The Shakes (Excerpt 4)

From Chapter Three

Momma and Eddie said goodbye to Magnolia and me in the driveway at the home of the Beasleys. I’m going to call them the Beasleys, like my daddy did, because they didn’t really seem like regular grandparents to me. I thought mom and Eddie would maybe at least stay for lunch, but they didn’t. He kept whining about having to get back to Chicago and I don’t think he liked the way old man Beasley was looking him over and being judgmental. I think deep down Eddie was a bit of a coward himself, but he just acted like he knew everything. I was glad to see him go but wished my mom would have just decided to stay and forget about him. But she didn’t. I wondered as they drove off if I’d ever see her again. I just got that feeling, that feeling of a forever goodbye, but unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Living at the home of the Beasleys was kind of like living at military camp. At least that’s how it felt to me even though I’d never been to military camp. Old man Beasley was especially picky about his library, that’s what he called it. The room kind of formed a corner of the house on the front and doors with little squares of glass opened into it from the den. It had a big wooden desk in there covered with papers and books and there were lots of shelves with more books and plants and framed pictures.

Up on one of the walls he displayed the front page of the newspaper when it was announced that he would be the new editor of the Blue Shore Gazette. I looked at it under the protective glass of a boastful frame and the article included a picture of old man Beasley smiling like I had never seen him smile and he was shaking another man’s hand. In the background of the photo, they had gathered the staff to be in the picture as well and they all looked sad and scared. I guess I could understand that.

He also had some pretty nice maps up on the wall all about the Great Lakes that I liked looking at. I could only look at them when he was around though, otherwise I wasn’t allowed to go in there. That kind of made me sad because it was a nice room with big windows that looked out onto the front yard and then the street. It was a quiet street in a quiet neighborhood almost in the country on the edge of town and I kind of liked that. There weren’t ever many cars that came by. People walked their dogs occasionally. I saw kids once in a while, too, but I don’t know where they came from. The houses were kind of far apart, but not like miles apart.

I would have liked to sit in that room by myself, behind the big desk, and just think about things because that’s one of my favorite things to do. But old man Beasley wouldn’t let me sit at the desk and think about things. He was always good at stifling a wandering imagination. There was a smaller chair against one of the walls and that’s where we had to sit, mostly when he was giving me or my sister a talking to about something we did wrong. It was like a boss towering over a shoddy employee.

 He did let me spin the big globe of the Earth he had in there, but never too fast. I’d set it in motion and then I’d stop it with my finger and wherever it landed that’s where I was going to live someday. A lot of times it turned out I was destined to end up in the middle of the ocean. “Well, what did you expect?” he would say. “Don’t you know that 70 percent of the Earth is covered by oceans?” Then he’d wag a big finger at me and say, “You’re wasting your time with such foolish dreams.”

When we first moved in, old man Beasley gave me and Nola a tour of the house which was kind of stupid because we’d been there before. It was more of instructions on what we could do and what we couldn’t do and what we could touch and what we couldn’t touch. As you can probably guess, there was a lot more couldn’t than could.

When we got to his library, he bragged about how it was a momentous collection of his life’s work and all his accomplishments and that he did a lot of important thinking in that room that impacted a lot of people’s lives. It’s also where he kept his books and magazines about gardening because now that he was retired, he was really into studying about growing his own vegetables and flowers in the back yard. He said a man should never become idle and lazy even when he retires, and he looked straight at me and made a gesture with his bushy white eyebrows as if he was saying: “Don’t be like your daddy was.”


I guess I had it better than Magnolia as far as rooms went because I got put in the basement all by myself. It wasn’t a horrible basement like some could be. With the way the Beasleys were, everything was neat and tidy, and it was mostly like a regular part of the house, maybe just a little darker since there weren’t a lot of windows down there and they were small. Mine was a room that they had set up for guests that rarely ever came. It had a decent bed and some furniture and a desk with a lamp where I could sit and write things down in my notebooks like I do. I did a lot of reading too.

There was a bathroom right across the hall and a room to do the laundry right next to that. There was another room lady Beasley used as sort of a pantry for extra canned goods and food and storing things. The main part of the downstairs was one big room lady Beasley used as her art studio and for sewing and crafts she sometimes did. There were a lot of paintings lying around, mostly of people and flowers and bowls of fruit, and countless tubes of paint and brushes and rags and sketches on paper tacked to the walls. One time I asked her if I could try painting because I thought it might be something I’d be interested in doing because I’m creative. She looked at me like I was stupid and just said, “I’ll think about it,” but I don’t think she ever did because she never let me paint anything.

The best part of being in the basement was that I could go up the steps and then there was a door right there at the top that went out into the back yard. I started slipping out at night after the Beasleys went to bed which was usually before 10. I just had to be quiet. I found a little can of household oil in the garage and oiled up all the hinges on the doors I used because they would whine horribly. More often than not, I’d steal one or two of lady Beasley’s cigarettes and some matches from where she kept them by her sitting chair in the den or from the cabinet by the dining room table. I don’t think she ever noticed because she smoked a lot and probably didn’t really keep close track. She bought them by the carton. I’d walk down into the back yard to the edge of the woods and smoke them while I looked up at the stars and try to communicate with the universe. I worried about what the Beasleys would have done to me if they ever caught me. I was always looking back over my shoulder imagining Grandpa Roman trudging toward me with a flashlight in his hand and yelling. That took some of the enjoyment out of it.

I was also worried lady Beasley might smell it on my clothes when she did the laundry but then I figured she was probably so soaked in it herself she wouldn’t even notice. If she ever did say something about it to me, I planned to just answer back, “No grandma, not me. Can’t you tell the whole house smells that way?” And it did which was kind of funny to me since she was so fussy about everything. She kept windows open a lot when it wasn’t too cold. Old man Beasley didn’t care nothing about it because he puffed a tobacco pipe, and it made him look like Popeye covered in snow because of his white hair.

