between the trees

Golden flecks of yellow crimson and sunburst blue phase across the walls in a brilliant choreography. Every passing vehicle illuminates the room, a flash of life, but only for a moment. It’s the kind of spectacle that succeeds a nightmare.

Another car flies past, uncaring and distant, growing more so with each desperate heartbeat. This time, the fleeting light paints a dark silhouette on the wall. A monochrome specter, pirouetting through every shade of our soul.

Inhale darkness.

Our lips stretch slightly and we try to shout. Nothing.

Exhale vivacity.

This time a semi passes, and the mass grows near. It beckons us forward. No longer spectators, we become performers.

It’s the kind of demonstration that we look forward to. The one that follows a dream.

The Krysolux


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.”


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.”


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?”


“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.”


Janice loved to bake. Her favorite part was the breathlessness after the first wave of heat enveloped her senses. For a second, she could feel herself suffocating, and damn it felt good.

“You burned the goddamned cookies again, didn’t you?”

For a moment Janice considered leaving the macaroons in the oven for a few extra minutes, just to satisfy her insolent husband. “No, honey, they turned out just as they look on the box: fabulous.” Janice transferred the cookies to a green ceramic plate and sat it at the kitchen table. The steam flowing from the plate reminded her of that from a warm cup of cocoa on a wintry evening. “Come and see, Benjamin.”

“I don’t have to tell you that I worked twelve hours securing a single client at work today. I’m sore and I’m tired. Just bring the plate to me, Jan.”

Janice wanted so badly to sob and throw each of the cookies in the trash, but she flashed a smile and obeyed. She approached her master, trembling as she placed the platter in his lap.

Benjamin carefully inspected each of the macaroons, his beefy fingers tracing every last one. “Too much flour,” he muttered, tossing the dozen cookies on the floor. “Trash as usual. Try again – chocolate chip this time – and don’t you dare come back in here until you get it right.” He hacked a wad of tobacco and spat it in a clear Dixie cup. “Your grandmother told me before she died that she taught you everything she knew! I guess in addition to her being a stupid nigger she was also a liar!”

Janice remained calm, despite her insides rattling. “You’re right,” she confessed. “I didn’t put as much effort in that batch as I could have.” The woman quickly picked the cookies and crumbs from the floor and retreated to the kitchen.

“And don’t even give me that, ‘I’m tired,’ bullshit, because you’re not resting until you bake an immaculate batch of cookies – even if I have to eat them in the morning.”

Concealing her cries, Janice repeated the process her Grandmother Clarice taught her: first the sugar, add the butter, drop the eggs, then the extra fixings. With the oven already warm from the last batch, it didn’t take it long to heat up to a nifty 375.

As she was stirring the mix, she recalled the last advice her grandmother had given her. It was during the night of Janice and Benjamin’s wedding, before the ceremony. Janice was in the back getting prepared, having to redo her hair because Benjamin said it made her look too young. It didn’t take Grandmother Clarice long to realize her soon-to-be-grandson-in-law was a domineering prick.

“Janice, baby,” she said, her voice shaky and frail, “are you sure you want to go through with this?”

Janice hesitated. “Of course, Grandmother. Benjamin will provide for me more than any other man can. I believe I can be happy with him.”

“Darling, did I ever tell you the story of your late Grandfather Nicholas?” The old woman ushered Janice onto a chair.

“You said he was a great man.”

“Of course I did, babe. That’s what any good wife would recall of her husband, and in some aspects it’s true. He left me and your mother a large sum of money after his passing, and for that I am forever grateful.” The woman hacked into a handkerchief before continuing. “But he was a brute, a dog. I am a strong woman, so I sheltered through the first five years of snarky comments, but the second he laid a hand on me, it was over. And keep in mind this was many years ago, when women were expected to forgive and forget. So divorce was not an option.”

“Grandmother, what are you saying?”

The old lady placed a black vial in the bride’s hands, and whispered, “When the time is right and you feel there is no other option, slip this into his meal or a glass of wine. Consider this the best wedding gift you’ll ever get.


“I have a feeling you’ll really like this batch, honey!” Janice exclaimed, fetching her grandmother’s vile of poison from the back of the silverware drawer.

The arsenic dropped into the cookie mix like the devil’s tears – at first Janice added only three drops, but then she considered her husband’s weight and stubbornness, and she just emptied the damned thing. “I’m not taking any chances,” she whispered before shaping the dough and placing the pan in the oven.

After several minutes, the house filled with a sweet aroma – it reminded her of how Grandmother Clarice’s house used to smell.

