Posts Tagged ‘Brain’

Freeway Park (Short Story Excerpt)

January 18, 2017

1.

January 17th, 2008.
Seattle, Washington.
11:23 p.m.

Here I sit in a dingy lil’ diner on Capitol Hill, a half-smoked cigarette in one hand, an a cup uh steamin’ hot coffee in front uh me. The place—Cassie’s it’s called—ain’t too bad. It’s got decent coffee; not the gourmet shit ya find on every fuckin’ corner round here, but I’ve had worse. The food’s alright, ’cept the goddamn cooks bathe everythin’ on the grill in margarine. Cassie’s is one uh five restaurants in the Seattle-metro area that’re open twenty-four hours, an it’s the cheapest. I guess that’s why I go there. It sure as fuck ain’t for the service or the atmosphere.

I take a sip uh my coffee an look at my watch.

Almost time to go meet Pat.

2.

Man, last night was bad. I met up with this sweet lil’ honey round nine o’clock. Rhonda. Short, dark hair, big titties. Nice gal, for a junkie. She got hit by a car last year an fin’ly got her settlement. Been partyin’ her ass off ever since. Last night, so happens, she wanted to party. And since she had the dope, I damn sure had the time.

Now, there’s a few girls in the picture, but suffice to say that lately I ain’t too keen on junkie-pussy. I just go to work, come home, an do what I gotta do to feed my habit. But Rhonda, she likes to fuck, an she’s gotta way uh gettin’ what she wants. Dumb broad wouldn’t give me a taste ’less I got it up an kept it up. So I did what I could, thinkin’ bout those other girls to get revved up, an we was goin’ half the night.

That’s why I slept all goddamn day.

Man, I feel pretty shitty…woke up just as the sun was goin’ down an snorted the last uh my stash. I pushed off for a lil’ while, then came back to life only to find my nose was bleedin’. Got blood all over my goddamn couch, too. I came down pretty fuckin’ hard but I got through it alright. My head’s killin’ me, though. Feels like a fuckin’ jackhammer in the middle uh my brain.

Shit, least my hands aren’t shakin’ anymore.

3.

I look round an the scene’s fairly typical. Just a few people in here, most uh’m loners like me. I insisted on sittin’ in the rear corner booth, my favorite spot, even though the light above the table’s broken. Hell, I like it better that way.

Kinda like hidin’ in the shadows like some villain in a bad movie.

The waitress walks past without lookin’ over an it pisses me off a lil’. Her name’s Lisa. Skinny lil’ girl, but she’s gotta nice shape to her. I wouldn’t mind hangin’ out with her even though she’s got that freaky Capitol Hill vibe. Piercin’s all over her face, tattoos everywhere, red streak in her hair, all that shit. She’s got yin-yang symbols in red ink on the inside uh her forearms, an for some reason that turns me on. She walks by again an I stare right at her tight lil’ ass. I don’t give a shit if she catches me or not. I’ll bet she fucks better’n Rhonda, an she ain’t no junkie.

So I watch Lisa for a bit, smokin’ an dreamin’, wishin’ I was someone else. Before I know it, my watch says: 11:29.

Time to get the fuck outta here.

My coffee’s still hot so I take three quick sips, slide outta the seat, an go to the register. Great. Lisa’s there. “Hi, sweetness,” I say as I stroll over.

She doesn’t even bother looking up—just asks what I had.

I tell her all I had was coffee, but in my mind I wanna shout: Coffee! Ya stupid bitch, cantcha remember coffee? But I don’t cause I’d still like to take her home one uh these nights.

“Oh, yeah,” she says, an rings it up.

I pay an throw her a buck for a tip. A whole buck, even though she only had to refill my goddamn cup one time. And she still doesn’t look up as she pockets the buck with a sarcastic, “Thanks.”

I turn to leave, but for some reason I just can’t let this shit go tonight. I really don’t have time for this broad’s attitude, but I tell myself: Fuck it, an put my hands down on the counter. I clear my throat an lean over the register, hopin’ to get her attention.

Lisa sighs real dramatic-like an says, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Goddamn, she sounds so young an snotty. Just makes me hornier. “Look, baby,” I say, “why don’t you an me go out for a drink sometime? You’re the cutest lil’ thing on Capitol Hill.”

Then I give her a wink an a smile for good measure.

She don’t say nothin’ for at least thirty seconds, maybe more, but I don’t budge. Then she looks up, an I’ll be damned if there ain’t a tear runnin’ down her cheek. For the first time she looks me square in the eye. Then she sticks out her right arm. She’s always wearin’ a leather collar on that arm, not with spikes, but lil’ metal studs on it. But it’s too wide for her skinny lil’ arm, makes it seem like some gauntlet from the dark ages. She unbuckles it an peels it off right there. I’m confused ’til she holds her wrist up to my face. At first, all I see are the reddish lines where the collar bites into her pale skin, but then I see what she wants me to see. Lil’ slash marks, crisscrossin’ from her wrist up to the edge of the yin-yang tattoo. They aren’t deep; just enough to bleed, I’d say. But they’re very fresh.

So what the hell do I say to that?

Exactly. Nothin’.

