Is This Thing On?

Been a while, huh? What happened?

Me? I was in Germany. For eight years! I hardly wrote about it. I was having too much fun. Four years in Düsseldorf and another four in Berlin now seem like a couple of long weekends spent bar hopping.

I am back in the US now. (With my wife! How ’bout that?)

No, I don’t think we’re getting the band back together (though the band is and always will be welcome to post here).[1] I hear occasionally from posthumous and Jim. Gosh knows what Annna is up to.[2]

Things sure have changed. What happened to all the sites we used to pal around with? The other E/N sites? Remember that? “E/N”? Before people said “blog”? Sex Sex World seems to belong to cyber squatters. Portal of Evil now informs us that the newly-installed Red Hat Linux web server is functional. At least Six Six Five’s still up, though also, it seems, under a thick layer of dust.

I wonder what’s up with the old gang.

Did Jack ever find his hat? Is Wyatt still as tough as he used to be? Is zeP cheating on posthumous with another cartoonist? Has Gary Smee calmed down any?

What has happened to the King of Prussia?[3]

How about the rest of you?[4] Anyone still checking this? What’s going on?

The Strangers

I was expecting to dislike this movie when I found out Liv Tyler was in it, owing to her participation in things that are bad thoughout her career: a video for the scooped-out wreckage of her father and his band, the movie Armageddon — well that’s about all, but that’s enough. As it turns out, she plays an annoying and unlikable character, so her presence is not entirely a bad thing.

The premise, and I doubt I need to warn anyone of spoilers because it’s so basic, is that two rich kids go to one of their parents’ vacation home and are psychologically tormented by unknown uh, tormentors. And then it takes a turn for the gory. It’s very much in the spirit of gratuitous drive in movies I learned to love (at a crumbling walk-in theater that is now a chain drug store across the street from two other chain drug stores) in my teenage years, and while I would certainly rent Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave rather than watch it again, as far as something new, it was satisfactory.

Despite the comparisons above, there’s no hanky-panky here, unwilling or otherwise. None of the subtleties of Last House on the Left, either. The camera work is sometimes confused in a way that just seems halfassed — angles and focus change without really emphasizing anything. The musical score is as generic as that of any mediocre slasher flick in the last 30 years, which is surprising, because the other music in the movie is used really well. The records on the record player are one of the best things about this movie, and are part of what’s definitely the best scene (you’ll know it when you see and hear it).

This movie is marred by the same thing that renders lots of half-good works of art and entertainment these days: mannerism. As I mentioned above, there’s a lot of shrieky horror movie music that doesn’t accomplish anything and could have just as well been left out. Same with those camera angles. They’re there because horror movies are supposed to have them, not because they accomplish anything — even a vague feeling of discomfort unrelated to the onscreen doings, unless this is your first horror movie. The record player antics and the fact that nobody makes a good old-fashioned exploitation movie anymore were enough to make it worth my nine big American dollars, and I look forward to any future offerings from writer/director Bryan Bertino. Hopefully he’ll prune away some of the generic clichés.

Smells like pickled fear

Choked by a raincoat, sweep inside a bar and order a shot.  Pay in cash and walk out the back.  Those two thugs follow, around the corner across the street and right into traffic, run run run down the median; everything is rain-slicked and wet, dark, cold.  Everything brightly lit is disorted into waves by sheets of water, everything is a reflection; and down down down to a basement apartment, trip over trashcan and lights out as a heavy fist disorts a wet and worried face. Wake tied to a chair, in an empty warehouse, tonguing around for missing teeth, tasting blood, black eye throbs and an uncommon pain tempered by the satisfaction of being alive, another chance to talk a way our or run out the nearest exit.  Guns are for the violent sort, stunted intellects, men with a real courage, nothing worth possesing these days; in walks Mr Mean, man with brass knuckles (nothing can pound a mind), says nothing but connects with the right ear, pain as sound and light and warm tickle of blood.  “More?” he asks and a burn and split from the left ear, “More?” he asks, let the words run out, talk talk squeal.

I am in deep shit.


