Category Archives: Unsettling Drama

All About Eggs and Life and Then Death

Fried egg with seasonings.
Photo by Megha Mangal on

He started his session by talking to the therapist about eggs.

“When I was a child,” he began. “My mother once reprimanded me at a restaurant for not knowing how to properly order an egg.”

The gray gentleman therapist in white leaned forward. “What’s all this talk about eggs?”

“Like I said, when I was a child, we were at a restaurant, just my mother and me. We were having breakfast and I wanted an egg, just a fucking fried egg. When the waitress asked me how I wanted my egg I said: ‘Fried.’ My mother lost her shit, but mostly on the inside. She looked at me with that fake smiley laugh and said something like: ‘But how do you want your egg fried?’ I didn’t understand what the hell she was talking about, so I repeated: ‘Fried. I want my egg fried, Mother!’”

“I remember her scoffing and tugging her white gloves off and slapping them down on the table. She looked up at the waitress, shook her head, and told her with a hand half shielding her face: ‘Over easy.’”

“I was confused. My head moved to my mother and then to the waitress and then back again. After the waitress walked away my mother scowled at me: ‘You’re such an embarrassment, Mildrew. An absolute embarrassment.’  I asked her what I did wrong, and she told me that I had no idea how to properly order an egg. We were in a fancy restaurant. It was one of those restaurants where people drank champagne with their pancakes and smoked cigarettes attached to long filter sticks and laughed out loud but not too loud. I might have been wearing a little suit for boys and possibly a wool cap. It was winter in New York. That’s where we lived then.”

The gray gentleman therapist leaned back in his chair and sighed with amazed wonder. “So, you feel you were traumatized by this event?”

“Of course, I was. To this day I cannot order for myself at a restaurant. I always must tell whoever I’m with what I want to eat, and they order for me.”

“Always?” the gray gentleman therapist repeated in question form. “But what about when you’re by yourself? Who orders for you then?”

“I don’t ever go out alone.”

“So, these other people who order for you. Are they friends?”

“Sure, I guess,” Mildrew answered. “But also, co-workers, dates, my priest once. I got him to say ‘fishsticks.’

“Wait… Dates? You have dates order your meals for you?”

“Yes. I have to.”

“Do you ever have second dates with these women?”

“No. Not ever.”

“Mildrew,” the gray gentleman therapist began. “This whole act of having other people order for you must end. You’re a grown man. You’ll never be able to maintain a relationship with a woman who has to be your mother.”

“But… I just can’t do it. I have way too much anxiety.”

“Let’s go back to the original event… Did your mother do anything else to you for not knowing how to properly order an egg?”

Mildrew looked down at the floor. “When we got home… She beat the hell out of me.”

“She beat you?”

“Yes. That’s what I said. Aren’t you listening?”

“I’m sorry. Go on.”

“She beat me with her soft white knuckles. They were so damn clean and tender and feminine. Then she tied me to a kitchen chair and threw eggs at me. One after the other they hit me in the face. I was covered in broken shells and tears. I was spitting runny egg slime out of my mouth so I wouldn’t gag and stop breathing.”

“How many eggs?”

Mildrew looked up at the ceiling and thought about it. “Two or three cartons worth.”

“And then what happened?”

“She untied me and made me clean up the whole mess while she sat there and smoked cigarettes and listened to a Johnny Mathis record at high volume. Chances are, ’cause I wear a silly grin the moment you come into view… She would laugh at me, too. She called me an ‘idiot.’”

“That must be a very painful memory for you, Mildrew… But I’m glad you’re talking about it.”

“You know something, doc?”


“Did you realize that if you put a break in the letters of the word therapist, you get: The rapist?”

A man getting a fried egg from a pan.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

Dr. Micah Schism, the gray gentleman therapist, sipped at a silvery chalice of iced water with a lime wedge attached to the lip of the glass. He reached for the lime wedge and squeezed it over the water. Droplets dripped. He glanced over at a nervous Mildrew sitting across from him. “Are you ready for our exercise today?” he asked him.

“No. I’m thirsty,” Mildrew complained.

“And you’ll get something to drink when you order it for yourself.”

“Can’t you just say ‘Orange Fanta’. Just this once?”

“No,” Dr. Micah Schism said with a stern grin. “I won’t. I don’t even care if you die of thirst.” He took a deep gulp of his lime-squirted water. “Mmmm. That is very refreshing.”

“You’re being mean,” Mildrew said. “I don’t like this at all. I want to go home.”

“I’m not being mean, Mildrew. This is therapy. I’m trying to help you by forcing you to face your fears head on… Now. Here comes the waiter again. Do it.”

He was tall, young, and thin, and wore a pleasant smile. “Have you decided on a beverage yet, sir?”