That’s when she says, “People like you are the reason I do this,” an runs away through the swingin’ door to the kitchen.

Shit, man. That ain’t what I wanted, but I ain’t got time for it, anyhow. Have to get movin’.

Sorry, Lisa.

4.

I step into the cold winter air an immedit’ly start to shiverin’. All I have on are these ragged ol’ blue jeans, this thin tee-shirt, an my black zip-up sweater. I’m also wearin’ a black beanie and gloves, but it’s still freezin’ ass cold. That damp kinda cold that I don’t like. It seeps into your bones an makes it feel like the fuckin’ marrow’s gonna freeze.

Anyhow, I head up the side street Cassie’s is on, take a left, an walk right in the middle uh the biggest freak show on this side uh the country: Broadway Avenue. What a fuckin’ treat. Used record stores, used book stores, used clothin’ stores; anythin’ someone didn’t want no more, ya can buy. Lots uh places to eat, too. Mexican. Thai. Hell, even Ethiopian. With all that shit, ya got college kids runnin’ round with their backpacks an cell phones, ya got guys in drag, dudes holdin’ hands, broads with facial hair, an some uh these fuckers look like they’re right outta some vampire movie—all pale an dressed in black.

An the bums. Fuck, there’s an asshole with a sign on every corner beggin’ for change. Every sign has some hard luck story on it, but don’t be fooled. They’re just a bunch uh tweakers like me.

Sure, I get high, too, but at least I got me a job.

I don’t really mind all that, though. What gets me are the smells. I’ll be strollin’ along an all the sudden—BAM!—I’ll get a big whiff uh some fucker ain’t bathed in a week. Or I’ll pass some corner they been pissin’ in all day. I even seen some uh those bastards takin’ a shit ‘longside the street.

Welcome to Broadway, baby.

Make ya self right at home.

5.

So, I’m headed downtown. Freeway Park; right next to the Convention Center to meet up with Pat. Interstate Five runs right by it. I guess that’s how the place got its name. Nice lil’ park, but too many bums like to camp out. I figure they’ll be there tonight, huddled up beneath the overpass, or over in the bushes. I ain’t worried bout em gettin’ in the way, though. Most uh’m’re piss drunk, passed out, an dead to the world.

Pat. I guess ya could say he’s a friend. But lemme tell ya how it really is with us junkies. We ain’t got no friends; just people we use, an people we use with. Pat’s a guy I use to get my stuff sometimes. I never use with him, though. The guy’s a fag an I ain’t gettin’ high with no fag. He asked me once if I’d let him suck my cock an I almost belted him, but I didn’t wanna lose him as a connection. I only go to him when it’s an emergency. When my usual guy ain’t got no blow on hand.

Tonight’s a lil’ different. Pat called me in for a favor. I norm’ly don’t get involved in this type uh shit, but I need the money an the blow. Pat gets good shit from this black kid, Shelton. Shelton’s only seventeen; just an errand boy for his older brother, who happens to be an up-an-comin’ dealer on the West Coast. Straight from L.A., apparen’ly.

Anyhow, Pat gotta meetin’ set up with Shelton tonight, only Shelton don’t know I’m gonna be there, too. Me an Pat’re gonna jack him an take his stash. I’m s’posed to get half the stash—enough to keep me wired like I was hooked up to a car battery for a week—an a hundred bucks to go along with it. Pat already has a bus ticket to Denver for tomorrow mornin’ so he’s got nothin’ to worry bout. He’ll be long gone by the time Shelton’s brother finds out. The kid’ll never even see me comin’ so I ain’t got nothin’ to worry bout, either. I am a lil’ nervous, though.

Shit can always go wrong.

I still wonder why Shelton’s brother would let him make a drop all by himself at this time uh night. But then again, Pat’s a big pussy. The kid prob’ly told his brother he could kick Pat’s ass with one hand tied behind his back. And he wouldn’ta been lyin’.

Sounds like a great setup, don’t it? But even so, I gotta ask myself: Why am I doin’ this? Hell, I don’t know. I need the money an I need the stuff, but that ain’t all. Maybe it’s the thrill, too. Maybe it’s just that once ya start doin’ shit ya never thought ya would, ya just keep goin’.

What’s next? I gotta wonder. Muggin’ people? Robbin’ houses? I’ve already sold everythin’ I own to feed my habit. And that’s really the bottom line. I need to feel that kick so bad I really could kill somebody. Maybe I’ve lost it. No sane person would do the shit I’m bout to do.

But, hey, what’s the worst that could happen? Shelton’s brother shows up an blows my head off? That really wouldn’t be so bad. This life’s turnin’ out to be a bunch uh bullshit, anyhow.

Fuck it.

I reach Seneca street just as the wind starts pickin’ up, an turn right.


“A Messy Divorce” is part of the collection: Living The Nightmare.

Available for digital download @ https://books2read.com/u/4NR629

Available in paperback through Amazon.com @ https://www.amazon.com/dp/1986415325

Thank you for reading!

JLR

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Delirium Tremens (Short Story Excerpt)

December 20, 2016

author-3January 4th, 2017
Stark City, Oregon.
5:53 a.m.

