Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are buckle, evade, wedge.

The Journey
He stands at the edge of a vast field, swaying gently. Wearily.

The earth here has been tilled, right up to the man’s scuffed and dust-caked military-styled boots. The richness of the soil perfumes the air, a musky sensuality. A luxuriance of wet and grass and manure; heavy organic.

The man is dressed in a wool sweater; there are holes under one arm and where the wool has been looped to the collar. At the wrists, the fibers have become unbunched; they are ragged and soiled, small dreadlocks of wool.

His undershirt has been sweat-soaked and dried in numerous cycles. It is threadbare. Once white, it now has the color of corn silk, or sail canvas.

He wears jeans, which are held to his withered and emaciated frame by a slim leather belt. It’s a dress belt with a brass buckle that still manages to shine. The leather was once cordovan, but it’s been beaten down to something resembling old blood.

The denim has gone soft and white in places, where the navy dye decided to just give up. Holes, ragged, are open over both knees, which are bony and bare. Stress holes have opened near the back pockets; where the pants meet the boots, the hem has been reduced to frayed cotton.

The man’s deep brown eyes, sunken into bony cheeks, give his face a skeletal appearance. Albeit one with a thick, dark and curly beard that covers his face, his neck, down to the tattered collar of his sweater. A watch cap, black with the logo of a pro sports team, is wedged tight on his head, helping to keep his long, greasy-brown hair from blowing in the wind.

He is tall. He is thin. Shed the tattered clothing and he would stand there, hands covered his maleness in shamed modesty, white as the belly of dead fish. Each rib would stand out, willing you to count them, out loud.

He has journeyed long. His travels have taken him far a field. He has learned to evade. He has managed to survive.

To the edge of this vast field.

This expanse that has been plowed, its rich tang now clinging to the man’s nostrils, the greasy-brown hair, the tattered clothing.

His right hand rises, hesitates, and is thrust forward. Fingertips touch the twisted, rusted metal. A barb pierces his index finger, but the man does not flinch.

He turns his hand over and watches as the dot of blood goes from a pin-prick to a dome of red. Gravity takes over and the blood runs at an angle, across his other digits.

The man looks up. He looks across the vastness of the field.
And looks down to the fence, where a sign hangs. Its newness, fresh red paint on a white background, clashes with the twisted wreckage of the barbed wire fencing. He reads, the words forming silently on wind-chapped lips.

“TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT DEAD; THE WOUNDED WILL BE SHOT AGAIN.”

His right hand rises to his hip, where the blood smears the little coin pocket of his jeans as he wipes.

He purses his lips, licks them. He exhales a great breath through his nose, a huff.

A single tear rolls down his cheek.

Thursday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are educate, object, silence.

A Time To Reflect
“He’s sitting out there without a goddamn hat on,” mother screams, sloshing the large tumbler of vodka – cleverly disguised as iced tea with a teaspoon of iced tea powder and couple of squeezes of lemon from a yellow plastic fruit facsimile – that's clasp in her bony fingers.

“He’ll freeze to death. Goddamn kid doesn’t even have his gloves on for chrissakes.”

“What you want me to do about it?” father says, the Birchwood tip of a fresh Hav-A-Tampa cigar clenched in his teeth. Father’s voice rumbles around the cigar, itself a wagging finger in brown.
“You think he listens to me? Listens to anyone?”

They’re screaming at one another and although I can’t actually hear it, I feel it. Radiating out of the kitchen, through the bay window and into this darkening December afternoon.

Yes, I’m sitting on mother’s park bench by the bird bath and I’m doing so without benefit of a cover for my head. And yes, my Dakine wind-stopper gloves are stuffed into the pockets of my Patagonia down sweater, itself a beautiful pumpkin color, the object of desire of many of my classmates who know of fashion solely based on Old Navy commercials.

I didn’t even bother to brush the snow off the bench. I just needed out.

The parental units blare and bray at decibel levels that make your teeth hurt. School’s the same way. The uniformed, the uneducated, thinking that now they’re in a place of higher learning that all of a sudden they have an opinion – and a voice.

I mean, chrissakes, you’re born into this life screaming and spend the rest of your life trying to find that one quiet spot to think.

Today, this is mine to reflect. A snowy spot in a suburban backyard, the day pushing toward dusk during the holidays.

Things are about to get dramatically louder around here. The letter announcing my expulsion from our state’s land-grant college will be in today’s mail. In it, my parents will be informed that I have no grade point average. All classes incomplete.

Oh, it started OK, I guess, in the fall. I mean, professors tried to educate me on all matters of things and I really tried to listen. I took copious notes for the first couple of weeks, attended all my classes.

I tried to make friends. I tried to talk to girls.

I guess you could say I regressed. There wasn’t one point, really. It just seemed to happen.

There was the day in Folklore 101 where the Nigerian grad student and I got into in the hallway, arguing the merits (or lack thereof) of graffiti in society and folk culture.

Then came the oral report, the one I was asked to reconsider, the very one where I went on to describe the historical assets of graffiti on society and folklore, using the word “fuck” 27 times to make my point. Cat-calls and cheers from those in attendance that day not withstanding, next came the yelling match with the dean, grad student in tow, trying to extricate myself from Folklore 101.

Things just kinda snowballed from there.

I retreated to my room, ate delivery pizza and drank tap water for chrissakes, just looking for the solitude I though I needed. Days went by, weeks. Dirty sheets and scruffy beard growth and quiet. Oh, the depth of the lonely quiet that washed over me in waves.

Well, enough of that. I hear the mailman pulling up to the house. No use putting this off.

I jump from the bench and scoop up pink Nerf football the dog likes to carry around and toss myself a pass. I sprint into old man Cashman’s yard, past the bare honeysuckle bushes, and spike the ball into the snow.

Raising my arms into a touchdown stance, I do a little victory dance, lower my hands to my jeans and pull father’s old service .45 from the waistband. I put the muzzle under my chin, pull the trigger.

Funny, the last thing I’m thinking just happens to be the most profound: Nobody realizes that it isn’t all the screaming, all the noise – in the end, it’s the silence that’ll kill ya.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are dabble, lean, utter.

Twisting Fates

They’re sitting in ancient white Adirondack chairs, watching the world go by, sipping sweetened tea with lemon wedges from tall, sweaty glasses.

“Edwin, do you remember the nights we spent on the boardwalk doing the Lindy?”

Actually I don’t.

In this incarnation (dare I say reincarnation?), I am coming from my 6-year-old self, edgily looking for the restroom, since this is a watershed (ha ha) moment from my past where I wet myself while my father got piss-drunk at the bar. The night I lost hearing in my left ear; I should have seen that fist coming, maybe leaned a little.

And now there’s this elderly lady with blue hair jawing at me.

Then I realize that Edwin - Mr. Edwin Antwerp, 5701 Allegheny Way, Millville, NJ 08332 - has minutes to live.

I blink, and reset to Edwin’s present.

We’re having our tea in ruby colored glasses on the screened-in front porch of Edwin and Marilyn Antwerp’s white clapboard bungalow. It’s the only home the couple have ever owned; it is where they conceived and lost their only child, Marty; it is where they will both die.

Edwin, as it happens, will be leaving much sooner than Marilyn. I can feel the pressure building in his brain; I feel the blood vessel throbbing – the exact one that will burst, killing him instantly.

But through Edwin’s eyes, I see love that is pure in its brilliance. I feel the heat of passion that continues to burn for this women - in Edwin’s still thumping heart.

And I’m gone. I am now the me of the late 1980s, banging the downstairs neighbor while her button-down, silk-tie-wearing, abusive husband stays late at the office. All she wants is someone to hold her tight, tell her the baby weight will come off. Someone who whispers encouraging things into her milky-white ears and won’t hit her in those spots where the yellow-green of old bruises don’t show.

Hey, it’s the 80s. All I want to do is fuck.

And I am sucked into the bleak twist of thoughts that are the present for Janine Trescott, 18, Garland, Texas 75043.

Janine is rail-thin, awkward. Glasses too thick, too clunky, and there’s no money for contacts. The one boy to show interest rapes her in the bathroom of a Sonic Drive-In. Her mother slaps her black and blue, calls her a whore. For tempting the pastor’s son.

I look over the edge of a claw foot bathtub, no longer able to watch the surge of blood that pumps from her wrists and dissipates in the depth of the warm water in suspended swirls.

I want out.

Concentrate. Don’t utter a sound.

Janine’s tortured present makes the 132,493 jump I’ve made from the B-roll of my life into someone else’s current consciousness. No,  I don’t dabble in time travel, I am not a seer. Just a guy, sometimes a not very nice guy, who in such rapid succession is moving through time and space that I barely comprehend it.

It is my end, too (this I have come to understand), and like some cosmic roller coaster ride – one mother of a Texas Giant – I have seen through the eyes, felt the final emotions of those in the throws of their very own end.


It is all at once hopeful. It is horrific.

I trust those who jumped into the present me took something of value away. The love I feel for my wife, my three little girls.

Take it away.

Into the collective consciousness that is life.

And death.

To share.

And that’s why I wear this wry little smirk now. I wonder if that drunk driver bearing down on me even notices.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are demise, effort, revival.