Magnolia was confined on the main floor of the house where the bedrooms were clustered together in a hallway on one end. Her room was in the corner, next to the old man’s and right across from lady Beasley. The Beasleys didn’t sleep together in the same room anymore because lady Beasley had the shaky legs. I heard once through the family grapevine that old man Beasley threatened to crack her legs in two if she didn’t quit all that jittering around. I believe it. I can see him cracking somebody’s legs in two, clear as day. Honestly, I think it was more than just lady Beasley’s shaky legs. I think they just didn’t like each other anymore. I never once saw them act like they were in love. Never. They snapped at each other a lot though. I also noticed they spent a lot of time just off by themselves. Seems the only time they were together was at the supper table or when they were sitting in the den watching the TV or reading, and even then, they didn’t really talk much.

So, poor Magnolia was stuck between them two and she said she was scared half-to-death about breathing too loud or if she had to get up and go to the bathroom. One time she couldn’t hold it anymore and she did get up and she snuck down the hall to where the bathroom was and went inside and closed the door real slow because it made a noise. Well, after she was done and flushed and washed her hands, she opened the door and there was old man Beasley standing there with his big arms crossed in front of his big chest, and he beamed down at her and wanted to know why she was disturbing the whole house in the middle of the night.

She told him she had to go to the bathroom, and he told her that she was supposed to make sure she used the bathroom right before bed so she wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the night and wake everyone else up. Magnolia told me she said she was sorry to him, but he grabbed her by the arm and kind of dragged her down the hall to her room and flung her inside. He told her to stay in bed and go to sleep, then he went away. It scared her bad she told me. A kid shouldn’t be scared about having to go to the bathroom.


The Shakes (Excerpt 3)

blue and red freight truck on road
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

From Chapter Two

My name is Magnolia Shakes, and I was born on July 28, 1970. Exactly eight years later my daddy died in an act of self-killing out on the interstate near where we lived. I don’t know why he picked my birthday to do what he did. People tried to tell me he wasn’t feeling right and didn’t pick that day on purpose. I knew better because he left me a present that I found after. It was a doll inside a box that you could see through. She had blonde hair and wore a pink dress with yellow dots on it. I never did open it and just sat her on a shelf in my room and I would look at her once in a while. I wanted to play with her, but I just couldn’t. He had a little note with it too that just said: Happy Birthday always, my Magnolia. Love, Daddy. On all my birthdays after that, I made myself believe he picked it so I would never forget and always remember him, but not in a bad way. Thinking otherwise would have crushed me to dust.

The accident was awful, and they had to shut down the highway and reroute people through town. There was a story about it in the newspaper the next day, but momma wouldn’t let me look at it. She folded it up and hid it away somewhere. I found it later and my brother clipped it to keep. They had to take the driver of the truck to the hospital and sedate him because he was so traumatized. There were about half a dozen cars that wrecked, too. No one else was killed but I think some people had some bad gashes and broken bones. The highway patrolmen that came to the house warned us not to go down there. Later, if we had to go on the highway, I would close my eyes at that particular stretch and try not to think about it, to push it away. It wore me out, in almost anything I did, having to do all that pushing of bad memories away. They just kept coming back, like I was constantly building a dam and it just kept breaking.

My mother’s name was Helen Shakes and I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. She had long, bouncy blonde hair that she loved tossing around with her hands. Her eyes were a smooth green with a dot of sparkle that looked like the Emerald City from that Wizard of Oz movie. I thought she looked like a real-life princess, but other people said she was a little rough around the edges in both looks and actions. I don’t think she was, not until what happened to daddy. She kind of just let herself go after that. She started to drink more than usual, too. She was never mean to me, just a bit neglectful at times, especially when that Eddie Dallas started coming around more and more. My older brother Dylan and I didn’t like him at all. I thought he was arrogant and rude and disrespectful to our mother. I don’t know what she saw in him. He was a small, red-headed man with a smooth and youthful face dotted with freckles. If you didn’t know the real Eddie Dallas you would have thought he was a sweet, nice guy just by looking at him. But he wasn’t. He had a mean streak running through him all the way. I don’t know how my momma could feel any comfort looking into those demon eyes or being held in those scrawny arms. She acted like she did. But I knew better. It was sort of like I could see her insides, past her skin and into her soul, and what was on the inside was different than what was on the outside. I’ve always been able to do that, with most anybody. The only one I really couldn’t do it with was Dylan, and I think that was because he could do it too.


The Shakes (Excerpt 2)

From Chapter One

One day Eddie and my mom sat me and my sister down in the living room after supper to tell us something important. Eddie said he had gotten a promotion and that he was being sent to work in Chicago. I didn’t know why the hell anyone would want to promote Eddie, but they did. At first, I was fine with it because I thought it meant he wouldn’t be around much anymore. But then my mom said she was going to go with him and help him settle in and things like that, but that it was just going to be a small apartment so my sister and I would have to go live with our grandparents, “them damn Beasleys” as my daddy called them, up in the Badger Sate, that’s Wisconsin, for a while.

Eddie went on and on about how it would be best for everyone while he makes his way at the new job and makes a good impression. He didn’t need too many distractions. Then he talked about how the big city was no place for us kids and that we would come later when they were officially married and had a house set up in the suburbs and then my mom stuck out her hand and wiggled her fingers in the air and there was a new ring on it. It wasn’t the ring my daddy gave her. She probably threw that one away. They said we were going to be a new, happy family. They acted like they were excited, and they wanted my sister and I to be excited, but I wasn’t very excited, but then why would I be?

In the summer of 1979, Eddie helped momma sell the house and he got it packed up. He sent most off to a storage place in Illinois. A lot of it was stuff that belonged to my sister and me. A lot of it belonged to my daddy, too, and that made me mad as hell. Magnolia and I were only allowed to take a few things with promises that everything would be back to normal once we were all reunited in Chicago. I didn’t believe Eddie and part of me was hoping he was making it all up anyway.

