Cheap silverware screeches in the twist-turn centrifuge of the garbage disposal, warbling twisted metal blues. A restless thing gnaws at the frontal lobe like some starving rat. It burns so hot, a battery-acid burn. These things exist inside the dying star upon my shoulders.
It’s some magnificent and pathetic rubber band ball of frayed wires, the electric snakes seizuring with inspiration. Each strand is alive with an idea, the embryo of creation. Most die before they reach my pen.
I cannot form anything with this unstable form. The sum of its parts is a cosmic scrapyard. I know there is beauty somewhere inside. But everything that comes is so fucking ugly.
Maybe this star will illuminate the sky one day. Maybe the frantic dancers will perform a supernova ballet before my brain’s collapse. Maybe something will come from its destruction. I hope so.
One Last Thing
Jack awoke with a full heart. He had so much to be grateful for: a loving family, amazing friends, and a comfortable bed in which to sleep off 48 straight hours of adventures. Though he hadn’t counted his blessings in some time, now he felt like a calculator was needed. The one thing he wasn’t grateful for, however, was the sticky layer of filth clinging to his skin after two shower-less days. The tarry coat consisted of unequal parts blood, sweat, tears, dirt, and sand--a reminder of his tumultuous path home. He would never forget the journey, but the mementos had to go.
With a twist of the steel handle labeled “H,” Jack stepped into the rising-steam shower. Hot water cleansed his body, melting away all fear and inhibitions. The once-timid boy shed the toxic skin that had weighed him down for years. He was free. He was happy. As he watched the black liquid swirl down the drain, Jack felt like a prisoner released from his shackles. And when the water finally ran crystal clear, he knew the metamorphosis was complete. He cut off the water and watched the last of the pollution disappear.
Out of nowhere came a familiar voice: “Jack.”
“Mind Melter?” Jack said.
“Yes, it’s me.”
Jack’s eyes lit up as he scanned the seemingly empty bathroom. Nothing. “Where are you?” he asked.
The fogged-up bathroom mirror responded, “Right here.”
Through a confused squint, Jack made out the fuzzied features of his friend hidden behind the mirror’s condensation. Forgetting he was completely naked, Jack wiped away the mirror fog and revealed the smiling face of the Mind Melter. Her smile melted when the two realized the situation. As the Mind Melter’s eyes wandered south, Jack’s cheeks flushed with blood. He quickly exhaled two bursts of breath onto the mirror, clouding the Mind Melter’s face once more.
Jack was too embarrassed to speak. The Mind Melter wasn’t. “Not bad,” she said.
“Shut up,” Jack replied with a laugh, though deep down he was more than thrilled with her approval. “I’ll get dressed, and then we can talk.” He exited with a spring in his step and quickly returned wearing a pair of jeans and a faded t-shirt, his step still noticeably springy. With a quick swipe, he revealed the Mind Melter once more. Ignoring the fact that an interdimensional being had just studied his fully nude body, Jack casually asked, “What’s up?”
“At least one thing,” another voice replied.
With a grin, Jack uncovered his skeletal friend. “Bob,” Jack said, “you always know just what to say.” His eyes darted from the beautiful girl to the smirking skeleton. “Anyone else in there I should know about?”
“See for yourself,” Bob said.
A frantically wiping hand towel erased the entirety of the fog from the bathroom mirror, revealing a great rectangular picture Jack had seen before. Only it was different now. Yes, it was the same cemetery he’d first observed in that costume shop changing room, but gone were the mountains of trash, the stalking guard dogs, and the doom and gloom. Replacing the somber scene was a green-grassed graveyard packed with Jack’s Toxic Town friends. A horde of zombies planted rows of roses, burly werewolves transported barrels of water, and the mob of mutants replaced the drab iron gates with shimmering silver bars. The Leadwood crew touched up headstones so no names would be forgotten while Frank lassoed the few remaining scraps of garbage. Tail-less cats and guard dogs dug fresh dirt plots together. The Yojimbo ran a largely avoided concession stand of healthy refreshments. When they noticed Jack, everyone stopped what they were doing and unleashed an uproarious cheer.