Diviner
This you should know about the ceiling in 43F: Squint long enough at the textured ceiling (not quite into the water stain, but more toward the left), and the Rev. Billy Graham will appear.


Not in Technicolor, no sir.


And certainly not in a burning bush, God-is-calling-you-home, Big Tent Revival kind of way.


It’s like when the brain makes the connection with one of those animation flipbooks they used to put in a box of Cracker Jack – or if you really want to get technical, the way the rods and cones in the eyes just send the brain pencil sketches of life and the brain fills in all the detail, the colors.


So, back to the Rev. Billy Graham.
 In a textured ceiling (not the water stain, but off to the left).


Billy (if we may be so bold to call him that) appears without so much effort – all blotchy and in exponential frequency, to one James Francis Cannell.


Our little Jimmy has stopped sleeping nights. In fact, some internal clock stirs him the minute – and as far as he can figure, the exact moment – 52 years after his mother, Jean, pushed him slick and slightly bloody from her womb.

In its greenish glow, the clock radio blinks 3:12 AM.

Jimmy’s feeling the demise of his senses in a circle-the-drain potency. Dark circles taint ever-hollowing eye sockets. His appetite is shot. There’s the nodding off at work. The stern warnings standing on industrial carpet squares in front of the boss. Jimmy’s not really listening, even though his lips move ever so slightly in agreement.

He picks at his flesh, absently.

Fights off waves of nausea.

Gulps air at the increasing spikes of paranoia.


Reaching up into the shadows with outstretched hands, Jimmy pleads with all his heart to the outlined face on the ceiling.

“Billy, make it stop.”

It becomes a chant, a mantra, leaving Jimmy gravelly-voiced as another dawn spreads through the windows in 43F, erasing Mr. Graham’s visage.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are advance, pander and shuffle. Something short and, well, not so sweet.

Penitence
He shuffles on aging legs, the soles of his shoes making a shish-shish sound from the course sandpaper he’s glued there.
The bus lurches from the curb and passengers use the rocking motion to stash bags, adjust their asses to the hard plastic seats.
Once moving, he starts to dance, scuffing the sandpaper across the aisle, the wide cuffs of his maroon trousers swishing to the sound.
In a rich baritone, he breaks into “You are My Sunshine.”
He moves down the aisle, shaking a brown paper lunch bag at eye-level as he sings, nodding when someone drops in their pocket change into the bag, it’s top edges carefully folded down.
“The other night dear, as I lay sleeping…”
He’s pandering hard to all the passengers, yet he seems to target the women especially hard, smiling as he sings, a gap-toothed grin that’s altogether creepy.
He locks eyes on one passenger, swings his head back and forth as he sings, advances.
She’s uncomfortable.
He knows, he always knows.
“I dreamed I held you in my arms…”
He shakes the bag where only she can peer in, getting a glimpse of the yellowed bones of a tiny fetus.
“When I awoke dear, I was mistaken,” he sings, a snarl replacing the smile. “And I hung my head and cried.”
Tears streaming down her cheeks, she tosses a balled up $20 into the sack, pleading with her eyes for him to move along.
Smiling again, he’s already locked eyes on his next target.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”

A Fiction in 58

My own meme invention, a Fiction in 58 is an amuse-bouche of a story; a quick little bite.


Metro
Frustration spreads across his face, a crimson blossom. He speaks in clipped sentences, pleading for passage. The transit worker grits her teeth. She’s had enough and puts a hand up to his chest, lowers her head, shakes.
While paramedics tend to the woman crumpled at the base of the stairs.
“Bitch shoudda known better,” he says, stomping away.

New York, Day 53

So I’m sitting on a park bench in Central Park, eating a whole wheat bagel (toasted) with a schmear of walnut/raisin cream cheese, Trinity sitting on the grass next to me, when weatherman Al Roker power-jobs by and says, “Hey, beautiful dog.”
That was my New York experience Saturday, the 52nd day in the city.
Sunday, I got up, walked with Trin to the farmer’s market at Columbia University, got a coffee and some fresh, warm apple cider doughnuts and sat in Morningside Park, soaking in the late-fall sun.
I’ve hit day 53 in My Year of Living Dangerously in New York. I’m employed (two part-time jobs, working retail and as a dog-walker plus two freelance contracts) and I’m happy.
Seriously happy.
I will admit that everything here hasn’t been easy. The first 25 days were rough. I came here with two suitcases, Trinity, my computer, a lawn chair and an inflatable bed. Not having your belongings can make for some restless nights.
But I shrugged it aside and used the time to explore.
And continue to do so.
Once the holidays are over, I’ll get into a good work rhythm, a good writing rhythm and continue to observe, explore.
It’s all good.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are clutch, delight, happy.


Tutor, Unrequited

The sun is warming and it chokes the autumn breeze into temporary submission that allows people to throw off their coats and sweaters, their cashmere scarves.
Workers escape their office confines and cubicles, flee to open park benches to sun themselves.
There’s a couple reading to one another from a battered paperback. They sit close, sharing sips of coffee from a tall, stainless steel mug they set between them on the concrete.
She’s all serious focus during her turns. Clutching the book with both hands, she squints at the type, speaks clearly, yet cautiously.
Dressed in layers of blacks and grays, ripped jeans and knee-length boots, she’s compact in her posture. One leg over the other, her shoulders droop slightly.
There’s a confidence about him, part of the age difference, and he listens intently, eyes closed, an arm rests across the bench, his hand positioned on her shoulder.
As she reads, she brushes stray locks of hair, shiny and black, away from her glasses.
He wears a battered olive-green baseball cap three-quarters backward that covers the short-cropped hair graying at his temples. His chinos are worn, frayed at the cuffs. His dress shirt is equally worn and he wears it untucked, the sleeves rolled to his elbows. He throws his left knee over his right, opposite of how she sits.
The book is written in French and he stops her from time-to-time to correct her pronunciation, or to clarify a passage. At these times she bites her lower lip until it goes white. The gesture secretly makes him happy. A feeling that she’s totally his, in that precise moment.
Surrendering the book, she takes a long sip of coffee, readjusts herself. She leans into him as he reads, crossing her arms, idly rubbing her upper arm.
Adjusting his glasses, he holds the book in one hand, his thumb between the pages, four fingers across the spine. His other arm rests across her back and as he reads, makes and O with his thumb and index finger while the remaining three digits fan the air like a conductor giving direction to the orchestra.
The moment is broken when a young man in a Navy pea coat and black wool slacks walks up, mobile phone to his ear. She stands suddenly, nearly knocking the book away, and tosses her arms across the boy’s shoulders. He moves the phone from one ear to the other, lightly kisses her cheek in the process.
There is delight in her eyes as she rushes to pack up her backpack, and chatters excitedly with her suitor with animated hands.
Adjusting his cap, he places a leather bookmark into the book, sets it on his lap, screws a smile onto his face.
The boy extends a hand, still talking into the mobile, and the man stands, grabs it, pumps once, twice, and lets go.
The book tumbles to the ground. She rescues it, slips it into her pack, and follows her young man, who is moving through the crowd, putting up distance.
She turns, blows the man a kiss, waves.
He sits, draws his own pack to him, stops.
And rubs his hands across his chinos with speed and friction, looking around to see if anyone comprehends his frustration, humiliation.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are gesture, immediate and treasure.