My Grandma Mavis and my Grandpa Roman were my mom’s parents. I think she kept them disappointed much of her life. They never really liked my daddy too much either. They thought he wasn’t motivated enough and wasn’t giving us a good enough life. I don’t think it affected them too much when he died even though they acted like it did.

They lived in a nice house near Lake Michigan in a small town called Blue Shore and it was full of blue people and cold people but there were streaks of sunlight, too. And it was the sort of light that made your guts jump a bit with lonely happiness if that makes any sense. It was the sort of light that made its way through the trees and filtered through the autumn leaves set to fall and it cast color like loaded dice. It was September light, October light, and it would come in on an angle through the trees like I said, and it would hit against a neighborhood of neat little houses of white and yellow and pink and sweet ocean blue all lined up in Americana serenity and the echoes of life there called down to the fallen bodies of yesteryear in triplicate. I had been to Blue Shore a few times or so, Nola some too, and I liked it. I would have liked it more if the adults around me had just left me alone.

Them damn Beasleys would come and visit us in Arkansas once in a while, but they didn’t like the heat or the food or our living conditions. Not that they were terrible, just not up to their standards. Grandma Mavis would spend most of the time trying to clean and organize our house and Grandpa Roman would get to lecturing my daddy at the kitchen table on how to be a better man. My daddy would just nod his head up and down and say real seriously “I know, sir. I know.” I say daddy did the best he could. He worked odd jobs. Mostly construction and electrical and fixing things and we always had something to eat and had the lights on. I never understood what was so bad about that. There were a lot of other men in the world who did a whole lot worse.

My Grandpa Roman was an overly stern man, and he was pushy, too. He worked at the newspaper in Blue Shore for more than half his life. Worked himself up all the way to editor. He was opinionated and he was always pressing people to be better than what he thought they were, but not in a good way. He was arrogant and critical. He didn’t like laziness or mistakes. He didn’t like unruly kids either, and so he’d get on my momma for that if Magnolia and I made too much noise or ran around too much. He’d tell her that we weren’t disciplined enough because we were acting like animals and that we’d end up just like my daddy if she didn’t lay down the law. I thought he was a mean and heartless man, and I don’t see why he seemed to be so proud of that fact.

Grandma Mavis kind of followed in his ways. She was a fussy lady. Their house was clean and neat, and it looked like no one even lived there, like it was always up for sale or something. Grandma Mavis always kept herself polished, too. Seemed like she even dressed up to clean the house. The only time I ever saw her in something else was when she was riding the mower around in the yard cutting the lawn. She steered that thing with authority and in straight lines. I wanted to ride on it one time, but she wouldn’t let me.

She had worked for Lake County for a long time. She oversaw the running of the museum and historical places like that. She had something to do with the art center, too. I guess she was kind of important because she had to go to town meetings sometimes and talk. She could be a very pointed and serious woman at times, and I always thought she would have made a good guard at a jail.

I don’t think either one of them were ever very fun. Maybe at Christmas. That’s one time we would usually visit if the weather wasn’t too bad. There’d be other people there too, like uncles and aunts and cousins from different places. Some we hardly knew. We got a lot of presents, though. Nola and I would play outside with the cousins while the grownups stayed in the house drinking cocktails and gossiping loudly about family members that weren’t even there. Believe me, my daddy wasn’t much for cocktails and talking and so he’d usually end up coming outside to watch us run around. Grandpa Roman took it as an insult and thought daddy couldn’t stand on his own with the adults.

Grandma and Grandpa Beasley had about seven acres of land and where the yard ended in the back there was a wooded area with some walking paths worn into the earth and a trickle of a creek. The trees were thick in places. Magnolia liked to call it the “100-acre wood” like in Winnie-The-Pooh, but I don’t think it was a hundred acres, but maybe to her it felt like it. I guess it could have been.

One time after a Christmas lunch I was out there with my cousin Angela from Oshkosh, and we were just walking around hitting sticks against trees and not really talking much. Maybe some stuff about school. It was winter but the sun was shining, and it was even kind of warm and I had to unzip my coat.

She was a year older than me and just out of the blue she asked me if I had ever kissed anyone. I said no, which was true. She said she hadn’t either and wanted to know if we should try it with each other. She was pretty decent for a cousin, so I said yes. Then she kind of backed me up to a tree. She was a bit bigger than me, and I remember her face was really close to mine and she smelled like the bubblegum she just spit out. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure what to do. I just closed my eyes, held my breath, and waited. Then I felt what must have been her lips on me and it lasted for about 10 seconds and then she was done. Her mouth was soft and felt warm and cold at the same time. I think she lied about never doing it before because she seemed pretty well versed in it. I was suddenly worried I had to deal with a cousin for a girlfriend, and that I’d have to write letters or call her up on the phone every day. But it was stupid for me to worry because I never had to do any of that because she just shrugged her shoulders and looked at me like it was nothing special. We went back to walking around and she never said anything more about it or wanted to try kissing ever again. I was relieved and grateful.


The Dweller in the Christmas Mustard (Ep.3)

Oswald Madness was sitting at the end of a very long table in a very white room that had a long line of narrow vertical windows against one wall. The windows were covered with chemical blue curtains, the bottoms of which gently swayed because of some sort of artificial air being pumped in.

His eyes hurt. His throat felt like he had been screaming for a long time, but he didn’t know why. There was some sort of lingering cloud over the table that silently churned like a butter thunderstorm. Then someone spoke and the cloud began to twirl into a tighter vortex and then drifted up and out of the room through an invisible hole.

“Can you pass the Christmas mustard?” the young girl called from a seemingly long way away. “I have some vivacious ham here that I would like to add a little more zing to.”

Oswald looked down in front of him at the table adorned in a crystal white cloth. There before him sat a jar of unopened Christmas mustard from a deli in Chicago that he used to know of because his Aunt Sharlene would never shut up about it at family gatherings around the holidays.

