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The Moon Scars of Elysium (1)

Blue balloons bounce in a field of wheat. Church bells toll in the town beyond. The lone white church and its spearfish steeple is from where they clang melodiously, like a chant, a heavy metal chant…

The boy was grinding the tip of his blue ball-point pen into the white lined paper of a notebook. The sheet was ripping, splattering, tossing dust into the air. He was angry because he was tired of being locked up in his room on the second floor of the blue farmhouse on a hill overlooking a meadow and beyond the meadow the tips of the town. The dark rooftops, the verdant treetops, the spearfish steeple of a white church.

The boy went to the lone window of his room when he heard the bells toll. A sheet of blue balloons waltzed across the spring sky. Something was happening but he did not know if it was good or bad. Then down below he saw, running through the yard, his mother, his father, his younger sister. Where were they going in such a hurry? He tried to open the window, but it was nailed shut. He turned and took up his desk chair in his hands and smashed it into the glass. His mother turned to look when she heard it, but only once. She had a sheen of terror about her. She kept running.

The boy cried out, “What about me!?”

Then the bomb hit. A blooming blue wild mushroom leapt skyward on the horizon like in a nightmare. The sun turned purple. Trees bent. The house shook and the boy stumbled backward. He fell, hit his head, and went to sleep.

When the boy woke the world was silent except for a voice down in the front yard. He could hear it clearly through the broken window. Someone talking to the ground.

“There’s just such an abundance of things. There are just so many things. Why do we have so many things… but our hearts are empty.”

The boy got up off the floor and went to the broken window. He looked out onto a creation that was now winter, but the color of the snow wasn’t pure white like it used to be… Now there was a tinge of blue to it. All of it.

And there was a hunched man puttering about the yard and muttering at the ground. Something soft and disturbing.

“Are you lost?” the boy called out.

The man’s head snapped in various directions as he searched for the source of the voice.

“Up here,” the boy yelled.

The man finally locked onto him. “What are you doing in there, boy?”

“I live here. What are you doing in my yard?”

The man turned away and mumbled some more to himself before answering. “I’m digging for gold. Don’t you know everyone wants gold? Why just look around at the world now. Look what they’ve done to it. All they cared about was the gold. And they didn’t even know where it really came from.”

The boy hadn’t fully paid attention to him because his eyes had latched onto the vision before him. The full scope of the blue-tainted snow that covered most everything. The smoke drifting up from the town like ballet. The spearfish steeple of the church scorched and cracked. The bells were silent. The trees across the whole of the landscape now stripped bare of everything they once wore. From where he stood, it looked like an abstract forest of burnt bones.

“What happened?” the boy murmured to himself, and then louder to the man below him, “Have you seen my family?”

The man took a double-take. “Family? Boy, there aren’t any more families. The Greedsters took care of that. The war maniacs put an end to that. The bullet lovers decided that. Love turned upside down demolished all of that.”

“Who are you?” the boy wanted to know.

The man made a ‘hmmpfhhh’ sort of noise. “And what do you plan on doing with my good name and valuable identity?”

“Nothing. I just want to know what it is. Don’t you want to know what mine is?”

The man looked up at him, turned away, and then looked back up at him. “I don’t know that I want to know. Are you good or are you of the devilish persuasion.”

The boy frowned as he thought about it. “I don’t know if I am either one… Or maybe I’m both.”

“How old are you?” the man wanted to know.

“I’m 12. At least, I feel like I am. How old are you?”

“Doesn’t matter anymore. Age is just restlessness etched in the air. We just wait for the calendar to spin. We wait and do nothing. Lives once had meaning.”

“Well, then at least tell me what year you were born in?”

The man raised a hand and wagged a finger up at him. “Ahhh… I see your wayward divinity at play. You’re trying to trick me into telling you… My age. Let’s just say I’m old enough to always be smarter than you.” He laughed, then he clutched himself and shivered.

“You should come inside. Come inside and unlock my bedroom door and I’ll come out and build a fire and make you some tea. Do you like tea?”



“A boy of 12 who makes tea?”

“Yes. I’m different. That’s why they locked me up.”

Once freed from his room by the stranger, the boy went to work boiling water by means of magic thoughts. He willed his young muscles to load wood from the lean-to out back into the black iron stove and set it alight. The house soon warmed, and the tea soon steamed in two fragile cups. They sat across from each other at a table and sipped and stared.  

The man was run down, his floppy coat and underclothes were torn and dirty. The shoes on his feet had holes in them. His hair and face were unruly.

“How have you survived?” the boy wanted to know. “How have you lived through whatever happened out there?”

“Oh this?” he gestured toward his appearance. “This is the culmination of a very hard life, young man. A very bleak life. A life made more bleak by the ways of so many wicked, wicked men… And women… And even children.”

The boy smiled at him. The man was pitiful yet spirited. Almost comical in a sad clown sort of way. “I want to know who you are. I want to know your name and how you came about to being in my front yard yammering on like you were doing. I think I have a right to that. I want to know what’s going on. I was kept isolated for so long.”

The man stared at him grimly for a moment. “It’s the end of the world as we know it, boy. The end. I don’t know how I got here. I just ended up here. There’s nowhere else to go except wherever you can go.” His voice had a scratchy overtone to it. He raised himself up a bit and stretched a hand across the table. “The name’s Algernon Wasp. And before you doubt me… Don’t. It’s true. And I like it.”

The boy smiled again and took his hand and shook it. His skin was cold and rough. “I like it, too,” he said. “I’m Tacitus Cornwall, and this is my house.”

Algernon sat back and squinted at the boy as if to study him on a deeper level. “You’re not really 12, are you?”

“I was once,” Tacitus answered. “I’m just not sure if it was a day ago, or a thousand days ago.”


Ms. Grundy and the Bone Ghosts (3)

Constable Harley O’Shea strolled around Lloyd the bartender’s small apartment above The Village Fig. He bent his thick neck from side to side to leer into nooks, crannies, corners, cubbies. He pulled out a pair of reading glasses and leaned in close to a dusty wooden cabinet of clutter. “You sure do have a lot of stuff, Lloyd. What gives?”

“I like things,” Lloyd answered. “I don’t have many friends, but I have plenty of interests. Is there a law against that?”

Constable O’Shea took note of Lloyd’s attempt at sarcasm. “No.” He pointed to a door off the living room, darkness in the cracked opening. “Is that your bathroom?”

“Yes,” Lloyd answered as politely as he could, but his patience was already wearing thin. He stood behind the constable as the lawman worked his plump body through the doorway of the bathroom and switched on the light. The constable pulled the shower curtain aside to look inside the tub. “What’s with all the different kinds of shampoo, Lloyd? Hell, you don’t even have that much hair.”