Visitation
The shop is crowded, but they find a table with three chairs and sit, even though the boy is immediately more concerned about the window, what’s outside.
“Hey buddy, turn around and eat your bagel, OK?”
“But daddy, there’s a dog at my bike,” the boy says, turned in his chair, his small hands clutching its back. He has blond hair that’s obviously still being cut at home, blocked and slightly uneven. He wears a small leather fighter jacket, covered in flight insignia patches with a faux sheepskin collar. Over his eyes, chunky white-framed sunglasses with dark lenses.
The bike is his everything, his treasure. So new, the whitewall tires show no smudges. It’s silver, with black and purple stripes.
The training wheels are hard white plastic and are still showroom fresh.
“He’s sniffing it!”
“No, buddy, the woman is just tying him up so she can come in here. He won’t hurt it, I promise. Turn around and let’s eat.”
There’s a tired sadness in his eyes as he smiles at his son. His hair is the same straw-colored blond, but there’s the hint that he’s recently worn it high and tight, a Marine or Ranger clipper cut. He’s unshaven, wearing a gray hoodie under a jeans jacket. His hands unwrap the boy’s bagel, plain toasted with a schmear of cream cheese. The hands are calloused, cuticles chewed and scabbed over to the quick.
“What is this?” the boy asks.
“It’s a bagel, like a round sandwich, but for breakfast. See, watch.”
Wounded hands unwrap the parchment of his own bagel, sesame toasted with a healthy schmear of cream cheese. He stirs his coffee while chewing.
The boy slides up in his seat, a simple brushed metal folding chair that matches the brushed metal table, which is small and round and covered with the detritus of other’s bagel meals.
“It’s very messy,” the boy says, cream cheese on his fingers, the corner of his lips.
“Yeah, buddy, it can be, but watch me OK?”
The sesame bagel is deconstructed into four crescent moons.
“Mine, do mine,” the boy shouts.
Even undone, the boy picks at the bread, takes a taste, drops it on the paper and it falls cream cheese side down.
“Did you have breakfast already?”
“Kyle made pancakes,” the boy says, squirming in his chair to check on his bike. “And eggs.”
He's hurt. He moves a hand to his chest, a gesture that suggests he’s checking for the knife hole into his damaged heart. He raises his eyes to the ceiling, takes a deep breath.
And snaps his attention back to the boy.
“Hey, I’m learning how to cook,” the man says, corralling the boy’s bagel back onto the paper. “What should we have for dinner, I’m gonna cook it.”
“Steak.”
“Steak? Really? Yeah, we can do steak. But get this, last week I cooked a turkey. I was thinking we could make turkey pot pie and you can help, OK, buddy? But we have to get to the grocery store for that. I wish grammy would hurry.”
The boy sneaks a backward glance at the bike, takes a bite of bagel, chews.
There’s an awkward silence between them. The man stares at the boy intensely, a tired smile breaks across his face. Another deep breath, a long, deep sigh. There is love in his eyes, but also a sorrow. He rubs his fingers across his lips, across his eyes, the bridge of his nose.
The shop is getting busy and someone asks if they can have the open chair at the table. He nods an OK.
“Looks like grammy doesn’t get to sit, buddy. That’s OK, we’ve got plenty to do. You know buddy,  I’m thinking we should put up Christmas lights in your room. And maybe we should set up your aquarium. What do you say, buddy?”
The boy is consumed with the bike, but turns and smiles.
“Kyle says I won’t need my wheels when I’m 6,” the boy says, touching a cream cheese smeared finger across his left hand, counting out to six.
Hands become fists on the table, there’s a moment of violence in them, but the man relaxes, splays his fingers across the cool aluminum tabletop.
“Hey, Bryce, hey buddy, look at me,” the man says in a near-whisper. “Look at me and tell me that mommy’s happy.”

OneWord, Lousy

OneWord is a quick prompt that gives you a word and 60 seconds to write.
The word? Lousy.

He whispers a silent prayer, hands clutched tight around the cold steel of the 6 train so his knuckles go white, and bows his head to hands. Lips still mumbling, he cracks an eye open. Then the other. He snaps them closed. The train is lousy with them. Infidels. He tries to not let them in, let their voices infect his mind, but he feels their eyes searching for a way in. The train lurches to a stop, steel doors open and he jumps to his escape.
The crude pipe bomb ticking in a canvas bag.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are abrupt, kernel and wield.



Appreciation

There’s no bench in front of the Pollock, so she sits on the thin, gray carpet covering the floor, legs sprawled out toward the canvas, her arms a double kick-stand behind her back. He notices that her wrists have gone white without a steady flow of blood.
Her expression isn’t one of awe, more scowl than appreciation, he thinks. Waves of emotion move across her face, a canvas of swirling emotion.
He stands slightly behind to her right, wanting to soak in Jackson Pollock’s sweeping work, a canvas measuring 8-foot, 9-inches by 17-feet, 3-inches in which Pollock wielded sticks, knives and a turkey baster to create an image that is continuously on the move.
She’s centered on the painting, her black, knee-length boots nearly touching the gray cord warning patrons they’ve gotten too close. When she stretches her toes, which she does often as the expressions vary across her face, the boots nearly strum the cord, as if to pluck a single guitar string.
Impatient, he taps a toe of his Converse All-Stars and pleads with his eyes toward the ever-watchful docent, dressed in her blue blazer and maroon scarf. She can only shrug her shoulders and smile, weakly.
There’s only one place to be when looking at Autumn Rhythm No. 30. He knows this. It’s from a standing position at it’s center, left foot slightly in front of the right with arms crossed at the chest. In that position, it allows his peripheral vision to swirl messages to the brain.
It is this kernel of truth now ruined by this vulgar woman stretched out on the floor.
Sniffing deeply, he moves back a step, centers himself on the Pollock, closes his eyes. Breathing deep, with a certain sense of purpose, he opens his eyes.
And looks down at the woman, who now has her head tilted back, looking at him, a strange smile on her face.
“Excuse me, but you’re kinda creeping me out back there,” she says. “I mean, you’re practically standing right on top of me.”
Cheeks flush, he’s at a loss for what to say. She smiles, tilts her head, sending her dirty-blond ponytail swishing across the black leather of her jacket.
Collecting himself, he flips his sport coat back, places his hands on his hips, defiant.
“Excuse me, but you’re flopped out in front of my favorite painting in the world like a dead fish,” he says. “Plopped on the floor like a bored third-grader. It’s annoying.”
Bending at the torso, she rubs her wrists quickly, brings her feet toward her ass and stands abruptly.
She’s much taller than he’s even considered, close to 6-feet, and looks him in the eyes with pursed, red lips.
She tilts an eyebrow.
Hands now on his shoulders, she moves around him close, her front to his back. He trembles slightly.
“Down,” she says, gently putting pressure on his shoulders.
He sits, centered on the painting, his legs sprawled to the canvas, his All-Stars nearly touching the rope. To steady himself, he puts his arms behind him.
Pollock’s swirl of acrylic paint dances across his eyes, flooding his brain with messages. Waves of emotion sail across his face. A tear falls.
Kneeling behind him, pale hands on shoulders, she leans in to his neck, a lover’s move, and whispers.
“Let’s just keep this all for ourselves, shall we?”

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are fragile, rampant and tremor. This is short and tense, as I got my stuff Monday and I’m still unpacking.

Tremors
Bent awkwardly in the mid-section, he rests his ass on a chipped metal gate, but the puke won’t come.
The tremors started hours ago, and like a pregnant woman’s contractions, they’re coming at shorter and shorter intervals.
An east wind blows warm across his skin. It carries with it the scent of fried foods, wet paper, a slight whiff of sewer gas. The breeze races over his skin, upsetting an already fragile condition.
“Huuuuurcccchh.”
Viscous drool, clear and bubbly, escapes bluish-purple lips.
Passers-by give him an even wider berth than normal; a baby in a stroller looks back, catches his eyes, and begins to wail.
“Huuuugrrgggllll.”
He spits once, and a tooth hits the concrete. He spits again. Each mouthful of saliva carries with it more teeth.
Even he’s surprised at the lack of blood.
“Urrrrcchhhhh.”
There’s something rising from the pit of his belly. His throat tastes of bile, bitterness. He stands, wobbly, puts a hand on the gate, bends to vomit.
“Huutttrtrrrrccch.”
Droplets of blood, dark crimson, fall from his outstretched mouth and onto the broken concrete like raindrops. His mouth feels slick; he flicks his tongue across toothless gums and whimpers.
He’s fighting for breath.
His fingers constrict, turn into claws and rip at his throat. It’s shutting off his airway. His forehead turns scarlet, then purple, the veins in his temples pulsate blue. The whites of his eyes are filling with blood, as capillaries burst from the pressure.
Falling to his knees, he looks through nearly dead eyes and a dizzying haze at the crowd that’s been drawn to him, a circle of gawkers. He wants to tell them to run very fast, run far, far away.
There’s one last push.
“Huuuuurrrrcccccckkkkspplechk.”
His lifeless flesh hits the pavement. A woman screams.
But it’s free, breathing on its own, looking for new hosts.
The crowd scatters in panic. There are sirens in the distance, urgent, converging.
Across the static of radios, there’s worry in the dispatchers’ voices. The calls are now rampant across the city. Sickness, vomiting. Something else.
Something. What? Alive?
There’s too many calls.
Just way too many.

OneWord, Shore

It's good to have personal stuff. As I write this, I'm sitting at my desk, in my chair, with music playing and the dog curled up at my feet. Still have some unpacking to do, so I've gone over to OneWord to get their prompt.
The word is "shore." As always, you get 60 seconds to write.


Barefoot on the sand, she follows the spine of the shore by feeling where the tide tickles toes, brisk and refreshing. It’s a moonless night, and the darkness feeds her mood. There’s a sadness to her gait, dried tears upon her face. There’s a slight rise in the sand and here the shoreline opens up. Water laps over her feet. She turns toward the water and begins walking, fresh tears streak down her cheeks.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are effect, immense and shimmer.
Sorry The Tension has been a little bleak these days for posts. No secure Interwebs connection. That all gets corrected this week.

