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Ice Cream and Debauchery

Chapters 1 and 2 of an experimental new project, similar to John Dies at The End.

1

It’s not every day you learn you’re a link between worlds and a crucial peg in the ongoing struggle of good against evil, the fate of the entire universe hinging upon your actions.

In fact, I’d say it’s pretty rare.

At least I think. I can only speak for myself. The types of things I learn in a usual day are that the Doritos have gone stale, or one of our eight cats has pissed in my bed. On occasion I learn the Netflix subscription has expired, and sometimes my brother’s back hair and toenail clippings amass so much that they clog the shower drain.

Gross, right?

Anyway, that’s what you deal with. Typical everyday bullshit. The ancillary details that somehow become the staple of your life. And yeah, it sucks. My home smells like weed and my car is constantly on the urge of breaking down but at least it’s normal.

Acid spitting demons. Tentacle…things. Interdimensional beings with the power to phase out facets of existence.

Like what the fuck?

And I’m a boring dude. Forgettable. Stinky, even. I’m not a protagonist. A hero. I’m just a unkempt slacker with a mountain of student loan debt constantly paralyzed by crippling anxiety and self-doubt.

Okay, so that’s like half of my generation, but whatever, you get the point.

I can’t even remember to return my DVDs to Redbox, yet I’m charged with saving all of existence?

And who the hell rents DVDs anymore?

Okay, fine, fine I’ll stop wasting time. I’ll get to the point. It’s one that took me 3,500 years to understand (time’s not linear – it’s a long story) but here’s my best summary:

There are infinite universes. Infinite timelines. Infinite outcomes. You are just a thread in the entire cosmic rope of you. Also, there are demi-god assholes wagering on the fate of all of our lives. Most of them are dicks.

Get it?

Good. So we’ll start from the beginning, because this guide might be helpful to whoever comes next. Even if it’s another iteration of me. Or something.

Stick with me, I barely get it myself.

So all of this…the murders, the massacre, the interdimensional travel, it all started in one place. A place many of us think of as common, but that was destined to be the hallowed ground, the launching point for the ultimate conflict, the one that encompasses all of our lives and which very well could end them all.

We begin at K-Mart.

2

“Ice cream and debauchery?”

“What?” I ask.

“Cigar and a soiree?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Refreshments and a rave?” Will asks with a grin, flashing his pearly yellows in the process. He’s leaning on the counter across from me. We’re both wearing our K-Mart shirts, blue and embroidered with a red K. Will’s has an accompanying mustard stain that’s gone crusty. I’m on register and he’s on stock, but with how barren and desolate the store is, we both can afford to kill some time.

“C’mon you schmuck, I’m asking what you want to do tonight,” Will says.

“The same thing we do every night, Pinky,” I reply.

Will blinks. “Why are you calling me Pinky?”

“Never mind.”

“Do I have marker on my face or something?” Will wipes at his face.

“Stop it,” I urge. “I don’t care what we do tonight. Drinks, video games, whatever. I have nothing on the agenda.”

“Dude,” Will whispers, leaning forward on the counter. “I heard there’s a sweet new laser tag place in Johnson City. You can see the lasers shooting through the air. Pew pew and all that shit.”

I look Will in his (dilated) pupils and consider the prospect. A couple of twenty-five year old guys in sweat-stained t shirts going all out on a group of middle schoolers, diving behind cover and screaming while firing a barrage of light beams in a retaliatory strike. It would be like Saving Private Ryan, but somehow more sad and desperate.

“Sounds great,” I say. “I’ve always wanted to shoot thirteen year olds.”

“Yeah, fuck kids!” Will declares.

“A-hem,” a voice rasps.

Will and I look and see Shelly, our manager, standing with her arms crossed a few feet away. She’s a rigid stick of a woman, tiny but imposing, and she’s wearing her “you fucked up” expression on her face.

You’d know it if you saw it.

“Oh shit!” Will says. “Liam didn’t mean he actually wants to shoot thirteen year olds.” He pauses. “And I didn’t mean I like to…”

“Enough!” Shelly belts. “I don’t care what you two morons blather on about. Most of the time it doesn’t make a damn difference in this place but I’d appreciate if you didn’t do it while there were customers waiting in line.” Shelly extends a bony finger past Will, where two customers stand.

“Oh, got it, got it,” Will says. “I’ll go and…”

“Get the boxes from storage,” Shelly says. “I’m sorry folks,” she says to the customers. “Won’t happen again.” She shoots me a glare before stomping off. Will looks to the customers tepidly, offering a shy smile and wave.

“The children are our future,” he declares before trotting off.

“Sorry about that,” I say as the man approaches.

Most people would be worried about being fired for such a transgression. Admittedly, when I first joined the K-Mart team, I was concerned about my performance. About being on time. About doing things the right way. About greeting every customer with a smile.

Now I’m tempted to tell half of them to fuck themselves.

The rude mean half. I’m not some type of monster.

Not yet, anyway.

There’s no threat of being fired. The place can barely keep enough employees to function. And how can they? Minimum wage pay, no pay increases per year, extremely limited mobility, the unsavory assholes taking out their daily ilk and strife on you as they berate you over the price of shorts, the limited variety of snack cakes, and the behavior of their own mutant children.

Okay, so they’re not really mutants.

Most of them.

The point is, who cares? Slap that on a bumper stick. Sell it to all the millennials. Nothing matters we’re all going to die, have some fun in the meantime.

“Excurse me!”

That’s not a typo.

“Excurse me!” The man in front of me repeats. He has a strange accent, or some type of slur. Regardless he sounds Scandinavian, or eastern European or something.

“Hello sir,” I say. The man before me is tall, and Frankenstein-like in his demeanor. His body moves in lurches, appearing lumpy and improperly set. He’s like an action figure a kid’s twisted one times too many, and it looks like his shoulders are permanently pushed upwards out of place.

This isn’t the only odd thing about him. I swear to God (well, at least some iteration of the higher power that does exist) that this guy is the spitting image of Gary Busey. Well, Gary Busey if he’d gotten in a bar fight. His face is swollen and lumpy, though there are no sign of cuts or bruising.

I feel a strange vibration. A chilling tickle up my spine. And that’s not some revisionist history. I didn’t know what was up with this guy or what was bound to happen, but when you see a Frankenstein-like Gary Busey with a strange accent and those horrible horse teeth staring at you with corpse-gray eyes, you know something’s up.

Busey slams three objects down upon the counter. His hand shakes over them, as if he is straining to pull his arm back. To make his arm work. He used his other hand to grab his wrist and assist. I stare down at the three items.

A cucumber. An opened (and bitten) stick of butter. A pack of Trojan Brand Condoms.

Again, the R’s aren’t typos.

“Therse are the things that are being bought togrether, am I being of the correrect?

“Excuse me?”

“Excurse?” Busey coughs. His breath smells like dogfarts.

“What did you ask, sir?”

His eyes roll in his head. His tongue falls out of the side of his mouth. Now, for the first time, I understand the true nature and severity of what I’m dealing with.

A meth head.

In a town as forlorn and economically distraught as Rosedale Pennsylvania, plenty of people hide from their problems with drugs and alcohol. There are no jobs, no opportunity, just failing businesses and disappointing people. I can’t blame people for hiding from themselves, for hiding from the reality of their lives. I’ve done it plenty, but the meth heads…they are a different variety. Often times they are…

“Dangerous,” Busey says, except he pronounces it “Dan Grr Us.”

“What?”

“I am dangerous,” Busey repeats, slobbering down his oafish face. “I am are buying what the humans are liking to be buying.”

I look down at the cucumber, the half-eaten stick of butter, and the condoms, and agree that the combination could indeed be dangerous.

“Yes, very dangerous. Um…do you have…a rewards card?”

Busey recoils like he’s been struck. His eyes go wide and he bears those impossible piano key teeth.

“Cardddddd?” he slurs.

I flick on my checkout station light to indicate I need a manager. Busey looks up, confused, and running his hands through his stringy hair.

“The realms are of the threatening of to merging,” he rasps.

“Sure,” I agree. It’s at this point, the customer behind him, who so happens to be his cohort, approaches, and I shit you not, he looks almost exactly like Danny DeVito, except paler and covered in grease.

