NO, I do not mean a hatchet. Hatchets are for chopping campfire kindling. I'm talking about a good old fashioned tomahawk. Balanced enough to accurately throw, weight enough to cause damage as a melee weapon. You can fight with it, hunt with it and chop campfire kindling.
Larry the Angry Llama
Mac stood a few feet back from Larry's pen. Not far enough away to be out of the llama's spitting range, but far enough to engage his makeshift shield before getting assaulted with green sputum. Mac adjusted his goggles as Larry approached the fence, still chewing furiously with an angry look in his eyes.
"What's up, you little snowflake bitch?" said the llama.
Mac sighed. "Larry, we've discussed this, bro. The fact that I don't believe people of color are less human than white people doesn't make me a snowflake bitch."
"Oh yeah?" said the llama. "Then what does it make you?"
Mac stood, blinking, careful not to make any sudden movements before speaking. "Well," he said, his finger resting on the button to release and open the umbrella. "For starters, it makes me not a piece of shit, unlike yourself." Mac successfully predicted what came next and had pushed the umbrella's button the moment he finished his sentence. The umbrella extended with a click and a thwump that was instantly followed by the sound of phlegm hitting the umbrella's vinyl fabric.
Mac knelt with the umbrella close to his body, like a spartan shield, deflecting enemy projectiles. He was, in theory, deflecting enemy projectiles. Only these missiles weren't arrows or spears. It was cud. Which, according to Mac's Google research, was "partly digested food returned from the first stomach of ruminants to the mouth for further chewing." Mac didn't even know what the hell a ruminant was until he brought the llama to the farm. He learned ruminants were cattle, deer, goats, and finally, camelids.
That's what Larry was. A loogie-hocking asshole cousin of the camel. Just one of the many facts Mac discovered in his llama research. Another fun thing he learned was just how far llamas could spit, which was 10-15 feet. Larry could spit further than that and could do so with deadly accuracy.
"Come out and take your medicine, you hairless dickbag!" Larry yelled.
"Larry," said Mac, growing more impatient with each barrage of spit. "I have tried incredibly hard to empathize with your upbringing, but sweet Christ, do you make this difficult!" The response to his statement was another jet of liquid striking the umbrella's fabric.
"Funny you should mention our Lord and Savior because the bible says that the white man should inherit the Earth!"
"Larry, no, it does not. Cut that shit out." The llama attempted to shift sideways and spit from a different angle, but Mac was ready. He shifted when Larry shifted and crouched when he spit at his feet. This time, Mac was ready. He had done this dance with Larry too many times to not know his moves by now. He could feel less mucus hitting the umbrella with each stream and knew the creature was running low on ammo.
"Cursed be the son of Ham!" said Larry.
"What the fuck are you on about now?"
"That's what Noah said in the bible! Ham was one of his son's and his descendants became black."
"Larry, not only is that the dumbest fucking thing I've ever heard, but it's also wrong on several levels."
"You don't know anything about the good book!" Larry's statement was punctuated with another jet of spit.
"I was raised southern baptist. I had all 66 books of the good word branded onto my brain," said Mac flatly.
"What the hell does that mean?"
"It means I know it better than you do, and that Ham descendant shit isn't anywhere in it."
"Yes, it is! My owners were true God-fearing folks and read their favorite parts of it out loud for everyone to hear!"
"Let me guess. Judges, Job, Revelations, probably a Leviticus or two, and Genesis." The llama gasped, and the spitting ceased. Mac kept his umbrella deployed but peeked over the top of the now phlegm-soaked vinyl. He saw Larry standing in the same spot, but his mouth had stopped moving angrily.
The llama stood there, his jaw slack with a wide-eyed expression. "Those were almost all of their favorite books. How did you know that?"
"Because objectively speaking, that's when God is at his most hardcore and angry in the bible. I told you. I was raised southern baptist."
Larry squinted suspiciously. "But you're a heathen atheist."
"Technically, I'm agnostic, but I know more about the Christian Bible than you do, you wooly twat!" Mac ducked expectantly behind his umbrella as more mucus struck the vinyl. He had wanted to make sure Larry was empty before carrying on his conversation, and it now seemed that he was. Mac poked his head back out and lifted his goggles to his forehead.
"Larry, just because I'm no longer a believer in Christianity doesn't mean I don't believe in some of its lessons."
The llama squinted again. "What lessons?"
Mac had his favorite story from the bible already in mind. "The book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25-37."
"Sound's made up," replied Larry."
"It's called the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and if you stop fucking spitting at me for two minutes, I'll tell it to you. You once told me your favorite part of the day was when your old owners would walk around loudly reading from the bible, right?"
"Yes," said Larry, a suspicious look still etched on his face. "I enjoy the stories."
"Well, let me tell you this one then. And if you stop acting like a psych ward patient around here, I'll start taking the time to tell you more stories. But you have to stop being such an asshole."
"I would like to hear the story now," said Larry, the contempt beginning to fade from his voice.
Mac lowered his umbrella to his side but kept it ready if the llama got trigger happy again. "So there was this man, traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and-"
"Jerusalem?" interrupted Larry. "Doesn't that have something to do with Jews?"
"Most of Jewish history revolves around Jerusalem and a few thousand years of conflict, going on even today, but that's not what we're discussing. The llama began to speak, but Mac held up a finger. "If some anti-semitic shit comes out of your mouth, I'm not going to tell the story." Larry huffed through his nose but kept his thoughts to himself. Mac waited just in case he changed his mind.
"Now," said Mac. "Jerusalem to Jericho. This guy was traveling. You with me?"
"Why was he traveling?"
"Larry, I don't fucking know. To see the walls."
"Jericho had walls?! You see, we should build a wall at the southern border!"
Mac sighed. "Firstly, according to the bible, all it took was a few laps around the city and a handful of dudes blowing trumpets to bring those walls down, so don't fall in love with them. Secondly, that's one of the many stories I will tell you if you'll just shut up and let me finish this one." Mac gestured for the llama to add anything else, but Larry remained silent.
"So this guy was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was beset upon by thieves."
"Beset?" queried Larry.
"So these thieves attacked him, stripped him, and beat him within an inch of his life. They left him there on the side of the road, covered in dirt and blood. As the traveler laid there dying, a priest happened by on the same side of the road. The priest saw the man in his state, and instead of helping him, he simply crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way."
"Why didn't he stop to help the man? The man was a servant of God!" asked the llama.
"Just because someone believes in God doesn't make them inherently good, Larry. He may have been a servant of his God, but he wasn't a good person."
"Did the man die?"
"Well, it just so happens that someone else, a Levite, happened by on the same stretch of road. A Levite was like a religious functionary. They performed different tasks at holy temples like guard duty, singing, upkeep, all of it. So, much like the priest, this guy was supposed to hold himself to a better standard. But as the Levite came upon the traveler, he too ignored the dying man and crossed the road to continue on his way."
"Why didn't he help?"
Mac shrugged, squinting at the ground as he thought on the question. "Because he couldn't be bothered," he finally said. "Because like the traveler, he was trying to get somewhere, and the dying man would have been a great burden upon him." Mac sighed again. "Because the man was filthy, probably covered in not only blood but piss and shit as well. The traveler probably looked like a waste of time, a fruitless endeavor, a lost cause."