And after speaking everything, more concussions, contusions more broken bones and all misery, dumped off at a free clinic only because they took all the money, young doctor plus boozer-hag nurse, pump painkillers and dab away blood and stitch the cuts and plaster all shattered bones.  “Stay in bed for a few weeks, you need rest,” but who can these days, work waits for no man, nevermind time and tide.

No voodoo spirits, no magic priests for a quick cure, back to where it all started, searching for clues in an ash and cinder rubble, nothing but a few bone chips the investigators missed, nothing solid nothing real, only the tangible evidence of shitty police work; good work fellas.  Client’ll pitch a fit over this, no more checks no nothing, back to waiting tables, one handed that is, back to sweet talking the lonely and desperate for twenty, twenty five percent.  A step down.

Wouldn’t you know it, a week later reading a note that says, “Look for a clue in the Rock Out and In Club” in a pleasant chick’s handwriting, no excessive loops, god love it.  Later under flashing lights the better part of three drinks who should walk by by Mr Mean, no brass knuckles, followed by the followers from that night; swagger after them in a they go to the john, cokeheads for certain, push open the door everything goes wrong gun shots in an enclosed space, strobe light gunfire in a dark room; blood on the coat goddamnit!  A chick screams and another fist to the face.

Wake in prison cell, all alone just as guard walks by to say “You’re free, get the fuck out” and just promise to keep the authorities up to date, sure sure you know it, back to office and client is there, happy as a fart, all smiles and a checkbook, daughter’s killer found bad men dead; money money money.  Everyone will know about this, everyone will come to YOU, out she goes; dumbfounded gawking at the check, almost immediately think:

“I’m getting a gun with this!” 

The Terrible Ruins of Kozad Rhul

Tomas – Zingaran Pirate, played by Kyle
Pandora – Zingaran Temptress, played by Tony
Lugo – Zingaran Soldier, Played by Daniel
Korgoth – Cimmerian Barbarian, played by Kanan
Tohr – Nordheimer (Vanir) Barbarian, Played by Will
“Mark Twain” (Khan) – (Hyrkanian) Bandit NPC (played later by Ron)

As our story begins, the intrepid adventurers are travelling through a primordial forest in the wilds of the Border Kingdoms. Cruelly bound as slaves, they had been purchased from one of the local warlords’ slave market, the Zingarans being sold as a lot with the Cimmerian and Vanir barbarians.

Prior to the unpleasantness of being a slave, Lugo had been a new member of his Prince’s elite forces, a patriotic and loyal servant of the Prince and his rightful claim to the throne of Zingara. Lugo’s unit had been assigned to kidnap and ransom the daughter of his rival Prince D’mato, a luscious and mischievous young woman named Pandora. Lugo’s unit intercepted the ship bearing Pandora and quickly subdued the crew and seized their prize. They were only a day out from the private wharf that abutted their Prince’s stronghold when they were attacked by pirates, who overwhelmed the elite soldiers through sheer weight of numbers and took young Lugo and the Princess hostage. Lugo acquitted himself valiantly by destroying Tomas the Pirate’s only Bardiche, in fact the only one ever made, as he defended the young woman from the randy reavers. As Tomas’ ship set course for Messantia, they were beset by pirates and overwhelmed, and young Tomas was thrown into the brig with the princess and the soldier. The Zingarans had been together since, bought and sold in the crowded marketplaces in Messantia and taken up the Thunder River to Gunderland, and across the southern mountains into the Border Kingdoms.

The Cimmerian, Korgoth, had a long standing feud with his older brother, a hulking blacksmith named Connor, over who would win the hand of their village’s belle. What started off as a friendly competition between brothers soon escalated to a brawl, and then a life or death struggle when Connor drew his belt knife and attempted to slay his brother. Korgoth, attempting to subdue his furious kinsman, bore the blade of his brother’s knife across his face before being able to disarm and pin his brother. Though he apologized profusely, young Connor had only deceit in his heart, such was his determination to win the young woman’s hand, and Korgoth, who loved his brother, forgave him and thought no more of treachery. Connor asked Korgoth to accompany him to the very limits of Cimmeria to help him sell his axe heads to the woodsmen of the Tauran, a clever ruse to get his brother away from home; and once they were well away from their village, Connor inoculated Korgoth’s wine with a powerful sleeping draught and sold him to a Stygian slaver whom he had met in his previous trips out of Cimmeria.

