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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 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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Terminal Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of my latest novel, Terminal. Soon to be pitched to editors by my agent. Check earlier posts for the previous chapters. Warning: intense graphic content throughout the novel.

                                                                                              3

Lester the Molester was a folk hero of sorts.

That seems strange to say.

Lester never molested anyone, at least to my knowledge, but the name was a moniker given to him by residents of the town. Despite the fact that it was shameful, the title came as sort of a badge of honor to Lester, who, became part of the unique lore of the town of Rosedale.

Lester was a middle aged man, unkept, quiet, and unassuming. He kept to himself, was socially awkward, and had a longstanding history of mental illness. This is a history I could probably look up and provide to you, but like most of the residents of Rosedale, I know him based on hearsay and assumptions.

Lester is more legend than man now, after all.

I should get to the point.

Lester liked to pee in odd places.

Well, I guess not so odd. Plenty of animals and even people have peed on cars and storefronts, but for whatever reason, Lester had to do this in front of other people. The incidences were isolated at first, spread out by months of times, but like a serial offender they soon began happening more frequently. First, he was spotted pissing on the grocery store, grinning and giggling as he released the pressure. Next, he popped out of an alleyway and drew a line in the sidewalk no pedestrians dare cross. He doused the door of Nick Losinno’s sedan as he stood screaming at him from his porch, and went a step further by trying to pee on Jon Duff’s shoes as he stood waiting at a traffic crossing.

No one really knew who Lester was back then. The paper shared the stories like they were a part of some urban legend, and everyone around town was on the lookout for the “phantom pisser” roaming the streets of Rosedale, waiting for his next opportunity to strike.

Seriously, a local printing shop made t-shirts geared towards tourists. “I survived the spray in Rosedale, PA.”

The shop went out of business, for what that’s worth.

The thing was, Lester was never violent or aggressive with these acts, and every time he attempted to conceal his penis from view. Whatever voyeuristic pleasure he gained from the act, Lester never came off as dangerous, just deranged in a sad enough way to be viewed as entertaining.

And this is how the mystique was born.

Suddenly, people had a scapegoat. A reason to talk shit on the town without having to mention their own personal failings or lack of an attempt to leave it. Lester was the hero Rosedale deserved more so than it needed, one that allowed residents to laugh at and hate themselves without being aware of it.

We all need outlets.

Lester never really got the help he needed, as far as I know. He was fined a couple of times, spent a week in the slammer, but was always thrown back onto the streets. He had nowhere to go and no one was really keen on helping him. It wasn’t until the “downtown brown” incident of two years ago that Lester was looked at as a real problem. This was when he shat a load so huge upon the floor of the twenty-four hour laundry mat, the owner was convinced it came from a diarrhea-stricken stray dog.

Security footage revealed the truth. Lester, grinning like a rosy-cheeked child on Christmas day, had waltzed into the laundromat in a calculated strike, and, in all of his glory, laid his goliath dookie right center in the floor, never once breaking stare with the security camera.

Unlike you and me, this man will be remembered.

I forget what happened to Lester after that incident, but he was “sent away,” whatever that means. Some optimists in town believe he is finally getting the help he’s always needed, while others, who also fashion themselves as optimists, perpetuate the story that Lester is still out there, mysterious and elusive, pissing freely like a sasquatch with a bladder problem.

Some questions are best left unanswered.

I think about Lester as I walk out of the hospital into a cold spring day, the sky milky gray and overcast. Lester is the unofficial mascot of Rosedale, a town so rural and downtrodden he’s still the biggest talk of the area, only the omnipresent rumor of a new Taco Bell occasionally taking the mantle.

Rosedale is the central hub of Wayne County, an area so isolated that some folks have to span fifty or so miles for basic goods and services, including medical care at Rosedale Memorial Hospital, the only real option they have.

See: up shit creek.

See also: without a paddle.

To put Rosedale’s situation into perspective, my ass wiping job, currently starting at 10.15 per hour, is one of the highest paying jobs available in the town.

See: The American Dream.

Did you know the suicide rate in small towns is twice the rate of that of urban centers?

Does that surprise you?

I walk down the sidewalk, uneven and filled with cracks so deep they can masquerade as potholes. I pass the park,where children as young as five play unattended, their parents uninvolved, uncaring. These children are dirty and foul-mouthed, and I hear a series of swear words as I walk by.

The good thing about Rosedale is, as a town devoid of culture, expectations, or standards, it’s okay for parents to neglect their children. It’s always okay for people to be exactly what they are.

