The Krysolux

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Even the sandwich artists who built hoagies for a living knew the importance of balance. They had a carefully selected cut of sliced ham – but only four paper thin meat curls are placed on the bun. Next the cheese, the vegetables, and finally condiments. Deborah might have enjoyed mustard, but that doesn’t mean she wanted the whole sandwich sloshed with tart yellow sauce. And that meat lover, Brandon? Give him too many slices of turkey and he’d be gassing up the whole damned restaurant. It’s all about how much is enough. When was it ever time to stop and move on?

As I walked into a miniature brick building illuminated with a neon yellow submarine sandwich, I was quickly lost in a cloud of fresh bread steam. Save for the sizzling bread and a bash-your-head-in drip of stale water from the faucet, the place was quiet. It surely was not the place kids went to on a Friday night – especially not in the west side of town.

“Welcome Marty’s,” an uninterested worker bee hummed my direction. Whether she was on the verge of collapsing from heat exhaustion from the ovens, or if she just needed another hit, I was not sure. “Weewhiteherbinschass?” The poor woman – a smiley sticker covered most of her name tag except for Fe – appeared to have retreated into a cheap version of autopilot; she couldn’t speak in coherent sentences but I deduced that she inquired my preferred bread type. She tried again, “Witwheaherbsicheez.” Her hazy eyes twinkled under a set of LED bulbs that could have fully illuminated the ocean. She breathed, annoyed, and finally she just asked, “Bread?”

How could I tell her I hadn’t come for a sandwich after all? I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, not after the effort it took to muster the first question of the grand sandwich formation. I was an artist, but I definitely wasn’t the starving one between Fe and I.

I grinned, blinked twice and scratched the erect pimple on my neck. The dripping faucet seemed to get louder and faster. I gave in. “Herbs and cheese.”

“Foorsexin.”

My face muscles began to hurt from the forced smile I was wearing, right eye slightly twitching. I surely hadn’t planned on wasting so much time selecting a sandwich. “Six inch, please.”

Right as she opened her mouth to shoot another garbled request, Fe slouched forward. Her grisly bleached hair blanketed the shredded cheese and turkey breast. With one hand supporting her weight on the counter and the other buried in pepperoni slices, the woman’s knees buckled and she fell to the floor. For a split second, I wasn’t sure if I should just let her sleep, or call the police. Sensibly, I chose the former.

I hopped over the counter, my boot catching the napkin dispenser. The metal box of napkins slid over the counter and clanged on the floor, nearly clipping the slumbering sandwich artist’s angel wing bicep tattoo.

“Sorry,” I mouthed, returning the fallen napkin tin to its position. I caught her hand twitch slightly as I leapfrogged her and walked to the back, near the register.

“I didn’t take you for an herb’s and cheese kind of guy, Vince.” A man approached from the cooler. His collar and hands were dripping red.

Every inch of the cooler was littered with wet floor signs – most of them collapsed rather than erect. A red hand print topped every filthy, plastic warning. There had to be at least fifty in the refrigerator; a pile deep enough to lose somebody.

I just blinked at the sight. My lips pursed and hands knotted in pockets. “Dave.”

My associate straightened and started stammering. “Vince, it’s not – if you hear me out.

I didn’t really want to hear it; I would have rather taken him back home and call it a night, but at that point I wasn’t sure if that was an option considering the mess he created. “Go on.”

I followed Dave into the cooler where he uncovered a second unfortunate worker who had fallen ill – this one wasn’t as lucky as Fe. The skin of his face was completely torn off, replaced with another rotting one. His arms and legs had been dislocated, and his wrists slit, but there was no blood. Rather, the wet floor signs were bathed in red paint.

Before I could roll my eyes the fuck out of the establishment, Dave closed the door, leaving him and I pinned inside the cold, metal room with an exsanguinated sap and a red lake. The whites of Dave’s eyes glimmered. “This is it,” he piped. His voice grew darker. “We found it.”

“Well, you’ve certainly lost it, Dave. I don’t think you’ve found anything.” I tried moving him aside, but he wouldn’t budge. “I don’t even know why I entertain these activities of yours anymore. If it weren’t for dad, I’d have you locked in an institution.”

“Yeah-yeah-yeah, who cares about that? Old news, Vince. What I’m saying is: We got it.”

“Got what, you moron?”

“Just think…”

My mind traveled to various tangents my brother had pursued since he’d completely lost his sanity. None of the possibilities added up, so I took a shot anyway. “Oh, I don’t know… The gate to Hell?” A few months prior, he woke me up and demanded that I pledge my soul to the devil and walk with him through this massive black gate that was supposedly inside of his bedroom. Instead of a black gate, I found three black men nailed around his bathroom door.

Suddenly, Dave slapped me in the face, sending my glasses into the murky red waste. “Fucker!” I yelled, swiping the paint from my eyes, instantly going down to fish for my spectacles.

“The motherfuckin’ Krysolux. I got it.” The light flickered above as Dave spoke. “We’re going to be rich.”

I sighed, giving up the search for my glasses after I had heard a loud crunch. “And what does that have to do with all of this?” I asked, gesturing to the horrific scene before us. My head started to burn.