Tohr the Vanirman had been a mercenary in the armies of the Hyperboreans, and had been taken captive while drunk in a burning Aesir village his unit had been raiding for slaves. He is sure now that towns, burning or not, are not so safe a place to get your drunken pillaging done as perhaps a bear cave or other naturally occurring shelters of stone.

But now they were all together, their wrists bound in manacles, and each person bound to the next in succession. They had been travelling for some days, making their way to the East, as they had been purchased by the arrogant Turanian, Captain Ankmed, a wealthy nobleman, had been working his way through the Hyborian nations purchasing any shiny thing that caught his eye with his dark eastern gold. The young temptress, Pandora, had been especially pleasing to his eye, and the Captain had grand plans for adding the girl to his seraglio, which he thought had been sorely lacking without her. The brutal barbarians impressed him with their strength, though their will-full displays of disobedience had forced him to exert discipline by ordering his guards to hold down the Cimmerian and while he shaved his eyebrow off as an example of his dominance over the savage brute. The other Zingarans would be valuable as servants, the soldier in particular had the countenance of a capable and cultured man, and the roguish looking one had the look of an excellent porter.

The sergeant of the Captain’s men, Hakim, had fallen desperately in love with the slave girl, mostly at her insistence, and he planned to steal away with her one night while the Captain dreamed of the occupants of seraglio sprawled luxuriously upon silk upholstered couches under the golden dome of his palatial gardens. The girl whispered in his ear the wonders of the West, many of which, though he had seen them, became as myth as they were breathed huskily to him by her honeyed voice.

They had travelled for two days from Atzel, and were moving on the third before the sun had even hinted at rising. A cool mist hung close to the ground and the forest was only just stirring to meet the new day. As the caravan rounded a bend in the road, in the dim light of dawn, the silhouette of a man appeared. The Captain took notice, and umbrage, at the impertinence of a common man blocking his route on a free road, and cantered forward to display his disgust. The man demanded a toll from the Captain and his retainers and a tax on the goods carried beneath the canvas tarps that concealed his wealth of knick-knacks. The Captain’s plate armor gleamed in the rosy light of the rising sun, and the purple plume that rose from the crown of his helm made him appear impressive indeed, though the bandit in the road seemed unperturbed by His Grandioseness. The Captain declined to pay the fee, and made as if to draw the bejeweled scimitar that was bound to the saddle before him. Arrows hissed from the dark of the forest on each side of the road, and the Captain’s beautiful steed unseated and then collapsed dead atop his rider, crushing the nobleman quite thoroughly.

Raiders piled out of trees and clambered over the wagons bearing the goods of the late Captain, and wrestled with the guards of his entourage. Sergeant Hakim rushed to his love and pressed a dagger into her hands, and unlocked the chain that bound her manacles which was the chain that bound her to the other slaves, freeing them as well. He bid her to flee into the woods, to wait for him, and then they would flee to the West as they had talked about. But Korgoth, suddenly loosed, grabbed up the startled Captain and crushed him to his chest in a vise-like grip until the sickening crunch of the man’s bones foretold his passing. Pandora stared nonchalantly into the dead eyes of her lover and wiped some of his blood from her cheek, and tucked her new dagger into the sleeve of her cowled robe. Ah, love!