“I like to experiment with different brands, fragrances and cleansing styles. I don’t understand what shampoo has to do with…”

Constable O’ Shea raised a hand the size of a thick bone-in porkchop to silence him. “Interference with my investigation isn’t a good idea, Lloyd. Trust me on that one.” He turned and bent with a groan and opened the cabinet beneath the sink. He retrieved a small flashlight from his utility belt and illuminated the dim space. “Am I going to find any feminine products down here?” he asked.

“No!” Lloyd protested. “That’s preposterous.”

“What about boner pills or condoms or latex gloves? Huh?”

“Oh, good grief, Harley! I’m not a swinger.”

The constable stood and there was an audible popping sound that came from his overtaxed joints. Once erect, he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a blue cloth bandana and wiped at his brow. “Whew. It’ so damn hot in here, Lloyd. Why don’t you go open a window.”

Lloyd did what he was told, and when he returned, he found that the constable had migrated to his bedroom. When he walked in, Harley was inspecting the closet. “You’re kind of light in the fashion department, Lloyd. Why’s that?”

“I don’t want to have to trouble myself with too many clothing decisions on a daily basis,” Lloyd answered.

“Like Einstein, huh?”

“Something like that.”

“What’s in the shoeboxes?”


“Aw, come on, Lloyd. No one uses shoeboxes for shoes. What you got in them? Dope? Naughty pictures? Laughing gas for pre-coitus huffing?”

Lloyd sighed with frustration. “If you want to know so bad, just look.”

The constable grinned and worked to remove the lids from the tops of three shoe boxes… Nothing but shoes, shoes, and shoes.

“I told you.”

“What about the dildoes and the vibrators? Under the bed?”

Lloyd was insulted. “No! I don’t have those kinds of things!”

But Harley ignored him and had already gotten down on the floor and was training his small flashlight under the bed. “Jesus, Lloyd. Do you ever clean? You’ve got enough wootzoolas down here to build a bear.”

“I suppose some dust is reason to arrest me, too?” Lloyd snapped.

The constable got to his knees and looked up at him. “You’re being too far lighthearted about this, Lloyd.” He wagged a fat finger at him. “But you might want to take this a bit more seriously. I’ll find something.” He stood all the way up at the foot of the bed and proceeded to loosen his gun belt and undo his pants. He let them fall to around his ankles and then stepped out of them.

“What the hell are you doing?” Lloyd said, now growing furious and more confused.

“Investigating,” Harley said, and he proceeded to climb up onto the bed. He stood as tall as he could, somewhat struggling to keep his balance on the soft mattress. Then he took a giant leap and violently bellyflopped into the sheets. There was the sound of something cracking and the bed comically collapsed as if they had time shifted to an old Laurel and Hardy film.

“What the fuck!” Lloyd screamed.

But Harley ignored him as he buried his face into the bedding and inhaled deeper than the deepest depths of space. “Ahh hah!” the constable bellowed. “I’m catching the scent of my own wife’s delicious ass!”

Lloyd grew red in the face and fisted his own head in uncontrollable anger. “Get out! Get out now before I call up the real cops!”

Harley rolled out of the bed and thumped onto the floor like sack of potatoes. He struggled to get up, but when he finally did, he scooped up his pants and put himself back together. He sniffled, dabbed at his head with his blue cloth bandana and tried to fix his wispy hair back into place with a hand. He looked around at the mess he created. “Wow. Geez, Lloyd. I didn’t mean for that to happen. I was just trying to be thorough in my investigation.”

Lloyd’s pointer finger shook at the end of his outstretched arm. He spoke through clenched, grinding teeth. “Get the hell out of my apartment.”

“Okay, Lloyd. It appears I went a bit overboard here. Things really got out of hand. I realize that now.”

“A bit? A bit!?”

“I’m sorry, Lloyd. It’s just that… Damn it all.” He sighed with a soul full of sadness. “I know Mary is up to something. I thought I had you pegged. It appears I was mistaken.”

“You sure as hell were, Harley. Very mistaken.”

The constable bowed his head in shame and walked out of the bedroom and toward the front door. Lloyd rushed after him. “What about my bed?”

“Oh,” Harley said, and he scratched at his honeydew melon-like head. “I’ll send over a new one as soon as I can. No charge to you, of course. I’ll ding the ding-a-ling taxpayers.” He tried to laugh.

But Lloyd found no humor in any of it. “When?”

“Soon, Lloyd. Soon.” Harley pulled the door open and went out.

Lloyd stood for a moment in shocked silence. He eventually sighed, a calming breath in and out, and put a hand to his forehead and scrunched his face as if he had a terrible headache. Which he in fact now did. Then he heard the muffled, soft voice coming from behind the door of a small closet in the kitchen. A closet the constable had overlooked. Lloyd went to the nearly invisible door and tugged it open. The constable’s wife, Mary O’Shea herself, came tumbling out and fell into the bartender’s arms.


Immigrant Wonder Woman and the Broken Man

Immigrant Wonder Woman worked the jewelry counter at Walmart because she had lost her touch with taming galactic evil. The Russian space robots had gotten to her, and the damage to her soul was irreparable. But this new job… This was salt in the wound.

An old man dressed in all black wept at the counter because his wife was terminally ill, and he wanted to get her something nice before she rolled over to the other side. He trembled as he spoke. “A pendant with our picture.” That’s what he told her. That’s what he wanted. He wiped at his nose with a white handkerchief. He sniffled. He coughed.

Immigrant Wonder Woman leaned in and whispered to him. “If you really love her…” And she looked from side to side.  “Go somewhere else.”

He cupped a hand against his ear. “Huh? What’s that you say?”

She leaned in even closer, and the old man could feel her warm breath on his face. “This is all junk. If you want to give her something nice, go somewhere else.”

“Somewhere else?”

“Yes, sir.”

The old man wiped at his tearing eyes with his knuckles. “Everyone I love lives somewhere else. Did you know that?”

“No. I didn’t. I’m so sorry. Doesn’t anyone ever come to visit you?”

“No,” the old man grunted with distaste. “They have no use for me anymore.”

“They don’t even want to come visit with their sick momma?”

He blew his nose into his handkerchief, and it sounded like a funny trombone. “My wife? She’s not their momma. That woman is in the looney bin in San Antonio… The one in Texas.”

“Oh wow. That all sounds pretty wild.”

“Yes, mam. And from where do you originate? Doesn’t seem from around here by the looks of you.”

She laughed and did a little dance. “I come from the wild imaginations of men.”

He leaned in like a curious llama. “Huh?”

“Hollywood, California, mister.”

“Oh. I’ve never been out west that far. Too much open sky and sin… Do you know how old I am?”

“How old?”

