A bikini strap crept from beneath her terrycloth robe sometimes at lunch. 10:30, every day. We’d eat sandwiches, she’d put the dishes in the sink, kiss me, then shut herself in her office until 3:00. A lot of her regulars popped on during lunch breaks.
She had told me she was a cam girl long before, and when I told her I didn’t care, I meant it—yeah, that’d be great, IPA—I meant it, mostly. But day after day, sitting just on the other side of the wall—no, fresh glass, thanks—I thought about it more and more. Wouldn't you?
After I moved in four months back, I asked if I could sit in the corner while she cammed. She giggled sweetly and said, “no.” She didn’t giggle when I asked the second time or the third.
I brought up the popping sounds, in a cute jokey way. She smiled but said nothing. Then she bought me a pair of Beats. Noise cancelling.
I kept thinking about it, more near the end. Reading sleep study data is a boring fucking job, in case you didn’t know, even if your girlfriend isn’t undressing next door. I thought she had to be lying about something, if I couldn’t watch. This morning I finally did it: I logged in. Don’t fucking look at me like that, I know I shouldn’t have, but I did. I changed my screen name to “Looner666” to fit in.
And there she was, on my screen, just like she’d said. And there was her bikini, small, but fully on and not crazy small; it was the one she wore to the beach when she rented a house for my birthday.
And there were the balloons.
She was grinding on a huge purple one. It popped, and as she tumbled onto the bed and laughed the chat went wild, I mean, she was getting tips left and right. She got a small green one, I think left over from my nephew’s birthday. She knelt and stuck her butt toward the camera and laid the green balloon on her calves. “I don’t know, boys,” she said into my noise-cancelling Beats, “I might be too much for this one.”
I shut my laptop and eyes. I couldn’t stop seeing it, though, her ass descending toward the balloon. Yeah, go ahead, laugh, but I wasn’t laughing, and I no longer gave a damn if Patient 10347 had sleep apnea, so I went for a walk. I ended up at the liquor store. Then I ended up at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I had martini in hand when her terrycloth robe stepped out of her office. She saw me in the jacket and tie first, I think, and the new exercise ball beside the sofa second. “Bounce for me,” I told her.
She clammed up. She came back five minutes later in a sweatshirt to tell me she didn’t like my tone. She said to leave the key on the counter by Monday.
Crimson plasma soaring hazy highways adrift;
galvanic implosion divides misty abyss,
second chance to retort coming doomsday.
Soon blood will r u n
Palms leather bound rested on snowy peaks,
exposed grey clouds whisper ash sleet;
on wind shredded plateau we sing psalms sworn.
soon light will bind, claw stolen visage.
Like snake skin we fall
forever … slither s l o w.
Crawl spaces vermillion,
velvet warmth taps gravelly demeanor,
soft fingertips like chronic sunshine veiling void cellars;
Dilute frozen hatred with
Alone we guide our cloned flesh famished for elapsing conscious
slide shows of traumatized prokaryotes,
hoppy malts splashing crusted walls- layers of past incursions-
sealed with demonic platelets thorned with keratin spikes.
red cells rush.
We bury our ancient eyes resting till
sunlight punctures our eerie eyelids with cosmic radiance.
soon blood will run.
There will be a Day
We are not ready when the
End of the World
You are there.
And I am here,
on these concretely
outside this quirky bookstore.
The anxiety of our
has reached its
the unpurposed venom,
the constant imbalance
of our footsteps,
as we desperately circle
around and around
in an inescapable panic.
We write it down everywhere,
on our mirrors,
our ribboned fingers, canvassed with kitchen knives,
tearing flesh from raw wrists,
yet still we exist,
trying to find the importance
in our life blood
until it forgets how...
Purveyors Of Death
The shot rips through his midsection. He holds the wound and when he takes his hands off, the blood is dark. Dark means death. The bullet is lodged in a major organ. The world becomes a haze. He’s only nineteen years old. Not even old enough to have a beer.
Artillery fire rips through the air. He can hear voices. Screams of, “MEDIC!” “MEDIC!” “WHERE THE FUCK IS THE MEDIC?”
Blood begins to fill in his lungs. And it’s now coming out of his mouth and sliding down his cheek, mixing with the dirt and the sweat, and the pus. He coughs. Breathing is getting harder. He stares up at the black sky, and thinks about home. A small town in the middle of nowhere.
He’s driving his old man’s Ford with Jenny who is nestled tightly on his chest. His arm is wrapped around hers. He’s 17. The war doesn't feel real to him. They’re going camping in the hills for the weekend. He’s going to lose his virginity and sleep underneath the stars.
