Love on the Avenue

It’s the middle of February, as I make my way home through the choking haze of garbage smoke from half a dozen backyard fires. The weather is warm for this time of year but, everyone on on the block is having a party, so they all had to find some crap to burn. I’m pretty sure that’s  a utility pole old Sweet T. has cut up and stuffed in his barrel. The creosote fumes rise up, adding to the aroma of the neighborhood, as it gets consumed by bright green flames from the bottom of the rusted steel drum.

Then she comes running out of the house. A half-drunk woman in her early twenties. Chasing after her two-timing want-to-be hood, of a boyfriend. I guess she looked at his text messages, again. She’s cursing his name while declaring how much she loves him, pleading for him to come back and throwing her shoes at him when he doesn’t. He’ll be back later tonight when no one else wants him. She’s the one with the job, and the car’s in her name. Still hasn’t figured out to just dump the bum and give the rest of the world a little extra piece and quiet on the weekends.

Walking on down near to the lime green house where Big Tattoo and his boys are dateless again on a Friday night. Can’t imagine why. What with there wife beater chic, and low-rent drug dealer mannerism. It wasn’t all that long ago when idle thuggery was a powerful aphrodisiac. I guess you got to change with the times. The only one I’ve ever seen with a woman won’t go near the place. Maybe the old lady that let them set up shop on her porch don’t allow female guests, not that aren’t relations anyway.

I see that the old grey house further on down, where the lawnmower guy used to live with his old lady and a one too many kids judging from the size of the place, is finally up for rent. The place has been empty since she suddenly put a steak knife through his stomach one night while he slept in his easy chair. I never heard much about them after that. Pretty sure they have separate residences now. Probably talking about getting back together again, you know, for the kids.

Still, I guess that counts as love around here, on the avenue.

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Prisoner

Gabriel paced the length of the dark cell. The same grim worry on his mind as the day he was first walked past the long hallway of doors.

They always said that the innocent have nothing to fear but, that night, when they came bursting into his apartment, he had run. Everyone in the building had run. No one seemed innocent enough to be fearless these days. He was one of the ones that they had chased after specifically. He hadn’t been fast enough. Each of those doors, he now assumed were cells like his. Each another life much like his. That first night as he glanced nervously at each closed door, was when he began to wonder. if they were here as well. Eventually they stopped him at one door, just like all the others, opened it and pushed him inside. The door shut. He began to pace, and worry.

In some hours, unable to sleep, he got to know about the cell. The walls were cinder block, and cold. The bed was a pallet on the floor in one of the back corners. A toilet, or what passed for one, and basin. There was dim light, barely enough to see by, coming from a fixture set recessed into the ceiling. That was all. Just himself, the chilly gloom and the silence.

After a time the door opened and a guard came in. He was relieved for a moment to see it was Michael. That soon faded as he looked into the hardened eyes of the man he had once known, and had spent a childhood with. Still he had to hope. Just maybe there was a chance that he knew, or cared.

“Have you any news of…”

“You must follow me.”

That was it. They walked silently through the long hall of doors. Stopping at one identical to the rest. Maybe they were here, Gabriel thought. Again his hopes fell as the door opened and instead of a cell there was a large room, with a table and with chairs on either side of it. A man in a suit was smiling at him from across the room. A small nudge from Michael urged him into the room. As he stepped in the smiling man motioned to one of the chairs.

“Please sit. I only have a few questions.”

“Please? If you…”

There was a brief flicker to the smile, but it was just long enough to show there was a second way things could be done. “I only have a few questions. With your cooperation I can have my answers. Then we can be done here very soon, and you can go home.”

The smiling man asked for the names of certain individuals, and locations where those individuals met. Gabriel did not have the answers the smiling man was looking for. The smiling man sighed and told him how very disappointing it was that he was unable to cooperate. He was brought back to the cell down the long hall of doors. When he was inside he turned again to Michael and pleaded.

“Please I’ve done nothing wrong. I just want to know if…”

“I can not help you.” Michael stared through him. “Just cooperate and all will be well.”
“Michael it is me, you know…”

The guard left the room.