Mildrew trembled. He looked over at Dr. Schism who was nodding his head in a gesture of go on. “I’ll have an Orange Fanta!” Mildrew loudly sputtered.

The young waiter’s shoulders sank. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. We’re out of Orange Fanta.”

“Fuck!” Mildrew screamed, and he got up from the table and ran outside to the palm-tree lined street of a boisterous Los Angeles heavily clad in traffic and smog. He leaned against the outside of the building and began to weep. Dr. Schism came scurrying out and reached for Mildrew just as he began to slump to the ground.

It was weeks later and Mildrew sat on the soft lawn of the vast, rolling cemetery and stared at his mother’s tombstone. The sun was shining, and he was wearing dark sunglasses over his aching eyes. His clothes were wrinkled. His hair was mussed. He hadn’t showered in days. He lost his job. He wrecked his car. His cat died. He was on the verge of being evicted from his apartment. Dr. Micah Schism had given up on him completely. He was a hopeless case.

Mildrew stood and reached down for one of the three cartons of eggs he had there. He opened it. A dozen white, shiny Ork orbs poked up at him. He took one out and threw it at his mother’s gravestone. It made him giddy. Then he threw another and another and another until the entire carton was empty. He picked up the second carton, reloading himself like a war gun, and these too he violently threw at his mother’s now egg-caked tombstone. The engraved name of his mother, Arianna Shmoke, was glossed over with yolk and dripped with it.

After he emptied the second carton, he reached for the third and final one. This too he unloaded on his mother’s final resting place with a great fury, and he yelled out, “This is all your fault! All my problems are your fault! I hope you choke on eggs in hell!”

Once he was out of eggs and spent and panting like a dog, Mildrew collapsed back down into the grass and looked at the cranage he so artistically created. “It’s all your fault,” he mumbled one last time.

Mildrew got on a bus bound for Phoenix, Arizona. He took a window seat near the back. Once fully loaded, the bus coughed its black lung goodbye to LA and headed east out of the city.

The day was crisping over in a blue bruise sort of darkness mixed with orange and the opening act of stars in the sky when the bus pulled into a diner near Blythe so the travelers could get out, rest, and eat.

Mildrew stepped off the bus and walked across the graveled parking lot and into the diner. He took a seat in a booth by himself and pulled a menu out of a silver rack. It was sticky. He flipped through it. He didn’t even think about it, really. He was just moving and breathing and living and he suddenly didn’t care anymore if he was scared or embarrassed or even dead.

A waitress with large intelligent breasts came to the table and smiled at him. “What can I get you, honey,” she breathed in the tick-tock of dusk time.

Mildrew smiled at her without looking at her. His eyes went out the window and in the direction of a new life. “I’ll have a cheeseburger, medium-well, no tomato or onion. Crispy French fries. A chocolate malt… And can I get a silvery chalice of iced water with a lime wedge nestled into the lip of the glass?”


The Lobster Guy (Seven)

Photo by Jennifer L.K.W. Cinder

The whispering gaunt of psychotic skies played ceiling to the moment when Truman Humboldt first stepped out of the lobster-red rental car in the parking lot of a Lincoln, Nebraska Red Lobster restaurant and took in an enormous breath.

He looked at the sun. He trembled. His throat was dry. Something suddenly made him cry. His lobster ghost companion floated close to him and wondered, “Why are you crying, Truman? Aren’t you happy to be at Red Lobster at last?”

Truman wiped at his cheeks with the back of his hands and smiled. “These are tears of joy, my dear apparition. Tears of pure joy. I can’t believe I’m here… Here! At a real Red Lobster, not just one in my tormented dreams.”

The lobster ghost wrapped a glowing claw around him and gave him a comforting squeeze.

I think I’m ready. Can we go in now?” Truman said.

“Lead the way.”

Truman pulled the doors of his cathedral wide open with a gush of orgasmic ta-da! He stepped through the foyer and into the lobby. The smell of Red Lobster assaulted his olfactory senses in a heavenly, seaside way. Truman felt completely at peace as he admired the décor of an authentic Red Lobster.

He was immediately drawn to the gurgling sound of the lobster tank they had there, and he went to it and gazed into the clear, cool water. A handful of tomatoey, maroon-colored lobsters warbled in the distorting life-giving liquid as they hovered near the bottom of the tank, claws banded and the crustaceans looking like unidentified submerged objects: Alien USOs.

“Hello there, my delicious little friends,” Truman said to them. “Did you know that some scientists believe lobsters didn’t originate on Earth. I believe it too, because you are a great wonder of the universe and deserving of a grandiose origin story.”