"So the man just died, suffering like that?" Larry asked with a hint of sadness in his voice.
"Well, one more person happened by, a Samaritan."
"What's a Samaritan?"
"Well, then it meant a person from a place called Samaria. So as I understand it, this Samaritan was nobody important or special. He was just a regular guy who happened to be traveling on the same road."
"Let me guess," interjected Larry. "This asshole crosses the road too."
"No," said Mac softly. "The Samaritan stopped on the side of the road. He washed the traveler, cleaned the man's wounds with oil and wine, then bandaged him up. After doing all that, the Samaritan put the traveler atop his own animal and escorted him to an inn. Once they arrived, the Samaritan purchased the traveler a room, and as he left, he gave the innkeeper enough money to cover room and food for a few nights. He told the innkeeper that whatever the man spent beyond that, he would pay for when he came back through."
Clearly confused, Larry stood silently staring at Mac. After several attempts to articulate his feelings, the llama finally settled on another question. "I get helping, but why did he do all of that? Who was he trying to impress?"
Mac smiled. "He wasn't trying to impress anyone. The Samaritan did it because he was a good person. The Samaritan had compassion for the traveler, and he acted on that compassion. Why should he stop with a half measure?" Larry had no response or retort. The llama simply stood there, pondering. "And you know what else?" asked Mac.
"What?" replied Larry.
"Recalling that story is the very reason I decided to bring a cantankerous, racist llama here to the farm."
"How in the hell do I compare to a beat-up traveler?" said Larry.
"You're both victims of circumstance," answered Mac. "Your former owners were just on the other side of the woods out back, correct?"
"Well, I am firmly convinced that whatever the fuck gives me the ability to talk to animals is tied to the land, this land, not me. I'm just the guy that bought it." Mac stared into the distance, going over in his head what he already had a thousand times before. "I don't know if it's because I'm closer in proximity, if it's because my name's on the deed, or what the hell is going on. Maybe the animals here act a certain way because of who I am, how I think, I-"
Mac paused, still wrapping his mind around the question that plagued him perpetually. After a few seconds of reflection, he finally spoke. "I just don't fucking know, Larry." Mac shrugged. "Apparently, you and your former owners were close enough to be affected."
Larry shook his head. "I never spoke with them."
"But you clearly understood their teachings. You also soaked up a lot of their personality, which makes me hopeful that I may finally get some answers instead of constantly guessing and hoping for the best." Mac dropped the umbrella on the ground as a show of faith and continued speaking as he drew closer to the llama's enclosure.
"Back to my original point," said Mac. "You and the traveler were both victims of circumstance. There wasn't much either of you could have done to avoid the outcome." Larry remained silent as Mac went on. "I have the opportunity to help you, and I'm going to exhaust all of my efforts to do that."
"How do you plan to do that?" asked Larry.
"Did you enjoy that story I told?"
"Well, there are a hundred more I could tell you, but I need something in return."
The llama sighed and rolled his eyes. "What?"
"You have to start keeping the hateful shit to yourself."
"Being proud of my heritage is not-"
Mac held up a finger. "Larry, you're not a white Anglo-Saxon man. You're a fucking llama with white fur. I can't change the way you think, not yet at least, but I can keep you from saying nasty shit out loud."
"And what if I don't?" said Larry, narrowing his eyes.
"You're gone. I won't sell you because you're not my property. I will give you to whoever is willing to take you." said Mac. "I want to help you, but not at the expense of the other animals." He took his goggles completely off of his head and leaned up against the gate. "I mean, how the hell am I supposed to find you a mate if you're acting like such an asshole all the time?"
Larry tilted his head slowly, confused by Mac's question. "Find me a what?"
"A mate?" said Mac, confused as well. "A creature of the same species, generally of the opposite sex if you wish to reproduce."
"Homosexuality is-" Larry stopped himself when he saw Mac raise his eyebrows. "Nevermind, back to the thing you just said about the mate of the opposite sex."
"You're telling me that there are female llamas out there that are not my mother and sisters?"
Mac blinked slowly at the llama, dumbfounded by the creature's questions. Had he really gone through his entire life believing the only other females of his species were his relatives? "Larry," he said. "Do you know how many llamas are in the world?"
"I dunno, maybe a few hundred."
"I'm not entirely sure on the exact number, but it's more like a few hundred thousand."
"Is that a lot?"
Mac looked up thoughtfully. "Let's put it like this. There are so many of your kind that I can state with utter certainty that you're not related to 99.9% of them. You and your relatives make up a tiny portion of the llama population, so we can find you a mate with relative ease." Larry began to stomp his front feet excitedly. "But," said Mac. "That offer is conditional on you working with me."
Mac held up his index finger. "One, you can't say racist shit anymore." He held up a second finger. "Two, you can't fucking spit on me anymore." Mac pointed to the spit-soaked umbrella, and the green caked goggles. "I swear on everything I love if you ever spit in my face again, I will knock you unconscious, sheer you bald, and leave you on the side of the fucking road."
Larry started moving his lower jaw aggressively out of habit but thought better of it. "If I do as you say, you'll keep reading me stories and find me a mate?"
"What if I don't believe the things you're trying to teach me."
Mac shrugged. "As long as you're not conveying your beliefs out loud, I don't give a shit." He genuinely didn't either, because just getting the llama to stop spitting on him was a major victory in itself. "It begins right now, do you understand?" Larry nodded as Mac opened the gate cautiously, still waiting for the other shoe to drop. He swung the gate wide open and gestured for the creature to exit his pen. "I originally came over here because we're having a farm meeting, and since you're a part of this family, I would like you to attend."
Larry's jaw dropped. "You want me to attend?"
"I do, but if one negative thing comes out of your nasty mouth, our deal is off." The llama nodded his head again, and they both walked side-by-side towards the farm animals now convening behind the house.
Through the Edgeless Expanse
Bob floated in the void, perpetually flipping end over end. The endless tumbling wasn't so bad when he didn't have a point of reference. He got super nauseous when he passed a nearby star or planet. Lucky for him, that hadn't happened in a few thousand years. Or was it unlucky? After all, he had been floating through space for hundreds of millions, maybe billions of years.
Getting sucked into a star, gas giant, or even a black hole would have at least been a refreshing change of pace. But Bob wasn't that lucky. In fact, Bob was probably the unluckiest person in the whole fucking universe because, as far as he knew, he was the only person in the universe. He was utterly alone. One might think that Bob, having traversed several galaxies and billions of celestial bodies, would have been caught in something's, anything's gravity. That wouldn't have done him any good, though. It's not like he could die.
Bob wasn't anyone special on Earth, back when the planet was still a thing. He had always found it strange that he continued to vividly retain his memories of Earth after all the time that had passed since its destruction. Bob remembered himself, his family, and everything that had occurred in his life. That probably had to do with his second wish. But here's the thing, the second one wasn't even his idea. It was the old man's, the one who granted him the three wishes.