Nothing.

Okay, I’m being a bit of a downer. I shouldn’t be so judgemental. I should focus on myself. But I am out to accomplish something. I’m not talking about murdering patients; I’m working towards something on a much larger scale. Something that will not only wake this town up and give the people a newfound appreciation for life and opportunity, but also cement my legacy and ensure that I will be remembered forever.

We all want a taste of immortality.

Even if it’s a knock-off brand.

I walk onto my street and head towards my home. It is the eleventh home I have lived in during my life, though all have been in the Rosedale area. It’s dilapidated, so small it appears to be cowering on it’s own weed-strewn lawn. The windows are dusty and cracked, and the gutters overflow with water, leaves, and a buildup of muck.

I think about Rebecca and her idea of representing on the outside what is within.

The door is unlocked but I have to crank the knob a few times to get it to open. I walk by three of our eight cats and step over a few piles of clothes and an overflowing garbage bag and into the kitchen. There Mom sits, obscured by the towers of unpaid bills and old magazines, mail and junk piled upon our dining table without rhyme or reason. Every day the size and location of the junk towers change as we readjust and move them to make room for our dinner plates.

Mom is drinking wine. She’s also crying, puffing on a cigarette between each sob. This isn’t an unusual scene for this early in the day and I greet her with my standard level of avoidant enthusiasm.

“Hey Mom,” I say.

“Trevor,” Mom cries. “I’m sorry, Trevor. I failed you, I’m so sorry.” She appears nearly hysterical and I see a bottle of pills near her slippered feet.

“Sorry for what?”

“I…I…” she heaves. “I should have been…been there for you. I should…I should have loved you more. Oh God, my baby boy!” Mom wobbles in her chair and for a moment it appears she’s going to topple.

Mom has her moments.

Most of them involve rehashing the past.

“Don’t worry about it, Mom,” I say. Sure, there were the times when she left me and my brother unattended. And yes, she passed out plenty of times because of drugs. And certainly, it sucked eating Cheerios as my only sustenance for four straight days, but the past is the past, isn’t it?

I mean, we all make a series of mistakes.

Most of us every day.

“Come back to me Trevor,” Mom rasps.

“I’m right here, Mom, calm down.”  

“Trevor..”

“Mom I’m right here.” This seems to get through to her. Mom’s eyes pop open and she smiles through the tears, revealing her coffee and cigarette stained teeth.

“Why were you gone so long?” Mom asks, her words slurred. Her hands move and fumble with the cigarette maker, hastily packing in wad after wad of tobacco as she slides the wrapper into position.

Did you know that an estimated 25 million people in the United States suffer from some form of substance abuse?

“I was working a double,” I reply.

“I worked today too, you know,” Mom says, swearing under her breath as the cigarette wrapper crumbles in the maker. Tobacco spills out the sides and joins countless other strands decorating our table.

“Yes, I know.”

“This…this thing…it’s…a piece…” Mom losses the word. “A piece of shit,” she mutters, slamming the cigarette maker onto the table.

That children of addicts are significantly more likely to develop addiction themselves due to genetic and environmental factors?

“How was work” I ask.

“It was tough,” Mom says. She wobbles in her chair and as she moves her arms to steady herself she knocks the bag of tobacco to the floor. It spills out and Chester, one of our cats, rushes over to gnaw on it.

“Damn it,” Mom says. “Oh well.” Her eyes return to me. “Work sucked. It was…hard…a rush. There was this..fat…fucking…slob who wanted a refund.” Mom’s hands scramble to pour more wine into her glass. She does this with a trained precision, nary a tremble to her hand as she tops off her glass.

That these children also have an increased risk of being physically and sexually abused?

And developing depression?

Mom slurps down the wine and it’s gone before she’s even a few sentences into her story. A thick splash decorates the right corner of her shirt, but she doesn’t seem to notice. Her words and story are incoherent, but Mom’s hands are as focused as ever as they pour another glass of wine. She rambles on, saying something about “wanting to slap the grease off of that inbred hog’s face” and wanting to “tell the manager to shove it straight up his narrow ass.” She then shares with me a particularly salacious rumor about her manager which she told me last week, and I take note of her vicious tone more so than the content of her words.

“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” Mom rasps, chugging the last bit of wine. She takes a long draw of her cigarette before coughing, smoke billowing into my face. “I don’t know how I put up with all of this bullshit,” she mutters.

I feel like I’m fading. Mom collects the tobacco from the floor, shooing Chester off, and I become distant. I’m not sure if it’s the exhaustion from the work day or another oncoming round of disassociation, but I don’t feel like I’m there.