He looked up and called out. “Who’s there?” He saw the vibrations of his voice shoot across the long table and stumble into something on the other end.

The girl’s voice came back. “Do I need to come over there and get it myself? You really don’t want that.”

Oswald pushed his chair back and got up. The floor didn’t feel real. He picked up the jar of Christmas mustard and started walking toward the other end of the table. He walked and walked and walked. “This is the longest table I have had the displeasure to encounter,” he said out loud.

“Just keep going. You’re almost there.” A small hand suddenly reached out and snatched the jar from him. “Thank you.” And then the mist around her cleared and she slowly came into view. He just watched as she struggled to open the jar. “Fuck!” she said loudly, and then she handed the jar back to him. “Could you open it please?”

Oswald pushed his hand against the lid and turned. There was a little audible pop. He handed it back to her and she smiled up at him. “I don’t know why they make those things so damn hard to open. What if this had been an emergency?”

“A sandwich emergency?”

She gave him a dirty look as she did not care at all for his sense of humor.

He quickly altered the awkward moment. “I know you,” Oswald said to her.

“That’s right,” she said as she smeared Christmas mustard on a piece of rye bread with a silvery knife that flowed like liquid. “I know you as well.”

“What is this?” Oswald wanted to know. “It seems that just a minute ago I was chained to a very different table. I was in some sort of trouble, I think.”

“You were in trouble, but I decided to get you out of it,” the girl said, and she looked around with admiration. “This is my home and I have invited you for lunch. Are you not hungry? I assure you the meats and breads are top of the line… Top of the line.” She took a monstrous bite of the sandwich she assembled and chewed. She casually swung her legs beneath the table and hummed while slowly moving her head side to side as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She was wearing washed-out blue jeans cut by ragged stone, red high-top tennis shoes and a Nirvana T-shirt. She swallowed and looked back up at him as if she was annoyed. “Are you just going to stand there and stare at me all afternoon?” She took another bite of her sandwich and chomped. “Go on now. You can go back to your seat and have your lunch.”

Oswald looked to his right and down the long length of table to a chair in the distance. “We can’t possibly carry on a conversation with so much space between us,” he said to her. “Can’t I sit closer to you?”

She ran her hand across her mouth and looked at him as if he had requested something horribly unreasonable. “Why would you want to do that? We’re eating, not talking. There’s a time for talking and it’s not when we are eating.”

“We can’t do both?”

“No! They’re two totally different and unrelatable things. It would be a mess!”

Oswald decided it was not in his best interest to push the subject, so he turned and walked away from her toward the other end of the table, a table that seemed to have become even longer than before. When he reached his end, he sat down in the chair there and scooted it in closer to the table. He sighed when he realized he forgot to bring the Christmas mustard back with him. “Hey!” he yelled out.

“What do you want now!?” the girl answered sourly.

“I forgot the mustard. Can you bring it to me?”

There was a cackling, childish laugh. “You’ve got some nerve, Mr. Madness. You’re in no position to ask me to do anything for you.”

“I just want some mustard. You can’t expect me to eat a dry sandwich. It’s not like I’m asking you to jump off a cliff.”

“You want me to jump off a cliff?”

“No! I just want some mustard!”

He heard a plate clank in the distance and then it was quick footfalls coming toward him. The girl suddenly appeared, and she slammed the jar down in front of him. “Here’s your fucking mustard!” she barked. “I wouldn’t want you to choke on a dry sandwich… Or would I?” She scowled at him, turned, and walked away toward the other end.

Oswald cringed and called out to her vanishing trail. “Thanks.”

He worked on assembling a sandwich and when it was built to his satisfaction, he took a big, deep bite. It was very agreeable to him. But then he realized as he reached out in front of himself that there was nothing to drink. He looked all around to see if he had perhaps overlooked something. He swallowed what was in his mouth, cleared his dry throat and called out to her again. “Hey!”

“Jiminy Cricket! What the hell is it now!?” the girl replied from the other side of the vast distance.

“I don’t have anything to drink. I could choke without something to wash this rye bread down with.”

“Ugh!” she scoffed loudly. “Seriously, Mr. Madness. You are becoming a real pain in the ass.”

“You sure do swear a lot for a young lady.”

“So fucking what!”

“See.”

“I’m sorry if I offend you, but I was unfortunately raised in not the most stable or proper environment. I’m afraid I’m the product of poor parenting… But despite my personal woes, I persevered. As you can see. But try not to be so judgmental.” She reached for and rang a small bell.

He thought he heard her whispering to someone. And then that someone suddenly appeared beside him balancing a small silver tray on his hand. He was tall. His bald head was large and shiny. He had small facial features. He was dressed in a black and cornsilk-colored suit. And when he spoke it was in a very soft, almost undecipherable tone. “The lady has asked me to bring you something to drink.”

Oswald hesitated to answer the strange man at first. “Yes. What do you have?”

The strange man nodded his head and a slight smile appeared on his face. “Whatever you want, sir.”

Oswald thought about it. “Chocolate milk.”

“Fine, sir. I’ll bring it straight away.” He gave a quick bow and then was off. He returned in nearly an instant, and the strange man’s hand, clad in a tan glove, set down a tall glass of chocolate milk in front of Oswald.

Oswald peered up at him and tried to smile. “Thank you.”

“Oh, you’re quite welcome, sir,” the strange man answered. “I do hope you enjoy it. I worked it out of one of our brown cows myself… May I get you anything else?”

Oswald nodded. “I think I’m good.” He lifted the glass to his mouth and took a deep drink. He smacked his lips and looked at the strange man who had brought it. “That’s the most incredible chocolate milk I ever…” The glass suddenly fell from his hand and the chocolate milk pooled on the table and began to seep into the tablecloth. Then Oswald’s eyes flickered and closed, and he collapsed headfirst into the spill. The strange man got down on his knees and moved his face closer to where Oswald lay. The man shook his head and made a noise with his mouth. “How unfortunate,” he whispered. Just then the girl appeared. She was whimsically eating a chocolate covered banana as she looked things over.