Bob had been sitting in Smitty's tavern, same as any other Friday night, and honestly, same as most nights. He had just begun sipping his fifth gin & tonic when the door to the tavern swung open. Through the open door stepped a bearded white-haired man in a cream-colored cotton suit, with a crisp white shirt underneath. The man stood at the entrance, stroking his long flowing beard, searching the bar, until he finally turned his gaze to Bob.
When the white-haired man saw Bob, he raised his brow as if to say, ah, there you are, as though they had been planning to meet the entire time. The man casually walked to the end of the bar, where Bob always sat, and pulled up a stool next to him. The bartender came over to take the man's order, but he politely declined and asked for water. The man then turned to Bob and said. "You have three wishes. Go."
It's not like Bob had any company, and he was drunk, so what could it possibly hurt to play along with a crazy old man? "Anything I want?" asked Bob.
"Anything." replied the old man.
"I wish I could live forever."
"Done. Just know, there can be only one immortal thing in existence, and that's about to be you."
"About to be?" asked Bob.
"Yeah, it won't take effect until after you've made all three wishes. Also, just because you're going to live forever doesn't mean you can't get sick. You could perpetually live with something that regenerates, like cancer."
Bob turned his mouth downward in mock concern. "We don't want that."
"No, we do not. Might I suggest your second wish?"
"Alright, let's hear it," laughed Bob. He downed his drink and flagged the bartender for another.
"How about your second wish be that you never fall to any illness. Not of the body, not of the mind."
Bob shrugged. "Sure, why the hell not?"
"Done," said the old man. "You've got one left, and I bet you everything in existence that you're going to pick something selfish like money."
Bob took offense to that. "And just what is that supposed to mean?" he asked angrily.
"It's human nature. You guys only want what's best for yourselves. Not the whole."
Bob's face softened into a thoughtful expression. Booze made him easy-going that way. "Did I hear you bet everything? In all of existence?"
The old man's mouth turned up in a crooked grin. "Indeed, you did."
"That's a pretty big wager, sir. I don't believe it's yours to make, seeing as how not everything is yours to bet."
"You'd be surprised," said the old man, extending his hand to shake on the wager.
Bob looked at the white-haired man's hand. "Sort of seems like we're focusing more on this bet than on my final wish."
The man threw his head back and laughed heartily. Not in a sinister or maniacal way, but more like Santa Clause or a grandpa hearing a funny story. "My son," he said, catching his breath from laughing at his own inside joke. "This bet and your third wish are the same. You and I are the same. Time is an immeasurable circle, beginning at his point, in this very bar." The old man squinted curiously. "Funny thing, though. Last time you were sitting over there."
The old man pointed to the opposite end of the bar and shook his head. "One would think I'd have a better understanding of time than anyone, but I suppose I designed all of it to surprise me on occasion." He shrugged. "Where's the fun in always knowing what's going to happen?"
Bob sat, staring with a slack-jawed expression, unsure if the old man was mocking him or just had dementia. "Time is a circle beginning in this bar? What the fuck are you talking about, buddy? Are you busting my balls?"
"Don't pay me any mind," said the old man apologetically. "I'm just a lonely old man, ranting and raving."
Feeling like a jerk, Bob dropped his attitude and extended his hand. "I"ll take your bet. Considering I'll do the opposite of what you're suggesting I'm going to do, I'll win everything in existence. I already know the outcome."
"Hey, so do I!" replied the old man excitedly, shaking Bob's outstretched hand. "It's a bet."
Bob downed his drink, wiping his mouth with a sleeve. "I wish for world peace."
"Just to be clear," said the old man. "You wish for the world to be at peace? True peace?"
"What other kind of peace is there?"
The old man raised his brow to the question. "Oh, there's all kinds. I can list them off if you'd like, but in my humble opinion, true peace is the peak of the concept."
"Fine," said Bob, growing impatient with the old man's veiled speech. "I wish for the world to be at true peace."
"Done!" said the old man clapping his hands together loudly, startling the bartender and several of the patrons.
"Well, I guess you lost the bet," Bob said with a smirk.
"Guess so," shrugged the man. "I lost the bet."
"You going to give me my three wishes and everything in existence now?"
"Indeed, I am." The old man held out his finger. "Go ahead, Bob. Give it a pull."
Bob squinted at the old man. He might have been drunk, but he wasn't oblivious. "I don't remember telling you my name, buddy." He backed his stool away from the bar, now wary of the white-haired, bearded man. "How did you know my name?"
Still holding out his finger, the man gave Bob a sheepish grin. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. I know this because I've attempted to tell you time and time again. You never believe me, though."
Bob rubbed his eyes, annoyed and officially over the old guy's game. "If I pull your finger, will you go away?"
"Immediately." finished the old man.
Bob sighed and grabbed the man's finger, pausing for some reason to look the man in the eyes. He had the greenest eyes Bob had ever seen, which was odd because that's what people said about Bob.
The old man smiled warmly. "Until next time, my son."
"Sure thing, old-timer," said Bob, pulling the man's finger. Suddenly the man and his finger disintegrated into a white flame. The flame was blinding, and as Bob shielded his eyes from its brilliance, he heard the most ear-shattering noise in the history of Earth, and that statement was a fact considering it was the sound of the planet exploding. Then Bob was flying indescribably fast through the edgeless expanse of space, completely and utterly alone.
What if straight were the minority? That is a profound question, and I'll be upfront when I tell you it took some actual pondering on my part to come up with even half an answer. Let's get the first part out of the way so you can determine whether you want to read further or not.
I'm a straight white male who hasn't experienced every advantage, but I have been given more than most. I was raised in the bible belt, Oklahoma, to be specific. Football, cattle, and baptists. So I know all the hellfire and brimstone teachings, particularly the ones regarding homosexuality. These teachings stand out so vividly in my mind as the result of an extra-religious uncle who would constantly rant and rave on the subject to not just me but his wife and three kids. As it turns out, my uncle was overcompensating.
He was super gay the entire time, and if I'm honest, I liked him way more after he came out of the closet. And lucky for my uncle, I had ignored all his teachings. My rejection of his "lessons" was due to a pair of gay uncles on my dad's side. Uncle Steve and Uncle Jim. A couple of super cool, well-kempt, great-smelling dude's. I don't know what kind of cologne those guys spritzed on, but they didn't skimp on cost.
So before I make this anymore about me, and keeping my background in mind, I'd answer a question with a series of questions. Here we go.
Exactly how reversed would our current roles be in the world? Would it be the exact polar opposite regarding everyone's sexuality? In that world, would I be an 8-year-old gay kid sitting in the backseat of the car while one of my mom's awkwardly explained why my Aunt Stephanie and Uncle Jim sometimes kiss and hold hands around me?
Would I have a secretly straight uncle constantly espousing hateful views about his own sexuality? Would I be gay or straight in that world? Would any LGTBQ+ people still reading be straight? In that universe, would there be people holding signs in the street telling me I'm going to hell for being a straight person? Camp's to convert me from my straight ways?
