Refuge

The Cargo ship tips and faces the ocean it floats above with a sense of defiance. It loses, rumbling down the steep wave and crashing, submerging the bow before slamming back prone against the water.

The movement brought everyone in the engine room looking for something to grab onto. Those lucky enough to find something were saved from gravity grasping at them and flinging them forward towards the rumbling grind of the white hot engine.

Keeping somewhat warm under a burlap sack in the middle row of five bunk beds stacked one on top of another, Naxiv sought to keep her grip on the rusty metal pipe she has been cursing since the ship left port.

The last bed open she knew instantly why nobody else had wanted it, the very pipe that prevented her from rolling off and down ten feet to the metal floor, seemed always to find a way to be right above her head when she moved.

It was never a gentle reminder, that pipe found her skull in new ways each time that always earned her a set of tearing eyes and a hate of all things metal.

What she hated yesterday she now loves and tightens the fingers of her left hand as she feels the ship climb another wave.

In her right arm Nativ cradles a sleeping child. She rubs the baby’s back with her free hand and tries to compete with the ocean in a soothing voice.

The child, most likely less than a year old, shakes with a fever and labors to breathe.

She took sick within a day the docks of Karachi disappeared in a setting sun set that exploded across the ocean from left to right in more colors then one would have thought possible.

The child is not hers. Naxiv found her screaming in the engine room unclaimed. All the other refugees turned stoically away from her waiting for the child to find her end. Naxiv couldn’t do that. She couldn’t leave the child to die alone. Plus she could afford to be a mother. There was an empty place in her heart she wanted to fill.

Her children were killed on the same day at some point in the not too distant past. Their deaths brought a timelessness to her life, years stopped accumulating, morning or night stopped having significance. She closes her eyes and still feels the moment they went to Allah. She sees every moment perfectly.

The blue skies

The white flutter of cloud

And a stiff drone from far off that didn’t yet interfere with the chirping resonance of a nearby mockingbird.

The drone was easy to ignore in favor of the chore that distracted her.

With her long black hair fluttering in the breeze she worked her calloused hands by hanging wet freshly laundered clothing.

A basket sat on the red clay ground of the back yard to the house she called home for almost two decades. The basket leaked water making the clay muddy. 

She remembers taking her husband’s white cotton kaftan and flapping it in the air, trying to get some of the wrinkles out before hanging it on a length of rope tied between the house and the lone tree in the yard.

The tree that at one time ripened every spring with sweet dates.

The tree that had been fallow for years now, maybe a decade or more.

The tree that doesn’t exist anymore.

From inside the house she heard frantic footsteps approach. She looked and in the doorway was her son’s diapered two year old on the verge of tears arms held high begging to be picked up.

Behind the child is the father, her oldest, one finger pointing up to a black dot in the sky.

The dot grew larger.

The dot got louder.

The dot brought death.

She tries not to dwell. She tries not to close her eyes. She tries not to think why she survived. She alone got to continue to walk the Earth.

She tries to remember that it is not her place to question Gods will.

God is good. God has a plan.

She has lived a good portion of her life already. Thirty-three years of life all to be brought to constant pain, confusion and disappointment. It’s the definition of her existence now. She is ready for death. She is not afraid. She trusts in Allah to bring it to her soon.

Her oldest would have been eighteen, her youngest twelve. She had four children. All killed. Her husband. Her daughter-in-law. Her grandchild. All gone.

Now what?

That was her constant question as she journeyed from Kabul to Karachi.

The Child in her arms gives off a warm wetness that for some reason gives her a  sense of peace even with the storm lashing water against the ship in what could only be an attempt to drown them all. Naxiv knows death is not coming for her like this. She knows the warmth is a warning that death may be closer to the baby then it is for her.

Maybe the child is the lucky one.

She can deal with death.

She has witnessed it and brought it down on her enemies herself.

It was in giving death that she became okay with the idea the cold sharp talons will one day come for her also.

The face of the stranger who came to offer his condolences at the loss of her family told her all she needed to know. As his body lost its strength a sense of peace fluttered across his face. It was a peace worth more then any moment she has yet witnessed. It was the peace only God could offer. She looks forward to her own peace. She watched the peace wash over his face as his grip on her naked shoulders relaxed and his arms fell to his sides. She was able to breath with no restriction for the first time since he grabbed her.