This? Oh, nothing at all actually. Not really…”

I sat in complete silence with my brother for a minute, just trying to digest everything that I had seen and heard in the hour I had since arrived at Marty’s. I wasn’t sure if it was the insanity of it all that was causing me to get light-headed, or if it was all the paint fumes I had ingested.

“So, just help me get this clear, Dave.”

“Sure, boss.”

“You found the Krysolux.” Squinting, I glared at the fuzzy blob of color that was my brother.

“Kind of.”

“And after that, you came here to Marty’s.”

“That’s right, V.”

“You mutilated that man – let me guess – outside by the trashcan? And just so happened to have one of the spare faces from your collection with you.”

Dave chuckled. “It’s like you’re an oracle, bro.”

“And then you stuck Fe with some concoction you mixed up at home.”

“Si.”

I sucked my teeth. “Then something called upon you to cover the cooler with paint.”

“It’s actually paint with some water,” Dave corrected. “I needed the paint to be thinner.

Right.” I waited another few seconds to recollect my thoughts. “And you called me here to tell me you found an imaginary thing. That’s all?”

“I wouldn’t call it imaginary, but you’re basically correct.” He grinned. “You mad?”

“Hand me this Krysolux,” I demanded, to which Dave complied. He fished a small globe from his pants. I wanted to kick myself for indulging in Dave’s fantasy. Expecting some disgusting thing, I took a look at the item.

At first glance, the orb was all gold, emitting a white cast, but as I more closely examined the item, the more I can see that it wasn’t solid gold at all – something within it was moving. The inside of the Krysolux was a deep yellow liquid, molten sunlight, and it flowed with the rhythm of my breath. The paint on my face and in my hair dried after peering into the orb. The item hummed in my grasp and radiated heat inside my palm. Flecks of red and silver floated within the golden syrup.

“See, brother? That’s not imaginary.”

My face and lips grew chapped; my eyes reddened. “Where did you find this?”

Dave snatched it from me. “Watch this, watch this!” It took everything I had not to slam his head against the wall and steal back the enchanting item. He took it in both hands and raised it to his mouth, whispering into the ball. The room began to change, or rather, revert.

The wash of red paint receded from the cooler, fizzling into nonexistence along with the worker’s corpse. I spotted my glasses on the floor, untouched and perfect. I had never been a man of faith, but at that moment I reconsidered everything.

Now I stammered. “How… H—”

Dave was ecstatic, jumping up and down. “They finally allowed me to let you in on our secret!” His loud echoes pierced my skull. “You don’t know how long I’ve been wanting to tell you!”

Fifty-thousand questions filled the haze in my mind. My chest grew heavy and I leaned against a crate. The room started to spin. “What did you do?”

Dave shook his head. “There’s a time for questions later, big bro. Follow me; we have’ta get out of here before Felinna finds us.”

“Felinna?” Oh, Fe.

“Come on!” Dave whispered, pulling me out the back. Outside, I spotted the faceless worker, now perfectly fine, tossing out the trash. I needed answers.

When Dave and I got a safe distance from Marty’s, my head cleared and equilibrium was restored. “Tell me what the fuck just happened.”

Dave shrugged, flashing a cutesy smirk. “They said you’re not ready yet, Vince. And there’s usually no changing their mind. Trust me, I’ve tried. Be glad they even allowed me to tell you about it.”

“Come back to Earth, you little shit. Where did you find that orb? What did you call it?”

“Krysolux.”

“Yes, that.”

My brother put his index finger against his lips, and whispered, “We’re not supposed to talk about it anymore, I mean it. Not in the open. Not ever.” He dropped his gaze. “She’s looking for it.”

“Who?” I whispered.

“They call her Abigail.”

Wanderlust

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She dreamed of a checkered night sky

Full of mystery and achievement,

Darkness and light.

“Give me wonder. Take me away

From these fragile lands,

Where there are unbelievable sights

And splendor,” she wished.

“For this I will give anything,

To be among the stars and gods.”

She lay her head down and slept,

Waking the next morning blind and deaf.

A man called to her:

“I gave you what you desired;

All that is beyond these corrupted lands

Is unforgiving darkness and silence.”

Cracked laughter filled her mind,

Devouring the memories of her

True love and family.

Her mind trickled out her ears.

“At the price of your freedom,

I gave you peace.”

The girl dreamed no longer,

For her every waking moment

Was a nightmare.

Bodies In the Sandbox I: The Mutant Boy

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Photo Credit

The Mutant Boy

Tommy Gillespie fought hard but couldn’t break away. He was tangled in the grasp of George Turnboat, a 6-foot meaty giant, who flashed a grin that could make grown men buckle to their knees and the Stitcherton High girls swoon. At first glance, Tommy appeared courageous, a superhero standing up to the evil villain for every other bullied fourth grader in his school, but that wasn’t the case at all. Rather, his stoic expression was the pizza rising back through his esophagus, and his puffy chest was simply severe Marfan Syndrome. In reality, Tommy was a flea against an elephant, a child against a yeti. He knew very well this wasn’t a battle he could win.

