Shimmer Machine

Shimmering Lake Michigan – Wisconsin / A. Aldous Cinder

The shimmering quake of sky light pushes tender needles through the bones and stomach nerves on a sunny day in Central Time Land there by the small sea of bloodied turquoise — no sand, no pails, no twisted ankles, just twisted eyes with bottles of wine tears soaking the pockets of my outdated plaid, flannel shirt.

And I sit and lay still for peace by the shore, then looking behind and up at the small rowboats stacked like bodies at the rim of the bend in the earth. No sailors to sail, no fisherman to fish, no princely addicts to drown in the sun-bleached water so cold and choking… But it’s real peace on a Sunday afternoon of solitude on planet Broke Down Burial Ground, the brown-skinned mummies stirring in the dirt below bellowing about their wild days long ago under the same sun, a hot, yellow white puncture wound throbbing in the mad, blissful sky.

I exhale the soul and shivers down deep inside, think about the miles I climbed, rattling guns shouting from the treetops some place far away. It’s all about diligence and smacking down the suffering on Sea Street by the sea, hopped up on lamp post light, back propped against, head bowed, dark raincoat swatting back the wet chill of England as a precarious carriage rolls by… Where did I leave that damn time machine?

Wander to the Public House for some light of day and wicked sips and ash flicks and bawdy talk with raucous strangers from another planet who keep flipping out about my modern-day garb and the necklaces of Atlantic shells strung about my thick neck and they keep asking me over and over and over again… “Where do you come from? Why, I’ve never heard of that place.”

It’s the tick tock time and time again and I am back on the shore by the Wooldridge Sea throwing bricks at invisible people who keep trampling across my checkered picnic blanket and knocking over my tea and rum and gun. The ribs ache and I do not want the day to end despite the fact the mummies have me in the sights of their bows — high up in the canopy of green doily — a 1952 living room chair made of trees — “Do not get dark, please,” is something like what I say, digging into some pharmaceutical picnic basket, biting in, swallowing down, feeling something illegal scraping at my ribcage, the alarm clock goes wild and I smash it with a hammer then feel bad as I look at the mangled face and I just let the thing die right there in the grass, right in front of me and time stops simply because I was a brute. Standing, thinking, looking out at the shimmer of the sea, thinking and thinking some more, this mind always running so mechanical… “What about this? What about that?

It’s a long way back to the machine, I tenderly bemoan the hike, but what better way to be on a Sunday in the English countryside of American voodoo land? Gather some things, but I do not want to look away from the sedative sky and its hammock light. Sigh, then step, then step again, and then I am away, yet turning to look back, turning for another dose of real heart, real place, feeling the guts turn tidal wave as I reluctantly walk back to the lands of the unreal reality. I do not like it, as I turn the key, and these chains do not do me justice, this being tethered does not suit me, I want to be away, always, shimmering on some lonesome road, all destinations unknown, all destinations surprise and magic.  


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The Last Cutting of the Season

A house on Oakley Street burned to the ground early this morning. They say no one was inside the home at the time of the fire – 1 a.m.

“Well, that’s kind of suspicious,” I thought aloud to myself while crawling by in my car.

The house was bursting with blackness. The garage door was melted and curled. Black and sooty streaks lurched out of broken window openings and sang mad songs to the sun-drenched day. The place was surrounded by yellow caution tape. A big ol’ fire truck idled with a rabid purr in the street and men in uniforms sternly addressed the scene.

They said the blaze began in the garage… How? What was the point of ignition and who pulled the trigger?

1 a.m. and no one was home.

Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Maybe I should watch the news because there was a cameraman and a reporter on scene giving us all the ugly details… With a laugh, a glossy smile, a pocketful of poison for the mind.

Could it have been a case of someone out to get some insurance money? Maybe someone lost a job and the bills started piling up. And there it goes – worry turns to frustration and frustration turns to a desperate act.

It’s even more suspicious to me because the house is fairly new. Probably not more than three years old and so I think to myself, logically, that a new house like that shouldn’t have any bad wiring or an old furnace set to blow its guts. No… Everything should be just right, like peach pie… But yet, a fire.