“It has been foretold,” DeVito says solemnly in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Sean Connery. “That the Keybearer would react in such a way. So said Lekreshi, Snake Lord of the Black Sun. The moment of triumph is upon us.” He babbles this as snot leaks down his nose onto the collar of his shirt, which I notice, is a women’s designer brand.

“Are we…larping or something?” I ask taking a step back from the counter.

“What are you name?” Busey shouts, drawing the attention of others in the store.

“Liam,” I say. “Liam Conners.”

They freeze. They go rigid. Their eyes shoot wide.

“Uh, what…did I say?”

DeVito tilts his head back. He cranks it back until it’s pointing straight at the ceiling. Green gunk oozes from the side of his mouth as he lets out a guttural cry, sounding like some unholy union between a cockroach and an automotive engine.

“Sccrrrrunnnnnnnkcccchhtch!” Devito wails.

Busey opens his mouth as well, though that’s a bit of an understatement. His jaw unhinges and out from his gullet spring forth scaly, black as night tentacles.

It’s at this point the story gets weird.

The tentacles force their way from his mouth like a creature trying to escape his throat. They’re two fingers thick, and six of them whip out of his mouth, flailing around violently. Busey seems in limited control of the tentacles, stumbling around drunkenly and trying to keep his head raised.

“The transfer is still young. The process is incomplete,” DeVito rasps, green gunk spilling out of his mouth.

I stand back, mouth agape, and convince myself this is a dream. Yep, I’m asleep in my bed, the one spring near the bottom of my mattress pressing up and poking me in the spine. I’ll curse at it when I wake up but boy will I be happy to get out of this nightmare.

I pinch my cheek. I shake my head. Anytime, now. C’mon Liam, wake up and get back to your mediocre existence. Anything is better than this.

Busey slams his hand on the counter and squeezes the edge of it. There’s a crunching sound as the counter gives under the force. The eel-like tentacles are pointed my way now, molesting the air and reaching out for me.

DeVito begins singing in a voice that comes across as static. His tone is deep and rhythmic, like this is some hymn or cultic chant.

“Sommmmmmmeboddddddddddy onccce tollld meeee the worrrrrrrrrld issss gonnnna rolll meeee,” DeVito belts.

“What the fuck?” I whisper. I’m paralyzed, unable to move as the tentacles grow closer. This isn’t real. It can’t be.

“Blooorrck,” Busey grunts as the tentacles extend further from his throat. He’s leaning over the counter as I back up against the wall. The hungry tentacles whip and lash, seeming to grow excited as they approach my face.

“I ainnnnnn’t the sharrrrpest toooooooool in the shedddddddd,” DeVito continues.

“What the hell is going on?” A voice cries. I’m broken from my paralysis and see Shelly rushing towards Busey. She’s coming from behind and can’t see the appendages bursting forth from his mouth.

No, get out of here Shelly! Run! I want to shout the words but they collide in my throat, tumbling out as a stunted croak.

Shelly puts her hand on Busey’s shoulder, meaning to spin him around. When touched, he shoots up straight and rigid.

“Intruder!” he croaks through the tentacles. They vibrate with each word. He spins around to face Shelly.

Shelly’s eyes go wide and all color flees her face. The reality of the nightmare is made apparent to her fragile mind just before Busey strikes. It all happens in a blur, but I’ll never forget the expression engraved on Shelly’s face for that split second. It was absolute horror dashed with bafflement, all coated in a sick layer of acceptance.

She knew what was to come.

“Heyyyyyyy nowwwww you’rreeeeeee an alllll starrrrrrr.”

The tentacles lash at Shelly, stretching to impossible lengths and wrapping themselves around her. Effortlessly, they lift Shelly into the air, Busey craning his neck back as he holds her over himself. The tentacles slither over Shelly’s skin, wrapping themselves around her limbs as she cries out hysterically. Then, they find their targets, burrowing into her flesh like worms into wet soil.

Wiggle, wiggle, slicch, slicch.

Her cries are bloodcurdling.

Chaos ensues. People scream. Some pull out their phones and call the cops. Most run out of the store. Amidst this I’m frozen, heart barely beating, as I watch my manager be drained of blood. The tentacles act like pumps and I hear the suction as they slurp the blood from Shelly’s body, pulsating as they take in her essence. Busey’s eyes are rolled up in the back of his head as he absorbs her lifeforce, a look of ecstasy on his monstrous face.

Shelly is fading. The color is gone from her body, and it looks like she is shriveling up, like the tentacles are a straw as she’s a Capri Sun pouch. The pain in her eyes is rich, and all life is fading from her eyes as her skin goes loose and…

“COWABUNGA MOTHERFUCKERS!” Will yells. I look over and see him flying in on a Razor scooter, kicking the floor with all he has to gain speed. He’s wearing a Chewbacca mask and holding a shovel. He hops off the scooter and it clatters to the floor next to DeVito.

“Hey now, you’re a rock star,” DeVito observes.

“That’s right I am shit-weasel!,” Will shouts. He presses the side of his mask, which lets out an electronic Chewbacca roar, before he lays into DeVito with the shovel, striking him in the crotch.

DeVito doubles over, gasping for air. “A…all…t-that…gl-glitters…is….g-gold,” he sputters.

“ONLY SHOOTING STARS BREAK THE MOLD!” Will screams before bashing DeVito on the back of the head. He falls to the ground, writhing and sputtering.

Will presses the side of his mask, letting out another Chewbacca roar as he shouts, “Can you DIG it, sucka?!”

Shelly is nothing more than a ragged corpse now, skin hanging off her bones, eyes sunken in and nearly falling out of their sockets. The tentacles discard her, tossing her aside like garbage. Busey turns his attention to Will, tentacles whipping and lashing his way.

He’s going to kill him. I have to do something. I have to save my best friend.

Will is approaching, shovel wound up behind him like a baseball bat, when I strike. I fumble behind the counter for anything I can find. Anything to help my friend, and I throw the first thing I get my hands on.

It soars through the air and my aim is true.

The pack of menthol cigarettes connects with the side of Busey’s face. He winces, and one of the tentacles catches the pack before it hits the ground. The tentacles rip the pack apart and bury themselves into the cigarettes, sucking them dry just like they did Shelly.

Busey stumbles, going pale. He lets out a series of coughs and for a moment the tentacles go limp. He holds his head and tries to regain his composure.

The cigarettes. He must not have liked them.

“Ha,” Will shouts. “Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to smoke? Well, too bad for you because the only thing worse for you than cigarettes is a shovel….to….your…nads.” Will presses the button but the Chewbacca cry doesn’t come. He runs forward and swings the shovel, throwing his whole body into it. The head of the shovel connects with Busey’s crotch, letting out a loud thunk in the process.

Busey doesn’t crumple. He doesn’t even react to the shot. He still seems to be recovering from the menthols.

Fuck this. I can’t let Will go at it alone.

I grab a plastic bag and hop on top of the counter. Busey is hunched over slightly so I have my angle. I jump onto his back and pull the plastic bag over his face. The tentacles are forced downward and hang limply from his mouth as I yank the bag and suffocate him.

“Fuck yeah!” Will shouts as he brings the shovel back and busts Busey’s balls again.

Busey is getting a little more life in him. He’s wheezing as he stumbles about, each motion with more force. I feel the tremor of the tentacles as they shake and come back to life. I don’t think I’m going to be able to hold him.

Thunk! Will slams Busey in the dick again.

“Sterrrp….sterrrp crunching my balls,” Busey coughs. Just then he’s back, snapping up like a rodeo bull. I’m nearly thrown from his body. The tentacles spring to life and cut through the plastic bag, leaving it as shreds in my hands. They launch forward and seize the shovel, yanking it from Will. They waive it above Busey’s head like a spoil of war, and I wonder if they’re about to bash me with it.

“Playground tactics!” I cry, letting go of Busey and falling to the ground. I crouch behind him, pressed right to his legs.

Will gets it.

He picks up the scooter with both hands and raises it above his head. Will whips it around in a circle, like it’s a flail, and the stand of the scooter picks up speed. The tentacles pull the shovel back like they’re going to swing it but Will is too fast. He charges forward and blasts Busey in the chest with the scooter, wheel hitting him dead center. Busey is hulking and powerful, the shot barely sends him back, but I’m right under his feet.

