So, my wife (she uses Eme’ Savage as her nom-de-plume) and I made the top 5 finalists in The Author’s Hand speculative fiction contest. Click the link to read ours and the other 3 finalists. http://authorshand.com/finalists
When does childhood end? For these boys, it happened one day too tragically quick.
We walked across on the I-94 overpass to get to the woodlands on the other side of the highway that’s been our hang out through the summer. There among the maples, oaks, and hawthorns, within the tall prairie grasses and goldenrods, we explored the thick jungle of the Amazon, fought the Japanese in Borneo, and time traveled to face the terrible T-rex. When we brought them, we rode our bikes through the well-worn trails and made new ones on foot where the undergrowth was not as thick. It was our place and for that last summer before we started Wessex Senior High School in 1979 it was our world.
Most of the time it would be me, Will Sharp and Justin Wicks out in the woods. Sometimes Will’s sister, “Junebug”, June, would tag along. Justin didn’t like it but the rest of us thought she was cool, for a girl, that is. We didn’t even really think of her as a girl most of the time. She was short and skinny and looked more like a boy with her short blond bob and bibbed coveralls. Acted like one most of the time. She would be right in there whenever we crawled among the thick tall prairie grasses or up in the tree branches of the forest whenever we climbed. She was also a soldier to our generals, our porter through the bushvelds of Africa, or played any other part nobody wanted. One time, Will suggested she should be the damsel in distress so that we, as the Knights of the Round Table, could rescue her. She almost gave him a bloodied nose.
Justin was the leader of our little group mostly because he was the tallest and he had a way of coming up with great ideas. He’s the one that came up with getting some old plywood boards and cinder blocks and make a ramp for our bikes. Another time he brought over some empty jars and we went to the pond at Elwell Park and caught tadpoles. There was the ‘Battle of Snow Mountain’ when we tried knocking each other off the piles made by the snow plows. He was the idea man whenever we couldn’t think of much of anything to do. Sometimes he acted as though he was annoyed by Junebug. But, then again, he always took her side whenever we all got into an argument. Yeah, we teased him but isn’t that what older brothers are supposed to do? Besides, our fights never lasted too long, and soon we were off doing something else Justin would come up with.
Now, Will, he was our Joker. If there was a joke or a funny story, no matter how stale it was, the way he would tell it always made us laugh. He was good at playing tricks on people too! One time, in the sixth grade just before 3rd-hour Civics class, he put a tack on Fatty Patty McKenney’s chair. We’ve never seen anyone jump so fast out of their seat the way Fatty Patty did when she sat down. Then there was the time Will brought the dissected rat from biology class into Mister Hutchinson’s math class. Mister Hutchinson always had the habit of reaching into his desk drawer for a clean sheet of paper at the beginning of class. On that day, though, something else awaited him when he opened it. The riot of laughter that occurred more than made up for the week’s detention Will got for hiding the dead rat in there.
As for me, well, I was the brains, the facts guy, on account I read a lot of books. Whenever we needed to decide whether something was possible, like if we could evade a T-rex by hiding in the bushes (we could, they were tall and had bad eyesight), or land a rocket ship on the surface of Jupiter (not likely, clouds too thick, too icy, and gravity made it difficult to move), or kill a knight in shining armor with a pistol (ever shot a tin can with a BB gun?) I usually would have an answer. Is a bee a bee or wasp or fly? I knew the difference. Which way was north? Which direction is the sun moving during the day or look for the North Star at night (I knew where to look!)? If I didn’t know or wasn’t sure, I usually tried to make it sound good. Sometimes Will or Justin would catch me at something that sounded dubious but most of the time they never questioned my authority. Martin St. Martin, the bookworm, the nerd. Other kids thought I was a little weird because of how I would bury my face in some book. I didn’t care, well, most of the time. I have liked reading since I first learned how to and I wasn’t going to give it up because someone thought it was strange. Besides, in a way, we were all nerds in our own way, outcast, in the sense that none of us in our group were really good at sports, never got to hang out with the cool kids, or even could win a fist fight if our lives depended on it. Heck, Junebug could probably take any of us in a fight and win! Including her brother!
There was also Eugene Ward. Not “Gene”, as he often corrected us, not “Ward”, or “Wart” as some of the popular kids would call him, but Eugene. It wasn’t that we didn’t like Eugene it was more like he was a little whiney and just too weird even for us for his own good. If we were playing army men he would point up at the sky and start shooting at pterodactyls. When we were cowboys fighting back marauding Indians, he would blast them with a laser gun. When we would argue with him that that was cheating not staying dead when he got shot, he would get angry and pout if he didn’t get his way. He had this curious way of showing anger. Eugene would stand with his fist clenched, eyes bulging, his face all beet red, and grunt. The first time he did it we all laughed. Will said he looked like he was holding a crap. That made us all laugh some more and Eugene would get even angrier. We learned that if we just ignored him he would stop and act as if nothing had happened. No, it wasn’t that we didn’t like him, because he was like us, an outcast, it was that he did would make it hard for us sometimes to like him. But that was Eugene and we knew we could change him.