I could go on and on, banging my head off a wall with these questions, but I won't. There are too many variables—for me at least—to even guess as to what society, and ultimately, the world would look like. The planet wouldn't be overpopulated, so maybe global warming wouldn't be a thing. Beyond that, I don't know how things would be. But there is one thing I would hope for that version of me in that world.
I would hope that in that world, I had the same influences I had in this one. People to teach me we don't hate just because someone is different and that I'm not better than any other sexuality or nationality. As an adult, I am far from perfect, but I can proudly say I'm not a hateful asshole. A regular, run-of-the-mill asshole? Yes. A hateful one? No. Regardless of the variables, I would hope I could say the same about myself in that world.
The Summer of the Phantom Menace
It was May 19th, 1999. I was in school on the very last day of the year. Just another hour or so, and it was staying up late, sleeping in, and hanging out with my two best buddies that lived across the street.
As I sat in class with the afternoon dragging on, twitching my leg uncontrollably and glancing at the clock every thirty seconds, an announcement came over the PA system. It was the principal calling me to the office. I had already turned in my books, my desk and locker were clean, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what I had done to get called to the office.
I walked into the office, and there stood my Dad with a half-grin on his face. "Hey, buddy. You ready to go?" he asked me.
Being an oblivious 12-year-old, I simply shrugged and said, "Uh-huh." It didn't strike me as odd that he had come to pick me up unannounced and with no prior plans of doing so. Whatever, I didn't want to spend another hour in school if I didn't have to. So on we went, and thus ended my career as a 6th grader.
We got in the car, and there sat my step-mom, also with a grin on her face. I was starting to get suspicious but knew they wouldn't be acting that way if something bad had happened. It wasn't until we drove by our neighborhood that I finally asked where we were headed. "It's a surprise," said my Dad.
We kept driving until we came to the Quail Springs Mall in Oklahoma City, OK. We went in, passing all the stores, and descended the escalator down into the food court. At the far end of that food court was the AMC 24 theater, and all over and around the Marquee were signs that said 'STAR WARS: The Phantom Menace".
My heart started racing. I had forgotten the premiere was on that date. The internet was a third as interconnected as it is today, so it wasn't like I had social media to remind me. I knew next to nothing about the plot, the new characters, or when the story was supposed to occur other than being before the first three films.
If you read the reviews or ask almost any Star Wars fan today, they will probably tell you they consider Episode 1 to be the dumpster fire of the franchise. In reality, they probably have some valid points but 12-year-old me would have fought anyone for such blasphemy. In my mind, at the time, The Phantom Menace was the greatest film in existence.
I didn't see bad acting or hear the poor dialogue. All I saw was the story I loved, finally on the big screen. I had, of course, watched the first three films on VHS until the tapes were practically worn down, and I had seen the original film's during special releases to theaters, but not like this. I was seeing it for the first time, just like everyone else. All I saw was a new and exciting version of the tale I had grown to love so much. There were new good guys, new bad guys, lightsaber fights with twirls and flips, dude's getting cleaved in half, everything a kid my age could possibly want.
My Dad and I saw The Phantom Menace SIX times that summer, none of the trips planned prior. He would randomly ask me, "You wanna go see Star Wars again?" and I'd, of course, say yes every time.
So in summation. While Episode 1 may be the gaudiest of the prequel films, it may very well be my favorite solely based on that memory.
May the 4th be with you!
Fox Run Farm
Mac stood staring at the brood of chickens, his face devoid of expression. The birds were neatly grouped in a v formation, with one large black hen standing in front. Behind them, facing the opposite direction, was a rooster. The cockerel sat solemn and silent, surrounded by patches of his own red feathers.
One might think the rooster would be representing the flock. After all, that's the way it normally is, right? Whether it be in children's books, cartoons, or real life. In most places, roosters ordinarily "rule the roost," so to speak. Well, this farm wasn't like most places, and it sure as shit wasn't ordinary.
"Betty," said Mac to the large black hen. "Would you care to elaborate on what happened?"
The hen took a step forward, her head jerking and bobbing erratically. "Mr. Mackay," began the chicken.
"It's just Mac," he interrupted.
"Very well," she replied. "Mac." The large bird strutted in front of the smaller white and brown hens. "There's nothing the matter any longer. It's all been sorted out," said Betty. With her statement came a cascade of giggling from the other chickens. The rooster, with larges patches of bald spots all over his body, remained silent.
Mac pointed to the rooster. "Why does Dexter look like he squared off with badger?"
Dexter looked almost as rough as when Mac first met him. The rooster had come to the farm after local law enforcement shut down a cockfighting ring. Dex was the only bird that made it out of the operation alive. That left scars you could see and some that you couldn't
To put it bluntly, Dexter, the rooster, looked like he just had his ass handed to him. Mac was starting to piece it together but wanted to hear everyone out all the same. He nodded towards the pouting rooster. "Did you and Dex get in a fight?" he asked Betty.
"Fight is a strong word," answered the hen. The laughter grew louder as Betty continued. "He got his drumsticks beat, his nuggets toasted, his wings fried!" At this point, the other hens were rolling on the ground in fits of laughter.
Dex stood up and turned in defense of himself, strutting angrily past the hysterical hens. "I beg of you, Dominus," said the rooster in a deep voice. "Hear my version of the events before you pass judgment upon me."
"Dex," Mac replied quietly. "I told you not to call me Dominus."
"Are you not my owner?" questioned the rooster.
"I-..." Mac paused, thinking hard on the question. According to the rest of the world, he owned every animal on the farm. But as it was established earlier, his farm was by no means like the rest of the world. Mac had always figured once they started acting like people, he couldn't very well treat the animals like he owned them. That would essentially be slavery. Wouldn't it?
"You know what, Dex? said Mac. "I don't know what the word is for my relationship with you or any other barnyard animal in this place, but one thing I am not is your Dominus."
Dex pointedly gave Betty a wide berth as he drew closer. "Will master suffice?"
"No!" snapped Mac. Not master, not dominus, or any of that old world 'my liege' shit. You're not a weird gladiator chicken anymore, so stop talking like fucking Spartacus!" he said, pointing at the rooster.
Mac calmed his voice and continued. "Look, Dex. I own this land, and you live on it. I don't see myself as anyone's owner or master. You, Betty, the hens, you're all more like my family. So please, talk to me like a friend, like-... like a brother."
The rooster paused, dramatically staring off into the distance. "The only brother's I've ever had, I was forced to slay in glorious combat."
"Mmhm," said Mac dryly. "Then I suppose it's quite fortunate that we don't engage in bloodsport on this farm."
"Speak for yourself, honey," said Betty, causing all the chickens to cheer and laugh louder.
"Very well, Mac," Dex said testily. "This dark feathered harlot dishonorably blindsided me, and then the rest of these traitorous bitches swarmed me." The rooster bowed his head. "Had you not come when you did, the attack would have claimed my life."
Betty snorted at Dex's words, and the hens' laughing quickly turned into jeering. "That's bullshit," said Betty, calmly swaggering forward. Dex startled as she strutted past. The rooster seemed to be terrified of the large hen.
"Dexus Maximus over here has been treating every lady in this coop like sex slaves." The hen pointed an accusatory beak at Dex. "He's aggressive and even becomes violent if any of us decide we don't feel like mating."