When the lobsters didn’t reply, Truman removed his top hat and put his face directly into the water and repeated his greeting, his voice now bubbly and garbled. “Hello there, my delicious friends…”

Someone tapped him on the shoulder and Truman shot up out of the tank, his face and hair wet and flinging droplets. He had been horribly startled.

“Sir. I’m going to have to ask you to not play in the lobster tank.”

“What? What!?” Truman said, disoriented.

The small hostess with long black hair and clutching Red Lobster menus gave him a sour smile. “You can’t play in the lobster tank. People eat those. You can’t mess around with other people’s food.”

“Oh,” Truman said as he straightened up and played dumb. He wiped his damp hair back with his hand and replaced the top hat atop his head. It was somewhat crooked. He was suddenly embarrassed. “I thought they were there for the amusement of guests. Like a zoo. I must have misunderstood. My apologies.”

“Hmm, yeah,” the hostess said. “First time to Red Lobster?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Yes. Terribly so.”

“I’m so sorry. It’s just that I’m so damn excited to be here!”

“Right, sir,” the hostess said with little interest. “Just one for dine-in today?”

“Oh, no. There’s two of us.”

The hostess was confused. “Are you waiting for the other member of your party? I’m afraid I’m not allowed to seat you until all members of your party have arrived. We’re a very popular restaurant and in a sense of fairness to all our guests…”

“No. He’s right here,” Truman interrupted, and he made a gesture to his side with his hands. “This is my good friend. We’re having lunch together.”

The hostess chuckled. “Nice one. Follow me, please.” As they walked, the small hostess turned around and smiled at him. “I love your outfit by the way. I’ve never seen anyone come in here wearing a full-on tuxedo. It’s so bizarre.”

“Why thank you my dear. It’s a very special day,” Truman replied, as he followed her through the restaurant with a gentleman’s strut, pumping the walking cane he had gripped in one hand. “It’s colored red like a lobster… I’m paying homage to the wonder that is Red Lobster.”

“That’s wonderful. A true fan.” The hostess stopped at a booth right by a window. “Here we are.”

Truman removed his top hat and bowed to her politely. “This will be perfect, thank you very much.” Truman slid into the booth. He set the top hat and cane aside. He pulled off his satiny gloves one finger at a time and set them aside as well.

“All comfy?” the hostess asked with a sprinkle of annoyance.

“I think so,” Truman answered.

She handed him one menu. “Enjoy your meal,” she said, and she started to walk away.

“Wait!” Truman called out.

She stopped and turned.

“You didn’t give my friend here a menu.”

The hostess looked at the empty booth seat across from Truman. Then she looked at the wanting grin on Truman’s face. She reluctantly went and placed another menu down on the table. “There you are,” she said with a bitter smirk. “Enjoy.”

Truman opened his menu as if it were a magical book and his eyes ballooned with delight. He began to study it with great interest, saying aloud things like “Oh, now that looks yummy.” And “Oh my, that just looks fantabulous.” And “Good Golly Miss Molly I’ll have that!”

He looked across the table at the ghost lobster who was also flipping through the plastic pages. “What looks good to you?” Truman asked.

“Hmm. Well, I honestly don’t know if I could get myself to eat lobster. That would be kind of weird. Perhaps I would fare better with some popcorn shrimp or fried flounder.”

“Then I would suggest the Sailor’s Platter… Right there on page 4. You even get a couple of sides.”

The lobster ghost chuckled. “Wow. You should work here. You certainly are a positive ambassador for the Red Lobster brand.”

A lightbulb illuminated over Truman’s head. “You know what… You may have just hit the lobster on the head with a lobster mallet. Why did I never think of that!?… Oh. I know why. Because crummy Neptune, Nebraska doesn’t have a Red Lobster!” 

The volume of Truman’s voice attracted the attention of other diners and there was a soft ebb and flow of whispers and troubled glances.

“Calm down, Truman. Don’t make a spectacle of yourself.”

“I’m sorry. I just get so god damn pissed off about living in that shit hole town!”

Someone hushed him. “Shhhhhhhhh.”

“Watch your language,” another uptight diner grumbled from some unknown spot in the restaurant.

“Truman. Lower your voice,” the lobster ghost gently pleaded. “And why do you stay in that horrible town anyways? You’re a grown man. Make a change for crying out loud. Have some pride in yourself and take a step forward. Move to Lincoln, Nebraska and get a job at Red Lobster.”

Truman took in a shocked breath and sat back in the booth. “You just blew my mind, my eerie lobster friend. There I was this whole time, rotting away in Neptune, Nebraska, breaking chicken necks and punching a register at some shitty grocery store. There I was, pining over a woman I could never have. A woman who would rather settle for crap. No one ever appreciated me. No one even cared if I existed. And now to think, that I could possibly work here, at Red Lobster. My sails have swelled to full speed ahead.”