Junebug would feel sorry for Eugene sometimes and would get mad at us for making fun of him. It stayed that way up until when Eugene pressed his luck once too often and Junebug just gave up on him too. It was the day he was telling us how to “properly build a fort” out of plywood and canvas we had found and we told him he was full of crap. He went through his “grunt thing” and instead of ignoring him we started to laugh and imitated him. Junebug stepped in like she always did in Eugene’s defense and then Will started making fun of her by making “kissy noises” and calling her his girlfriend. But that didn’t make Junebug as angry as when her brother joined in. That really made her mad. I guess it embarrassed Eugene as well because of what he did next. Instead of helping his only defender he turned on Junebug by calling her a “little wussie girl”. If there was something Junebug was not it was a “wussie girl”. None of us ever had the guts to call her something like that and knew Eugene had step over the line. Junebug got all squinty-eyed and quiet all the while she raising her fist. We stopped laughing, all of us that is, except for dumb Eugene who didn’t know any better. He just kept going on and on, prancing around, hand on hip, about how Junebug was a wussie girl. Just as we thought she was going to deck him one she let out a deep sigh, turned her back to us, and walked away calling us all “a bunch of weenie-eyed jerks”. Eugene was still laughing at her, that is until I bopped him one on the back of his head. He asked what that was for, but I didn’t think it was worth the effort explaining it to him. Junebug hung out with us less and less after that.
Another thing about Eugene was that he wasn’t “a little kid” although he acted like one. He was our age, bigger than any of us in both height and weight. He was just shy of Justin’s height and fat enough to maybe suck the wind out of you if he ever sat on you. I know that for a fact because one time when we were wrestling he nearly suffocated me when he held me down by straddling my chest. It took Junebug, Justin, and Will to get him off me when I started to complain about not being able to breathe. He also wore thick glasses and smelled like mothballs. Will and me, well, we figured he was the way he was because his home life kind of sucked.
You see, his dad was an alderman or something at the Wessex Episcopalian Church of the Divine Light and was strict about everything. Eugene couldn’t do anything at home other than pray for forgiveness of any sin he may have done, is doing, or maybe thinking of doing. If it was determined he had done something wrong, and usually he was judged to have done so, his punishment would be a stiff belt across his hiney followed by a recitation of a Bible verse while he was on his knees. Now we’ve all taken the belt from time to time, but we thought the bible thing was a bit too much. I guess that’s the real reason we put up with him so much. We just felt sorry for him. We also felt a little guilty for it was our idea to take him out to the woods. We knew that if his dad ever found out where Eugene really went we were sure his dad would kill him. We just couldn’t let that happen without feeling bad about it. Then there was his bike.
It was a Huffy All-Pro reflex blue 3-speed that was a present from an uncle and it was his most prized possession. It had a blue and white banana seat and wing back handlebars with chrome fenders and a 3-speed shifter on the mid-frame. When you sat on it and peddled, it felt great having the wind rushed past you. It was like riding one of those “hog motorbikes”, Eugene liked calling it his “hog”, down the road. This thing was beautiful and fast! We called it the Blue Streak on account of how it would go when we rode it down steep hill trails. Eugene had a hard time taking it uphill so we would talk him into letting us ride it up for him on the condition that he would let us ride it down. Of course, once down another one of us would volunteer to ride it back up and then down we’d go. All of us, including Junebug, would take turns except for Eugene. One time we let Eugene take it down and he almost wrecked into a tree! After that, he was happy just watching us ride it. It made Eugene’s constant whining almost tolerable. He took that bike everywhere.
Like I said earlier, we had walked out to the forest as we had done since school let out when something happened that would make this our last time there. This summer had been a bit different because we were all going to start high school in September and we were beginning to feel a little bit silly playing army men and stuff like that. Even Justin was having a hard time thinking of things for us to do. We knew we were teenagers now and past play little kid’s games. We spent our time now out there doing nothing. Most of the time we just hung out and talk about things like tv shows, music on the radio, and whether Christy Miller’s boobs were real, and if they could get any bigger. That last part was Will’s contribution to our conversations. It seemed to have all started when he found his dad’s Playboys hidden in his family’s garage. Eugene didn’t like it when Will would start talking about reaching under Christy’s bra or looking up Stephanie Brower’s shorts. Will once told us he saw Stephanie’s “bush” peeking out from under her underwear one time. Justin and I said he was crazy and asked him to describe it. He made like he was trying to remember it but all he could come up with was, “you know, it looked like bush”. We laughed, except for Eugene who didn’t seem to have gotten the joke. I didn’t care if Will talked about girls like this as long as it wasn’t about Rachel Drake. But then, whenever he did bring up Rachel it was only to give me a hard time! You see, the eighth grade was the year when Will found out about my crush on Rachel.
It was in the middle of Mister Hutchinson 5th hour when the class, ever bored of geometry lessons, started passing notes. These notes usually had gossip, or doodles, or something like that. On some occasions, they included a questionnaire of like, “Who do you think has the worst bad breath?”, “Who is the biggest faggot”, stupid things like that. The one I got that day was, “Who would you like to go out with?” For the life of me, and I don’t why, I wrote Rachel Drake’s name. I then thought about how stupid it was for me to have written that and crumpled the note right away. On my way out I threw it in the trash and thought nothing more about it. Unknown to me at the time, Will had fished out the note and soon it was spread around that I had a crush on Rachel. By the end of the semester, everyone in our school knew about it, including, to my mortification, and hers, Rachel Drake. In the last days of junior high, she went out of her way to let me know that my feelings for her were not mutual. All this talk made Eugene uncomfortable and when he would try to change the subject Will would call him a “homo” and shut him up.
It was on one of those hot days in August of ’79 when we got to the familiar break in the fence that led to our spot in the woods that something happened we thought we would never forget. We didn’t really feel like pulling our bikes through the prickly bushes so we left them behind. As always, though, Eugene had to ride his and when we got to the opening in the fence he was complaining about how nobody was helping him get his bike through. Will, Justin, and I refused to help and told him to leave it behind. Eugene got halfway in, managing to get himself and his bike stuck before he decided to take our advice hid the bike behind a tree that grew by the fence. After making sure it was well hidden he followed us.