And so it goes, and I don’t know the whole story yet because obviously not enough time has flown by. But as I sit here kind of thinking about it and worrying about the safety of my home, I wonder about their lives now. Did they go and lodge in a hotel? Do they have any fun family to stay with and hang out with and have a good time with? Are they together? Are they crying? Are they a huddled and shivering mash of ash-covered lumpkins weeping beneath the boughs of some old stone bridge?

God… It must be stressful. Yes, the world has unsheathed its sword of stress once again and wielded it against some fine family of pure innocence. But how pure? How innocent, really?

I guess I can’t really say. I suppose I will have to wait for the dumbheads on the TV news to lie about it.

But then again, I never watch the news. I can’t stomach it anymore. And the presentation is just so horrible. A suit and tie are just a suit and tie. Hair grease must make the man. Her face drips with Crayola makeup. Those anchors look so polished and honest and perfectly flawless, so people believe them like they were heavenly News God and follow along with the flock all the way to the edge and off the White Cliffs of Common Sense Grounded in True Morality.

I’ll stick with what I know — getting my info from the dynamic duo at Neighborhood Watch News, right next door. To protect their identity, I’ll call them Hansel and Gretel. Just imagine Hansel and Gretel as ancient beings: Gray, slightly bent, meddlesome, snoopish, nosy, opinionated, and not so full of youthful vinegar anymore.

I was out in my front yard executing the last cutting of the season when Gretel strolled over holding a steaming cup of Sanka and that’s when she dropped the scoop on the house fire.

“I came outside at 1 a.m. and the whole sky was just full of smoke,” she reported. “You should go by and take a look at it. Yeah, it’s pretty bad.”

“I already was.”

“You were there?” she asked with a hint of suspicion.

“I was. And what were you doing up at 1 a.m.?” I questioned her with the same measure of suspicion.

She looked at me and scoffed. “I’m an old woman. I had to use the bathroom… And then I smelled something funny.”

“I bet you did.”

Just then, Hansel yelled out from the front porch.

“Do we still have any of those fresh strawberries in the refrigerator!?”

Gretel sighed and snapped her head in his direction.

“Well, why don’t you go look for yourself then!? You do know where the refrigerator is? Don’t ya?”

She turned back to me with an exasperated look on her face.

“I swear… That man! Sometimes I could just slit his throat!”

I agreed with her of course because, frankly, Hansel can sometimes be a pain in the ass.

“Maybe you should,” I said to her.

There was a brief silence and then we both suddenly laughed.

“I suppose after 48 years of marriage I can put up with his old ass for a while longer,” Gretel said, feigning joy.

I stared at the grass because I was beginning to get bored. It was a shiny green color on the verge of going dull.

“I never see your wife. Why?” Gretel asked.

My eyes knocked back and forth in my head and then slowed upon the red tips of her wooden shoes. I was really high in Colorado. I looked up at her and sort of smiled.

“Because I don’t have one. I’ve already been married — five times. I guess it’s not for me.”

“Five times!? That’s terrible. How can you treat the sanctity of marriage with such a throw-away attitude?” she steamed.

“A few minutes ago, you were ready to slit your husband’s throat,” I replied.

“Well… I would never really do it. I just like to think about it,” she said, closing her eyes and pretending to pray.

“Neither one of us is a saint, Gretel. I don’t bathe in holy water and neither do you,” I said.

She looked up at the periwinkle sky — the clouds collapsed there like sleepy children, or in America, like children gunned down at school — right before summer break. How cowardly you truly are, man with gun. Burn in everlasting hell and then some.

“It’s supposed to rain some more,” she said, and she walked off without saying goodbye and disappeared beyond her front door.

I went back to clipping the edges of my small lawn. It was warm, but I could feel the breath of impending autumn on the back of my neck. The street was fairly quiet save for a few trailing screams of fun and joy bursting forth from the mouths of neighborhood kids down the way. They were wearing candied bullet-proof vests while riding their bikes. A big airplane moaned as it crawled across the sky above me. I watched it until it disappeared. I looked at the clock strapped to my wrist.

“Must be the 11:30 from Denver,” I said aloud to myself.

And where was I?

I was alone, on my knees in the lawn, and everything felt the same except that everything in the entire world was vastly different. When I finished my work, I cleaned up my tools and put them in the garage. I pushed a white plastic button and watched as the automatic door slowly went down and sealed me off from the madness of the world. I went inside the quiet house, locked all the doors, and boiled some corn to have with my lunch alone.