“Smells good, Jan!” Benjamin flipped through a newspaper, chewing on a handful of Milk Duds. “It took a while, but I think you’re finally getting the hang of baking. Just don’t burn them now!”

Janice beamed, leaning on the refrigerator. “Oh, I learned from the best!”

The Cursed Traveler

The baby took its second first breath in a chamber of abhorrence. Chains and spikes adorned the walls around the newborn; cobwebs carpeted the cold, cobbled floor, while hissing obsidian serpents spiral ancient wooden rafters.

A ghastly woman wielding a curved dagger materialized before the child, her translucent, ashen skin shining inside a starry cloak. “You wretched beast, how dare you enter my realm!” She brought the blade to the baby’s soft throat. “And in the form of a defenseless newborn of all things!”

The baby spoke, “Who are you to call me a beast? You know not who I am!”

“Borias sent you, thinking that I’ll ignorantly let my guard down, just because you wear the face of my precious Gale.” The ghoul roared, revealing a mouth full of broken knives and razors submerged in caustic bile. “When you see him again, let him know he’ll have to do much better if he wishes to claim the Land of Belligerence.”

“I know nothing of Borias. My name is Adolf Hitler, and the King cursed me to live eternity in this form, speaking the language of one of my greatest enemies! Apparently he did not enjoy my hiding food rations in a secret attic.”

“Adolf Hitler, eh?”

“Indeed! The Adolf Hitler! Surely, you have heard of my triumph, no?”

“Let me tell you what I have heard: you’re nothing but a worthless shrew. Even in Hell surrounded by the fiercest souls, you continue to believe you were anything but a pathetic mortal. The truth is that humanity is nothing but a byproduct of failure.” She cleared her throat and plopped down next to baby Adolf. “You see, the pure souls – successes in the Creator’s everlasting experiment – are reborn under the guidance of the King. Failures are cast down to the lowest realm, Earth, as human beings, who ignorantly sacrifice most of their short lives worshiping a fictional, omniscient figure. Then, after they die, they return to us as slaves. And that light they claim exists – Heaven, they call it – was an idea the King provided the failures in the form of scripture. The only real light that exists comes from the torches that line these cobbled halls, my dear.”

Adolf crawled away from the ghost, black shit dripping down his leg. “You’re lying! The real success is the Aryan race, which I am confident rules Earth now. Only the ones made in God’s image are destined for greatness!” He stopped to pick the shit out of his ass. “And, God, my friend, is white.”

Scoffing, the ghost brought the dagger down on the infant Adolf’s neck, decapitating the menace. “Damn, you had more shit coming out of your mouth. Go be someone else’s problem.”

After his execution in the Land of Belligerence, the soul of Adolf Hitler appeared in the body of a dark-haired, brown-eyed toddler in the Realm of Reflection, where he was introduced to an entirely unique form of punishment.

Red Rain, Ch.1


“The secret is out, Jamie.”

A shaggy-haired boy of fifteen – Jamie is what they called him – pushed his thin metal glasses to his face with one hand and popped a gorging pimple with the other. “How’d they find out,” he inquired.

“Hell if I know. You didn’t tell anybody did you?”

“Why in God’s name would I snitch about that? God, Ronnie, d’you really think I’d do something so stupid?”

Honestly, Ronnie had doubted Jamie had any balls at all, or common sense for that matter. The young boy was in fact his father’s son, and if that was not enough to scare the shit out of him and his friends, Ronnie didn’t know what would. For fuck’s sake Jamie’s father couldn’t even lie with a straight face to the police when asked about how the neighbor’s boy ended up mangled in the hay baler. They were in the process of pulling little Caleb’s shredded arm from the machine when Jamie’s father fell apart. He just stood there in front of the detectives, a blubbering, snotty mess.

Jamie got his answer from his friend’s disgusted glower; he may have been the stupid redneck junkie that everyone believed him to be, but he was not entirely an idiot. Shaking his head, Jamie muttered, “Fuck you, Ronnie.” Then, snatching a ring of keys from the nail on the wall, he added: “I’ll be out at th’barn. If somebody knows, then we gotta make it look like nothin’ happened.”

“Go on, then. Be expectin’ me later. I hafta phone Bone and Monty; they need to get their dopey asses over here, too.” Ronnie wiped the line of tobacco spit from his jaw. Maybe it was from his old age, but he swore he had cleaned that shit off a while ago. Nevertheless, the dark spit flowed from his lips like water from a faucet.