We had gone down the trail close to where our “camp” was when Justin suddenly stopped and whispered to us to be quiet. I was by now was getting tired of Eugene’s complaining about his bike, and was about to say something when I heard what Justin was listening to.
“Shhhh. Voices,” I said in my lowest whisper.
“Eugene, you know-” Will never got to finish because he heard the voices too. Justin and I both recognized who was talking and the trouble we were in.
“It’s Dean and Jamie, ain’t it?” I whispered.
“Yeah,” answered Justin and he would know.
Dean and Jeremy Sherman were a couple of high school boys who made a habit of hanging out outside of Jefferson Taylor Junior High whenever they skipped classes which was pretty much all of the time. The brothers were well-known troublemakers to us kids and we learned early to keep away from them if at all possible. For fun, the Sherman boys would single out one of the kids going home, follow them for a couple of blocks, and when they were sure no adults were around they would jump out and beat the crap out of them. On the last day of school, they got Justin. Justin was only a few blocks from his house when they jumped him and gave him a bloodied nose. Will and I stood there and did nothing because we didn’t want to be next. Later, I thought Justin got off easy because only the week before the Shermans had broken a kid’s arm. No one ever said anything or did anything about them because they knew what would happen to them if the Shermans found out. Now here they were at our campsite in the woods and we were scared crapless.
I was about to suggest that we go back when Justin held a finger to his lips and pointed to the thick brush to our left. Maybe he thought if we tried to run we’d make too much noise and they’d catch us? Or maybe he thought since we were already here we might as well see what they’re up to? Either way, we followed Justin and hid among the tall grass and Sumacs. Crouching low where they couldn’t see us we could see the two boys a few feet away in the clearing that was shaded by a big gnarly oak tree.
Jeremy had his back up against the tree while Dean paced back and forth like an agitated caged cat puffing away at his cigarette. Jeremy looked bored and sleepy eye as he stared at his brother wear a groove into the dusty ground. Dean seemed tensed and wounded up like he was ready to hit someone.
“So, where is he?” Dean finally said stopping for a moment before continuing his pacing.
“Dunno,” answered Jeremy.
“You think Marcus believes he’s a narc?”
“I dunno, man. That’s what you told ‘em. Unless you was wrong. In that case, I wouldn’t like to be you if Marcus found out.”
I didn’t know who Marcus was but because of the way Jeremy was talking about him, they were both scared of him. The Sherman boys were actually scared of someone! Marcus didn’t sound like someone I wanted to know. Same with the “narc” they were talking about. I didn’t want to know any of it. I wanted nothing to do with any of this. I just wanted to go home at this point. But Justin wanted to stay. To this day I’ll never understand why?
“You know damn well what Bruce said.” Dean halted again and stared up with his eyes closed thinking hard to remember. “Bruce said a couple of weeks ago he saw Sam talking to the pigs over at Vernor’s Ice-Cream shop. He said that when he came out of Carl’s, you know, to buy cigarettes Sam saw him and Sam got all nervous. Then that weekend the pigs raided Harvey’s place and found that pound of weed. Bruce said he’s sure it had to be Sam.”
“Bruce said, Bruce said. How’d we know Bruce didn’t make this shit up?”
“Okay, we don’t. But someone had to let Marcus know.”
“Yeah, and that had to be you, dumb-ass. You had to be the one to go babbling to Marcus and now we’re here.”
Dean had started up his pacing and puffing when he came to a stop yet again in front of his brother.
“Look, man, if he ain’t showin, let’s split and we’ll tell Marcus he didn’t show.”
“You tell Marcus. I ain’t saying shit.”
“Yeah, but you’re the one who told Marcus we’d take care of it.”
Jeremy sprung off the tree and with both hands grabbed Dean’s shirt. “Only after you got Marcus all riled up! The motherfucker was spitting nails! What else was I going to say? So, we stay because I say we stay! Got it?”
Dean pushed back and looked like he was about to hit Jeremy when he stopped because something had drawn their attention.
“You heard that! I think I heard something,” said Dean as he jerked away. Jeremy nodded as he heard it too.
We all froze. We were too afraid to breathe. I even was too afraid to do anything about whatever was tickling me inside my pant leg. I thought we were all dead. I didn’t know how did they could know we were here, but they had to, right? We had all been so careful so what went wrong? I was even thinking that maybe the Sherman boy smelled mothball Eugene. But, to our relief, a lean black man popped out of the trail on the opposite side of the clearing.
“What’s happening, homies?” the black man said.
“What-up, Sam?” Jamie said in what I knew was a deceitful way. He walked up to Sam and did that street handshake we boys had seen black people do. It all looked kind of weird to me. Why was Jamie acting all friendly when just a few moments ago he and his brother were talking about having to “take care of Sam”. I had a bad feeling that it wasn’t going to be good for this Sam guy.
“Hey, Dean,” Sam said looking at Dean with a big grin.
“Hey, yourself, Sam,” said Dean looking away from him as he inched closer to the big oak tree.
There was a moment of awkwardness when nobody said anything. If Sam had any idea that something was wrong he hid it well behind that smile of his. Dean was at the tree by now looking at the folded over dead grass. Jeremy continued to stand there with a goofy grin looking first at Dean and then at Sam without saying a word. Dean dropped the cigarette that he had let burnt down to the filter and ground it into the dirt. I saw nervousness in his eyes as he waited for something from Jeremy.
Finally, Sam broke the silence. “What can I do for you gents? You aiming to score something from Ol’ Sammy? Or maybe sell? I can make you a good deal like I did for you the last time. Maybe we can do a trade? If you can get me more of those rims you got the last time we can talk.”
“How about this instead!” said Jeremy just before he cold-cocked Sam knocking him down to the ground.
