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96 Broken Ave.

 

 

 

 

96 Broken Ave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Zito

Copyright Joe Zito 2017

Published at Shakespir

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Joe Zito

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intro

 

I’d like start off by saying thanks for reading my latest book, 96 Broken Ave. I had a blast writing it. I hope you dig it. But, before you dig in I’d like to point out that this is a semi-autobiographical story. Yes, it is fiction, but some of the ideas and situations were taken directly from different stages of my life throughout the nineteen nineties. This piece of work contains three separate stories, but is not presented as a collection. They are all connected, taking place on the same night in the same town, to make one complete story. I’ll zip it now and let you turn the page or rather scroll to the next. So settle in and get comfy, because there’s one hell of a storm coming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer 1996

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Days Past

 

 

 

 

“Drink up people! Six hours till last call!” There was an unenthusiastic rumbling from the few people sitting at the bar around eight o’ clock at All Nighters. The female bartender, who declared the warning of the quickly fading time slot for drowning your sorrows, had long black hair and eyes as big as quarters. She sighed as she threw a white dish towel over her shoulder and looked drearily out into the dark seating area of the bar. Another Friday night pissed away, she thought glumly. A 6’2 hill jack in mud caked blue jeans and a Cummins hat hooted as a striped seven ball dropped easily into the corner pocket of the bars only pool table. Three ladies sitting around a tall round table laughed simultaneously, more than likely about how good they imagined their shop foreman would be in bed and or his cock size. The bartender rolled those big quarter eyes and began wiping down the bar area. She sighed once more knowing that the Friday night rush was on its way. Soon there would be an eclectic mix of jocks, first dates, and parents on temporary leave of their screaming children. Hallelujah! And they all will be sitting around the bar having conversations about work, their relationships, the upcoming derby at the county fair, who was fucking who around town and other small town pleasantries. But for now it was the calm before the storm. The bartender grabbed the remote control for the TV sitting above the sparkling glass bottles full of fuck it all liquid. She reluctantly changed the channel from MTV to ESPN, which she couldn’t stand. Some clean cut, twenty something newscaster spoke rapidly about sports statistics. Boring.

On the far right side of the bar, a cute twenty three year old female with shoulder length blonde hair was flirting with an old man of about sixty. He had a head of pure white hair and white sideburns to match and big, hairy, arms that could destroy Popeye. He took a generous gulp from his frosty beer mug and laughed along with the twenty three year old hottie who was buzzing already and had her hand on the old guy’s meaty shoulder.

On the other end of the bar a man in his mid-forties sat nursing his second beer. He wore an ugly dark brown suit with his yellow tie loosened at the collar. He was flicking a matchbook with his finger, staring out at nothing. He reeked of despair.

And sitting dead center in the middle was a man in a long, tan trench coat, sipping on a whiskey double straight. His name was Barry Lebbon and his daughter hated him.

He stared at his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. It was slightly disfigured due to the glass bottles; a perfect representation of his inner self. He took a lazy sip of his whiskey. Should’a just kept my mouth shut, he thought. It’s too late.

“You good here, friend?” The bartender asked, sliding in front of him, obscuring the broken image of himself. He only nodded. He wasn’t in the talkative mood. He had done enough talking back in 1976 when he told a highly respected and professional record producer to go fuck himself. These days, Barry doesn’t talk much. He figured his mouth has caused enough misfortune and that he should take his own advice and shut the fuck up himself.

The bartender with the big eyes shrugged, not really caring if he was all right or not. She went and took a seat behind the bar on a bar stool and began reading a newspaper. And Barry drank on.

In 1976, Barry and the rest of his bandmates found themselves in an amazing career enhancing situation: a recording session with one of rock’s top producers, Jack Goldman, to cut their demo. Their band, Daze, formed in 1973 in the depths of southern Indiana. They were a four piece rock group whose sound closely resembled their heroes Black Sabbath along with pre Alive Kiss and early Judas Priest. Barry was their shred master. He ripped out guitar riffs like a sorcerer conjuring up Satan in a hail storm. Evil, dark and heavy was the Daze sound. The only problem was Barry’s mouth. He couldn’t keep it shut. He had something to say about everything, every day, all the time. The other guys in his band hated it but they put up with it because indeed, Barry had the goods and the talent. They would mostly laugh and tell him to shut the fuck up. However, they weren’t laughing in the spring of 1976 when Barry came charging out of the control room at Gold Star studios, fuming and enraged like a toddler who wouldn’t get it’s way. There had been a blowout inside the control room between Barry and Jack. It was a shouting match of dominance that centered around who was right and who was wrong, and all because of one single note. That note, no matter how decent and okay it sounded during playback, had turned Barry into a red face, near heart attack victim at twenty four, yelling banshee. At first Jack told him very calmly that the wrong note sounded fine and not to worry about it. They could fix it in the final mix if need be. Barry disagreed and after ten minutes of a heated discussion, Barry was in Jack’s face, cursing and spraying his hate spittle rudely on him.