Having walked to the barn, Jamie looked over at his aging buddy, who was still sitting in that rotten rocking chair scraping scum off the few teeth he had left with his thumbnail. With his deteriorating condition, Jamie couldn’t see the old man living for much longer. Either the bastard was going to wander off and die, or the boy was going to have to smother him in his sleep.

Jamie shrugged off any second thoughts he was having of the latter scenario and stuck a long, silver key into the barn door’s rusted lock. It popped off with a clunk and fell to the dry ground. It took the boy a minute or two to fully open the door, but when he succeeded, he found himself hoping he would have left the place locked up – or better yet, not having been involved in the sinister scheme to begin with. He stood staring into the empty barn with wide eyes, horrorstruck.

“Ronnie!” Jamie yelled. “It’s the bodies! They’re all gone!” But only after Jamie looked around did he realize that it was too late. Dozens of reanimated bodies, corpses of his friends and family, surrounded him, hungry for the flesh of the condemned.

Swan Song

My eyes follow the stream of grayscale microbursts flickering on the surface of the lake, a lunar ballet performance upon a chilled oil pool. A cloud of moths and flies hums around the lantern on the dock floor in a choreographed orbit. This place is certainly not what it used to be; Dad and I used to frequent this lake for our weekend getaways, and we’d sit with our feet in the water talking about different things – like how the patch of honeysuckles on the water’s edge made the air so sweet and how well Mom was doing in physical therapy since the accident. But Dad died of lung cancer three years ago, and four days after that Mom was found in her room hanging from the wooden frame of that beautiful canopy bed I bought her for her fiftieth birthday. She said it made her feel like an angel resting in a cloud.

Suddenly, a little voice sounded from below, followed by a gentle tug on my arm. “Jenny? Where are they?

Shit. Little Joey never forgets anything, like his father I suppose. The only way to get the young boy out of my ex’s house was to prod his fascination with birds – how else was I to break an eight-year-old away from his home? The deal was that I would take him to see a real swan for the first time, and in exchange he would keep me company on our walk down there. He was reluctant until I mentioned how much more beautiful the birds were in person than the silhouette of a flock painted on his baby blue ceiling.

Noticing only a black owl perched atop the rotting skeleton of a tree, I improvise. “They’re here, Joey. You just can’t see them.” I usher him forward. “Come on! I bet we can get a better view of them when we’re closer.”

Our footsteps crunched and cracked the blanket of dead leaves that covers the ground as we make our way to the bank. The sounds of night grew louder and more melancholic as we walked away from the forest and closer to the dark lake; the song washed away the bliss and serenity of the scene, reviving an eerie ambiance of pestilence and desolation. The owl jumped from her rotten throne and flapped heavily above, her bulky frame casting a large shadow over the land until finally vanishing into the dark.

Joey sticks his finger in the water and shivers. “Wow! That’s really cold,” he exclaims. “See, Jenny?” He drowns my hand, sending a tremble down my spine. But it’s not the freezing water that gives me chills – it was his touch.

Since he was born, I have always hated Joey even though I’ve never shown it. And it wasn’t Joey that I really hated; he was just the poor soul that was thrown into this world as a result of his dad’s adultery. In between sorry and it’s not you it’s me, James thought I’d be relieved to know how he would never be good for me, and that Dotte was a better match for him – the same Dotte who had been my dad’s physician when the cancer was beating him. The nerve!

My body is shaking now, and sweat starts to bead on my face. Memories of when I was watching James and Dotte play with Joey in the park danced in my mind – oh, how that little tot giggled as his father took him in his arms and tossed him in the air. The boy was innocent; how could I know James and Dotte were going to be out and Joey was to be left at home with a sitter as I appeared in their driveway prepared to kill them all? I admit I considered that what I was doing was insane as I strangled the sitter outside, but what would that achieve? All that would do is bring them closer together. No, I have to hurt James just as he had hurt me with his cold words the night he shattered my life.

Joey opens his mouth as if he was going to giggle and tell me how funny I look, but I don’t give him the chance. I grip a handful of his curly brown hair and shove his face in the lake. His writhing body jerks side to side, struggling for air, but I only push him deeper. His little hands scratch at my forearm and search for something to grasp for support. It’s funny, the survival instinct; it would push little Joey to fight at whatever cost until all hope of living was drained from him as his lungs fill with water.

It takes me a while to realize Joey has given up, that I was now holding a lifeless child in the uncomfortably tranquil water, as I was too focused on the shocking sight before me: in the center of the lake were three white swans shooting a judgmental, distressed glare at me behind empty eyes of charcoal. The largest of the flock sheds a tear and bows his head, before I let Joey go and turn to walk back to the car.