She cocked her head and asked. “What happened to him?” Then she laughed before taking another bite of her treat.

The strange man looked up at her and grinned. “Must have been a bad cow.”

TO BE CONTINUED

Go HERE to read the previous episode.

The Shakes (Excerpt 1)

vehicle on road during sunset
Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com

From Chapter One

Nobody really knows why my daddy did what he did. Some say it was a sickness of the heart. Others say it was a sickness of the mind. I think it was probably both. I was just a kid when it happened, so it probably didn’t matter what I thought, but it should have. Now he’s just a ghost.

I remember my momma screaming and crying like crazy when those men from the highway patrol came to the house and told us what happened. I thought her head was going to just up and explode the way she was carrying on. The patrolmen had to almost restrain her as they walked her to the couch to sit her down. Seemed my daddy had drove his truck a few miles down the road from where we lived to a wooded spot close to where the interstate runs through. As far as anyone of authority could tell, he just got out of the pickup, walked through the trees to the edge of the roadway, and just stepped out in front of a tractor-trailer going about 70 miles per hour. I think they said it was a chicken truck.

They said he probably didn’t suffer much because he most likely passed very quickly. Hell, I guess he would have, and I guess you could say he just disappeared from this world in the quickest blink of an eye there could ever be. The patrolmen tried to be decent and respectful about my daddy being killed. But how can you be decent and respectful about a man being run down by a chicken truck? The whole sad part for me was thinking about him all alone and in pieces out there on the road so I don’t believe them none when they said he didn’t suffer. I think that poor man suffered most of his life, and no one really stepped up to help him out or just listen to him, maybe not even once.

Just so you know, his name was John Shakes, but they called him Johnathon Shakes in his obituary in the local newspaper. I have it cut out and I stuck it in one of my reading books. They had a picture of him too, one where he was smiling and looking happy like he was saying to the world lastly this: “I had a good life.” I’m not too sure about that and I was around him all of mine, and even though I thought I knew him, he was still a mystery to me. I am his only son. My name is Dylan Shakes.

My momma liked the name so much she said I was going to be named Dylan no matter what, even if I came out a girl. Four years later they did have a girl, my little sister, Nola. Her birth name is Magnolia, but everyone calls her Nola. She was a good kid. She had that kind of messy blonde hair that always looked like she just got out of bed and her eyes were like big blue planets spinning in her head. She wasn’t a dirty or ugly kid or anything like that. People thought she was adorable, and some said she looked like a little Cinderella. Not the slaving away Cinderella, but the one all cleaned up and pretty looking. Most of the time she was quiet and acted sad, but she never did anyone wrong. She hardly ever made any trouble. After our daddy died, she curled up inside herself and kind of hid away there. I would have to go by her bedroom to get to mine and often the door would be open, and I would look inside without her knowing. Nola had a small round table in the middle with two little chairs and she would just be sitting there looking off into the sunlight streaming through the window like Heaven calling on her. I figured she was just thinking or praying or wishing for something. It weighed on my heart, but I just let her be. I think she had a lot of things going on in that little head that most people had no idea of. She wasn’t stupid, not one bit.

We lived in a small town west of the big river, about 50 miles from Memphis, but we weren’t in Tennessee, we were in a place called Arkansas. We had a decent old house that was green and white, two stories, trees in the yard, a covered front porch. My mom and daddy didn’t always get along too well and that’s why I was a bit confused when she carried on like she did when they brought the news of my daddy’s demise. I guess maybe people think they’ll never run out of time together and so they don’t talk much or appreciate each other like they maybe should. People spend too much time being angry and upset. Too much time spent on the fight and then people begin to drift apart. I think she loved him, maybe. But then, hell, sometimes it’s too late for love.

There was a funeral at a small white church on a hill overlooking a winding stream, and we had to dress up in fancy clothes my momma had to buy at the sad discount store that smelled like the past. They had to keep the casket closed because there was really nothing to look at. Everyone believed he was in there all sewed back together, but I knew better. I knew that they couldn’t do that, but a lot of people believe anything they’re told. They only have two eyes and they’re blind. I believe I may have three, and I know this because I’ve read about it, and I can feel it inside my head, opening and closing.

My momma put on a show with all her crying. It wasn’t crying like when she first got the news. It was more like crying to make people think she cared, but as time wore on, I got the feeling she really didn’t care that much, about a lot of things. Nola cried too, but it was real, and it hurt me inside. For some reason I didn’t cry. For some reason I held it in, I swallowed it. I nearly choked to death, but I kept it down. I figured my daddy wouldn’t have wanted me to cry because I was the man now.

A lot of folks came around the house after the gloomy funeral and brought us food and blessings and they hugged us. Some cried. Some didn’t. I think some folks might have been talking business or even quietly laughing about something completely different. It wasn’t their lives that had just been horribly shattered, so what the hell did they care.

At first momma seemed kind of broken, but it wasn’t but six months later that there was a new man sitting at our supper table eating our food and acting like he owned the place. His name was Eddie and he worked at one of the banks in town loaning people money and coming after them when they didn’t pay it back. I guess that’s how he met my momma. I guess he figured out a way to get her to pay something back.

I didn’t like him. He tried to talk to me like he was my daddy, but he wasn’t. No one else ever would be even if my old man checked out of life in a “coward’s way.” That’s what that god damn Eddie would say, even in front of me and my sister, and momma would just pretend like he didn’t. I couldn’t believe it. She changed, too. She didn’t spend as much time with me or Nola anymore. Momma and Eddie would be all up tight on each other on the couch watching movies in the dark and holding hands and kissing. She used to kiss my daddy, but not as much. Maybe having Eddie to cling to was just her way of not having to deal with reality.