The rooster stamped his foot in the dirt then kicked the particles behind him. "I am doing my job as the male and leader of this flock—Tis' my sworn duty. For my dominu-... uh, Mac."
Mac raised an eyebrow. "What's your sworn duty, Dexter?"
"Why, to do what's in my nature, of course! It's my sworn duty to mate with every one of these bitches, even if that means taking the whores at times they think are inconv-"
Dex never got the chance to finish his sentence. Before Mac could even lift a finger to stop it, Betty was in full charge, yelling all the while. "Yaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" the chicken bellowed to the raucous encouragement of the other hens.
Dexter had a split second to respond, but retirement from the arena had left his reflexes slow. The giant hen slammed her body into his, and the rooster went beak over tailfeathers multiple times.
"Yeah! Who's the bitch now, Chantecler?" hollered Betty, doing a rope-a-dope in the dirt. "Get up and let me show you my original recipe for an extra crispy ass-whuppin'!"
Mac had stopped questioning the rules of this place. He was already going insane, so why speed up the process trying to make sense of it. Still, he wondered where the hen had learned such scathing smack talk. Mac stepped forward to break up the fight. "Betty, back off!"
Betty spun towards Mac, lowering her head. "What?! Are you taking his side?" she hissed. The other hens snapped their heads in his direction, a few of them narrowing their eyes suspiciously. They seem more like humans every day, he thought.
Mac held up his hands defensively. "No, Betty. I'm not taking anyone's side." He lowered his hands and stepped cautiously in between the two birds. "I try really fucking hard to avoid farm politics and only intervene when I absolutely have to." He lowered himself down to a knee to get on the hens level.
"I do not condone the way Dexter treats you and the other ladies, and I believe I am partly to blame for his horrible behavior."
The hen's all gasped. "How could you be responsible for that cock's terrible treatment of us?" demanded Betty. Mac hesitated, thinking carefully on his next words, and just as he was about to speak them, something moved in the corner of his eye.
It was Mac's dog, Mikey, running over to see what the commotion was. Mikey sprinted up to Mac and protectively circled him while aggressively barking. Mac had never seen the dog like this, with his ears pinned back, baring his teeth. "Mikey, Chillout," said Mac, scratching the dog's neck each time he circled past. "Everything is ok."
Mikey stopped behind Mac to protect his backside from the rooster. "It doesn't look ok," said the dog, a low growl still emitting from his throat. "Everything looks very not ok, and— well, I'm not ok with things being not ok... I think?"
Mac calmly turned around and grabbed Mikey's collar, scratching the dog behind the ears as he did so. "Buddy, if I'm confused by what you're saying, then I know you're confused too. I swear to you that I'm perfectly fine."
Mikey plopped his hindquarters on the ground, craning his neck around to look at Mac with his body still facing the rooster. "Then why do all the chickens look so angry?" Mikey wasn't the most intelligent animal on the farm, but he was quite observant of body language. These creatures may have behaved like people, but their animalistic instincts never waned, and that was just one more thought atop a confusing pile of them, a heap of bizarre shit that sat squarely in the center of his life, dominating every aspect of it.
Mac had lived on this farm for a year now, and he was still unsure of his place in it. On paper and according to the rest of the world, he was the rightful owner of 343 Fox Run Rd, Wardsboro, Vermont. He paid the bank for the foreclosed property. In return for his payment, the bank gave him a piece of paper saying Arthur G. Mackay had lawfully purchased the aforementioned property, and therefore, it was his.
But there was the rub. The papers, deeds, banks, and overall legality of the purchase didn't mean a thing. Especially not while Mac was actively trying to mediate a dispute between a clutch of angry oppressed hens and a sexually aggressive rooster.
"You were saying?" said Betty, exasperated.
Mac held up an index finger. "Betty, I need one minute, ok?"
"You can't just drop a bomb like that on us and then leave us hanging." spat the chicken.
"I swear that I will take care of this problem, but it kind of ties into the overarching issue of this place. If you give me a few moments, I'll be able to kill two bir-," Mac stopped midsentence, having forgotten who he was speaking to. "I'll be able to take care of two problems at the same time, Betty."
Mac slowly got back up to a knee. "In the meantime, I'm removing Dexter from the coop." Betty and the other hens cheered their approval.
"Treachery!" roared Dexter. "I was simply doing what's in my nature!"
"That's the thing, Dex. There is nothing natural about this place, and that's what all of us here need to discuss." Mac turned to the dog, still faithfully protecting him from the non-existent threat. "Mikey, Can I get a favor from you?" asked Mac.
"Vanilla," Mikey instantly replied. "No! Bacon!" he quickly corrected.
Mac sighed. "Mikey, Mikey, Mikey!" he said, snapping his fingers in time with his words. "Eyes and ears, buddy." The canine finally turned all the way around. "I said favor. I need a favor from you," said Mac
"Oh," replied Mikey, lowering his head bashfully.
Mac leaned in close to make sure he kept the dog's undivided attention. "I need you to gather all the animals from the fields and tell them to meet me behind the house. I'll make sure all the gates and pens are open."
"Ok! Gather all the animals!" Mikey repeated, his nubby tail wagging quickly. He took off like a bullet only to come to a skidding halt a few feet away, sending up a cloud of dust. "Uhm, Mac? What about Larry? You told me not to go near him."
"I'll get Larry. You get everyone else."
Mac watched Mikey race off as he walked towards Larry's pen. He only intended to make a half-hearted effort with llama because he knew how the conversation would ultimately end. Mac stopped at the shed where he stored both the chicken and llama feed. Mac opened the door, poked his head inside, and reached for the rolled-up umbrella leaning against the shed wall.
Even with the velcro strips holding the umbrella shut, Mac could see the stains on the polyester fabric. Like any other llama, when Larry didn't like something, he spat on it. Specifically, in Larry's case, he consistently spat on the man because he viewed him as a "race traitor." Mac, however, continued to give Larry the benefit of the doubt due to the circumstances of his upbringing.
The llama was, after all, born on a white nationalist compound and knew nothing beyond hateful rhetoric, armor-piercing rounds, and high-grade explosives. Anyone that disagreed with Larry's racist beliefs got the spit. Considering that Mac was strongly opposed to the llama's bigoted viewpoints, he got spit on all the time. It took him nearly a month to develop countermeasures to oppose Larry's disgusting natural defenses, but Mac felt that his system had become a reliable one.
Mac stopped at a small wooden box placed just outside of the llama enclosure. The box wasn't pretty or even well made, for that matter, but it served its purpose. Mac had haphazardly nailed it together and placed it next to Larry's pen to store the rest of his "spit defenses." He lifted the lid, reached in, and pulled out the rest of his equipment. Mac donned the soft plastic goggles, still caked with flecks of green bile, and placed them over his eyes. He took out the black bandana from the box's bottom and wrapped it around his face like a stagecoach robber.
Mac turned towards the pen and saw Larry approaching him at full gallop. The llama's jaw moved furiously in a circular motion, no doubt working up ammo from one of the animal's three stomach compartments. Gross thought Mac as he deployed his rainbow pattern spit shield. "Alright, Larry," he said with a sigh. "Let's do this."