When I get into the car, I look back at the lake and see no trace of the swans or of Joey – there isn’t even a ripple in the water. The black owl, sure enough, is back at her perch, however, and her sneering scowl reassures me that my work is far from finished.


With the final call from my brothers, my silver eyes open to a bright white sky. I can’t remember where I was or who I was before this very moment. My mind is bound in a barbed-wire cage and an inferno bellows in the pit of my stomach, filling my body with black smoke. I wipe away the blanket of snow on my chest, and I snarl. The claws. I always forget about the fucking claws; they’re like razors. But my self-inflicted chest wound heals fast until it is only the snow that is tinged crimson.

The smell of blood causes my muscles to tighten and I let out a ravenous growl. No matter how hard I try to stop myself, my legs tear under me at an unrelenting pace. Sprinting through the forest, I barrel through frozen trees and leap over fallen boulders, and my eyes scan every leaf and branch of the woods in front of me – my ears cover my peripheral. My heart races in my chest as I grow closer to my prey, until I’m so close that I whimper from years’ worth of hunger and cravings. A small buck is lapping at an ice-covered pond, but it doesn’t last long. I send my heavy body at the young deer and tackle it, forcing its thick body through a rotted tree trunk. It doesn’t have time to react before my hands rip the animal apart, and my long tongue and teeth invade its abdomen and other juicy innards. A crazed cackle leaves my mouth, leading to an eruption of a lumpy cocktail of blood and grass down the corners of my mouth. Clumps of guts and red slime slap the ground as the stream of regurgitated venison leaves my maw.

It’s not enough, though. Centuries of hibernation demand more than only a small meal. And in moments my body once more surges me forward through the woodland. Another scent fills my nostrils as I’m half-consciously running. It’s not unlike that of the other wildlife, but it’s sweeter. It’s definitely sweeter. And suddenly whatever conscience I have left is submerged in a boiling pit of hot tar. I feel my conscious eye slowly close, the final pillar of my humanity crumbling, and allow the fiend to hunt in the flesh.


I awaken with a sharp pain of ice emanating steady, swift pulses of agony throughout my body. My silver eyes fall upon the figure of a young boy, whose trembling hands grasp the hilt of a metal stake with which I am pierced. For the first time since I can remember, tears stream my face and I emit a thunderous roar.

For a few seconds I feel the metaphoric cage loosen and I look around. Bodies are strewn on top of vehicles, houses, and about the street. The sidewalk is lined with strings of guts and vomit, and doors and windows are sprayed with blood. Torsos of men and women lie in pieces around torn bits of their children. A baby blanket entwined in a welcoming sign waves in fragments – as if it was solemnly dismissing the souls that were just slain.

The flood of my humanity extinguishes the malicious firestorm that once flickered in my bowels, and I am once again staring into the face of a startled young boy who is paralyzed with fear. His blond hair flows in tufts with the wind, and his chapped face shines white, shaming even the blinding blizzard. With some of my remaining strength, I fall backwards, releasing my body from the silver sword. Memories of the past fill my mind and I can almost visualize Annie’s face. Almost.

The boy is still sitting there and comes to when I throw my hand to grab his arm; I want to explain everything. But he straddles me, crying out as he drives the blade into my body again, again, again, and again. But his new found rage and thirst for retribution isn’t his own. With my last breath wasted, before I could inform him of the curse that has befallen him, I see his beautiful cerulean eyes fade into a menacing silver.

Putting On the Ritz

The sleek black sequin dress immaculately complemented Skylar’s form, bringing life to the underfed bag of bones. Instead of bubble-wrap raisin tits, glittering obsidian palms flaunt impeccable apples – they were nothing compared to her glamorous peers, but at least they hid her laughable mesa chest. Classy, black Dior stilettos added a few inches to her 5’8” and made her feel like a titan towering above its subordinates.

Skylar strutted down the lobby of Sapperwhal Center amid camera flashes and confetti: the queen had finally arrived, and she was here to stay – at least until her 9am flight to Miami the next day.

“Skylar! Skylar!” The crowd chanted, grasping at her silver braid. They pretended to merely want pictures and autographs, but Skylar Dolly knew better; she knew the second she appeased the hysterical fans, their sharp talons would tear at her expensive garments and fights would ensue. Her contoured cheeks and scarlet lips reduced to smeared chalk and expired fame, she’d be an A-list laughing stock.