The door closed.

In the darkness time stretched and dilated. Days, hours, and minutes didn’t truly exist for him here. The only punctuations to his life here were when trays of cold broth and bread were brought to him through a slot in the door, or when Michael or another guard would collect him from the darkness. And take him to the room with the smiling man and his questions. Sometimes there were other men in the room too. They didn’t smile. They didn’t ask the questions. They were the other way things could be done.

None of it seemed to happen at regular intervals. There was once an unimaginably long period where no one came. No guards, no smiling man, no tray of broth and bread. During this time he discovered his cell was one and a half steps longer than it was wide. It’s longest dimension was parallel with the door. Which itself wasn’t quite centered. It was a full third of a step closer to one wall than the other. After a while, when his hunger began to grow unbearable, he feared they had forgotten about him. That he had been left to waste away in the cool dark of this room. Then he hoped that they had. He felt for a time free of the menace of the unanswerable questions of the smiling man and his assistants. That was lost when the door finally opened, and he looked at the lighted hall beyond once again. This time it was a priest that cast his shadow into the room.

The priest entered the cell and sat chair that Michael brought in for him. He looked down at Gabriel lying weakly curled up on the floor and implored him to do the right thing. To look into his heart and see that it for the good of all. That God would forgive him his tresspasses if only he would unburden himself. Gabriel just lay there and wept quietly.

From then on the priest was added to the irregular rotation of events. There were so many days , after unkown hours, of questions and coercions, and of yelling and threats, he thought of just giving them the answers they wanted. Just giving them a name or two. He could, or so they promised, exchange his freedom for that of others. Surely, he thought, he could come forward with a name. Just a name. Someone distasteful, someone who deserved this. There were so many people he knew who had done something wrong, committed some petty offense against the state. He knew he couldn’t do it. There was too much uncertainty about who was working with them, and who, like him, they already had taken. Besides, it would only be a lie. He thought about this every time he walked back from the smiling man’s room.

Each time he made the long walk down the hall of doors, as he passed each one he wondered. Who was behind them. Which ones remained empty waiting for a name to be given. Behind which of these doors was the person who had given them his. Who, in desperation and in the false hope of freedom, betrayed him, or another innocent soul. He knew they had no intention of releasing him. No one who had ever been taken had come back. That was why he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t be part of the broken gearwork of this place, of the system of fear and hatred and lies that created it. Even if he did it. Even if he agreed to give a name. Even if that was the end of it. If they let him go, if they kept their word and released him, how could he go back? How could he look people in the eye knowing that it could have been their name that he had given in that lie, their lives he traded for his. That could hardly be considered freedom. If he gave them what they wanted he would always be their prisoner. He and his family would never be free again.

He wondered about them, all the time.

Every trip through this hall, he always wondered and worried if they were here. If they were behind one of those heavy black doors. Every time that Michael was the one walking him back he would ask. Michael had ceased to respond to the question long ago. So, he paced on in the constant doubt and worry that had been plaguing him for what must have been months.

The heavy door swung open once more. This time they all stood out there in the hallway. The priest, the smiling man and Michael. In seeing all three Gabriel knew that this would be the last time that he would be taken from the cell. The priest was the first to step in, making the final plea that he confess, that there was still time to save himself. When he had been silent for long enough for it to be acknowledged as a refusal They walked him down the hall of doors one last time. Michael and another guard behind him and the two other men leading the way. He counted the doors out of habit, noting to himself when they passed the room where the smiling man would ask his questions. They walked a longer distance than he had in all the time he was imprisoned. They stopped at yet another identical door.