“Well, there you are. You have a goal for yourself. A dream to chase.”

A worried look suddenly transformed Truman’s face from glad to sad.

“Now, what’s wrong?” the lobster ghost wanted to know.

“Who am I kidding? I can’t work at Red Lobster.”

“Why not?”

“Because… It’s Red Lobster. It takes years of intense study and training to work at Red Lobster. I just don’t have the credentials.”

The lobster ghost slammed a big claw on the table. “Damn it, Truman. There you go again! You’re always selling yourself short. You don’t need study and training… And you know why?”

“Why?” Truman snapped.

“Because you have passion. And passion for what you do is more important than anything you can learn from a book or a classroom. You have more passion for Red Lobster than anyone I have ever known. They would be lucky to have you. Very lucky indeed.”

Truman smiled and straightened himself in the booth. “You know what. You’re right! I don’t need to settle for my bullshit existence! I’ll blow their balls off with my passion for Red Lobster. I’ll be the best employee Red Lobster has ever had! I’ll do it!”

And just then, as it often does for poor Truman Humboldt, the needle on the record came to a violent, scratching halt when a plump young woman with 80s hair appeared at the table. She had a fake smile plastered within a swampy sea of shiny makeup that made it look as if her face was merely a mask torn from a children’s coloring book about happy clowns.

“Hello there,” she said with a jubilant and annoyingly peppy voice. “Welcome to Red Lobster. My name is Maggie and I’ll have the wonderful pleasure of taking care of you today.”

“Maggie!?” Truman yelped. “Why, isn’t that just dandy as candy!”

Maggie’s demeanor immediately drooped. “Sir? Is there some sort of a problem?”

“Oh, nothing Maggie, don’t mind me. I just recently had my heart thrown into a rusty blender by a wretch of a woman named Maggie. It’s no big deal. I’ll get over it because I have dreams that are far bigger than her. But enough of that, when could me and my friend here get some of those yummy biscuits?”

Maggie the waitress glanced over at the empty side of the booth. She looked frightened. “Your friend, sir?” she said, trying to chuckle. Truman winced as he suddenly realized she resembled the clerk at the car rental counter in the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. “Gobble. Gobble.”

“Yes, Maggie. He’s sitting right there. Please don’t be rude and ignore him. Perhaps he’d care for a cocktail. Maybe one of those fruity things in the tall glass with the lobster straw. Huh. What do you say to that, pal?” Truman waited for an answer from the lobster ghost. There was none and he looked back at Maggie the waitress. “Apologies for my friend’s behavior. He’s the shy and quiet type. Just bring him one. He’ll drink it. And I’ll have a cranberry Boston iced tea with an orange wedge nestled atop the rim of the glass. Can you handle that, Saggy Maggie!?”

“Absolutely, sir. I’ll get that right away.” She quickly scampered off, feeling small and with her sensitivities crushed, her rising soft sobs bobbing on the air like a buoy in the ocean.


To read previous episodes of this story, visit

The Lobster Guy (Five)

Man holding lobster, one in each hand.

Content warning: Adult situations. You’ve been alerted.

Truman Humboldt parked his rental car around the corner from the house that delicious Maggie Barrymore lived in. He admired himself one last time in the rear-view mirror to double check that he still looked like a man fox. He felt he surely did. He retrieved some breath spray from a pocket and filled his mouth with a few sparkly squirts. It was a burning peppermint flavor of fireworks and Truman made a face and flopped his tongue around like it tasted bad.

“I wish they would make some lobster-flavored breath spray,” he said aloud to himself. “Why does the world never do anything right? This stuff is cooky and brutal.”

He was beaming with confidence when he got out of the car and walked toward her house, the bottle of wine cradled in his arm, his triangular chin up, the organic maca working through his bloodstream. The day was beginning to darken and there was an ocean fresh breeze in the air despite the closest ocean being about 1,399 miles away. Truman stopped for a moment to take a deep breath and admire the world around him. “Life is absolutely beautiful,” he exhaled. “And it’s all because of love… And lobsters.”

But once Truman got closer to the house, the needle on the record violently slipped off, the world tilted, and his heartbeat began to bang like a golden gong inside his chest. There was a car that wasn’t hers parked in the driveway, and for some strange reason, it looked vaguely familiar to him.

