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 3)

They meandered along the less known paths on the edge of Grainer Falls, beyond the industry, beyond the neighborhoods scrunched up against the low hills. She trailed behind him and stared at his back.

“Where are we going?” Veronica Genesis wanted to know, somewhat excited, somewhat apprehensive.

“The old shoe factory,” Andy answered, his voice going up and trailing behind him like smoke from an Old West locomotive.

She pedaled her bike a bit harder to get side-by-side with him. “The old shoe factory?”

“Yeah. It’s cool. I like to hang out there. No one ever goes there. We’ll be alone.”

“I didn’t know there was an old shoe factory. I haven’t lived here my entire life like a lot of people have.”

“That’s because it’s real old. Now all our shoes are made somewhere else, by penniless kids in other countries. That really pissed off my grandfather… When he was alive. He was in the war and always wondered what the hell he had fought for.”

“He used to work in there?”

“Yep. Now it’s just a bunch of ghosts and the lingering scent of leather and rubber.” He turned to look at her. “Are you afraid of ghosts?”

“No,” she quickly answered. “I’m not afraid of no ghosts.” But inside her guts, she really was.


The old factory soon came into view in the distance, and it was a foreboding stack of rust-colored bricks and crumbling mortar stuck to rebar and snake-like pipes and a couple of industrial spires and tall rectangular windows made of glass you couldn’t see through, many of the individual panels now busted out, the broken pieces gathered in heaps at the bottom like jagged snow.

They went down a hill and to the perimeter of the old factory where there was a molested chain-link fence that bowed and bent all along its crooked setting. NO TRESSPASSING signs were haphazardly attached to it every 25 feet or so. The two dropped their bikes in the overgrown weeds there and she followed him to a place where the fencing was peeled back, like a can lid that hadn’t been completely undone by an opener and someone had to push it back with a thumb or the backside of a sturdy metal spoon to get to the contents inside.

Veronica hesitated as Andy ducked down to make his way through the opening. He looked back at her. “Are you coming?” he wondered.

She bit at her bottom lip and looked up at the old facility and the blue sky littered with white fluffy clouds that slowly churned like an acid trip above it. “You sure it’s, okay?”

“Of course, it is. I do it all the time,” Andy said. “I told you; no one ever comes out here anymore. It’s fine. Besides, we’re young and strong and can take on anything the world throws our way.”

He went through the hole, and she looked at him from the other side and smiled. He was smart, witty, and brave, and she suddenly didn’t care about anything but being beside him and so she quickly crawled through. He reached out a hand to help her up and she grasped it. His skin was warm, soft, yet strong. She blew some wisps of raw almond-colored hair out of her face after she stood. “Thanks,” she said, and she tried to catch his scent as he tried to catch hers. He didn’t release her hand.

“Come on,” he said, and he pulled her along as they walked toward the back end of the factory and the place where the old loading doors and docks sat dormant and quiet like long forgotten time portals and landing pads.

They climbed a set of old iron stairs, now rusting away, and the sounds of their footfalls floated up and scraped against the large loneliness of the towering building. He led her to the top and a metal door where another NO TRESSPASSING sign was attached. Someone had written “Fuck Off” in red spray paint below it. Andy tugged on the crooked old door until it opened with a scrape and a creak. Veronica followed him inside and they stopped, and she looked around at the factory’s guts — dark, gloomy, and ancient like a still photograph, remnants of life and work delicately, nearly invisibly, floating in the air like cemetery ash.

Andy cupped his hands around his mouth and cried out, “Hello!… Anyone here!?”

Veronica panicked as his voice echoed and bounced through the quiet yet menacing spaces all around them. She playfully slapped at him. “Don’t do that,” she teased. “It freaks me out. What if someone answers? I’d probably pee myself.”