Another volley of arrows whistled murderously from the woods, forcing our heroes to take cover, though the scurrilous pirate wasn’t fast enough and suffered a shaft through the thigh. The barbarians had meanwhile grabbed up the weapons from the fallen Sergeant Hakim and engaged the knots of battling guards and bandits, while more of the ruffians were making off with the chests and sacks filled with valuables, melting into the foliage like woodland creatures. The Vanirman chucked a hastily acquired axe at one of the men hefting a large chest, and missed, but drew that man’s attention. The bandit passed off his share of the chest to a compatriot and moved to battle the towering Nord. The Cimmerian had taken the Sergeant’s mace, and used it to break the arm of a bandit locked in mortal combat with a guard, whom Korgoth also crushed the following round. Taking cover behind the wheel of a now empty wagon, Tomas the Pirate filched a bow from one of the dead bandits and propped himself up in a sitting position and launched an arrow at the man with the menace in his gait as he approached Tohr, but the arrow went wide. Tohr, however, promptly split the man from collar to crotch with his scavenged scimitar.

The bandits, having stripped the caravan of its obvious wealth, retreated, firing some parting shots at our heroes as they gathered together in the ruin of the former captors, before disappearing into the vast wilderness. The pirate, in desperate need of a healer’s art, set himself down and allowed the young temptress to gingerly remove the arrow from his bleeding thigh. She failed to do it gingerly, and almost failed to do it at all. With the arrow free and his leg bleeding, Pandora attempted to use a heated dagger to cauterize the wound, and missed the wound, searing the leg of the pirate but good. She attempted cauterization several more times, failing again and again before she finally managed to set the sizzling end of the dagger to the pirate’s wound and stop the bleeding; Tomas, our poor pirate, would limp for a while as a result.

Furious that his leg had been rendered nearly useless, and then scarred, Tomas set about looting the corpses of the Captain and his horse, who had until now, been forgotten by the rest of the party. Rifling through the saddlebags, the pirate came up with fifty silver a spare change of clothes cut in the latest Eastern style, and half pulled from the scabbard, one fine bejewelled scimitar. The pirate’s mood improved measurably after his looting. Before leaving the wreckage of the caravan, Korgoth would also attempt to loot the body of the Captain, remarking that the bandits had been very thorough when they had looted the caravan. This also improved the mood of the pirate.

The bandit with the broken arm was interrogated as to the location and numbers of his fellow marauders. The bandit offered to lead the party to the camp, which was housed in some intricate and overgrown ruins just up the hillside several miles away. The bandit, whose name was “Mark,” showed them the trails that the others used to beat their hasty retreat, and though their movement was halved, as much by the pirate, who insisted on setting the pace for the others as by the intense foliage, they made good time and saw the ruins for themselves only a few hours later. It being early in the day still, the group decided to wait a bit, until dusk when the guard was changed on the low stone wall that ringed the ruined city. The group decided to move away from the wall so that they weren’t in sight, but they made a lot of noise arguing about how exactly to do that, so much in fact that a small patrol was detached to determine if the noise was a threat, and five bandit began their stealthy movement through the woods to where our hapless adventurers continued to argue and be counter-productive. For instance: Tohr insisted on carrying Mark, and essentially wanted to use him as a shield, which, while ingenious, wasn’t going to be good for Mark’s health. Tohr had the first watch, which being during the warm part of the day, led inevitably to his falling asleep until the arrows of the patrol deflected off of the dead sergeant’s mail shirt.

Alerted to danger, in character, Tohr began yelling “HORN!” like a wounded moose, and managed to wake only the pirate from his light nap. The girl, the soldier and the barbarians were sound asleep. Three of the bandits advanced on the party, but only the pirate and Vanirman were even awake to fight. It took several rounds for three bandits to get close enough to engage in hand to hand, and in that time, Tomas was able to loose several arrows at the two who were providing the ranged support for those assaulting. The bowmen made the job of hitting a stationary target look hard as all of them continued to miss each other, until finally, one of the bandits broke the string on his bow, and Tomas managed to incapacitate the other with a wicked shot to the head that pierced the eye of his assailant and left him unconscious. Tohr battled for his life, still shouting his alarm to the others who were slow to rise. Killing one opponent, Tohr turned to find the blade of an axe descending on his chest, a staggering blow that left him stunned. Pandora, awakening out of reach and moving to attack, hamstrung one of Tohr’s opponents with a wicked slash, that a newly awakened Korgoth finished with a stunning double attack that left the wailing man decapitated. Tohr regained his composure in time to turn his body and allow Mark to take the killing blow meant for him. Korgoth dealt the last man a staggering blow to the chest that hewed through the man’s armor like a hot knife through butter, but left him standing. This bandit promptly surrendered, was stripped naked, hogtied and then had his wound stitched shut.