Let me start this thing off with a little bit about myself. My name is Adam. I'm a full-time firefighter/EMT, and writing is a form of therapy for me.
I first began to write on theprose.com last September. I think I was looking for writing contests, and I stumbled across the website on google. The first monthly challenge I entered was about Jeffrey Epstein landing at the airport, knowing the FBI would arrest him upon departing the plane. What started as a normal story quickly progressed into a tale about Epstein's assistant performing a spell that allowed a demon to possess the body of the pedophile as mentioned above, ultimately being the reason he winds up hanging himself. I went way off the rails and went wherever the story led me. When I finished, I proofread it and thought, "Well, this is fucking weird. Maybe someone will like it."
As it turns out, a few people liked it, and it even got an honorable mention in a monthly email. It was an exhilarating feeling, having my work spotlighted, and it's what really sucked me into theprose. Unfortunately, I let the same thing that anchored me to this website also go to my head. I thought if I got an honorable mention on my very first try, then I must be damn good. Looking back now, I feel pretty damn foolish.
My story didn't get picked because it was some of the best writing ever. It was decent, and maybe that played a factor, but ultimately, it was picked because it was weird. It was spotlighted because it was strange and different.
That first contest gave me a high that I spent months chasing. I went to other websites looking for it and couldn't figure out why no one chose my work as the best. Then one day, it finally dawned on me. I'm just not that good. I'd like to think I'm a good writer, but I'm nowhere close to the best. I can think of a handful of prosers off the top of my head who are better than me in all categories—grammar, vocabulary, story structure, all of it. I didn't see that at first, but I do now.
Yes, most of us want to believe our work is better than everyone else's. Feelings like that are only natural when you put your heart and soul down for other people to analyze and critique.
Yes, most of us would love to be discovered by a large publishing agency and make millions of dollars doing this full-time. That became my plan after that first contest. I would write the best short stories ever and win every contest I entered, then publishing agencies would have to notice me, right? I despise the term "lol," but I do literally laugh out loud thinking about what a fucking imbecile I am sometimes. One thing about me, though? I learn from my mistakes.
After swallowing the pill, that was my basic-bitch plan to "write really good stuff," I went back to the drawing board. Was I going to quit writing just because I wasn't winning or getting the most likes? Hell no. So I asked my self "Ok, then. What do you want to get out of this?" It took close to nine months, but I finally figured out what I intend to get out of theprose.com. I just want to get better.
Am I the next big thing? In all likelihood, no. The chances of me getting discovered online and subsequently making J.K. Rowling money are dreadfully low. But maybe one day I'll get good enough for someone to publish my work. Perhaps I'll get to a point where I'm skilled enough to do this full-time, and I'll be able to retire from the fire service early. But as of this moment, as of this entry that I'm currently typing, I'm nowhere fucking close to that, and there's only one way I know of to mitigate that issue. Write.
theprose.com is a forge for me. A place to hone my craft, a whetstone to sharpen my storytelling abilities. If I treat it as such from here on, I think I'll become the writer I wish to be. I've already seen a marked improvement from my first entry, and if I keep going, I bet I'll look back on this entry and cringe at some of the things I typed. In the interim, I believe it's not on just me, but all of us, to make this site a better experience. That's why I made this my first challenge ever on prose. Because I want to toss a few suggestions out there, but more importantly, I want to hear your suggestions and ideas.
First I'll tell you what I plan to do personally. It's this right here, what I am doing now—reaching out to the community, talking, and conceivably, starting a dialogue. I also plan to be better about reading other people's work without any expected reciprocation. If you read my work, I will return the courtesy, but we all fall into the habit of stroking one another's egos. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. We, as amateur writers, should encourage and praise one another's work, but we shouldn't limit the experience to just that.
No, I'm not suggesting that you wipe your ass with someone's entry, but I am suggesting that we help each other get better. If that's not something you're interested in, then don't sweat it. If you don't take critiquing well, then it's your prerogative to ignore this specific suggestion. I personally encourage all of you to give me your honest thoughts and opinions because that's what originally drew me here. I came here searching for honesty, so don't be afraid to give it to me in the comment section of my entries.
One of the bigger suggestions I have is for us to be more participative in special events that are put on. The prime example would be in September when we all received an email about a twitch stream featuring one of the prose's creators, Jeff Stewart. I thought it sounded interesting, and I so happened to have the time that evening, so I created a twitch account and participated in the interview via chat.
If you're not into video games, I don't expect you to know what twitch or a twitch stream is, so don't feel bad that you missed it. There wound up being only 5-6 of us that logged on, and half of that number participated in the chat. It was a great opportunity for an amateur writer like me because Stewart knew about the in's and out's of publishing houses and self-publishing before and after the Kindle direct publishing boom.
So looking back, part of me is glad there were so few of us because it allowed me to ask a shit load of questions. The other part of me wishes there was a wider audience to ask questions that I didn't think of at the time. In the future, I hope prose offers more interviews with Stewart or other self-published Indie authors. Not simply because it's a chance to pick an author's brain, but because it's a great opportunity to meet one another outside our comment sections.
If you need help making a twitch account or more information on the site, please message me about it. I can assure you it's just as safe as any other website you're using, and the process is relatively streamlined. You can also keep your anonymity on the website chat if that's your concern. But ultimately, why would the site's admins go through the trouble of planning another interview like that if they thought they'd get the same turnout? Let's all fix that issue together.
The way I see it, theprose.com's continued success is partly on us. We were given a garden, and we need to be the ones that tend to it. To see it truly succeed, prose writers need to become better about sharing things on other forms of social media. Spread the word, recruit writers, recruit readers. If you're scared to share your writing with those that know you personally, then take me, for example. I work in public safety with a bunch of alpha male personalities, and I still share my work on Facebook. If anyone thinks it's weird, then they can get bent; I didn't write it for them.
At the end of the day, these are merely opinions, and you as a writer are entitled to write and participate on theprose.com in any way you see fit. If you do have ideas, suggestions, or opinions on how you believe we can make it better, please follow up with an entry or even a comment.
Top 10 Games
Horizon Zero Dawn. Thought it looked stupid in the advertisements and wound up falling in love with it.
God of War 4. Best plot of any GOW game so far...
Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Played both this and the expansions through twice. I truly wish they would remaster the first two.
Pokemon Red original: All I wanted for Christmas in 1999 and I got it. I used to stay up late with a clipon gameboy flashlight under my covers in case my parents checked on me. My first intro to RPG's.
Final Fantasy 7: Never defeated sephiroth in the final fight, or the emerald weapon. Got that Golden Chocobo though.
For Honor: This truly was thrilling game. It was Mortal Kombat with a full 360 aspect. Customizing your fighters was one of my favorite parts. Toxic Gamers constantly barraging everyone with hateful messages chased me away from this game.
If you won, you were cheating. If you lost you were of course trash.