My head hurts.

Everything is going black.

I hear the screech of the brakes, and then, a shrill beeping sound.

“Trevor? Trevor?” Mom snaps. She coughs again, this one wet and throaty. “Are you there?”

I snap back to it. I can feel my body again. I feel blood in my veins and for a moment the sensation is foreign.

“I’m here,” I say. “Just exhausted. I think work is getting to me. I have to get to bed; I have another shift soon.”

Mom looks skeptical. “Oh…fine…fine then. No time for your mother, even after I’ve had such a hard day.” She drinks from her wine glass but it’s empty. “It’s always work, work, work, with you, Trevor.”

“Well, we have rent to pay, you know.”

“Oh screw you,” Mom belts. “I damn well know we have rent to pay.”  

“Has Jeff pitched in for it?”

Mom lets out a snort. “Oh don’t start this again. You always take an opportunity to harp on him. He has it so hard you know.”

Jeff is my younger brother. He has not held a job since high school and is currently twenty years old. He spends his days listening to music, playing video games, and getting high, usually on marijuana but he will occasionally switch it up with by taking some acid, OxyContin (often borrowed from mom), or shrooms.

We all have our hobbies.

“It’s not fair that…”

“It’s not fair that you pick on him you asshole!” Mom barks, waving her wine glass at me. “He got kicked out of high school, right off the baseball team too. You know how much that hurt him. How much he was traumatized.”

Traumatized.

“Nevermind, forget I said anything,” I say. “I’m just tired. I have to go lay down.”

“Pfft, you and the rest of us,” Mom says. “ Fine, fine then, get to bed. I see where your priorities are.”

“I have a shift at seven. I’ll see you before I go,” I respond.

Mom waves me off, focusing on the cigarettes once again. “Yeah, yeah, I made chicken for dinner. Make sure you eat some before you go. You’re losing so much weight it looks like you’re falling through your own asshole.”

“Thanks Mom, I will,” I say as I walk out of the kitchen, Mom’s haggard coughs chasing behind me.

There’s a certain difficulty that comes with my mother and brother but I can’t stay mad at them for long. I suppose this comes from a place of understanding. A twisted sense of solidarity, perhaps. They have their vices, but don’t we all?

We’re all addicts in some way.

Or at least we want to be.

You have to wonder if the Devil is real or just the absence of completion in our own hearts.

I walk towards my bedroom. I hear my brother blasting music from his bedroom, the door rattling on its hinges as a heavy bass riff thunders outward. My brother is screaming, short of breath as he dishes out some type of freestyle rap. He records them and posts them on Facebook. I hear a snippet of the latest effort as I get to my door.

“Uh! Yeah! Your rhymes are from the bottom of the barrel! My rhymes are from the core. Bone Marrow. I come in like motherfucking Jack Sparrow. And yeah motherfucker I will wear a sombrero cause I don’t even care-o!” There’s a pause as my brother stops the music to listen to what he’s recorded. It’s short lived as I hear him smack his hands together and say, “oh shit! This is ill!”

I close my door behind me but the music still radiates through my walls. I’m long past the point of arguing with Jeff over the volume of his music. I sit at my desk, looking over the paperwork, eyes lazily listing over the schematics, the steps, the plan of action. In my weariness I feel accomplishment, a warm caress of purpose.

I’ll finally have a chance to make a difference.

I roll up the schematic and place each paper in the appropriate pile. I walk to my bed and lay down, closing my heavy eyelids. All my worries fade as I focus on my plan. They, like Jeff’s music, become background noise, and as I drift towards a welcomed slumber, I hear only one thing, a faded sound, distant yet booming.

Tick.

Tick.

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Terminal Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of my novel Terminal, soon to be sent to editors by my agent. Refer to the prologue and chapter 1 to get caught up to speed. Warning: Intense graphic content.

                                                                                  2

His dick looks like a swollen eggplant.

That’s one way to start a chapter.

I’m serious, though. His schlong is engorged. So bloated with blood it’s purple, skin stretching beyond proposition like a water balloon ready to burst. His veins race like serpents up on the length of his shaft, looking ready to tear through the veil of his skin.

I hold 414’s ankles down, securing them to the bed. He’s letting out breaths in rapid heaves, his face thick with sweat. A nurse secures his arms while another confers with the doctor, getting him the proper medical equipment.

I’m eye level with his dick. Head to head staredown. I have to make sure he doesn’t move or this operation could be disastrous.