The big stink was over one lousy off key note during Barry’s guitar solo. It was an honest mistake on his part because he was nervous and wanted to get it right the first time. Funny thing is, the off center note didn’t sound that off center and actually sounded good during playback. But that’s what Jack’s trained ear was hearing. He had worked with Blue Oyster Cult, Rainbow and countless others. The man knew his work. He even tried explaining to Barry that there is a certain beauty and realism in minor mistakes that sometimes gives the song an edge it didn’t have before. Barry’s response was telling the producer to go fuck himself. That’s when Jack got up, walked out and resigned himself from the project, saying he had better things to do than waste his time with some amateur hick from Indiana. Barry stormed out and another near fight broke out between him and Martin Blane, their bass player.

That one note incident was the end of the road for Barry and the end of his days in Daze. They fired him right there on the spot.

The band recovered quickly and found another guitarist two weeks later. He was a team player by the name of Gordon Mallard.

Barry, in a state of shock of how his former bandmates canned him, tried to form another band and then another and then another until he finally realized that maybe his mouth was the problem. They all failed. And Daze went on to sign a major record deal with Casablanca records and then open for Kiss on their north American tour in 1977.

Barry took the news rather hard. He was for sure that Daze would be nothing without him and that they would fail miserably, but in reality it was Barry who was the failure. He went to the local record store and bought Daze’s debut album, took it home and downed a bottle of Jack Daniels while sitting slouched and disgruntled in his lazy boy, listening to some fuckhead play the notes, hooks, and riffs that he wrote. Three years all for nothing. He threw his empty whiskey bottle at the record player and missed. It hit the wall instead. “Quiet down in there!” Someone yelled in the next apartment over.

From then on Barry rarely picked up his guitar. Instead, he sulked and brooded about his firing, but knew deep down that it was his fault. You and your big mouth. ’77 turned into ’78 into ’79 into ’80 into ’81 and Barry watched his old band rise to the top of the rock and roll mountain, year after year, album after album, tour after tour. And every year it would get worse with that relentless feeling of what if.

What if what, old guy?

That could’ve been me playing in front of fifteen thousand fans screaming my name.

What if?

I should have kept my mouth shut and just cooled down.

What if?

How would my life be different. Fame. Money. Sex?

And then the bottle became his best friend.

 

***

 

“Sure, Jack. It sounds great. Don’t change a thing.”

The bartender looked up from her paper. Her big eyes looked directly at Barry.

“You say something, hon?”

He looked at her, shaking his head slowly.

“Nope, sure didn’t.”

“Oh,” she said with a half ass smile on her face like she knew this guy had demons and for a split second felt for him but really couldn’t give a shit. She had her own demons.

Just then the main entrance door opened and a group of bikers piled in. They were laughing and carrying on about whatever bikers laugh and carry on about. Maybe some college pretty boy riding his little Honda sports bike with his gal holding onto him and her in a pair of tight white jeans that made her ass pop out and stop traffic.

Barry laid down a ten dollar bill on the bar and got up to leave.

“Thanks for stopping in,” the bartender said without looking at him. Save the chitchat and just give me your money honey.

Barry walked past the group of jolly bikers. He had his hands buried deep into his pockets, his head was down. One of the bikers gave him a strange look. A little warm for a long coat like that, ain’t it friend? The biker thought and then, this nut job looks like he could off the fringes any second.

As Barry opened the door to leave, a thirty something man walked in. He was wearing more appropriate summer attire. Blue jeans and sandals and an untucked white, button down shirt. Mr. Casual. The bartender looked up from her paper and saw the man standing in the doorway entrance. She lost her breath for a moment when they made eye contact and her big eyes grew even bigger. Everyone has demons and a past. Sometimes they show up unexpectedly. Like at eight o’ clock on a Friday night at the local bar. The man half assed waved and gave her a goofy smile. She gave him a sour look, rolled her big eyes and tried not to smile back at Mr. Casual who thought it would be nice to just show up out of the blue and say hi after two years.