“Seventy-nine.” He looked at her body and wondered if she could shoot bullets from those breasts. Her nipples stood out through her Walmart uniform top like the rigid barrels of erotic pistols. He tried to shake the weirdness out of his head and asked her again about the pendant. “I have the photograph right here.” He carefully retrieved it from a yellow envelope. “You can cut it up however you like. You know, just our smiling faces. I’d like it to be silver and with an adequate chain because she tends to be reckless and break things.”

Immigrant Wonder Woman laughed then sighed. She looked at her cell phone. “You know. My shift is almost over. Why don’t you let me take you for a coffee. I know a place right by a nice jewelry store. It’s not far. I’m sure they would have exactly what you’re looking for.”

The old man looked at her face. Then he looked at all the things there in the jewelry case. He seemed confused. “You’re not going to kidnap me and do unspeakable things to me, are you?”

She thought he was being old man cute and laughed at what he said. “No. Of course not. I’m a good person. You can totally trust me.”

The old man sipped at his expensive coffee as would a child with an overly full glass of Ovaltine. He sat bent and innocent. His gray eyes were reddened and puffy from too much weeping and lack of good sleep. Immigrant Wonder Woman bit into a cheese Danish and chased it with an iced caramel concoction. “How long have you and your wife been married?” she asked.

He wiped at his mouth with his sleeve. “Twenty-four years… May I ask you something?”


“Were you once a man?”

Immigrant Wonder Woman nearly choked on her iced caramel concoction. She quickly corrected his suggestion. “No. A man? Why would you think I was once a man?”

The old man’s head wobbled as he studied as much of her as he could, even bending to look at the other half of her below the edge of the table. “You’re muscular. Men are muscular. Women have wrinkled fingertips. Yours seem fine.”

“Oh boy,” she sighed. “Now, I know you grew up in a different time and with different ways of thinking. But let me just right your wayward ship… You know, I never got your name.”

The old man sipped on his coffee without looking at her. “Eugene. My name is Eugene Folklore.”

“Okay, Eugene Folklore. This is 2023 and don’t you know women can do anything men can do. And they usually do it better. Women can do anything they want. I have muscles because I go to the gym and work out. I have muscles because I’m a strong, independent woman who’s dedicated to my physical health. And why in the world would I have wrinkled fingertips?”

“Like prunes,” Eugene chuckled. “All that washing of the dishes and the bathing of the babies in the bathwater. But when it comes to the Baptismal font mind you, well, that’s when a man takes over. Washing away sins is the work of men. It’s the work of men because the sin showed up and invaded the world because of the women. Don’t you know anything?”

“Are you feeling all right, Eugene?”

“Sure I am. Why?”

“Because you’re not making any sense at all. Don’t you know a real man cherishes the contributions of a woman. A real man leans on her when he’s weak because he knows she’s strong when he can’t be. And just to be clear, it’s going to be women that clean up all these messes of these damn foolish men… If you’d all just get out of our way and get your shoes off our necks!”

Eugene physically retreated within himself. “You’re angry with me.”

She beamed at him for a moment. She sighed. His frailty nearly broke her heart. “No, I’m not.”

He looked up at her and blinked his run-down eyes. “Will you be my daughter? Just until I die?”

She didn’t know what to say at first, but then it was easy. “Yes, Eugene. I’ll be your daughter.”

He breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. Then his cell phone rang, and he moved a trembling hand to reach for it and put it to his ear. “Hello… Yes… All right then… I’ll be there as soon as I can… Thank you for calling.” The phone fell from his hand and heavily bounced against the table. He began to shake and gasp for air. Immigrant Wonder Woman jumped up and went to put a hand on his bent back. He leaned into her and began to cry just as she said he would.


The Outlandish Dapple of a Carnival Creep

black and white ferris wheel
Photo by Sergio Souza on

High above the ghostly guts glow of a Southwestern American town on the outskirts of nowhere, a cherry-lime moon hangs heavy in a bruise-blue sky, an outlandish dapple over the desert.

Down below, an assistant mortician by the name of Kent Cumberland carefully follows the tip of the parking attendant’s orange directional wand and pulls his car into a space within a tightly packed line of other cars laid out on the flattened grass of a large field. He moved the shifter to P and shut it down. He gazed out the windshield at the insane world full of hope and desire. He breathed, and then wondered aloud. “Why do they say pull into a parking space? I’m not pulling my car. I’m going forward. I’m forwarding, not pulling. People think of the stupidest things.”

He gets out of the car and checks three times to make sure it is locked before he walks away. The air smells like sweet grease and farm animals. Carnival lights reflect off the asses of stars. He hears the noise of generators blended with bright voices and laughter and the carnie folk chants on the midway.    

He tugs at his pre-autumn coat of tan corduroy that’s too small for him and smiles. “This is going to be fun,” he says to no one because he is truly all alone. There is no woman on his arm. There never is. There never was. There may never be. Kent Cumberland was far too creepy in the watery mind of the blue world for that, so it decided. But perhaps this night the swami beneath the moon and the canvas would sway some hearts in his favor. Perhaps.

Kent Cumberland has always been an awkwardly large person. Not overweight, just large. Robust. Ample. Big and Tall. He had an abundance of body mass. And now, as he walked toward the entrance gate of the 11-day State Fair on the crumbling pastoral eastern edge of Necromancer, New Mexico, he somewhat resembled a lumbering barrel, or more precisely, a lumberjack carrying a barrel, a barrel full of plastic red monkeys.

He nodded politely to those he passed and cheerfully greeted them, “Hello, hello, hellooo…” No one returned the gesture. The people just turned away, whispered, made puking gestures with a finger pointed down their throat. “I’m a very likeable fella!” he called out to the waves of people as they receded. “You just need to get to know me. I’m not a ghoul.”

As Kent Cumberland stood in line at the main ticket booth, he heard two women a few paces behind harshly insult someone in giggling whispers. It soon became crystal clear that they were talking about him.

“He must be here for the freak show…”

“I heard he keeps dead people’s body parts in his basement…”

Kent released one of his infamous exasperated sighs and turned to face his mockers. “Excuse me, I have ears and I heard what you young ladies just said, and I must sadly inform you that this particular carnival doesn’t have a freak show.”

The women laughed. One said, “Okay, thanks for the info, freak.” They laughed some more.

“And another thing,” he began, his usual puffy and pale face now taunt with anger and flushed a pink not unlike bleached blood. “I do not keep the body parts of dead people in my basement. What an abhorrent thing to say. Have you no respect for the dead? I’ll have you know that I wholeheartedly adhere to the strictest guidelines and moral ethics of my profession. But if you insist on scalding my good name with vicious lies and rumors, perhaps I may indeed be encouraged to begin collecting body parts.” He scowled and pointed an accusatory thick finger at them. “And I’ll start with you two.”

The girls shrank back, their faces twisted in disgust.

“Next,” the woman at the ticket counter called out.

Kent turned and asked for one ticket. “Thank you,” he said with a smile, and he made his way into the momentary lapse of another world.