“JESUS CHRIST!” Daniel Jax screamed as four large security guards began strapping him to a hospital gurney. Lightning cracked the air above him, and black spiders swarmed beneath his dirty clothes. Each of the guards had seized a limb, applying hard rubber cuffs for Daniel’s—and the nurse’s—own safety. “I HAVE TO SAVE ZOEY!”

“Easy, sir,” the guard securing Daniel’s right arm said. “We’ll be done in a second.”

“IT’S GONNA EAT HER SOUL!”

Daniel convulsed, turned to the guard with bulging, bloodshot eyes. He wanted to scream, I’m not crazy! but couldn’t find the words. He wanted to tell him about his family, about the beautiful Cape Cod home he’d bought by becoming one of the top insurance salesmen in northern California.

But most of all, Daniel wanted to tell him about the lightning.

“Man, he stinks!” The guard securing Daniel’s left ankle shook his head. “Gotta be wearin’ at least three layers!”

“Okay,” a tired, gray-haired nurse said. “What’s the story here, guys?”

“Looks homeless,” the guard securing Daniel’s right ankle said. “Medics found him in an alley downtown, screaming about demons. Seems very dehydrated.”

“Uh-huh. Name and age?”

“I.D. says, Jax, Daniel. Forty-three years old.”

“Daniel.” The nurse laid her gloved hand on his shoulder. “My name’s Blanche. There’s no demons. You’re having a psychotic episode brought on by severe alcohol withdrawal.”

Having screamed himself hoarse, Daniel turned his bulging eyes to Blanche. The guards had finished strapping him down and he felt helpless. Unable to sit up. Unable to reach out. Unable to do anything but gape and shudder beneath the pale overhead light.

“I know it hurts, but I need you to hold still while I insert your I.V.”
With a sad groan, Daniel shut his eyes, still squirming as thousands of spider legs pricked his flesh. “It took her!” he whispered. “I saw it!”

Nodding, Blanche slid the needle into Daniel’s arm. Daniel hissed, looked up with fear and pain etched into his face.

Another whisper: “I have to save Zoey!”

Blanche shook her head. “Alright, Daniel. Now it’s fluids, fluids, fluids. I’m gonna order a Thiamine boost, and a heavy dose of Diaxepam to help you sleep.”

Fists clenched, Daniel strained to sit up. “I have to save her!”

“You’re gonna be here for awhile, so just lie back and ride it out. Once these DTs pass, we’ll get you evaluated and outta here. I’ll do everything I can to help you, but right now I’ve gotta go check on my other patients.”

Daniel flinched from another crack of lightning as Blanche left, shut off the light, and closed the door. They’d put him in one of the rooms reserved for psychotic patients. No T.V., no sink; nothing which could excite or harm him. A beam of light shone through the observation window onto his face. Already, the shadows in the corners had begun to writhe and swirl. But they didn’t know. Medics, security guards, nurses; normal people. They couldn’t see the true horrors which lived in darkness. Daniel knew because he used to be like them—used to be normal. Then the lightning came, shattering every bit of normalcy he’d ever known.

“I’ll find her, goddamnit! Before it sucks the life out of her forever!”

Still squirming, Daniel took deep breaths. It didn’t help. The lightning still cracked. The spiders still swarmed. And he craved alcohol as never before; like a cramp in the center of his being. If not for this mission, Daniel would’ve killed with his bare hands for a sip of beer. But he couldn’t save Zoey drunk. To save her, he had to bear this agony.

The agony of Delirium Tremens.

“Great news!” Blanche said, pushing through the door. “Got your meds. How are you feeling?”

Gasping, Daniel looked at Blanche. How long had she been gone? A minute? An hour? Daniel had no clue.

“Still riding it out, I see. Well, this’ll help…”

As Blanche injected the Thiamine and Diaxepam into Daniel’s I.V., Daniel again closed his eyes. The Thiamine didn’t matter, but the Diaxepam would be his savior.

God’s mercy, coursing through his veins.

“Alright, Daniel. Nothing left to do but lie back and try to rest.”

As Blanche left, Daniel twisted in his restraints. Lie back and rest? No way. Not when he had a life to save. A life more important than his own.

I’m coming, Zoey! Just hold on a little longer…

Propelled by his racing pulse, the Diaxepam slammed into Daniel’s brain with locomotive force. All at once he ceased writhing and his eyelids began to flutter. His sharp exhalations dulled, becoming deep, almost contemplative sighs.

Hold on…Zo…ey...

One last sigh, then Daniel went slack. Head turned, eyes closed, lips parted. Not quite snoring. Several minutes of blessed nothing passed before Daniel began to dream. The same dream he’d had for the last twelve years: rummaging around his attic on a muggy March evening. His daughter, Caroline, has found a large black widow spider in her room, and he’s vowed to cleanse the house of all insects. Outside, the sky has darkened and the wind has risen; very apropos for the impending holocaust. Bug spray in hand, he’s found a small infestation of creepy crawlers in a dusty corner. As he advances upon the large, silken web, Daniel hears a clap of thunder. A storm, he thinks, taking aim. And as he pushes the spray button, a bolt of lightning strikes the roof above his head. So fast, so sudden, Daniel doesn’t feel the jolt, but collapses beneath the dry explosion—

BOOM!