She rolled him off. Gathered her ripped clothing to her chest and cried deep body wracking sobs.

She hadn’t wanted to kill him. She hadn’t wanted his tongue in her mouth, or his hand under her kanthan either and when she felt the warm smooth flesh of his phallus enter her she forgot to be afraid any longer and stuck him three times with a foot long length of copper wiring rolled up in melted plastic.

It was a nasty jagged length of coil.

It was a weapon of God.

God handed it to her to use to make her attacker stop.

And she used it.

She doesn’t remember finding the coil or picking it up, or if pressed she wouldn’t have been able to retell the event of sticking it in the man’s throat repeatedly, but the deed was done and on the third strike she must of left it embedded for that’s where it was when her mind cleared.

And now she goes.

She rolls over storm tossed seas to a new place where she will live until God hands her another weapon and she will use it and wait to die and join her family.

The child in her arms coughs one last time and is still.

Naxiv says a short prayer for her and lays the body down on the soiled mattress. When the storm clears, she decides, she will toss the ten pound corpse overboard.

Allah Akbar, she whispers, God is Good.

 


 

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Disenfranchised

Tim stares at his dreams of owning a 7-11 going down the drain, literally with gallon after gallon of gasoline. Insurance will pay of course. But that’s it. There have been too many accidents at this store so corporate is pulling the franchise.

Tim feels himself welling over and tries to fill the silence, “Well Bob what are you going to do now?”

 

***

Bob answered corporate call.

He was ecstatic after the five minute conversation, “I guess I’ve always wanted to try my hand at sand dollar painting.”

He is being sarcastic and feels bad. Tim won’t know.

He forces the smile spreading his lips back into a pitiful frown and thinks of asking Tim if he wants to go in on it with him, but reconsiders the joke fearful the man will jump at the chance.

The last day he has to work with Tim will be the best day he has had in what feels like forever being Tim is a fucking dumbass who convinced him a full service gas station was a good idea in the first place.

“You do the books I do the pumping, what could wrong?”

And now it’s over. Bob’s smile pushes at his lips again. This time he let’s his muscles free, free like he feels, free as the wind.

The Tunnel

The bus dips down sinking through traffic and into the white tile walls of the tunnel named for Lincoln.

You feel the water above and around. The intense pressure. You see the walls imploding. Water rushing in. Rushing to the bus. Rushing to you. White capped and fast. Shock swallowing despair. The bus is caught up in it rising up touching the ceiling of the tunnel. You are thrown from your seat. Water begins to fill the bus. To your ankles, knees, waist, chest, You are floating fluttering like mad to keep your head above pressed against the roof of the bus. Until the water overcomes you and you struggle for thirty maybe forty seconds more.

Midway through the tunnel you even see how it will happen. Looking deliberately for the bomber you find him sitting ahead, black satchel on his lap hand rooting for something deep inside. He has dark hair, an olive complexion, a look of prison about him, life gone wrong, anger. You feel the blast as a white hot explosion surrounding you like a punch, like a strike to your entire body.

Then nothing.

If it is going to happen this is the way you would want it to, fast, surprising, the knowledge of the death coming after the death itself.

You close your eyes and will it not to happen.

When they open again you are looking at a brick wall draped with ivy and decorated with a metal sign, which reads , Seeking information on a hit run. Please contact the NYPD.” it says.

You have been here before you know the trip is over. Within moments the hulking structure of the Port Authority building will be in view. Then the steep climb to whichever gate this Greyhound will stop at and you will be at the mercy of the city herself.

Your heart is pumping, your lungs are expanding, your legs are ready for the abuse you will put upon them. You are ready. The bus screams to a stop and the black man driving jumps out and everyone stands to disembark. You wait you are not in a hurry, it is eight in the morning and you have two errands that you need to do. Drop money in the bank and get a slice of pizza.

 


 

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Floating Smile

You wake, bathed in sweat, breathing hard and not wanting to remember where you are.

Though you do.

The room is pitch black. Not an inch of light slips through any crack.

Rubbing the sleep from your eyes you try to remember the day, or the month.

They don’t come. It’s Wednesday all the time, hump day.

Bits and pieces of the dream that woke you come slipping back. Something about Tentacles, and pushing, and inserting, and grasping, and choking, and punching and breath escaping a mouth raspy and ragged. It’s not a new dream. It’s an every night thing. A routine you have no control over.