Jack took a tiny bow and muttered, “Please, not again.” Louder, addressing Bob: “I appreciate the love, but I do hope this isn’t a house call. Because, quite frankly, I don’t think I’m ready to go back into that world for, oh, six or seven hundred more years.”
Bob responded with a toothy grin. “You’re off the hook for now. We just want to thank you one last time. In fact, this is an observation mirror only. Though we can communicate, interdimensional travel is not possible via this particular point.”
“Good to know.” Jack admired the vibrancy of the refurbished cemetery. “Love what you’ve done with the place. That whole dystopian fad is dead anyway.”
The vestige of a smile was replaced by a very serious skeleton face. “Jack,” Bob began, “I can’t thank you enough. All the restless souls in this cemetery can finally sleep, myself included. What you did was nothing short of heroic. You saved us all.”
Jack fought off the frog in his throat. “I couldn’t have done it without you. All of you.”
Water leaked from Bob’s eye sockets, and there was nothing more he could say.
“You guys are adorable,” the Mind Melter said, half joking and half sincerely touched. “And I agree: You are a hero, but not for the reason you think.” She paused, trying to collect a whirlwind of thoughts. “When you first came to this world, you were not in a good place. You did a good job hiding it, like you have most of your life, but there was a darkness within you. Just as there was a darkness in our dimension. You were reluctant to face the darkness at first, which is understandable. But as your courage grew, so did your determination to defeat the darkness. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I’m not sure,” Jack said.
“Toxic Town isn’t just something you stumbled into; it’s something you created. It was your way of finally dealing with your father’s death, your way of confronting something you’d run from for 10 years. The pain, the sadness, the repression. You needed this world because you couldn’t confront these issues in your own world. And it has helped you tremendously. Look at the graveyard. Look at how much it’s healed. Look at how much you’ve healed. Yes, there is still growth ahead for you, just as there are renovations beyond the graveyard, but you have begun the process of healing. You are dealing with your darkest personal demons, and in my mind, that makes you a hero.”
Jack took a moment to absorb this information. “Thank you,” he said. “I really never would have gotten through this without you.”
“I know,” the Mind Melter said with a smile. “And it was fun, but now we have to go.”
The monsters in the mirror began to dissipate, starting in the back and crawling forward like some invisible wave. Only the Mind Melter, Bob, and the werewolves remained. Jack saw his mother’s benevolent gaze in Apollo’s blue eyes. The Mind Melter exhaled. “But there is one last thing you have to do…”
“What’s that?” Jack asked. Now it was just the Mind Melter.
“What’s what?” a voice answered. It was a voice from outside of the mirror.
But the Mind Melter was still in the mirror! Wait, it wasn’t the Mind Melter at all. It was Helen, an ever-welcome reflection. Jack spun around and there she was in the flesh, looking just as beautiful as ever in a bright yellow sundress.
A stupefied Jack managed a “Huh?”
“Talking to yourself?” Helen said. “Couldn’t find any better company?”
“You’re a close second,” Jack quipped. Helen’s smile melted him like ice cubes in an August lemonade. “Not that I’m complaining, but how’d you get in here?”
Helen shrugged her shoulders. “A couple of little werewolves let me in.” After Jack responded with gobstruck silence, she clarified: “Oh, right. You didn’t see. Alana and Bert dressed as werewolves for Halloween.” Behind Helen’s back and out of her sight, Jack’s younger siblings barraged big bro with exaggerated kissy faces.
Jack countered with a very-cute-please-die expression as he not-so-subtly shut the bathroom door. His eyes locked in on Helen’s, something they had never done before, and Jack spoke with an unwavering confidence: “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Yes?” Helen urged, unable to disguise the longing in her voice.
“You’re one of my best friends, and I never want anything to change that.” Jack was slowly drifting in toward Helen. “But…”
“Yes?” He was so close now, she could feel his breath. She met him halfway, their lips introduced via a tender grazing kiss that culminated in a fiery spark, knocking them both back like punch-stunned boxers. But not for long. As if by instinct, they came together again with lion’s ferocity, lips busting and tongues exploring. That spark became an explosion of brilliant lights: red, yellow, blue, green, purple. Iridescent and free-flowing. They never wanted this moment to end.
The moment ended shortly thereafter when somebody knocked at the door. “Go away, you little pervs!” Jack screeched.