Love and Thunder In the Jailhouse (Part 5)

Author’s Note: First, if you have missed the other episodes and want to read them, go to the Serials on Cereal menu tab above. Secondly, the following contains probable offensive language. Turn away if you don’t like that sort of thing.


That familiar ugly ache of an unwanted dawn fingered its way in through a thin slit in the motel room curtains and I knew it was time for Roy and I to move on.

Roy was moaning in the sheets because he was so hungover. I let him just be while I got up, showered and got dressed.

I started packing up some things and was loading them in the car, and that’s when weird Karl from Indiana suddenly appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in a pink bathrobe and a head of crazy hair that looked as if he had just stepped out of a tornado. He was sucking on a cigarette he had in one hand and sipping coffee from a paper motel cup he had in the other. He was strangely watching me as if he were scribbling notes in his head like a detective.

“Good morning, Sally,” he said in that gaseous, off-planet voice of his.

I gave him a quick nod of acknowledgement and slammed the trunk of the car shut.

“Hey there. Nice outfit,” I said, without really thinking.

He seemed to take offense.

“This robe happened to belong to my mother,” he sternly said, then sighed. “She was wearing it when I found her on the kitchen floor that day you don’t know anything about. She was dead. One of those eternally crippling heart attacks. So they said.”

“Aw holy hell. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s fine. I’m through it. I’ll never be over it, but I’m through it.” He suddenly lighted up. “Roy about?”

“He’s still in bed, but we’re about to hit the road. I’m hoping at least.”

“Where you all headed?”

I couldn’t really give him a straight answer because I didn’t really know myself. And I didn’t want to let him in on anything. I simply said, “East.”

“Hell, that opens up a lot of possibilities.”

“It sure does, but that’s how we like it.”

Karl laughed to himself and tossed his nub of a cigarette butt to the ground and threw back the last of his coffee.

“Okay. I get that you have to keep your plans under wrap, but your secret is safe with me. I won’t tell anyone.”

I glared at him, annoyed. “We don’t have any secrets. We’re just wandering. You know, having an adventure.”

“Right. The time of your lives, I suppose.”

“Something like that. And I don’t understand why you have to know where we’re going anyway. I’m not prying into your personal business.”

“And I don’t understand why you have to treat me like a disease. I’m doing nothin’ except trying to be friendly. Hell, in a world like this, why is that so awful?”

“It’s awful because the world is the way it is. You answered your own damn question,” I said to him. “Now, if you don’t mind, I need to rouse Roy so we can get going.”

“Don’t let me stop you. Bitch.”

I didn’t reply to him calling me a bitch because in all honesty I was kind of being a bitch, but I didn’t care. It seemed like the right thing to be at the moment. I turned, walked back into Room #13 and locked the door behind me.

Roy was up and sitting on the edge of the bed without any clothes on. He was holding his head in his hands and mumbling something. I thought he was praying.

“Which one of them gods are you talking to, Roy?” I asked him.

He shook his head slowly.

“Whichever one is going to see me through this god damn life to the end and with the least amount of damage.”

He grudgingly got up off the bed and went into the bathroom to take a shower. When he came out, he got dressed in some fresh clothes and brewed us some coffee in the little coffee maker they had there.

We ate the chocolate donuts with our coffee and Roy had some more of his Lucky Charms.

“What the hell are we going to do with all this extra milk?” he wanted to know after he poured some in his cereal bowl. “Why’d you buy so much god damn milk, Sally? We can’t take it in the car with us. It’s 400 degrees outside.”

“I don’t know why you’re riding my ass about milk. I got it for you because you wanted cereal so bad.”

He sighed and shook his head at me.

“I know, I know. I’m sorry I snapped at you.”

“It’s okay. I know you’re not feeling so well.”

“I’ll just take it over to Karl. Poor guy looks like he could use some milk. Why don’t you come with me, and we can say goodbye. Together.”

“Do I have to?”

“It would be the right thing to do.”

Roy knocked on the door to Karl’s room and it quickly opened, and he halfway emerged, and it looked as if he had been crying.

“Well, hell, folks. I thought you two were already on your way.”

“We’ve been somewhat delayed, Karl. Damn hangover is kicking my ass,” Roy told him.

“I understand.”

Roy held up the half-empty gallon of milk.

“You go on and take this milk. We can’t bring it with us.”