She was suddenly embarrassed, but Andy just smiled because he thought she was being cute. He was still holding her hand and now he squeezed it and then without any warning he moved in and kissed her. She was somewhat shocked at the same time she melted. Veronica never wanted him to pull away, but when he did his taste lingered on her mouth and she wanted to hold it there forever, to brace it from any wind that might wipe it from her lips and send it off into oblivion.

“Was that, okay?” Andy asked her. “I’ve been wanting to do that… Like, forever.”

“You have?”

“Yes… But I know you’re with Rudy.”

Veronica shook her head. “It’s never been anything serious. I’ve decided to end it with him.”

“You have?” Andy hoped.

“I think so. He just doesn’t know it yet. Or maybe he does.”

“Oh,” Andy said softly, and she could tell he was the sensitive type when he looked away toward the loneliness in those industrial catacombs monstrously arranged all around them.

“But I’ll be sure to let him know… That boy has really been getting under my skin lately. Do you know what him and a few of his friends did?”

Andy swallowed and looked at her. “Are you talking about Adam Longo?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“I was there when they did it.”

MORE TO FOLLOW

Read the previous part of this story HERE.


Spaceship Gravy

The sky was black most of the day because the sun went and hid behind the world. It was something like Winter Solstice and the world was tipping over like a bucket of paint, a deep red spilling making a big wet mess on the universe. Our lives are universal, and we need to find somewhere else to live because this just isn’t going to cut it anymore. The big, blue marble is cracked, we’re cracked, we’re all cracked. Brains mean nothing, heart beats lonely, selfish, absorbed in oneself. Human, human beings? There is no such thing anymore most of the time.

This plague, this sickness, this depravity, this madness devouring human souls and bodies. Kids in cop cars. Cops in kids. Lanterns and fire hydrants spitting light on the streets, but the kids can’t even go out to play anymore, because, sun-burnt god and the Jesus train of fame had a wreck, a collision, a sinister accident. 

His favorite color was blue. Not any blue. A pale blue, a cold sky blue, a linen shirt blue, shallow ocean water blue, like her eyes, those eyes that look right through him during a deep kiss. She was there again last night. In his apartment in the country that was actually a part of a house but had its own entrance and amenities and so there was little interaction with the pudgy aproned landlady who loved to water flowers in the yard with a big metal can. He once tried to attach the hose for her but she shooed him away because she was from the old country and that’s how they did it. The geraniums in the window-boxes looked beautiful but smelled awful, so he thought.

So, the blue-eyed girl was in his bed, and they were naked under the blankets, and they kissed wildly and when this girl kissed, she would often open her eyes and he knew this because he too would often open his eyes so that he could see the shape and color of the lips he was kissing. But her blue eyes stared deep into him when he caught her at it and he saw this deep love in her soul and he wanted to just jump into that blue, dive deep inside and tumble through her soul awkwardly, passionately, freely. He wanted to drown in her. He wanted to hold onto her as he rode 3 a.m. dreams, those places where the dead we knew live on and interact with us, those places of complete upside-down nonsense, like orange gravy slow dancing in a spaceship.   


The King of Genitalia Street (TWO)

My mother got up to answer the door, cradling Maine, and touched at her hair with one hand to set it in proper place before going out of the room. She always had to look proper, no matter what. It was the outside that mattered to her, rarely the inside of a person. I guess that’s why I failed her so much — I wasn’t proper on either side.

I stood back in the swallowing shadows of the big house biting my nails as my mother opened the door. Emily and Frost began to step in and then suddenly stopped when they saw her holding the baby.

“Mom?” Emily asked, her face scrunched in confusion. “Are you babysitting for someone? Whose kid?”

“We’ll talk about it, dear. Please come in. Hello there, Frost.”

Their voices were distant to me, like in a dream. I saw Frost lean in and give my mother a fake kiss on the cheek. Then their voices bloomed and became an uncomfortable gathering upon me.

“Oh, hello Everett,” Frost said when he noticed me lurking as he shed his fancy coat and placed it over one arm. “It’s a surprise seeing you here. We had no idea. Are you planning to stay for the weekend as well?”