The door opened and the light of the sun poured in. Gabriel’s heart pounded at the sight of it. His eyes were blinded by it for a moment as he was led outside for the first time in ages. He lifted his hand to shield his eyes, but Michael grabbed his arm and brought it behind his back. He felt his wrists being bound together. Gabriel squinted to see. In the brightness he walked past the other guards, each holding a rifle at the ready. He could hear the priest speaking something, words that he hadn’t heard since he was a small boy. His familiarity with the scriptures faded along with his church attendance in adulthood. He was led to the far wall of the courtyard. Gabriel fought against the panic and dread. He knew this was where it was ending, nothing could prevent that now. Still, as the blindfold was tied around his head he couldn’t help thinking of all the names he could of given. All of the people that could have been here in his place. Maybe there was still time. A name welled up in his throat begging to be spoken. Just one name. The name of a foul man, whom he had always suspected beat his wife. He could say his name and then maybe magically he would take his place. The name reached up behind his teeth. As it was about to escape, Michael whispered in his ear.

“There has been news. Your wife and son have made it across the border. They are safe.”

Tears welled up in the darkness of the strip of cloth covering his eyes. He swallowed deeply. He could die with at least an ounce of hope.

This story was written in response to a Flash Fiction Challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at his blog Terrible Minds. You can check out the other entries in the comments there

Hounds

He was running.

That’s all Josh knew. He was running away. Faster, he had to run faster. He had to escape the howls and barks running behind him.

He had been traveling along the highway, trying to make it south before the weather changed. It hadn’t been a good couple of days. Most of them spent getting hassled by small town cops. He managed to hitch a ride with a guy that agreed to take him as far as Clementsville. The dude seemed alright at first talked a lot of religious nonsense, Josh had learned to tune that crap out after a couple of years of hitching. After a couple of hours in the guy started getting creepy. He started asking Josh a bunchof pervy questions about himself. All sorts of bad experience told him it was time to bail.  He told the guy he needed to take a leak, and  got him to pull over. Josh got out and tried to grab his bag from the back of the truck. Pervy guy saw this and jumped out of his seat. Josh just bolted into the woods. The bag was just stuff, it maybe everything he owned but just stuff.  

He wound up trekking pretty deep into the woods just in case the weirdo decided to be persistent about looking for him. He got farther in than he had planned but, through experience, was able to figure out which way was south and started walking. It was getting dark and all of his gear was in the back of some creeps pick-up. He really hadn’t set out planning on doing survival camping today. At least the moon full so he would be able to see where he was going. He figured on traveling through the woods for a while, find a reasonable place to hunker down and head back out to the highway in the morning and try his luck thumbing up a ride. It was a couple hours later when he ran into the asshole with the dogs.

Josh spotted the light from the campfire a little ways off. He didn’t see any people but he could see the dogs lying about near the fire. Huge black dogs, some kind of hounds he was pretty sure. They were noisily chewing on their evening meal. Josh figured it was just some rednecks out hunting hogs and getting drunk. That type of good old boy was usually friendly enough but he figured it was best if he didn’t spook the dogs by sneaking up on them. While he stood there wondering what to do he felt a hand fall on his shoulder. He wheeled around and came face to face with this really tall psycho wearing a ghillie suit.  Josh started to back away cautiously and raised his hands.

“Hey sorry man, didn’t know you were out here. I’ll just be on my way.” Josh peered over his shoulder at the dogs, they didn’t seem to know he was there.

“You should run.” The man said, as if to no one in particular. He was wearing a crown sort of thing made of antlers.

“What?” Josh heard himself questioning what was clearly a sound idea.

The man took his distant, blue eyes off of Josh’s and motioned with his oddly long chin towards the dogs, “You run, they chase. That’s how it works.”

“How what works?” Josh, looked over his shoulder, the dogs weren’t paying any attention.

“The hunt, now run.”

“Hey look,” Josh slowly backed away, “I don’t want any trouble from you, or your hounds.” Maybe, he thought if I just move real slow I’ll get out of this. He’d been on the road long enough to know dogs. They’re way more likely to ignore you if you just don’t run.

“Run.” The hunter said impatiently.

Josh took another cautious step back. Still nothing from the dogs. He breathed heavily.

Run! The thought screamed into his brain and down his spine. His heart slammed blood into his legs. The dogs looked up suddenly and then Josh’s legs took over.

Then he was running.