Truman moved closer and ducked behind a tree in the yard. He creepily peered out from around the rough bark and saw that there were some lights coming on in the house. He snuck up closer, then closer, then closer still, moving like a lobster ninja, until he was crouched down in some bushes beneath a big window at the front of the house. His heart was beating more out of control, and he feared he was having a heart attack right there, and his entire body began to flush with electric warmth, like hot wasp stings. His multiple nervous and emotional conditions were becoming his worst enemy once again. He tried to breathe slowly and calm himself. He muttered a soothing mantra: “Lobster is life, life is lobster, lobster is life, life is lobster…”

Then his momentary meditation was interrupted by noises coming from the house. He strained to hear. Yes, they were noises, people noises. There was some muffled talking, and there was the voice of a man, a strangely familiar voice. Then Truman heard playful giggling, laughing. And then it was quiet. Truman slowly moved up from the cover of the bushes, like a perverted submarine periscope penetrating the surface of the water, and he carefully peeked in the unshaded window.

And what he saw there made his eyes spiral in angry madness like a psychotic clown. He gulped and began to shake as he witnessed his beautiful Maggie Barrymore locked in a passionate kiss with his ex-boss, the man who had treated him so cruelly and just recently fired him from his cashier job at the Neptune Pop-In Shop Food Market. Yes, it was indeed, the distasteful Mr. Guldencock. It was gross Mr. Mustard.

Truman nearly vomited right there as he watched Miss Maggie grip his oily and sweaty head in her luxurious hands as she sloppily ate his face as if it were an ice cream cone. He continued to watch with sickening delight somehow as they began to grope and tug at each other. Clothes were now beginning to come off. Miss Maggie impatiently shed her top and undid her bra. Truman’s eyes widened like a cartoon rabbit as her intelligent breasts spilled forth. Mr. Guldencock reached out and touched them like a grinning pervert. Then he stood, frantically undid his belt, and let his polyester grocery store work pants drop to the floor. He then pulled off his shirt as well, wildly messing up his stringy hair and revealing a bulbous and fuzzy body punctuated with the most nauseating areolas Truman had ever seen on a human being.

“Oh, God,” Truman painfully moaned, and he gritted his teeth to keep from screaming, but his soul was screaming just as loudly from within the shocking cathedrals of his bones. “How can this be? How can she possibly be doing this? He’s so disgusting. Vile. Why would she crush my poor heart like this? And with him of all people. Him! Why Miss Maggie!? Why!?”

And when Mr. Guldencock finally presented her with his oversized tube of spicy, mechanically formed discount bologna, Truman watched in wretched angst as his love princess dropped to her knees and took an open-wide taste of him as if she were hungrily devouring a sandwich at a New York City deli. Mr. Guldencock’s ugly skull flopped back in ecstasy as he palmed the top of her head and thrust forward with his hips.

Truman’s battered existence on Earth could take no more, and he turned away, pressing a hand against his belly to hold back the sickness, tears welling up in his swollen eyes. When he went back up for one final and devastating peek, even though he knew he would forever regret it, there she was, now lying back on the couch and open to him, inviting him to enter. Mr. Guldencock’s blubbery body was hovering over her, ready to haphazardly bounce on her pristine flesh like a bloated white whale in desperate need of salty water.

Boiling tears of deep sadness began to roll down Truman’s cheeks like Indiana Jones boulders as he watched Mr. Guldencock’s face twist in obscene gestures of pleasure as he played plumber and plunged her like a clogged sink — the ol’ in and out, in and out, in and out, Miss Maggie howling away like a she wolf beneath a midnight moon — and Truman could finally take no more, he couldn’t handle the salacious scene of ultimate betrayal and he popped away and ran down the sidewalk, angrily pitching the bottle of wine into someone’s yard.

Truman became truly physically ill and rushed to the curb and threw up in the street, shaking, spitting, dripping. Once he righted his own mutinied ship of emotions, he made his way back to the car and drove off into the newborn night with a reckless and hysterical screaming fury.

The next day was Saturday and Truman stayed in bed, but he didn’t sleep much, he just achingly laid there in a crooked, drooling, and disheveled mess and stared at his lobster-shaped ceiling fan — the blades resembling big lobster claws — and his brain whirled along with them as they hypnotically spun and spun and spun above him. No matter how hard he tried, he could not erase the images of Miss Maggie Barrymore and Mr. Guldencock, together like that in moist, physical love. Mr. Guldencock? Mr. Mustard? How could she? He just couldn’t comprehend it. He tossed and turned in his sweaty sheets until his mind and body finally broke and he dozed off in the darkness for good. 

And then after the hours turned over and over on themselves, the sun finally broke through and it was Sunday morning, and everything was quiet, yet so hurtful. The night had been long and filled with tortured dreams of wayward lust. Truman peeled himself from the crinkled sheets of melancholy and catatonically walked into the kitchen and prepared himself a bowl of delicious Froot Loops. He sat at the kitchen table and stared out the window at the ever-brightening morning as he slowly crunched and munched, the emotional pain reverberating in the fruity rings like bombarded Saturn in space.