In Transit
When it happens, I’m in the North Woods of Central Park, high on a grassy point with trees and rocks on either end, my back pressed into a cool carpet of green.
Opening my eyes, I’m staring up at a giant black willow that has taken on an aura of lightness, a shifting of colors throughout the spectrum. I close my eyes, open them, and proceed to click through several new sight effects: infrared, spectral, classic color.
Zooming in, I watch each slender leaf get picked up by the breeze, begin to vibrate and within each branch join in a symmetrical symphony that brings to mind theory.
Intelligent Design? No, I toss that aside. Chaos? Too random.
And in the wavering of the leaves, it comes to me – String Theory, the musical notes of the universe all tuned and played under various tensions. Breathing deeply, I catch the wet earthiness of the meer to the east, the fragrant herbaceousness of the grass, the slight saltiness of the homo sapiens who surround me in the knoll, having kicked off their shoes and shed or arranged shirts delicately to soak up warm sun rays. While I feel the warmth, I also sense on my lucent shell gradient temperatures, barometric pressures and this alerts me to a change of seasons, that while still quite temperate out, there is a detectible bite of fall carried on the wind.
I am filled with undeniable lightness and immense joy.
Through new eyes I canvas my new casing, a shimmering that’s like a whisper.
And focus on the immense erection I’m sporting. Changing vision, I see waves of heat, colors that announce pleasure, arc-like waves of blue-bolt energy. Truly satisfied, I rise to a seated lotus position, raise my appendages and stretch.
From the corners of my peripheral vision – now nearly a complete 360 degrees – I focus on the two forms walking forward to my left. Nearly identical forms to my own, wisps of energy, but more rounded.
Ah, female.
They walk by, appendages wrapped around each-other’s hips, sauntering gently in lock-step precision. As they pass, they giggle and wave, motion for me to join them. I rise, partner with them in the middle, resting my appendages on the swell of hips and slowly caress the round suppleness of what was once human flesh.
More giggles as we compare and contrast the fiery displays of our sexual organs, all electric and pulsating. Joining limbs, we collapse into a pile of static brilliance on the lawn.
I am stirred from resolute ecstasy by the yapping of a French bulldog, who senses our presence. He’s wearing a little black leather biker vest, the owner’s equally black leather leash secured by a silver ring. The owner tugs furiously on the dog, admonishing it for seemingly yapping at the breeze.
Past the dog, on the trail headed toward the meer, I scan my human self, walking our dog. She looks at the bulldog, then at our pulsating mass. My human form does the same.
I wave from the grass, triumphant and ecstatic.
He waves back from the asphalt, a furrow of slight recognition wavers across his face.
The dog strains at her leash as a squirrel bounds from a tree, scampers across the trail and disappears into the underbrush.
I watch myself turn, retreating around a bend in the trail, forward into his inescapable future.

OneWord, Sunlight

Still no Interwebs service at home. Everything is done by coffee shop or stolen signal.
Thought I'd do a OneWord. One word, and 60 seconds to writer. That word? Sunlight.

Sunlight pervades this place. The kind of lemony-yellow light that makes you squint, sneeze, just by looking at it. It envelopes you, like a blanket, warm on exposed flesh that turns to heat when out too long. Sunlight like the skin of a golden delicious apple, fragrant, vibrant. The final strong rays of fall, before another winter sets in, turning skin to alabaster, gooseflesh.

Scenes From The City

Funny what gets awakened when you move to a place where there’s something to see around every corner.

I’ve been in New York some 72 hours, and besides stopping at odd moments to profess, “I live in New York,” I’ve found that having my camera handy is a terrific way to document not only the journey I’m on, but the city where I choose to be inspired.

And what inspiration.

Funny, I’ve not taken a lot of shots in my neighborhood. I sit on the dividing line between Harlem and East Harlem in Manhattan. But I had a guest in town, H, who graciously drove my truck back to SooFoo (and will babysit it) in exchange for a weekend in the city.

Those shots will be coming in the next days and weeks.

But for now, sit back, relax, and view other parts of the city through the lens of my Cannon G11 camera:

Random subway images




Rockerfeller Center

Union Square





World Trade Center

Times Square



And So the Adventure Begins

Three-quarters of a harvest moon, yellowish-orange and brilliant, hangs over the night, illuminating it.
I’m up on the roof, in the shadow of the adjacent building, taking it all in. It’s quiet – the bar across the street is closed for renovations – and I’m trying to make sense of it all.
Knowing that I’m hours away from perhaps the greatest adventure of my life.
The pulse is quick. I try and calm the mind, but it’s been racing since the day I decided to throw caution and conventional wisdom out the door and follow a dream.
Live in New York for a year. Observe. Write.
(Try and write two short stories worthy of publication, although there are those people who are hoping for a novel.)
As I type this, 18 hours remain in my life in SoDak. Soon, I’ll run Trinity to the groomers, turn in my cable television box, come back to mop the floor, pack the truck. Walk-through with the landlord at 4:30 p.m., final beers and goodbyes with friends at 5 p.m.
The road trip east begins bright and early Sept. 29. Pick up the keys to my new condo on Oct. 1.
And the 365-day experiment begins.
So much excitement pulsates through my body, like a current.
I look at the moon and try and think of another time I have been so excited to try something. I know there must have been those times. The six months I spent in Japan. The eight weeks in Italy. The various journalism jobs, in various states, moving up, moving on.
But I can’t find any memories that compare to how I feel in the now. Maybe it is age, a better appreciation for things we are given.
I am excited.
I am happy.
My dad, who made this adventure possible financially, said he wanted me to be the kid I used to be: Full of wonder and questions. Willing to jump first, look later.
I have no idea how this year will turn out. I have thoughts, visions. I have the outline of a plan and freelance jobs to pay the bills. I will mostly take life in New York as it comes.
But I do have a feeling.
The notion that something good awaits me in the city.
And I realize that the next time I see the full moon, it’ll be from Manhattan.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are gait, nudge and ripen.

Zooming the Girls

He falls to his knees and in mock torment, beats his fists on the sidewalk, which skews the contents of his backpack painfully to one side.


Two girls on bikes flank a third. She is tall and gangly (with a hint of the curves she’ll ripen into) and carries a skateboard.


Hazel eyes that sparkle in the sun, this tall girl is the one he craves. An adolescent tease in jean shorts, white blouse over a white tube top, flip-flops and a wispy braided bracelet around her right ankle. Her hair is long and curly and she’s pulled it back into a ponytail.


He stands up, thrusts his hands in his pockets, advances yet again in a cool, calculated gait.


“I gotta go,” he pleads.

The sentries nudge one another, put their hands up like stop signs, wag their fingers. He can only shrug his shoulders, eyes pleading.


The lanky girl, her skin the color of melted light brown sugar, thrusts her shoulders forward, shakes her head no, and screws her lips into a pout. Her cheeks are red; she puts a chewed fingertip to her lips. She smiles; her eyebrows arch.


“Just one kiss,” he says. “’Cause I gotta go home.”


The sentries won’t relent.


Even though she wants them to just disappear, in the very worst way.

OneWord, Pouch

You'd think pouch, today's OneWord prompt, would cause a freeze-up in creative thought. Man, this thing flowed.
(Sorry for being so absent on The Tension; the move to NYC has been filled with hiccups.)
Here's today's OneWord, based on "pouch:"

He was born with a pouch. Just a lit­tle slit below his navel, two folds of skin that formed a small pocket. He didn’t mind so much, as it became con­ve­nient to stash stuff there through his pubes­cent shenani­gans and, if he thought about it, it was a lot bet­ter than, say, a curly tail or an extra eye­ball. He mostly kept it to him­self, until the day he met his soul­mate. Ner­vously, in bed before mak­ing love for the first time, he showed it to her. She laughed, whipped off her skirt and with a flour­ish, showed him her two vaginas.

Thursday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are charm, feast and robust.

Charming

He sat, contemplating the feel of it, as it rolled off her tongue and through pouty, collagen-filled lips:

Slack-jawed yokel.


The remnants of the Four Seasons Martini dripped slowly off his dark, impeccably-trimmed goatee and was, at that very moment, puddling on the China between a feast of mashed Yukon gold potatoes with rosemary crème sauce and the lamb rib chop with quince jelly glaze. Untouched was the medley of baby spring vegetables, their color enhanced with their quick sear in the a pan of garlic-infused olive oil.


The slap was unexpected and drew a slight web of saliva across his reddened cheek; the cool Gin had helped soothe the sting.


He had watched her retreat, in slow motion like passing a car wreck, and though briefly that maybe she should have worn a slip under the little red dress she fancied for nights out when she liked to charm him – it being more than a little tight across her backside, and showed the defined etch of panty lines.


Now alone, he swiped the linen napkin across his face, reached for the crystal salt and pepper shakers, and gave the plate a light hand to the seasonings.


He then stared down the other diners with a cold, calculated gaze, picked up his fork and knife and paused.

Slack-jawed yokel.

He slid an elbow on the crisp linen tablecloth, rested his still-damp chin on the heel of his palm, lips kissing his knuckles that were going white as he squeezed the silverware.


“What the fuck?” he said, causing those startled diners near him to avert their eyes into their laps.


Furthest from his mind was the quarrel, the one robust insult that had lead to the strike, the doused drink, the abrupt departure.

Further still was the stigma of now dining alone at the featured table, a deuce near the kitchen where you could watch the celebrity chef shake sauté pans with a flourish and maybe a bit of flame, dramatic.


No, what he chewed over, pondered deeply, was that phrase:

Slack-jawed yokel.


Who the hell thinks like that, let alone talks like that?

Fiction in 58

Since several people put out the OneWord prompt up on the Twitter stream, I’ll go with a Fiction in 58 today. Please enjoy.

Metamorphosis

The itch starts just above his right wrist, where blue veins conjoin. He scratches idly, which only intensifies the feeling.
He increases the pressure.
Until thick ribbons of skin came off his hand, exposing greenish-gray skin covered in thick, clear mucus.
He tries to scream.
No shrieks leave his lips; blossoms of itchiness spread across his chest.