“Werrrt therrr ferrrrk?” Busey cries as he falls backwards over me. There’s a deafening crack and wet thud as he bashes his head off a nearby display shelf. I scramble to my feet and witness the result of our attack.

Busey is out of commission, at least for the time being. He’s laying in a heap, head tilted against the display shelf. There’s a puddle of black liquid congregating around his head, his eyes rolled up in the back of his head. The fall caused him to bite down on the tentacles. Some of them hang from his mouth like half slurped spaghetti, while others are severed in two. The bitten ones wiggle on the floor like fish out of water. After thrashing for a few moments, they straighten themselves out, and as if coordinated, slither towards me, a thick trail of black ooze left behind with each motion.

“I….like….girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch…” DeVito rasps. Will and I turn back to him and see him rising to his feet. Boils have overtaken every visible inch of his flesh, and through their thin membrane is something contained in them.

Something wiggling.

They look like worms, or a smaller version of the Busey tentacles. Either way, Will and I don’t want to find out.

“I’d take her if I had one wish,” DeVito grunts as he gets back to his feet. “But she’s been gone since that summer.” There’s a pause, and then his eyes shoot to us, resolute with as much purpose as they are malevolent hatred.

“Since that summer,” DeVito snarls.

“Fuck this, let’s go,” I shout and start running towards the exit.

“That song blows, bro!” Will says before pressing his Chewbacca mask, letting out another valiant electronic cry before he hops on the scooter and pedals his way behind me.

We scramble out of the store into the cool night, the chaos of songs and shouts left behind us and the calamity of sirens ahead a mere taste of the insanity yet to come.

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Writing tip

Don’t become too attached. You may need to slash those scenes you love most. Was that last bit for the reader or for you? It’s all a natural part of the process. Keep grinding.

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Suicide Jack Chapter 1

Chapter one of a completed novel that my agent wasn’t so enthusiastic about. I think it has some appeal though, what about you?

1

There’s classical music playing. This is Richard Landry’s first thought as his senses come back to him. Everything is dark, but his ears key in on the sound, which at first seems far away but then drifts closer.

Piano, he thinks. Someone is playing piano, and they’re damn good. He sees it in his mind, a pair of hands dancing over the keys, producing the notes in perfect rhythm. Richard almost feels himself swaying to the tune.

Then his cognition reboots.

Where am I?

He was going home, wasn’t he? He had put his keys in the door and opened it, stepped inside then…

Blackness.

And now, classical music.

His head aches, and he feels the pain pulsating from the crown of his skull. He tries to move and finds he can’t; his arms, legs, and body strapped down. He’s tied to a chair, or something similar.

What the hell? he thinks. He’d been too incoherent to understand the gravity of the situation before, but now the possibilities race to him.

Richard opens his eyes.

The beauty of the room before him is the first thing to catch his attention, a regal sort of elegance infused into the foyer. The floors are shiny, perhaps marble, and are a decorative royal pattern. There are two large antique mirrors on either side of the far wall, followed by a series of paintings, classical portraits and baroque market scenes. A crimson red Berber carpet directs his eyes to the staircase to his right, where it ascends the stairs and guides visitors to the second floor.

The music stops playing.

Richard looks towards the grand piano, where a figure is seated, wearing a sleek charcoal gray suit. The man stands up and speaks in a voice that is silky smooth, but void of emotion.

“Your hands are dirty, Richard.”

Richard looks down. He’s strapped to a heavy chair by a series of belts. He gazes at his hands.

They aren’t there.

Richard stares down in disbelief. Each of his arms now ends in a stump, stitched closed where his hands are supposed to be.

“Oh my god!” Richard screams.

“That was Rachmaninoff’s Number 2 in C Minor, in case you were wondering,” the man says. “Pardon me taking liberties with my interpretation, I must admit I rarely play pieces exactly as they are written.”

“Holy shit!” Richard screams. “Where are my hands? You took my hands!” He thrashes in his restraints.

“Relax, Richard,” the man assures, his voice even.  He reaches inside either side of his coat and pulls out two objects as he approaches. The man tosses the two items into Richard’s lap, and after a short bounce they settle into place.

Richard lets out a cry and bucks his hips upward, launching the hands from his body. They tumble to the floor with a thud. “Help! Someone help me!” he sobs, throwing his body as hard as he can in each direction.

“No, no, no,” the man says as he places a butterfly knife to Richard’s throat. “If you cannot behave yourself, we’ll have to make this encounter short.”

Richard stifles his cry, his body going rigid. The man looms over him and for the first time Richard looks at his face.

His eyes, Richard thinks. They are blue, icy blue, but so faded in color it is as if they don’t exist at all. They are pale, faraway, detached, yet in the moment, so intently focused on him.

“Wh-what do you want?” Richard croaks. “Please, let me go. I won’t tell anyone about this.”

The man laughs. It has the vocal quality of a laugh but lacks the human element. “Detective Landry, this was about you and your dirty hands,” the man explains. “Taking bribes to misplace evidence? Selling drugs that had been confiscated to make your own side profit? Rather audacious of someone who is supposed to protect and serve the public.”

“I’ll stop!” Richard gasps. “That’s all it is? I’ll stop. I’ll give you the profits. I’ll give you any amount of money you want!”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the man says, shaking his head. The blade digs into Richard’s flesh just slightly. “This isn’t about money, Detective Landry, this is about principle! What gave you the right to act in such a manner, to be above the laws you enforce on others? Do you think your job gives you that sort of power?”

“What?” Richard asks. “No, I just…I just needed more money.”

“Needed?” the man asks, grinding the blade into Richard’s skin. A trickle of blood zig-zags its way down his neck.

“Wanted!” Richard gasps. “I wanted it. And now you can take it from me. All of it!”  

The man is shaking his head again. “You acted as if there would be no repercussions. As if you had an inherent right to do as you did. I’m not here to make you change your ways, detective, and I’m not here for a cut of your money.”

“Wh-what are you here for?” Richard asks.

The man smiles and it’s the most horrifying thing Richard has ever seen. “Call me an agent of truth,” the man explains. “I’m here to show you that there’s really only one type of power in the world.”

“What do you…” Richard began before letting out a wet choke.

The man drags the blade across Richard’s throat, slitting it. Richard’s head falls forward and the world begins turning dark again. He spits up blood and shakes violently, and just before the world fades away, he processes one last thing.

The man has started playing the piano again.

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Imitates Art Chapters 3 and 4

Chapters 3 and 4 of the latest work in progress. Refer to the last post for the beginning. Let me know what you think!

                                                                              3

The words jar me from my own homicidal fantasy. The class looks to me with a sort of bored impatience, part of their minds wanting to have the basic questions answered but another part wanting to leave and get to whatever social event they have planned. I shoot a look to Gary, who, after my hand slam upon his desk is at his fullest attention, before walking to my desk and seizing the stack of syllabi. I pass one to the gentleman in the front row and they circulate around the class.

Losing one’s self in fantasies can be an effective way for an author to immerse himself in his craft. By imagining what I could do to Gary and the hysterical fallout that would follow, I become closer to my character, Thomas. By experiencing such a vivid fantasy, I can aptly describe such a scene in my book, shocking the readers and drawing them in further as they question what such an unstable character may do next.

Despite this course being pure research on my end, I’ve put effort in to make Writing for Commercial Publication a worthwhile seminar. I will cover the how to’s of the writing industry, including submissions to literary magazines, the ins and outs of writer’s groups, landing an agent for literary representation, etcetera, before getting to the actual process of writing. The students will be working on various short story assignments with peer editors, however the bulk of the course’s grade will come from a single capstone project, a fifty page sample of a novel or story they will be writing.

A few students linger as I dismiss the class early, though most of them gather up their supplies and hurry out. Two of the lingerers ask more questions about the syllabus and I put on a friendly face and answer them. Once they’re gone, there’s one student left in the classroom, studying me up and down, the smallest of smiles creasing her face.

It’s Melody Brooks.

“Should I call you Professor White or Dorian?” she asks. “I figure a famous author like yourself has an affinity for his namesake.”