Barry was gone.

 

***

 

The sounds of summer echoed all around him as he walked home, strolling along the downtown sidewalk, still with his hands in his coat pockets. Birds chirped and bounced on the sidewalk going from one scrap of food to the next. There were distant, high pitched screams of children playing in a sprinkler somewhere. As well as the rumble of a Harley Davidson, a dad mowing the front lawn, and an obnoxious, booming rap music from a small car. Dusk was getting close. And then it would be dark and Barry would be alone again.

He stopped at the local liquor store and bought a bottle of Jack Daniels. He had just enough cash to pay for it. He didn’t make a lot of money working as a part time janitor downtown at an office building.

The cashier was a retiree with liver spotted hands and wore thick, black framed glasses. He was sucking on a toothpick. He knew Barry fairly well, at least as an acquaintance. He called him by his name.

“How are we doin’ Barry?”

Barry only grunted in response. The cashier smiled and shook his head as he put the bottle of Jack Daniels in a brown paper bag.

“I hear ya, I hear ya,” he laughed good naturedly.

Standing behind Barry was a tall twenty something kid with long hair, wearing ripped blue jean shorts, doc martens, and a sleeveless Anal Cunt t-shirt, 40 More Reasons to Hate Us.

“You have a good evenin’ now,” the old cashier told Barry. “And stay safe. We got them storms comin’ in later tonight.”

Again, Barry said nothing and left.

On his way out he passed a man entering the store, wearing hospital scrubs. Must be getting off of work, Barry thought. Whiskey, the perfect remedy for a long hard day. Or night.

He continued on down the sidewalk going past all the familiar buildings and shops of the downtown area where he lived. The threat of those oncoming storms made themselves known. A subtle flash of heat lighting lit up the sky. A distant rumble of thunder followed. He didn’t seem to notice. His eyes stared straight ahead into nothing as he walked. He went past the Marathon gas station, Delmer’s Insurance, Happy’s grocery store and the In Safe Hands women’s shelter where a young, twenty something blonde sat on the front steps, wearing a pair of too short shorts, playing with her two year old son and smiling timidly at the guy she was talking to; the one she had been seeing now for two weeks and the one that was giving her butterflies in her stomach, knowing that he was the one and would never lay a hand on her.

He approached his apartment building which sat right above a shoe store called Thompson Shoe Company. Barry’s rent was cheap and he didn’t mind the cockroaches. He sat down on a green park bench on the sidewalk. A light breeze full of summer evening balm sifted through a small tree that was implanted into the sidewalk. Its leaves shook lightly back and forth. Barry stared forward, gazing at the other buildings across the street. His mind started to drift like that wind moving through the tree. He was doing that a lot lately. Drifting. He thought of that time long ago when he made a bad decision and how it still had a death grip on him. He also thought of his daughter Kathy, and how she hasn’t spoken to him for almost three months. They were in off mode currently of their on and off relationship. She was his only child. She don’t give a damn about me. I can’t blame her.

The brown paper bag crumpled up in his hand reminded him of why she hasn’t spoken to him in three months. But it always wasn’t like this. No. There had been a time when they couldn’t leave each other’s side; Daddy’s little angel that could do no wrong. Hours spent at the park pushing her on the swings, chasing her around the play area as she laughed and screamed in her euphoria of being chased, vanilla ice cream cone dabbed noses in the summertime.

All of this occurred in Barry’s pre Daze life. It was a time when life was nothing more than loving his young wife and baby daughter and when playing his guitar was fun and not an obsession.

His daughter’s life changed the night his best friend convinced him to start a band in 1973. Kathy was eight years old.

In the beginning it was fun to watch her daddy play music in the basement after dinner time. She would sit on her mother’s lap and wear a pair of oversized headphones because it was loud. She would laugh and clap along to the beat. Barry’s wife would clap along too and try to contain her feelings of excitement for her husband, knowing that he was gifted and could possibly have found his calling. As they played covers of Jimi Hendrix, Creem and Black Sabbath, she fantasized about him up on stage with a throng of raised, outstretched hands reaching for his guitar and her sitting next to him in a limo, knowing that he was all hers and the groupies would never have him.

But things changed as they always do. As the band progressed and got better they started writing their own songs. And practice time became work time. No more clapping and singing along and young wife daydreams of her rock star husband. For his wife and daughter, it was back upstairs.