I guess it was what Dean was waiting for because in what seemed like in a flash he came up with the aluminum bat he must have hidden in the grass and started to give the downed black man several blows to the head and chest. Jeremy had started to kick Sam with his steel-toed biker boots to his midsection. Dean switched over to hitting Sam on the legs with his bat. The downed man tried uselessly to protect himself. Using his bloodied hands he tried uselessly to block the blows to his head. Sam rolled first one way and then the other using his legs to kick at the boys. This must have angered Jeremy for he put a quick end to it with one fierce kick to Sam’s groin. At first, Sam protests were coming as loud screams, pleading to the boys to stop, but slowly the yells turned into pathetic whimpers, and then soft moans. I felt every blow from the kicks, every thud as the bat came down. My stomach turned as I felt my lunch coming up. I looked over to Will and saw he had closed his eyes, holding his head close to the ground fighting hard not to bury his face into the dirt. Justin stared, gripping hard at tufts of grass with each hand, he gritted his teeth with every strike. And Eugene, poor Eugene, he just whimpered softly.
We heard the thump and crack like the hit a softball at a kid’s game, except this wasn’t a game. Sam stopped struggling. Jeremy, out of breath from all the exertion, stopped kicking and reached out to hold Dean in mid-swing. They were both out of breath as they looked down at the broken body of the black man. From the brush, I followed the slow gurgle of each breath going as it went in and out, each one shallower than the one before until I couldn’t hear them anymore.
Then we got up and ran out of there.
We ran as fast as our legs could carry us. We ran without looking down at the path in front of us. Will tripped over a tree root, recovered, and continued. Justin ducked and weaved trying unsuccessfully to avoid the branches hitting his face. For a moment I thought I heard someone yelling at us, maybe Dean, maybe Jeremy, I didn’t know. I didn’t want to look back and find out. All I was worried about was whether the Sherman brothers saw who was running away and if they were going to catch us. If they did see us, who did they actually see? Did they see me? Justin, or Will? Was Eugene keeping up or did they catch him already? The fence looked so far away and the other side of the highway a million miles further. But we made it to the fence, even Eugene, and Justin quickly pulled the opening to the side and held it as the rest of us got through. Then we continue running. I didn’t know if Justin made it through until we got to the other side of the highway, across the McDonald’s parking lot, and behind the gas station next to it. When we got there I bent over and heaved everything that was in my stomach.
When I was done I looked around me and saw that we had all made it. Justin faced the wall of the gas station leaning on his forearm for support. Will sat on the curb, his head between his knees, trying to catch his breath. Eugene laid on the blacktop pavement, arms stretched out like a fat Jesus, wheezing with every breath. We were hot, sweaty, out of breath, and dry-mouthed from the run in the hot sun. Mostly we were scared over what we had all seen. Will looked up in the direction of the overpass and so did I. Nothing. Nobody in pursuit. At least, for now, we had time to take a breather and decide what to do. Should we tell the police? How about our parents? Without speaking each of us rolled the scenarios in our heads over and over. Would they believe us? Would they make us go back there where, where the body, where Sam, laid? And what about the Sherman boys? If they weren’t after us right now where did they go? Are they waiting to ambush us on our way homes? Maybe they’ve gone over to see Marcus and they’ve told him about us? Maybe Marcus was right now telling Jeremy how he’d have to “take care” of us! Nobody said anything. Everyone was trying to figure it out when we were all startled by Eugene.
This put the rest of us on alert. Will, Justin and I looked around across the lots and highway hoping not to see the Sherman boys coming for us. None of us saw a thing and were confused by Eugene. With a questioning look, I asked, “What is it, Eugene?”
“My dad is going to kill me!”
We were all puzzled at first until we realized Eugene ran. He ran! He didn’t ride his bike. The bike he left back at the fence behind the tree.
“I gotta go back!”
We all shook our heads and said “No way”, “Nah, not happening”. No one thought it was a good idea going back and none of us were willing to do it. I thought it was crazy. To me, it would have been better for Eugene to take a licking from his Old Man than end up dead and I was pretty sure Will and Justin would agree.
“Who’ll come with me?” Eugene pleaded. “Justin?”
Justin looked down at Eugene and shook his head.
“Fuck no! You’re nuts!”
Eugene then sat up, looking up at me with the saddest look on his face he could make and pleaded, “How about you, Marty? Will you help me get my bike back? Please?”.
The way he looked at me, said my name, I almost gave in. But my thoughts went back to my mom and two sisters at home and how they would be worried if I, if I, didn’t come back. Or worst, if the Shermans did find out who was hiding in the brush and told Marcus. Would he hurt not only me but my family as well because of a dumb old bike?
“Sorry, Eugene, I …can’t do it. I…just can’t do it. I gotta go home and …I can’t do it. I’m sorry.” I felt like such a heel but I was afraid to go back.
Sitting there on the pavement Eugene looked down at the blacktop, then at each of us before, with a determined look, got his big body up from the ground and started walking in the direction of the highway, the overpass, the woods, the fence, and his bike. Will tried to stop him by grabbing his shoulder but Eugene shrugged him off. We all stood there in silence as we watched the back of his slow lumbering body shuffling off at first and then as he broke into a slow jog.
It was the last we ever saw of Eugene alive.
In the morning I saw the newscast. It was believed that Eugene Ward, in an attempt to cross the highway on his bicycle, was struck by a semi-truck going westbound on Interstate 94. During the investigation, the body of Samual Clemens Jackson was discovered later that evening in the forested area, our woods, along the side of the busy highway. Jackson, so it was later found out, had ties to both Jeremiah and Delano (“Dean?”) Sherman, both wanted for questioning on the robberies occurring in Wessex. Neither of the Sherman boys was ever found by Wessex, or State police and were presumed to have skipped out of the state. Justin, Will, and me never told anyone what we saw that day. Justin didn’t even tell his sister, Junebug, although I was pretty certain he really wanted to.