The tent was lipstick red and sat beneath a yellow light attached to a weathered wooden pole. A sign out front read: Fortunes Told. Kent stared at it while eating blue cotton candy and thinking about how his mind shifted like tectonic plates and wondering if that was a problem for society or just himself. His mouth was ringed with the color of artificial raspberry. “You know, moon, I just don’t understand why they call it raspberry. Raspberries are red, not blue. Who came up with such a ridiculous idea? Ahhh… What do you know, you’re made of cheese and have aliens fumbling around on your backside even though the government denies it.”

A short gypsy woman wearing clothes from the old country and with kinky black hair and small eyes poked her head out of the tent and looked up at Kent. “Who the hell are you talking to?”

“The moon.”

The woman looked up to the sky and pointed. “That moon?”

“Yes, silly. Are there any other moons?”

“How could we possibly know… But it’s a good one tonight. I’ve been expecting you. Are you ready to learn of your future?”

“I think so.”

“Well, then come inside.”

Inside the tent, in the very middle on flattened dirt, sat a round table covered in a red cloth. On top of the table sat a crystal ball cradled by an artificial hand. There were two folding chairs at the table, one opposite from the other. The fortune teller lit some candles and the glow inside the red tent grew as it mixed with the hanging LED lanterns and made it feel like hell high on energy. She took her seat and invited Kent to take his.

Once he sat down, she reached across the table and took his hands in hers and held them. She ran her fingers over his knuckles. Her eyes were closed, and she took several deep breaths. “Tell me your name.”

“Wait… Shouldn’t you already know it?”

She opened her eyes and gave him a look like a snapping whip ferociously forced forth by the wrist of an ancient cowboy.

He shuddered. “Kent.”

“You need to relax, Kent. I can sense your tension. Breathe with me.”

He slowly breathed in and out, closely following her waves.

“Tell me something about yourself,” she breathed through a small mouth, lips like dry paper curling in a breeze.

“Last night I had a dream where I was in a park in the middle of some big city, maybe it was Central Park in New York even though I have never been there but would like to go. Well, it was night, and I was sitting around a campfire with a bunch of foreigners…”

The woman opened one eye at his remark. “Foreigners?”

“Yes, foreigners. You know, people from other lands. Not Americans.”

“Go on.”

“Well, for some reason I was holding my heart in my hands, the actual heart from my body, and it was still beating. I passed it to the person next to me and it went around the circle and each one there held my heart and just looked at it for a moment, but then the last person took a bite out of it as if it were an apple. He looked like Willem Dafoe.”

“Oh my. Then what happened?”

“Nothing. I woke up. But I had a pain in my chest. What do you think it means?”

The small, strange woman released his hands and moved her own crinkly fingers whimsically about the crystal ball as she mumbled an indecipherable tongue to conjure up some great vision from the orb on the table. “Yes. Yes. It’s becoming clearer. The fog is lifting.”

Kent was eager for a jubilant prophecy. He leaned forward. “What do you see?”

“I see… A woman.”

Kent’s eyes grew and his smile was like that of a supernova on speed. “A woman!? What kind of a woman?”

“A very beautiful woman. Very beautiful indeed.”

“What is she doing?”

“She’s… She’s sitting at a table with you. You’re talking with each other. Yes. You’re talking about your life. Perhaps your future together.”

“Really!? Do you think I’m asking her to marry me? How wonderful it would be to be married! Oh, I hope she says yes.”

Shhh. I see… Why, I see that love is right in front of your very nose. Can’t you see what I see?”

Kent blinked his eyes as the fortune teller looked across the table at him and smiled. Some of her teeth were crooked and he wondered if one of her eyes was made of clouded glass. “You? You’re the woman you see in my future?” He frowned with disappointment.

She waved a hand over the crystal ball, and it suddenly went dark. Kent got up to leave. “Wait! Do you no longer wish to fulfill your destiny of love?”

He turned to face her pitiful stance. “I’m sorry, mam. I’m afraid I find you quite distasteful regarding the realm of romance. I suppose you could say… You’re just not my type.” He continued to walk toward the slitted exit.

The fortune teller quickly moved in front of him and blocked his way. “Please. Please! I’m begging you. Take me with you. Love me. I won’t be any trouble. I promise. You… You can just set me up on a shelf if you want. Or keep me in a closet. Look at me. I’m small. I just want to be loved.”

Kent released an exasperated breath. “I already have a pet. A cat named Captain. He doesn’t need a playmate. I’m sorry.”

“We can be lovers then. I know how to satisfy a man. I could make you feel soooo good.”

Kent’s eyes glided all over her and swabbed her with suspicion. He was searching for a hint of something about her that could possibly satisfy him like she said, but none of it felt right to him. “I think I’ll stick to my glossy magazines. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to go ride some of the rides before it gets too late.”

“No! You must not.” She dashed back to her crystal ball, waved a hand over it to open the portal of future thought, and gazed inside. “I see a terrible tragedy coming tonight.”

Curious and slightly frightened, Kent turned. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your life. I see that you will cease to exist if you choose frivolous fun over love.”

Kent pushed his hand though the air to wave off her thoughts. “Knock it off, lady. I see what you’re trying to do. Lies don’t work on me. How do you expect to be in a relationship with me if you can’t even tell the truth from the start.”

“But please! If you walk out now and go to the midway, you will die. I see it. If you are so concerned about truth, know this… The future does not lie!”

Kent scoffed at her manipulative vibes. “I’ll take my chances.” He walked out of the tent and toward the midway, a brightly lit cornucopia of mechanical color and noise.

Kent Cumberland worked his way into the seat at his place on the Ferris wheel and a grubby attendant lowered the bar. He was so large that he took up most of the space except for a tiny sliver where a teenage girl sat scrunched. The attendant paused to look at them, removed his oily ball cap and scratched his head.

“Is there a problem?” Kent asked.

“Nah. I was just wonderin’. How much do you weigh anyhow?”

Kent pursed his lips and his eyes doubled in size. “My weight?”

“Yes, sir. I need to be aware of any load concerns before I fire this baby off. We gotta have equal weight distribution.”

“My weight is in no way the business of a simpleton carnival worker such as yourself. In other words, bug off and let us experience some joy in life.” Kent turned to the teenage girl who sat beside him scared and uncomfortable. “Can you believe the nerve of that guy?”

The girl flashed him a worried smile and looked away. The Ferris wheel began to move. “Here we go!” Kent cried out. “Hang on, young lady. Hang on for the ride of your life!”

The wheel turned faster and Kent soon found himself at the very top of the world when it paused to let on other riders below, and he looked down upon the colored canopy of the State Fair in Necromancer, New Mexico and it looked like an electric body to him with all the nerves pulsing in a colorful schematic, the electricity pumping like blood through capillaries not collapsed, the voices and yelps and yawps of all that is good in the human soul and the brighter side of the world all congealed like hot-skinned lovers pressed together in a warm, wet bed on their second wedding anniversary.