“Shit!”

Daniel’s eyes snapped open. Leaving his sleeping form behind, the homeless drunk’s ethereal self sat up and slid off the gurney. He always felt the same after the dream; anxious, drained…and in serious danger of slipping into the bad place. The realm of spirits, shadows, and demons.

But this time, he wanted to go.

God help me.


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JLR

Once You Get To Know Him (Short Story Excerpt)

October 23, 2016

January 4th, 2017.

Stark City, Oregon.

9:11 p.m.

“He’s a great guy,” they all said, “once you get to know him.” He being Gulstan Clay; a shy, slender young man who worked in Patient Transport at Stark County Medical Center. They being the rest of the staff. Doctors. Nurses. Technicians. Transporters. Clerks. Engineers. Janitors. Everyone loved Gulstan.

Everyone, except Heather Hewitt. Heather didn’t even like Gulstan, mush less love him. And she sure as hell didn’t want to get to know him any more than she already had.

No way.

“Cozy back there, sweetheart?”

Heather, semiconscious, mewled in frustration. She lay bound, gagged, and barefoot on the cold metal floor of Gulstan’s van. The carpet had been removed, and it smelled of bleach. Pungent and ominous.

Think I’m…gonna…puke…

Gulstan laughed. “Don’t worry. It takes awhile to get where we’re going, but it’ll be a smooth ride.”

Heather shuddered; didn’t dare open her eyes. Confusion intermingled with drowsiness inside her brain. The cord around her ankles and wrists chaffed her delicate skin. The back of her neck ached with a cold electrical burn. The duct tape over her lips felt sticky and stifling. All around, equipment rattled with the van’s movement. Tools, chains, buckets—perhaps a shovel or two.

God knew what else.

Fucking…bastard…

Lying there, Heather’s thoughts drifted back to the very beginning. To six months ago: July Fourth, 2016. She’d had to work, but it had been a slow Independence Day for the E.R. At lunch, she’d gone to the cafeteria with several coworkers. Ten minutes into her break, a young man in blue scrubs sat down opposite her. He had spiked black hair and wore a crooked, anxious smile. Heather noticed severe razor burn around his jawline. A fellow nurse named Blanche introduced them:

“Heather, meet Gulstan. Gulstan, meet Heather.”

She’d smiled and said hello. Gulstan looked uncomfortable, explaining that he’d just started in Transport; the new kid in town. Heather couldn’t remember her response, but Gulstan said, “Nice to meet you.” Simple as that. Heather resumed eating and gossiping with Blanche, and hadn’t even noticed when Gulstan left the table.

How could she have guessed that such an innocent meeting could lead to this?

“Oh, uh…it might get a little bumpy for the last mile or so, sweetheart. Sorry about that.”

Gulstan had put a pillow beneath Heather’s head, and now she buried her face into it.

Sweet…heart? I’m not…not your…sweet…

After that unremarkable day in the cafeteria, Heather returned to work as usual, never knowing that she’d just caused an avalanche in Gulstan’s fragile world. Two days later, she’d met Gulstan again—this time in the E.R. He’d arrived to wheel one of her patients to the x-ray room. Except Gulstan had seemed more interested in her than in doing his job. He wanted to become a nurse, he’d said, just like Heather. Then he’d begun asking questions. How long had she been a nurse? When did she graduate nursing school? Did she like it? What made her decide to be a nurse?

On and on, until Heather had to excuse herself. She’d felt annoyed, but also sorry for Gulstan. He seemed a bit awkward; unsure of himself. Lonesome.

“You know…I first met you about a year ago. Heck, I guess there’s no harm in telling you this now. But, uh, I was goaded by my old boss into going down to that strip club you used to work at…”

No…don’t…

Choking back tears, Heather sighed into the pillow. Wishing with all her heart that she didn’t have to hear the rest. Because she already knew.

Don’t…say…

The third time Heather met Gulstan, she’d just exited Intensive Care when he appeared at her side. He’d seemed nervous, stammering as he asked Heather to help him prepare for nursing school. That’s when Heather felt the first twinge of dislike, and she reacted by saying that she didn’t have the time. She’d also mentioned that her boyfriend might get jealous if she accepted.

Heather didn’t have a boyfriend, but her gut had told her to lie. And Heather always listened to her gut.

“Yeah. As soon as we walked in, I saw you up on that stage. Naked as a jaybird, too! I thought, ‘what’s a beautiful girl like her doing in a place like this?’ I’m really glad you don’t work there anymore, sweetheart. It’s best for us.”

Glad? Us?

Heather swallowed around a knot in her throat, worked her lips against the tape. She’d danced at Le Club du Mal, the classiest erotic nightclub in Stark City, for two years to help pay for nursing school. She’d even danced part-time for awhile afterward. And she’d never had any reason to regret it…until now.

Sick…

One day, Gulstan approached Heather in the cafeteria, offering to buy her lunch—anything she wanted. But Heather refused, reminding Gulstan of her jealous boyfriend. After that, Gulstan kept his distance, smiling and waving from afar; saying hello whenever they passed in the hallways. Heather felt good that she’d been nice in blowing him off.