There was a funeral the Saturday before Labor Day and it almost looked like half the town had shown up. I had trouble sleeping for weeks. I’d had nightmares where I would see the Sherman boys beating up that black guy except it wasn’t Sam but Eugene lying on the ground. Justin had troubles too. He would get quiet sometimes and went through spells where he won’t say much of anything at all. He wouldn’t even share any of those good ideas he used to have before. Eventually, he slowly drifted away from me and Will and stop hanging around with us all together. Will, now, he was just the opposite. He wouldn’t stop talking about it. When Justin wasn’t around, which was becoming quite often by then, he would go on and on about what we saw that day and about Eugene. Heck, he even suggested to me, privately of course, that the Shermans pushed Eugene in front of that semi! Eventually, he stopped saying anything about it. I guess he got the hint that I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Then we drifted apart as well. He found he was good talking to girls, his stale jokes made them laugh I guess, and even hooked up with Christy Miller for a while.
High school started and we all were more involved in the transition. After a while, my nightmares went away and I even had problems remembering what Eugene looked like. I know it sounds terrible but it was true, I was forgetting it all and it was becoming unreal to me. It was like a terrible, awful dream that got further and further away as time went on. By our senior year, Eugene had become someone I knew but had a hard time remembering, that is, until today and many years later, when I wrote all of this down.
-A. M. Holmes
Carmen de la Rosa Sanger Peters Anapopolis Rahim Martin Johnson Ross so-on-and-so-forth, etcetera, etcetera Weinstein had finally laid to rest poor, dear Leonard Weinstein, the former and now late CEO of the financial services of Weinstein, Sheckelman (husband number 9) and Johnson (number 6) in Greenwood and was on her way to the law offices of Ross (number 7, divorced him back ‘83), Jorgensen (number 8 for 6 months a year later) and Haims (he’s gay) to hear the will. Not that there were going to be any surprise, she already knew (with the help of an ex-husband whom she promised as a client her next victim) that all 90 million dollars in net worth, not including the stocks in some dynamic portfolios, were incontestably hers.
“And rightly so considering how hard I worked on this one,” she thought as she drove her silver-gray Porsche 911 down the road and into the tunnel. “I thought I was going to have to divorce this one before he croaked. Thank God, for the hidden dangers of prostate cancer and the over-inflated male pride.”
At 56, and the best looking 56 money can buy, Carmen was not getting any younger and found that staying that way was getting harder no matter how much money it took for upkeep. The way she saw it, she probably had enough time for 2 or 3 more husbands (if they all lived) maybe even a 4th (if any one of them didn’t). One good lucky strike that could knock the ball out of Yankee stadium would shorten that number to one or two if it became necessary. But, as she gave it another thought, that wouldn’t make it anywhere near as fun and enjoyable. The thrill of catching them, after all, is what helped make the time go by every time she found one of these lonely, pathetic and rich morons to marry. Yes, she’s been everywhere that’s anywhere several times over and even owns some of them. She has plenty of toys, both the material and the living kind, and could always get new ones of either kind whenever she got bored. Friends? As many as money can buy.
“Fuck friends!” she answered that thought as it came up, “Actually, that is the only kind of a good friend, a ‘fuck friend’, ha ha ha.” She laughs aloud at her own joke as she was still trying to make her way down lower Manhattan and into the Wall Street district. “The sooner I get there, the sooner I can get out of this black shit and on a plane for Sidney.” Australia was going to be her next stop. Seemed to her that she ran into a couple of promising prospects while visiting there last Summer. “A rugged Aussie type- that’ll be exciting. Hell, I may even fall in love! Love, ha-ha-ha-ha, you’re a real crack-up today, Carmen.”
She finally arrived at the buildings where the offices were located and had the valet parked her car. Alone in the elevator, she noticed that it was only 8:40 in the morning and thought over possibly having breakfast at the “Windows” restaurant. She decided against it thinking better to grab a bite later. Carmen had noticed how beautifully clear the September sky was today and tried to remember if Spring was coming to the ‘down-under’ at this time. She didn’t care. All she knew was that by this time tomorrow, on the twelfth, she was going to be basking on some sunny beach, sipping her drink, and feeling the warmth of the South Pacific wind in her face. She checked her make-up before saying to herself, “In an hour I’ll be done here at the Twin Towers and on my way to JFK. With any luck, I’ll be a new bride by New Years of ‘02.”
At 8:46, the elevator stopped and the lights went out.
-A. M. Holmes
Roy woke up blearily around noon. At least it’s in my own bed, he thought to himself with some relief. There have been mornings after a long night when he would wake up in an unfamiliar in a house/apartment/hotel room with some chick he had hooked up with the night before. There would be that awkward moment for her when she wasn’t sure what to say to get him to leave not knowing nothing needed to be said. He got, they both got what they wanted and there was no point lingering. Which, reminded him, is she still …?
He got out of bed not bothering to put anything on (“it’s my apartment, dammit.”) and started walking around exploring starting with the bathroom. Seeing no one there he went over to raise the lid to the toilet and began to relieve himself (“ah, that’s good.”). When he finished he turned and walk out into the hallway slowly meandering into the large living room-kitchen that made up the rest of his studio picking up a packet of cigarettes and lighter front a small table in one leisurely pass. He stopped behind the couch in the middle of the room, took a cigarette out with his lips, lit it and survey the scene.