He was meaner to Magnolia than he was me. She was just a little girl, but I was big for my age. My daddy used to say I was “country strong” and I guess I was. I was one of the toughest-looking kids in my class, but I wasn’t mean to people very much unless they made me mad. Anyways, I think Eddie was a little intimidated and didn’t push me around too much. He talked a lot, but I don’t think he’d do much in a fight if it came down to it. Maybe that’s why he liked to pick on my sister.

Nola liked to play with her dolls on the round rug in the living room while she watched the TV. When Eddie came over after work, he’d grab a can of beer from the refrigerator and sit in my daddy’s old chair and he’d just watch her. He’d ask her why she was wasting time playing with dolls instead of helping around the house. He didn’t like her dolls being scattered around in the living room and one evening he was in a bad mood and picked them all up and just threw them all over the place. Magnolia didn’t say anything. She just went and picked them up and went up to her bedroom. My momma poked her head in from the kitchen and told him to stop fussing with her. He told her he could do and say what he wanted to because he worked all day and paid for things and that she should just shut her mouth. I didn’t how my momma could have been okay with that.

It got to be Nola would get scared in the middle of the night and come into my room clutching a pillow and quietly crying because she missed our daddy, and now, she missed our momma too and didn’t want to be around Eddie. I’d let her stay in my room with me because believe it or not, I was scared and missed the way things used to be too and kind of needed her there. I wonder what my daddy would have thought of that. About being scared. I think he’d be okay with it. I’d let her fall asleep in the bed first and then I would. I never made her go back to her own room if she didn’t want to. I tried to be her protector as best I could because nobody else was really doing it.

I didn’t want Nola to be a messed-up kid so I tried to do my best to take care of her like my daddy would have. I was only 12, she was 8. Momma was too busy looking off into nothing and drinking her beer most mornings. She was always in a bad mood and yelling if we made too much noise.

I made sure Nola got up and had some sort of breakfast and I’d help her get ready for school. Most days we would ride the bus together because our schools were right next to each other. She was in the elementary and I was at the junior high. Some days Eddie would drive us on his way to work. We didn’t like those days. His car was dirty, and he smoked cigarettes. He would always try to be friends with us and try to be cool and funny, but I could see right through him. He was a phony for sure. I figured he was a stone-cold liar and cheat, too. I have a way with reading people and having a strong intuition about things. It’s something that has always come easy to me. It has something to do with that third eye I was talking about.

I didn’t have time for friends at school because I was always worried about things in real life and trying to take care of Magnolia. The other kids didn’t like me anyway because I had the “Crazy daddy who jumped in front of a chicken truck.” Kids could be cruel, and you have to wonder what the hell is wrong with their damn parents letting them voice such hateful things. I really didn’t care too much for school. I was the kid who sat by the windows and stared outside at the sky and the horizon below while the teacher was talking about some bullshit or another. That’s not the stuff I wanted to learn. I wanted to know about how to not get so damn hurt in this crazy world. They never teach you about reality, but they should.


The Dweller in the Christmas Mustard (Ep. 2)

The man was identified as Oswald Madness, a drifter through time and space and now under special scrutiny in a locked room down in the hidden bowels of Denver International Airport. Two men from security stood around him. They were both wearing white dress shirts and red ties and sunglasses the deep dark color of alien eyes. The younger one was sucking on a colored toothpick. The older one had his foot up on a chair and was twiddling his thumbs while he looked at the detainee with a dubious stare.

Then he cleared his throat. “What business do you have in Denver?” he asked.

Oswald looked at him and then the other before speaking. “Leisure.”

“Vacation?” the younger one asked.

“Something like that,” Oswald answered.

The older one brought his foot down off the chair and walked slowly around the small, brightly lit room with no windows. “Something like what? Could you be more specific?”

“I’ve come to visit a friend in Arvada. He’s a butcher and he’s invited me to the grand opening of his new shop. That specific enough for you?”

The younger one chuckled. “Do you enjoy the complete and utter annihilation of others?”

Oswald made a what the fuck face. “I don’t understand.”

“The knives Mr. Madness,” the older one chimed in. “We discovered the knives. In your backpack.” He glanced over at his partner. “What are the knives for?”

“I told you. My friend is a butcher. They’re a gift for him. To celebrate his new way of life.”

The younger one laughed again, broke his toothpick, and threw it into some invisible space in the corner of the room. “Just how did you get through security in Milwaukee with a backpack full of knives?” he desperately wanted to know.

Oswald was quiet for a moment. “Security doesn’t ever see me.”

“So, you bypass security somehow?” the younger one said, glancing quickly at his partner.

Oswald looked at him deeply. “No, they just don’t see me. I stand in the queue, I politely wait my turn, I go on through. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

The older one went over to the younger one and whispered something. He shielded his words with a hand thinking that would keep Oswald from hearing what was said.

But he heard anyway.

“Have them pull surveillance from Milwaukee…”


There was a light knocking and the heads of the two interrogators snapped toward the door.

“Oh, shit,” groaned the younger one. Then he looked at Oswald. “Whatever you do, don’t piss her off when she asks you questions.” He went over to open the ugly door, and what appeared in the frame like sudden magic was something Oswald had never expected. It was the young girl who had been sitting in the airport food court and staring at him.

She looked at the two officers. “Leave me alone with him,” she ordered, and they quickly hustled out of the room. The door closed with a heavy, metallic click. The girl slowly circled Oswald like he was prey. She didn’t look like she did before. The conservative religious sect garb of yesteryear was replaced by a loose-fitting snappy navy-blue pant suit, and she wore a crisp white shirt and had on a red tie like the other two. Her hair, the color of a lemon-yellow sun, was pulled back tight and the excess pinned neatly into a circular mass on top of her head, and it looked like she was wearing a cinnamon roll for a hat. She wore black-rimmed glasses over her small eyes that hung below her oddly oversized forehead. Her nose was like a rabbit’s and her small mouth poked out like a swirling peppermint candy. Her stern look made Oswald nervous, but at the time he wanted to laugh at her because she was swimming in those clothes, and she made the harsh room smell like bubblegum.