“MEDIC! MEDIC! CHRIST WE NEED A MEDIC! STAY WITH US, CHUCK. STAY WITH US”
There’s no glory in war, he thinks. It isn’t a movie. It isn’t about bravery or cowardice or being a man. It’s about choices. Which, in the jungle, there aren’t many. There are orders and there are court martials. They knew this hill was a death trap. They’d said so many times. But no one listened. They told them to keep pushing ahead. The enemy was going to be stomped out.
Days without food. Days without resupply. Jungle rot all over their skin. Dry heaving, because there wasn’t anything in their stomach to throw up. The weight of the rucksacks on starved boys trudging up hills to their death.
75 lbs. 800 bullets. 2 canteens. 5-hand grenades. A 38 caliber pistol. A M-16 machine gun. An M-79 grenade launcher. Toiletries. Fatigues. And a blanket.
And now he was going to die on this hill. Die on this hill because Generals looking at maps and drinking warm whiskey, thought of a plan. Red-faced politicians screamed “Glory Hallelujah” as they thought about commendations for a brilliant kill count ratio.
But death couldn’t be seen on a map. Death couldn’t be seen within the glasses of warm brown liquor. Death couldn’t be seen in conversations of tactics, and firepower. Death couldn’t be seen in safe zones far from battle. Death could only be seen around advancing or retreating soldiers.
The screams fade into eternity, and he’s swept into the black.
Death can not be seen by the dead.
She drew Death and held it up to the light. Her client shuddered. She smirked, but only slightly, to not rouse suspicion. She knew things weren't bad as the nervous man seated at her table seemed to think. She set the card down between them. The question now though, was would she play it up or give it to him straight? Drama paid handsomely.
The reader sat back in her chair and crossed a lean, earth-toned leg over top a bulkier, metallic one.
"So, who do you think is going to die?"
The man's nostrils flared. He looked off into the darkness of the lush vermillion carpeting. She scanned over his jacket, his shoes. They were new. Expensive. But his hair was shaggy, straw-like. Despite his shockingly flawless face, the calluses on his palms caught the delicate lace draped along the table. He had money, but it hadn't been for long. And it was burning one hell of a hole in his pocket. Despite his fortune, he reeked of stress.
Xyra's humanity got the best of her. Her smirk retreated and she uncrossed her legs and leaned forward.
"Look. The Death card usually isn't what people think it is. In some cases, it can be a good thing. It rarely means actual death. It's more like the end of a cycle."
Her client remained silent, staring at the card between them. He furrowed his brow and his mouth fell into a quick but prominent pout, like a child fighting back an objection. He swallowed hard, then released with a heavy sigh.
"Thank you, Miss-"
"Xyra. Just Xyra. You want a clarifier card? Only five more bucks."
"No. I'm okay. Forty dollars, right?"
"Is fifty okay? You can keep the rest."
The young man clumsily fished a roll of crisp bills from his pocket and tossed the reluctant cash onto the table. Xyra managed a quick glance and surmised that he was carrying a couple grand. At least.
The shaggy-haired high roller stood to his feet, gave Xyra a soft nod and headed out of the studio into the frigid air of Starsun City. Xyra scooped up Death and placed it with the rest of her deck. She looked over the cash on the table.
He'd given her sixty.
The next morning, Xyra woke to a loud banging on her door of her shop. She pushed herself off her cot and limped to the storefront, gears whining beneath her stiff gait. She smelled humans. More than one. One significantly more stressed than the other. She swung the door open to find two men flashing SCPD badges at her. The older, broader man spoke first.
"Are you Xyra Heddingbone?"
"This some kind of shakedown? I've got papers."
"No ma'am, not a shakedown. I'm Detective Meyer. You know this man? Found beaten to death in his hotel room." The detective held up a photograph up with a beefy hand. Xyra's nostrils flared. "Your business card was in his pocket."
The tongue of the lock's
Sticking out as he slips
Deep inside her abode
Like a cancerous mold...
Not a neighbor aware
As he broods in her chair...
Waiting out his advantage
In the sultry night air...
There are revelers partying;
Kicking up their mad dust...
There are sojourners bedding
With elite upper-crust...
Just like gnats tappin' bulbs...
A car crash out of sight...
The outdoor carousal
Brillantly steals the night...
Smack back out of work
The decidedly wiped
Alice sends weary claws
On an abortive flight...
There is zero to grasp now...
She is stripped of all grace...
'stead of doorknob awaiting her...
Yawning caverns of space!...
She stumbles right down into
The slick spider's lap...
He's the Blue Collar Strangler,
And there's no turning back!...
She's got people that love her,
Tho she's not sure just where...
He's got nothing and no one...
He's the sound on her stair...
She is watching and screaming...
He is watching wild-eyed!...
Though engaged in their struggle,
Neither one of them rides
The white horse of the present...
They are frozen in time...
On a 35 mm film strip
Bound and gagged in their spool
Feeling magnetic pull...
She imagines the last time
Her Ex broke her heart...