That’s all he knew. He had to run. Faster. He had to out run the howls and barks that were chasing behind him. Faster. His lungs burned. His legs ached. He knew he couldn’t stop. He had to keep going. He had to get away. He had to… Where was he running to?

After a few years on the road he was no stranger to running. Away, was important. That was always first priority. But, you needed somewhere to run to. You needed a plan. Dogs, what was the dogs plan? He crashed through the brush and low hanging branches as he pushed forward.

People, People was always part of a good plan. Get to where the people are. People out here, in the woods, nearest to town was maybe twenty miles down the highway. Which way was the highway? Could make it to the highway. There might be a passing car, a cop, someone who could help. The highway. He could move faster on flat ground. So could they.

Running.

Running water. Some how through the pounding of blood in his ears, over the howls of his pursuers he could hear it.

Water. There was a stream ahead. The highway, he remembered. The highway ran over a stream. The water might throw the dogs off. It lead to the road. People, get to the road get to where there’s people.

He surged forward, heading for the sound of the water. Legs pumping faster, burning. His foot slid sideways as he planted it on some wet leaves. His other leg buckled. He fell, sliding down an embankment. His head struck against a rock. The world clouded. For a moment felt warm. He was bleeding. He was falling. He was fading.

Stark coldness woke him as he rolled into the stream. His arms flailed. He tried to right himself. His hand caught something. Sharp. He cut himself. He grabbed anyway. He pulled himself up. The thing cutting his hand came loose. He stumbled. Reached out with his other arm. Found his feet. Standing again. Shaking ankle deep in the water. His bleeding hand still clenched around a piece of rebar he’d wrenched from the mud of the stream bank. He panted heavily as he wiped away the blood from his forehead away from his eye. He could hear them coming. He ran plodding through the water, towards what he was sure the highway.

Down the stream. To the road. Get to people.

He kept moving. He was cold. Blood kept running into his eye. HIs legs ached. He couldn’t tell how bad he was hurt. Later, he knew, later he’d feel all of it.

He stepped out of the stream after a time. He couldn’t hear them after a while. Had he lost them? Where was the highway? He should be able to hear cars, even this late. What time was it. His eyes drooped just a bit. His pace slowed. He staggered from side as he jogged along. He was tired. He had to have lost them. He need to rest just for minute.

A twig snapped behind him.

He spun around and lashed out with his blood soaked right hand. The metal bar he still clung to struck the mouth of the hound just as it was lunging. He cut his hand again on its razor teeth.

The beast leapt sideways and let out a long wail of pain as it rubbed its face in the dirt. An acid smell filled the air. The black dog’s cry was answered by it’s brothers off in the distance.

Josh ran.

A stumbling, half-hearted, run.

He was going to die. He was going to be ripped apart by this fucking psycho’s dogs he knew it. His feet kept pulling him forward. Down along the edge of the stream. It was over.

The sounds of branches breaking behind him.

Tears began to stream down his face, washing the trickling blood from his eye. He passed through the edge of the woods.

Excited yowls and growls of eager mouths

Josh stumbled forward, finally collapsing near the deserted highway, next to the old drainage pipe that let the stream run under it.

Hungry black shadows at the edge of the trees.

Sobbing he pulled himself into the drain and curled up. The cold water flowed around him.

The shadows came forward and stopped at the entrance of the pipe. They sniffed cautiously at its edges and whimpered. They circled the highway, to the other side of the pipe. Josh shook in fear and cried. He waited. The dogs barked and lunged at the entrances to the pipe, never quite coming far enough in to reach him. From both sides of the drain they bayed at him. 

Josh screamed out at them, in great sobbing breaths. Why didn’t they just kill him? They just kept at it, growling and barking. Menacing from the outside all night.

The long hours passed, and as the sun began to come up the dogs quieted. Josh peered through his hands. As one turned and walked back into the woods. Just like that, as if he no longer existed.

***

Josh woke up crying. He sat up and grasped the piece of rebar he kept near his bed. It always made him feel better, more grounded. The dreams were getting worse again. Bea said they would around this time every month.