“I don’t know,” I said, and I moved forward to shake his perfect hand. His grip was cold, crushing. His cold blue eyes drilled into me. He had a look of winter about him, and so his name fit him perfectly — Frost. Frost Bennington of the Benningtons. Prick.

Then I looked over at my sister, the dear Emily. My older sibling. Intelligent and oh so intelligently cool, cold, frosty like her lover. She acted uncomfortable and brushed wispy blonde hairs out of her face, her evergreen eyes avoiding me.

“Hello Emily,” I said, and I awkwardly hugged her. It was a short-lived embrace that she quickly pulled away from.

“Hello Everett,” she said, her words nervously stumbling out. “It is quite a surprise to see you here. If we knew you were coming… I suppose you could have ridden with us from the city, but I guess neither of us knew.”

“No. I hadn’t planned on it.”

“So,” Frost broke in, “Where’s Edward? I brought him a bottle of some fine brandy.” He held up a surely expensive bottle to show it off.

“I think he went off to his study,” my mother said. “Why don’t you go and say hello? I’d like to speak with Emily in private. Everett, go wash yourself up, you look like you could use a long, hot shower, and I think it would be best if you stayed the night. You can sleep in your old room. There are some clean linens in the closet upstairs. Well, you know where it all is. Go on now.”


Evelyn led Emily to the quiet of the obscene chef’s kitchen in the back of the house. She spoke to the house maiden who was busy polishing glasses with a white cloth. “Eliza, please take this baby into a quiet room and soothe him while we talk.”

The house maiden smiled. Her light brown skin brightened. “Oh, he’s something,” she said as she came closer. She took him into her arms and immediately fell in love.

“Yes, well, don’t get too attached, Eliza. He may not be with us long,” Evelyn said to her like a cold breeze.

“Yes, mam,” Eliza said, the brightness of her face turning to night again. “I will be in the sitting room.”

Evelyn nodded to her and she turned to look out the big windows into the large, perfectly kept yard bleached with winter.

“Mother?” Emily began. “What’s going on? Whose baby is that?”

“Oh, my dear daughter. We have trouble in this house today. I think your brother has totally gone mad. He just showed up with that baby in a pillowcase. He says it belongs to some tramp he met in the city and she up and left. Just took off is what he said and just left the child behind. I just don’t know what to do about Everett anymore. I’m just sick about it. But that child. That poor, innocent child stuck in the middle of all this.” Flustered, she stepped away from the window and frantically started going through cabinets. “And I don’t have anything for a baby to eat…”

“Mother,” Emily said, trying to slow her down and make her pay attention. “Stop and listen to me. I have great concern for Everett. I don’t think he’s well, I mean, mentally.”

A clock on the mantle above an unlit fireplace in another room chimed four times before Evelyn spoke again.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Did something happen to him in the city?”

Emily shifted her eyes. “Everett came over to our place, it was back before Christmas. He said you had visited him that same day and he started talking very strangely to me about when we were young and living here in the house. He seemed very confused and troubled.”

“Yes. I did go see him. I had met some friends for brunch.” She sighed. “He was sitting there all alone in that awful apartment. It was so dark. Dirty. Sad really. Very sad. I thought maybe stopping by with a bag of leftovers might cheer him up. I gave him some money, too. But despite the typical grayness of his life when I saw him that day, he seemed fine. Is there something else I should know about?”

“Like I said, when he was at our place. Frost was off doing something important most likely and so we were alone, Everett and I, in the kitchen. Just trying to talk. You know how awkward that can be.”

“What are you trying to tell me?”

“He kissed me.”

Evelyn froze for a moment, and her eyes began to quake with nervous twitches behind her glamorous glasses. “What’s wrong with a brother kissing his own sister?”

“It wasn’t that kind of a kiss, mom,” Emily softly spoke. “He kissed me, you know, a real kiss… He forced himself on me.”