Cue dramatic music.

I’m thinking Ennio Morricone’s score from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The patient has maintained an erection for hour ten hours. The medical term for what is happening is a priapism, which is when blood is trapped inside the penis and isn’t circulating. This is why his cock is a slowly-dying-purple instead of the pasty pinkish hue of the rest of him.

Viagra commercials warn you about this type of thing.

Because they’re super concerned about your health, after all.

Blood that doesn’t circulate cannot carry oxygen to cells, which then die. This results in severe tissue damage and the potential loss of the penis itself.

The man had been rushed in as a medical emergency. They shoved him down in the first bed they could find. Apparently there wasn’t enough time to get anesthesia going, because he’s going to be awake for this “operation.”

He’s been told to close his eyes like seven times.

But could you do it,, knowing what was coming?

Dr. Sherbrooke is using a butterfly needle, a particularly thin instrument used to administer shots to infants. They gave him a pill for the pain but there’s no way it’s going to suffice. There’s a panicked look in his eye and he wiggles as the doctor draws near. Sherbrooke says something, it’s reassuring, I’m sure, coming out in a docile, complacent sort of professional voice. You know, the voice that cares because it’s supposed to, the tone thinly veiling the fact that the current situation is a major pain in the person’s ass.

You get it.

At least I think you do.

The man is panicking. He swears. Horrible things, the worst you can imagine. He calls the nurse a few choice terms I dare not repeat. It takes all I have to hold his ankles in place as his legs attempt a frenzied dance. He’s wiggling and squirming as the needle approaches his swollen dick.

Then it happens and everything becomes slow motion.

The needle pierces his skin and 414 thrashes to the side. I stumble forward, nearly face-planting into his balls. His body is stabilized but then a nightmare charges my way.

There’s no avoiding it.

The spray.

Like a punctured water balloon his cock squirts, sending a rush of blood straight into my face with the fury of one thousand super soakers. As engorged droplets of the mess cascade down my face, the errant cock taunts me, dancing with the epileptic shakes of those inflatable tube men outside of car dealerships.

It’s at this point you should really question if this book is for you.

The others respond to the man’s needs. I sigh, take a step back, and walk over to the counter. The man is thrashing and shouting, but the doctor and nurses have control of him. His cock is withering and there’s the rich taste of iron on my lips.

I grab a hand towel and wipe my face. I decide to get back to my rounds.

I don’t tell you this sort of thing to gross you out. Sure, puncturing bloated dicks may seem unusual to some people, but this type of thing is every day life for others.

Just last week, an ER nurse had to help the doctor tug a six inches long by four inches round Yankee Candle (scent: Seaform Breeze) out from the rectum of an obese forty-eight year old man. He insisted he had fallen on it, even though the waxy nightmare stuck out of his asshole wick first. It was rammed up there with enough force to tear the lining of his anus and cause internal bleeding. Eventually, they had to take him into surgery to dislodge the item.

True story.

It ended up in the hole bin – a plastic container in which we store unusual items removed from the orifices of patients. Children’s toys, hair brushes, eating utensils, power tools, and even unopened pickle jars have found their way into the bin, recovered from this, that, and the other place.  

I’m not kidding.

Seriously, look this stuff up.

On second thought, please don’t.  

What I’m getting at is, being around this type of thing constantly warps your perspective. Makes you see things a little differently.

Have I given you that impression?  

The hallway is cramped and cluttered, discarded medical equipment lining the walls like loiterers. I’m about to transition back into my rounds when I start to hear the ticking. Soft at first, but then louder, booming, the rhythm steady and unshakable.

Tick.

Tick.

The Taos Hum is a phenomena reported in the town of Taos New Mexico. It’s estimated that approximately two percent of people who live in/visit Taos report hearing a constant humming sound in and around the town. Those who have heard the Taos Hum report it to be a low frequency rumbling sound, similar to a droning hum or distant diesel engine, which is heard both indoors and outdoors. While there are scientific theories abound, including biological as well as environmental causes, the true nature of the Taos Hum is still unknown.

I don’t hear humming. I hear the ticking.

Tick.

Tick.

Like a clock in an otherwise silent room.

Now, unlike the Taos hum, I know the origin of the ticking. I’m aware it’s inside my head. It hasn’t been my whole life either. No, after I received some news, the ticking began.

Tick.

Tick.

Time’s running out.

I’m fading back.

I hear the blare of the horn.