He imagines his mother,
And her icy cold parts
As the dark floods the windows
Bleeding over whitecaps...
While he presses with skill
On her neck 'til it snaps
All the shrieks flow like honey
'til they've spilled from her jar...
She was waltzing with Death
Like headlights from a car
Pouring over a deer that's been
Wretched slaves of night's venom...
Falling cold from the knife...
Are these real people playing
With death or just shapes?...
I can see shadows dancing,
Rising fast over walls...
She is painted in anguish...
He has gathered his shawl
As he fetches his web back
From where it was used
To abduct the dead Alice
From her workingclass blues...
- Why are we here again? I mean, I don’t mind now we’re all together, I find it rather cosy.
- Can’t say old bean, but it is better than rubbing shoulders with all the other unread classics in that draughty hallway.
- Yes, it’s nice to slide up against the sexy coffee table number written by that famous singer. I notice that the lady of the house moves it from time to time depending on the type of guest.
- Try being a coffee table book, mate. I haven’t been leafed for years. I am a totem, regardless of what racy nonsense lies within my folds. I have more in common with the knick-knacks on the sideboard.
- You think you’ve got problems. Have a go at being a bog book, sitting for hours on the top of a cold, damp cistern waiting for someone to expose their backside and then continue to disdainfully peruse the first page. Notably, no one ever gets as far as to find out why E=mc2.
- I think they’ve got a book with a corkscrew in it. It’s not even a book. Callously hollowed out as it is to provide literary based amusement during wine and cheese evenings.
- Why are we here again?
- They haven’t touched us in years. It’s all that flappy snap of those tablets and that weird pallid glow on their vapid faces.
- I suppose the field of intellectual operations is wider on that big TV.
- Er, this is all a bit odd, we’re arranged in a sort of pyramid. And we’re outside.
- Yes, and what’s that glow? That one small light getting closer and closer?
- That’s a flame, buddy. That’s from a match. I should know, I’m a 1970s science textbook; a veteran.
- I am a history tome. This is not good.
It was a mundane Tuesday morning, which started as Tuesdays typically do, I boarded the bus at exactly 9:16 AM with a cup of coffee in hand. The grey-haired driver mumbled a good morning, she was an older woman, probably in her late 60s.
"Morning Greta," I said in passing, offering a tight smile and slight nod. This was all routine, same coffee, same time boarding the bus, same driver with the same greeting, and even the same seat. The cool leather brushed against my thighs as I slid into my spot, resting my head on the window before slipping in my earbuds. At least the audiobooks weren't always the same. My best friend had told me a while back that my dedication to routine was maddening, and she was probably right. Each day seemed more lifeless and devoid of color than the last. I strained to pay attention to the true crime novel rambling in my ear but my mind wandered to the scenery outside. A blur of Chicago passing by, some people rushing to their unknown destinations while others casually strolled on, so many lives that I'll never know anything about.
As we approached Bell Street, I gathered my messenger bag and slung it over my shoulder. The bus slowed to a screeching stop before the doors opened. Greta mumbled something else as I exited, and this time I couldn't find the energy to respond, not that she paid much attention. After a glance at my watch, the time read 9:34 AM, which meant I'd be exactly 1 minute late. The street that was usually buzzing with chatter was eerily quiet except for distant yelling.
"- you people think you know it all! You don't know anything!" A thin man stood in the middle of the street while cars honked, and passersby gathered on the sidewalks to watch. His thin, long brown hair clung to his scalp just as his battered and beaten clothes clung to him. His body resembled that of a skeleton, the notches of his spine peaking through the holes of his once-white t-shirt. With some more inaudible yelling, he thrust a cardboard sign up.
"They will come for us! They will come for us all! There is no escaping the sins we have committed!" Then he turned towards the direction I was standing, leaving me to fight the urge to gasp. Crimson streams leaked from his eyes as if his tears were blood, sliding over hollow cheekbones and dripping onto the pavement. With one last cry, he dropped to his knees before authorities pushed their way through to him, but even with him being drug away nobody moved an inch. The crazed man's last words ran through my mind over and over; death has awoken. The cardboard sign lay cast aside with writing almost too small to read. Cautiously I lifted it closer to see a list of names scribbled across it. Mine included.
No matter how much help I seek,
Your reach will never cease.
You grab onto me tight,
Never letting me out of your sight.
Though you look at me hard,
You are blind to my scars.
The blood rushes down my thighs,
And I have come to acknowledge your eyes,
Your voice, so loud in my mind,
My silent pleas,
May you release me from this sour life.
But now I see,
You have no ears to receive.
You claw at my skin,
Not a chance to breathe,
No doctors can help,
When I just want to be set free.
Hot water burns my hands,
under your command.
Cloudy eyes as I cry,
I know in my heart that I will soon die.
The end is near,
but I no longer fear.
Accustomed to your bitter tune,
I know I will bloom.