Evelyn stepped back, coughed, and adjusted the same glamorous glasses. “Oh please, Emily! Such talk. You must have completely misread his intentions.”

“No. I didn’t.”

“He must have been drinking then,” Evelyn strongly suggested.

“No, mother. He wasn’t drinking. He knew what he was doing… Or he didn’t. I don’t really know,” she said, hands in the air as she paced the polished floor.

“My God, Emily,” Evelyn moaned. “Why would he do that? What on earth would possess him to do that?” She scoffed in frustration and embarrassment almost. She waved a hand in the air. “I don’t believe it. I refuse to believe such a story.”

“I think he needs a doctor,” Emily stressed to her mother. “A good doctor. A psychiatrist. He may even need to go to a place that specializes in whatever is wrong with him. Frost and I know some people who may be able to help.”

Evelyn bit at her mouth with worry. “This is all too much,” she moaned. “But how are you? He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“No. He didn’t hurt me at all. I was just shocked, and I pushed him off and told him to never do it again, that it was inappropriate… But then what about this baby now? This definitely proves there is something seriously wrong with him.”

“It’s very odd indeed. I think the child is sickly and I’m not surprised. That fool boy knows nothing about taking care of a baby. And that girl who dumped him, I can just imagine what a piece of work she is. I just don’t understand why Everett can’t find a nice girl. He’s not a bad looking young man, he’s just …”

Emily finished her mother’s sentence, “Incredibly strange.”

“Why don’t you help him out and introduce him to some of your friends? You know plenty of well-educated people. Good, decent people too. He needs to be kept away from common street trash — like that poor child’s mother.”

“I would, mother, but I don’t think Frost would have it. You know how particular he is about everything. And it’s no secret that he doesn’t like Everett.”

“Does he know what happened?”

“Yes. I told him, and he wasn’t happy about it at all. No surprise. He went ballistic. It took everything in me to calm him down enough to even come this weekend… And then pow, Everett is here, unbeknownst to us. I could almost hear Frost’s perfect teeth grinding to dust.”

“Yes, I suppose he would be upset. I can’t blame him. He’s a fine young man, very driven, bred from fine stock, and well positioned to take care of you financially. That’s very important. So even if things go sour between you two, always consider that. And another very important thing is the fact your father is more than fond of him.”

“I find it strange that daddy takes him on like that and then treats Everett like he’s not even his son.”

“Well, your father has always been drawn to highly successful people. I’m afraid Everett has greatly disappointed him.”

“That’s sad,” Emily said. “It shouldn’t be like that. You should love and support your kids no matter who they are and what they do. That’s the way I want to be.”

“You’ll be a fine mother some day,” Evelyn assured her daughter as she gently tapped the back of her hand. “As far as Maine is concerned, I’m going to convince your father to let me keep him here — just for a day or two until we can figure this all out,” she said. “In the meantime, I want us to have a nice family gathering this weekend. Cozy and warm and perfect. Will you help Eliza with dinner?”

“Of course,” Emily said.

“And do you think Frost would mind running Everett over to the store to get some things. For the baby. Diapers and such. I’ll make a list.”

Emily made a face. “Well, he may not like it, but he’ll do it for you.”

Evelyn smiled. “Good. I like it when he does things for me.”

TO BE CONTINUED

The first part of this story can be read HERE.


The Amoopikans (Last part)

Sally and Mary Jane were huddled around a candle in the kitchen, whispering.

“I think you should call a doctor,” Sally said. “There’s obviously something very wrong with him.”

“Look, he’s got this mental thing, it’s not a big deal,” Mary Jane said, trying to deflate the issue of Jack’s state of mind.

“Not a big deal?” Sally protested. “I’m afraid he’s going to kill me for that Francisco remark.”

“He’s not going to kill you,” Mary Jane assured her, and she put her arms around Sally’s delicate frame and hugged her. “I won’t let him kill my best friend.”