Swinging your feet from under the covers you are not surprised to feel cold rough concrete under them as they touch the floor. Adjusting to the dark you spot the television and stand to turn it on.

Every joint hurts. Every muscle screams. You rub your stomach and wonder how some people do this three or more times in their life.

Pulling the little knob the room is flooded in white light and white fuzz and white noise. You switch the channel and get more of the same. Raising the volume gives you a sense that life exists in the room. Everything feels so quiet so fragile without it. Any excess on your part could pull it apart at the seams. This noise holds it all together for you.

Your stomach growls for two and angry when you spot the food you didn’t eat last night. It was a pay off. No food, no cobwebs clogging up the processes in your brain. NO fumbling to do simple tasks, no fight left in you when the time comes.

Though you still feel the effects of what ever you’ve been ingesting with your meals with the thumping headache. You’re semi sober for the first time in months.

Crawling back under the covers you somehow find something interesting to stare at in the white fuzz.

An eerie sensation begins to grow. It suggests you’ve forgot about something, something important, something that can’t wait.

You can’t place your finger on it. Its there like a word on the tip of your tongue you know you are going to mispronounce.

Then the garage is filled with the sound of a car badly in need of something mechanical done to it, you remember what it is you forgot.

You jet to your feet, fluid streaming down your legs, and the lack of any idea of what to do wrestling with your sanity.

You round the room allowing a low moan to escape your lips. You can’t fight it once it arrives, you’ll be flat on your back once again.

Your feet move faster. The circle gets wider. You bump into the TV and it falls. Just as it crashes to the floor the early morning news comes on. The sound of happy voices scratches at your skin. You grip the soft spongy walls and tear. You are surprised to see a window beneath so you keep tearing revealing it all. You allow the spongy stuff to drape down and grip the window and try to push it up.

A cool breeze strikes you in the face. A smile. A simple smile rips through your frown.

***

He stands in the doorway to the kitchen hands deep inside the pockets of his jeans, eyes glued to the floor. It’s his fault. If he can avoid it, there is no way he will own up.

He can feel her eyes on him, they make him sweat.

She pushes the kitchen chair back with a vicious scrape. He looks up as she pushes past him and the metal folding chair teeters then falls with a crash. Behind him the door to the garage is thrown open with the sound of dented drywall. He can hear her feet smack bare against the concrete as she searches the empty space.

He can imagine the space, he set it up. It is nothing more then a dank dungeon filled with a mixture of his smell the smells of copulation, pregnancy, fear and a thin taste like blood on the air maybe even a touch of piss. He deemed it secure, and felt proud to say so.

Now only a soiled twin size mattress set up against a wall, a tray of uneaten soy patties shoved full of crushed 30 milligram oxycodines and a shattered glass of spilt milk spiked with half a pint of Kahlua sit alone.

The small black and white TV they gave the girl for comfort was on its side blaring the morning news when he walked in to “check.”

He hears the bare trot of her chubby feet as they reach the exit of the garage. He tries to come up with an excuse. Something plausible to escape what he is sure will be bad. Then from behind him comes the attack.

“You mother fucker,” the woman hollers.

He flinches.

“You told me you fixed it so not even Houdini could escape that room. You remember those words?” she says her voice ebbing from sharp hostility to a soft calm that frightens him even more.

He remembers saying them, and on the verge of admitting it he is surprised to find himself on his knees looking at the cheap, dirt and food stained tile in the kitchen. A vague memory of a clang rings in his ears. Small spots of red drip onto the floor. They grow into a puddle. He is confused. The room spins, and his head begins to ache. Dark splotches form at the corners of his eyes.

A clatter off to his right is the bed pan he had placed in the garage. The worst part of his deal as keeper was emptying that.

He wonders why it looks malformed.

He feels a foot on his ass give a shove and he falls forward into the puddle. He curses the ruin of his white work shirt.

“Nine months!”

He feels his hair being griped in an iron fist and jerked back.

“And this happens now!”

As his neck goes the distance it can in that direction she enters his field of sight. Upside down, with strands of hair snapping loose from his scalp he is looking into the fat anger contorted face of his girlfriend.

“Don’t you want me to be a mother?”

He meets her muted green eyes giving off an aura of rigidness. Her lips are trembling, her cheeks quiver, her eyes bulge.