There were the most drank wine bottle and the two empty glasses on the coffee table (“check”). His dark pants (“check”), a dark shirt, his, (“check”), his t-shirt (“check”), his underwear (“check”), his tie…(“-Oh, yeah, last night”) was not there, but that wasn’t troubling (“check”) and …no girl (“what-ever-her-name-was”). He cleared his throat with approval and put out the cigarette in the ashtray on the coffee table. Circling around he picked his clothes and started to put them on. He looked suspiciously around the room feeling like at any moment “what-ever-her-name-was” would pop out of somewhere and take him by surprise. When she didn’t Roy was finally convinced that she indeed had left. Then it hit him. His phone! He stopped without his pants on and start looking for it.
It was not under the coffee table, the couch, the lounge chair, the cushions. He knew it wasn’t in the bedroom because he didn’t want any interruptions. Maybe? He walked to the counter that separates the kitchen area from the living room and there, sitting so benignly was his phone “Did I leave it there? I had to have?”). He picked it up and looked at the screen. No calls and one text and he recognized the text. It wasn’t from her (“Now I’m beginning to resent this.”) but it was important enough. It was a job.
“There’s a good Charles Bronson marathon at the Civic”
Roy smiled. This was going to be a good payoff.
Roy was a specialist. If someone wanted a person knocked off and was willing to pay it was his job to make it happen. He got the jobs through text from an unknown phone with instructions to go particular spots in town, like the Civic Theater, where he would find a manilla envelope with the details, money, and picture. How he did it was left entirely to him just so that it was done within the time allotted. His favorite was this long-distance sniper, a bit more difficult to set up and a bit stressful because the timing was everything, but the effect was spectacular. It gave him the chance to play with his Mk 12 and watching through the scope at his target always gave him a thrill. He felt like God. One squeeze and in almost an instant you see the target jolt, blood beginning to spurt out, they fall down with that dumb expression of confusion on his face and those around him. The best ones were the headshots. Bone, blood, and brain flying all over spraying bits and pieces to the surrounding crowd. Yeah, like God! But, that didn’t mean he’d avoid the simple hit. His most common was the casual walk up with his Smith & Wesson and silencer, one quick pop, and the job is done. Yeah, they lack finesse but they paid the bills.
“The Civic?”, he thought to himself, “at least I wouldn’t have to go far.”
The Civic Theater was only a few blocks from his studio apartment and down by the university. It was a popular hangout for the “college artsy types” he disliked so much but being still early enough, most don’t come out until late, the place will be empty.
He put the phone down, went to the frig for V-8 (“No time for a kale and carrot.”) and headed back to his bedroom. After a shave, shower, and a change of clothes he made his way to the matinee on foot (“Blue sky, birds singing, and a job to do. It’s a gorgeous day!”).
In fifteen minutes he was at the ticket window and bought his pass (“Yeah, big Bronson fan. What? ‘The Mechanic’ is playing now? Love that Bishop guy.”). As always he walked four rows from the right door and sat eight seats from the aisle. The movie was about an aging hitman, Bronson befriending a young man, Jan-Michael Vincent, who wants to be a professional killer. Later in the movie, Bronson suspects that someone has betrayed him. Roy wishes he could sit and watch it because of it really one of his favorites. It was this movie that inspired him to go into specializing in his craft after his tour in Afganistan but business came first. He reaches down under the seat and found the envelope he was sure would be there. Just then, with that sudden move, he felt the inner rumblings of something not waiting its time to exit. Roy stood and with an envelope in hand, he made for the men’s restroom.
He had made it just in time to the second stall for after pulling down his pants and sat it felt as if his entire internal organs were evacuating his body. Someone walked in and conscious of his own reek he gave a courtesy flush. He then bends forward to pick up the manilla enveloped from where he had dropped it in his rush. To Roy, it seemed unaccustomedly light, as if it only had a sheet of paper in it and nothing more. He opened it and sure enough, that’s what was in it, a folded over sheet of paper. He took it out, opened it up, and there, in words written with a marker were the words,
The door to the stall was suddenly kicked open. The message on the sheet had disrupted his concentration and he had forgotten about the person who had walked into the restroom. There, in front of him, holding a very nasty 9 mm was “what-ever-her-name-was”. Staring directly at him, she gave a little shrug before squeezing two slugs into his brain.
-A. M. Holmes
Author note: Some beginnings just start badly.
“It was a dark and stormy night…”, so began Niles Steinberger’s latest literary effort making it the fifty-eighth time he produced a piece to submit for publication that would most likely end up becoming his fifty-eighth rejection. This, along with the one hundred and sixteen short stories he had submitted to various periodicals, all returned, and the twenty-two thousand posted blogs he had on eighteen different online writer’s groups, none commented on, made Niles the unrecognized most prolific literary failure of all times. It wasn’t that his writing was bad, it was that he wrote badly. None of this, though, discouraged Niles from continuing to pen unexceptional prose. He was like the ant who was stuck at the bottom of a deep cup going around in circles and not realizing he wasn’t getting anywhere. Surprisingly, he was optimistic that someday he would produce a winner, a story that will resonate with readers and finally give him his first break.
Niles imagined himself doing massive book signings and guest appearances on popular talk shows. He had even gone so far as to practice imaginary interviews with his cat, Mister Muggles, playing the part of the host. In Niles’ dreams, the host would encourage their ongoing banter as the audience laughed at his lame jokes. He fantasized about his likeness not only featured in literary magazines but in popular publications like The New Yorker, Variety, the New York Times Sunday edition, and the cover of Entertainment Weekly. He envisioned the movies deals, the script consultations (he would write those too!), the film versions of his stories, and maybe even an Oscar for best picture, screenwriting, and book adaptation. He knew he would become famous AND RICH! All he had to do was to do something with those seven little words on his computer monitor. Unfortunately, the difficult part for Niles wasn’t that he didn’t know where to go beyond those seven words. His problem was that he just could not express it in a way that was… interesting.