George forced Tommy against the freshly painted lockers, staining Tommy’s backpack and elbows bubbly crimson. “You scared, Mutant?” snapped George, spitting in the boy’s matted chestnut hair. As George released his grip, Tommy fell on his ass with a thud. “Stay away from my girl, or we’ll see if your insides are as red as Stitcherton red, pussy.

For the moment it took George to march out of the main hall, Tommy remained still and reserved. A stream of wet red paint streaked down his forearm and fell off his wrist. “This must be what it looks like if I slit my wrists,” he thought somberly. “Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea, after all.” He waited until the metal doors clashed shut, when he was alone with the welcoming silence, before he lost himself.

Tommy wiped the tears away, striping his cheeks crimson. Never in his life had he talked to George’s girl, Natalie. The only one he ever talked to was his brother, but not even his twin could help him in such a hopeless situation. When George Turnboat wanted to beat the living hell out of the school’s deformed weakling, nobody could stop him from doing just that.

Mrrp, mrrp.

A cellphone vibrated in one of the lockers behind Tommy’s head, reminding him to check his own. And sure enough: “Three missed calls,” Tommy blubbered. Each were from unknown callers. He sat still against the wet lockers for a few more minutes, just crying. With his cherry face, he resembled the Stitcherton Devil mascot suit — flaming red, stinky as fuck, and empty on the inside.


Tommy found his brother sitting atop the monkey bars at the playground, chewing on a wad of bubble gum. “Hey, David,” Tommy sniffed, rubbing the dark welt rising on his throat. “We can go home now.”

David hopped off the bars and landed in the soft grass, trampling the recently sprouted wildflowers. “George again?”

“Yep.”

Chuckling, David added: “In the main hall? Y’know Mr. Harris is going to be pissed when he gets back tonight to see your pack print in the lockers.”

“Fuck him,” rasped Tommy. Following his brother to the sidewalk, heading towards home. “Did you know they’re calling me Mutant?” He rubbed his nubby sixth finger on his left hand, kicking gravel into the ditch as he walked.

David beamed. “Started that one myself. Figured it was better than Titty Tommy.”

A semi raced past the duo, stirring up dust and a crumpled page of Stitcherton Daily. When the soot settled down and the boys moved farther from the dirt road, Tommy patted the dirt from his hair and whispered, “He called again.”

David stopped. “Did you answer?”

“No.”

“How many –”

“Three,” answered Tommy. “It’s not stopping like you thought it would.”

“Whatever. Let’s just get home before Mom grounds us for life.” David’s attempt at quickly changing the subject had no effect, as neither of the boys could escape the thought of what was to come should they continue to ignore the blocked calls.

“It’s going to come again,” warned Tommy.

“And when it does, we’ll be ready.” David swallowed his gum. “As long as we have a bathtub….”

Tommy hid his panic behind a quivering grin. “…We have a fighting chance.”

Where Good Children Play

He fought hard but couldn’t break away. With one hand knotted in his dark, curly hair, my other submerged his head deeper and deeper. He threw and rotated his arms to the side desperately searching for a something, anything to latch onto. His revolving, clamped fists sketched imaginary ovals in the air as he struggled to breathe. His body turned and writhed, his stomach constricting and releasing, under my heavy palms.

I could hear him try to speak, his fragmented pleas floating to the surface as air pockets. But I remained emotionless, just like the other times.

Then, when it was time, I heaved him from the tub, his small figure meeting the bathroom floor in a loud slap. In between asphyxiated gasps, he coughed and spat at his feet. And after wiping his mouth on the front of his shirt sleeve, he looked at me with glistening eyes – his cheeks flushed and his lips curved in a mischievous smirk. “It’s your turn now,” he said.

And I grinned.

A Secret of Many Flavors

The hunger never ceases; just one more turns into two, then ten, and before long I’m lying spent and delirious on the cold basement floor.

In between ecstasy tides crashing down my gullet, I am a registered nurse at St. George’s Memorial Hospital. On weekends, I spend hours at the field watching my nephew play soccer. Other days I’m curling up with a good book next to my tabby Ronald, or I’m out gardening. The truth is, I’m really just like everyone else – we all have dirty secrets. Mine just happens to involve a peculiar addiction and a dank basement.

Today, I’m babysitting my hyperactive nephew whose winter break has just begun. Sure, my sister is paying me a few bucks to watch the boy, but it’s not about the money. It’s nice having him distract Ronald while I spend a few hours alone downstairs.

The instant my tongue touches the damp concrete wall, my senses flare and my heart beats out of my chest. The tang of mothballs and old dust shoots hot coals down my throat, causing my muscles to tighten and retract from the beautiful pain. The concrete wall like icy beef tongue scrapes my lips raw, the kiss of candy coated barbed wire. After the wall warms from my lustful exhalations, I move to another part of the basement and the lapping continues.

Ronald says I have a problem and should seek professional help, but who is he to talk when his only sense of hygiene is licking his ass? Thankfully my nephew can’t understand the cat like I do, or there would really be a problem; there is no way in hell that I am sharing my wall with a nose-picking six-year-old.