The hallway in front of me begins fade away, a ring of darkness clouding my vision. I lose sensation in my body, feeling as if I’m floating, literally exiting my body and going back in time. I hear the screech of the brakes and the hallway becomes the back seat for just a moment, before I clench my fists and shake my head, snapping the scene away.

I can’t go back there.

With a pop I’m back and it’s alarming to feel again, the warmth of my body surprising me. I shake my head as Linda, a respiratory therapist, mutters a comment under her breath while sidestepping me.

Rude.

Disassociation is a medical condition whereby an individual, who has experienced past trauma, feels detached from themselves, literally as if they are not who they are.

If you haven’t already guessed, there’s something going on with me.

Shocker, right?

Disassociation results in emotional and physical numbness, and in severe cases the odd sensation that a person is “beyond” themselves, feeling as if they are floating above or near their bodies, watching their interactions like a spectator. Disassociation is often linked to clinical depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

I’ve seen some shit.

And I’m not talking about the ass-wiping I have to do as part of my job.

Well, not yet anyway.

When a person experiences a traumatic moment in their lives, it’s easier for their mind to detach and dissociate, as to not deal with the crippling reality of their situation. Therefore, when stressed or worried, individuals who have disassociated in the past may do so again.

Your body’s coping mechanism.

We all have our ways of dealing with stress.

Some of us better than others.

A pain lingers in my skull after the event and I have a fairly good idea of why. There’s a reasonable explanation as to why my mind keeps fading back to that day and place I want to leave behind.

We’ll get to that later.

Probably.

The ticking reminds me of the time I have and what I have to accomplish. This all reminds me of something greater. I try to push it all from my mind as I walk back to perform my rounds. The business with eggplant dick was spur of the moment; a diversion from the normal routine. Most of my day and actions are structured, all part of that rinse and repeat existence.

I enter the room of 409, a fossil of a woman in her 90s who always smells like a strange mix of rotting fruit and cat piss, and my thoughts shift from the ticking to something much more disgusting.

Bedsores.

I scratch my back. I feel imaginary bedsores. I feel the need to turn in my bed. I feel helpless and unable to. It’s a strange sensation and I wonder if I’m disassociating again.

Bedsores form due to a lack of oxygen from limited blood flow. Without this oxygenation the tissue in the affected areas becomes necrotic and dies, literally rotting away. The signs of this are progressive, with redness and mild swelling showing as an early sign of the process while putrid rotting flesh craters develop as the result of long term inactivity. In advanced cases, the decaying flesh can be pulled from the body in chunks.

This is why we turn patients.

Standard procedure dictates that all patients be turned every four hours. There’s no need to do this in the case of physically able patients. Critically ill or elderly patients, however, often lack the faculties or awareness to do so themselves and must be turned to prevent the development of these festering ulcers.

Now you can walk away from this experience claiming you’ve learned something.

I get to the side of 409’s bed. She has an NPO sticker slapped to the foot of her bed. NPO stands for “nil per os,” a Latin phrase which translates to “nothing by mouth,” and indicates a patient is not to receive food or medicine orally. This can be due to the medical condition, current dose of medication, or due to the need for surgery the next day.

Hey look, you learned something else.

I place 409 on her side as gently as possible. One time, another aide was so tired that he turned a patient without paying attention. He didn’t notice the elderly man’s arm was wedged under his body at an awkward angle. Some nurses said they heard the pop of the dislocation from the other side of the floor.

But you can never really know who to believe.

Some people just like to be part of the story.

I turn 409 without an issue, but then she stirs from her sleep. She delivers an elbow to my groin with far more power than I thought she possessed.

See: occupational hazards.

I let out an “oof” and check to see if everything is in place, hoping 409 doesn’t misinterpret this motion as she squawks at me. She complains that she doesn’t need anyone touching her at night, and that she can turn on her own. Her final bold proclamation is that me and the rest of the lowlifes that work here don’t know the difference between proper medicine and our own assholes.

I agree with her and wish her a pleasant night as I walk out of the room.

The official title of my job is CNA, which stands for certified nurse’s assistant. In order to become certified, a series of coursework and a certification test are required. In my case, however, since I had college courses under my belt, I only had to take the certification test. Being certified as a nurse’s assistant is not even a requirement for hire at my current place of employment, nor does it come with a salary bump. Instead, anyone with a high school diploma can be hired to care for the wellbeing of your seriously ill loved ones.

There’s something to think about.

As a kid, you kind of figure that the people who do these types of jobs are competent. That lives, for example, are in good hands. The older you get the more this illusion fades. Kind of like the idea that you can achieve your dream career or find true happiness.