Sometime after the dogs left, he crawled out that pipe. Made his way down the highway. He found pervy guy and his truck a few miles later. He’d had some kind of spear through his chest. But the keys were still in his truck, as was Josh’s bag. He drove it, through various scenes of horror, south til he got to Clementsville, or what was left of it. There were people there. Most of them digging graves. The rest huddled around a pizza shop and listening to the old woman who ran it. She took him in and got him cleaned up. Some young girl named Harper treated his wounds as he told them his story.

She told him that the dogs could smell the iron in the rust of the drain pipe. That like all fey they were loath to touch it. That corrosion was what had saved his life. That if they had caught him and killed him, he would become one of them. Rebirthed as a hound in the huntsman’s pack.

“Not many people manage to get away from a wild huntsman,” she told him when he had finished, “but you outlasted his hounds and survived til sun up. For that insult to him, he’ll chase you for the rest of your days. Even in your dreams. Best you not wander far from The Circle on nights of the full moon.”

Rest Stop

Harper stalked away from the gas station leaving the others to fill the tanks. She just need a moment of calm quiet away from Josh and Erin’s constant nagging. It was obvious they didn’t want her along, and only took her because Aunt Bea insisted. Sometimes she hated that the old woman meddled so much on her behalf, it just made everyone else not want her around. She took the faded red ball cap off her head and let her hair down to feel the warm summer breeze blow through it as she crossed the empty highway. When she reached the median she sat down, placed her pistol beside her, and ran her hand along the carpet of fresh wild flowers. She reached into her bag and retrieved a  sandwich.  Peanut butter, again. She was so tired of peanut butter. She took a bite and chewed it thoughtfully as sat among the flowers, enjoying the cleanness of their scent carried with it.

The air at home was full of the choking smoke of the foundry and the fuel exhaust of the generators. Out here the sky was clear and blue, for once she didn’t feel like she was constantly suppressing a cough.The world out here seemed so beautiful and vibrant. So much more colorful and alive than behind the built up wall of grey cinder blocks and rusted iron scrap that she lived behind. Out here the only thing blocking her view of the world was the tall green of the trees.

There, at the tree line on the other side of the highway,  a deer stood staring at her. It was an enormous buck, antlers crowning it majestically. Sitting on its back was a woman, elegant and tall. She wore a sheer gown, its color just a slight shade away from the sky’s hue. Her legs both draped over the beasts right side as they casually approached Harper.

When she was small she had been raised on all the old fairy tales and as she got older she came to grips with the difference between make believe, and the ugliness and boredom of the real world. Then it all changed, everything. Oberon and his people had returned, and the new reality of things took hold day by day as she grew up in the hot noise and dust of The Circle. Now here was one of them. Beautiful and perfect, and in the flesh. This is as close as she had ever been to one, before this there had only been brief glimpses of them from the top of the wall. It was singing.

The woman sang as she approached. A faint, soft song in a voice that seemed to be part of the wind, and harmonized with the bees as they buzzed among the flowers around where Harper sat. Those beautiful sweet flowers, that used to droop and turn grey here on this strip of lawn as cars belched their filth into the world as they sped their owners up and down the flat dark roadway. Harper felt her hand brush against the pistol beside her. Ugly thing, she thought as she pushed it away, cold and ugly metal thing. Just more crude death that we carry with us, more ways to destroy. More ways to be ugly. Not like them. They are life. They are beauty. They brought back the flowers, and the birds. They didn’t just return to the world, they returned with the world.

The woman rode closer, still singing. Harper could hear it so clearly now, that beautiful song in an unknown language. She heard herself singing along, as if she had known the song all her life. The woman in blue held out her hand invitingly. Harper stood and took the offered hand, and looked up into the enchanting face, its eyes staring at her with pity and forgiveness. Harper could still hear that song of love and sweetness, even though the woman’s lips were not moving. Those pale and pink smiling lips. The other hand came into view holding a long knife. Harper was still singing along with the woman’s thoughts. She tilted her head up waiting for the cool blade against the flesh, waiting for a final and warming stroke of the razor sharpness across her throat.