And I’ll tell you, I’ve never in my life seen a man light up so much over the stupidest things. He was grinning so wide I thought his face would crack apart and fall to pieces. Over milk. And not even a full gallon of milk. Holy hell.

Creepy Karl from Indiana reached out with two hands and took it. That strange fellow nearly hugged the damn thing.

“My, my,” he said with a gross smile. “I don’t believe anyone has ever given me milk as a parting gift before.” He suddenly looked at us with wide, curious eyes. “It is a gift, right? I get to keep it?”

Roy scoffed with a laugh. “Jesus Christ, Karl. It’s just milk.”

“But you thought about me. You must consider me a friend. I mean, at least you do, Roy,” and he shot me a scowl.

Roy looked at me and smirked, then he turned back to Karl.

“To be honest with you, Karl. It’s just we don’t know anyone else around here,” Roy teased with all seriousness.

Karl looked at us like we just kicked him in the everlasting heart.

Roy slapped him on the upper arm and laughed. “I’m just kidding, Karl. Sure, we’re friends.”

His face switched back over to a grin.

“Come on, Roy. We’ve got to get going,” I said impatiently.

Roy stuck out his hand to shake.

“Take care, Karl. Enjoy the milk.”

When we finally started pulling out of the Furnace Springs Motorlodge, I could see Karl in the rear-view mirror as I adjusted it. To me, that’s usually the best way to see people you don’t really like — as you’re moving away from them forever. That damn Karl though, he was madly waving one arm goodbye and in his other hand he had that milk jug tilted up and he was drinking, but he was being really messy about it, and I could see the milk pouring out of his mouth and running down the front of him. And the whole time his eyes were as big as plums, and they were aimed directly at us.

And then as I was waiting to turn into the road, he came running up behind the car and he took that milk jug he emptied, and he threw it at the car as hard as he could. It bounced off with a plastic doink, and then he was stomping around like crazy and yelling out, “I’ll get you milk fuckers! You won’t get away with this!”

I punched the accelerator, and we were off.

“I’ll tell you, Roy. That Karl is one of the strangest people I ever had the misfortune to meet. He gives me mile-high anxiety.”

“He sure as hell was a strange bird,” Roy agreed. “Like some sort of poor cuckoo soul tragically lost in the world.”


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Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 4)

Author’s note: You can read the other episodes here: Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 1) and Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 2) and Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 3).

I pushed a wobbly cart down the dead-light aisles of a place called Food Cave. It was an old and beat-down place but a grocery store just the same. I tried to keep my head down and not look at people, but that didn’t keep those strange desert rats from looking at me. I had to wonder if I was on fire or something the way some of them people stared.

I found Roy’s Lucky Charms and since I thought I loved him so much I got the really big box. I picked up some cheap plastic bowls and spoons, a gallon of milk, some bottles of water, and grabbed a box of donuts with chocolate frosting on them. And since I felt bad about ditching ol’ Karl from Indiana, I snagged a case of cheap high-gravity beer in hopes he might forgive me and not cause us any trouble.

When I got up to the checkout lane it was backed up because they only had one god damn cashier. Hell, it doesn’t matter where you go, it’s always the same. Nothing is ever how they show it on the god damn commercials – never. How do we keep falling for this bullshit?

When it finally came my turn, I put my things up on the belt. The cashier was a shaky, middle-aged lady who had a black eye and a cut on her bottom lip. When she tried to smile like the fortune gods tell her to, I could see she had a front tooth missing. I looked at her nametag and it said HELEN.

I asked her for two packs of Camel cigarettes and then I said, “Are you okay, Helen?”

She looked up from her scanning and her eyes got real wide.

“I fell down the stairs,” she said.

“Them stairs must have had a fist of stone,” I boldly replied.

She stopped what she was doing and looked at me like I was her worst enemy ever.

“I told you. I fell down the stairs.”

“And they still made you come to work?”

“I can’t afford to miss. I’ve got bills to pay, honey. Now why don’t you mind your own damn business and pay yours.”

Yep. Nothing like the commercials.

When I got back to the Furnace Springs Motorlodge, Roy was sitting outside the room with that crazy Karl from Indiana. The motel had set out metal chairs and a round metal table crowned with a dirty orange ashtray the size of a cereal bowl for their road-weary patrons, and that’s where they were – smoking and drinking beer and acting like they were best friends.