“Let’s go with professor, and keep it formal for now,” I say.

Her face crinkles up in a smile. She’s of average height, thin but with subtle curves. Her face is soft in an angelic sort of way, with eyes matching the color and depth of her mahogany hair.

“I took this class because I saw you were teaching it,” Melody says. “I have to admit, you’re my favorite author, and by a long shot.”

“Why thank you,” I say. “That means alot to me, I try to really impact my audience.”

I stare at this beautiful young fan and wonder if my character would have an attraction to her. To her taut body and lovely features, her witty personality and fine taste in literature. Thomas would be cantankerous certainly, but he’d present well, being charming and alluring enough to catch a young woman’s eye.  He’d let her in, let her close, but then when she saw too much…

Well, you get the idea.

“You certainly make an impact,” Melody says. “In Step Ahead, I was floored by the twist! The fact that Detective Brannigan was so obsessed with finding the killer, that his entire career was staked on it, and it turned out to be him all along. It dazzled me that you were able to present such a disturbed character with a split personality so effectively.”

“It was really meant to show the duality of our nature. That we can be so driven to be one person while simultaneously hiding from who we really are, even though the evidence was there all along.”

Melody tilts her head. “That’s exactly what I took away from it. The duality of our nature, the traumas we’ve suffered through refusing to be buried away, coming out in such stark ways. I think anyone who has a bit of darkness in them can relate.”

“You’re far too kind,” I say. “My critics certainly don’t agree with you. It’s nice to hear what I do is resonating with some people.”

“Pardon my language but your critics are talking out of their asses,” Melody says. “When I saw that you were teaching a course my heart fluttered. You’re definitely my favorite author. Wow, I bet I sound like a giddy school girl.”

“That’s just being human,” I say, patting her shoulder. “We all have people we’re fans of, myself included. And who knows, maybe after this, I’ll be a fan of your writing.”

Melody blushes and shakes her head. “I’m more of a reader than a writer,” she confesses. “I have some interesting ideas, especially inspired from what I read, but while it all looks good on my head it just…”

“Doesn’t come out,” I finish.

“Exactly. I love what I think but hate what comes out.”

I explain to Melody that many talented authors hate what comes out in their first draft. The ideas may be there but the execution is lacking. The difference between good and great writers is the time they put into their craft. Like exercise, routine and repetition is key, and the more one writes and edits, the better the future results are.

King said the first million words are just practice, after all.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Melody says. “And I’ll keep practicing, though I have to admit,” she looks down, “I’m a little nervous to have you see my work. Having your idol review what you come up with? Daunting to say the least.”

Little things like Melody looking away, blushing, deflecting a compliment, they all say something about her without actually explicitly saying anything. Sometimes, the most subtle movement, gesture, or observation can illuminate a character more than their direct thoughts and feelings can.

This is called showing instead of telling.

“Don’t be worried,” I say. “This is about growth, about improvement, and every student in here will have room to do that. Why don’t you drop by my office during office hours tomorrow and we’ll talk about your ideas for the course? Stories, goals, ambitions, and then see how we can help you out.”

“Yes!” Melody says. “That would be wonderful, thank you so much!”

“Just trying to embrace my role as a professor,” I say. “Plus, I have plenty of time for such a wonderful fan.”

Melody beams. “Sounds great, I’m looking forward to it, and this course.”

We walk towards the door together and I speak lightly.

“Oh, so am I, Melody, so am I.”

 

4

I sit in my office and stare out the window, a light mist drizzling down from a milky gray sky, pattering my window with dots of rain. It’s a breezy fall afternoon, thick layers of clouds blanketing downtown Drayton in a scene many would describe as dreary but one that I find serene. The view is limited, encompassing only the sides of a few buildings, but is pleasant enough, with a view of the street below, abound with students hurriedly crossing en route to their next destination.

My office is small, boxy, but with enough room for a bookcase stocked with some classics, the works of Dostoyevsky and Poe mingling with more contemporaries such as Palahniuk, Vonnegut, and King. Besides that it is relatively bare, a small plant on my desk and my diploma hung up on the wall, giving the office some semblance of authenticity.

I think about Melody Brooks and find it convenient that she wandered into my life on the first day of class. I jot down notes of how she can fit into my story, potential roles for her to fill during my time at the university. From protege to lover, the options seem ripe with possibility, all worthwhile research to be incorporated into my masterpiece.

Notes and outlines are important to some writers in order to provide a framework, a sense of organization for the entire novel. By laying out plot lines and character development, the author can layer what happens and present the story in an intriguing, intentional manner. By listing Melody’s character traits (attractive, creative, bright, fan of dark novels) I can realistically portray her, creating a believable character progression, especially if/when her weaknesses (naivete, amourous) are exploited, pulling her into a nightmarish situation right out of her favorite books.

It’s almost too good to be true.

I’m laying out how she may be roped into all this, scrawling notes in every direction, when I’m interrupted by the sound of my office door opening and someone stepping inside.

I look up as the interloper closes the door behind him. He stands with a firm yet amused look on his face, blue eyes dancing with a condescending sort of mischief behind his wire-frame glasses. His salt-and pepper mustache is thick, matching in color with his hair, and proudly stands above his lips as bold statement against all things fashionable and attractive.

“Dr. John Halstrom, what a pleasant surprise,” I say.

“Dorian White, I must say, I never expected to see you back here,” Halstrom says with an irritating grin.

“All thanks to your tutelage,” I shoot back. His expression barely creases.

“I always thought it would be Sam Hamilton who’d hit it big in writing,” Halstrom says. “You remember how vivid and detailed his short stories were, and he was a hit with the campus literary magazine. He’s just an editor of a small online magazine now, but look at you. Just goes to show how fickle the public is. Never can quite tell what suits their tastes.”

Apparently good ol’ John hasn’t changed a bit since he was my professor for three courses during my time at the university. As crass as he is dim-witted, John Halstrom is the type who believes his Ph.D in literature means he has the utmost authority in declaring what writing is good and which is trash. He held that air of superiority throughout my time as his student, putting down my work at every possible turn. He ridiculed my dark voice as being edgy for edgy’s sake. He said my work lacked substance and authenticity, that my style was too minimal, my writing was mostly choppy, and he called my tendency to throw in single line paragraphs gimmicky, attention-grabbing at best.

The audacity.

“I’ve been fortunate,” I say. “Readers were eager for a new dark voice, one that spoke to what lurks in the inner recesses of their minds. It’s going well, I almost can’t believe how far I’ve come since I was a clueless kid sitting in your class. How have you been? Has your writing worked out at all?”

Halstrom’s face scrunches up in a way that makes him look like he’s trying to eat his own mustache. His voice is gruff yet wet, like someone recovering from a long standing cold. “Oh, it’s going well enough. A few pieces published here and there, you know, I’ve built quite a name for myself with my short stories, particularly those in the fantasy genre. Even a few award nominations. The public, as you know, isn’t always ready for true work, actual artistry, and often accepts whatever recycled trash the big publishers throw at them.”

Halstrom is bitter because he’s never been able to break into the big time, despite his repeated attempts at publishing novels through the Big Five publishers. He’s published two through small indie presses, but both were panned by readers, hosting pitiful reviews on Amazon. The man writes like an academic, as if there’s a defined system and structure to a good novel.

He leaves out the soul.

“Glad to hear you’re finding your own sort of success, professor,” I say. “The writing world is truly a struggle. Do you have an agent? I could help you out with that, put in a good word.”

Color rises in Halstrom’s face. “Oh, no need. I haven’t tried in a while but I’m sure once I finish my next project I’ll have a few interested.”

In order to land a novel with mainstream publishers an author needs to acquire a literary agent. Major publishers will not review a manuscript that does not have representation. By sending out a query letter (usually two-hundred and fifty words summarizing the novel and your literary accomplishments) an author earns the right to wait anywhere from one day to one year for a response, at which point the agent will review a sample of the work or the full book itself. After another few months to a year, the agent may offer representation. Then, once submitted, if the book is accepted by an editor, it can be another one to three years before it is released to the public.

Halstrom hasn’t landed an agent.

99% of those who try don’t.