Then the song ended.

It ended in a sharp crack, like thunder and a fast whisper, like silk. The beautiful whiteness of the woman’s face became marred with a streak of red velvet leaking from her temple. The clean air now smelled of burnt flesh from where the iron slug had pierced it. First the knife fell, and then the woman slid sideways off her mount. The beast shook its head and then bolted back towards the woods as another shot rang out.

Erin came running up, panting, smoke still curling from the barrel of the hunting rifle. She caught her breath for a moment.

“Fuckin’ elves!” She spat, “Be more careful and don’t wander off next time damn it. Bea ‘d have my ass if I let anything happen to you. C’mon now, Josh’s loaded up all the gas we can carry, let’s head back home.

New Kids

Some things are different on the avenue.

Big Tattoo got out a changed man. Eyes sunken and hollow, he’s thinner now too. His skin yellowed from jaundice, just hanging in bags from his frame. I don’t know what happened in there, but he hasn’t fared much better on the streets. The old, white house they operated from got sold. New owners evicted the old man and painted the damned thing sea-foam green. No one’s seen hide nor hair of Mr. Squeaky-voice since. Sounds like he ran off with the product. Someone new set up shop in a house across the street. And everyone’s mad at Big Tattoo, he was supposed to keep them all in line. You can see it in his walk. The exhaustion of an old man still playing a kid’s game, just cause they never thought to get good at anything else. It almost hurts to watch it happen.

And the new kids are learning the ropes. They’ll skip school to  stand in shifts out front of that old abandoned house the corner. The one with the plates missing from it’s jalousies, wild grape vines overrunning the yard and pulling at the fence, peeling red trim around the windows. There’s one boy there now I’ve been watching grow up for the better part of a decade. You can tell he’s there on business cause he’s sporting two phones. The business line’s a flip phone burner. I guess the other line, a low rent smart phone, is for snapchat, and for telling lies to his mother. He’s on lookout, checking for the cops.

It’s not like they don’t know why he’s out there, or who he’s working for. They look him up and down as they cruise on by with slow intimidation. They’re too busy to roust him, he ain’t bleeding in the street. Not yet at any rate. They’re all still busy looking for who that shot the baby girl four months back. She lived, but they were aiming for her dad. He wasn’t so lucky though. Inquiries are ongoing.

Down the block the neighbor’s little girl is learning to ride her bike, while her brother hands out dead leaves  to passersby from the bouquet of them he’s collected from the parking lot of the funeral home.

The autumn air is growing cold and crisp, and I’ve taken to just sleeping in most days.

The Woman Downstairs

The woman downstairs was crying again.

He was trying to nap, and she just kept crying.  Great sobbing breaths. all the time saying, “I’m sorry, I’m trying.” He tossed and turned, trying, like always, to ignore the pitiful sounds of her sadness.

Pretending, once again, to not be home as her boyfriend stomped around screaming threats and abuses. Trying not to hear the awful crack; or notice the ammonia smell of gunpowder. To not feel the awful silence that followed for ages afterward.

It had been weeks, and he could still hear her crying every time he shut his eyes.

That Face

His eyes fluttered open and then immediately slammed shut again. Screwed tight against the light that screamed at him through the window. The damned nurse must have opened the blinds again. He fumbled for the button box that controlled them but came up empty. He must have knocked it off the bed in his sleep. With the brace on his leg getting up was problematic at best. There was a low muttering sound coming from somewhere. They must have turned the television on television as well. He rolled his head away from the window. That’s where the face was.

The face, leaned close, hair neatly swept back and all smiles. It was attached to a lab coat and a blue paisley tie, with an ID on a lanyard that didn’t match that face. It was sitting on the back of a chair, with pink high topped sneakers planted on the seat cushion; bent at the knees that its elbows rested on, both hands up to let that face rest on them. The smile didn’t show teeth, but it was quite clear that teeth were an option. That face again. He knew it was going to turn up sooner or later, he had just hoped it would have stayed away a little longer

He reached again for the remote, to press the call button. But, the face reached down and lifted it by the wire that trailed from the bed, dangling it.