“Just one perv here,” a voice answered. It was Paul.
Jack planted one more peck on Helen and pulled open the door. “What are you doing waiting out there?” Jack asked with a chuckle.
“I didn’t think me slipping you the tongue would be quite as effective,” Paul said.
“Fair enough.” Jack noticed a multi-hued bouquet of flowers in Paul’s hand. “What’s with the flowers?”
“Don’t you remember what today is?”
Suddenly, it hit Jack. “Of course I do,” he said.
“I think you should come with us,” Paul said. He stepped forward and extended the bouquet toward Jack.
Jack retreated with a soft-spoken reply, “I haven’t been there in 10 years.”
Placing a hand on Jack’s back, Helen said, “Jack, you’re ready.” The uncertainty drained from his eyes, replaced with stone-faced resolution. Jack nodded, and the three friends filed out the front door.
Somewhere between the overcast sky and the grass of otherworldly green were hundreds of headstones, monuments to loved ones no longer with us. A lone figure stood at a grave bearing a familiar name. He had asked for a few moments alone. Placing flowers beside the granite, the lone figure spoke: “Hey, dad. It’s me, Jack.” Jack had expected an overwhelming chill in such a place, but the closeness of his father’s spirit infused him with a comforting warmth. Instead of the usual emptiness, Jack was filled with hundreds of memories. Memories he thought he’d forgotten. All the springtime memories of his father flashed simultaneously: building sandcastles at the beach, climbing that willow tree with a funny face hidden in its bark, playing video games with ice cream-swollen bellies, and infinitely more. With so many flashes of joy, Jack couldn’t imagine where to begin. “I guess I don’t know what to say,” he said.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Jack’s mother said, wrapping her arms around Jack’s chest from behind and kissing him on the back of the head. “He already knows.”
Jack’s brother and sister wrestled him with mighty bear hugs. His friends did the same. The light broke through the early-November clouds, warming their backs. For the first time in a long time, it was sunny in Jack’s world.
Title: A Shape-shifter in Toxic Town
Genre: Young adult fantasy/adventure
Age range: 12-18
Word count: 45,000
Hook/synopsis: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland meets The Nightmare Before Christmas in this young adult fantasy novel entitled A SHAPE-SHIFTER IN TOXIC TOWN.
When a mysterious costume shop mirror transports Jack to a dystopian dimension where children become their Halloween costumes, he must use his newly acquired shape-shifting powers to unite a mob of feuding monsters, defeat the evil (and unseen) ruler of the land, and stop the girl of his dreams from hooking up with a muscle-bound doofus.
Initially convinced that he has merely wandered into the “weird part of town,” Jack soon realizes that he is in a new dimension whose only hope lies in his hands. Aided by a fiercely loyal skeleton and an acerbic super heroine with ESP, Jack’s quest to return home has him grappling with the toxic environment as well as toxic thoughts lingering from a traumatic childhood event.
An epic confrontation with The Corporation begs the questions: Can a determined tenth grader and his friends vanquish an evil empire? How will Jack overcome the monsters in this land and in his mind? And, most importantly, is saving another dimension enough to land Jack a date with Helen Offtroy?
Author bio: Adam Wohnoutka received his BA in English from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. He has had work published in various literary magazines, including The Midwest Coast Review, The Aroostook Review, and Solecisms.
“I thought I got three wishes.”
“Boy, you think this is ‘Aladdin’? You get one wish that lasts one day, and you should be damn happy to be getting that.”
The mustachioed specter hovers before me, awaiting my response with crossed arms and a cross face. Not quite what I expected from a genie, but nothing about this encounter conforms to my expectations. Rather than awakening from a golden lamp, the genie arose from a chamber pot I had disturbed while picking through the landfill. “Give me a minute,” I say.
“Don’t think too hard. It’s only for a day. Then you can go back to sifting through other people’s trash.”
The classics flash through my head: unfathomable wealth, supermodels, more wishes. Ultimately, I decide on something to help heal this nation, to unite our people, to break down political barriers. I take a deep breath and make my wish:
“Make me invisible.”
The ensuing 24 hours are a dizzying succession of flights to New York, Los Angeles, and all the flyover places of forest and prairie we call America. I fiddle with a Broadway theatre spotlight, splash around in the Pacific Ocean, and slam countless doors across the Midwest.