“I’m sure you’ll find your success,” I lie. “How are you holding things together at the university? I imagine the English program is top-notch, as always.”

“We have standards here,” Halstrom says. “Which is why I’m surprised they were so eager to bring a B student on board. I recommended to the chair that we didn’t hire you. I figured you were only in it for yourself.”

I laugh and shake my head. “Are you holding grudges, John? Because I told you off a few times back when I was a student? Because I followed my dreams? I understand your hesitancy to bring me aboard, especially with the content of what I write, but you can’t decry my qualifications.”

Halstrom laughs, a nasally tone carried by condescension. “Your writing is inauthentic. There’s no meat to it, just whatever gross, heinous thing your mind can create on a whim. It doesn’t feel real, it doesn’t feel deep, yet with your shocking subject matter and freshman level philosophy you’ve ensnared the attention of the nation.”

I walk over to Halstrom offering my hand. When he looks at it I kick his leg out from under him and he falls forward, bashing his head off the corner of my desk. The wet thunk that emanates sends thrilling sensations throughout my body. I grab him by the shirt collar and scruff of the neck, and as he lets out cry I drive his head into desk again. Blood oozes from his gash onto the desk, dripping down to the floor. Halstrom’s cry is shallow as I pull him back and slam his head into the corner again. The sound is wet and thick, like a pumpkin slammed to pavement.

This is called a simile.

I bash his head again.

Then again.

As the splats rise in volume his cries diminish. Soon all I hear is wet thumping with the occasional crack splintered in. Fluid drips from his head down onto my hand, coating it in a sticky mess. His head goes concave and rubbery bits of brain leak out of his skull and onto the floor.

I bash his head again.

Then again.

This is called repetition.

I drop his limp form to the floor. He collapses in a heap, and I feel a sense of vindication. The lowly maggot who had criticized me has been put in his place. He found out just where he belonged before I asserted my power over him.

Yes, this is exactly what a psychopath would think.

I make note to add this type of scene to my book.

“I’ll take that as a challenge, John,” I say, breaking from the daydream. “I will rise to the occasion and show my students can take away something meaningful from this.”  

Halstrom chortles. “Now you’re really writing fiction. But if you need to know how these sort of things are done, let me know. Assignments, grading rubrics, guest speakers, I know the ropes and I can help make sure the course is done professionally.”

I smile. “Actually, that sounds great. I’ll make a list of things I need shortly. I appreciate the help.”

Halstrom’s eyes are narrow slits in his bowling ball head. “Of course. I’ll be around, keeping an eye on you if need something.”

“Thanks John. If you’re free we should catch up more, get coffee sometime.”

Halstrom nods before turning to take his leave. “Yeah, possibly,” he mumbles as he shuffles towards the door.

“Bye,” I say, and he closes the door behind him.

The fantasy has inspired me to write Halstrom as a character. In a transgressive novel, where the main character is an anti-hero, an antagonist can be used to help the reader sympathize with the main character. This type of person is rude, dismissive, and overly assuming with few or no redeemable traits.

I spend another twenty minutes finishing my notes about him and Melody. Both will add great layers of depth to my story and I’m satisfied with the progress. I’m really beginning to flesh things out, and when I grab my materials to leave for the day, a smile adorns my face.

As I’m exiting St. Thomas Hall, I feel a strange sensation wash over me. Call it Deja Vu, but a preliminary sense, like I’m already experiencing the impending storm. I know something is going to happen, something big, yet I am already going through it. I’m going somewhere, and it’s dark and wild, unexplored and uninhabited. I shake the feeling off as I exit, but make a note not to forget the strange sensation.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, after all.

 

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Imitates Art first Two Chapters

Beginning of a new project perhaps to be shopped by my agent soon. Thoughts? Suggestions? Good jokes?

                                                                            1

By the end of this story I will either be dead or imprisoned for the rest of my natural life.

And I’ll deserve it, too.

There will be no injustice, simply consequences for the atrocities I have committed. Things that are heinous. Things that are vile.

Unspeakable, even.  

Some claim that all writing is autobiographical. That, to a degree, everything the author writes comes from experience, whether it be a character, place, story, or observation. This book is autobiographical in that sense.

But also another.

We think of autobiographies as creative works spawned from a lived life, but what if the inverse is also be true? Perhaps sometimes, it is the art that creates the artist.  

Art is what makes us human, after all. Without our imagination, our ability to create alternate realities, we’re just the same as any other animal. Miring in simplicity, there would only be the mundane, with existential suffering the sole respite.

Art is what sets us free.

It keeps us entertained. Inspired. Fulfilled. It provides us purpose and individuality. Identity. It even allows artists to live beyond their physical years.

Everyone wants that taste of immortality.

Even if it’s a knock-off brand.

I may die for my expression. Others already have. Their bodies have been butchered, mutilated; the savagery an intricate detail of a beautiful process. In death they have become a part of something so much more magnificent. Once this production is completed, regardless of the consequences, it will all be worth it. Every horrific thing I’ve done will be absolutely worth it.

There is no art without sacrifice, after all.

 

                                                                              2

She’s looking at me amorously, lashes fluttering as she bats her eyelids up and down in an intentionally slow motion. Her eyes are locked onto me, honed in on every movement, waiting for every word, but she looks dazed, in a dream-like state.

It’s the type of look you’re flattered to receive but ashamed to enjoy.

I stand in front of the class and wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Tall and skinny, my suit billows around me, wafting with every motion, somehow the correct size and baggy at the same time. My tie is too tight, so much so that it feels like I’m choking, and my glasses just won’t seem to stay on straight.

What am I doing here?

Sure, I had signed on to adjunct this course. Yes, it was research for the next novel, and of course I had a lesson plan for the class…

But I’m no professor.

Even as Melody Brooks, the curvy brunette Junior stares at me, plugging me into her hot for teacher fantasy, I do not fit the role of professor. I did not go through a rigorous Ph.D program; I’ve never taught a course in my life.

I’m just a writer.

A New York Times Bestseller of transgressive fiction, gory and grotesque works at that, but a writer of books all the same. If you tear away the titles, labels, the fanfare, we’re all just human deep down.

Well, most of us.

I walk back and forth in front of the classroom, surveying the bored and distant faces of my students. I am surprised to see that they look incredibly young. I’m barely in my thirties but this crowd looks wide-eyed and babyfaced. I’m supposed to feel out of place, intimidated even, but the sight before me eases my woes.  

“Write what you know” is a principle nugget of wisdom used by many writers. Fiction is more engaging and authentic when it’s been seasoned by real thoughts and experiences. My latest novel is about a college professor, Thomas Murrow, a stuffy pompous type from a privileged background. He’s been a refined egghead all of his life, and currently is residing in his ivory tower, but soon something else rises to the surface.

Something savage.

My last two books, while commercially successful, have been panned by critics as hollow, inaccessible, inauthentic, and too sparse. They say the books lack a “genuine voice.” Thus, I contacted my alma mater, the University of Drayton. I offered to adjunct a course, one per semester, nothing intensive, just a way to dip my feet in and experience the life of a professor.

I write a phrase on the whiteboard, a light thumping noise echoing throughout the room as I construct the letters, underlining the phrase when I am finished. There are fifteen students in my class, and I will attempt to learn the names of a handful, the types that distinguish themselves as memorable.

If life was a book, would you be a named character?

Would you be mentioned at all?

“The first line of a novel is the most important,” I read the words in a cliffhanger tone. I survey the sea of faces in the classroom, each staring to me in one of two ways. A few are interested, leaning forward, lips pursed together and brows furrowed. A majority of the students choose the second option, vaguely glancing my way with glazed, glossed over eyes; attention as a mere formality.

I pace back and forth. I stare at the faces with an air of challenge to my expression.

The first line is the most important in a novel because it’s the baited hook. It’s what captures the reader or lets them slip away. People won’t read stories that don’t interest them, that don’t speak to them right away, so it’s imperative to begin the book with an intriguing message or description.

The students stare at me. One lets out a yawn.

While the hook is very important, it is nothing without some line to keep reeling the reader in. If the hook is followed by fluff, unnecessary description and needlessly long words, it’s practically literary masturbation.

Is that writing done for the audience or the author?