A tiny voice rang through Skylar’s ear piece. “The assistant will take you to the ninth floor and direct you to room 912. As soon as you arrive, you’ll be prepped for the interview.” The agent’s words pierced Skylar’s eardrum. “Oh, and Nigel says hello.”

A fist of bile punched Skylar’s uvula, and she grimaced. “Of course he does,” she breathed. Since Skylar entered the realm of fame, Nigel had been her conniving shadow, seizing every opportunity to send her home in tears. Her manager, Wes, always told her that she’s only paranoid and that Nigel could be a great asset to her. And maybe he was right; she could use someone to personally wipe her ass.

Skylar fumbled with Nigel’s possible excuses of why she should devote a thread of attention to him and his gnarled, perverted figure. Perhaps this time he needed her input on his next fashion line, and he’d go on about how she could never afford his dresses. Or maybe Nigel wanted her to help him select his headstone. “Wouldn’t that be beautiful?” she muttered before stepping into the glass elevator.

Skylar leaned against the elevator wall and lit a cigarette. The scrawny, crater-faced hotel attendant escorting her only stared forward, a cold statue, as she broke the hotel rules. Above all, absolutely nobody should assert any force to the elevator walls, not for residents’ safety but simply because that glass was a bitch to clean. But Skylar was the exception. She always was.

As the doors slid open to reveal the ninth floor, Skylar stomped the cigarette out in the elevator. “Clean that up when you polish that glass, kid,” she grumbled. “Why don’cha stop jerking off during your shift, and actually do some goddamn work like you’re supposed to?”

“Have a great day, ma’am, and I hope you enjoy your stay at the Sapperwhal,” the boy chirped as rehearsed, grinning through his rage.

“Wait, you’re supposed to escort me to my room.” But it was too late; the worker was already heading down to bleach the cum out of 301’s curtains. “So, we’re off to 912,” Skylar growled.

It wasn’t as if the room was hard to find. She only had to peer down the hallway to see the sad display flashing by her door. It was practically a neon sign pubs hang above the bar. The hotel obviously did not get many celebrities.

Skylar softly knocked on the door. “Wes, it’s Skylar,” she called. “The shitty wonderboy forgot to hand me the card key before flying down –”

“SKYLAR, LOOK AT YOU GUUUUUURL. Like OMG you look so fab!”

“Nigel.” Skylar frowned at the crooked body standing in the doorframe. “You do know that you more closely resemble a turntstreet whore than a flapper, right?”

The man snorted hard enough to nearly bust the line of beads around his neck. “Puh-leeze, Sky, know that this dame’s not out to get the ducky of a gimlet.” He snapped his fingers. “’Cause youknow that’s what you is, honey. Don’t you go trying to deny it.”

“My God, Nigel, you seriously just out-Nigeled yourself. I didn’t think it could happen, but it did.”

“Whatever, baby, let’s blouse.” Nigel pulled Skylar into the room. “You’ve got to get prepped for that interview with Marcia Stephens, and you’re sure not going on air with that fluky get-up. Nuh-uh.” He ushered her to a jacked chair facing a large mirror. “Now with this do, girl, all you will ever impress is a father time and a sap, doll. Your game, I’m assumin’ is to catch a hard-boiledswell. And I’m afraid you can’t do that with a face lookin’ like a motherfuckin’ flat tire.”

Skylar swiped Nigel away, his gaudy necklaces chiming against his chest. “There’s no way in hell that you’re doing my makeup, bitch.”

“Unfortunately, that’s exactly what he – I mean she – is here for, Skylar,” Wes choked, coming out of the bathroom. “Matilda left us.”

Skylar’s jaw dropped. “What? Did she say why?”

“Aw, doll, quit makin’ that face; you’ll give yourself wrinkles.”

“Nigel, I swear if you –”

Wes sat on a metal chair beside Skylar. “Well, for one you were a complete asshole to that old lady, and two: you did spray her with some mace last month.”

Skylar wailed, “I already explained and apologized for that, Wes. She can’t hold it against me.”

“Your apology letter was literally I’m sorry with a receipt for a fifty dollar donation to a charity. Money from her own account. I had to beg her not to file a report on you for hacking her checking account.”

“Oh, you slay me, Sky-Sky. And here I thought you was a dumb dora.”

“That’s enough, Nigel.” Wes dismissed the colorful gentleman. “Go stir up some of your paints or whatever you use on a girl’s face, but for fuck’s sake drop the slang.”

Skylar stomped a stiletto into the plush, magenta carpet, its spike ripping the soft fabric. “How was I supposed to know she checks her balance daily? Excuse me for not knowing the routines of a middle-classed old twot.”