“Holy hell, Sally. Now you’re in trouble,” I whispered to myself as I roughly moved the car’s shifter to the P.

I just sat there in the car for a minute looking at them looking at me. Roy had shaved his face baby-butt smooth, and he had a red bandana strapped to the top of his head. That creepy Karl would take a sip of his beer, laugh, and then oddly turn his head to look at me. It seemed he was somehow reading my soul as if my thoughts were brightly etched in braille and his eyes were dirty fingertips.

Roy finally got up and came over and opened the driver’s side door.

“What the hell, Sally? Are you getting out of the car?” He looked over at creepy Karl and they both just laughed.

“You’re drunk!” I snapped.

He stumbled backward as I got out of the car. “Hell yeah I’m drunk. Me and Karl over there are having ourselves a little party. Why don’t you put them groceries up and join us?”

I slammed the car door and went around to the trunk to get the bags of groceries.

“Are you going to help me?” I said to him.  

“All right, all right. Let me just go set my beer down.”

Once inside the room and with the door closed, I confronted Roy.

“Why in the hell are you carrying on with him like that?” I angrily whispered.

“What’s the big deal? I’m just being neighborly and having a little fun.”

“He could be trouble for us, Roy! I thought we were supposed to be careful.”

“He’s just a lonely old dude down on his luck. He’s harmless.”

“What if he’s not?”

Roy looked at me and shook his head. “Well, after what you did to him, I figured it was the least I could do.”

I glared at him.

He raised his voice. “That’s right. He told me you promised him a ride and then ditched him when he wasn’t looking.”

“He was creeping me out, Roy.”

“It made him suspicious.”

I brushed past him in frustration and worked to put some of the things I got at the store in the little refrigerator the motel people had there. He watched me intently as I moved around the room.

“I was just trying to mellow him out, Sally. It’s no big fucking deal! Let’s just get through this hot ass night and we’ll be gone in the morning, and we’ll never have to see him again.”

“Fine!” I finally said.

“Good. I’m going to take a piss. Take him some more beer and try to be nice.”

He put a can in my hand and slapped my butt before going into the bathroom and closing the door.

I went outside and creepy Karl was sitting there quietly smoking a cigarette. He eventually turned his head to look at me.

“Hi there,” he said.

I set the beer down on the table in front of him and he started to glow. He reached for it, popped it open and took a long drink.

“Why don’t you sit down?”

“I’d rather stand, thanks.”

He shrugged and took another sip of beer. “Suit yourself.”

I started getting more uncomfortable by the second and I finally went to open the room door.

“Roy!?” I called out.

I could hear the shower running. Why was he taking a god damn shower at a time like this!?

“Something wrong?” Karl asked.

I closed the door.

“No. I was just wondering what Roy was up to.”

“Oh. That Roy of yours has been pretty nice to me. Unlike some other folks around here,” he said in that high-pitched fluty voice.

I knew he was talking about me. Of course he was.

“I’m sorry about that. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

He slowly shook his head in agreement. “I’m sure you do.”

And because he said it with a hint of accusation, I asked him, “What do you mean by that?”

He looked at me and snickered like he was busting to tell a secret. “I know who you are.”

My heart started thumping in my chest.

“You don’t know anything about me, mister.”

“Well. I don’t really have to. You see, nowadays the world does the knowing for me. I don’t need eyes when there’s other eyes all around. And I don’t need to do the hearing when all this technology does the listening for me. And then you know what they do, Sally?”

“What?”

“They send it out. And it flows through the wires, and it flows through the ground, and it flows through the air on its way to everyone’s brain,” he said, oddly fluttering his fingers in the air. “And then those people do the same, and then some more people do the same again, until everyone in the world knows everyone else’s secrets.”

“What the hell are you talking about, mister.”

“I’m talking about all the cameras and the phones and the televisions and the computers and all these other miraculous devices gifted to us by the star people. Everywhere you go and everything you do – somebody somewhere is watching and listening and spreading it like butter on warm toast that eventually runs off the edge and gets into every crack and crevice in the world.”

“You’re fucking paranoid.”

He chuckled strangely and shook a crooked finger at me.

“No. I’m not. But you should be.”

Roy suddenly opened the door and came out. He was eating Lucky Charms like a bowl of dog food.