Call of Duty Black Ops 2: I broke up with my then (2011) girl friend of two years. I was the person that broke it off so I wasn't wallowing too much, but I did feel guilty even though it was ultimately the best thing for both of us. With two 24 hour shifts and 5 days off every week (Fire Department schedule), I had nothing but time on my hands. I got so good at PvP that I started strictly playing with "Sticks and Stones" weapons. The crossbow, the ballistics knives and my personal favorite, the Tomahawk. My absolute favorite moment was when I got the game winning kill with a tomahawk. Showing it in slow motion while the opposing team cussed me out was a high I'll be chasing for the rest of my life.
Monster Rancher 2: This game is one of the most underrated of all time in my humble opinion. If you never played it was a PlayStation 1 Game similar to Pokémon with a interesting spin. I'll let Wikipedia explain...
"Besides the monster types you can unlock from the beginning, there are many more which you can raise. There are three different ways in which to unlock new monster types for raising: plot events, expedition, and errantry. The most common way these new monsters are given to you is by the gain of an item, which when used to combine monsters, will produce this new type. After that happens, CDs will now be allowed to produce monsters of that type."
... I wish Nintendo would just port the damn game to American Switch already.
Ghosts of Tsushima: The gameplay was fantastic but the story was beautiful. The ending broke my heart and left me wondering if I made the right decision for a whole day after.
GTA 5: Performing multI-faceted heists with a couple of bros over headsets was some of the most fun I've ever had with online gameplay. Talking smack on each other, coordinating vehicles with the squads colors (Black and Green), hunting down players that blew up your boys jet, all of it was a blast.
The only one of these I could put in order would be Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Best game, best RPG,
and best storyline(s) of any game I have ever played.
Have you ever been in a situation so godamn ridiculous that you felt the need to sit down and blather on about it? Well, guess what. I’ve got a tale so absurd that I know for a fact you’ll name me a liar at the end of it. But, fuck it. What have I got left to lose? My wife took the kids and left, oh, and the dog. She took the fucking dog, and she hated that dog. She did it to serve as a little extra twist of the knife.
I can’t say that I blame her. Not in the least. I’d have left me too after seeing all that shit aired on national television. Meaning the whole fucking country, coast-to-coast, saw mine and my buddy Logan’s—adventure? No. That’s not a good word. What’s a good term for it? Oh! I know! How about PTSD-inducing, pants-shitting nightmare. Yeah, that’s the one. It started how these things always do. With a bachelor party in Tijuana.
Who does that shit nowadays? Five gringos trying to raise hell in the single most violent city in the fucking world? It screams idiocy, but I let the guys talk me into it. Yes, they hit me with the “one last hurrah” bullshit, but ultimately, I’m a grown man, and I decided to go. It was also my decision to lie to my wife and tell her we were going to Vegas, which wasn’t actually a lie because we did fly to Las Vegas. For a stopover on our way to Tijuana.
Everyone looked at us like we were batshit insane as we boarded the flight from Vegas. I remember that part. I also vaguely remember having never heard of the airline. I wish I could give you some proof, but I can’t find any history of our ticket purchases. I can’t find my ticket stubs, my emails with the itinerary, nothing. Zero. Zip. Fucking Zilch.
The plane wasn’t dumpy or anything. It was the nicest aircraft I had ever been on, as a matter of fact. And the flight attendants were insanely beautiful. They also passed out free shots of the best tequila any of us had ever tasted. It was smooth. Did you know tequila could be smooth? Because I sure as hell didn’t. They fed us those shots, sat in our laps, flirted. It was great. Then—well, then I got nothing. Everything went dark and fuzzy.
The next thing I remember was the sound of dripping water, my back feeling like a Panzer had rolled over it, and the driest mouth I’d ever had in my life. Not to mention the worst taste I had ever tasted. I was vaguely aware that I was lying on the ground. I was very aware that I was deathly hungover. Worst I’d ever had and the worst I ever will have. There’s no doubt in my mind.
The next thing I remember was someone speaking, but not in English. I’d taken elementary and high school level Spanish, but I had no idea what the hell these guys were saying. Finally, I heard someone say something I did understand. “Wake ’em up.”
Then, a wet, freezing ass cold sensation shocked me awake and up into a seated position on the ground. I sat there, shivering like a pomeranian in a kill shelter, and tried my best to hold back the puke. After about ten seconds, the effort became a fruitless one, and up came, well, nothing. Oh, I made the noises. I looked like someone vomiting. I sounded like it too. “Calling dinosaurs,” as my cousins back home refer to it. That noise you make when your body is expelling every last fucking atom of whatever is making you ill. The problem was I didn’t have anything to expel, so I just roared at the floor.
After several minutes of this, I finally collected myself enough to get off of my hands and knees and readjust to a seated position with my knees up, arms resting on top of them. I took a deep breath in to compose myself, exhaling through the nose.
“Lovely,” said a woman. I wanted to look up from the cement to put a face with the voice, but if I moved my head, I knew I’d start puking again. I wanted to say something, but I knew if I spoke, I’d start puking again. I’d been awake for less than 5 minutes, and already I needed a break from this day. “No need to say anything. Rohypnol and top-shelf tequila aren’t good bedfellows,” said the woman.
I raised my eyes just enough to see three bottles of water a foot away. I grabbed one frantically, ripped the cap off, and downed it. That was a mistake because it came right back up. At least I had something in my stomach this time. I heard a dress shoe tapping on the concrete.
“Might I suggest taking small sips?” said the voice impatiently. “We are on a tight schedule, and I’m going to need an answer from you now.”
“Hold the fuck on, lady,” I said, still not lifting my eyes. “I don’t know where I am, who the fuck you are, or what the fuck is going on.”
“That’s colorful. Well, you’re in Cuidad Hidalgo; my name is Victoria, and you, my friend, are in what one might call a pickle.”
“The only thing I got out of that was your name. Where the hell is Cuidad Hidalgo?”
“Where are my friends?”
“Three of them are probably sleeping off horrible hangovers in Tijuana, and it sounds as though one of them is just now waking in the adjacent room.” Her answer was punctuated by the sound of someone retching on the other side of the wall. From the cursing and central Oklahoman twang, I could tell it was Logan.
“Gahtamn!” he managed to yell out in between retches. “The fuck we get into last night, boys?”
I finally managed to lift my head and raise my eyes to Victoria. She was a tall, slender, dark-haired woman, in a very nice pantsuit—the designer kind. I’d seen people dressed like her before. The high-end corporate attire, her hair in the tightest bun possible, cosmetic work that made her age relatively ambiguous. Everything about this lady screamed Hollywood.
“So Ben, babe, let’s talk,” said Victoria. “You and your pal in the next room got yourself in a jam last night, a handful of them in actuality. Long story short, you both fucked up bad. You violated several international laws, and you’re now caught in the middle of a cartel territorial dispute, just to name a couple.” she said with a shrug.
“And what does that have to do with you?” I asked, taking small sips from the second bottle of water.
“Because, my friend,” said Victoria raising her arms to her sides, palms facing up. “I am your salvation.”
“How the fuck do you figure? The way I see it, I’m sitting here because of you.” I said, pointing an accusing finger.
“What does that matter? Does Yahweh not have the same relationship with his children?”