Then things got weird. Fast.


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JLR

Driftwood (Short Story)

March 13, 2015

March 4th, 2016.
Stark City, Oregon.
7:33 a.m.

Last night, Lareyn fell asleep with her hand on my back. Lareyn, of course, is my wife. My beautiful, elegant, gracious wife. I say this as if I’m just now finding out how beautiful, elegant, and gracious she is; as if I’d somehow forgotten and have only begun to remember. Well, rest assured, I have always known. Since the first time I looked into the bewitching pools of her eyes, since I first heard her sultry voice, I have known. But I must now confess to at times being a rather dense man, easily distracted, which causes this knowledge to lose its way. Like lonesome driftwood upon a frothing sea. Simply put–and much to my discredit–my appreciation often wanes for my dear, tender wife. I can, at least, honestly say that I’ve never neglected Lareyn, nor have I ever treated her badly. It’s just that I don’t always express my admiration for her as much as she deserves.

In this respect, I suppose, I’m a typical husband.

But last night…that hand. Her hand. My wife’s warm, gentle, reassuring hand upon my back. The simplest of gestures, which nonetheless brought my regard for Lareyn back to the fore–not just of my brain, but of my very being. Do you know that mental contraction you feel when something or someone you see and experience every day suddenly seems brand new? Like a picture with a new frame, an orchestra with a new conductor? Well, that’s what I felt last night. That’s what I feel right now. That’s what compels me to write these words.

Once again, my view of Lareyn has sharpened, narrowed, and I feel the same way I did the night we first met. Only now my appreciation is tinged with nostalgia; a deep layer of warmth and intimacy which spans two decades.

What can I say?

The driftwood has returned to shore, and I love my wife.

I love Lareyn as she lays on our sofa in the den of our home, still asleep, curled up on her side. Her dark hair tangled around her soft cheeks. A slight smile on her lips as if she’s in the midst of some contented dream. Sunlight streams from the window above our sofa, giving her olive skin an angelic glow. During the night, Lareyn must’ve gotten up and slipped off the thin black skirt which now lies on the carpet. One bare leg has slid from beneath the blanket, revealing her shapely and manicured foot. If only she could see herself lying there through my eyes. Then, Lareyn would understand the true meaning of beauty.

Ah, if only…

Our get together last night was nothing special. Just a few friends who’d come over for dinner, drinks, and relaxation. Lareyn had wanted to cook, but I insisted on ordering takeout. Had a craving for Indian cuisine, and felt Lareyn deserved a night off. Our friends arrived in due time, and I opened a bottle of Pinot Noir to go with the curried feast. One of our guests brought homemade cheesecake, which topped everything off nicely.

After dessert, Lareyn and I cleared the coffee table and set up the Monopoly board. The game lasted well into the night, with Lareyn going bankrupt second. She didn’t seem to mind, though, and curled up beside me as I continued to roll the dice and renovate property. Around ten o’clock, two of our friends left, leaving a merry band of five. Shortly thereafter, Lareyn leant back, closed her bewitching eyes, and drifted off. Her hand, which she’d slipped under my shirt to massage my lower back, became still…but didn’t fall away. As if some part of her, though fast asleep, still craved to be in contact with her husband. Of course, I was in the midst of a financial battle with three of our friends, and couldn’t let on how touched I felt at that moment; how I relished the warmth of her soft, unmoving hand. It was with a heavy heart that I rose an hour later to hug two more friends goodbye, then sat back down to finish the game. It had come down to me and a bright young man named Mark, whom I work with.

The spot on my back where Lareyn’s hand had been tingled and felt naked, and I craved its return. But I soldiered through the rest of the game with the proverbial stiff upper lip.

Well, Mark finally won when I had the misfortune of landing on three of his highest priced properties in a row. But he was gracious in victory, and left quietly so as not to disturb Lareyn. For that, I was grateful, and returned from seeing Mark outside with a growing sense of desire for the beautiful creature lying before me. For a moment, I pondered waking Lareyn to make love, but decided against it. That would’ve been selfish. So I just sat there for a long while, admiring her in the bright moonlight. She lay so still, so calm, so comfortable. Her earrings sparkled. Her lips glistened.

Finally, I began to nod off myself.

Now, a decision had to be made. Though I longed for the warmth and solace of our bed, I also longed for the warmth and solace of my wife. To have the best of both worlds, I would’ve had to rouse Lareyn, thereby ruining her tranquility. That, I could not do. So I slipped upstairs, peeled our comforter from our bed, and returned to the den. Lareyn hadn’t moved, and looked more gorgeous than I could ever remember.

Outside, it was cold. Inside, it was perfect. I stripped to my boxers, left my socks on, and draped the comforter over us. I confess that the couch barely contained us, but I held Lareyn close to prevent her from slipping off. Her soft flesh melted in my arms. Our breathing fell into a steady rhythm, and her scent–not her perfume, mind you, but the smell that is specifically Lareyn–left me more intoxicated that the wine ever could.

And that’s how I fell asleep last night. With my wife, Lareyn, in my loving embrace. A satisfied grin on my face. Tears pricking my eyes from the memory of her hand upon my back. I did not dream, and it was the best sleep I’ve had in years.