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Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 3)

Author’s Note: You can read the first part of this story here: Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 1) And the second part of the story here: Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 2)

“Cereal?”

“Yes. Cereal. You have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve had a decent bowl of cereal.”

“Well Roy, what kind of cereal do you want? I suppose I could find some sort of a grocery store in this seemingly wretched town.”

He thought long and hard about it. “What’s that kind that has the little leprechaun that’s all dressed up in a green suit on the box? You know, the one that runs from the people trying to kill him and steal his gold.”

“Lucky Charms?” I quickly guessed.

Roy enthusiastically snapped his fingers and smiled wide.

“That’s it. Lucky Charms!”

“I don’t think they were trying to kill him, Roy. I think they just wanted some of his Lucky Charms.”

He scratched at the scruff on his chin and thought about it. “Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

I got up and went to grab my purse and head toward the door.

“Whoa, Sally. You need to let me cut off some of that hair before you go out again.”

I touched my head and wondered.

“How much?”

Roy studied me for a moment.

“About six or seven inches. Grab them scissors you packed and have a seat.”

He pulled out the chair that was tucked under a round, wobbly table in the corner by the curtained window and I sat down in it. He stood behind me and before he started cutting, he ran his strong fingers through my hair as if saying goodbye in some strange way. His hands slid down to my shoulders and he started to rub them. His fingers worked deep into the tension buried deep within.

“Make sure you get the milk, too. That’s pretty important,” he said as he continued to massage me. “And some kind of bowls and plastic spoons so I don’t have to eat like an animal.”

“Sure, Roy. I’d be happy to.”

“Good girl,” he said, and he patted me on the head like a puppy before beginning to roughly snip away at my dear golden locks.

As he went about it, he sometimes tugged as he cut, and it sort of hurt.

“You sure you know what you’re doing?” I asked him.

“It doesn’t really matter. We’re not going for beauty and style, Sally. It’s just to have less to tuck up inside a ball cap,” he answered.

I stayed silent and watched as he worked the shears and my hair fell in clumps to the floor all around me. He suddenly stopped and came around to look at me from the front. He seemed concerned.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. You look great. Hell, I should have gone to beauty school,” he said with a laugh.

“Can I go look at it?”

“Go ahead.”

I went into the pale-yellow bathroom and turned on the light. I looked at myself in the mirror with hesitation.

“Holy hell,” I whispered to myself. “I may never get over this.”

The cut was choppy and uneven, and it looked as if I had gotten my head stuck in the business end of a good ol’ boy’s lawnmower.

“Well? What do you think?” he called out.

“Shit, Roy! I look ugly.”

A moment later he appeared in the doorway and smiled at me. He reached out and touched my messed-up hair.

“You could never be ugly, Sally,” he said. “Not in my world.”

That’s when he suddenly leaned in and pulled me to him for a long, deep kiss. As it went on all hot like that, he fumbled to take off my top as I worked to undo my husband’s jeans that Roy was now tightly encased in.

We made our way out of the bathroom in a heated tangle and ended up falling on the wrecked bed. And that’s where he savagely undressed me and then blessed me deeply with his manhood until I was screaming.

When it was all done, I got dressed and put the ball cap on my head and tucked in my hair like Roy said. He was naked and sleeping on the bed when I went out and got into the car.

There was a man standing outside a few doors down and he looked as if he must have had a really hard life. He was standing there in a pair of shorts and with no shirt smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. He had real long stringy hair coming off a balding head and it danced undisciplined in the hot wind. I tried not to look at him, but it was kind of hard not to.

Well, sure as shit, he noticed me and came walking over toward the car. He tapped on the window, and I rolled it down part ways.

He got uncomfortably close, and his eyes danced all over me.

“What can I do you for?” I asked him with jailhouse-like authority.

He smacked his gross mouth at me and then cleared his throat.

“Are you heading into town by any chance?” he asked me with a weird, slow-drawn, high-pitched voice you wouldn’t expect to come out of any sort of man.

“I’m headed to the grocery store to get some things for my husband.” I motioned with my head toward Room #13. “He’s inside the room right there.”

The odd man turned and looked at the door to Room #13. Then he softly chuckled.

“Oh,” he said. “I suppose you two were the ones making all that sex noise earlier, huh?”

“Excuse me?”