Whooo hooo!” Kent cried out, and he stuck his arms out and reached as high as he could so that he could feel the underside edges of the universe against his fingertips. “This is wonderful! Wonderful!” He turned to the teen beside him, her hair flowing behind her, her eyes and mouth open wide to the wonders of the stars. “Isn’t this wonderful!? I hope we never have to go down.”

And then there came a great creaking of metal and the carriage within the wheel where Kent sat violently shifted. The girl screamed. Kent sensed he was slowly tipping to the side. Orange and white sparks shot off in all directions like an electric facial.

The people below scattered in all directions as the great Ferris wheel disengaged from its own riveted cradle and began to collapse. Through the sensation of falling, that sensation where one’s stomach feel so funny but exaggerated now, spiked with real terror, Kent looked down to the ground as it came closer to greet him with a thundering slap, and that is where he saw her.

The fortune teller was standing there, glued to the cotton candy trampled track winding through the carnival row, and she was looking up at him and she was grinning at the same time she was clutching her busted heart, desperately trying to hold in all the stuff in her life that purposely broke it for her. She couldn’t bear for it to all spill out for the whole world to see now. She didn’t want anyone to know how deeply cracked she really was.

And in one final gesture before the metal machine of joyful memories came crashing down upon her to silence her visions forever, she thrust her arms up into the smoky autumn air, and in her hands she clutched a cardboard sign like political protest, and in red paint of blood and fire it read: LOVE IS EVERYTHING. NOW YOU LOSE. WE ALL LOSE.


Check out the latest post at my companion site, Blowtorch Pastoral: The Baker.

Asphalt Whiskers

asphalt blur car city
Photo by Pixabay on

He simply thought to himself as he rubbed at his temples: What do I have to do to make all the noise in my head just stop?

His name was Asphalt Whiskers and he was sitting in a fast-food behemoth of burger places, one out on the Brass Highway that mingled with all the rest, the chain of chains, and he was looking down at whatever it was he was about to eat. Asphalt looked up to the electric visuals slowly rotating by the menu board above the cashier’s counter and the milkshake machines. The pictures showed food and beverages that looked perfect, beyond appetizing, the penultimate of delicious and refreshing. Then he looked down into the greasy crinkled yellow paper at the half-squashed hamburger that was his lunch.

We live in a world of illusions, he thought to himself. Everything is purely an illusion. Even I, Asphalt Whiskers — I am merely an illusion. And if I am an illusion, I can do anything I want. I can get away with anything I want. No consequences. Like a dream.  

He picked up the hamburger and took a bite. The meat was cold, the cheese like a loose flap of fake yellow skin. A pickle slid out and dangled at his chin and he clumsily worked it into his mouth with his fingers. Some ketchup dribbled down onto his shirt. He nearly knocked over his orange soda as he reached for a white paper napkin. He looked around to see if anyone had noticed, if anyone was staring.

But then he remembered that no one cared about anything other than themselves. All the heads of dead thoughts were lost in their own listless worlds. Children were running and screaming in the play area, and out of the play area. A table of overweight adults was oblivious as they talked amongst themselves at megaphone volume… Words far drifted from any ordinary wisdom. One of the men was wearing a dusty sweat-stained ball cap that read: Free Moustache Rides.

Asphalt Whiskers just wanted to ascend away from the moronic, to go to his own private mountain and meditate. But he couldn’t. The end of his lunch break would be another end to his life. The monotony and the freezing rain on Mt. Olympus were killing him, so he thought as he looked out the window at the sunlight spilling and splashing along the Brass Highway. It was the main artery through the medium-high city of the Great Plains.

There was no true mountain. He wondered where all the beautiful water was. All he saw were backlit yellows and dirty grays and asphalt purples. He wondered if Asphalt was his real name. He reached down and pulled out the wrinkled birth certificate that he always kept on the inside of a sock in case he was stopped and had to prove his identity. He uncurled it and looked at it. There it said in completely legitimate and legal print: Asphalt Reginald Whiskers.

He picked up some French fries and dabbed the golden ends into a pool of ketchup he created on the paper with squeeze packets. They were salty and greasy. But they tasted good as they were masticated in his mouth and then swallowed. He suddenly became catatonic like he often does. It comes on without warning and the triggers are fathomless.

He wondered if it was the food or the atmosphere or just his own mind again. The way he sees his mind is like a clock and every once in a while, the second-hand may get caught on a piece of stardust before returning to the true sense of time, but then with an infinite lag. Does anyone even know what a second-hand on a clock is anymore, he wondered. Then he didn’t care. Because they didn’t care.

Asphalt’s eyes were then absorbed by the world around him. His hearing became muffled, but it was still loud. He wondered if he was underwater. A pain radiated through his arms, and it felt as if his heart was beating faster, like in an impending drug overdose. His mouth became dry. He suddenly got up from his seat, wobbly like a drunk. This time he did spill his cup of orange soda and people looked at him. Asphalt Whiskers just stood there as the orange soda puddled and then ran off the edge of the table and onto the dirty floor.

A man with a white Wilford Brimley moustache and half his hair looked over at him. “Are you okay?” His wife leaned into him and whispered, “Just ignore him. There’s something obviously wrong with him.”

Asphalt cocked his head in her direction when he heard what she had said. He reached toward and took what remained of his hamburger and clutched it in his hand. He threw it at the woman as hard as he could, and it hit her in the face. She made a noise like “Oooof.” It forced her head to turn to the side, and then Asphalt saw that exact event over and over and over again in his head like a comical movie in front of his frozen eyes… The hamburger flying and striking her face in slow-motion, the way her skin moved at the point of impact, the sound she made, the turning to the side of the head as in true human reaction to something hitting one in the face. Like a bug, maybe. But it was a hamburger. A disgusting fast-food hamburger prophesized by the corporate gods of lies and rained down upon the land by the billions.

The husband stood up in his wife’s defense. “What the hell is wrong with you!?”

Asphalt Whiskers looked at him in a robotic sense of the way and smiled, but it wasn’t a big smile, it was a straight-line smile with no teeth, just a flat horizon of mouth. “I need to use the restroom. Do you know where the restroom is?” And Asphalt wildly moved his head about scanning the entire restaurant for the restrooms even though they were close by.

Then the recognition clicked in him. “Oh. There they are,” he said, and he moved away from his table and walked by the man and the woman, and he paused and raised a threatening fist toward them and play-acted like he was going to really throw a punch and the husband shrunk back in fear. Asphalt retracted his fist and laughed. “I wasn’t going to hit you,” he said. Then he laughed again. “Not this time!” He disappeared into the men’s restroom.