“Froot Loops! Froot Loops! Froot Loops!” he screamed out when the turbulent hurt bubbled and boiled over, and he tossed the bowl of cereal against a window, and it made a milky mess as it dripped down the glass. Truman’s head dropped heavily upon the table, and he sobbed uncontrollably for a long time, that is until a red-skinned lobster ghost penetrated the walls, tapped him on the shoulder and whispered something unsettling in his ear, the sound and feel of it being like the cold ocean full of madness.


In case you missed it, you can read the previous part of this story HERE.

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 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.

Refrigerated Dreams (Act 2)

The wheels suddenly slowed, and the bottom of her sneakers slid into the gravel as Veronica Genesis stopped her bike at the rim of the garbage-strewn hole in the ground. Rude Rudy came up behind her in a cloud of dust.

“He’s in there?” she asked, pointing down into the trash pit and where an old goldenrod-colored refrigerator stuck out like an alien monolith.

“Yep,” Rudy smacked.

The girl turned to look at him. “You really locked him in there?”

“Yeah. You should have seen him. He was crying and acting like such a pussy.”

Veronica looked back down at the refrigerator. “That’s murder.”

Rudy scoffed. “So. No one’s going to miss him. He was a nobody.”

She snapped her head back in his direction. “He had a family.”

“They probably suck, too,” Rudy laughed, and he climbed off his bike and let it fall to the ground. “Come on,” he said, and he started making his way down the side of the landfill pit.

The girl reluctantly followed after him.

She stood before the nasty looking old refrigerator and watched as he undid the scrap wiring that they had wrapped around it to keep poor Adam Longo securely shut in. When the last of it dropped away, she stepped back as he went to pull the door open. He looked at her and grinned. “Are you ready?”

She shook her head, but her face showed she was frightened.

“You might want to hold your nose because he’ll probably be a bit ripe,” he said, and he laughed and yanked it open.

It was empty.

They stood there and stared inside it, absolutely puzzled.

“You made all this up, didn’t you,” Veronica snapped. “What an awful dirty trick.”

Rusty was stunned for a moment. “No. I swear! We put him in here.”

Veronica rolled her varnished lemon-yellow eyes and scoffed. “You’re so full of shit.”

“Go ask the other guys!” Rudy yelled.

“I don’t want anything to do with your stupid friends,” Veronica said, and she turned and started to make her way back up.

“Wait!” he yelled out. “I swear it. He was in there!”

“I’m going to the mall,” she yelled out without turning to look at him. “And I think we need to reevaluate our relationship.” When she got to the lip of the landfill, she got on her bike and rode away toward the Grainer Falls Outlet Bazaar.

The mall was a mix of inside and outside spaces connected by walkways and manicured green areas and small bricked plazas where there were little booths set up that sold sodas and snacks and homemade trinkets and wares, and they sat in the shadows of the big box behemoths stuffed with China-made crap. Somebody somewhere decided to turn the place into a festival of shopping, a carnival of capitalistic hot iron branding and the cattle came in droves and made animal noises as they grazed the asphalt acres.

Veronica Genesis sat on a slotted wooden bench beneath a tree and licked at a vanilla ice cream cone. She was watching a man on stilts juggling bowling pins. He was dressed as a scary clown for some reason. In the other direction, she saw a bare-chested man with big muscles and hairy arms swallowing fire. People with fancy shopping bags dangling from the crooks of their arms were gathered around him and clapping and yelling out “Oh my!” and “Whoo.” Veronica rammed the tip of her tongue deep into the ice cream to make a fashionable dent. “People are so god damn stupid,” she mumbled to herself.

A figure suddenly appeared at her side, and she looked up. It was Andy Bliss from school. He wore a shirt with horizontal stripes, tight jeans and a had a blue baseball cap plopped atop his head of curly brown hair. Veronica thought he was dreamy.

“Hi,” he said, being very friendly.

She quickly wiped the ice cream from her mouth with her forearm and looked up at him and smiled, hoping to God there was nothing on her face still. “Hey,” she said back.

“Have you seen Rudy anywhere?” he asked her.

“I left him at the dump.”

The boy snickered, climbed off his bike, and sat down next to her on the bench. “He is kind of a piece of trash,” Andy laughed.

Veronica made a noise of agreement as she shoved the last of the ice cream cone into her mouth, her cheeks puffed out like a fish. “You got that right,” she sloppily grumbled. “Sorry,” she said with a white smile. “I shouldn’t talk with my mouth full.”

Andy Bliss studied her for a moment. “It’s okay. I think you’re pretty no matter what.”

Veronica’s heart invisibly swelled, and her stomach tingled with happiness. She could feel the heat rising to her face and she knew she was blushing. “Thanks,” was all she could say.

“I was supposed to hang out with Rudy, but… Do you want to go get high?” He reached into his pocket and carefully showed her a baggie of meaty, glistening buds.