The girl stopped moving and sat down in the chair opposite him. She looked so small and awkward in it, he thought.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Who are you?” she shot back.

“You must already know.”

She leaned forward and put her small arms on the table. “I know a lot of things,” she said. “Most of all I know that you have disrupted the vibrations of my particular plane in time and space.”

“Look,” Oswald began. “I was on an airplane to come see my friend in Arvada to help him celebrate the launch of his new business. The next thing I know, the world goes weird and suddenly I’m here being accused of whatever I’m being accused of.”

“Bullshit,” the young girl said so plainly and straightforward that it forced Oswald to take her more seriously. “That sounds like a very normal story but there is nothing normal about you.”

“Where are your parents?”

“I am the parent,” she snapped back.

You’re in charge around here?”

“You seem so surprised, Mr. Madness.”

“You’re a kid. How old are you?”

“Right now?”

He studied her intently. “Yes.”

“12… Yesterday I may have been 54. I never really know until I get there.”

“I don’t really get what you could possibly mean. Can I get a lawyer?”

“No.”

“But it’s my right.”

“Not here.”

Oswald pulled on the restraint that kept him chained to the table like an animal. “You can’t do this!”

The girl stood up and made a face to the camera in the corner of the ceiling. She made a strange nod with her head. A moment later two people entered the room, a man and a woman, and they were garbed like doctors. One wrapped something around Oswald’s head to keep him from spitting and screaming while the other one quickly injected something into his arm with a long needle. The girl happily smiled while watching the green liquid enter him.

TO BE CONTINUED

Go HERE to read the previous episode.


Revolution Meat (Last Part)

After cleaning up the kitchen, Marsella Blume stood out beneath the carport with a cigarette and three fingers of whiskey in an iced glass. She exhaled toward the heavens and laughed to herself. “What a fool I’ve married,” she said, her thoughts lighthearted at first but then she suddenly deeply regretted most of what she had done with her life, and she almost started to cry. “I live on a planet of murderers and I’m the only one who seems to care. Rubbish.” She tossed the glass out into the street and listened for the glory of the scattering smashing.

The record store downtown was open late on most nights because it was the cool thing to do. The sidewalk there was dirty, and rebellious teens loitered about talking loudly and laughing and playing music out of their cars. Marsella pushed on the door of silver metal and heavy smudged glass and went in. The place smelled like the smoking of marijuana. Loud music blared from hidden speakers. She went over to the area where they had the alternative rock, post-punk indie music CDs. S, S, S, she was looking for something that began with S. Then her fingers hit on it. The Smiths. The album was titled Meat is Murder and she pulled it from its place and looked it over. “Hmm, this used to be one of my favorites,” Marsella mumbled to herself aloud. “How strange that I had forgotten about it for all these years and then suddenly it comes back to me… Memories do tend to return to find you and shake you at the most unexpected times in our lives.”

Marsella went to the counter and presented what she wanted to buy. The young man with blue hair and piercings that made his face look like a pincushion looked at the CD and then looked at her. He made a weird face with his already weird face.

Marsella gave him a playful smile. “Don’t you get it, Johnny? It’s for me.” She handed him the money, took her change and bag, and walked out of the store and to her car.


Marsella drove fast and in complete disregard for the laws of the prickly electric night. She had the windows rolled down and the volume of the stereo was turned up high to overtake the whoosh of the air blowing in. She had track 10 on repeat, and the lyrics of Meat is Murder burrowed into her head and stoked the flames of her disenchantment with human beings and the world in general:

Heifer whines could be human cries
Closer comes the screaming knife
This beautiful creature must die
This beautiful creature must die
A death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder

And the flesh you so fancifully fry
Is not succulent, tasty or kind
It’s death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder
And the calf that you carve with a smile
It is murder
And the turkey you festively slice
It is murder
Do you know how animals die?…

“Do you know how animals die!?” Marsella screamed out as she brought the car to a stop in the nearly empty parking lot of the grocery store. She got out of the car and went around to the back and popped open the trunk. She reached inside and pulled out the can of red paint she had pilfered from her husband’s work shed, set it on the ground, and undid the lid with the screwing end of a standard screwdriver. She dumped some of the paint on the ground and watched it pool and slowly spread like a wound. The unnatural smell of it drove up her nose. She took a breath, and then she went inside the store.

The lights were bright, and they hurt her eyes as they buzzed and dazzled above her. The place was mostly empty except for the lone cashier flipping through a magazine, the young night stockers tossing boxes around, along with a few zombified customers perhaps craving a midnight pot pie. No one paid her any attention as she strolled down the cereal aisle with an opened bucket of red paint. When she got to the meat department, it was barren as a midnight graveyard in western Oklahoma. She heard wolves howl. She heard people chittering and giggling somewhere off in the distance. The music up above was sterilized, vomit-inducing ass hat glitter pop.

The custom meat case was empty, the animal flesh now removed, and the area behind was dark and quiet. Marsella looked around again before setting the paint can down and kneeling beside it. She dipped two fingers deep into the paint like it was a woman spread wide, pulled them out, and then wrote Meat is Murder, Don’t Ya Know? in a crooked, dripping scrawl against the exterior plexiglass of the meat case. She stood and looked at her handiwork as it continued to slowly bleed on itself, a very fitting touch to her art she proudly decided.

Next, she went over to the display case where they had all the packaged meat and she gripped the paint can in two hands, cocked it back and thrust it forward repeatedly as she haphazardly splashed the glossy red all over the chicken and their bones, the ground beef, the roasts, the steaks, the lamb, the porkchops, and all the groaning loins they had stacked there like genocide bodies.

“Hey!” someone suddenly yelled out from somewhere behind her. “What the hell are you doing there!?”