When finally my head hits pillow 23.75 sleepless hours later, I have just enough energy to flip on the television. The blue-glow evening news flashes images of today’s exploits: ocean water erupting on its own, a SuperAmerica door opening for an invisible figure, and much more. As I slip into a deep sleep, I have myself convinced I’m a ghost.
What follows is an absolutely glorious week. The blue-vs-red political cesspool has been put on hold. The presidential debate ratings are dwarfed by Ghost Hunters, Most Haunted, and Paranormal State. All races and religions sit side by side on the living room sofa. For the first time in a long time, this country can say, “We believe.”
And then one morning it’s all smashed to pieces. A campaign ad crackles through my speakers:
“The Bible prophesied our messiah would one day return, when we needed Him most. With all the rioting, looting, and violence in our country, it looks like He heard us…”
Images of my invisible deeds flash on screen while the narrator spouts patriotic gibberish. Once the voiceover ends, an elderly man covered in makeup says, “My name is so-and-so, and I approve this message.”
Of course, the other candidate responds. Over the next two weeks, several explanations are offered for the mysterious phenomena, all in support of one party or another. My favorites are: the ghost of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, alien communications, and the collective unconscious of all fed-up Republicans. Little do they know it’s the creation of a non-voter living below the poverty line.
Eventually the hot takes cool, and the two sides form hypotheses to support their fundamental beliefs. One side backs scientific research concluding the so-called supernatural phenomena are an unfortunate byproduct of climate change, while the other side dismisses the happenings as a mainstream media hoax, referring to the hauntings as “fake boos.”
It all goes back to the way it was before.
As I saunter down the cracked and broken path, a conglomeration of picket signs argues over which billionaire cares most about them. With no dog in the fight, I continue on my way to the landfill, where I rifle through America’s rubbish. I hope I can find another genie. This time I’ll wish for supermodels.
Floating in plasmic ecstasy’s embrace,
To benevolent host I stay tethered.
Contentment develops on my new face
With no pain endured, no hardships weathered.
I found paradise in this liquid dark,
So why does gravity now fight my form?
My vivid world seems suddenly so stark.
What vile force excavates me from my dorm?
There’s a blinding light, a machine’s mutters
As my skin is stung by the sterile cold.
But before I clench my fleshy shutters,
A piece of optimism I do mold:
When one life’s fire smolders to its demise,
A spark escapes so new flames may arise.
Blast From the Passed
My flesh decomposed almost two decades ago, yet I never left. They say my spirit is on the path to enlightenment. That’s great. Nirvana awaits. But first I’ve got a final piece of earthly business to attend to: Repaying the bastard who rendered me a maggot buffet.
His name is Hector, and we only met once. It was part of a gang initiation, a test of equal parts loyalty and ruthlessness. Hector pressed a semi-automatic pistol to the back of my head while his brothers urged him on. He didn’t want to do it. I could sense that much. Unfortunately, the combination of overwhelming peer pressure and surging adrenaline generally doesn’t end well.
There was only a moment of black, like a deep blink, and then I was in my current form. Hovering over my slumped-forward flesh body, I watched the blood gush from my mouth, my nose, my ears. When at last I was empty, so was Hector.
Hector has done well for himself since. He’s cleaned up, embraced the humdrum existence of a nine-to-five suburban schmuck. Assistant manager at Radio Shack, fantasy football extraordinaire, et cetera. He even joined a slow-pitch softball league.
I’ve been watching the entire time, like a Russian drone floating soundlessly overhead, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. And the time has come. Hector’s pride and joy, his son, just turned six. I think it’s about time I introduced myself:
“Hello, Hector Jr.” He stirs in his bed but doesn’t awake. I call again from the darkness, a siren-song whisper from the other side.
Hector Jr.’s eyelids flutter, and then those fleshy shutters open. “Hello?” he replies in a half-asleep stupor. My lips stretch into a smirk.
It isn’t until he’s 12 when Hector Jr. speaks my name to his father. Hector turns ghost white and asks where his son heard that name.
“He talks to me every night. He said he knows you, but never says from where.”