Writing “uninterestingly” didn’t fully described his shortcomings. Nor did “unimaginatively” or “incoherently”. One way to describe the effect of Niles’ work would be that if given the choice between listening to a reading of one of his masterpieces of mediocrity or be waterboarded one would be inclined to choose the latter as the least painful method of torture. Another way to put it would be that if there was such a thing as intelligent design and God knew of Niles beforehand, He would have scrapped the entire idea of Creation, gone home, write a letter on why He had given up, entirely blaming Niles, of course, take out the .45 caliber He had hidden in a shoebox on the top shelf of His bedroom closet, and then proceed to blow His Divine Brains away. For example, “Fatima’s Fabulous Fancy- A Taliban Tale”, one of Niles’ most infamously tasteless and obnoxious submissions, would have been enough to justify the call for a jihad on Western civilization.
Yes, he was that bad.
“It was a dark and stormy night…”, he read it again to himself contemplating on what to say next. Finally, feeling an idea stirring in his mind he typed, “and the rain made a sound on the roof like the beat of a crazed heroin-addicted negro jazz drummer.” He stared at his computer monitor for a minute feeling quite satisfied with himself. He wasn’t sure what a “crazed heroin-addicted negro jazz drummer” sounded like but he was quite sure it probably sounded like rain falling on a roof. He leaned back on the wooden chair to stretch his legs and looked around the cluttered living room of his small home for more inspiration.
He once heard that Ray Bradbury had drawn inspiration for his stories in this manner so he tried to do the same. Scattered among the trash and stacks of magazines were pulp novels written by his favorite author and literary mentor Lance Kilright. The pulp novels had titles like ‘A Grape in the Shade’, ‘Of Moses and Hombres’, and, Niles’ personal favorite, ‘The Wasp Queen of Neptune’. ‘The Wasp Queen of Neptune’ was dear to him because it had the what he thought made a great story, adventure and sex. That the story lacked a coherent plot, was a grammatical nightmare, and plagued with many misspelled words didn’t trouble him at all because Niles believed it was just Kilright’s distinctive style. Most of Kilright’s critics had concluded that the book must have been written by a twelve-year-old, mentally retarded child. The rest never got past the acknowledgments.
Before his untimely death from a virulent venereal infection (he was in Thailand doing research for his next book, ‘The Yellow Slave Girl of Neptune’), Kilright had managed to publish 26 “Neptune” novels at a rate of three a year. His last novel, ‘The Yellow Slave Girl of Neptune’, was rushed into publication by Kilright’s publisher, Amalgamated Ace, so soon after his death that it wasn’t until the first, and only, edition that it was realized it was unfinished. ‘The Yellow Slave Girl of Neptune’ has the double distinction of being the only novel ever written to abruptly end in the middle of the story, as well as, going from “New Book” to “50% discount” to “Free Used Book” status in just under twenty-four hours.
The rest of the room was littered with empty food boxes, old yellow newspapers, and odd and ends of miscellaneous useless or broken objects stacked precariously on top of each other like a trash version of the stone formations found in the southwestern United States. It was the general flotsam of a lazy and disorganized mind and nothing there offered much inspiration. There was also an ashtray placed in a strategically by his mouse. It was filled with cigarette butts packed so closely it resembled a nicotine artichoke.
Niles didn’t really like smoking. He had heard that Lance Kilright was a connoisseur of cheap tobacco and wanted to emulate his hero. Kilright was also a heavy drinker, but anything stronger then soda-pop made Niles queasy. Niles suspected that even if Lance Kilright had been a bit more careful with his sexual escapades he would have eventually succumbed to lung cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Stumped at not finding anything interesting he reached for his copy of ‘The Little Blue Book for Writers’.
Although it was blue, the reference book was neither little nor actually very helpful in writing. Anyone who hopelessly tried to decipher its 4224 pages of complicated cross references would soon be driven mad by the poor editing and the many typos. Even if you could understand how to navigate the complex key system it still wouldn’t help because it was not written in grammatically correct English. This was because it’s publishing house, Amalgamated Ace, used non-English speaking Malaysian editors in its publications. After one attempt, most of its users either would utilize it as a doorstop or a paperweight. Niles used it frequently for Kilright had endorsed it. Kilright was also a co-editor of the book and he frequently used it as a doorstop. Most of the time Niles couldn’t understand the intricate way the book was put together so he would open it to a random page and start reading.
This time he opened it to page 1153. It said, “write something of you familiar with.” Niles thought about it and even though he was familiar with a lot of things none of them were particularly interesting. He tried again, this time a bit closer to the end of the book on page 3212. “Right about something unexpected”. Niles pondered this. He wasn’t quite sure what this meant or how he could write about something unexpected he could be “right” about.
It was at this moment, right as he was developing one of those migraines he usually got whenever he used the massive tome, that he heard a knock on his front door. Startled out of his momentary state of torpor he got up from his chair and threaded his way through a path in the clutter. Another knock, a bit louder this time, shook the flimsy door. He opened the door and was greeted by two strangely dressed individuals on the other side. It had been raining heavily that night and the two short, gnome-like men dressed in what seemed like clown outfits were soaking wet. Despite their condition, both creatures bore the two biggest and most foolish grins that Niles had ever seen. His first thought was that they were lost Little People from a passing circus. Then he remembered that the circus hadn’t been through locally for several months.