Another man was like a firehose at the urinal when he went in. Asphalt stood there and watched him. The other man noticed him leering like a pervert and made a face. “What the hell’s your problem?” He quickly finished, zipped up and walked around him and to the sink.

Asphalt watched as the other man washed his hands. “I like your beard,” he said. And the burly man did have an impressive flowing motorcycle-riding guy kind of beard, wild and long and full of freedom.

“Back off before I knock you out!” the motorcycle-riding-looking kind of guy barked as he made himself large and threatening, like a Kodiak bear. “Do you want to be dead!?”

Asphalt looked at him and sadly smiled. “Sometimes.”

The motorcycle-riding-looking kind of guy scoffed at him, backed away, and walked out of the restroom.

Asphalt Whiskers looked at himself in the water-spotted mirror of unclean humanity and decided that he didn’t even look like a regular human being. Asphalt felt he looked like he should be living on another planet behind a wooden rail fence usually reserved for longhorn steers. The sky would be nearly black all the time and the three moons above would all be a different shade of lack-of-oxygen blue.

He put his hands beneath the automatic faucet and let the cold water chill his knuckles and palms. He splashed some up in his face. He stuck his head beneath an automatic hand dryer and kept it there until it started to burn.

When Asphalt walked out of the restroom there was a police officer talking to the woman he had thrown the hamburger at. Her husband pointed. “That’s him!”

“Sir,” the officer called out to him. “Sir! I need to talk to you!”

Asphalt pushed on the bar of a nearby emergency exit door and bolted through the parking lot. He stopped at the curb of the busy Brass Highway as if it was the edge of a cliff overlooking a rapturous sea. He looked back over his shoulder as he tried to maintain his balance. The police officer was giving chase and yelling, “Stop! Stop! Stop or I will gun you down!”

Asphalt Whiskers then stood on the edge of the curb like it was a diving board. He closed his eyes, the smell of pool chlorine wafting up the passages of his hobbled imagination and memories. He then dove into traffic, arms out in front of him, legs held close together, breath held in the waiting room of copious amounts of fear. He felt the warmth of Acapulco in that anorexic sliver of a moment.

Asphalt was instantly and violently struck, and his body twisted and flew into the center of the roadway like a hurled deer carcass. Drivers in both directions slammed on brakes. Horns blared. People screamed. Air raid sirens wailed. A murder of ebony crows made a scattering from the treetops. A mushroom cloud splashed upward from the floor of a once beautiful now forgotten desert ruthlessly betrayed by greedy madmen. The police officer radioed for an ambulance with a winded voice.

A shocked crowd gathered around the broken body of Asphalt Whiskers. Hands were clamped over mouths, eyes were closed by dismay, heads turned away to avoid the unbelievable. Maybe they had forgotten the way the world is. Maybe they had forgotten meat comes from living things and broken hearts run to foolish errands in the end.


Pump n’ Jump

silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time
Photo by Belle Co on

Gordon Sharpe sipped on his freshly poured cup of coffee and looked up at the cluster of smiling faces staring back at him. He couldn’t understand what they could be so happy about. They were all clad in perfectly pressed bright yellow shirts and black pants. Some had their arms folded and were leaning against each other back-to-back. Some were facing each other with expressive, wide-open mouths, seemingly a reaction to the great joy they were experiencing. And then others were even leaping in the air and high fiving each other. Below the gleeful bunch were the words: Join Our Team!

Gordon took another sip of his coffee and shook his head in disbelief. He then sensed a person behind him, and sure enough, someone tapped him on the shoulder. Gordon turned.

“Hi! Welcome to Pump n’ Jump Convenience Stores. My name is Alex.”

“Hello,” Gordon said at the grinning stranger dressed in a yellow shirt and black pants. He glanced at the nametag and sure enough, it read: Alex, and below that it read: Team Member since 2020. He looked up at his perfect, almost Russian robotic face and perfectly groomed hair. Gordon turned to look at the sign again, and his eye zoomed in on a certain individual, and that certain individual was Alex himself. “Is that you?” Gordon asked, pointing.

“It sure is! I saw you looking over our recruitment poster and thought I’d come over. Are you thinking of joining our team?”

“Oh, no. I already have a job. I’m an architect.”

“Oooo… An architect. Very impressive. But let me ask you this… What’s your name?”


“Let me ask you this, Gordon. Do you feel like a valued member of a team where you work?”

“Actually, yes I do.”

“But what about career development and personal growth. Is it limitless? Because here at Pump n’ Jump, it is.”

“I mean… Sure, I guess.”

“Oh, come on now, Gordon. I sensed some hesitation in your voice… So, let me just lay it out on the line for you. I’ve worked at Pump n’ Jump for about two years now and it is hands down the best decision I have ever made in my life.”

Gordon was shocked. “Really?”

“Absolutely. I have never worked in such a team-oriented environment. I know I can count on my co-workers to enthusiastically join me in providing an exceptional experience for every one of our guests. And I have caring and nurturing supervisors who are happily committed to my success in the workplace. I’m not just some cog in a machine, Gordon. At Pump n’ Jump I’m part of a daily experience that elevates convenience store satisfaction to another level.”

Gordon turned back around to look at the recruitment poster again. “You all look so happy.”

“That’s because we are happy.”

“And you all have such beautiful, white teeth.”

“Pump n’ Jump offers its associates an excellent dental plan.”

“Are you pulling my leg, Alex?”

“Absolutely not, sir. I’m a proud ambassador of the Pump n’ Jump brand. I would never pull anyone’s leg.”

“But, what about pay? I’m sure it’s awful.”

“Pump n’ Jump offers competitive wages… But it doesn’t end there, Gordon. There’s a wide range of benefits available to both full-time and part-time workers — flexible scheduling, direct deposit, tuition reimbursement, one week of paid vacation after five years of service, uniform allowance, meal discounts… Oh, man. I could just go on and on. But the benefits don’t end once I walk out that door at the end of my shift.”

“They don’t?”

“No. Let me ask you this, Gordon. When you get home at the end of the day from your current job, do you feel like you accomplished something really important?”

“I mean… Sometimes. Sure.”

“Well,” Alex began with great seriousness. “I certainly do. When I get home and I know I did my very best to exceed our guests’ expectations, I glow inside. When I look back on the day and recall a customer’s wonderful smile, and I know that I was the reason for why they were smiling… I mean, man, it doesn’t get much better than that, Gordon.”

“You certainly make it sound tempting,” Gordon said. “But would I have to clean the restrooms? I think I would find that unpleasant.”

Alex put a hand to his stomach and laughed out loud. “Oh, Gordon, that’s a good one. We truly value humor and fun comradery among team members here at Pump n’ Jump. And yes, there is some cleaning involved, but if you go at it in the spirit of providing every guest an exceptional experience, it brings you great satisfaction.” Alex leaned in closer and whispered with a smile. “And between you and me, there’s nothing like cracking open a fresh urinal cake first thing in the morning. It makes my stomach tingle.”