What was once fun for Kathy had now turned into a nightmare. The more they practiced and the better they got, the more focused and obsessed Barry would become. And Kathy and her mother paid the price.

He spent less time with his family. And when the band wasn’t practicing, he would do nothing but play his guitar and write songs and be constantly on the phone, booking shows, trying to find management or a recording studio. Daze took over his life but he was blind to it and didn’t see the damage it was causing his family. His wife didn’t care when they found a manager or had eight original songs or had the privilege of opening for two new bands called Rush and Kiss in 1974. She didn’t even go to the show. She and Kathy went to a movie instead.

Hey dad, wanna get some ice cream? Hey dad, let’s go for a walk. Hey dad, I got an A on my math test. Hey dad, wanna see that new James Bond movie? Hey dad, wanna watch the stars like we use to?

Dad? Dad? Hey, Dad?

And by the time Barry got kicked out of the band he had abandoned his family for, it was too late for apologies.

His once sparkly eyed young wife moved out and she and Kathy did just fine on their own without him. But there were nights that Kathy’s mom didn’t know about. Nights when Kathy would cry herself to sleep, missing her daddy, not really because he wasn’t physically there, but missing the old him and the good times before the band took over.

After his firing, he did come back to her but it wasn’t the same. And she hated it how he reeked of whiskey every time he would visit. They both did their best to play the roles of father and daughter, but there was always that wall between them. The wall Barry built when he put his music ahead of the well-being of his daughter.

Ten years went by and he would visit her every two weeks and would get the same straight face look from his ex-wife that always said, we don’t want you around, so stop showing up, all with her clean cut, sweater wearing husband behind her with his hands on her shoulders. C’mon dad, let’s go.

By the time Kathy was seventeen, she had at least one hundred and six friends and was permanently attached to the phone, always chatter boxing. Her dad’s visits became less frequent until he just stopped showing up all together. But his guilt and Kathy’s too, for that matter (for not making an effort to call him) got the best of them and they tried to make things work. Their relationship became a tug of war of emotions. They would get along for a few months and then one of them would retreat. Barry would usually fall back into his depression of his failed life and Kathy would just start hating him all over again, as something would trigger her feelings of abandonment.

Let’s have dinner, dad.

Okay

I fucking hate you! You were never there for me!

Happy Birthday, Kathy!

Thanks, dad.

You bastard. You’re a damn drunk and I want you out of my life!

And that’s how it played out. But beneath the resentment there was some love, but maybe not enough.

 

***

 

A sudden blast of heavy metal music knocked Barry back into the present, relieving him of his tormented daydream of his failed life. Some long haired kid and his girlfriend sped down Main Street in a gray ’88 Dodge Caravan; The Great Southern Trendkill by Pantera at full volume. Another flash of lightning lit up the sky, which had turned to a deep plumb color in the time Barry had sat down on the sidewalk bench. Dusk was here and the night was closing in.

He slowly walked up the steps to his apartment with his paper bag whiskey bottle held firmly in his hand. The usual odor of his apartment was all around him. It was a sickening mix of natural gas, mold and something greasy. Once he reached the top of the stairs he fumbled around for his door key in one of his deep trench coat pockets.

“Oh, there you are Brian.”

An old woman’s voice made him look up.

Oh jeez, he thought. She’s lost again.

“Hi there, Ms. Windham. Are you lost again?”

“Goodness no, Brian. I live right there in 2B.”

Her apartment was 2F. Barry sighed.

He found his key, but dropped it back into his pocket. He went to the old woman. She was in her nightgown and pink, fluffy slippers. Her hair was a gray and tangled bird’s nest mess. The look in her eyes was that of a child seeing Disneyland for the first time and also great confusion.

Barry said, “You can’t be wonderin’ around out here Ms. Windham.” She didn’t say anything, only looked around curiously.

Barry really wasn’t in the mood for talking, much less dealing with his senile neighbor. But she was a good soul. Just a tad bit lost.

Her daughter usually visits her on Fridays, Barry thought.

“Denise not come over today?” He asked.

“Who’s Denise?”

Barry looked at her for a moment, feeling a little guilty for not wanting to explain to her who Denise was.

“Come on,” he said and extended his hand to her. “Let’s get you back to your apartment.”

Together, they slowly walked back to 2F; his hand gently cupped around her elbow, helping her along.

“You’re so kind, Brian, helping an old lady like me find her car.”

“It’s Barry, Ms. Windham.”

When they reached her apartment, her door was slightly ajar.

