, son. Why do you ask such a question? You sure don’t want to go in that direction. Not if you’re life was to depend on it. That ain’t likely safe from any angle no matter how the hellos go ‘twixt who and whoever.

Max (smiling sheepishly): Not me, mister. I’m no lover boy, but Josh here thinks he’s the whole shebang to any woman he fancies, and don’t miss much that way either. It’s like his getting-even weapon, if you know what I mean. Seems as though he’s been raisin’ that kind of hell since he was halfway to the saddle, maybe even ‘afore he saw all the sights the barn was holdin’ on to. And in the time I been around, that’s all the way to Houston and half the ranches in between. Second thought, probably three quarters of ‘em. He’s like fire and ice, that boy, the miracle worker’s what he is. Heats ‘em up and leaves ‘em cold and him on the trail again. I wouldn’t want to count how many times he’s been chased down the trail and the guns goin’ off behind him and him laughing like a damned fool, but smilin’ like the ears on his head was really red and black and pointin’ the way to hell itself.

Barkeep: He leave any kids on the way?

Max (still holding Josh erect) : I’d guess half the kids in this part of Texas have that same long clean nose and those deep blue eyes like the whole ocean was here sayin’ hello to one girl at a time. He just gets meaner’n hell if I tell him about them husbands lookin’ half the world over for him. (He laughs loudly) And their women, too.

Barkeep: Why’s he like that? He’s a decent lookin’ boy.

Max: My guess he hates what he can’t be. He knows he ain’t ever goin’ to be a good husband or father or plain law- abidin’ son of the west. It just ain’t in him for such goodness.

Barkeep: And you? Why are you like this?

Max: I can’t be what I want to be either. Simple as that. And that Ranger scares me to Kingdom Come as I should know better.

Barkeep: I’m bettin’ he ain’t done his bit yet, son. He don’t like bad guys, and ‘specially those that play women for trinkets and husbands for fools. The law and most men say women this side of the saloon ain’t fair game for any drover comes off the trail like he’s the angel itself but ain’t.

Josh is taken by Max from the saloon.

The scene shifts to the jail where Josh is in a cell. A woman, young, attractive, the Ranger’s wife, Alma Hollander, enters at noontime carrying a tray of food.

Alma: I have your lunch here. Please step back and I will place it on the floor. I’m Mrs. Hollander.

Josh: I know who you are, sweet one. You’re the girl who escaped from that bright moon I was studying all last night after I got locked up in here, the one the moon didn’t want to let go of, afraid you’d get scooped up by some lovesick cowboy like me who thinks Texas women are the most beautiful women in the whole world, especially the married ones. Your husband is a real nice fellow, if he is what he seems to be with someone like you at hand. He does have a great eye for beautiful ladies. How I wish I was not in here, lost to the world, lost to the fairest ladies in the world.

Alma (turning to exit after placing the tray on the floor): Just eat your meal, Josh. That’s all you have to do. You’ll have your chance someday at true love.

Josh: I just wish it could be you, Ma’am. No moss growing all over me. When I move on there’ll be some live wishing going on here. You’ll just be in the mix then, like a dream that never happened, a beautiful woman locked into a lonely town where the moon can die every night, like death comes on every breath of time if you let it.

Alma: You are a smooth one, Josh.

Josh: Knowing my name for starters is all it takes. Now let me dream how it might be. I’ll let you know how it goes some other time when I’m shuck of here.

Alma is about to leave and Josh snakes his hand through the bars and grabs her by the hair. Immediately he covers her mouth with his other hand and pulls her against the bars of the cell.

Josh: That prairie rat of a husband of yours shouldn’t let high and mighty you work like a slave. You got some comeuppance coming to you, you and that man of yours thinks he’s the world to you. Well, soft lady, you got some news coming your way.

Josh shifts his position to get a better grab on her, and Hollander steps into the cell room.

Hollander: You keep your hands on her and you’re dead before you hit the floor.

Josh: I got the knife here, high and mighty one, and I’ll cut her pretty face so you won’t want to look at it come morning any more. I’ll mark her fearsome, Ranger boy, real fearsome.

Hollander: She’ll probably do what Chico does when she yells at him.

Alma, a quizzical look on her face, thinks, sees her pet dog being corrected, smiles, and then ducks, as Hollander fires one round high onto Josh’s shoulder. It knocks him across the cell. Alma falls free of his grip, the dull knife from the food tray falls to the floor harmlessly.

Hollander: You’re going down into the third level at the penitentiary. You won’t see the sun for a few years if you can stand it. I’m willing to wager you’ll be nearer to Hell than you are right now.

*

Tom Sheehan has hair like fire and fists like pistons. So it's difficult for him to grip a pen, but when he does those letters are getting pummeled out, not swirled or sketched.