He grinned and his teeth were a train wreck, and he waved his half-withered hand at the air around him.

“I can’t blame you,” he said. “I’d get in as much as I could too… With the way the world is and all.”

I nodded at him with a hint of impatience. “Well, I really need to get going before the store closes. My husband needs some things and it’s real important I get them for him.”

“Right, right,” the man said. “But just a minute. As I was about to ask… Would you be able to give me a ride just down the road some?”

“Oh, I don’t know. No offense, but I’m usually not one to give rides to strangers.”

“My name is Karl and I’m from Indiana. There. Now we’re not strangers.”

All the same, Karl from Indiana. Without my husband along, I’m just not comfortable with that.”

He turned and pointed down the roadway, presently being washed in the preambles of a desert dusk.

“Just down to the liquor store. I’d walk, but my legs aren’t what they used to be. It’s really not all that far.”

I sighed. I didn’t want to be a cruel person but at the same time I was scared.

“Okay. I’ll drive you there, but you’ll have to find another way back. Deal?”

He danced around in the parking lot and laughed like an insane person.

“Great. Great!” he exclaimed. “But don’t go anywhere yet. I’ll be right back. They won’t let me in without a shirt.”

But then I did something that would turn out to be really stupid. When he trotted off and went inside his room, I tore out of that parking lot without him.

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Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 2)

Author’s Note: You can read the first part of the story here: Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 1)

We came upon this place on the edge of the desert that didn’t even seem real. It just suddenly came into view on the horizon and off to the left, lying there like a dead body in a waterless gully. It was a place that laid flat among the desert heat shimmers and bruise-colored stones and hills and the whole place glowed a creamy orange yet predicted possible death for us.

Roy Essence and I tried to stay cool in the heat. After getting some gas and picking up some beer and junk to snack on, we rolled down a road on the outskirts of this broiled town called Furnace Springs. We couldn’t believe people actually lived in this place. More so me than Roy since he’s lived in a jail off and on so much of his life. This town seemed to have had its back broken by some vengeful god’s hammer. It seemed so damn depressing and lonely and void of life. But here it was for some reason that we couldn’t figure out. But I suppose that’s true for most places on this Earth. Except the nice places that people like me never get to go to. Maybe that will change with Roy Essence at my side.

We finally came upon the motel we had seen advertised on a beat-up billboard on the I-10 – The Furnace Springs Motorlodge. It was a small place painted a peeling green and white with about 20 rooms. The doors were colored hell-red and so the whole place looked like a bad devil-spit-on Christmas. There were only a couple of other cars in the parking lot, and I pulled into a space near the office. The red neon sign was aglow with warning: VACANCY.

“You go in and get the room, Sally,” Roy Essence said. “I’ve got a worse reputation and shouldn’t be seen.”

“Are you sure it will be okay?” I asked him.

He looked at me with a slight smile and placed a strong and reassuring hand on my shoulder. “Sure it will,” he said. “It’s just life. It won’t last forever.”

I don’t know why I did, but I took comfort in those words. And so, I walked into the office, and I needn’t had worried because the untidy and nervous little man behind the counter wasn’t really paying much attention to me. He was eating an apple and watching car racing on the small TV he had there.

He slid a book in my direction and told me to put down my personal information like my name, address, and phone number. I just made it all up. I started to enjoy making things up about myself and my sorry ass life.

I paid him in cash and I got a key to Room 13. Isn’t that special and fitting? Roy Essence chuckled about that.

The room itself was small and dingy and smelled of stale cigarettes and old secret sex. The bed bowed in the middle, and I supposed it was from all the weighted thrusting that must have gone on during the last four decades or so.

I put down my bag on a folding silver metal luggage rack and went into the bathroom and peed. When I was done and washing my hands with the little piece of white soap, I looked at myself in the mirror. I think I must have forgotten myself because I barely recognized my own face. My eyes seemed to have faded from a shimmering blue to a washed-out gray, like little unimportant stones resting in my sockets. My hair was a scraggly, wind-blown tangle of crushed field straw. My skin was speckled by the passing of time tainted with too much struggle. My lips were sunburnt and lacked any sort of shimmer. I wasn’t the same sweet Sally Dibbs I once was, but then again, maybe I never was.

