Space Deli

Opal and Samantha did everything together; the twin sisters even coordinated each week so that they would happen to run into each other at the grocery store or the gym. One would be incorrect in thinking they traveled together, however – both knew of the importance of distance. They made it a point not to drive the other crazy; they merely enjoyed the coincidence – albeit planned – of running into the other during their daily rounds.

Each Wednesday, after filling their silver minivans with gas – and remarkably seeing that their better half decided to conveniently do the same – they went back to Opal’s house for afternoon tea, and Samantha brought a desert of her choosing.

Opal greeted Samantha at the door. “Oh, Sam! I wasn’t expecting you today! And would you get this? I just happened to brew some earl gray; it’s on the stove now.” Opal’s smile lit the porch. “Come in, come in!”

Samantha lifted her palm. “Wait one second, dear. I’ve got a surprise for you!”

“Oh, how I love surprises! But you know that already, wouldn’t you darling?” The large woman giggled. “I bet you know more about me than I do!”

“You know it,” Samantha said, drawing a beautiful dish from the van. Amid Opal’s gasps and ooohs, the platter finally got to the kitchen.

“That croquembouche is marvelous, girl! You’ve really outdone yourself this time.”

Samantha wasn’t one to brag, but she knew her friend was right. Other times she brought pies, cakes, and even crème brulee, but neither of them amounted to the effort she put into this dessert. It had to be perfect this time, more so than ever.

The dish stood a foot tall from the table – Samantha didn’t want it to be too extravagant – and the crispy brown caramel filled the air with sugar. It also brought life to the ordinarily dull, olive room.

Opal took the first bite, her expression one of ecstasy. “Mmm! This really tickles my gullet! It’s quite literally like my taste buds just orgasmed.”

This remark caused Samantha to choke on her tea. “Whoa there, missy. Let’s not get too carried away. I haven’t even told you the good news.”

“What can be better than this?” Opal muttered through a mouthful of pastry.

Samantha slapped a sheet of paper on the table. “This!” Waiting for her friend to scan the document, she clarified: “It’s only in its preliminary stages, but I think it can change everything.”

“A space deli? Are you serious?”

“Get this: they only call for a minimum sum of $7,500 from prospective investors, and they’ll randomly select fifteen donators – those drawn will be members of the board of Nalaxia, an upcoming lunar deli!”

Opal sat puzzled. “And who the hell would it serve? And if you say alie-“

“Aliens! And astronauts should they want to make the trip from the International Space Station.”

“Sam,” she said, sighing, “this is a scam, pure and simple. Even if it ain’t, there’s no way a fucking deli would ever make it on the Moon. And if you think I’m gonna let you waste a good seven grand on this, you’re out of your mind.” She shredded the paper. “There – you can thank me later.”

“That was only your copy; I already sent my payment in.” Samantha hands her a receipt of a money transfer. “So I take it you’re not in? I know you have that divorce settlement money just sitting and rotting.”

Opal offered Samantha a plate of croquembouche and refilled her tea cup. “Naw, girl. That money is sitting safe in the trunk under the floorboard in my room, and is all going toward bills. Lord knows I’ve got tons of them.” Suddenly, she stumbles to the floor, her hands cupping her throat.

“See, they sent me another letter saying that if you send in an extra $50,000, you’ll get an automatic place on the board, and board members get to travel to the Moon and stake out the best place for the building. You know how I’ve always wanted to go into space, Opal – this is my chance.”

Opal coughed blood into her hand, suddenly seeing two Samanthas and two towering croquembouches. “Sam…” she wheezed, “what did you do?”

Grinning, Samantha walked over and placed a hand on her friend’s stomach. “I knew you would never see the goodness of this situation I’ve been blessed with. You’re too goddamned stubborn and focused on problems of today that it obscures your future thinking.” She wiped a trickle of spit and vomit from Opal’s cheek. “And I knew you would never pass a good croquembouche.
“You see? We both win; you got to taste the most delicious dessert in your life, and I get a seat on a rocket to space. Surely you forgive me?” But Opal was already gone.

“Looks like I’ll be taking that vacation after all,” Samantha uttered, hauling the trunk full of cash to her silver minivan.

Stay Humble

A young girl clad in a frilly, pink dress skips down a dark alleyway. An immaculately sculpted ponytail hangs stiff from the back of her head, as if it was frozen in time – she wouldn’t have it fixed any differently. Ever since her daddy plastered her cute face on the bottle of every Avispray hair product, her personal stylist’s only order was to keep her looking fresh and beautiful, no matter the time. She even had to learn to sleep at a different angle to keep from crushing that trademarked pigtail.