“All right, here we are.” Barry could hear the TV blaring. Wheel of Fortune was playing. The crowd erupted in loud applause when a contestant solved a puzzle.

A small gray cat stuck its head out from the door. It meowed, sounding happy as it nudged against Barry’s leg.

“Oh, miss Diana, you’re a good kitty, aren’t you.”

She remembers the name of her damn cat but not her daughter, Barry thought.

“Are you good then, Ms. Windham? Do you need anything?”

“Oh, thank you Brian for your help. I think miss Diana and I will be just fine. Come on doggy, let’s get inside.”

“Okay, then.” Barry turned away. He started back down the hall to his apartment.

“Do you still play in your band, Brian?”

He stopped where he was. Head down, hands in his pockets. He turned and looked at the old woman. He raised his head but didn’t make eye contact with her. How does she know I use to play in a band? He was getting nervous and began rocking back and forth on his heels. His left hand found the Jack Daniels bottle in his pocket. It was comforting. In his mind, he tried to visualize talking to her in past conversations, with him saying, ‘Hey, Ms. Windham, I use to rock out with my guitar in my band.’ Did I ever tell her? Now, he thought he was losing his mind, but then the memory did flash in his brain and he indeed had told her that he once played rock and roll and was pretty good at it.

But now he didn’t know how to respond. Her question had thrown him off track. Still rocking on his feet, he did his best to think of something to tell her.

No, Ms. Windham. I messed that up twenty years ago when I lost my temper and then lost my family.

Jesusyoufuckingloserwhatawaste.

“Sure, Ms. Windham, play all the time.”

“Oh, well that’s nice to hear. Music is good for the soul.”

At that he looked up, stunned by her words but more stunned by her mental condition allowing her a brief moment of clarity.

A faraway boom of thunder echoed outside.

“Goodness, an earthquake is coming. Come on miss Diana.”

He stared at her in disbelief for a moment. “You have a good night, Ms. Windham,” he said.

“You too, Barry. Good night and thank you.”

 

***

 

The after effect of the thunder made the floor shake under his feet. The cheap, fluorescent lights flickered above him as he treaded back to his apartment where he would spend another Friday night drinking whiskey, alone. He returned his gaze to the floor. In front of him a dark shadow appeared. A jolt of fear struck him when he thought it was his soul leaving his body. He was afraid to turn around, fearing he would see his lifeless form, crumpled up in a dead, fetal position on the floor.

“Did she find her car?”

A female voice echoed down the hall at him. He raised his head. His daughter was leaning against his door with her arms crossed and a slight look of amusement on her face at the scene playing out in front of her, of cat’s and lost cars.

Barry let out a sigh of relief, more at knowing he was still alive rather than seeing his daughter standing there, who he hasn’t talked to for three months.

When he reached his apartment the look in his eyes was that of both shock and sadness.

“What?” His daughter said. A flash of redness swelled across her face momentarily and her left eye twitched. She knew it had to be a shock for him to see her, especially after three months. She felt a nervous laugh building up inside her. It was something she always did when things got too serious, like seeing your father for the first time in months. She looked away, grimacing, feeling like a crazy person with a barrage of emotions inside her. She let out a breath and closed her eyes.

She had to force herself to look at her father, fighting the urge to cry because he looked so goddam haggard.

You shithead, Kathy. Look at him. You need to be a better daughter. But I never read that book. Do I give him a hug? What do I say to him? Jesus, I’m a wreck. And it doesn’t help that I started my period today and my son said he wants to see his grandpa and that he misses him. Well, say something, dad, dammit! Are you just going to stand there all night. How about, ‘Hey, how have you been, Kathy. I’d like to see my grandson. I’m sorry about the way things are. Let’s work on…….

“What do you want?”

She looked at him bug eyed. “Really? Is this how you’re gonna treat me after not speaking to me for three months?”

Her mouth parted and this time she did laugh but there was no humor in it. There was nothing funny about their on an off again, dysfunctional relationship. She shook her head in disgust, looking as if she was going to leave. Her eyes filled up with tears but they stayed contained, never falling. Her inner self promised she wouldn’t break down. It was hard not to.

Meanwhile, Barry was looking at her glumly, like a child who knew they were about to get scolded.

“You are impossible sometimes,” his daughter said.

He started rocking back and forth again nervously. He sighed. The grip on his whiskey bottle tightened. Soon, he thought. Wash it all away.