Hector’s response is a back-handed wallop to his son’s jaw. “Never speak that name again,” he says through misty eyes. For weeks there is a bruise, a blotted eggplant Rorschach outlined in sickly yellow. I wonder what Hector sees in it.
I continue speaking with the boy. Hector continues beating the boy. Violence consumes his life once more, propelled by the ever-pouring alcohol he requires to survive each day. It isn’t long before his wife leaves. She takes Hector Jr.
Six years later is Hector Jr.’s high school graduation. He’s only seen his father a handful of times since he left. The old man shows up with unsteady legs, his face broken in like a catcher’s mitt and his eyes hollow. I’ve observed the storm-drain downward spiral of this man each and every day, and nothing has brought me more pleasure.
Hector Jr. meets his father at the bottom of the driveway, away from the crowd. Hector leans in for a hug, but his son responds with unrelenting iciness:
“I know what you did, and I never want to see you again.”
Hector leaves without a word.
They find Hector three weeks later, dangling from a noose in his garage. His bulging eyes are open for all eternity. His soul will never sleep.
High-pitched shrieks reverberate in the cavern of my skull, an icy cobalt pain throttling my jawbone. There is sudden quiet. I can feel my jackrabbit heart, taste the metallic brine of blood on my tongue. And then the hell choir sings once more.
“Almost done,” the dentist says as his whirring drill fills my head with impure vibrations. A tiny eternity of torment later: “That should do it.”
Fitted with a pastel bib, soaked in blood and saliva, I look like some grotesque, oversized infant. The drill is silent, but those voices are still chattering away. I say “Thank you” and try to shake the chaos from my mind.
“With that crown, you’re going to want to avoid gum, caramel, and nuts. For the next couple days, I’d recommend eating soft foods. Yogurt, soup, pasta. Just make sure you cook it properly. Al dente or better.” Piano-key teeth are released from his mask. How can someone grin like that after inflicting such pain on another human? Some people call it professionalism; I call it sadism.
I’m on my way out of there when an aggressive rattling stops me in my tracks. It’s the hygienist, shaking a bottle of pills like a maraca. I give her a false smile.
“Wouldn’t want you to forget these,” the hygienist says. “Take them whenever you feel discomfort.”
I could pour the entire bottle down my throat right now.
Back at home, I’m famished from an afternoon of torture. I take the doc’s advice and dump a box of noodles into a boiling pot of water. Al dente. Funny guy, my dentist.
Despite my care in preparing the pasta, the first bite results in damaged-nerve agony that originates in my tooth, ultimately shooting through my entire skeletal system with lightning sharpness.
Spastic fingers unlid the pills and deposit a couple down the hatch sans liquid. Christ, I’m an electric mess. Like a shaken animal. Little by little, the pain dulls and I return to normal.
But then the voices return. Garbled and drill-like, I can’t understand a word. I think it best to get some sleep.
My dreams offer no respite. Through the yellow-orange glow of wriggling flames, I see this: a twisted pair of black horns, a woman’s blood-covered breasts dancing in violent ecstasy, and a necklace of human teeth bouncing rhythmically off a man’s chest.
The voices are chanting. This is what they say:
“Al dente, al dente, al dente, al dente, al dente, al dente…”
I call the dental office the following afternoon. The receptionist answers with artificial-sugar chirpiness.
“May I speak to the dentist?” I ask.
“Sorry, he’s with a patient. Can I help you?”
“Maybe. I got a crown yesterday and the pain is rather intense.”
“Sensitivity after a procedure is perfectly normal. Just continue to take your pain medication as needed.”
She tries to end the conversation here, but I don’t let her: “It’s more than that. I can still hear the drill in my head. In fact, there are voices--”
“--We understand the dentist can be unpleasant for some folks, and these effects may linger for a few days. Don’t worry. This is more common than you think. If you still hear the drill by the end of the week, which is highly unlikely, give us a call.”
These words offer short-lived relief, as hot-poker pain radiates from my tooth moments after the phone call.
To hell with it. I’m going to drown out the pain and the voices. I self prescribe a double dose of pills and a fifth of whatever brown liquor I can find in the cabinet. It’s some bottom-shelf swill, but I don’t give a damn. I pop the quartet of pills and down a three-gulp chug straight from the bottle’s lips.