Wes gestured for Nigel to stylize the prissy drama queen. “Fix her up, Nigel; do whatever you can to conceal the writhing she-demon that resides in that over-privileged, sad sack of flesh.”

Nigel chuckled. “With pleasure, friend.”

“I CAN HEAR YOU! I’M RIGHT HERE!” Skylar shrieked, her roar echoing through the hotel.

The queen had arrived at the Sapperwhal, but even the fiercest of monarchs can be overthrown by her council. And she hadn’t much time left.

Painted Faces

Once a year I take time from home to visit a cabin in Chesapeake Bay in which I sit next to the fireplace, with a notebook on my lap and pen grasped tightly in my palm, and I write. I write for hours, submerged in my work until in my peripheral I notice the sky darkening, the vibrant streaks of pink and yellow fading into a cobalt canvas. The surrounding forest grows darker by the minute, dusk’s damp dew settling into the soft earth. And with this spectacle I take a breath and smile; it is time.

It’s only seconds after sundown that I excitedly shove the key into the lock of the back room and reveal my private play pin, the place in which my creativity blossoms and my block for new material fades. Finally, I will have material to start the new chapter.
For the most part, the room is empty – the windows are smeared with black paint and sheets of newspaper – save for the little beauties: my best friends. I turn on the radio sitting on a dust covered three-legged table. There is no radio reception this far into the forest, but I find the crackling static exhilarating, as do the others.

Sitting around a cream table are the figures of my three perky friends. Each is dressed in the same apparel in which I discovered them: Penny is in her pink-checked nightgown; Timothy is in his denim shorts and white t-shirt; Charlotte is dressed in a gorgeous yellow sundress and white stockings. But something is different. Something is very wrong.

“Charlotte!” I scream, rushing to her limp frame, but she’s already gone. One of the others must have done it. “Who did this?” I demand, pointing to my darling girl’s corpse.

My eyes well up with tears as I imagine one of my own friends doing such an unthoughtful thing.

The others remain quiet. How dare they say nothing! If neither of them speaks, then both of them are surely lying. Could they both have been so ruthless that they murder one of my most precious friends! How can they sit there with that smile plastered on their face, while I handle the body of their dead sister? God, I’ve raised a bunch of psychopaths!

But I have to keep it together. There is a way to work this out. I have two options: I could forgive Timothy and Penny, or whoever had murdered my precious Charlotte – no, I surely can never do that, what is done has been done – or they both should be punished. Regrettably, that’s exactly what I have to do. I must do what is right for my beautiful Charlotte.

There is a hammer in the kitchen cabinet, and I return to the playroom with it in my hand. I used it last year to nail Penny’s drawing of a flower to the wall. How ignorant was I to fall for Timothy and Penny’s devious antics! But before I punish them I have to explain. They have to know.

“Timothy, Penny, I have known you both for three years. Three! And during those years I believed that we each loved and understood one another. I set aside a slice of my life to spend it joyously with you all. Getting to play with you is what I look forward to doing every year.” I glance at the cold, metal head of the hammer. “And because somebody so callously murdered Charlotte – and neither of you will confess – I can’t play with any of you anymore. That’s why I have to do this.”

I open my mouth to mutter, “I love you”, but my lips are shut as firm as my babies’. How could I ever have thought of doing this if I loved them? Did I even love them? Is it my love for Charlotte that drove the other two to destroy her?

Oh, God, it is my fault. It is not Timothy or Penny who should be punished; I should be! For not devoting my life to taking care of each of them initially, I am to blame for Timothy and Penny’s negligent behavior. While I slave restlessly on that computer, typing chapter after chapter to meet publishing deadlines, I destroyed everything. I tore my family apart.

I do not have any options. I must atone and prove to my children how sorry I am for leaving them. So I grab the pair of scissors I used to cut the loose thread on Charlotte’s sundress last year and firmly run the blade against my wrists. My tears finally start to fall as I lie down and rest my head against the icy, shattered face of my darling Charlotte. I try to hear her voice once more, but hear only empty static.

My other porcelain children do not make a sound, nor do they budge. And I am left staring endlessly at their perfect smiling faces.

Hot Mess


Let’s see how many it will take to knock my ass on the floor. “Gimme another,” I shouted, unflinching. “You know what? Just leave the goddamn bottle.”

The bartender, a twenty-something freckle-faced ginger whose preferred sources of entertainment was Reddit and shoving his dick into a warm watermelon, coolly passed me a half-empty bottle of Patron Silver. “Enjoy, sir,” he piped before trotting over to appease another depressing sap.