Gordon frowned and fidgeted at that strange confession. He looked around and for some reason the reality of the world didn’t seem as wonderful beyond the glowing aura of Alex. “I don’t know… Like I said, I already have a job.”

Alex smiled again. “Did you hear what you just said?”


“You already have a job… Working at Pump n’ Jump isn’t just a job, Gordon. It’s an adventure. Think about that.”

“Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to fill out an application.”

Alex pumped a fist in the air. “Yes! That’s awesome! And I bet I can even get you a same-day interview with the manager. Let me get you a clipboard.”

Gordon turned and looked out the window at frowning people pumping gas in the dirty parking lot. He sighed and looked into his empty paper cup and saw his dreams for a better life dissipate at first, and then bloom brightly.

Alex soon returned in a joyful jaunt and handed him a clipboard with a pen and application attached. “Here you go, my man. Wow, I am really excited about this. I’m sure you would be a valuable addition to our team.”

Gordon flipped through the multi-page application. “Seems long and intrusive. Do I really have to fill this whole thing out?”

“I know it seems a little overwhelming right now, but trust me, it’s worth it. We don’t just settle for anybody here at Pump n’ Jump. We thoroughly investigate the background of prospective employees. That way we can ensure a safe and pleasant environment for our customers and associates.”

“Wait. I have to take a drug test, a physical and a psychological screening to work here?”

“It’s a process we all have to go through, Gordon. Knowing our associates are free from the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol ensures a safe environment for our associates and our customers. And knowing that our associates are happy, stable people who are mentally fit to perform the required work duties, well, that’s just a win-win for everybody. It’s all very important… I hope that’s not a problem, Gordon.”

“I don’t do drugs and I’m not a cuckoo puff if that’s what you’re implying.”

“Whew… Good to hear. Because here at Pump n’ Jump we get high by providing our guests with an exceptional experience in our stores every single day. Drugs and alcohol are for losers, and there’s no room for losers here at Pump n’ Jump.”

 Gordon sighed. “Okay. I understand. Is there somewhere I can sit down and fill this out?”

“Well, you’re welcome to go sit out in your car and do it… You know, give yourself some privacy while you ponder the important questions of life.”

“Right,” Gordon said. “I’ll be back when I’m finished.”

“Can’t wait!” Alex called out as Gordon Sharpe exited through the sliding glass doors that whooshed like a sweet whisper of everlasting torture.

Two weeks later, Gordon Sharpe stood behind the counter at his local Pump n’ Jump wearing a bright yellow shirt and uncomfortable black pants. His nametag read: Gordon and below that it read: Please be patient. I’m training. But he still hadn’t been fully trained on anything, especially on the cash register and how to properly program the gas pumps, and now he struggled horribly with the keys and the buttons and the procedures as the grumbling line in front of him grew longer and more impatient.

“Come on!” someone shouted. “Don’t you have more help!?”  

Gordon put a hand up in the air toward the customers. “I’m sorry. I’m new here.” He listened to the painful moans and sighs that followed.

A man stepped out of the line and came forward and gruffly threw a 20-dollar bill on the counter. “I don’t have time for this shit. That’s for my gas.”

Gordon stuttered and panicked. “But sir… What pump? I need to know what pump!” But it was too late. The angry man had walked off.  

The dirty woman who was next in line smelled like fresh roadkill roasting in the summer sun. “Give me two packs of Marlboro reds and I wanna get me some lottery tickets, too. What’s them there?” she asked, and she pointed to the smudgy plastic case.

“Which ones do you want?” Gordon wanted to know.

“Them three-dollar ones! Are they new?”

“I’m not really sure, mam. I don’t play the lottery.”

“Well, you work here, don’t ya? How the hell is it you don’t know?”

Just then, another woman came tumbling into the store in a fury. “I can’t get the number 4 gas pump to work. It doesn’t take my card. Why won’t it take my card!? I’m in a hurry.”

Then another woman hauling an unruly, screaming child behind her came up to the counter and wanted to know why there was human waste on the floor of the women’s restroom. “You don’t expect me to take my child in there, do you!?” she wailed. “She’s got to pee! Do you want her to pee on the floor!?”

And yet another came up and complained about a carton of expired milk in the dairy case. And yet another came up and wanted to know why there wasn’t any chocolate donuts in the donut case because he comes here every day and there are usually chocolate donuts. And still another complained about the horrible taste of the orange Fanta that came out of the fountain drink dispenser. Why! Why! Why!

Gordon had finally had enough, and he gritted his teeth and clamped his hands to his spinning and tormented head and triumphantly screamed out, “Fuck all of you!!”

Gordon sat uncomfortably in the small office that smelled like cheese and watched as Alex, recently promoted to assistant manager, filled out an official Pump n’ Jump form.

Alex sighed in disappointment after he signed it and pushed it across the desk for Gordon to have for his personal records. “That’s an official document explaining your termination of employment here at Pump n’ Jump… And to say we owe you nothing.”

Gordon picked it up and looked it over. “Why do I need this?” he asked.

“To remind you of how you failed us,” Alex said. “I hope that you frame it and hang it in a prominent place in your home so that you may gaze upon it daily, and hopefully it will impress upon you the gravity of your loss today.”

“My loss?”

“That’s right. You just threw away the adventure of a lifetime.”

He chuckled. “Are you fucking kidding me!?” Gordon said, and he crumpled up the paper and threw it at Alex’s face. “Everything you told me was a lie! There’s no teamwork here. There’s no adventure. I struggled every moment I was out there, and no one ever came to help me or guide me. Not once. I was never properly trained on anything! You need to take your smiling bullshit and shove it up your ass!”

Alex’s eyes grew wide in disbelief. “Well, it surely appears that I grossly misjudged you, Gordon. I really thought you would be a valuable ambassador for the Pump n’ Jump brand. I’m going to ask you to gather any personal belongings you have and leave the premises. I don’t want your departure to become any more inflamed than it already is… And I’ll need you to return your uniform, after it’s properly laundered, of course… And your name tag. You can leave that with me now.”

Gordon scoffed. “Gladly,” he said, and he unpinned the nametag from where it was attached upon his breast and threw it down on the desk. “You can shove that up your ass, too.”

“There’s no reason for you to be so hateful, Gordon,” Alex sneered. “Or use such revolting language. It’s disrespectful and goes against our core company values.”

“Oh, no? I gave up a promising career in architecture to come work at this shit hole. I have plenty of reasons to be pissed off.”

“You made the choice, so therefore you must accept the consequences.”

Gordon stood and aimed an angry finger at the young, smug assistant manager. “Fuck you!” And he turned and stormed out.