I don’t finish the booze, but it finishes me. A glossy-eyed haze disappears behind heavy eyelids, ushering in the darkness.
It’s nighttime when I awake, and the voices are ringing in my head, closer than ever now. A fiery glow spills through the blind slits, lighting my living room with an inconsistent orange. With boozy legs, I totter to the window and peek through the blinds. It’s my nightmare come to life:
First I see the black horns, lurking in the suburban grass. They’re attached to an unbreathing goat with its throat opened. The felled beast lays in a tarry crimson pool illuminated by a bonfire’s flames. Gyrating around the bonfire is my hygienist, her breasts dripping with blood as she beats some ancient maraca filled with God knows what. Leading the ritual is the dentist, his primordial convulsions creating the percussive slap, slap, slap of a tooth necklace against his wet chest.
They join the voices in my head: “Al dente, al dente, al dente, al dente, al dente, al dente…”
The dentist swivels his head 180 degrees and shows his teeth. It’s the same grin from the day before. Lips curling, the hygienist beckons with her siren-song chant and an obscene tongue that darts like a snake’s.
A shriek like a drill erupts from my throat. It’s piercing and it’s constant, but it can’t cancel out the voices. I flee into the cavernous quiet of my garage, but still they are with me.
“Al dente, al dente, al dente, al dente, al dente, al dente…”
I have to stop it. Before I go mad. Shaky hands frantically probe a workbench, desperate for the solution. At last, I take hold of my destiny. Guiding a pair of pliers into my mouth, I snap its metal jaws on my crown and yank with herky-jerky rage. There’s a soft “pop,” and the tooth skitters across the concrete.
Ah, sweet silence. The frothy red-pink flows from my gums, a victory champagne. Warm calm swims through my head, infusing all muscles with a cloudy weightlessness. I float away like a freed balloon, my eyelids heavy and sleep-ready. The last thing I see before my eyes close is a hand reaching for my bloody tooth.
Go Right Ahead
I’m second in line. Behind me is a single-file mob of piss-and-vinegar people, like some great fleshy snake ready to spew its pent-up venom. Two months under quarantine has us all ornery. The virus has been extracted, and everyone is ready to get back to their lives. But first we must pass through the checkpoint.
The armed guard eyes the woman in front of me and asks, “What have you learned from this experience?”
“Many things,” she says. “But, most of all, it’s time for change.”
Change. An oil change. That’s what I was doing, sitting sardine-packed in the claustrophobic waiting room with a host of knee-to-knee patrons. Suddenly, the television spewed an urgent news bulletin:
“The highly contagious virus can be spread through minimal contact and is potentially fatal. Please return to your homes immediately. This is not a test. Return to your homes and await further instruction.”
Abandoned with the echoes of clacking shoes and screeching tires, I frantically searched the empty lot for my car. I finally found it amongst the Rorschach oil stains in the garage, clasped in the metal jaws of a vehicle lift. It was to remain suspended in time, immobile and useless for all of isolation. The two miles home were navigated on foot, an unwelcome journey through a ghost town with the rest of the lost spirits.
“We’ve lost our way,” the woman in line says. “There needs to be relief for those less fortunate. There needs to be healthcare for all.”
I remember the paranoia with each shallow breath. I remember the gurgling from my hungry guts. I remember the well-fed celebrities on television, swimming in their crystal pools and throwing dance parties. And then there was the constantly upticking death toll on the news, like a telethon tote board.
The woman in line continues, “The common man needs to rise to the forefront. No more bailing out corporations. No more choking the voice of the middle class. Oligarchy ends now.”
Raising his clipboard, the guard checks a box. He unholsters a pistol and eviscerates the woman’s face with a single shot. A man on mop-and-drag duty quickly disposes of her in a travelling geyser of red. Another man joins in on the cleanup. Soon there is no way of knowing she ever existed.
The guard looks up from his clipboard and smiles at me. “What have you learned from this experience?” he asks.
I swallow a surge of vomit, but I can’t help from expelling these words: “We need to go back to normal, to the way things were before.”
The guard checks a box. “Go right ahead,” he says.
“Overreaction, huh? This is almost too easy. What should I talk about? Oh, I don’t know, how about the corona--”
The man’s words remain forever unfinished, as his brains are splattered Jackson Pollock-like on the wall. I put them there. Well, technically, a shiny cobalt pistol put them there. I was merely the vessel.