I’m just kidding about that second part.

Well, sort of.

I am currently working the night shift, which runs from eleven to seven. However, I am scheduled for a double, meaning I’ll be turning, feeding, bathing, and wiping ass until three in the afternoon, with my next shift starting again at eleven that night. This kind of schedule makes the days and details blend together, like a song on repeat or a movie marathon where they play the same film over and over.

You’ve seen the details a thousand times but you still forget them.

I’m walking towards room 410 when I see Rebecca in the hallway. Her outline is nothing more than a slit, the bright white lights of the hall casting her as a slender shadow. She’s thin, with sunken cheeks and liberally applied mascara. Her bright green eyes are emeralds shining out of a black abyss. Combine this with her hair, dyed a vibrant red with streaks of black highlights, and the array of pink scars running up the lengths of her arms, and she’s someone who doesn’t fit your typical mold of a nurse. She’s two years older than I am, and we’d both starting working at hospital three years earlier.

I recall the first time I spoke to her.

I didn’t speak to many nurses. They just weren’t my type. But Rebecca was different. There was just something about the way she carried herself throughout my first few days at the hospital.

Oh, and the scars.

Yeah, she had a multitude of them running up and across the length of her arm, like a do-it-yourself flannel pattern. Some were pink and faded while others were crimson, so fresh they were still scabbing. As far as I knew, she had been working at the hospital for three days and no one had broached the subject with her.

People like to leave most doors unopened.

I walked up to Rebecca at the beginning of my shift, as she stood studying a clipboard in her hand, put on my finest shit-eating grin and asked the question that had to be on everybody’s mind.

“So, why do you cut yourself?”

“Well, nice to meet you too.”

“My name is Trevor,” I offered.

“Fuck off.”

It’s estimated that between two and three million people habitually cut themselves yearly in the United States alone. The true numbers are difficult to discern since many cutters hide their habit out of fear of social stigmatization.

“I’m sorry…”

“No you’re not,” Rebecca interjected. “You’re a snide little punk ass is what you are. I’ve heard about you, Mr. Doom and Gloom.”

“Is that my nickname?”

“Does Fuckface sound better?”

“Kind of, yes.”

Rebecca sized me up. “Do you really want to know why I cut or are you just being an ass?”

“Are those things mutually exclusive?”

Although there’s evidence suggesting an increased risk of suicide among those who cut, it’s inaccurate to categorize all who cut as being suicidal. Self-harm via skin cutting is often a symptom of underlying conditions, most commonly depression.

Rebecca tilted her head. “Isn’t it obvious why I cut?”

In many cases, cutting is an unhealthy coping mechanism, a way for individuals to release stress by focusing on physical pain rather than their emotional suffering. Studies indicate that such behavior can be psychologically addicting, and individuals can develop the belief that they need cutting as a coping mechanism and cannot function without it.

“If it was so obvious, I wouldn’t ask,” I responded.

“Smartass.”

“I thought I was Fuckface.”

“Are those mutually exclusive?”

Treatment options for cutters include a psychological evaluation to determine the risk of suicidality and therapy in conjunction with whatever medication may be prescribed to assist in treating the underlying condition.

“I suppose not,” I say. “But I’m actually curious. No one else has asked you, but you don’t seem to be hiding it, so I figured why not ask?”

Rebecca wore an assured smirk.  “The answer to your question is simple. Do you know why people get tattoos? Why they sully their skin with unnatural images?”  

I thought about it. “To feel expressed,” I responded. “People want to express themselves and represent who they are, the ideals they hold dear.”

“Ah,” Rebecca said. “To feel expressed. So you’d say it’s fair to say they want to represent what is inside, on the outside?”

“Yeah, or at least what they hope is there,” I replied.  

“So my question to you is,” she said, her smirk growing with a twitch, “is why don’t more people cut?”

“What do you mean?”

Rebecca played with her scab, picking at it and drawing blood. The sound made as it detached from her skin reminded me of children eagerly unwrapping presents on Christmas morning.

It’s strange where our minds go.

“We all feel so incomplete, so torn,” Rebecca explained, blood streaming down her arm. “I’m just expressing how I feel, like a dagger is cutting into my soul. So why not represent it? Isn’t that authenticity the closest we can be to being whole?”

As she stood before me, blood staining her porcelain skin in a zigzag pattern, I found I was drawn to this woman.

What does that say about me?

“Physical mutilation as genuine expression then,” I said. “You choose not to hide how you feel from the world.”