The bandit with an arrow in his eye was also alive, moaning and thrashing about weakly in the undergrowth. Tomas made his way to the wounded man and attempted to get him to sit up by leading him by the arrow sticking out of his skull. Being a little too excited resulted in our pirate nudging the arrow a little too much and piercing the brain of the man, who promptly died. The hogtied bandit told the party hi name was “Steve,” but they demurred and insisted on calling him “Mark Twain” instead. He offered to lead them to the treasure the bandits had hidden in the city if only they’d let him live. He was alternately told that if he spoke, he’d lose his manhood, his life, all his fingers, and none of those things would happen very fast. Then the party proceeded to question Mr. Twain about the whereabouts and numbers of his compatriots, and got angry when all they got from their prisoner but a terrified look. Pandora lightened up on the poor guy a little and he told them some of what they wanted to know, trying to remain useful to them, and so also alive.

As dusk began to settle over the haunted land, the party made plans for how to scale the wall, sneak through the ruined city past a hundred bandits to the treasure that surely awaited them within. Not one of them mentioned how they were going to get back out…

NEXT TIME: Will our intrepid heroes find what they seek? Who will escape THE TERRIBLE RUINS OF KOZAD RHUL?

Banjo D. Cedar

Banjo was a man most people would have liked taking a shovel to, but the man was too quick to catch and none had ever seen him sleep, and so he remained at large, and on a good day you’d find him down at the saloon with a fist wrapped around a whiskey bottle and the other arm wrapped around a careworn whore or two, and he never paid no mind to nothing that weren’t drinking or fucking or running quick like a jack rabbit up over a fence or ducking like a prizefighter from the furious ham fists of some feller or woman he’d stirred up, and he was always half-lit, even after days of drinking nothing but lake water and his own urine (in a misguided attempt to keep the whiskey in).
 
Banjo was a survivor, and that was that. He wasn’t ever much of a fighter, but he was cool under pressure, his drunkenness keeping his wits and emotions dulled, and when the other fool would yank too quick on his pistol and fire wide, Banjo would sure and steady shoot him down. He was dulled to pain too, which helped when they weren’t a bad shot and winged him, which is how he lost his left ear. He wasn’t so good at the close combat, and lost his right eye to an overzealous thumb on a man who came out from Missouri looking for a fight and found one.
 
When the orcs came flying through, their Pegasi neighing and flapping and trampling the good folk outside the saloon, old Banjo staggered to the doorway, took his pistol out his belt and shot one of them orcs dead right between the eyes, blew the contents of his brain pan all over his partner, a shaggy looking orc woman who had the sagging teats of an old milk cow, who lowered a crossbow at him and then chucked it, not quite grasping the mechanics of that rusty old arbalest. Banjo had him the good mind to pick it up, it being the crossbow of an orc riding a Pegasus, but he passed on it and wandered back into the saloon where the whores locked him out of their sleeping rooms downstairs and the other johns had barricaded themselves in the fucking rooms upstairs.
 
So Banjo stood himself up behind the bar and poured himself a tumbler of whiskey and sipped it gingerly like he imagined the owner of the saloon, a heavy set man with a jowly, feminine face, might stand when greeting customers of higher station than he greeted old Banjo. He laid his pistol out on the bar and when them orcs came running in with their crossbows bloody from all the clubbing they was doing with them, Banjo called to them like they was all old friends and set them up a few stiff shots and together they drank, Banjo plying his two new friends with liquor while they argued bitterly in their guttural language, Banjo guessed, about how they were going to kill him. He looked out the saloon door at the wild carnage in the street and saw a Pegasus chew the head off the stableboy.
 