‘Here you go Guy, I think you dropped this,’ The face said offering it to him.

Guy took it from him and decided not to bother the nurses, He was pretty sure they weren’t qualified to deal with the likes of him, not in this ward anyway.

‘You got yourself all banged up on that last one, didn’t you? Took us a while to figure out which quackery you ended up at.’

‘I got hit by a car.’ It hadn’t been that bad, just some bruises and a torn meniscus but, he had faked a head injury to get them to keep him for a while. It would only be a few more days they’d be willing to keep him here.

‘Mama always told you to look both ways before fleeing a crime scene didn’t she?’

‘I guess she did’

‘Where is it?’

‘Safe, it should be until I get out of here.’

‘Cut the crap Guy. Where is it?’

‘I said it’s safe. It’s as safe as I am. How safe is that Jacob?’

‘You wound me my friend,’ protested the smile, ‘You know I’d never hurt you. I like you to much.’

It was probably true, for some unknown reason Jacob had some weird, psycho, guardian angel complex toward him. It was a shame that Jacob wasn’t the only one he had to worry about.

‘Look, it’s safe. Tell them that for me,’ Guy relaxed a little, ‘Tell them I can recover it as soon as I get out of here.’

Jacob’s smile flattened out on one side. It always did that when he was weighing his options. He oozed off the back of the chair and stood beside it. ‘Alright, when you get out then,’ he said finally, ‘that’s fair enough. He stood there for a few more moments and gave a short nod before turning around and walking out of the room.

The door made a quiet click when as it shut and Guy took a deep breath. Talking to Jacob had always been unsettling, the doctor’s coat didn’t help. He’d wait until after they served breakfast and then start insisting on a discharge. Hopefully he could find away to leave the hospital without being noticed. He wasn’t sure how long he had before Jacob came back.

Then it dawned on him. Jacob didn’t say goodbye. Jacob never left without saying goodbye.

He sat bolt up and started to inch himself off the bed. His foot had just touched the floor when the door flew open. In came a wheel chair being pushed by that smiling face.

‘Good news Sunshine! You’ve got a clean bill of health, time to go home.”

Trash Day

They were lined up before dawn again at that old, white house today. The desperate ones, that didn’t ration themselves out quite right and wind up milling around the street waiting for the morning delivery. The sun’s come up on the avenue. Now some old addict walks, bent near sideways, holding broken glasses tight to his face. He’s looking too casual as he searches. For the odd, stray pill dropped on the asphalt or maybe the lawn. I don’t think he notices as I pass him on my way home from the run down park where the bus picks the kids up for school.

They don’t bother me much most days, except when their memory gets fuzzy and forget that they’re not supposed to come up in my yard.

It’s more likely they’ll get violent with each other than with anyone else. Usual only ever gets as far as them yelling about who owes who what money, or who took that last dose. They all owe each other something it seems. Most days they keep it low key. They have to, or Big Tattoo will run ‘em off.

Too much noise is bad for business I guess.

The cops? They all know what’s going on here. They know about all the other houses in the neighborhood just like it. They’re not going to do a god damned thing either, not unless someone calls in a complaint. When that happens, they’ll probably just tell you that “It’s under investigation” and push some papers around the office. 

Who are they going to arrest anyway? No big busts to be had here, no feathers in a cap. None of the knuckle heads are ever have the stuff on them for too. No big stash is kept there. Operation’s supplied by a system of small timers and junkies on rusted out bikes; they do all the leg work. Some young punk with a voice like sandpaper runs the business end, and Big Tattoo keeps them all in line. Pretty sure the kids hanging out at the end of the street are lookouts. Ready to make that call, warning them every time a cruiser heads their way.

It’s not even their house. They just sling their shit off the front porch.