“You know what this means right?” She says almost cooing.

Another question he need not answer.

“You understand where this puts me? Puts us?”

He tries to nod that he does.

She lets loose his hair and he falls forward. His head clears a little. He feels her wipe her hand on his back and wonders why. His forehead feels wet he reaches to wipe it and pulls his hand away red and it dawns on him why the bed pan was dented.

“You hit me.” he quivers.

She does not respond, only steps over him. He watches her quaking dimpled thighs move over to the microwave. She opens it, removes a biscuit and taking half into her mouth.

With crumbs falling from her open maw she says, sweet as sugar, “Get up, get out and look for her.”

Her syrupy words get him going. Climbing to his knees he fights to stay awake. “I need to change my shirt.”

“Now!”

The word vibrates his world, though it is ordered in no more then a whisper. It fades slowly as he scrambles to his feet, swaying unsteady and pushing off the hallway wall to stay erect.

He turns and staggers down the hall reaching for the car keys dangling on the hook by the front door.

“Leave the keys; I need to go to work.”

Almost making the mistake of becoming angry he turns to see her shove the remaining biscuit into her mouth and reach with both fists fake belly draped over the counter in front of her.

He grabs the front door knob, twists and walks backward through it.

In the predawn dark he turns left on the street and under a street lamp two blocks away he spots a half naked pregnant girl. With a hack of resolution his feet pick up speed and as close to running as he will get gives chase.

***

The sky to the east is on fire, smoky wisps of cloud flutter about the rising sun. Your pink unicorn t-shirt stretched out by the weight of sweat reveals your nubby breasts.

Blood drips from your crotch.

You are barefoot. Your toes are black, cut up even, you feel the sting of pebbles as you plant your foot for another step. You are running on a busy road. You run. Bare feet hating every step. You’re on auto pilot. Close to here is the big bridge.

You veer to it.

You start over it.

Halfway across you cut through traffic not caring if you get hit or not. With difficulty you struggle over a fence in the middle, a sharp sting to your wrist from a twist of metal on top makes it real. He is after you. He wants you back. From the top of the fence you jump.

Six feet up you land with the force of your body weight. You recover fast, back onto your feet ignoring the twinge of wrong in your belly.

You grab the first rung above your head. You step next and pull your self up. How you manage to pull that belly along will forever remain a mystery.

Motivation.

You must really want this freedom.

So you climb.

One rung at a time. As you go higher the world you know below disappears, replaced by a toy version of its self. The audible hum of radial band tires and the occasional squeal of unexpected braking seem so real, you are not hidden from it behind two tons of metal, your living it, right there ear drums vibrating at a crazy pace.

The higher you go the more intense the wind becomes, your grip is iron on the rungs. You look below into the swirling lights thrown from cars. Did you see him? Was he moments behind? Wheezing at the effort to catch you, like he did moments from ejaculating? You think about falling. That move would have ended one life, but the question of where would it have put you, drives you on.

You stop to catch your breath. The air stabs into your lungs like small needles. Parting your lips for that simple painful swallow of air spreads a freshly scabbed cut lip you don’t remember getting. The taste of your own blood raises goose flesh on your arms making you feel tight.

You can’t help but consider stopping even so near the beginning of your trek. But from behind you like an opposite magnetic pole your assailant pushes you forward. You can even feel the phantom grasp of his hand on your ankle.

You look up and see that platform you had secretly decided to go to from the ground. Same one as everyone else. It seems so far away, doesn’t it, just too far above. Your arms are on the verge of giving out, shaking even from this effort. The wind is so cold. It whips around you wanting to catch hold of you and throw you itself from the bridge.

That would be unacceptable; this has to be your doing. This is your deal. Your ending.

From across the bay you see the orange glow from the lights in the city. Somewhere out there are people whose lives you changed just by being alive. You don’t know that though. You have always felt invisible. A disposable human. A cheap VCR bought for a years worth of uses then thrown into the dumpster after the first band breaks.

What makes the climb hell is the belly you have to reach your arms around. Its huge and hard. Worse it feels alive with the occasional unexpected bulge. Fighting through the exhaustion you close your eyes and the over whelming sense of a heart beat enters your head.

The heart beat talks to you, begs you to reconsider, but you chide it back again with a silent prayer: but this is for you. I am doing this for you, only for you. This is not for me this is for you.