“Thanks,” Sally said, and a few tears came out of her eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

Sally suddenly moved her hands to Mary Jane’s frightened face and kissed her on the mouth.

“What was that all about?” Mary Jane asked, a bit bewildered, a bit turned on, as she stepped back a bit.

“I’m sorry Mary Jane. No, I’m not. Look, this may be our last night on Earth, and I wanted to kiss you. I just did. Like I wanted to kiss Ollie. Oh my. You must find me crazy as well, but it’s almost as if I want to say goodbye.”

“It’s okay Sally. I think I understand… And I kind of liked it.”

“You did?”

“Yes, I did.”

Mary Jane moved closer to Sally, ran her fingers through her long, blonde hair, and passionately returned the kiss.

“Where’s my dinner!” Jack suddenly blurted out from the other side of the wall.

Mary Jane broke her embrace with Sally and stormed into the living room.

“All right Jack, I’ve been nice up to this point, but you really got to stop being a complete A-hole, okay?! Everyone is under a lot of strain and stress right now… Please don’t add to it.”

“I want a meat pie! Make me a meat pie! Make me a meat pie now damn it!” Jack screamed.

“I don’t have any bloody meat pies, so if you want a meat pie go down to your own place and make yourself a meat pie! And stop acting like a little schoolgirl!” Mary Jane scolded.

“I don’t have to do what you tell me! I have my rights! I have freedom of speech!” Jack crazily retorted.

Mary Jane moved toward the telephone and picked up the receiver.

“Do not call anyone!” Jack screamed.

“Damn it. The phone’s dead,” Mary Jane said, and she slammed the handset down on its cradle.

“What’s going on in here?” Sally asked as she threw herself into the couch.

“I want a meat pie and she won’t make me a meat pie!” Jack screamed.

“I’m trying to call the police, but the phone’s dead,” Mary Jane said with utter frustration.

Sally stood up and pointed her finger at Jack.

“Now listen here Jack, the party is over. You have to leave now, or you’ll be in big trouble! We’ll get the police.”

Jack lifted Copernicus’ head to his ear and was acting like Copernicus was whispering secrets to him.

“Uh huh, yes Copernicus, she is a bitch, I know,” Jack said in a mumbly wumbly childlike voice. “Uh huh, yes Copernicus, she is ugly. Uh huh, oh Copernicus that’s terrible, but I bet you’re right, she does look like a street walker.”

Sally angrily rushed at Jack and snatched the stone head from his hands.

“Hey!” Jack yelled. “Give me that back!”

“You either get the hell out of here or I’ll throw Copernicus right out that damn window, and you won’t be too far behind!” Sally screamed.

“Do not throw Copernicus out the window!” Jack commanded in a robotic voice.

“Then leave!”

Jack glanced over at Mary Jane with a sad and confused look on his face.

“Please leave,” she said sternly. “We’ll talk tomorrow. Maybe you’ll feel better then.”

“But there may not be a tomorrow,” Jack said, nearly beginning to weep. “We could all be nothing but cinders by the morning. That makes me a sad panda.”

Jack reluctantly got out of the chair and walked toward Sally who was now standing by the open front door of the apartment cradling Copernicus’ head in her hand. Jack snatched it from her and barked in her face like a dog as he walked out. Sally slammed the door behind him and then there was this terrible yelp and the sound of Jack crashing down the stairs.

“Oh my God!” Mary Jane yelled. “I think he fell down the stairs!”

Mary Jane grabbed a candle and went out into the hall.

“It’s too dark. Grab another candle, Sally!”

Sally came out into the hall with another candle and together they carefully went down the stairs, saying: “Jack, Jack, are you okay?”

There at the bottom was Jack. His body was cocked in all kinds of unnatural positions. It looked like his neck had snapped. They looked closer and there was blood, and they looked closer again, and there was the head of Copernicus cracked in half just like Jack.