A student snickers at the word masturbation used in an academic setting. The metaphor catches the attention of a few of them, whose eyes shoot open in surprise.

A student raises her hand. She’s a blond and reveals her name to be Leah. She asks me, in a soft and timid tone, if any writer can truly create art. If the practice is not purely subjective.

Postmodernism at its finest.

I tell her that art is certainly subjective, as everything is, but within subjectivity is a form of consensus, a type of hive mind if you will, where certain techniques and works strike a chord with an array of hearts, truly touching humanity. In this way, the artist has engrained themselves within the viewer in a meaningful way, changing their perspective or outlook, in their own sense, becoming part of the viewer.

A good book never leaves us, after all.

The girl appears unconvinced but nods, biting her lip and not following up her question. It’s a topic we will get to in time, and I make a mental note of Leah’s name. She may prove herself worthy enough to end up in a book one day.

I scan the room and see that some students have offered me their attention, however, there are others who still slack. In particular, the scruffy kid in the second row, who taps away at his phone while barely bothering to hide it. His hair is oily and greasy, draping down in limp curls over his pudgy face. If I were pressed to describe him in one of my books, I’d call him doughy and forgettable.

I remove a pen from my shirt pocket and walk over to him, twirling it in my fingers. The smile on my face is warm, soft, and welcoming; the type of look one would reserve for an old friend. I slam my hand down upon his desk and he jumps.

He looks up at me, face lit with surprise, and opens his mouth to apologize, a harebrained excuse en route just as I cut him off.

By stabbing him in the throat with my pen.

This is called a tonal shift.

I drive the fountain pen (solid metal and with the finest of ink, no expense spared) into the zit-pocked nape of his neck. He lets out a stunted cry, the sound of violin strings snapping, as I sever his jugular. The screams of his classmates rise around me in a chorus.

I seize hold of his shoulder, fingers digging into his shirt, and rip the pen from his neck. A rush of blood sprays out, a line of it shooting across the aisle and dousing another student. She cries out and falls from her desk to the floor, wiping her face like a maniac.

The student (Gary, I believe his name is) lets out a wet choke and slaps my arms away. He falls from his seat to the floor but I’m upon him, standing over him as I drive the pen down, piercing his throat again. I grab hold of him, continually stabbing him with the pen, the side of his face and neck turning into a punctured jelly doughnut.

I stare down at the frantic, dying man, and think about how this is an excellent teaching moment for my class.

A central challenge of writing transgressive fiction is balancing the descriptions of violence and gore to the point where they are effective yet not too gratuitous as to push the reader away. For example, I could describe how, through the mutilated mess of Gary’s neck muscles, I can see his ravaged artery flapping as blood squirts out of it. While this detail would be powerful to describe the pure intensity of the scene and truly convey the utter savagery of my action, it would be ill-advised since it borders on the grotesque, a move that would simply be gore for gore’s sake.

Gary flops around like a fish out of water, splashing in the blood pooled around him, leaving streaky hand and shoe prints on the floor. His face is a torn and ragged palate. I take a moment to appreciate just how much damage I’ve done with a simple writing instrument.

The pen is mightier than the sword, after all.

The students are shrieking. Gary’s breaths are shallow. He looks to me, his eyes glazed and listless, a bubble of blood caught on his lips. His complexion is pallor, his ghostly white skin staunchly juxtaposed by the dark puddle growing around him. I stand over him, leaning down for our final exchange.

“Use of technology for social media purposes in class is expressly forbidden,” I say.

Gary stares at me.

I drive the pen into his eye and erase Gary from existence. His body jolts before going rigid. A final wheeze of air slips out from his lips before he exits the world.  

I stare down at my body. My hands and suit are stained with blood, My hair is wild with gore. I must look like some kind of psychopath.

I clear my throat, regain my composure, and turn to face the rest of the class.

“Now it’s time to cover the syllabus,” I announce.

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Murderers Anonymous Chapter 4

Chapter 4 of my novel, previously submitted to Big 5 publishers by my agent. Refer to previous posts for earlier chapters. Strong graphic content advisory.

                                                                    4

“Hey, hey, you there?” Dave asks, waving his hand in front of my face.

“Still waking up,” I respond, snapping back to reality.

It is believed that 70% of all Americans have had at least one homicidal fantasy. Homicidal Ideation, or habitual contemplation of homicide, is estimated to be incredibly prevalent amongst the general population, with only a small percent of those who experience it actually committing the acts.  

You’re not alone.  

“You better wake up, because we have a long productive day ahead of us. Charlene said she’s giving a special bonus to whoever sets the most appointments.” Dave rubs his hands together.  

Charlene is the office manager. She’s in her late forties, and her too skinny frame combined with her long, wild blonde hair gives her the appearance of a human mop.

Dave wants to fuck her.

There’s no way around it; Dave Ulster wants to get four inches deep into that woman. Maybe it’s so he can continue to win her favor in the office, securing more perks, bonuses, and accolades, but part of me always felt that Desperate Dave would fuck a garbage bag of mashed potatoes if someone poked a hole in it.

Charlene is a chain smoker with three delinquent teenage boys, fathered by two different men. She has reminded the entire office on numerous occasions that her third child, Andy, was so big that when he came out he “tore her from slit to asshole.”

Sexy, Adjective 

 

  • Sexually attractive or exciting.

 

Antonyms: Distasteful, Unattractive, Disgusting, Unsexy

 

Dave goes on talking about something, and as usual I cruise right by him, walking into the break room. My goal is the refrigerator; I need a Diet Coke, but standing between me and my elixir is someone I don’t wish to see.

I knew a kid in middle school; let’s call him Gary, who was terrified of attractive women. I don’t mean he got red in the face and started shaking, no, that would be a breeze for him.

He pissed himself around girls.

If a girl Gary found even remotely attractive walked by he’d start biting his lip, twitching, and then the release came. He knew the cause was lost and he was horrified at what was happening, but then there was a change. His face would soften as the urine flowed down his leg. It was over. Despite the fact he dreaded it, now it was done. He could move on with his life.

I remember Gary because of my own issues with pissing the bed. I remember the attention that came his way whenever the dark stain on his crotch became too big to notice.

I remember envying him.  

Through extensive counseling Gary began to master his bladder. By high school the accidents were few and far between, and it looked like Gary was finally taking control of his life.

Then he got hit by a bus.  

It was ironic; as soon as he learned how to control his urination he lost the need to. The last I heard Gary was paralyzed from the waist down with a nice little catheter and piss bag combo to manually handle all of his pissing needs.  

I think of Gary and the odor of his piss-laden jeans as I stare at Christa.

There are vast differences between fucking, having sex, and making love. I’ll leave it up to you and your life experiences to determine which you prefer most.

Me, well I like to fuck.

Christa stares at me with a pathetic desperation, like a disregarded puppy eager for attention.

Or looking to get fucked raw.

Christa is boring, fat, and unattractive. I had never paid any mind to her and for whatever reason this made her infatuated with me. Maybe I was the mysterious guy around the office, the edgy rebel who did his own thing.

Or maybe she’s fucked in the head.

In any case, she asked me out for a cup of coffee once in the break room. She looked to me hopefully, as if I’d sweep her off her feet with a debonair response and a romantic kiss on the lips.

I told her if she plopped her fat ass up on the table I’d finger-fuck her right then and there.

Thus I found myself knuckle deep in a moaning cow. I slammed my three fingers into her, practically punching her cunt as I rammed her over and over again. I wanted to hurt her but the harder I tried the more she cried out in pleasure. Her loins gushed as I fucked her, the ooze trailing down my forearm and coagulating on the table below, leaving a thick glob of fluid behind which Barry, the unfortunate new guy, later ended up mistaking for creamy Alfredo sauce.

I said nothing after I pulled my hand out of her, wiping the gunk on my pants. We both regained our composure and got back to work, no one any the wiser to what had happened. Since then we had a few trysts in the bathroom, where I literally would try to make her vomit by thrusting my dick into the back of her throat as hard as I could. Whenever I finished I tried to spray her in the eyes.

She took every bit of abuse, and kept coming back for more. Freud would say she had daddy issues.

Or maybe not. I don’t fucking know. Google him.