“I choose to be what I am on the inside: cut, bleeding, broken. The triumph and tragedy of human life is that we feel.”

“Poetic,” I said.

“Realistic,” Rebecca responded.

“You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”

“Haven’t we all?”

“And like marble, each chip away from us moves us closer to becoming a work of art,” I said.

Rebecca stared at me for a moment before laughing. “Are you calling me a beautiful work of art? Is this your attempt at flirting, strange nurse’s aide?”

“My name is Trevor,” I said. “Or Fuckface, whatever you prefer, but no, I’m not flirting. I just think that those of us who have endured trials in life have the potential to become unique and beautiful in ways others cannot.”

I often wonder why I said these types of things to her. I guess I identified us as two birds of the same feather, each broken in our own way. And it’s better to be broken together than broken alone, certainly.

Right?  

“You might be onto something there,” Rebecca said with a smile. “ My name is Rebecca. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Maybe we should be friends.”

“Yes,” I said, letting a smile grace my face. “We should.”

A beautiful friendship blossomed.

Beautiful is a subjective term.

Now, as I approach Rebecca, she’s slouched against the wall, face dropping downward with her expression. The years hadn’t been kind to her spirit, and this setting, with its sterile white walls, constant buzz of conversation and machinery, and consistent odor of death had worn away at her.

Life will do that to you.

“Hey there,” Rebecca says. “406 went, how about that?” In the hospital we use the term went as if they are hotel guests checking out.

I suppose in a way they are.

“Really?” I say. “He wasn’t in such bad shape, that’s a shame. At least he’s done with this place.”

“Unlike us,” Rebecca says. “Maybe he’s the lucky one. People don’t think enough about how life isn’t necessarily a good thing. That’s why I get confused about babies.”

“Babies?”

Rebecca stares at her fingernails, picking some grime out from under them. “Everyone celebrates them like they are the greatest thing ever when babies are just a game of chance. That sweet little bundle may just end up as a rapist, serial killer, or the next Adolf Hitler. How will everyone feel about their celebrations then?”

“I get what you’re saying, but I think kids are just an opportunity for most people,” I say. “That chance to leave the past behind and make something worthwhile.”

“You’re right,” Rebecca muses. “I just wonder how many parents are disappointed in what they made when those hopes don’t pan out.”

I feel a stab of emotion and look away.

What does that say about me?

“We should talk about this stuff more, get coffee soon,” I suggest.

“Oh smooth,” Rebecca says with a sort of disinterested laugh. “Are you asking me out again? It’s been almost a year.”

I shake my head. “Just for conversation. I wouldn’t wish the burden of my romance upon anyone. Plus, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around.”

Rebecca’s eyes widen. “You’re quitting?” This is asked in the hospital, in some capacity, at least a dozen times daily.

“Something like that. Never know what tomorrow will bring.”

“Way to be vague, smartass,” Rebecca says. “You’re the one leaving riddles around the floor, aren’t you?”

“Riddles?”

Rebecca throws me a sideways glance. She reaches into her pocket and removes a slip of paper. She hands it to me and I read.

What am I, what am I?

You can see me but never hold me

You can fear me but never avoid me

I am the shared experience of all man

What am I, what am I?

The paper is creased, folded, and wrinkled, only about the size of a napkin. It’s the type of thing you’d expect to find next to a trash bin, or left lying on a park bench somewhere.

“Do you know the answer?” I ask.

“Is it love?”

I shrug. “How should I know?”

Rebecca rolls her eyes. “You’re something else. I have to get back to a patient. As for the coffee, maybe Tuesday, keep in touch, champ.” She gives me a pat on the shoulder as she walks by.

Tuesday. I strain my mind thinking of what day it is. In the hospital business, it’s always the same day, the same dredge of a stretch with no holidays or weekends to take advantage of, the same fluorescent lights shining down the same downtrodden group of people.

Never ending.

Stuck on repeat.

I already made that reference, I’m sorry.

I’m losing track.

Rebecca was right; I wrote the riddle. I scribble them down and hide them in various locations during my shifts. Sometimes it’s under a patient’s covers, other times it’s under a coffee mug in the break room, the potted plants, toilet paper dispenser, nowhere is off limits. Sometimes I hide them so well they aren’t found until months after the fact.

Or never at all.  

So what do you think the answer is? I’ll provide it at a later point in the novel.

Now there’s a reason to keep reading.

I turn 410 and get some water for 411 before walking down the hall en route to my next task. The call bell is ringing for 413 and I’m hurrying around the corner to their room so fast I nearly collide with the person coming the opposite way.