Depressing sap. How did I let myself stoop so low? I was once the cherished first-born who had grown into the CEO of my father’s profitable Fortune 500, natural resource company. I had a smoking-hot trophy bitch of a wife and two shit-faced numbskulls for sons, and we all lived happily and amused in a three story mansion hidden within a 128-acre yellow birch woodland. It really was the picture-perfect, American dream of a life. But suddenly the kids became born-again Presbyterians, the wife started hosting orgies with the entire Michigan Bucks soccer team, and I ran the company into the ground – ladies and gentlemen, the life of an aspiring CEO-turned unemployed regular at Bebe Frank’s Downtown Pub.

Before I knew it, I was out of tequila and the world was still a dismal shitstorm, so I figured I would inform the crowd. “Everytion, attenryone,” I slurred, perched on top of the barstool. How I managed to get my fat ass up on the chair is a question for the booze. However, before I could continue the speech that would top all other speeches, an intense flame formed in the pit of my stomach. Then I blew.

A shower of searing clumps of golden bile rained on my audience, and suddenly they all started screaming. If the cries of horror were not from the boiling puke dissolving their skin, I swear one would mistake them for shouts of excitement and ovation. I imagined standing in front of a podium giving a kick-ass presentation to the board and shareholders; that drowning degree of elation I got after those conferences is something I will never forget.

In one corner we have Mrs. Taryn Greenfield, one of the corporation’s largest shareholders, who’s jumping and waving sporadically out the pub’s window, except there is no one who can rescue her from another round of my blissful, sweltering sprays of excellence.

Don’t worry, there’s enough to go around, Co-Chair Brandon Huckabee. And those better not be tears of sorrow that you’re ripping off with those caustic, cosmetically sculpted cheeks of yours.

Everyone is on the floor bellowing with praises for my final, corrosive vomit shower speech. I chuckled at the sight of Lucinda Harman and her girlfriend Sasha nearly spraining their ankles as they try to dodge the glorious holes the vomit ate in the floor. “Don’t slip on your way out!” I shouted. They probably didn’t hear me.

That’s when Agent Meredith showed up, beautifully clad in a chic leather gumdrop dress and silver-plated shoes. She had a charm bracelet fastened around her front left hoof, and spiraled around the opposite a bedazzled strip of baling wire. Her mane sparkled under the pub’s warm light – she must have used the glitter spray I gifted to her for her fifth birthday.

“Damn, you are one fine mare, Mere,” I stated, giggling at my cheesy cleverness.
Meredith shoved past the vomiting fashionistas, stepped over the deceased wannabes, and nibbled my ear. “Oh, Harvey, you always knew how to throw a spectacular party. But why didn’t you invite me?” She batted her eyes, her lips puckered tight and her hoof exploring my thigh.

“This was a surprise party, darling. I would tell you to blame Frenchson for neglecting to send you an invitation, but he’s too busy gasping for air and clutching his whore’s severed flesh over by the jukebox!” I snickered.

The horse whinnied. “He always was a romantic, wasn’t he? And speaking of shameless lust, Harvey, I’d say you are a little excited yourself!” She cackled. “Why don’t you accompany me to the stable?”

I didn’t have to glance down to notice my embarrassingly hardening crotch tenting my jeans. My faced turned pink and I caressed Meredith’s soft snout. “After you, babe.”
The two of us abandoned Bebe Frank’s Downtown Pub and all its decaying customers, and I rode her to her home, where she invited me to sit and wait for her to freshen up a bit. I lost my shirt and pants somewhere along 3rd Avenue. But Meredith, the dazzling, sexy pony never returned. Even worse, she locked the stables.

“Fuckin’ phony ponies,” I griped, “Next time I see that bitch, I’m putting her down.”
Thoughts of Meredith and hatred for the backstabbing horse faded from my mind as I vomited two-three-four times in the itchy hay bed. I spat and retched until I collapsed, the world and its calamities circling around me like an endlessly rotating, soundless vulture baby mobile.


A splash of cold water and muffled noises pulled me from my alcoholic slumber.
“Good to see you’re awake, Mr. Fenton.” A blonde police officer tossed me a towel.
My head throbbed. “What the hell happened? Why am I here?”

“We got a few reports last night that you were drunk and disorderly at the pub downtown. One witness said that after you vomited on the floor, you started acting erratically, spitting and cursing towards everyone in the bar. After several failed attempts of trying to calm you down, they called us.”