OneWord, Trees

OneWord is a prompt that counts on brevity and quick-thinking. Click, word, write. For 60 seconds.
Today's word? Trees.

Alder saplings, thick, dark, hot, snap at him like whips from every direction. He’s had to move through the trees, quickly, since hearing the final screams from camp. He never saw exactly what happened, the pines too thick, but he had heard. Yes, he had heard the cries for help, the pleas for life. He didn’t even try and help, which stabbed through the adrenaline rush like tiny pin-pricks across his flesh.
But he was alive. For the time being.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The Words over at Three Word Wednesday are break, negative and surface. This is a reworking of an old piece of flash that I’ve never been quite happy with in parts, mostly the ending.


Moving Day

My agent convinces me that a move to into the city will be good for my career, which has cooled since I took a break and moved into the outer boroughs.

I say OK, but nothing pretentious. No SoHo loft, nothing in Tribeca.


I ask my assistant to find me something sensible, sedate, but with good on-street parking. 
He finds me a small one-bedroom in a rent-controlled high-rise with a doorman who wears a long purple jacket and a black derby hat.


“It’s the next big thing, as far as areas go,” my assistant assures me. “And I’m only eight blocks away, if you should need anything.”


Moving day arrives and I drive into the city with a few necessities – sheets that smell like home, favorite books, alarm clock, laptop – and I walk through the tiny space and take mental snapshots of my new nest.


There’s a knock at the door and I open it to find a tiny woman in a Chanel suit the color of Pepto-Bismol. She’s carrying a small, pink pastry box tied with white twine.


“Mr. Bascomb, my name is Mrs. Levitz and I just want to say how happy we are that you’re moving in,” she says. “Here at the Constantine, we’re all very big fans – who will absolutely protect your privacy like our very own.”


The box in filled with four monster cupcakes, two chocolate, one red velvet and one that looks like vanilla, with toasted coconut sprinkles covering the entire frosted surface. I thank her for her generosity and she’s already waddling down the hall, waving a hand and reassuring me that my solitude is safe.


I stare at the cupcakes and realize they’re the only food in the place.


I grab my coat, hat and head out to find the nearest market. There’s a slight drizzle, so I duck under a black-and-red striped canvas awning where there’s bins of apples, oranges, fresh-cut flowers. The doorbell jingles its little tune and I pick up a red-handled basket and start down the aisle.


Next to the coffee and teas, there’s a display for catheters and enemas.


Near the dairy case, a giant display of rubber bondage suits.
Next to the cereal and oatmeal, equestrian tack - whips, crops, bit gags.


There are shiny metal speculums mixed in with the cheese graters; nipple clamps on an end-cap near produce; all manner of dildos and vibrators near the beer and wine.


The entire back wall of the shop is one big magazine and DVD rack, with titles like WhAP (Women who Administer Punishment), Leather Journal, Whiplash, Lesbian Cat Fights and ToeKiss.


I decide it’s time to check out.


The girl at the check stand is early 20s, her hair raven-dark and she wears it like Betty Page. She’s in a black leather bodice, held together with red satin ribbon. Over her black leather pencil skirt, she’s wearing a white apron.


“Did you find everything OK?” she asks, eying me suspiciously as she rings up my purchases – a quart of milk, loaf of wheat bread, Swiss cheese, Parma ham, a couple apples and oranges, a bottle of Merlot.

“Just fine, thanks,” I say, trying for an even tone, nothing too stupid or negative.


“Nipple clamps are on sale today,” she says.


“That’s OK, thanks.”


“It’s Thursday, so all latex is 30 percent off.”


“I’m good, really.”


“Here, then, can’t let you go away empty-handed,” and thrusts a small tube into my palm, the label reads “Stroke 29, Masturbation Cream.”


I rush out, flush, and nearly flatten Mrs. Levitz. The small tube of lube falls, rolls, stops at the toe of one of her pink shoes. She picks it up, reads the label through cat-eye bifocals attached to her with a gold chain.


“Mr. Bascomb, tisk, tisk, tisk” she says, hands me the lotion.

And she waddles away, waving a hand and mumbling about my solitude.


I look back at the store, the sign reads “Food & Fetish.” And fish into my jacket for my cell, hit speed dial for my assistant.


To tell him that my transition from the suburbs will be much more gradual.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Spent a week within the Russian Wilderness Area, in far Northern California. Six friends, six backpacks, and 12,000 acres to play in. We call ourselves the Beefaloes. Fairly obvious why.
We set up base camp at Paynes Lake, which sits in a granite basin at about 6,500 feet in elevation. Day hikes were optional. As was the swimming, fishing and playing music. Mostly, we stared at the granite, the lake, the campfire and dared to dream.

Here's a few shots:



Scrub Brush for the Soul

(I originally wrote this as a newspaper column in 2005. I’ve edited it a bit. Please enjoy this in the interim, when The Tension will be silent as I vacation in the Russian Wilderness Area this week.)

A walk into the woods is a scrub brush for the soul. 

Thoreau knew that, as did Whitman, Muir and certainly Leopold. Drawn by respect and awe, they all ventured into the woods and used their words to paint broad strokes of wonder and wisdom that now are used in motivational posters pinned to cubical walls. 

“Talk of mysteries! Think of our life in nature, daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?” Thoreau wrote in “The Maine Woods, Ktaadn.”

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,’ Muir wrote in “John of the Mountains.”

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot,” Leopold wrote in “A Sand County Almanac.”

I side with cannot. This is where I'm supposed to be, for right now, right here. Surrounded by the wilds of Northern California and enough gear and time off to explore. A walk into the woods, a chance to repair the mental weight of modern life. 

With all the fortitude of Atlas, you heft the pack and of giddy heart, start up a dusty trail that splits tall pine. A sweat begins to rise at the small of your back and on your brow. You notice that for the first time in too long a time, it seems the only thing you hear is the beat of your own heart, the breath through your lungs and the rush of air though the pines. 

A scrub brush for the soul. Nothing matters but that next step, the next switchback, the next creek crossing. 

Simpler times for men like Thoreau and Muir led to an all-consuming awe of the natural world. If it was that easy now. Four miles up the trail and the mind begins to wander ... 

I just quit my job. I’m moving to New York. What?

And then you enter a meadow that's split by a cool-running stream, with old-growth pines that stand watch like Centurions. The scent of pine, grass and clean water washes over you and instantly you're snapped back into a clarity of thought and senses. You stop to lie in the cool grass in the shade of a pine ... 

and ... just ... stare ... into ... a ... sky ... so ... blue. 

But the trail beckons, another few miles to another campsite, another lake. 

Curse the modern man, whose problems weigh the mind down as to cause a stoop. 

You swear you can't help it. 

How am I going to get my stuff to the storage place? What do I do with my truck? Do I really need this, or can it just go to the Salvation Army?

At the end of the trail, there is fellowship and cold beer at the Etna Brewery. We recount trail tales that won't make it to wives and girlfriends. We plot our next walk into the woods with the innocence of children. 

Unfortunately, the stress we left behind begins to creep back. Projects to complete. Family issues. Work, politics, mortgages, traffic, road rage. 

And then, a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker walks in the door. The weight of his pack makes a sweaty "H" on his grimy shirt. He's gaunt later he tells us he's lost 30 pounds and has the stare of a man who has had lots of time to think. The PCT is 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada; from the PCT, it's a 13.8-mile trek into downtown Etna. 

He wolfs a burger and three beers, tells us he quit his job, just for the chance to walk into the woods. We pay his tab for PCT hikers, it's called Trail Magic and he's more than grateful. Handshakes all around, and a look of pleasure from a man who has miles to go, which for today is another 10 miles before bedding down for the evening. 

He'll average 20 miles a day, every day, for six months. But he says it's where he needs to be. 

And I think back to my problems, my life. What lies ahead. Luckily, I’ve made decisions that have set me on a path that will lead to enlightenment and growth this next 14 months. Soon, I will slip off life and slip on a backpack and walk into the woods with friends, all who I haven’t seen for a few years. We’ll settle into a pace, we’ll needle one-another, we’ll fish and eat and talk and drink whiskey and be silly.

A scrub brush for the soul. 

“We need the tonic of wilderness ... We can never have enough nature,” Thoreau wrote. 

And I know this is where I'm supposed to be.

(For this week, anyway.)

OneWord, Understood

A little nanfiction for you, brought forth by OneWord, a dandy prompt site that gives you a word a day - and 60 seconds to say something.
The word today is understood.

He felt like, if they’d just read the fucking report he’d prepared - that was right in front of them in the packed conference room - everything would be OK.
He would be understood.
Maybe for the first time in the whole his miserable fucking existence.
They weren’t reading. Hell, they weren’t even listening.
Meyerson, the big baby, was drooling all over himself with tears and snot from all his wailing.
He took finger off the trigger guard, ran a thumb across his brow.
“The sooner you read, the sooner this will be all over,” he said, just above a whisper.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are grimace, phase and stumble. This got dark.

One Cold Dish

Submerged as he was, he could hear his heartbeat, which had slowed considerably, and a distant rumble of the creek as it flowed over river stones smoothed by time and current.