She stared at it. “I don’t know,” she said, and she looked up into his rich green eyes. “I’ve never done it before.”

Andy was surprised. “Really?”

“Yeah. Really.”

“It will be fun. I won’t let anything happen to you,” he reassured her, and he climbed back onto his bike and motioned to her with his head to follow him.


You can read the previous part of this story HERE.

Comic Stripped (END)

Author’s Note: Mature Content Warning – Sex. Violence. Language.

The Getaway

Max Pine sat with rattled and tattered Christine LaBrush in a small room off the kitchen that was kind of like a screened-in porch. He tried to look at her through the glaze of a rhombus evening, a yellow light seeped in from the house. Her eyes were red and puffy from all the crying she had done. He was reluctant to comfort her. He blamed her for the horrible evening he was having, and all Max wanted to do now was escape from this hell. But she started to talk, and he was forced to listen.

“I’m so sorry I put you through this, Max,” she said. I am so humiliated and embarrassed and angry. I just want to have a normal god damn life!”

Max sighed as he pondered a reply. “That’s probably out of the question at this point.”

Christine’s head snapped in his direction, and she scowled at him. “Wow. Wonderful support.”

Max suddenly shot up from his seat. “You know what… Fuck this shit! I’ve tried to be nothing but nice all evening and all I’ve gotten is hateful crap from your father and now attitude from you. You dragged me into this nightmare, and I owe you nothing. I think I will be going now.”

Just as Max was about to leave, Mrs. LaBrush appeared at the precipice to the room. “Everything okay?” she wanted to know.

“I’m actually heading out, mam,” Max said. “Thank you for dinner. Have a pleasant rest of your evening.”

“But you haven’t had your schaum torte.”

Max sighed. “I really should be going.”

“It’s a very difficult dessert to make. I went to a lot of trouble, Max.”

She cocked her head oddly and smiled at him. “Please? It would bring joy to my heart after such a rough and tumble evening.”

Max conceded. “All right. I’ll have some of your schaum torte.”

“Wonderful,” Mrs. LaBrush gushed. “Shall we go into the kitchen. I’ll make some coffee,” she said, and then she looked over at her blubbering daughter / son. “Come now dear and wash up some. Wipe away those tears and pull yourself together.”

The trio sat in a nook with two benches and a table between. Max looked out a large, dark window as he sipped on his coffee — instant Sanka — and ached to disappear from his present situation.

Mrs. LaBrush cleared her throat. “Are you enjoying the schaum torte, Max?”

“It’s delicious.”

“I made the strawberry compote myself.”

“It adds a delectable zing to the entire dish,” Max said with a hint of sarcasm.

“I was thinking, Max,” Mrs. LaBrush began as she spooned a wad of whipped cream-dappled schaum into her mouth. “It is getting so late and it’s such a long ride back to Mankato… Why don’t you just stay the night.”

Max nearly choked on his schaum torte. “Well, if it’s all the same to you, mam, I think I may just walk into town and get a room until the bus comes in the morning.”

“Oh no. I won’t let you do that. We have a big house here with plenty of room,” Mrs. LaBrush insisted.

“I appreciate that, but I don’t think your husband will like me being here overnight. He hates my guts.”

Moody Christine finally lifted her head from her bowl of schaum torte, her inflated fake lips white with cream. “He doesn’t hate your guts. He’s just very overprotective and old-fashioned.”

“He’s a hypocritical asshole,” Max blurted out. “No offense to you, Mrs. LaBrush.”

She smiled in agreement. “He is quite the challenging mate,” she said. She sighed and then started licking at her spoon seductively yet grossly, her eyes aimed directly at Max. He caught on to her flirtation and it sickened him, and he squirmed where he sat. “But don’t worry about Herbert. He’ll drink himself to sleep in front of the television and you’ll be gone before he even wakes up.”

Max’s eyes went from depressed Christine to her mother and then to the gaudy walls and finally the stained ceiling. “I suppose one night wouldn’t hurt.”

“Wonderful!” Mrs. LaBrush excitedly exclaimed. “A sleepover! You can use our guest room — upstairs and at the end of the hall. No one will bother you in there.”

“That will be fine. If it’s all right, I’d like to go up and take a shower and turn in for the night. This has been an overly exhausting day,” Max said, and he wiped his mouth with a napkin and got up from the table. “Thank you for dinner and the schaum torte and the accommodations. Goodnight.”

“Wait,” Christine said. “Would you like me to come sleep with you. I mean… In the same bed, tonight? I need to be held.”

Max beamed at her like headlights on bright. “No,” he said, and he left them.