When I woke, Lareyn was still in my arms; exactly where I wanted her. Reluctantly, I rose and stretched in the morning light. A slight chill pervaded our home, but it felt refreshing. I don’t work today, so I took my time brewing a pot of coffee and making ready everything I’ll need to cook. When Lareyn wakes, I’ll surprise her with a long kiss, a steaming cup, and the declaration that breakfast will be served shortly. If all goes to plan, we’ll spend most of our day on the sofa, laughing, loving, and dozing.

A perfect day.

But for now…

For now, I’m content to sit here. Just sit and write and gaze upon Lareyn. My beautiful, elegant, gracious wife. Lareyn, who is also my life. My love. My heartbeat. I’ll sit and watch over her until she awakens. ’Til then, there’s no place I’d rather be.

What can I say?

The driftwood has returned to shore, and I love my wife.

–March 12th, 2015


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JLR

Bobby’s Fight (Novella Excerpt)

August 21, 2014

bobbys-fightPrologue: The Twilley Restroom

1.

October 9th, 1992.

Hinckley, Oregon.

12:03 p.m.

Gotcha! Clint thought as he pushed through the restroom door. The husky ten-year-old had been awaiting this moment since he’d awoken that morning. Payback for what happened yesterday. His prey, a third-grader named Bobby Williams, stood at the center urinal, wearing a tee-shirt and jeans. Clint glowered at the thin, dark-haired boy. Following him here had been the easy part. Now, he had to finish it before anyone could stop him.

Just you and me, weirdo.

To his left, Clint saw a metal lunchbox on the counter. Bobby’s lunchbox; the one he loved and brought to school every day. Clint’s heavy gait echoed off the tile floor as he walked toward it.

“Hi, Clint.”

Mid-step, Clint froze.

How could he know it’s me?

“Why don’t you leave me alone today? You’ll just get us both in trouble again.”

Clint looker over, grit his teeth.

You’re lucky I slipped yesterday. You won’t be so lucky this time…

Sneering, Clint walked to the counter and seized the lunchbox in his grimy hands. The lid bore the logo of Bobby’s favorite movie, Void Hunter, and the face of Bobby’s idol, The Almighty Ve’yn. Most kids liked Void Hunter—an outer space epic—but few idolized Ve’yn, its main villain. Half man, half dragon, Almighty Ve’yn looked quite sinister. Scaly green hide. Cold obsidian eyes. Curved black horns. A ridge of dark green fins atop its skull and down its spine. A lipless, skeletal mouth.

Very demonic.

Not that Clint cared. He didn’t like Void Hunter or the character Ve’yn. Clint liked sports and hotrods and playing in the dirt; not reading all day like the creepy little kid zipping up his pants and turning toward him.

Let’s see how you like this, Bobby-wobby.

The angry fifth-grader stiffened. His blue Seattle Seahawks jersey reflected:

GAULT

00

in the mirror behind him.

2.

Clinton Otis Gault had always been a problem child. To Roger and Christina, his stable and affectionate parents, it seemed as if he came out of the womb contentious and dissatisfied, and his long, difficult birth foreshadowed the next ten years. At age two, Clint specialized in catastrophic temper tantrums. At age three he showed great skill in throwing his toys at whoever annoyed him. Roger and Christina knew they had a monster on their hands, but didn’t realize how big a monster until much later.

At age four, Clint found himself playing second fiddle to his newborn sister, Leslie. From the moment she arrived—in Clint’s mind, at least—Leslie became the undisputed star of the Gault family. Aunts, uncles, grandparents; everyone gathered around her, laughing and making gah-gah noises, which always made him furious. Leslie this and Leslie that, he’d think. But all she does is make splat!

Then Clint started grade school, and his disposition went from bad to diabolical.

3.

“How’s it goin’, dipwad? I found this by the sink. Ain’t it yours?”

Clint never forgot the moment Bobby turned to see him holding the lunchbox. The little weirdo had sounded so calm, so assured when he’d first walked in, but now—now Bobby looked frightened to tears.

“Yeah,” Bobby replied, his voice soft but firm. “Let me have it.”

Clint’s sneer became a menacing smirk. “Come and get it!”

Bobby blinked. Desperation shone in his eyes as he struggled to remain calm. Then, much to Clint’s sadistic delight, he stepped forward, reaching out with both hands—

Whoops!

Still smirking, Clint let the lunchbox slip from his grasp—

Clang!

The lunchbox unbuckled and sprawled open, spilling out a half-eaten sandwich. Bobby winced from the sudden clatter.

Whoops!

Teeth grit, Clint raised his size nine-and-a-half sneaker and stomped on the lid—

Thunk!

The thin metal—as well as Ve’yn’s demonic face—crumpled beneath Clint’s thick rubber sole.

Come on, dipwad! Let’s see what ya got!

Gaping at the spectacle, Bobby froze. His tender face slackened with disbelief. He shivered, almost weeping, and took a deep, shuddery breath.

Payback time!

Relishing the moment, Clint ground his heel with the cold intent to destroy that which Bobby loved. He did a good job, too. The lid squeaked and grated against the tile floor, and when he lifted his foot, Clint saw a deep, crescent-shaped dent in Ve’yn’s face.