“Don’t expect any kind of a job reference from me!” Alex cried out after him through the open doorway. “You’ll never work for the Pump n’ Jump family ever again!”

Before Gordon left the store for the final time, he snatched the Join Our Team! recruitment poster from its place on the inside of the front window. He carried it outside to the parking lot, threw it on the ground, and stomped up and down on it like a madman until it was dirty and torn. Customers streaming in and out gazed at him in odd wonder.

Gordon stopped to take a breath and to try and calm himself. He looked up to the pure blue sky and laughed out loud. “This will go down as the best day of my life!” he said aloud. Then he looked around at all the eyes gazing back at him. He cheerfully scoffed and walked to his car. He got in, started the engine, and drove away for good, a rigid bird thrust up to the rear-view mirror.


The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 6

colorful indoor lights
Photo by Sean Patrick on

Steel and Veronica drove in separate cars over to a place called Mango’s Tangle. The owner of the bar was named Mango and he had gotten into a lot of tangles in his life. He was from Miami, and no one could ever understand how or why he ended up in horrid Berlin, Wyoming.

He worked behind the bar a couple times a week because he liked the people and he liked to talk to them. He was loud, but mostly kind enough, depending on who you were. Mango shaved his head and had a creepy black goatee. He liked to wear Hawaiian shirts with the top buttons undone and his thick chest hairs were always crawling out and trying to escape. He wore overtight jeans with those Hawaiian shirts, and his skin, once perpetually bronzed by the Florida sun, had now faded to the cold pale flesh tone all the rest of them in town wore.

Mango smiled when he saw Veronica Eyes walk in but then frowned when Steel came in after her. He eyed Steel suspiciously as he reached for Veronica’s favorite bottled beer and set it down in front of her. “Who’s this guy?” he asked her. “Is he your new boyfriend?”

Mango had a crush on Veronica just like most of the men in Berlin, Wyoming did. He looked at Steel like he didn’t trust him, didn’t like him. “You going to have something to drink?” he snapped.

“I’ll take a tequila shot and your best IPA,” Steel answered as he reached into his pants to retrieve his wallet. He spread it open and pulled out some crisp bills and threw them on the bar. “I’ll take care of everything tonight.”

Mango snatched up the money, counted it, and put it near his till. He turned back around and tapped at his glistening head with a stiff finger. “I’ll be calculating in my mind… All that you drink.” He poured him the shot and put the beer down. “Are you new in town? I’ve never seen you in here before.”

“I’ve been here about five months,” Steel said.

“He works at the newspaper with me,” Veronica chimed in.

Mango raised his chin to study him from another angle. “Oh. A newspaper guy, huh. Do you do the writing, or take the pictures, or what?”

Steel winced after he downed the tequila shot. “Something like that.” He chased the strong drink with the beer.

“Well,” Mango began. “No one will be as good as this one.” He gestured with his head toward Veronica and smiled. “She’s on top of everything… And on the bottom, too.” He winked at her and smiled again. “Isn’t that right, Veronica?” He laughed out loud.

Veronica shook her head. She was embarrassed and excited and almost proud all at the same time. She enjoyed being popular with men. “Really? Exposing my weaknesses in front of the new guy.”

Mango laughed again as he poured someone else a drink. “Oh, you’ve been exposed all right.”

When he momentarily stepped away, Steel leaned closer to Veronica and whispered, “Why do you let him talk about you like that?”

She smiled and her eyes sparkled as she wrapped her mouth around the beer bottle she had. “Because it’s true.”

Steel looked at her face. He saw soiled perfection in everything. His heart thumped and he was getting warm from the liquor. “Can it be true for me?” he asked her in all seriousness.

Veronica giggled as Mango returned and replaced her beer with a fresh one. He poured Steel another shot. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m still trying to figure you out. You’re an enigma or something closely resembling one. And you’re still kind of weird. You need to be genuine and penetrable for me to give myself up to you willingly.”

Steel was dejected about being called weird again and she took notice. “See… Like that.”

“Like what?” Steel grunted.

“You’re much too emotional. You take things way too personal. You have to loosen up and just be comfortable in your own skin. If I don’t see that in you… You’ll never be in me.” She got up off her barstool. “I’m going to go use the pisser. Think about it.”

When Veronica came out of the ladies’ room, she saw some people she knew gathered around a round table talking and laughing. She went right up to them and joined in the conversation. Steel envied the ease at which she could be so comfortably sociable. He watched her as she smiled and laughed. She reached out and touched a guy’s arm. She was invited to pull up a chair and be among their tribe. She glanced in Steel’s direction for just a moment, and then turned away to join her more straightforward and transparent friends.

Steel slipped out of the bar and into the night. He leaned against his car and smoked a cigarette, but he what he was really doing was waiting to see if Veronica would come out after him and invite him back into the bar. He waited and waited. His heart jumped every time the door would open, and the noise inside would rush out, then quickly fade when the door shut again. It was never her that emerged. He figured it never would be. Steel threw his cigarette to the ground and harshly snuffed it out with his shoe. He got into his car and drove home.

When he walked into his cold and dark overpriced apartment, Steel Brandenburg III wondered just what the hell he was doing with his life. He felt like with the rising of every new sun, he was dying inside more and more. He glanced out a window at the ugly city bathed in its ruins of economic depression and the dead spirits of its inhabitants.

He believed deep down within his own unfurled guts that moving to Berlin, Wyoming would turn out to be the greatest regret of his life. He was already beaten to hell when he had first arrived, and the beatings continued. He was so ready to chuck it all, take the losses, and just get the hell out of there. But the means to survive…

His phone suddenly lit up. Veronica was calling.

“Where the hell did you go?” she wanted to know.

“You drifted off to be with your friends. I just thought… I felt like you didn’t want me around anymore.”

He heard her sigh. “You fucked up again, I hope you know.”

“What did I do?” Steel wondered. His hot nerves started to kick in.

“You should have taken the opportunity to come over to me and meet my friends. Instead, you just took off. That was kind of a letdown. I was really hoping you’d stand up and be a man. I wanted you to be brave and step into the circle. But you just ran.”

“Jesus. That’s all a bit harsh.”

“You need to know I speak my mind… Completely,” Veronica said. “I’m just being honest. Don’t you value honesty?”

“You want me to be honest?”


“I thought it was rude of you to just leave me hanging there at the bar. You ditched me. It was selfish and snobbish.”

“I’m selfish and snobbish!?” Veronica protested. “It’s a small town. People know each other. People are friendly to each other. We greet each other and gather, not fade into the wallpaper. You should have pulled yourself together and come over.”

“I think I’m done with this conversation… And this town,” Steel told her, and he nearly ended the call.

But then she breathed, almost in a longing desperation. “Wait… Can I come over?”