Opening your eyes you reach for the next rung and grab hold. The metal feels colder then any of the others before. Your finger clench and you lift your right foot to catch the next rung. You stand. You repeat the procedure, twice more then it becomes unbearable. The conversation in your head becomes too loud. The pleading heart beat will not cease. It continues too beg.

You hear a child’s voice behind it, a voice without understanding. A voice beyond reason.

How can I convince you? You beg. Why don’t you get this is for you. I was not meant to have you. I will not be your mother if I do.

Small tears escape your eyes and roll down your cheeks leaving ice cold trails. The world blurs as more follow, you try to wipe your eyes on your shoulder, only spreading the cold saline around. The voiceless pleading continues.

It’s too much, the pressure is too great. It has to end.

Maybe from here you decide.

Looking down the world seems far away, but still not far enough. Or maybe it’s just the distance between you and him that doesn’t seem far enough.

The fluttering hair below seems to know no exhaustion. He reaches mechanically. He climbs. He is gaining. Move!

You body is begging for a reprieve and you promise it soon enough. Soon enough you will get a break.

You are no rookie to pain. Your entire life has been one session of sadistic madness after another. One beating after another. One fondling after another. One rape after another. One day without food after another till the point you thought you would die of hunger, then a something would arrive through the gap in the door. Fresh and hot and bubbly or not wouldn’t matter. You’d scarf it down and life would feel good. Nothing would matter, but that was a torture also wasn’t it? It gave you hope. A longing for something that you could not control. For a brief shinning moment it gave you happiness. That was worse, beyond the locked door, beyond the rapes and the beatings; the waiting, the waiting for the moment of happiness to return again, like an oscillating fan on a humid still day.

You reach for the next rung and raise your foot. The intense itching in your muscles is replaced by a weighted feel. That in turn is replaced by a feeling of failure. You labor now to raise your arms, your feet catch under the rung they strive for.

Failure is eminent!

But this is the last rung.

You are surprised when your hand is on the platform. You are elated when your belly is above the line of your target. You cry with joy when your foot has scampered onto the metal mesh.

The crunch of bird guano under your hands and knees raises bile to your throat.

The platform seems to wave under your weight, you are fearful it might fall. Let it you decide. I am here for one thing. You climb to your feet and scan the horizon. The sun is high now above the empty cold grey bay. You look down and see hundreds of feet of nothing ending in a collection of pilings. You wonder if you could avoid them, but decide; it doesn’t matter.

You step to the edge, your bare toes dangle over the abyss. You feel the weight of gravity.

Just before you fling the rest of your self off a fist grips your upper arm and pulls you back to your past. Cold blue eyes blink away sweat dripping from the blood stained forehead. You scream and flail your free arm striking him with palm and nails on the head and face. You lift both feet and dangle from his grip, but only for a moment before your one hundred and sixty five pound body slips free.

It’s surprising this feeling of flight. Pure ecstasy. You forget for a moment that there will be an end. You forget that you have been given your cousins baby. You forget that you are fourteen going on dead. You forget that the water is going to feel like concrete when your body hits it.

You flip over in mid flight and with a lucky glance see your cousin slip from the same platform. A lasting smile forms as your body shatters against the water.


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The R

The R pulled into Union.

I followed a tall woman dressed in black onto the car. I stood at the front and scanned the passengers.

To my left, two empty seats and a woman on whose head a colorful scarf sat. It had many shades but seemed red as a whole. She didn’t seem that old. She didn’t seem abnormal, but I didn’t look that long.

At first she wasn’t the one that interested me anyway.

I was curious about the tall woman dressed in black. She had found a spot right in front of the train door. As the train moved through the tunnel she constantly adjusted her dress. Never moving it in any direction just seeming to pull and settle the fabric against her skin as if she would rather be naked.

She wore sandals scuffed and old and showed slanting wear on the heels. She had long skinny feet blistered and dry. She never broke eye contact with herself in the door window. Pulling and pushing at her clothes.

I knew she would be getting off the train at Atlantic. Somehow knew she was short for this train and Manhattan would not be where her day was heading. I wanted to know why Atlantic. Why the concern. I pictured adultery, misguided sexual adventure, an answered craigslist ad, prostitution, or maybe she just wanted to go to Target.