“Lady, you seem like you have a big dick, I get it. Don’t delve too far into that God complex, though. That way lies madness.”
Victoria stepped under the lone lightbulb illuminating the area just around me, a smile creeping across her face. The fuzziness began to subside, my vision came back into focus, but my head still hurt like a son of a bitch. I looked past Victoria as she slowly sauntered around my vomit and saw hulking shadows lining the wall behind her, every one of them clad head to toe in tactical gear, assault rifles at the high ready position.
Victoria walked right up to me, her heels making slow clicks as she closed in. She squatted down, arms resting on her thighs, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Sweety,” she said softly. “You don’t have the first clue as to how big my dick is. You see, unlike the Judeo-Christian God, I still take the hands-on approach.” Victoria placed another bottled water in front of me and stood back up.
“Those cartels you managed to piss off?”
“Yeah?” I said between sips.
Victoria scrunched up her face in mock concern. “One of them is on their way here, to this place.” She placed her hands on her hips like a schoolmarm scolding her class. “And guess for whom they are looking.”
“Me?” I said.
“You, Benjamin. They are looking for you. Well, you and your friend.” she said, pointing to the wall. “It’s never good if a Mexican drug cartel is looking for you, Ben.” I felt like I was going to puke again, but for different reasons. “These La Familia guys?”
“The cartel on its way to this location to brutally murder you and send your head to your wife and children.”
“These people don’t skimp on the cost of their Sicarios these days. If you aren’t ex-special forces, then don’t even bother filling out the application, ya know.”
“Who gives a shit about their military service?!” I spat. “Sounds like I’m fucked either way!”
“Well, grumpy pants,” Victoria said, raising her eyebrows. “They’re very efficient in the whole torture game. The especially good ones come to work for the organization I represent. She absently gestured to the tactically clad shadows standing at attention against the wall. “We’re an equal opportunity employer. Ex-Mexican SF, DEVGRU, Spetsnaz, you name it.”
“Who’s your organization?”
“Benji, please,” said Victoria, annoyed. “I can’t tell you that.”
“Can you tell me anything about them?”
Victoria tilted her head, twisting her mouth and looking up towards the ceiling in thought. She looked back down at me and squinted. “Let’s just say my bosses find themselves in lack of live entertainment since Epstein ‘hung’ himself,” she said using finger quotes. Then she shrugged, tilting her head again. “I suppose he did hang himself if you count a possessed human committing the act while under demonic influence.”
I squinted back at her. ”Demonic influence?” I said before scoffing.
“Oh, yes. It was a CIA program that got shut down. Their loss, our gain.” Victoria said with a shrug. “Anyway, I digress. La Familia, coming here to kill you, I can stop that.”
“How can you stop an entire cartel from murdering me?”
“Well, technically, all the power is in your hands, babe,” said Victoria. She snapped her fingers, and a door behind me opened up. I turned to see a short wormy balding man walk in with a briefcase. He walked past me and stopped in front of Victoria. The man opened the case and held it up for her.
Victoria removed a single sheet of paper, walked over to me, and held it in front of my face with one hand, tapping on it with her free index finger. “This is a contract, Benjamin. If you sign it, the La Familia cartel will no longer be an issue for you or Logan.” She shoved it further in my face in a gesture for me to take it. I reluctantly took the paper and held it up in the light.
“It’s not a long read, and I encourage everyone to read the fine print of any contract they sign,” said Victoria, pointing at me with finger guns. “But I would read quickly because those Sicarios are about five miles down the road, and if your signature isn’t at the bottom of that paper, then my personnel will not be interfering on your behalf.”
I stood up to get more light from the lone bulb. My hangover was still very much present, but I now had more pressing matters. If I lived a hundred more years, I could recite that fucking contract word for word, line for line. It said, and I quote:
I ____________, being of sound body and mind, do hereby agree to abide by all orders, commands, advice, and suggestions given to me by ENKI, Inc. Furthermore, I, being of sound body and mind, do hereby agree to abide by all rules set forth by ENKI productions for the duration of the production, regardless of consequences that may or may not be a result of my actions and choices.
Printed name:______________________ Date:__________
“Two miles out, Big Ben,” said Victoria impatiently. She held out the nicest pen I had ever seen—high-end gold with a diamond-tipped cap. “There’s waaaay more to this contract, but it’s all in that briefcase, and we don’t have the time, babe. Sign on the line, and your current problem goes away.” Victoria held a phone up so I could see its screen.
On it was a live satellite feed of a convoy of trucks speeding down a dirt road. Each of the trucks had men packed in the beds, all of them armed with automatic rifles. Two of the them had large-caliber machine guns mounted to their roofs. How had I pissed these guys off?
“Scribble your name, and let’s worry about the next problem after, babe. Sign it.” I reluctantly took the pen from Victoria, who was grinning from ear to ear. She knew she had me; I knew she had me. I placed the paper on the floor, and I signed the fucking thing, careful not to press too hard on the striated concrete surface. I then dated it and held it up to Victoria, who snatched it eagerly.
“Excellent!” said Victoria. She held her phone up and pressed the screen with her thumb. “Mr. Delavechio, will you please give Ben here the necessary items. The short, balding man stepped back into the light, his pasty skin shining under it. First, he handed me a pair of glasses.
“Please, put these on, sir,” said the man in a sniveling voice. “At no point during production are you to take them off. You’re not to remove them, obstruct their view, or alter the feed in any way.”
“What feed?” I asked, putting them on my face.
“It’s all in the full contract, and you-” The man was interrupted by a thunderous explosion, close enough to shake the building we were in. Aside from me, nobody else in the room flinched. Dust fell from the ceiling and filled the air.
“You see,” said Victoria pointing up. ”Huge dick.”
“Moving on,” said Mr. Delavechio, handing me a backpack. These are the items you’ll be permitted for your trip.”
“My trip?” I said, sifting through the backpack’s contents.
“It’s all in the contract, sir.”
“Coffee? Whiskey?” I asked, holding up a bottle of bourbon. “What the fuck kind of a trip is this?”
“Again, sir. It’s-”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s all in the contract.” Delavechio handed me a map. Of course, the journey ended right where it fucking began, in Tijuana.
“Well, champ,” said Victoria, clapping her hands together. “You signed that for both you and your friend, and unfortunately, the La Familia boys aren’t the only foxes in the henhouse. You might have a few more of those sicarios on your tail if you hang around here much longer.” Victoria pointed to her watch. “So time’s a factor.”
At the moment, signing that paper seemed like the best idea. I mean, there was an actual convoy of assassins on their way to torture and kill me. What could be worse than that? Holy shit was I naive. What came after made me wish and still makes me wish I had let the hitmen just come and brutalize me.
Oh, you want to know the rest? Tell you what, tell that bartender you want that entire bottle of whiskey. About the only fucking thing I got from my little odyssey—aside from a few hundred thousand dollars in debt and a substantial price on my head—was a love for bourbon. Get two glasses, and I’ll tell you the whole godamn thing.
There is no sound more haunting or heartbreaking than the sound of a parent whose child just died. Of all the bad things in EMS, that's what I fear most.