We still had never had a conversation and I intended to keep it that way. I don’t acknowledge her existence and step around her to get to the refrigerator.

I open the door and retrieve my Coke. As soon as I close the door she presses against me from behind, wrapping both arms around me as she reaches down to grab at my crotch.

“Do you want to fuck me?” she asks huskily. “You can put it in my ass. It belongs to you.” She stresses the last words, as if ownership of her rancid black cherry was in the least bit appealing.

I push her away with a nudge of my elbow. I say nothing, avoiding eye contact as I stroll past her into the main room. Any woman who finds me attractive is the furthest thing from a keeper and needs serious psychological evaluation.

Don’t we all?

“Bet ya I’ll get at least five more than you today!” Dave says as he rushes to his station. I sigh and reach around to my back pocket, feeling for my Beretta.

Disappointment washes over me as I remember I never had one.

 

5

I’m going to fuck your grandmother. I’m going to fuck her until she breaks in half.”

“My grandmother is dead, sir.”

“I’ll dig her up, shit in her skull, and fuck the eyehole then. You call me again faggot and you’ll see.”

Click, he hangs up.

Ring, ring, the other call begins to go through.

“Hello?” an unfamiliar voice says.

“Jonathan Marcus, please,” I say.

“Just a moment please,” the female voice says.

“Jonathan speaking.”

“Hello Mr. Marcus,” I begin. “I’m with Royal Payments. I’m calling in regard to the merchant account.”

“Merchant account?”

“Yes, the merchant account. You accept credit and debit cards as a form of payment at your business, correct?”

“Yeah, are you with my bank?”

“No sir,” I say quickly. “I’m calling to inform you that as of April there are new federal policies in place qualifying your business for industry low processing fees. The unfortunate thing is your current processor is not required by law to inform you of what you qualify for.”

“I’m not interested,” Jonathan says.

“Of course you’re not, I haven’t told you anything to be interested in!” I say this approximately two hundred times a day. “We have representatives in your area ready to drop in and show you the benefits of switching to Royal Payments and break down just how much money you will save. And if you still aren’t interested, we’ll give you a five hundred dollar Visa gift card just for your time. Fair enough?”

“I said I’m not interested. Have a good day.”

“Sir, if you would just…”

“Take a fucking hint you cocksucker. Never call again.” He slams the phone down.

Ring, ring, the next call begins to go through.

Rinse and repeat.

An “appointment setter” at Royal Payments will handle anywhere from seven to nine hundred calls in their eight hour day. This depends on a multitude of factors, including but not limited to, how many people hang up the phone without saying a word, how quickly the automated system deals out numbers, and the success rate of the appointment setter. A strong day would see five of eight hundred calls ending in success, where a normal day can range from zero to three.

Appointment setters are paid a rate of eleven dollars per hour with various commission-based incentives thrown on top of their salary. While these commissions are generous, for the most part they are unobtainable due to the fact that people do not wish to speak to telemarketers.

If an appointment setter is successful, they ring a bell at their station, raise their hand, and wait for a “closer” to come and finalize the appointment. Then they revel in the joy of victory, putting a mark up on the board, before getting back to the grind. Every day begins with a cheer and chant to revitalize spirits, and every day ends with competitive jiving and promises to perform better the next day.

They call one man Paulie Payments because of his uncanny ability to set appointments. With commissions he nearly makes forty thousand dollars a year, making him a hero in the office.  He uses his vast array of wealth to seduce recent high school dropouts; he’s gotten two pregnant. He’s marrying the latest one. He’s forty-three, she’s nineteen.

God Bless America.

I do not buy into the revelry. I speak like an automated machine. I recite the same lines time and time again. I navigate through the most wretched filth of human emotions, taking on the brunt of people’s strife and hatred for hours on end.

Rinse and repeat.

I do not think. I work.

Is there a difference?

We purchase the numbers from companies that compile lists. Sometimes the data is bad. On one occasion I called asking for a Mr. Frank Orden, only to hear from his distressed widow that he had passed seven years earlier. She began sobbing on the phone, attempting to give me his life story.  Another time I called the number for a doctor’s office; I was connected to a sex shop.

Both times I read the script as usual.

During our lunch break, I hear a group of the guys talking politics, expressing their dismay with the president and asserting they know the direction the nation needs to take. They do this despite the fact that two barely graduated high school and the third was a community college dropout.

The Dunning- Kruger effect is a common phenomenon in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, causing them to mistakenly rate their ability/intelligence much higher than is accurate. This is attributed to the inability of these people to recognize their ineptitude. As a result of this, actual competence, as exhibited by professionals with a wealth of knowledge or experience, is often perceived as threatening and is met with hostility.

I walk into the break room to grab another diet Coke when I see her. She turns around from the refrigerator and my heart nearly stops.

It’s the new girl.

It’s Kelly.

I can’t breathe. I want to run but my legs become a mix of cement and Jello; too heavy to move yet too weak to support me. My hands start shaking and my vision blurs.

She raises her eyebrow, giving me a curious look as she observes the sweat pouring down my face. My breathing is heavy and my motions spastic, but I am able to force my legs to move, stumbling as I turn and hurry out of the room.

I let loose a choking cough as I head towards the bathroom. I push my way past Michael and into the nearest stall, falling to my knees and spraying the contents of my stomach into the porcelain below. There’s barely any food in there but more vomit comes, a hot mix of digested meat and bile coating the seat of the toilet.  

She wasn’t Kelly, but she was damn close enough. The silky chestnut colored hair, the deep, shimmering brown eyes, the soft skin and supple lips.

She could be her sister.

I have to strangle her.  

I ignore the vomit, placing my hands on the toilet seat and pushing up to rise, my legs threatening to buckle the entire time. I finally get to my feet and wipe the drool from my lips, letting it seep into the sleeve of my shirt.

I walk out of the bathroom and head directly to the exit. Charlene stands between it and me. Her mascara is running, and the wrinkles of her face are more prominent than usual as she scowls my way.

“Where are you going?” she demands.  

“I’m ill. I’m going home,” I say in a faraway voice.

“What’s the matter?” She changes her tone to appear concerned.

“Stomach…threw up…” I mumble some more words. Normally Charlene was a hard-ass in regards to letting people leave early, but my appearance seems to convince her and she steps out of the way.

“Shit, you’re a mess. Get home and rest up then.”

I say thanks and keep going, making sure not to look back.

If I saw that girl again I just might lose it.

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Terminal Chapter 4

Chapter 4 of my transgressive novel soon to be submitted to big 5 publishers. Check earlier posts for previous chapters. Strong graphic content and language throughout.

                                                                                         4

I don’t just kill random patients.

I thought we should get this out of the way.

It’s not like I’m some homicidal maniac patrolling the floor, looking for the next opportunity to strike. I only kill patients that are knocking on death’s door. Those who have lost a reverence for life, any semblance of appreciation and respect for it. I wake them up to the cold, cruel nature of existence, where everything can be taken from them in less than a moment, and for no real reason at all.

The answer to the first riddle is death.

If you need to flip back to earlier in the novel, I understand.

I cannot kill patients during the day shift; there is too much going on and too high a likelihood of being noticed. I must pick my moments wisely and operate under the cover of night, when very little is happening on the floor. I have to be very specific with who I kill as well, since the death of a relatively healthy patient would warrant an investigation.

It’s been three days since I took care of 406, though keeping track of time and what is real has been proving difficult. There’s a new 406, shipped in and dropped off like a package from FedEx. She’s a middle aged woman with liver trouble. Her health and amiable mood mean she’s not a candidate for enlightenment and thus will dodge the proverbial bullet.

Or pillow, I should say.

During the day shift, my day progresses in rounds. We start by feeding the patients. Food service delivers the food based upon dietary needs and general preferences. Some patients have the wherewithal and physical capabilities to feed themselves, however, many do not, and this is where I come in.

408 leans forward, trying to catch the latest spoonful in her mouth. Just as I complete the meal, 408, one of the patients who seems to like attention, let’s out a tremendous belch. This is followed by her pitching forward and vomiting, the chunks of sausage and egg I fed her still largely intact amongst the muck.

Now I have to change and bathe her.