But just as he was attempting to apologize and try to be civil, a group of kids came stomping up the stairs, being loud and obnoxious. They all wore metal t-shirts and had some variety of silver poking out of their faces. One of them was Barry’s neighbor. He nodded and said hi. The kid couldn’t help but do a double take at Barry’s daughter. She had just got done with another dead end date and had it in her mind that she was seventeen again instead of thirty and had worn a tight black skirt with a black girlie shirt with a white star in the middle. Whatever doubts she had about her physical self, she did look smokin’ hot. The perfume and bright red lipstick just added to the appearance. She felt like a clown.

Barry nodded to the kid. He liked him even if he and his friends threw pumpkins out of their window last Halloween, making a mess all over the sidewalk.

Kathy began combing her shoulder length black hair with her hand, feeling self-conscious of the way she was dressed as well as the eighteen year old kid’s eyes soaking her in. He’s gonna fucking jerk off about me tonight…Jesus Christ.

The group of punk ass kids went inside their apartment next to Barry’s. Kathy adjusted her purse strap on her shoulder. She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Well, it was nice talking to you.” She turned to leave.

Dammit, Barry. You dumb drunk. She’s your daughter for Christ sakes. Say something nice, something fatherly. She’s obviously upset. Just talk to your daughter.

“Hang on, Kathy.” He was surprised by the pain in his voice and how desperate he sounded. She turned around, her keys jangling on her purse. She said nothing. Barry retrieved the whiskey bottle from his coat. He held it up and said, “How about a drink?”

Her tight posture loosened as her shoulders drooped down. She rolled her eyes and her father mistook her expression for a smile.

Sounding defeated and a little relieved, she said, “Sure.”

And for the first time that day Barry smiled.

 

***

 

“Holy shit, that burns!”

Kathy slammed her shot glass down on the cluttered coffee table in her father’s small, one bedroom apartment. She coughed, covering her mouth. “I haven’t had straight Jack Daniels in a while. Shoot!” She breathed out a tired laugh.

“Feel better, though, right?” Barry said and then laughed out loud. It sounded strange to him.

Kathy slid her hand over her cheeks and laughed too. “Well, I’m not sure about that, dad.”

Her voice quivered when she talked. After the burning sensation from the whiskey settled to a warm glow in her stomach, she leaned back on the couch, which she could almost sink into. Her eyes darted around the messy living room. A slight pang of guilt went through her when she thought of her house, (which was a rental but decent) and a good car for her and her son Avery. Why does he choose to live like this?

His apartment had a peculiar stench to it. One of an old heater, mixed with garbage. The coffee table in front of her was a mess of scattered magazines and old newspapers. But underneath the din of junk was an unopened cd case, still tightly wrapped in plastic. She focused on it, curious of who it was. She averted her eyes quickly when she saw it was the 20th anniversary edition of Barry’s old band, Daze. It was their first LP.

She fought the urge to pick it up and ask why he hasn’t opened it yet. But she knew the answer. Jesus, why can’t he let it go? He must enjoy the torture.

“Busy night?” Barry said. He had taken off his long, brown trench coat. He was wearing a plain white tee shirt with brown stains on it. His jeans looked filthy.

Kathy looked up, still with the running thoughts of her father’s self-inflicted internal abuse in her mind.

“What?”

He nodded, lowering his eyes on what she was wearing, wondering how his once baby girl was now thirty. Too busy sulking in my misery to notice she’s all grown up.

She noticed his gaze but showed no anger.

“Oh, this? Well, you know, just another date night gone bad.” She ran her hand through her hair, letting it fall to the sides of her face. She leaned her head back on the couch.

Barry acted like he understood her pain of being single and being subjected to classless tools who wear too much cologne every other Friday night. She really didn’t feel like going out tonight but did anyway. It kept her ‘I’m a loser’ feelings at bay at least. She’d been up since six this morning, working all day at her job as a bank teller.

Barry didn’t know shit about dating or relationships. A date to him was a night with Bobbi, the local street whore that has her own underground fuck business in town. His collection of a few porn tapes helped soak up some time as well on these lonely Friday nights.

Kathy felt her eyes getting heavy from the long day. Barry was sitting forward in his recliner, obviously not feeling relaxed. He hasn’t seen or spoken to her in three months. He couldn’t even remember what their last fight was about. Something about him being a loser or a dead beat or maybe a shitty father.

“Well, his loss I suppose,” he said, speaking of the tool on her date. “You’re a good girl. You deserve someone good.”