I was not one to act erratically. I was once a functioning CEO, for god’s sake. But I knew how to stay composed despite the fact that the whole complaint was more or less blown out of proportion, if not totally fabricated. “So are you charging me with anything?”
She nodded. “Public disturbance. But the good news is – we ran your file – this is your first offense, so you’ll likely avoid any jail time. You’ll need to fill out some forms and more than likely will pay a fine, though.”

Public disturbance my ass. Couldn’t a normal guy enjoy a simple night out? Apparently not, but I bit my tongue. “Thank you, officer – what did you tell me your name was?” She looked awfully familiar.

She turned as she was leaving the cell. “I didn’t, but I’m Officer Meredith Buckly. We went to the senior prom together, or don’t you remember? After I refused your advances, you started the horse rumor.” She grinned. “Karma’s a bitch, eh?”

Water Politics

Cynthia Nielson could talk to sharks, and it made her job at the aquarium the best one in the world.

The hornsharks preferred Jerry Seinfeld clips to play during eating sessions; whale sharks were interested in heated discussions concerning the world economy; leopard sharks were worried about Cynthia’s ovarian cyst. Tours, while simple for her peers, were a challenge for the young aquarist, as the carnivorous fish had killer personalities.

Despite being the focus of jokes in the breakroom, Cynthia spent all her time near the tanks. There was no question she had problems socializing with other humans, but there was something about the sharks that made her comfortable – happy, even.

“So, Marshall, get this,” Cynthia waved a celery stick at the 17 ton whale shark whose massive frame scaled the bottom of the tank, “Sarah asked me to come in early tomorrow since Chad called out. Looks like you’ll be having me feed you!” The woman giggled as she chomped at the celery. “Let me tell you, that so beats hanging around at home all morning watching the news or whatever old-person shows they air at that time.”

The shark darted above, blackening the miniscule observation tube. His voice shook the floor. “That’s fantastic, Cynthia. Now tell me, what are your speculations of the effects of the U.S. Fed bumping the interest rate? I’ve already my own opinions, but I’d like to hear yours.”

“Fed? Like the federal government? And an interest rate on what? Marshall, you’ve known me for three years, so you should know by now that I’m completely stupid when it comes to politics.”

Marshall sighed, making a sharp left at the rock mound and circling back to face the aquarist. “Of course, Cynthia, your knowledge regarding things that very much affect you every day is next to nothing – a fact I cannot understand. Though I am hoping one of these days you’ll do some research and humor me with a nice debate.”

“Yo, is Marshall talking his talk again?” asked a skinny leopard shark in another exhibit. Its squeaky tone got the attention of the other sharks.

A striped shark loomed above. “For God’s sake, Mumu can you be any more annoying?”

“Oh, shut it Fargoth. You don’t even know what a god is. You’ve been eavesdropping on those humans again, haven’t you?”

“ENOUGH!” A tremor rattled the exhibits, and an angry great white appeared from a black abyss. “It’s bad enough I have to live near you all, but if you really want to die, keep it up. For those of you who want to see this bimbo tramp tomorrow, I suggest everyone shut the fuck up.” Silence dominated the scene until the fish continued: “It’s obvious that I’m the real reason this pathetic shit hole continues to exist in the first place; those pecker-faced younglings, with their mouthed stuffed with yellow fluff balls and minds plagued with sex and drugs, make their parents pay big money just to see me eat. I’m a fucking celebrity, and all of you are inferior filter feeding scalawags –”

“Aw, hell, Bingo’s goin’ on one of his rants, boys.” The voice sprung from a dark cave in the rock mound. “Might as well ignore him before he mentions –”

“STARLA YOU BACKSTABBING SANDCRUNCHER. You still owe me a pound of krill from last week!”

“What the…? I didn’t even know you last week!”

“Don’t give me that!” Bingo cried. “You all go out of your way to pretend I don’t exist, and it makes me more sad than irritated, you know? All I’ve ever asked for was a nice portion of everybody’s food so that I can continue to grow stronger and even more terrifying and threatening than before! Is that so much to ask?”

Marshall nudged a section of glass closest to Cynthia, who had been too lost in what was going on around her to realize her break was over. “See this Cynthia? That’s a great example of the federal government, right there. If you stay longer, I’m sure you’ll get a lesson involving –”

“Bingo, technically you owe us more than we owe you; remember those extra portions you were taking because you were afraid the keepers were gonna sell you for being too small?”

A leopard shark shrieked. “Guys, Bingo’s kind isn’t even allowed in the tanks! So why not we focus less on technicalities and more on how he fucking got in here!” The tank erupted with chaos.

“And they say they don’t know politics.” Marshall grinned.