The tub, sculpted out of quick-set concrete and river rock, was wide enough that his outstretched fingers of his outstretched arms touched the rough, candle-wax-drenched sides. It was long enough to settle his entire 6-foot, 2-inch frame within, deep enough submerge a full foot underwater.

A natural hot spring, hot, sulphurous water, gloriously soothing.
 He broke the surface and time became real again; frogs croaked their evening song, as did crickets. The stream grew bolder.

Wind rattled the cottonwood leaves like a backup singer’s tambourine.
 Even in the sketchy moonlight, he could catch the swirl of blood, like smoke caught in resin, in the warm water. His blood, where he was slowly bleeding out from the 9 mm bullet the had pierced his lower back at an angle – when the report came, he instinctively turned away from the blast, or the slug would have caught him mid-chest – traveled upward through the end of his liver and disintegrated against a rib, a blossom of death.

He sunk his head underwater again, just hearing the sound of his heart was a comfort, and a smile replaced the grimace as he pondered how something so simple could have gotten so fucked up.

Tommy, the wildcard. Tommy the impetuous one.

He’d wished that she’d not told them her secret at the bar, in front of Tommy, who was more bluster than anything else. She’d wanted to tell him of course, since everyone said he was One Cold-Hearted Bastard. But they'd all been wrong, so much so as to confuse cold-hearted feelings with fearlessness. He possessed a singular mental purposefulness that came in handy in certain situations.

She’d told them about the blind date with that Burroughs kid, the rape, although she’d never said the word. “The incident,” she kept saying, like she’s borrowed it from the cops, rolled it around on her tongue and decided that it sounded so clinically cold as to forget the welts, the bites and bruises, the brutish stickiness of him against her back and thighs, the stinking beer breath hot on her neck as he held her throat tight in his big, greasy hand.

He smiled again, remembering that she said she’d told them she soaked for hours in her tub, straining the little apartment’s electric water heater to exhaustion as she kept filling and refilling the tub with water that kept her skin a constant shade of angry pink. And here he was, he thought, soaking away his sins as well, like hot water could heal all – wounds, sins, indiscretions.

When the arrest didn’t materialize - Burroughs was too connected, the details of the night too sketchy, the hometown cops said - she’d come to them in the bar and said she wanted closure. That’s what she’d call it, “closure.” Revenge, plain and simple. Right a wrong; make just the injustice.

He’d not said a word while Tommy spouted off about shotgun castrations and caps and asses and two in the heart and one in the head mentalities; he’d spoken up just the once and said no, this would best be handled the old-fashioned way.

A beating, tire irons, a shallow grave.


Tommy insisted on coming along and after a time, he had agreed, reluctantly. Tommy would drink his courage, which he counted on when the actual time came to square things up with Burroughs.

Weeks passed with Tommy pestering him that things needed to made right. Tommy, man, he was like one of those little yappy dogs that goes through a phase, barking at the wind or a leaf blowing across a lawn, just to hear itself.

“We gotta do this thing, man,” Tommy said. “We promised.”

Saturday night, full bar. He caught up with Burroughs at the pool tables, called for a game. Rounds were exchanged, confidence gained.

They drank all night (Jimmy fill his highball with tea from a bar-bottle under the counter), played pool, made crude male-talk about women, men, jobs, life. At closing , he suggested they go to a roadhouse where he was known, cruise some pussy, maybe get lucky.

“You know it,” Burroughs said as he told the lot that he’d drive and Tommy called out shotgun and the asshole accepted bitch in his Silverado without so much as an argument.

Dipshit, he thought, driven to his untimely death without a care in the world, straddling the shifter for miles and then beaten to death.

“Hey, there’s no roadhouse out here,” Burroughs said after the first 30 miles and he punched him square in the ear, breaking the drum and telling him to shut the fuck up right then and there. More protest, one more punch and he’d simply slumped against Tommy’s jacketed shoulder.

“This is about that little bitch from the bar, isn’t it?”

“Shuddup.”

“Isn’t it? She was fucking asking for it.”

“Shuddup.”

“Dude, she was asking for it.”

Tommy burped as the truck went into the skid on the hard-packed dirt of a narrow fire road, his body impacted by the sudden inertia and weight of another body into his, all slammed against the door.

“Out, now,” he roared.

And the three of them stumbled into the amber glow of the parking lights, the tire iron shouldered, cocked, ready.

“You can’t do this,” Burroughs pleaded, a warm piss stain widening across the crotch of his expensive jeans.

“Shuddup.”

“Bitch asked for it.”

And Tommy pulled the Glock and fired wildly, nine shots, emptied the entire plastic clip into the night in a blaze of white-hot muzzle percussions.

He’d caught Burroughs twice in the chest, spun him into the hood, where he slumped into a pile on the ground. The smell of loosened bowels mixed with pine. Tommy puked, began to sob.


“Tommy, go get help,” he said.

“Ohman, ohman, ohman ohman, shit, ohman, sorry, shit.”

He leaned into the tree trunk, the blood splatters a Jackson Pollock painting against the untucked white cotton T-shirt.

“Tommy, get in my truck and get Jimmy. No one else, you hear. Do it now. Let me get the shovel.”

The brake lights faded and there he was, alone with Burroughs and he stuck the steel blade of the shovel into the dirt and sighed.

“You couldn’t have left well enough alone, could you?”

The corpse did not answer.

The hot spring was a mile-and-a-half down a well-worn trail and he’d shed his clothing as he walked; blackberry brambles raised ugly welts on his shins and forearms and his feet were a bloodied mess by the time he’d slipped into the water.

He surfaced again, knowing that Tommy was at the sheriff substation, spilling his guts and placing blame anywhere but toward himself. Soon, the dirt road would become a major crime scene, complete with yellow tape and little paper teepees to mark where the shell casings landed.

He clenched his teeth, relaxed. He listened to the crickets, the frogs, the tiny tambourine sounds of the cottonwoods.

He slipped underwater and checked the sound of his own slowing heart.

He exhaled the last air in his lungs.

Unrepentant.

OneWord, Delight

OneWord is a prompt about quickness, about description. See how much of a story you can tell in 60 seconds. Granted, I write for the full 60; yes, I do edit after.
Today's word? Delight.

She delights in teasing the young men, all those suitors who stare at her in the subway after giving them a slight look up her thigh, or bending seductively in a department store to check the strap on her high heels.
It’s a game for her, one she propagates with creamy white business cards, embossed with 10 numbers when the bravest of the young men get up the nerve to ask.
She tosses her raven hair, takes out the solid silver case, hands over a card between two elegant fingers, the nails painted in what looks like dried blood.
The number rings her ex-husband, and she delights again in thinking of the surprise on the young men's faces, the anger in her ex’s.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are joke, leverage and remedy.

Clipped

Christ, it feels like I should wear one of those nametags they give you at some 12 Step meeting, along with the shitty cup of lukewarm coffee in Styrofoam cups and the day-old donuts, the cake ones, with fingerprints tattooed into the icing.
“Hi, My Name Is” with a baby-blue border and you scrawled your name in colored ink and tried not to be self-conscious. Because share time is here, and you’ll stand up and point at the fucking tag when you introduce yourself and blurt out your whole sordid life story:
Hi, my name is Bodie.
I’m 45 years old.
And I’m sterile (such a chilling medical term).
I’m clipped.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The vasectomy.
Mid-30s, beautiful woman. We’d met at the gym, where I sullenly tried the elliptical machine as a remedy to the loss of a budding career as an adventure racer – blow out the ACL and MCL in your knee and have it replaced with tendons from a corpse (cadaver, whatever) and see where your mood goes – and she half-heartedly stepped through a workout on the Stair Master. Mostly, she looked to see who might be looking at her.
Tight black yoga pants, white Lycra top (built-in bra) that accentuated the unlimited tanning package and freckles (which she thought were ugly and I found sensual and erotic) across her back. Rich blond hair pulled into a carefully drawn pony. Full makeup. Manicure, French I think they call the style.
The courtship was whirlwind. The plans for our future bright.

I come from a large family; three boys, four girls (I am fourth of seven). Each of my siblings have three children. Various degrees of age, some about to leave college, some who will enter kindergarten.

They all teased and joked; they made it painfully obvious that it was high time I start breeding, pop out a family.
I had never found the time. Too many workouts and plane trips and races and exotic locals. Now, wrecked knee and a slowed pace, I had the time.
It stretched, unending.
She had two children from a live-in relationship when she was 18; a boy and a girl who were very much part of this package deal.
I thought about it. The family stuff. Have a child of our own. One, big happy family.
She had thought about it, too.
She talked about a vasectomy.
After the civil ceremony that proclaimed us man and wife, she brought it up, constantly. Over dinner. Along with a glass of wine at our favorite café.
After making love, when her leverage was at its apex.
“I never had my 20s,” she said. “I never got to travel, like you did. I was too busy raising children. It’s so much an easier surgery for you.”