Upon hearing his words, Kathy lifted her tired head from the couch. She looked at him, fighting the sudden bombardment of emotions welling up inside her. At the moment she could either smile, cry or both.

“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“Well, don’t expect me to start writing Hallmark cards anytime soon.”

That made her laugh and then she smiled. They were quiet for a minute or so after that, as if his nice compliment stunned them both. The only sound was the distant thunder constantly booming and Ms. Windhams loud ass TV down the hall. Then, Kathy’s eyes were drawn to the Daze cd again. Her father didn’t seem to notice. She bit at her lip nervously, trying to find the right words to say.

“Look, dad, I’m sorry for not being around lately. It doesn’t have to be this way, you know.” Her tone was soft, non-confrontational.

Barry looked away, waving his hand at her, obviously not wanting to delve too deeply into their fucked up relationship.

“Dad, please.”

“How’s Avery?”

It was all he could think of to say to keep her from digging too deep into things. Let this fix itself, Kathy. I am glad you’re here. That’s a start.

Her eyebrows creased. She was thrown off by him bringing up his grandson before she had a chance to make things right, at least for a month or so.

Her humorless laugh returned.

“He’s good. He misses you.”

She swallowed hard, feeling her guilt slide down her like a razor of failure.

“Why don’t ya bring him by sometime.” He was getting fidgety again. Kathy said nothing. He didn’t expect her to with that deer in the headlights look she was giving him.

I know I’m not the greatest living grandfather and this hell hole ain’t for kids with all the booze and dirty movies layin’ around. Besides, he has David.

Avery’s other grandpa, David, was Kathy’s mom’s husband. He was the full time grandpa. And it had been that way since Avery came into the world. Of course he knew about Barry and did have some kind of relationship with him. Kathy truly wanted her son to know her father. She wasn’t the cold hearted bitch type. Most of the time she carried around a tremendous amount of guilt because Avery was around her mom’s side more often than with Barry.

When Kathy was twelve, her mom got remarried. David Luland was a rich, well to do dentist, always showing off his shit eating grin of pearly whites. She supposed he was all right. There was no drinking or fighting in the household unlike what she had to live through before. She still loved her dad though.

“You know he’s in Boy Scouts, right?”

“Yeah, I think I remember you tellin’ me. It was a while back.”

You don’t remember shit, she thought. Stop, Kathy.

“They’re making these little cars out of pinewood or whatever. They have a race. It’s silly stuff but he keeps asking if his grandpa…you, can help him with it. You know, put the wheels on and design it.” She crossed her arms. There was a hint of sadness in her voice, as if she might start crying. She kept it together and shot another look at the cd again, then looked away quickly.

“I suppose I could do that.” Barry told her. “Hell, I was always tinkerin’ around with my amp…”

He cut his sentence short, realizing he struck a nerve. She glanced up at the ceiling. An argument was in the works and they both knew it. Like father like daughter. We can’t do this anymore, Kathy thought. Barry stood, went into his small kitchen and retrieved a pack of Marlboros. Kathy, realizing that pacifying themselves with cigarettes would keep them from saying anything else to promote a blowout, began fishing around for her own cigarettes in her purse.

“Damn, I’m out.”

“Here,” Barry said and tossed her one of his, despite it not being her brand. She smokes Camel Lights.

She lit it. The rush of smoke felt good as well as the rush of nicotine. She had a false sense of calm. The last thing she wanted was to fight about was her father’s past. It was the main culprit of their bad relationship. She could feel it brewing, like the oncoming storm outside. A street light flickered on and bathed the living room in a golden hue. Barry turned on the lamp next to his recliner. Neither of them realized how dark it had become. They sat in silence for a while, smoking their cigarettes. Kathy wondered why she wanted to see her father in the first place. Usually what brought her around was the guilt for ignoring him months at a time. But now it felt different. There was something else.

Change?

She cringed at the thought. It was easier for her to just sweep things under the rug. Even though the crap is out of sight, it’s still there. She knew they couldn’t go on living this way. But it hadn’t always been so downtrodden. Once upon a time, life was actually good, at least for a while.

In the mid-eighties, Barry did manage to move on, which both his daughter and ex-wife believed to be a miracle. He let go of Daze and his mishap of fucking himself in the ass by telling that producer to go fuck himself. He found a good woman, had a good paying factory job and eventually bought a two bedroom ranch style house in 1987. And best of all, Kathy was in his life. Their relationship was renewed; given a new lease. During that time, they spent more time together than they do now and there was zero fighting and hostility. Kathy had let go of some of her baggage as well. Life was good again. Barry’s ex-wife even allowed him to be at her house on special occasions like 4th of July, birthdays, Kathy’s graduation. There were even a few pictures of all of them together. Barry, Kathy, her mom and of course her shit eating grin husband.