408 is an elderly woman. I carefully remove her clothes (like her prom suitor seven decades earlier) and begin scrubbing with a soapy hand towel. I use a water basin to wet and rinse the cloth. 408’s breasts are narrow, like a pair of isosceles triangles, nipples pointing down as the tips. Varicose veins run down the sides, bright blue and standing out staunchly from behind her wrinkled, ghostly white skin. Everything on her is saggy and loose despite how skinny she is, and each bit of skin I scrub moves with my motion, clinging to the towel like drying silly-putty.

Life’s filled with unnecessary details.

You may want to skip the next paragraph.

The worst part of all is her vagina, which is literally falling out of itself, unwinding with flaps and folds spilling out of her entrance. There’s still hair abound, something we don’t like to think about when picturing the elderly. I ask her if she’s able to clean that region herself, as is protocol, and of course she responds that she is too weak. I dip the towel in the water and get the work, lightly dabbing and swabbing, practically giving this old bird a hand job.

On one occasion, a perfectly able woman requested I wash her, and asked that I spend a longer time on her genital region. To my surprise, she grinded up against my hand, let out a few moans, and proceeded to orgasm.

I didn’t know whether to be flattered or mortified.

I later learned that she was a nymphomaniac and had pulled the same stunt with other aides, including the females. I’ve also dealt with multiple men getting erections, much to their shame, as they claimed to be heterosexual. They couldn’t look at me for the rest of the duration of their stay.

We all have something we’re hiding from the world.

I move on from 408 and return to my rounds.

After feeding comes bathing. Most patients simply need help to the showers. For those who cannot walk, as aforementioned, they are bathed. The worst of these are the obese patients, whose flaps and folds must be lifted and scrubbed, with disastrous surprises lurking around every curve. Pens, change, and molding food are just some of the items I’d discovered while adventuring.

After this, the rounds consists of checking in on patients, asking if they need anything (which they always do) and responding to the pings of the call bell. I act as a personal attendant until lunch, when the feeding process repeats itself.  

Tick.

Tick.

It’s the only thing I really hear as I work. Everything else blends together, like static or background noise. I’m speaking, I’m acting, but I’m not really there. My routine is so ingrained I’m more like a robot than a person.

See: productive worker.

I just finish taking the vitals on 412 an ass-disaster strikes.

No, that’s not a clinical term.

These are also known as mudslides. They are rare but memorable, with a specific set of factors required to unleash the hell.

There are four patients who are on diuretics as part of their treatment. These four patients are also four who cannot get up and use the restroom on their own. After breakfast the chaos strikes, as all four patients, as if coordinating, shit themselves in an hour’s span.

Cleaning up shit is a paramount duty of mine. In fact, I’ve probably spent months of my life rummaging through people’s assholes. I’m so “good” at wiping patients that I am the go-to guy for training new hires on the proper technique.

At least I have one work accomplishment, I suppose.

I take my wealth of knowledge to ground zero. The first patient has a puddle to go along with the mudslide. This is when an obese patient, whose fat legs mash together, has a puddle of piss festering in their thighs like a small lake. Joey Dryden, the other aide on this floor, sometimes tries to amuse himself by sailing tiny paper boats in them.

We all have our hobbies.

I clean up the piss. The next part is the most challenging. The obese get so fat that their asshole is almost lost, squashed and hidden behind nearly immovable ass cheeks. I go searching and am “lucky” to find the brown geyser after pushing aside a few flaps of skin. I begin wiping up the thick sludge. The patient yawns, appearing bored, wanting me to hurry up and finish so she can get back to watching her Price is Right reruns. As I’m finishing up, she farts, a spray of crusty shit-chunks blasting out onto the blanket.

“Oof, that was a good one,” she says, distracted, before shouting out “eight hundred and fifty dollars!” as the price of the next item.

I give her the powder treatment and get onto the next room.

I spend most of the next hour wrist deep in shit.

We all gripe about our jobs, sure, but when you have to clean the rancid shit of the dying off your arms (and on unfortunate occasions, your face) becomes common routine, you have to look in the mirror and reconsider your life.

At least what’s left of it.

After the ass-disaster, the day progresses as usual. I walk by Joey and the other aide on duty, Cullen, who are puzzling over a piece of paper Joey found in the break room refrigerator. Joey reads the paper aloud:

“What am I, what am I?

I exist only in the past

Am made in the present

And am needed for the future

What am I, what am I?”

Joey says the riddle is “fucking stupid” before they go back to chattering about their favorite reality television show. Joey crumbles up the paper and tosses it to the floor.

There goes my legacy.

Lunch offers no challenges besides 403, a cantankerous middle aged man who insults me and the hospital every chance he gets.

“The food sucks, the care sucks, and you suck,” he says.

The guy is on point, but I’m in no mood to admit it.

“I am sorry the accommodations are not up to your standards, sir. Is there any way I can make things more comfortable for you?”

“Don’t mouth off with me,” he wheezes. The man is often in and out of consciousness. Lung cancer threatens to have him transferred to the ICU (that’s intensive care unit, we’ve yet to cover that one.) “Kid, you don’t know the life I’ve lived. Bitch of an ex-wife, bitch of a daughter, and now I gotta deal with you. Life sucks.”

“Then you die.”

“Oh hardy, har,” he spits. “Do your fucking job, get me a magazine to read or something. Can’t you see I’m in pain, shit-for-brains?” He coughs at the end of his question.

“Did you smoke?” I ask.

“Get my fucking magazine,” he barks. “Or I’ll make your life a living hell.”

I get him a stack of magazines. Most of them are Teen Vogue, and for whatever reason, they don’t suit his fancy. He tosses one back into my face.

“At least I make your day exciting, huh?” he says.

I think about how I can make his day exciting. How I can boost him in front of 402 as the next person to kill. The poor guy doesn’t realize that his temperament only exacerbates his suffering.

He needs a release.

To be free of the prison of himself.

I can provide it for him.

I put him on the mental list and leave him to respond to a call from room 401, a tall, thin woman recovering from surgery. I hadn’t shared many words with her, and she had been one of the rare patients not to abuse the call button privilege.

“I’m sorry for bothering you,” she says in a soft, grandmotherly sort of way as I enter.

“It’s no bother, it’s my job,” I respond.

Her face is narrow, her eyes light green, soft, and caring. A natural sort of empathy exudes itself from her, and I’m hit with a sense of deja vu, as if I’ve been here or known her before.

“But you look so bothered, so stressed,” she notes. “A walking epitome of doom and gloom, if you don’t mind me saying.”

I look to her, showing more emotion than I intend. “Just…a rough day is all,” I say slowly.  

The empathy in her eyes appears legitimate. Most patients at the hospital looked to me as a means to an end. I was more of a service than a person, but this woman looked to me as if I was family.

“Rough day or rough life? You’re too young to look so glum. There’s more for you out there.”

“What do you need?” I ask.

She tilts her head, looking eager to follow up but decides against it. “It’s my telephone,” she says, motioning to it. “I don’t believe it is working. Could you get a technician to look into it?”

I walk over to the side table. I pick up the phone place it to my ear.

Nothing.

I tap a few numbers; the results are the same.

“I’ll have someone come up and look at it,” I say, setting it down. “In the meantime, if any calls come to the desk for you I’ll be sure to inform you.”

Her face lights up. “Thank you so much. My granddaughter is away in college and is so worried about me. I want to ease her concerns.”

“That’s very considerate of you.”
“Thank you,” she says. “You’re so kind for helping me.”

I shake my head. “It’s just my job.”

She shakes her head in return. “No, being a decent human being is a choice, and one you’ve decided to make. This place wears on you, all the death and ungrateful patients I’m sure. Don’t let it. You’re making a difference in others’ lives every day, even if no one will acknowledge it.”

Normally my interactions with patients are framed around responding to their wants and needs. This woman is throwing me for a loop and I can’t help but stare. I’m curious about her in a way I hadn’t been over patients for years so I decide to ask her the question I hadn’t bothered asking a single patient during my time employed at Rosedale Memorial.

“My name is Trevor, I’m going to be your aide while you’re here. What’s your name, miss?”

Her smile is bright. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Trevor. My name is Molly.”

And so, for the first time, a patient has a name.

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