It was uncharacteristic for Herbert LaBrush to wake up in the middle of the night from his drunken stupor and begin to wander around the house, but on that night, something in the walls, the air, shook him and he did.

He fumbled for a familiar switch in the kitchen and clicked on a light. He opened the refrigerator door. He peered inside and the glow of the appliance bulb reflected against his slick dome. He looked for something to eat. He picked a few things up, sniffed at them and then put them back. He opened a carton of egg nog, drank from it, and then wiped at his mouth with his hairy arm.

After he closed the refrigerator, he thought he heard a noise coming from upstairs. He went to the bottom of the stairs and pointed an ear upward. There were noises drifting in the air. Something out of place was indeed going on. Mr. LaBrush tip-toed halfway up the stairway and then stopped. Again, he pointed an ear upward and it was then that he realized what he heard were the sounds of lust being played out in real time. Some sort of lovemaking was happening, live.

Herbert LaBrush gritted his teeth and clenched his fists in a silent rage that turned his face red and caused steam to swirl from the top of his head like in a cartoon.

“That bastard!” he seethed quietly to himself. “He’s having his way with my son… And in my very own house! I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him to death!”

Herbert LaBrush went to the garage. He was fuming and out of his head with debilitating anger when he retrieved an old baseball bat buried in a corner. He held it in his hands. It was heavy and solid. “I’ll knock that sinful fornicator straight to hell,” he said aloud as he took a swinging stance and swayed the bat in the air a little bit. “He’ll never see the lights of Heaven when I’m through with him.”

Once back inside the main part of the house, he quietly crept up the stairs, the filthy moans and groans blurping forth like rapid heartbeat elevator music in a snobby office filled with lonely orifices. He rattled like a fake plastic tree in a turbulent wind.

Herbert LaBrush held the bat high and slowly moved down the dark hallway toward Christine’s old bedroom. It was then, as he got closer and reached for the doorknob, that he became aware his hearing had deceived him, and that the sex noises were not coming from Christine’s old room, but instead, his very own bedroom.

A symphony of confused wrath choked his mind and body as he got closer to the room and suddenly realized that it was his very own wife from whence the sounds of animalistic passion were percolating from. He trembled with pain and anger as he pressed his head against the door and listened to her moist and guttural ramblings as the bed squeaked and the headboard smacked against the wall.

Herbert LaBrush looked skyward, his eyes penetrating the ceiling and beaming straight to Heaven. He shook a fist in the air. “Why have you brought this demon into my house!?” he whispered through clenched teeth and spit. “Why have you allowed my own wife to be speared by such a sinful wretch!? What have I done to deserve this, Lord!?” He panted as he waited for a sign, an answer, but there was nothing besides the orgasmic cries of his wife beyond the doorway.

Herbert LaBrush slowly stretched his sweaty face with his taut fingertips and then kicked the door in and switched on the ceiling light. And there it was, all splayed out in a naked, twisted and jungle steamy mess. The air soaked with the scent of unfathomable love. It was his own son, or the one who used to be his son, an unrecognizable creature now grinding groins with his own mother and drooling like a hell-fired fiend all over her.

Herbert LaBrush let out a horrifying howl and went at Christine with the bat. He first brought it down against her sweaty back and then went for her head and hit a blood-spangled all-American home run across the room. Mrs. LaBrush got splashed in red and then tried to scream as he came at her next and her yellowed teeth soon started to flow down her esophagus and into her guts.

Herbert had completely lost it. He dropped the wet with blood bat on the floor and went down with it when the full scope of what he had done hit him. He stayed like that for a long time, bent over, panting, weeping until finally the sun began to creep up and tap the new day on the shoulder. The smell of death began to rise more forcefully as he went to the phone on the bedside table and called in his confession as if he were ordering a pizza.

Max Pine sat on the curb outside the bus station somewhere in Minneapolis smoking a cigarette and feeling a bit sad. He looked up into the sky and saw birds. Then he thought he heard sirens screaming toward the burbs and he felt somewhat relieved and calm about the fact that he had snuck out of that madhouse around midnight and hoofed it downtown. He had a sense about things like that.

People were crazy, he concluded most days of his life. People were fucking nuts and that’s why he felt it was a wise decision to steer as far away from them as possible whenever he could. This devastating brush with Christine LaBrush and company solidified that fact for him. It felt better to be alone, he knew. It felt better to be alone all right.

Max enjoyed a stale cup of coffee by himself before he boarded the bus. He took a seat in the back by a window and the bus hissed and lurched forward and soon it was out of Minneapolis and onto the open road and back the 80 some miles to Mankato and then the unlocking of the gallery door and releasing the curtains and letting the sun in and sitting at the cash counter and polishing glass doorknobs and feeling good about being fucking independent.

It was another quiet, sunny day… And Max Pine liked that for sure.