Mark Rubino.

Do you know what they call the person who graduates at the bottom of their class in medical school?

Doctor.

“406 just went,” Dr. Rubino says. His hair and stubble are dark but coated throughout with a smattering of gray. He glares at me from behind his wire frame glasses. His eyes are light blue, what many would describe as a soft blue, but their stare is always harsh, accusatory.

I nod in an absent sort of way.

“Did you fuck something up?” he growls.

“No,” I reply. This is an honest response; I’d accomplished what I set out to do.

“Are you sure?” he says. “You barely look like you’re aware enough to be here. Are you high on something?”

“I’ve passed every drug test while employed here,” I say before tactfully adding, “sir.” This was also true. I simply failed to mention two occasions when I’d used someone else’s piss.

He shakes his head. “Well let’s see if you can keep that up. If I find out 406 was your fault…” he trails off, assuming I can conjure up the horrid consequences.

As if termination scares me.

As if release from this position wouldn’t be liberation.

As if the fear of death is nothing but irrational.

Dr. Mark Rubino has it out for me. Most of the time, these grudges are all in someone’s head. It isn’t that people are out to get them; it’s that they are misinterpreting situations and intentions. It’s that they haven’t clearly communicated with the other party and there’s a misunderstanding.

This isn’t the case.

Dr. Rubino had made it clear on several occasions that there was a reason why “people like him” were doctors and “people like me” wiped ass for a living. The funny thing is, I agree with him, but for entirely different reasons. Dr. Rubino views himself as a “success,” someone who used the indomitable force of his sheer will to work hard and achieve where others had failed. In Dr. Rubino’s opinion, he earned everything he had while others wasted the opportunities life afforded them.

I disagree.

Dr. Rubino was born with two doctors as parents. He was raised in an upper middle class setting. Food, safety, and security, were never concerns. Dr. Rubino was given everything he needed to succeed in life and had only made it this far. Despite his parents being excellent practitioners, he had graduated last in his class from Temple, and for this reason he found himself working at this low-level hospital in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania.

He had two failed marriages under his belt.

A DUI conviction.

He once filed for bankruptcy on a doctor’s salary.

And he is judging me?

The audacity.

Dr. Rubino should be one of the top medical experts in his field, saving countless lives, publishing valuable research to make a positive change in the world, yet here he is before me, a sad excuse for a doctor in a go-nowhere town, the ultimate representation of good genes and care gone to waste.

I’m no winner myself, but at least I know it. I come from a different background. Generations worth of white trash DNA compose my being, with experience to boot. Single parent household, drug addiction, abuse, living off of food stamps and twenty thousand dollars a year.

A place where expectations are up, up , up.

No one in my extended family had ever considered college; most didn’t graduate high school. But I did. In fact, I lasted two years in college before dropping out. By this standard, I’ve gone further than Dr. Rubino ever has. A person in my situation was supposed to fall to the wayside, become an addict, a leech on the system, have more kids than he can afford, and continue the cycle. But here I am, college credits under my belt, working in a professional setting, contributing to the majority of my household’s bills.

I’ve risen from my parents and he has fallen from his. So really, I’m the success and he’s the failure.

Right?

“Are you proud of your life?” I ask.

“What did you say?” Rubino snaps.

“Are you all you dreamed you would be when you were a child?”

He puts on a scowl. “Don’t be a smartass.”

“So the answer is no, then?”

“Oh this is rich,” Rubino scoffs. “The ass-wiper trying to taunt me. You better watch your mouth and do your job or I’ll make sure you’re out of a job and that you and your low life mother will have to sell her extra pills to pay the rent.”

“Quite a threat.”  

“A promise, one you best remember you little pion,” Rubino remarks, walking away as if he’s won.

“You never answered,” I call. “Are you what you’d dream you’d be as a child?”

Rubino’s laugh is that of the schoolyard bully, somehow as directive as it is dismissive. “And what did you dream you would be? An ass-wiper? Making eleven bucks an hour cleaning up piss and shit and giving baths? Please, indulge me.”

I shrug. “It’s better than what my mother said I’d be.”

Dr. Rubino narrows his eyes. “And what did she say you’d end up as?”

“Nothing.”

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Harbinger climbing the rankings!

Harbinger is climbing the sales rankings. See what the buzz is about! I’d love to hear what you think of the book! 

http://www.amazon.com/Harbinger-David-J-Bright-ebook/dp/B00JXC0O2K/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

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