Sally and Mary Jane just stared at each other in the glow of the candlelight.

“It’s my fault, you saw it,” Sally said, tears starting to roll down her face. “I slammed the door, and it must have hit him and knocked him right down the stairs.”

“It’s not your fault. It was dark. It was an accident.”

“Oh my God Mary Jane, I killed someone.”

“Come on, let’s go back upstairs and wait for Ollie, he’ll know what to do.”


Ollie Oxenfurd stuck his hands in his pockets as he walked down Castlebury Street, now dim, quiet, and desolate with some ash whirling around. All the shoppes and restaurants seemed to be shuttered and he worried his favorite Chinese joint, Bamboo King, would be as well.

He turned right at Bonberry Street and jiggled the handle. The door opened and he stepped inside. The bright lights were a burning contrast to the dead of the streets. A neatly groomed Asian man came out of the back wiping his hands on a towel. He pumped some hand sanitizer in them and rubbed.

“I’m so glad you’re open,” Ollie said. “Looks like everything else is shut down, and you’ve got power too.”

“We always open. Even when war come. Everyone else scared, not me. I got generator. I’m an animal. People still need to eat. So, what you like?”

“Pork and snow peas. Veggie Lo Mein. And… I’ll have the orange chicken.”

“No soup?”

“No soup.”

“What kind rice?”

“Fried rice… And throw in some crab rangoons too.”

“Okay, you wait. I go cook now. Won’t be long.”

_____

Mary Jane sat with Sally on the couch, and they smoked some more grasspot to try and calm their nerves. Sally kept wiping tears from her puffy, blue eyes and saying: “I killed someone. I killed someone.”

Mary Jane didn’t know what to do. She tried the phone again. Still dead. “Where the hell is Ollie?” she wanted to know.

They heard fighter jets roaring overhead.

“I’m really scared Mary Jane. I mean, what if this is it? What if tonight is our last night on Earth, and I killed a guy.”

There was another explosion in the distance.

“Then, I guess it doesn’t really matter, does it,” Mary Jane answered.

____

Ollie nearly dumped all the delicious Chinese food when he tripped over Jack’s lifeless body at the bottom of the stairs.

“What the bloody hell?! Mary Jane! Sally! Get out here!”

The girls rushed into the hallway with their candles.

“What is this then?” Ollie asked from the bottom of the stairs.

“There was an accident. He fell,” Mary Jane answered.

“I’m coming up.”

____

The three of them sat at the kitchen table in Mary Jane’s groovy pad on the Isle of St. Manitou quietly slurping away at their Chinese food.

“We ought to call someone, we just can’t leave him there,” Ollie said, breaking the silence.

“The phone is dead.”

“Well then I’ll walk down to the police station and tell them,” Ollie said, stuffing a piece of delicious orange chicken in his mouth.

“No!” Sally blurted out. “No police.”

“What? Why? You said it was an accident.”

“It was no accident,” Sally said, and she began to cry again. “I slammed the door on him and that made him fall down the stairs.”

“I’ve been trying to tell her it wasn’t her fault, but she won’t listen to me,” Mary Jane said, slamming her fork down in frustration. She got up, walked into the other room, and lit up some more grasspot.

“Well, if you ask me, he had it coming to him. That bloke was a real A-hole.”

“Ollie! That’s a terrible thing to say, even if it is true.”

“Whatever. The only thing I know is we can’t leave him there. Why don’t we just move him into the street or something.”

“I won’t have anything to do with such a horrible thing,” Sally pouted, crossing her arms.

“Fine!” Ollie yelled, and he stood and threw his napkin down onto the table. “Mary Jane and I will do it.”

____

Ollie peered out onto Castlebury Street. It was eerily quiet and still; there was a strange-smelling soft breeze in the air.

“OK, are you ready?”

Mary Jane nodded and then they lifted him.

“Good gravy he’s heavy,” Ollie said, “must be all those damn meat pies.”