The train stopped and as I thought she would the tall woman in black got off. I took one of the seats next to the woman in the scarf. The one against the wall giving us the middle seat as a buffer certain no one would sit next to her or me.

As I sat down I got a better look at her face. In her nose, that hooked over her upper lip, was a gold ring. Her eyes were black and weepy. Weepy in a way that didn’t suggest tears. Weepy like thick. Weepy like something medically waswrong. Under that red looking scarf, puffed black hair, immediately reminding me of dolls hair. Dolls hair cut by the hateful actions of an older sister to her younger sibling’s property.

At first I thought she might be going to the airport. She had two bags that together looked to weigh the same as she. They were checkered, tiny white, blue and grey boxes covered them. They were made of a nylon material like a tarp.

My leg brushed one and she moved it away from me. Like my skin had contaminated it. I didn’t take it personally. The bag had felt lighter then it looked.

I ignored her. Like everyone in New York ignores each other, by paying peripheral attention to the ones that make us nervous.

I did so. I could feel her presence. I could sense she didn’t Like me sitting here. As if me here, invaded her space.

As if planned she started twitching just as the train reached the Whitehall stop.

By Cortlandt she began to moan and call out.

At city hall she started speaking again in nonsensical sentences.

I have heard tongues spoke before. At a church in Clarksville Tennessee off Fort Campbell. I was with my buddy. I liked going to church with him. It wasn’t for the God. It was more for the experience. Having a buddy, doing something, going somewhere.

I’d get drunk with the bench dwellers outside the barracks for the same reason.

I don’t know if she is speaking in tongues or even having a religious experience on the uptown bound R train.

I am now afraid to look at her.

I wonder how bad it would be if I did get her attention.

A thought hit me that maybe this was the way she kept people away from her stuff. Or maybe I, now sitting only one seat away from her, was driving her into this frenzy.

There was a Grey Hound bus deep in the remote woods of Canada. A man was eaten by his seat mate. Chopped into little pieces with a hunting knife and snacked on while the rest of the bus’ passengers watched from outside.

I didn’t think that was going to happen here at the cusp of Canal Street. But I imagined her arm jutting out suddenly armed with a large hunting knife.

I would catch it, I thought, catch her wrist in my hand and bend it back making her drop the blade. She would be harmless then. My strong grip and the torque of joints that don’t bend that way keeping her motionless.

I wondered if I would really be able to stop it if it came to it. Or would I just simply look down and see the blade imbedded deep within my chest. A growing red flower spreading. A sense of suffocating. Dark edges gripping the corners of my eyes. Before nothing.

I saw it both ways. And preferred to ninja my way through the situation if it happened.

Prince came. And she yelled at a man standing to close to her. It wasn’t a yell filled with a language people speak but sounds glued together in a structure much like a sentence.

The man shoved deeper into the train and I realized I was able to meet the eyes of the people sitting in the three seats across from me.

They pitied me.

Two Latin woman and a skinny old Asian man. It was more the older Latin woman on whose face I saw pity. The other two pretended to ignore me when they saw I saw they were looking at me like I pretended to ignore them even after the eye contact. That was the difference, the woman next to me wasn’t ignoring anyone. She engaged with everyone. She was a social butterfly interacting with everyone that came near her.

I could not picture this woman with doll hair and two gigantic bags having a real home to call her own. The thought struck me as I wondered if the Asian man was Japanese or Japanese American. Where did she come from? Where did she go? Does she live permanently in the NYC subway system? Bathing in the time square restroom. Switching trains occasional for a change of scenery?

I was not being assaulted by a smell. Or a sense of dirty skin, or the nausea of disease.

At West 8th another thought assaulted me, this was her home and she was welcoming us all in her own special little way.

By 14th street she was calm head on her chest breathing softly and I got off the train.

 


 

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Clancy

An ogre’s head rolls out of a blood-stained burlap sack with a sickening plop.

The garroter is a man named Jon. He huffs, irritated. It is too late to move the parchment; it is ruined. Instead he moves his gaze from the besmirched paper to the milky-eyed lifeless gaze and brown snaggletooth gaping jaw of Ozo, an ogre with a price on his head.

“You’ve just destroyed a day worth of effort” he says looking up and flinches at what he decides is a slight man, stooped with slanted shoulders attached to a thin bird-like neck topped with a head that looks likely to fly off with a stiff wind. He has claw-like fingers of which only the tips are visible hanging from the end of the sleeves of his threadbare robe. A robe which underneath doesn’t appear to contain much man.