Good! Now he’ll cry…

But Bobby didn’t cry. The frightened boy just stood there, trembling. Proud of himself, Clint stepped back. Then, pretending to be the star kicker for the Seahawks, the bully reared back—

Whoops!

and kicked the dented lunchbox with all his might—

Thwack!

The tin box skidded across the tile—

Eeeeee!

bounced off of Bobby’s right shoe—

Smack!

and came to rest by the toilet stalls. The clamor echoed for several moments—music to Clint’s freckled ears—then stillness returned, broken by the two boys’ soft, unsynchronized breaths.

4.

Children can be cruel. Sometimes, that cruelty spreads like a social disease. Husky and big-boned, Clint wouldn’t outgrow his baby fat until his late teens. So the teasing began in kindergarten. One little smartass branded him pudgy and the term stuck like a fresh coat of paint. Pudgy this and pudgy that, everyday, until the boy snapped.

But being husky and big-boned had advantages, Clint discovered—once he’d shoved a few kids around. And by age nine, Clint had earned an enviable reputation on the Twilley playground, much to his parents’ and teachers’ chagrin.

Then he met Bobby Williams, and everything changed.

5.

Fuckin’ weirdo…

Clint shook his head. Bobby stood there; the ache of seeing his prized possession lying stomped and ruined on the floor evident on his soft face. When would the little weirdo lose his temper and fight back—or at least try? How much more pathetic could he be? Watching him, Clint laughed, baring pizza-stained buck teeth.

“What’s the matter? Is wittle Bobby-wobby gonna cwy?

Bobby, pale to begin with, now looked very ill. He turned to Clint with an expression of utter devastation, beseeching him with wet, flickering eyes. Crying now. Hard. Struggling to speak, his voice became a soft gurgle. A whine. A whimper of defeat which fed Clint’s savage hunger.

“How about a black eye, Bobby-wobby?

Bobby gasped. Clint curled his grimy hands into grimy fists.

Too bad, dipwad!

Bobby flinched, stumbled backward:

AAAHHH!

Rage surged through Clint’s veins as he raised his right arm. His moment, at last! His moment to teach Bobby Williams a lesson! Remind the little weirdo that he ruled Twilley Elementary! That books and straight As and strange eyes meant very little in the big boy world of muscles and pain! And as he stepped forward to throw a wild haymaker, Clint growled like some vicious, feral animal, envisioning blood and bruises and broken teeth—

But the punch never landed, and Clint’s triumph turned to tragedy.

6.

Clint hadn’t liked Bobby from the moment he first saw him. The thin, reclusive boy had transferred from Dale Palmer Elementary; the ghetto school. His parents lived in Stark City, not Hinckley—which made them trash. The little creep just didn’t belong, and Clint—a shining example of the typical American bully—had vowed to make his life miserable.

It began with dirty looks. Whenever he passed Bobby in the halls or saw him at recess, Clint glared like a bull preparing to charge. Bobby just ignored him, spending more and more of his free time in the school library. Taking this as a challenge, Clint went out of his way to shoulder check Bobby here and there—accidentally-on-purpose, of course—just to see what kind of reaction he’d get. But Bobby always backed down. As one of the Big Kids, Clint’s natural bulk struck fear into the hearts of even the sixth grade boys, and he terrified Bobby. Which just encouraged the angry fifth-grader. Soon, Clint tried to corner Bobby every chance he got, hoping he’d get the nerve to fight.

And yesterday, he’d tried again.

7.

WHAT THE FUCK?

Pain, intense and sudden, caused Clint’s haymaker to arc downward. It felt as if a steel clamp had snapped around his throat, and he couldn’t breathe. Face red and bunched with agony, the bully lurched back, clutching his throat with both hands. Grappling with the invisible vise around his neck. Watching him, Bobby sighed.

HELP ME!

“I told you. I told you I didn’t wanna fight you.”

Clint heard Bobby’s voice, but the words held no meaning. Not then, anyway. Still struggling, he stumbled into the counter and fell to his knees—

Smack!

“I hope I never have to tell you again.”

Clint screamed in silent anguish as pain exploded in both kneecaps. Trembling, the bully collapsed, caught himself with one shaky arm. Help! he mouthed, eyes bulging. But the strange little boy just stood there, staring at him. Through him. As if he didn’t exist.

Like yesterday, a chill swept through him. But this time, Clint couldn’t deny the dark truth which lived inside Bobby Williams.

8.

Yesterday, while skulking about the Twilley Elementary playground, Clint saw Bobby by the fence, head down, hands in his pockets. A perfect opportunity, which Clint seized by sneaking up behind him. “Why don’t ya ever look at baseball cards with anybody?” he’d demanded after shoving the little weirdo down. “How come all ya wanna do is read those stupid books?” And Bobby, scared and crying, hadn’t been able to answer. He’d just lied there, refusing to fight. So Clint kicked him. Hard. Still, Bobby had refused to fight. And when Clint tried to kick him again, something odd happened. It had felt like being pushed; an invisible hand slamming into his chest. Then his legs had flown up and, for an instant, Clint hung in midair before crashing to the ground. Very embarrassing. And in the midst of scrambling to his feet, Clint had locked eyes with Bobby…and felt his blood run cold.