“Hush now. Let’s just get this over with,” Mary Jane scolded.

They got him out onto the sidewalk and had to set him down.

“Why don’t we just stuff him back in his shoppe?” Ollie suggested, breathing hard.

Mary Jane looked over her shoulder.

“That’s not a bad idea,” and she went to jiggle the handle of the gallery shoppe door. “It’s locked,” she said.

“Well, look in his pockets. I’m sure his keys are there.”

Mary Jane reluctantly rummaged through dead Jack’s pockets going “Eww” and “Gross” while she searched.

“Got them.”

She went to the door and unlocked it and they carried him into the gallery and laid him out on the floor.

“Well?” Mary Jane asked, wiping at her sweaty brow with her forearm.

“Well, what?” Ollie asked.

“Are we just going to leave him here on the floor?”

“Yes, we are. It’s too dark in here to be messing around. We can figure something out tomorrow. It’s getting late.”

“Wait, we forgot something,” Mary Jane said, and she went out the door and then came back in holding the two halves of the stone head of Nicolaus Copernicus. She set them down near Jack and they went out, locking the door behind them.

____

The air raid sirens began to wail before Mary Jane and Ollie could get back inside. There was thunder in the sky, but it was not natural.

The three of them sat quietly in the darkness — the only light being from the scattered candles, the orange glow of the grasspot in the pipe, and the sparkle of bombs bursting outside in the air above the Isle of St. Manitou. The sirens were still roaring. The Amoopikans were coming.

“Wait, what is that?” Ollie asked, suddenly perking up and shifting his head around.

“Stop it Ollie, you’re scaring me,” a tearful Sally said.

“No, I think there’s someone in the street. I thought I heard voices.”

“Please Ollie, just stop…”

And then there was a loud banging on the front door.

“Amoopikan Marines! Open up!”

Sally screamed and then the door was kicked in and men with guns in their hands and lights atop their helmets and waving the Amoopikan flag came storming in.

“Nobody move!” the Amoopikan captain yelled, and he motioned to his troops, “In! In! In! Take a look around, see if there are any more.”

A moment later, a young trooper came up to the captain and saluted.

“Sir, they’ve been smoking grasspot in here.”

“Whaaaaaat!” the captain screeched. “I thought I smelled something illegal.”

“I have the device right here sir,” and the young trooper handed the captain the glass pipe they had been using to smoke the grasspot.

The captain looked it over carefully; he sniffed at it. Then he looked at the three of them, Ollie, Sally, and Mary Jane, being restrained by other troopers, bodies shaking and faces looking scared to death.

“Well, well, well,” the captain said as he strolled around the place. “Looks like we got a bunch of grasspotheads here.”

“It’s just grasspot sir,” Ollie spoke up, “This is the future and it’s allowed everywhere here in our part of the world.”

“Well, it’s not allowed where I come from punk, and you know why?”

“Why sir?”

“Because it’s evil. It’s devil’s lettuce punk. It makes people go crazy in the head and want to kill other people.”

“That’s not true sir, it does nothing like that at all,” Ollie said.

“I don’t care for your ways in your part of the world, and that’s why we came here — to make our ways your ways because our ways are the right ways and if anyone tells me different, I’ll just blow their fucking head off.”

The captain turned and walked toward the door.

“Boys, you know what to do.”

And then Mary Jane Hankerbloom’s apartment on Castlebury Street in a quaint village on the Isle of St. Manitou was suddenly filled with a relentless barrage of gunfire directed straight at Mary Jane herself and her two friends, Sally and Ollie.

When the firing finally stopped, their bodies had been reduced to ragdolls askew and full of holes. Their eyes were open wide, for they were still in shock; their lifeless souls stared upward at the skylight, and the bones still rained down upon them.

“We’re done here,” a young Amoopikan soldier said, and he stomped on the grasspot pipe with his heavy boot and crushed it into the floor before walking out.