There followed an awkward moment where the greeter and his guest weren’t sure what to say. Finally, the one on Niles’ right, in the red jacket with green ruffled shirt and yellow pantaloons said, “Greetings! Are we to assume that we are speaking to the owner of this humble, yet honorable home?”
“Ah… yes, yes you are,” answered Niles.
The two little men stared at each other and started to giggle like a pair of Catholic school girls.
The one on the left in the blue paisley blazer, pale green shirt and purple polka dotted pants then asked, “And may we also assume that you are the Niles Steinberger whose very house this is?”
“Ye-yes” answered Niles once again.
The two ridiculous creatures turned to each once more and giggled.
Niles, very confused over the whole thing then asked, “Um, okay, eh. So, who are you exactly and what do you want? If you’re here to sell something-”
“OH NO! Dear Sir, please, nothing of the kind,” said the one in the red jacket.
“No, really, we don’t mean to intrude, kind Sir,” said the other before continuing. “Let us introduce ourselves. My name is Toby Mackwire and this is my associate, Asher Kutchton and we represent the League of Terran Righters. LOTR for short.”
“WRITERS!”, said Niles with sudden surprise and enthusiasm. He supposed now that these two were part of some nearby convention, the kind he had heard about, a Something or Other-Con and that they had somehow heard of him. He remembered the blogs and postings and guessed that they must have read his stories. FANS! He thought. I have an online following! With a sudden renewed sense of excitement, he stepped aside and hurriedly invited his guest in from the cold rain. “Come in, come in!”
His two-diminutive guest entered still looking at Niles with their huge wide grins.
Once inside Niles embarrassingly looked at his messy living room and cleared a spot on a forlorn loveseat in a vain attempt to find a place in which to seat his guests. He decided to stack the papers and empty frozen meal boxes higher on a pile of trash that was already leaning too far to remain standing. For himself, Niles sat atop of where his coffee table had once had been. Something underneath let out a dying rasped sigh of relief as it settled. Once they all were seated there followed yet another awkward moment of silence.
Finally, the one who called himself Toby Mackwire broke the silence. “As I was saying, we are representatives of the LOTR and are here to address a long-neglected list of grievances concerning you.”
“Yes,” said the one called Asher Kutchton. “You see, it has come to our attention that your writing has had much influence in current events and that it’s time to attend to it properly.”
Could it be, Niles thought, that he was finally getting the recognition he was due?
“Wow,” said Niles, “I am truly surprised- honored that your League of…”
“…yes, writers, you believe I have that effect? Wow, I don’t know what to say.” He came up with an idea he thought was brilliant. “Maybe you can introduce me to your group? Can I give a little speech? Maybe an award can be presented?”
The two creatures looked at each other conspiratorially and giggled once more before the one called Asher pulled out what appeared to be a rather authentic looking and nasty alien pistol from the inside of his coat. He as pointing it at Niles.
“I don’t think you understand us, Mister Steinberger, we are not here to honor you. You see, we are from the future and here to kill you.”
Niles laughed nervously. Then he saw that they had stopped giggling and were dead serious.
Frightened, Niles jumped up and yelled, “THE FUTURE! TO KILL ME!”
“Yes, Mister Steinberger,” said Toby, “we are from the future and here to kill you.”
“But, but why?”
“You’re a danger and a menace,” said Asher. “You see, although you never published-”
“Never! Never published. But, enough of your works survived after the Great Holocaust of ‘63 that, after three hundred years had gone past, we were plagued with a rebellion insurgency inspired by your writings.”
“I’m an inspiration to a rebel movement?” Niles strangely heartened by the thought.
“It was their hatred of you that bound them together and inspired a two hundred years long bloody jihad …”
“that plunged the entire human civilization into a thousand year long Dark Age …”
“where billions died of war, famine, pestilence, and disease.”
“So,” Toby continued, “we invented the time machine to go back and right that which had wronged us for, so long. We, League of Terran Righters, took an oath to remove this scourge from history and to end all the suffering before it begins!”
“I hope you understand it’s nothing personal,” added Asher.
Niles wasn’t sure what to make of all this.
“So, if you would please, Mister Steinberger,” said Asher as he still pointed his ugly gun at Niles, “stand over in that clear area by that bookcase and we can get this over.”
Niles got up not sure what else he could do. As he did so he accidentally bumped over a golf club that had been set into place to hold up a tall trash pile of dubious construction. What followed could only have been described as the most spectacular display of a chain reaction ever to be a witnessed. The tall pile of trash spilled over a pile of garbage which knocked over a stack of books that, in turn, spilled over on to a makeshift shelf of cinderblocks and planked wood which catapulted a jar full of golf balls across the room. One ball hit Asher square in the head and he fell along with his gun to the ground in front of a heavily jam-packed bookcase. Another ball hit Toby on the side of his head and he fell next to his partner. Yet another ball hit a stack of empty pizza boxes which once dislodged from their job of holding up several boxes of rejected manuscripts fell over in a crescendo of catastrophic proportion as it struck the heavy bookcase causing it to fall. When the dust finally cleared, Niles saw that the two diminutive men had been crushed to death.
When Niles finally recovered his senses his first thought was surprisingly not of panic. Instead, with the help of a shovel that he had kept around much like the golf club, he made a quick job of his two little problems. With the broken bodies buried safely in the garden, for he knew nobody in the present would miss them, he went to the kitchen to clean himself up and had a bite to eat out of a day-old, and rather dubious, Chinese food container.
He once again sat in front of his computer. This time, though, he had a clear idea of what he was going to write about. This time he knew what to say and how to express it. After all, he thought, didn’t ‘The Little Blue Help Book for Writers’ say, “Right about something unexpected”?
-A. M. Holmes