I slipped, that’s all, Clint later told himself. Slipped on the sand…

9.

OH, SHIT—HE’S GONNA KILL ME!

In a heartbeat, Clint’s life passed before his eyes. Not his entire life, of course, but the parts which seemed crucial to understanding the way it would end. He saw himself taunting and teasing the boy who now held his life in his hands. Staring him down. Calling him names. Shoving him. Being cruel for cruelty’s sake. Just because he’d felt like it. Because he didn’t like school or teachers or the other kids and needed someone—anyone—to abuse. And because Bobby seemed so different—not just to him, but to everybody. Nobody ever talked to him. Nobody ever sat with him at lunch. Something had to be wrong with him. Very wrong. And now, Clint understood that he’d been right about Bobby being weird and different, but wished with all his heart that he could take it all back. All the pain. All the bullying.

But he couldn’t; so now he would die.

PLEASE, BOBBY! I’M SORRY!

The room—or perhaps Clint’s brain—began to spin. Tiny sparks of light flashed and fluttered before his eyes. His trembling arm felt numb and ready to buckle. HELP! he wanted to shout. SOMEBODY FUCKING HELP ME!

Then, for some reason Clint never understood, Bobby said, “Almighty Ve’yn! What’re you doing…” And in the brief moment in which Bobby paused, the agony around Clint’s throat disappeared.

“…here?”

10.

After the altercation by the fence, Clint decided to work the system. Holding his scraped elbow, he’d ran to the yard duty teacher and told her that Bobby pushed him off the swing for no reason. But his plan backfired. Both of them wound up in after school detention. And after that humiliation, Clint endured a stern lecture from his father. He’d even had to apologize to Bobby and his bitch mother right there in the parking lot. Once home, his own mother had yelled at him, grounding him for the whole weekend. And worst of all, he’d been deprived of dessert. He’d watched in sullen resignation as Leslie ate his share of ice cream, and swore he’d get even the very next chance he got.

Today, of course.

11.

FINALLY!

A noise like the shriek of a rusted gate escaped Clint’s throat as he flopped onto his back, spasming as if electrocuted. His trachea felt bruised and swollen, his neck wrenched and stiff. Large black splotches clouded his vision; a grim reminder of how close he’d come to death. His skull ached, and he placed his hands over his face in a pitiful attempt to block out both pain and reality. I can breathe! he thought, thanking God and Bobby and—to be safe—The Almighty Ve’yn.

Just please don’t kill me…

Lost in agony, Clint didn’t see what happened next. Didn’t see the lunchbox rise and float over to Bobby’s outstretched hand. Didn’t see Bobby frown at the dent in Ve’yn’s face, sweep his hand across it, and make it disappear. He did, however, hear the resultant thunk! of the metal popping back into place. And as he laid there on the cold bathroom floor, he flinched. Like a frightened child.

“Thank you, Almighty Ve’yn!” Bobby said. Clint never understood that, either.

Please don’t kill me…

Tears now. Crying. Cowering. Everything the bully had once harassed and berated Bobby for doing. But Clint didn’t care. Afraid to move, he took shallow breaths and prayed that either Bobby would leave or someone would enter an end this nightmare. Even if it meant everyone finding out that Bobby had won, Clint prayed it would end. And his tears of fright became tears of joy when he heard footsteps moving toward the door.

Please don’t kill me…

Then the footsteps stopped, and Clint’s heart lurched inside his chest.

“I’ll tell you why I never look at baseball cards, Clint,” Bobby said, a slight echo behind his words. “Because I’d rather read than watch stupid games. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Clint shuddered at the sound of Bobby’s voice. Yesterday, he’d demanded to know why Bobby never looked at baseball cards, but now he didn’t care what Bobby did or didn’t do, as long as he didn’t go near him. As long as he didn’t have to look into those dark, wicked eyes.

Please! Don’t! Kill! Me!

“You’re dumb, Clint. And you made me hurt you. Remember that.”

I’m sorry, Bobby!

A moment passed. Silent terror filled Clint’s mind. Then the sound of footsteps again, followed by the opening and closing of the restroom door.

In the silence, Clint lay there all alone. Sobbing behind his grimy hands. Thankful to be alive. Terrified of even the thought of Bobby Williams. Not just beaten, but crushed.

Forever scarred by Bobby’s vengeance.

“I’m sorry,” Clint whispered, breath hitching as he rolled to his side. “Sorry…”

Sweaty and numb with dread—or shock, as Dr. Brix later explained—the felled bully struggled to his feet and lurched to the door. The teachers had all retreated to their classrooms and lounges while the kids frolicked outside for recess, so he faced a short, empty hallway, leading back to the cafeteria. Beyond the cafeteria lay the main hall, which led to the principal’s office. Which, for the first time in his young life, is where Clint wanted to go.

“Sorry, Bobby. Sorry…”

Thus, gasping, wiping his eyes, the disheveled fifth-grader bolted forward; away from the restroom; away from the library. And most of all, away from Bobby Williams.

Running as fast as he could on shaking, rubbery legs.


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JLR


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