Them orcs kept drinking, and others soon joined them, pounding at the keys of the piano and dancing and fist fighting and when the light had begun to fade to twilight and then darkness, the only light came from the burning post office and some of the other buildings not outright demolished by the raiders and their rainbow hued mounts. When the orcs made pantomimes that even a thoroughly and disgustingly drunk Banjo could understand, he pointed down the hallway to where the pussy had barricaded itself, though not stoutly enough to keep the crossbows from busting them down, and he listened to the grunts and the screaming and watched while them orcs queued up to rape them whores like they were citizens casting votes, and Banjo grabbed up his pistol off the bar and slipped out the back door while they was distracted.
 
The evening air was cool and smelled of burned hair and flesh, and he stepped over bodies picking pockets and taking rings from hands he found severed and not. The sky was clear, but the stars were obscured from the firelight of the burning town and a few of the homesteads that were too much temptation for them green skinned killers, whose mounts even now were rutting in the midst of the destruction and who reveled with the same patience as their riders, studs waiting to gang-bang mares in the churned mud of the street.
 
When he walked away from the town he came upon a troop of cavalrymen who were riding in, and he told them what was transpiring ahead, and the Lieutenant cuffed him roughly and they rode on, presumably to their doom for having interrupted the coitus of two very aggressive species of mammal who didn’t like to trifle with the particulars of civilization. Banjo had recognized that in them berserkers from the first, and had respected their beliefs, yes sir, because a bloodthirsty and horny orc don’t want any lawman telling him who he can and can’t rape when he pleases. The limit to his civility was waiting in line, and even that would grow to be too much. Them cavalry soldiers would get a good lesson in what the limits of such monsters was, and quick.
 
He lay down under a thistle bush favoring the side of his head caught by the horseman’s boot, and slept a long time. When he woke up the sun was high in the sky, and another man lay in the path beat by the horsemen the night before, and he wore their colors on his cavalry tunic and none else, his buttocks white and skyward where he’d fallen not long before dawn. Banjo poked the man with a stick, and he moaned a little, which let Banjo know he was still kicking, and while he searched around for a rock large enough to crush the man’s head with ease, the near naked man woke all the way up.
 
Horrible creatures, he said, and Banjo sat without much emotion on his face save the wince he wore for the daylight was piercing his head like a spike. He pulled on a flask he’d found on a body he’d known, the postmaster, a stern man who’d scorned those carousing in the saloon nights, and passed it to the cavalryman and leaned against the rock he drug over to bash with, and presently the man caught his wind and said his piece.
 
We rode into town and seen the winged horses fucking, and our own horses spooked and throwed all but the Lieutenant who rode right out of town cussing and punching his mount who’d not have stopped for a cliff. Them winged horses, they ain’t stopped for us, slipping in the mud and the bits of folk that clung to us, but the orc women come out, teats sagging and cooter dark and rough like sandpaper they was so dry, and they tackled some and others they clubbed to mash but those they kept they set about rutting on, and some they killed afterwards. Me they kept till I thought I might die from the fatigue, but they kept up and so did I, and when they was spent and snoring I crawled away, my leg broke at the shin when I was throwed, and no use to me walking.
 
The sky was blue and clear above them, arcing from horizon to horizon in the softest blue either could remember having seen, and though the morning cool had not been worn off completely as yet by the rising sun, the rays that fell on them were as a tonic and Banjo was restless to be off.
 
You aim to leave me, the cavalryman said and Banjo nodded.
I will perish sure if you leave me.
You’ll get us both killed if I try to drag you anywhere.
You can’t just leave me here.
See, now that’s where you’ve got it wrong.
The road ahead led through a stand of pines creaking in their extremities like a gaggle of old men, and Banjo set out alone, the cavalryman crying out behind him. He made it to the first bend in the wood, not far, fifty feet, when he stopped and come back to the cavalryman who was crying and hauling himself along on his belly. Banjo pulled the pistol from his belt and set it right between the man’s eyes. Mercy, the man said. Yep, Banjo said and shot him through the head and left him slumped dead in the road.