Place belongs to some poor old guy in his seventies. They offered him a cut at first. Social security wasn’t quite making ends meet, so why the hell not? It was just a little weed when it started. He probably should have seen it coming. Maybe he did. Hard to say, old fool is so drunk most of the time no one can really understand him. I can hear the fear though, when he mumbles at the night about how it’s his house. The sadness when he mutters about not seeing any money from them.

And they all know me and, they all know where I live. This is the nicest part of town we’ve lived in for years.

My bad knee creeks as I walk up stairs. Groaning when I realize, I have to make another trip down with the garbage.

It’s trash day, and it’s all gotta go down to the curb.

Portal Dread

He stared at the open door with sickening dread. Had he been robbed? Had the landlord shown up?  He nervously approached the yawning frame. No, he had been careless, left it open. Peering inside there was only darkness. He had let it out.  A wren lay, pristine and bloodless, one wing spread open across the threshold. A sign, he knew what it meant.  The bird was just the first. Now it was loose in the world.  It was his fault. He went next door and knocked gingerly.

“Hey Tom.”

“Hi Sarah, have you seen my cat? She’s gotten loose again.”

On That Hallowed Night

Based on a true story…

Sheltered from street view and behind the gate leads a path. To the old water oak, that tonight displays the sign of the hanged man; upside down, arms spread, insisting a choice be made. The paving stones to the house or up the hill back to the world.

Downward on the  path to the threshold a spiked necked mongrel stands guard. A token gift promises safe passage, one way at least. Mirrors in the vestibule shine back candlelight and shows faces adorned, and not quite real.

In the main hall, guests all sit, passive, their frozen faces painted in gruesome display, staring at the black robed man paces in the prison he has painted on the floor. Spiraling in towards the tome laid open on the floor. The last few are seated around. The lights are dimmed, leaving only candle flame and an odd glow from runes on the floor.

A harlequin in domino, visage of smiling death, bells tinkling, nods and the droning pipes begin. A low, steady rhythm that can be felt in the bones. From a dark corner the jinn motions his hands and draws unearthly percussive notes from the air, as if some invisible organ plays them. A rabbit faced woman begins to pluck the strings of her long necked and alien instrument. The flock inhales as one gaping mouth. The black clad magus begins to read aloud from his book of blasphemies.

His voice his raspy and unsteady, near stumbles through the words. Fearful of a misspoke syllable that might displease his host. Gaining speed and courage as the work flows through him, out of him and into the ears of this singular night. He finds the pace amidst the subtle changes of the pipers drone. His voice touches the notes of the composer and melody driven by the strings. Together they weave the call. From an open door the damp smell of new fog drifts in from the world outside. In his strange words he sings of the worlds both old and new. Intones things beyond his vision. He dances in his circle and calls them, asks them, begs them, to draw nearer. To hear him, to see him, to wrap their arms about him. To love him, as he has always loved them. He makes flowing gestures with his arms and implores them to be here on this sacred night. He makes them the ancient promise in unknown words, and it is done.

The pipes, the music, his voice all stop without warning or cue.

The flock exhales. They look at each other oddly. Unsure of what they witnessed, or of what to next. A few moments of awkward glances, the rise and mill about. When they are certain there is no more to be done they slowly, in small groups walk out to the yard to make what can be from the rest of this special night.

The magus turns towards his fellows and smiles. Outside there is a sharp, inhuman  roar, followed by all too human cries of fear. He shrugs as he looks out the window to the scene on the lawn. The guitarist joins him raising her mask. Wondering how she was going to get all this crap unstuck from her instrument.

It had been a good turn out for the night. The show went well, except maybe some of the party guests had eaten a few to many of those brownies. The mystic symbols in the glow in the dark paint, under the black light had been a nice touch. Too bad that asshole in the Leatherface mask was chasing people around with his chainsaw now.

“Who the fuck invited that guy?”

“That’s Josh.” The skull faced jester said setting his didgeridoo aside.

The vocalist adjusted the robe, “What a douche.”

“We already knew that. Fuck it dude, it’s Halloween, let him have his fun.”

“I guess you’re right.”