Two small incisions into my nutsack, something the doctors do now in their suburban offices, under nothing more than a couple of Valium and male bravado. Two snips of the vasa deferentia, and two pieces of white tubing come out – shit, they looked a helluva lot bigger in the jaws of the forceps - a stitch, then a cauterizer.
I stepped gingerly to the car an hour after I walked in.
Two weeks, no sex. Plenty of bags of frozen peas melting into my crotch. Tremendous bruising they don’t show you in the brochures. Your nuts swell.
The basic caveman in you asks, “What the fuck did you just do?”
Then she winked and said the doctor needed a sample to do a sperm count, see if I have any more boys swimming down there. And she planned a quickie at lunch; hot, sweaty carnal sex in the kitchen, scattering refrigerator art and magnets. And in the end, I came in a little plastic cup, screwed on the lid, put it in the brown paper lunch bag Dr. Davidson provided and I drove to his office to drop it off. The nurse put a little nametag on it...
“Hi My Name Is…”
And the call came, two days later.
No more need for her to be on The Pill; no more remembering to buy condoms to restock the leatherette box under the nightstand where we stashed an assortment of pleasurable things.

No more swimmers. I was sterile.
Clipped.
Over dinner – roast chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli - she brought it up.
Adoption.
We’d settled into lives and careers, jobs and companies – and family for me, losing myself in brown-bag lunches and bickering and homework - but there was something lacking between us. A detachment.
Perhaps a child would close the gap, she reasoned.
So why did I get clipped?
Wouldn’t a biological child make more sense?
“I don’t want to carry another child, silly,” she said. “I don’t want to ruin my figure. But you’d be such a good father.”

This is not the first time I have heard this.
Alone on Easter – another conference for her, the children off with friends – I was invited to a friend’s ranch for his family gathering. And I’m on a hay bale eating chocolate chip cookies – with pecans instead of walnuts – when a toddler toddled over and sat. Face covered in chocolate smears, his diaper loaded. He was one happy kid.
“I like the cookies,” he says. “Is it good, you like?”
“I love them,” I respond. “Can’t get enough of them. What do you think, a couple more? I can go get them.”
And he shrieked and clapped.
“He’s usually so shy around men,” his mother said. “And you’re so good with him. Do you have kids?”
Yes. And no.
No. Not anymore.
(And nevermore).
“I know I’ll never find another man who loves me more than you do, but I’m not emotionally connected to you,” she reasoned on the night it was over. “It just happened. We started hanging out and texting.
 I know I’ve hurt you, and you’re very angry with me.”

And she packed our life up into cardboard boxes and left. The children never did get to say their proper goodbyes.
My home is empty. Devoid of the chaos and noise of the past three years. The past life (a half-life, like radiation, where memories slowly dissipate into the air).
She left for another man. Younger, more disposable income, more shiny, flashy toys.
The divorce is final in two weeks.
I have accepted what has happened, and I am philosophical. No 12 Steps, but plenty of teary sessions with a therapist.
“Go live your life,” she advised.
I move through new circles of friends, I’ve purchased a sea kayak and road bike, and my knee no longer takes several painkillers to get it to behave.
I date. I smile more. Again.
Until I think about my nuts. About the vasectomy.
About being sterile (such a cold medical term).
Clipped.
My sister visited recently. She and her three boys, age 6 to 9, drove up to check on their favorite brother, their favorite uncle. They created a chaos the house hasn’t known in months.
The screen door slammed for the umteenth time and sis warned the boys again not to bang the damn door. I looked at her and reminded her about our childhood, and kidded that she sounded just like our mother on steamy August afternoons where you couldn’t decide to be in or out.
She laughed and asked if I needed another beer.
“Hell, yes,” I said as a cool Delta breeze kicked up the scent of honeysuckle on the back patio.
Jack, the oldest, passed his mother at the door with a slam. She looked back, stern-faced and I laughed.
Jack, his skin as dark as mahogany, his hair bleached blond from so much time out-of-doors, stood next to my Adirondack chair and began to twist the hairs on my arm.
“Uncle Bodie, can I bring Whiskey out to play?” he asked about my Lab. “I’m going to teach him to fetch.”
“Sure, buddy.”
And the screen door slammed, Whiskey howled with joy of a dog that had boys at his beckon call.
And for an instant, there’s an odd absence of sound. Of sensation.
And it hits, like a rogue wave over rocky escarpments.
I wear Ray-Ban Wayfarers, thick, black plastic frames, polarized lenses.
Better to hide the tears.

Why I Just Quit My Day Job

There are things you do for love and things you do because an authority figure tells you to do so.
And every once and again, you get to do something selfish; a moment that makes all the other moments bearable.
On Aug. 6, 2010, I quit my day job.
And am moving to New York.
The idea is to spend a year writing, without the daily grind of working for a metro newspaper. Friends have asked if that book inside me finally comes out of this. Let’s be hopeful, but what I’m really looking to do is write a couple of decent short stories that find publication.
This is one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done. Quitting a good job in a great newsroom is no small task. Especially when the nation’s unemployment rate is stuck at 9.5 percent and there are people clamoring for jobs.
I need to do this for myself. But it’s also part of a promise I made my dad before he died of cancer last September.
“Go do something with some of my money,” he said.
I’m 47 years old. I have no wife, no children, no mortgage, no debt. The lease on my loft is up in September. My dog, Trinity? She will travel with me and will become an urban dog.
In arguably the greatest city on the planet.
Soon, I will pack up my stuff, pare my life down again, and put most of it in storage. I’ll wait for my friend and future roommate, Q, to come pick me up in a yellow Ryder truck.
And I’ll be in New York, probably Brooklyn, by Oct. 1.
There are two questions I get most often: “Aren’t you scared?” and “Do you have a job?”
I feel…invigorated.
With pop’s generosity, I have enough money to live in the city for a year, I’ve made a sensible budget. But yes, I will have to work. This isn’t a case of blowing pop’s entire inheritance, being the playboy of Manhattan. My parents taught me to be my own person; they also taught me to be frugal. In fact, later this month, I’ll be writing Edward D. Jones a rather large check for my retirement.
I have set up a couple of freelance agreements, handshakes at this point, and have a couple of nonprofits that need my help. And whether I become a nanny or a dog walker – or most likely a handyman, as I’ve already have contacts to do just that – I will get to donate several hours to sitting at the laptop writing and being out in New York observing, picking through sparks of inspiration that the city brings out naturally.
Admittedly, this decision isn’t for everyone. I get blank stares. I overhear conversations.
When I proposed my plans to my siblings, I braced for impact.
They got it.
“I’m really glad you’re going to go follow your dreams,” my brother wrote in an email. “Mom and dad would be so proud of you.”
“I am so excited for you,” Third Sister said. “It’s totally something you would do.”
Over sushi recently, I laid out my plans to First Sister, with whom I have a very close bond. I talked with my hands, chopsticks pointing here and there, and she stopped my and lifted her glass of wine.
“You’re going to be just fine in New York,” she said. “You’re going to be a success.”
That’s yet to be seen.
But I’ve got a whole year to be selfish.
And figure it out.

OneWord, Cross

Time for a OneWord story. Sixty seconds, one word. That's cross:

His pace is brisk, a New York walk, purposeful in its efficiency. Arms snug at his sides – better to reduce drag, eliminate pedestrian collisions – he looks ahead five feet, scanning the pavement for pitfalls, anything that could slow him down. At the intersections, when he’s missed the light and the masses huddle around him, he crosses himself. Father, Son, Holy Ghost, right before the light turns and he steps off the curb. The first to do so, ahead of the mass of flesh, picking up velocity.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are drink, feeble and predict. This is the 200th 3WW prompt; I checked and my first was Jan. 10, 2008 – the 69th prompt. That’s 131 3WW contributions to date, if you’re counting at home.

Night Moves
The house is dark, save for twin flames kicked up from slender Mexican religious votives. There’s a chill in the air; as with nearly everything else, the furnace slumbers through the nexus of night.
Ahmad Jamal pours out into the night, low on the stereo; it’s his 1958 live recording at Chicago’s Pershing Hotel and the drum and piano – slinking and sexy – of “Poinciana” has become the original soundtrack of this particular darkness.
There’s an antiseptic smokiness to his teeth and gums from the bourbon he’s poured; the drink is never far from his grip, the glass, the liquid, another soothing tonic for his troubled soul.
Restless under quilts and comforters, he has since swung his legs from the bed and ambled feeble and naked across wood floors, the chill like spikes on his calloused soles. While his eyes wake and adjust to the darkness, fingertips brush the plastered hallway walls like whiskers, which keeps him on-course.
His pupils’ constrict as the lighter explodes into an orange flame as he lights the votives. He sets the lighter down and scoops up the handful of rocks – beach agates mostly, smoothed by surf and sand – and rolls a particularly milky one between the thumb and index finger of his left hand. He shuts his eyes and tries to hear the echoes this particular talisman has to offer.
He breathes deep and the rocks are deposited back into the dusty martini glass. He runs his hands across the vertical stacks of plastic, the multitudes of CDs that he reinvested in when the age of the phonograph came and went; the very collection that was slowly becoming obsolete in the new age of iTunes, downloads, digital music.
Without looking, his fingers find the jewel cases he seeks at times like this: Jamal, Diana Krall, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck.
He slots the music into the player by candlelight, like he’s done thousands of times before, hits shuffle, takes a mouthful of bourbon and closes his eyes as if to will the first random selection. He smiles as the first strains of “Poinciana” begin and he shutters – the muscles in his back ripple – as the déjà vu moment flashes and subsides.
He runs a hand across his face and fingertips reading the Braille that is the stubble of his beard. His fingers trace his nose down across his lips, across his chin and down to where the thick chest hair begins. His hand rests on his heart – the pads detect the two-step, tuh-tump of his beating heart and he sighs, slight. He raises his head to the ceiling and breathes deep once again.
He crosses the living room to the sofa, lands quietly and brings his knees to his chest. He massages the knuckles of scar tissue that run like a zipper across the outer edge of the ruined joint. He smiles again, and takes in the memory of long runs alone - where his mind sometimes found calm.
But not tonight – and for past many nights, for that matter – as his brain has drawn him, once again restless, from flannel sheets to meander through his house in the dark. As if by mission to recall and remember the aura of memories that filled each object – all the treasured knick-knacks - that radiated half-life into the night.
Where the darkness might take him, it’s too muddled to predict.
At times like this, he’s happy to be surrounded by these bits of congealed time – a just-in-case scenario, a gathering of markers - debris, really - of a life lived thus far.
There's comfort, for these are the very things that kept him grounded, secure, here.