Ron

Ron is a nice guy, but Ron is mostly an idiot. Ron drinks a lot of coffee, eats a lot of candy and doesn’t own anything more than the clothes on his back, and the bills that dog his heels from low rent joint to low rent joint. He’s a smooth talker, if you’re up for a line of bullshit that smells as bad as his cologne, and when he agrees with a thing said by the boss, you can almost hear him huffing ass crack.

He’s got a friendly manner that’s slight and almost transparent the closer you look at it. You can see the sinews and tendons of his brain, what he’s really thinking or feeling if you get close enough. You can see his skin ripple and pulse like still water disturbed by the thoughts of water skimmers, and I’m stuck with him on a perfectly wonderful rainy Saturday afternoon for the next thirty minutes, having survived the previous four-and-a-half through sheer force of will and the power of my imagination to make him into, alternately, a performing bear, a komodo dragon, and the Michelin Man. This is survival. When I leave here I’ll go to work at my other job and the world will right itself of Ron’s incandescent aura of failure. I only have to make it for a few more minutes. I don’t know if I can make it a few more minutes.

I can see a pattern emerging in the tissue that covers his skull, a network of fine veins splitting from one another into infinitely smaller and smaller capillaries until each skin cell must be made up entirely of the mucus the man uses to power his body. His mouth moves and his mustache rises and falls like a heavily forested hillside in an earthquake. He’s talking about wanting his 1989 Toyota Tercel hatchback back. I look at his dull, bloodshot eyes. I can see my face reflected in the lenses of his glasses, a double barreled shotgun of shut the fuck up, Ron, that he will never understand. Blue veins, red veins, all veins and mucus and the wet leather sound of his mouth moving and his tongue touching his palette, the slow and inexorable tidal wave of his voice boiling up out of his frog neck, resonating baritone notes that you want to have read someone else’s words.

When I leave the store and get in my car, I watch Ron cross the street to the liquor store where his truck is parked. I think about running him over. It’s raining, I could claim I didn’t see him as it’s been twilight for the last six hours and I wasn’t paying attention. I could just run him over and hope for the best. My car is light, but it’s still a car, and I could accelerate to a killing speed in the time it would take me to kiss his shins with my bumper, but traffic gets a little heavy and he’s across the street before he can be killed by “accident.”

Next time, Ron.


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Jack

Jack sat next to me in band in 7th grade, and was one of the other two tenor sax players.  A bit on the bulky side, he always had a nice, tucked in shirt; hair that was gelled and tousled into big, brown, care-free locky curls; and those blue blue eyes that I swear to God you only ever see on stupid people — so pale and watery as to be almost transparent, allowing one to look right through them as though they were glass and see that, yes, there is indeed nothing behind them.

Jack talked about farts.  A lot.  To him, farts were the pinnacle of comedic genius, which isn’t so unusual among 7th grade boys, except that they were also apparently always, always on his mind.  Hardly a rubber sole of some idle, bored foot could be rubbed against the floor by anoyher student without Jack, upon hearing the vaguely-fart-like-yet-obviously-not-a-fart sound, loudly asking “who beefed it?!” and giggling maniacally.  (I still do not understand why “beefing it” is supposed to be slang for farting.   I have never heard it from anyone other than Jack.  His fart-synomym vocabulary was as extensive as it was perplexing.  He once inquired as to who “blew chunks,” which I had always assumed meant “to vomit,” and still to this day shudder to think that farting, to him, was a function which apparently involved “chunks” being “blown” as a matter of course.)  Spending an hour a day with him in a room full of students with tubas, trumpets, and other farty-sounding brass instruments was almost unbearable.

One day, Jack came to class and, making sure nobody was listening, said he wanted to show me something.  He withdrew something from his pocket, real slow and sly-like.  It was a folded up piece of college-ruled notebook paper with a plastic handle sticking out.  He grabbed the handle and pulled it from the paper to reveal: a kitchen steak knife.  It was then I realized that the folded paper was in fact a home-made sheath for this awesome weapon, which I should have realized sooner as Jack had written “JACK’S HELL-RAISER” on it in blue ink.

I don’t recall a day going by where I did not want to punch him in the face.


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