She turned just as the man got to her and she threw red paint on him, took the can by the carrying handle and whopped him upside the head with it as hard as she could. He made a pain-filled grunt like ooomphhh, then slipped and fell. She dropped the can with a clank and dashed down the soda aisle toward the front doors. For a woman of 39, she flew out of there like a wild bird, got into her car and sped off just as two other grocery store workers came hustling out after her screaming and yelling and carrying on as if she had just possibly committed a felony.

Marsella Blume sat in her car at the end of her block with the engine purring. She blew cigarette smoke out the open window as her eyes fixed on her house that sat like a morbid shell down the street and to the left. The air around the neighborhood was salted city orange and misty. The Smiths were still bubbling out from the stereo, but quieter now for she didn’t want to wake anyone. She took a final puff and then threw the butt out the window like she was Josey Wales cool. She pulled the shifter back into the D position and stomped her foot on the gas pedal. The car shot off surprisingly fast and Marsella gripped the steering wheel as she aimed the engine block straight for the corner of the house where her husband was hopelessly waiting beyond the brick and glass.

The impact was more violent than she expected, and her body snapped back and forth as the car drilled into the house. And it looked like being in an automatic car wash, she thought, with that suffocating blizzard of water and soap blotting out the windshield, the weighty thunder of the mechanical mops as they molested the filth away, the quaking turbulence of the high-powered dryers as one’s vehicle slowly emerged from the wash tunnel like a turtle’s head checking to see if it was safe out in the world.

Through the chaos she saw her husband’s startled face as his body was thrown back as if by a poltergeist, the bowl of buttered popcorn just moments before in his lap now curling high in the air and scattering its contents like youthful mischief. And then she watched as the debris rained down all around her in dust wallowed slow motion, bricks and glass and splintered wood hitting the car, and the sound came like ludicrous hail, and Marsella felt like she would soon be buried alive by the burdens of her own madness.


When Marsella opened her eyes, the butcher was sitting in a chair beside her hospital bed. There was something wrapped in fancy paper on the bedside table. She didn’t recognize him at first without the hair net, but the eyes were familiar. Those unsettling eyes were very blue as she recalled, almost a fake blue.

“Hello,” she managed to say. Her eyelids fluttered to batter away the stinging light.

“Hi. Do you remember me?” the man said, leaning in closer.

“You’re the butcher.”

“That’s right. How are you feeling?”

“Not terrible, but far from wonderful,” she said, and she tried to sit up more. “How did you… Why are you here?” She looked around the room trying to establish more thoroughly where she was.

“I read all about it in the newspapers. I just knew it had to be you,” he said. “The policeman let me in to quickly visit.”

“The policeman?”

The butcher turned his head and nodded. “Outside the door. I’m afraid you’re under guard.”

“I did something bad, didn’t I?”

The butcher sighed but tried to smile. “You made a terrible mess of my meat department. I’m afraid in your attempt to save the beasts, however, you inadvertently cast most of them off to the trash bin… So, in that effort, it seems you failed. But that’s really the least of your concerns considering the other charges.”

“Other charges?”

“Felonious assault. Aggravated homicide.”

“Aggravated!?”

“Don’t you know you killed your husband in a very terrible way? They had to pull him from the rubble piece by piece.”

Marsella shook her head in denial.

“They didn’t tell you?”

“Perhaps someone did. I can’t remember much… Just the cigarette and the grainy light and the music and the sound of the engine beating faster… And then it was just like a terrible storm but then bright like heaven.”

The butcher beamed at her with a gentle butcher-like smile. “Maybe you escorted him part way, hmm?”

“Huh?”

“Your husband. To heaven.”

“I do doubt it,” Marsella said. “He was a terrible person. He really was.”

“We’re all terrible people who do terrible things at times. We are after all, merely animals.”

“But I must have loved him at one time. I mean, real human love. Don’t you think?”

“Doesn’t appear that way, now does it, considering your present-tense situation,” the butcher with blue eyes said coldly. He glanced up at the black and white clock on the wall. “I’m afraid my time is limited so I must be on my way. But there’s a present for you there. I don’t really know why I felt you deserved a gift; I suppose I’m strangely sentimental like that. Hopefully you can do something with it before you go off to jail.”

She looked up at him, puzzled. Then he drew closer to her, and she jerked back when he bent to grasp her hand and shake it. “Good luck,” he whispered. He made himself upright again and looked down at her. His eyes were taking pictures.

“You aren’t really a butcher, are you?” Marsella said as her gaze crawled up his body and to his face.

“We’re all butchers,” he said, and he turned and walked out of the room without another word.

Marsella drowsily sat up on the edge of the bed and reached for the present on the bedside table. She shook it like a curious child, and then carefully peeled it open. Inside was a package of meat — a flank steak. It was the color of a broken heart and lightly marbled with thin rivers of greasy cotton. Some blood pooled in the white tray. She drew it closer to her face and studied it and her soul shook like grass in the dawn of spring.

She poked a hole in the plastic wrap with a finger and stripped it away. She lifted the meat out and held it in her hands. It was cold. It was wet. It was heavy. She opened her mouth wide, moved her head forward, and clamped her teeth down hard on the animal flesh. She fiercely strained and pulled until a piece tore off. She chewed on it slowly, ingested it, and went in for another bite… And then it was another and another and yet another until the whole cut of the meat was gone from the space in front of her and slowly sliding down into her belly in various shaped chunks.

She went into the bathroom and turned on the light. Her animal reflection stared back at her from the other side of the mirror. She barely recognized herself. An ugly murderous stain bloomed around her mouth like a pink flower. She grinned at herself; a thin film of red juice was still collected on her teeth. Then the screams of all the beasts she had ever known crawled up from her bloated belly and into her head. And there they stayed and got comfortable, always calling to her until the death chamber of man snuffed her out forever like a quick puff of breath on a flame.

END