When I came out of the bathroom, Roy Essence was sitting on the edge of the bed holding the TV remote in one hand and a can of cheap beer in the other. He was aiming the remote at the small, old-time boxy TV sitting in a metal tray affixed to the wall by metal arms that allowed you to move it so you could see it just how you wanted.

Roy was wearing a pair of my husband’s blue jeans, a pair of his white socks, and one of his t-shirts. It was weird to see him like that. It was unsettling in one way but uplifting in another. Uplifting as in I finally achieved my desire of filling my husband’s clothes with another man’s body and soul. Someone better and deeper and more real and brave and full of life.

I sat down beside him, but he paid me no real attention because he was watching the news now and they were talking about us. They showed our pictures and they said we were fugitives and that I was a bad person because I had allegedly facilitated the escape of an alleged murderer. It was going to be real bad if they ever caught us. And I guess in the back of my own troubled head, I knew that someday soon they probably would.

Roy Essence pushed a button on the remote and the television went silent and dark. He turned to look at me.

“You know what I could go for right now,” he said in a real serious way that almost scared me.

“What’s that, Roy?” I asked.

“A god damn bowl of cereal.”

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Love and Thunder in the Jailhouse (Part 1)

My name is Sally Dibbs and I think I’m in love with a murder suspect.

I have a little house with a yard of stones in Feldspar, California. I live with my husband Royal Joe Dibbs and a mysterious cat named Poo. Royal Joe works in land management for the federal government and when he’s not working, he likes to spend his time at The Variety Lounge instead of with me. He’s more interested in drinking and carrying on with other women. I don’t think he loves me anymore and I don’t think I love him either. That’s why I ran off with the inmate that I think I’m in love with. Isn’t that the craziest thing ever?

You’re probably wondering about the history and logistics related to something such as that. Well, it kind of goes like this. I work as a detention officer over at the jail out in the desert and one day they brought in this new man, and I was suddenly thunderstruck in my heart and my loins. He was like a marble statue – perfectly carved in every way imaginable. I did everything I possibly could to get close to him. I worked the shifts that allowed me to interact with him more. We started passing secret notes. The first one he ever gave me simply said: Even though you’re a jail guard and I may have accidentally killed someone; I think I’m falling in love with you. I secretly fed the small piece of paper into my mouth, chewed it slowly and swallowed it. I wanted those words to be stuck to my bones and soul forever.

As time went on, we secretly devised a plan that would lead him to freedom and my own loving arms. And when it came to be that I was assigned to transport him to a court hearing on the Feldspar square, we leapt off the edge of consequences and never turned back.

The first time I felt his bristled face against me in a frantic kiss I gushed like Niagara. The initial moments together were all like that. It was as if a bolt of electricity spawned by a Tesla coil had sewn our bodies, hearts, and souls together. I never wanted to leave his side.

After we dumped the official cruiser in a deep desert crevasse, we got into the getaway car I arranged and drove east toward Phoenix. As we motored on, we heard about ourselves on the radio. Yeah, we were in trouble. Big trouble. My life would never be the same again, but I didn’t care. That killer’s love was the best thing I had ever experienced. But was he guilty?

I looked over at him sitting there in the passenger seat and staring out the window and I asked him straight up, “Did you really kill somebody?”

He turned to look at me and grinned. “Does it matter?”

“Hell no.”

“You sure you’re okay with throwing your life away like this?”

I looked at him and smiled. “I sure am.”

He smiled back and reached out a strong hand to touch my leg. “Why don’t you find a place to pull over so we can do it,” he said.

We did it in the car in the desert and nearly broke a window in the process. When we were done, we sat on the hood of the car and watched shimmering mirages while smoking cigarettes.

“Damn, I need a beer,” Roy said. That was his name. Roy. Roy Essence. Roy Essence the murder suspect.

“We can stop in the next town. Maybe we can get ourselves a motel room to get out of this heat and go to sleep,” I suggested.

He chewed on that a bit. “We’ve got to be careful, Sally. You heard the talk on the radio. And our pictures are out all over the place. They’re coming for us. And with a fury.”

“We’ll be careful. I packed hair dye and scissors and extra sunglasses and different clothes. I’ve got the money. The cash. And damn it baby, I just need a shower and some rest.”

He thought about that for a while before tossing his cigarette butt and sliding off the hood of the car. “All right then. Let’s find some out-of-the-way place that may not be so connected to the rest of the world and have a go at it.”

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