But I must own the smoking gun, must explain myself. “Don’t worry,” I tell the panicked and hunkered dinner party. “I’m not going to shoot anyone else.”
A woman rises. I think she’s his wife. “Why the hell did you shoot him in the first place?”
“For a very simple reason,” I say, tucking the pistol into my waistband. “He is--was--an unoriginal prick whose only responses were topical and cliche. Real trite stuff. Not a fan.”
“So you kill him?”
“Yeah. He really bothered me.”
Now the hostess stands, her face flushed and sweaty. “I agree,” she says. Then she glares at the lifeless heap, at the still-trickling blood on the wall. “Just a tedious bastard. Furthermore, his most lasting contribution to the artistic community is that brain painting on my accent wall.”
“Well!” the wife exclaims.
Before the wife can unleash her fluster and fury, a rosy-cheeked man addresses the hostess: “Since we’re all being honest...Helen, I’ve never cared for your lamb chops. Always found them a bit underseasoned.”
Now there is silence. The hostess stares at the rosy-cheeked man with spiteful eyeballs. Then she takes a glass of merlot and splashes his rosy-cheeked face, which I think is a bit of an overreaction.
The rims of my eyes glow diablo red from years of asphalt beds, bottom-shelf whiskeys, and unempathetic strangers. At least this is what my reflection tells me, a reflection of an empty man in a piss puddle in the gutters of some shit stain town. The preacher at the shelter said God would come into my life. Never did. Guess I can’t blame him.
Guess I’ve got no one to blame but myself. They tried to help me. Friends. Family. Couldn’t stay on the wagon. Or didn’t want to. I never could take this life sober; I don’t know who would try.
I’ve got a liter of the good stuff sloshing around in my rancid guts, fueling me like coal does a steam locomotive. I totter through the streets with dragon-breath fumes. The town folk keep their distance, faces scrunched in disgust. They don’t affect me. I’ve fallen too far, become too numb to feel shame. To feel anything.
I was in love once. Best girl I’d ever met. She left me for some prick with money. Hadn’t seen her in years. She passed through town not too long ago, and I asked if she remembered me. She said that I smelled of shit. And that was it. Never gave a damn what the rest of the world thought, but when she gave up on me, I knew it was over.
A vapory spectre shoots from my lips, into the frigid air. Withered leaves crunch like bones beneath my feet. In the eye of October looms the threat of winter. I can’t take another one of those. No, this will be my last. I’d wanted to do it earlier, but the path was clouded. There isn’t enough booze on earth to stop my heart, and this one-story town doesn’t provide a single skyscraper to leap from.
Anyway, I’m sure you’ve had enough with the ruminations of a pathetic old drunk. I’m almost there. Lake Superior. I do hope it’s quick. I hope the coldness of it all paralyzes my body, and I pass out from shock. I hope the great body swallows me whole and doesn’t spit me out.
It’s only appropriate such an insignificant creature should hurl himself into such a vast expanse. So I can be forgotten without a fuss. A speck of sand in the hourglass of the universe, passing to the other side without anybody noticing. I do hope they use an old picture for the obituary. I do hope they find something nice to say.
It’s a toxic alien invasion, perpetrated by flashing advertisement screens, airbrushed Instagram idiots, and the general public’s insatiable appetite for material things. It’s an implant that poisons a healthy brain with warped ideas of happiness and success. And it’s shoved down the throats of the masses like gospel.
Those with iPhone welded to hand await the zombie apocalypse, unaware that they are already minions of the horde. The disease is decades in the making, a motherboard seed that has sprouted into a grotesque tree, its cable wire roots hissing like snakes beneath the surface.
Prisoners in our own homes, prisoners in our own minds. The invisible unifying tool has alienated all humankind. Bask in the warmness of the glowing green screen, binge the ever-spewing entertainment, but don’t confront the big, bad world outside.
The antivirus is not for sale. Its venom swims freely through our veins, can’t be diluted now. It’s a part of us all. Let it burrow in the pockets of our being; let it sap the protein from our muscles so that we may atrophy into infinite idle bliss. Life. Is. Good.