Tonight, she was on her way to the annual Solstice Gala, a party she had to attend every year in accordance to her daddy’s terms; in exchange for anything she ever wants until the day she turns 18, she had to attend all of the company parties. She is the face of Avispray, after all.

The only problem was that she isn’t allowed to ride in any motorized vehicle. The static could ruin her hair, her daddy says. So, instead of being whisked to the Berga Event Center in a black limousine like her family was, she got an armed escort and they had to head to the party by foot.

“How many miles away is the gala?” she asks her escort, who is almost as young as she is.

“It won’t take us long, Lisa,” he says, digging his hands into the pockets of his black slacks. His fingers grazed the outline of a blade.

Lisa groans and stomps her pink wedge to the cobbled walkway. “This isn’t fair!” she yells. “I wish I never agreed to this; not even my diamond-encrusted stuffed unicorn is worth this torture! I’m freezing!”

“Here, have my jacket. I don’t need it anyway. And, my name’s Luc,” he mutters, throwing his black coat over Lisa’s bubblegum shawl. “Why are you going to this party, anyway? And why can’t you go in the car?”

“What, so you’re saying you don’t know?” Lisa smacks on a mouthful of grape gum, her teeth and tongue dyed purple.

Puzzled, Luc replies: “Don’t know what?” All he knew what that he was filling in for his brother, Max, who was busy making out with his girlfriend at home. Luc had only walked in to ask him to help him cut out a page of paper snowflakes when he tricked him into taking his shift. He told Luc that the rich people would be too focused on their own stupid problems to know they were leaving their daughter in the hands of an eight-year-old. And he was right.

“It’s my hair, duh.” She motions toward her shiny, blonde hair. “Sometimes I wish I didn’t have this hair, if it meant I could live a normal life. You wouldn’t know.”

Luc couldn’t see what the big deal was; to him, hair was hair – what people should pay attention to is a person’s personality. At least, that’s what he was always told. “Oh,” was all he could muster.

Lisa pulls her lips back with a wide, rehearsed smile and walks ahead. Her bright purple teeth nearly illuminate the alley. “Yeah. If it weren’t for my beautiful locks, daddy’s company would have never taken off. When it comes down to it, I’m the one making all the money. This stupid hair –”

Snip.

A long, thick clump of yellow hair falls to the ground, and Luc stands beaming. “Look! Now you can live a normal life! How about I take you on a detour and show you this really good candy shop my brother showed me?”

Luc didn’t know a little girl could make such a loud sound. Her scream brought him to his knees.

“WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE?” she wails, her hands desperately searching for the lock of missing hair, hoping it was all just a joke.

Luc stammers, “Woh…well, you were just telling me how t-t-t-terrible you felt because of your hair. I thought I could make it better for you.”

“Gimme those scissors!” Lisa snatches at Luc’s pockets. “You really wanna make everything better? I know of just the way,” she says, hissing through a menacing smirk.

Luc suddenly wishes he had stayed home; at least the paper snowflakes don’t throw a fit if he cuts off a little more than he planned.

Wink, Wink

Weddings are my jam, especially the lavish ones with the champagne fountains and the angelfish floral arrangements. It’s not the merry celebration of love and life that draws me to the ceremonies, though. I tried that once before, and I was absolutely miserable.

While the family and friends are busy talking about how the bride’s list of suitors is as long as her train, I roll up in my little blue shopping cart. “I’m a friend of the groom,” I say, satisfying the curious folks orbiting the dessert bar. I add, “Don’t tell him I’m here, now; I want it to be a surprise.”

Inconspicuous, I stroll to back, careful not to alert security. At the end of an ephemeral Boreas hallway stands an emotional bride, her fingers anxiously tearing holes into the bouquet stem. Only minutes remain before the bridal chorus chirps and steals away the perfect opportunity.

“Excuse me, miss,” she starts, “the room for the help is on the other side, as I’m sure you’re aware.” Flaxen locks obscure her condescending smirk.

Flashing a sneer of my own, I shove the shopping cart into the lacy maiden. “Oh, you won’t be seeing too much of me, dear,” I grumble, my hands swiping at her painted porcelain face. Ignoring the barrage of kicks in my gut, I find the treasure and liberate the thick, black jewels.

Upon the first note of the bridal chorus, I’m already outside barreling down the asphalt in a little blue shopping cart, the treasure safely snug in a satchel full of other brides’ eyelash extensions. I calculate that I have thirty minutes to grab a bite to eat, before my presence is requested at a reception in Orlando. Supposedly there will be two brides at the next gig; it’s too bad only one of them will be of any interest to me.

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.

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.

Hot Mess

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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?”