“That’s your warrant,” the man says with a voice that crackles as if bones were loose in his throat.

Jon catches pale blue icy eyes. They flitter across his face as if he were of no more interest than a leaf falling from a tree.

“I believe this head to be worth a bit o’ gold.”

“That’s true,’ Jon answers, ‘but to the souls I tasked with collecting it. That wouldn’t be you, would it?” He stands and looks down at black-haired man attempting a frigid gaze of his own.

The garroter isn’t an overly big fella, maybe normal, maybe he’s felt a few hard days worth of effort in his forty years of existence, maybe he had a few battles where he was the only soul to walk away, maybe he has been the last man many executed criminals saw before hood and death met their fate, but when he sets his eyes on the figure in front of his desk he feels a chill that scrapes at his bones.

Still he tries to face down the dark stranger even though every inch of him wants to flee.

“Your deputies are dead.”

Maybe it’s his lawman instincts, but he can tell the man standing in front of him has told the truth. He knows that. He knows that like he knows the feel of his own boots, or the comfort of his own mattress, or the smell of his own bride.

But he also knows this man is evil. It’s just an impression maybe based on how he averts his eyes when gazed upon, or how he looks shifty and a bit guilty even when just simply standing in front of the garroter’s desk.

“Care to say how you ended up the victor over ole Ozo?

Ozo deserved to die. He was king of his own cave. A cave filled with the bones of anyone careless to be travelling off the King’s road. They were a dirty murdering lot and many lives were spent trying to rid them from the face of the map.

“I said your deputies were dead, not useless.” He snaps his fingers and through the door four badly battered corpses walk. They stand swaying as if unsteady on their once blood-fed feet.

Jon finds himself staring at Moradin’s cleric, a hairy redhead named Lela now missing the bottom half of her face and through a giant crack in her skull through which a large piece of brain flows. Her eyes are half-lidded and white, far from the vivid green he would rather remember them as a week ago.

None of them seem to be seeing anything now.

The mage has only one arm attached to his body and in its fist is his other arm, as if he would be willing to use it as a club.

The two deputies he sent as muscle swayed in blood-stained armor punctured with many holes as if they had been victim of a pick axe wielding frenzy.

They smell of death and shit and mold and ogre blood.

Jon stares open mouthed at the four dead bodies used as puppets to claim Ozo’s head. He doesn’t feel his bladder empty. He’ll notice later.

Clancy doesn’t mind. It happens all the time. Instead he asks in a gentle whisper, “Now about that gold?”

 


 

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The Dunes pt. 2


 

Continued from part 1

 


 

And the boy comes. He crawls over the rusting haul. He notices small drifts of powdery sand. He sees chips of old paint. He feels the heat of the dying day on his sun blistered back.  He crawls into the shadow of the living decay.

The boot of his captain presses him down to the deck plating. Gnarled leather bites into his flesh.

Old ancient smells drift to his nostrils. Rot. History and death.

He feels a rough thin hand with no mercy grip him by the hair. The white pain as his head is lifted against the foot on his neck. For a moment he thinks he is going to be killed. His neck snapped. Thrown in the desert and forgotten. Good maybe, that’s good. Life is not fun. It is pain. He hates his every waking moment. Joy is a fantasy he once had. Or maybe that was just dreams. Now he is just the fear.

The fear.

The fear.

The fear.

He can sense the anger leaking from the eyes above him. Or maybe they have no emotion. Maybe they just are. A thing like a mountain or the wind. A force of energy.

Maybe they do their deed with no thoughts of regret.

The boy isn’t yet thirteen.

He watched his father die.

He watched his mother raped then her neck slashed and her pain and fright as life ebbed from her body. How he wished so hard they would do the same to him.

And now with a silent open mouth scream he watches as a barbed hook is brought down to his face. It slices through his tender cheek hitting and removing two teeth before being carelessly yanked out.

The gnarled boot is lifted. His hair is released. He is kicked and the captain says, “yok hatarak.”

And the boy knows he will try, he will try to do better with all the red hot fury of revenge burning at his soul.


 

Continued with part 3


 

double_sun_by_cyberkolbasa-d9j8sk2

 

Art:

Double Sun

by cyberkolbasa