Thursday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are abuse, cramp and hatred. Something quick and dirty.

Luncheonette for the Possessed
“There is goodness in you, even though you can’t see it,” she says.

The fork is halfway to his mouth, which is open for delivery, and he stops, a flush of hatred lights in his icy blue eyes.
He folds his hands together and tucks his chin on knuckles; warm curry puddles under the fork, now a pendulum.

“Did I ask for an assessment?”

The diner is cramped and it is packed; it’s a living organism that pulsates, breathes, sighs. It presses its mass into her, she feels faint, a victim of her own stupid choices.

He stares, smiles. Shoots bushy eyebrows into amused arcs that beg answers.
It's enough of an insult; his abuse emboldens her.

“No, you did not ask,” she says. “But I have opinions too, you know.”

OneWord, Strung

OneWord is an interesting writers’ prompt. Click the button, get the word, write for 60 seconds. The idea is not to freeze up, just let your mind – and fingers – go.
Today’s word is strung.

She uses heavy nylon cord, the kind they use with parachutes so you don’t go falling to your death when you jump out of an aircraft.
She’s never jumped out of an aircraft, she’s practical. Her adrenaline rush comes form the hunt, the stalk.
The kill.
The cord? It’s strung with the hearts of young boys she’s enticed, charmed, crushed.

Monday's Fiction in 58

It’s Monday, time for a Fiction in 58.

Reunion
The note was scribbled on a piece of notebook paper, college rule, the light blue lines just a suggestion for the scrawl. She folded it in halfs, until it was a snug package.
She dropped it in her clutch, along with the .38 missing its serial number.
He could wait.
She could wait, too, until her bruises faded.

Guest Writer, Garasamo Maccagnone

Garasamo "Gary" Maccagnone opens his newest short fiction anthology, "My Dog Tim And Other Stories" with the very enjoyable and very real "St. John of the Midfield." It is, all at one, about soccer, family, the Mafia, loyalties and death.
It's the story of Bobo Stoikov, one of the world’s greatest soccer players, who escapes Communist Bulgaria for the American Dream.
But it's also about Mario Santini, half-Sicilian, half-Polish family man who manages to balance his own family between the illegitimate family business - drug running.
Some will say "St. John of the Midfield" is a sports story. But it's so much more. It's about honor, family, tenacity and perseverance.
It's an emotional read, one that keeps you turning the pages. And a rare treat that opens one damn fine anthology of short stories.
Other stories in the anthology include: “My Dog Tim,” an ode to the author’s beloved childhood pet; “White Fang,” a tale of revenge that has more do with orthodontia than Jack London’s infamous dog story; “The Note Giver,” the story of a mysterious old man who arrives at St. Isidore’s and turns the congregation upside down by handing out notes that sting the individuals with truth and insight on their own bad ways; “White Chocolate,” “Goalie Boy”, and three vignettes.
This anthology is worth picking up. Because once you open the first page, it's hard to put down.

Maccagnone has graciously agreed to share a short fiction piece with readers of The Tension. It's entitled "Every Woman's Dream."

But first, a little more about the author:
Garasamo Maccagnone studied creative writing and literature under noted American writers Sam Astrachan and Stuart Dybek at Wayne State University and Western Michigan University.
A college baseball player as well, Maccagnone met his wife Vicki as a junior at WMU. The following year, after injuring his throwing arm, Maccagnone left school and his baseball ambitions to marry Vicki. After a two year stint at both W.B. Doner and BBDO advertising agencies, Maccagnone left the industry to apply his knowledge of marketing in a new venture in an up-and-coming industry. Maccagnone created a company called, “Crate and Fly,” and turned it from a store front in 1984 to a world-wide multi-million dollar shipping corporation by 1994.
In the mid 90’s Maccagnone decided to fulfill the promise of his writing career, by first penning the children’s book, "The Suburban Dragon" and then following up with a collection of short stories and poetry entitled, "The Affliction of Dreams." His literary novel, "St. John of the Midfield" was published in 2007, followed by his "For the Love of St. Nick," which was released in 2008.
Maccagnone expanded the original version of "For the Love of St. Nick" and had the book illustrated for a new release in June 2009.
"My Dog Tim and Other Stories" is a literary anthology of the author’s best work.
Garasamo “Gary” Maccagnone lives today in Shelby Township, Michigan, with his wife Vicki and three children. Currently, he is researching the location for his second novel, tentatively titled, "He Lay Low."

Visit Maccagnone online at www.garasamomaccagnone.com

"Every Woman's Dream"
By Garasamo Maccagnone

Last night around the news hour, our dog Shira, started using every method in her arsenal to get my attention. She moaned. She stared at me. She jumped up on her hind legs and put her front paws on my knees. Her tail wagged furiously.

I knew what she wanted. For the last couple of weeks, she's carried on a torrid summer romance that would put Romeo and Juliet, or any Hollywood couple, to shame. The problem is, and I'm not sure if this has something to do with her breed, that Shira has not the intelligence, nor the instinct, to realize she's a mammal, and that as a dog, if she were to pursue her love interests, she would need to hook up with another dog.

You see... the creature that Shira devotes her love to is a toad. Yes, a toad, which I believe is an amphibian, and of course as you know, is not the most handsome of creatures. Obviously, for Shira, looks do not matter. Her Prince has called on her for a couple of weeks, always appearing around the news hour, always sitting on the outside ledge of our door wall, staring into our dining area until we relent, and let his love interest come to him.

Too lazy to get off the couch, I heard my middle son Anthony charge down the stairs toward the kitchen. I yelled to him, "Put Shira on her leash, she wants to go outside."

"Ok, dad," he said in his distinctive, but abnormally low base voice. I knew Anthony was unaware of the romance, since he had been away awhile.

Anthony is twenty one and he stands about 5'11'' and weighs about 185. He likes to weight lift so his muscular body as a human should not be a match for a common toad. Still he jumped and yelped as soon as he saw the toad staring at him.

"What is that?" he shouted. I chuckled knowing what his reaction would be. (Why are those tiny creatures scare the mightiest of our men?)

"That's a toad," I blurted out, crossing my legs on the couch. "His name is Phillip the toad and he's in love with Shira. He shows up every night."

"What? Are you kidding me?"

"It's been going on for a couple of weeks. I have no idea how these things start."

"Won't she eat him?"

"If he were a rabbit, yes. For some reason, toads are off limits. Hook her on her leash and watch what happens."

As expected, with Anthony giving me play by play, Shira first pet Prince Phillip with her paw to let him know she was there. Then, she licked his entire back, bathing him in saliva.

"Wow," said Tony. "If that toad was a cat he'd be purring."

I'm not sure what type of sounds toads make when they're enraptured. I do know, that the times I watched the bathing, to me, it looked like Phillip's eyes opened more lazily than normal.

"Won't she get high from licking his back?" asked Tony.

I laughed. "Maybe," I retorted, "but I think that's an old wives tale."

When the two lovers finally had enough, Anthony took Shira out further in our yard and let her do her business. When he brought her in, he went on to explain why he thought Shira liked Phillip so much.

"Think about it pops," he said to me while I started to nod off. "He won't fight over food, he can't take advantage of her and he just sits there unable to talk back. It's a hassle free relationship."

"What are you saying to me, son?"

"He's every woman's dream guy."

Not capable of forcing my eyes open any longer, it was too late for me to fathom the wisdom of his words. It wasn't until the next morning, while sharing the story, and a cup of coffee with my wife Vicki, that she gave credence to his very words.

"Oh, what a woman could only dream of," she stated in an overly dramatic tone. Then she poured her coffee in the sink, winked at me, and fled upstairs. I turned to Shira, who was asleep, curled inside her oval bed.

You're all the same, I said to myself, still in the jovial spirit of the moment. Taking it even further, for the sake of my premise, I went on to tell myself that even Juliet, had she lived, would have longed for the same thing.