All smiles. What could go wrong?

But of course Barry found a way to fuck it all up. As wonderful as everything was, he still secretly drank and was hiding it from everyone. Like a giant, black cloud of doom looming over his fairy tale life, it rained misfortune on his soul. He nearly killed a co-worker because he was ‘buzzed’ on Jack Daniels while driving a fork lift truck at work. No one was hurt, at least physically. Those old thoughts came creeping back into his life. It should have been me up there on stage. Those are my riffs, my songs. What if? HEY LOOK OUT!

He came home that night from the bar to find a note on the kitchen counter, his wife explaining how she’s had enough of his shit. And worst of all, his visits with Kathy had diminished greatly, thus destroying their relationship once again.

By 1990 he had left behind the good life, trading it in for some cheap, moldy smelling apartment above a shoe store downtown and thus began the rocky on and off again relationship with his daughter. She was twenty-four when he went south for the second time in his life. Her son was two. She didn’t speak to her father for six months in 1990. The pain was too much, the anger too. However, she did her best to still keep in touch with him so he could see his grandson Avery grow up. Life wasn’t the same anymore. Things were just, okay.

Everything was fine. What the fuck happened?

Sitting on the couch, Kathy pondered this thought, inhaling ghost like smoke, hearing the distant thunder. She looked at the Daze cd for the third time. Why am I here?

She knew the answer.

It was to let go and start over again, as trite and hopeless as that may sound. She just needed to know if her father was on board. She looked at him sitting there across the living room in his lazy boy, gripping the Jack Daniels bottle. How ironic that I shared a drink with my father.

In her eyes, she didn’t see her father, but a man in the dark depths of a six year mental breakdown. To her, he looked so small and lost and it made her want to cry.

Those two shots of whiskey she had from earlier were now settling in her bladder. She cringed at the thought of seeing his bathroom, knowing the unkept nightmare surrounding her. But she didn’t think she could hold it. Just don’t sit on the toilet seat.

She stood up, smoothing out her now wrinkled black skirt. Barry looked away, suddenly feeling uncomfortable seeing his adult daughter touch her backside. Please don’t go, he thought.

“Leavin’ already?” He hoped he didn’t sound too desperate.

“No,” she said forcing a smile. “Is your bathroom back there?” She thumbed. He nodded, internally happy that she wasn’t leaving yet.

When she was finished in the bathroom she stopped in the hallway. A lump formed in her throat from the oncoming tidal wave of emotions and memories from hearing the familiar, yet long forgotten sound of her father’s guitar. She put her hand on the wall, leaning into it, fighting the urge to cry. Jesus, dad. It’s been years since she last heard him play. She wondered why he had the urge to pick it up all of a sudden. She entered the living room and stood by the couch. He looked at her and smiled, still strumming a few old chords she hasn’t heard since she was a kid.

He was playing his original ’71 Gibson SG through a small Peavey practice amp. It was at a low setting so it wouldn’t bother his neighbors. Although the punk kids next door would always play their stereo too loud, usually Pantera or Ministry and have a fucking mosh pit in their living room and knock shit over. Barry didn’t mind it. The landlord did however. You fuckin’ kids. I’ll throw you outta here if you don’t turn that shit down!

“You remember how I use to play for you all the time?”

Again, Kathy forced a smile, feeling awkward standing there.

“Sure, dad.”

Of course I do, dad. I think about it all the time. They are great memories, dad.

As she stood there listening, it dawned on her that he still hat ‘it’. He could still actually play the damn thing. Amazing.

Through the power chords, hot licks and riffs he was executing, she did finally begin to cry because she was tired and it had been a long week and was on her period, but really couldn’t take any more of the silence, fighting and grudges between them.

As much as she truly did like to hear her father’s music, it was killing her because it consumed him and took him away from her.

He glanced up at her, still smiling. His hand froze in midair, letting the chord he was playing ring out. Its haunted tone echoed in his apartment. At first sight, he thought she was hurt. He knew it was a silly thought. He hasn’t seen her cry since she was eleven.

It wasn’t an all-out bawling session. She was just weepy and tired. It reminded him how she would fight falling asleep when she was a toddler.

He muted his guitar.

They stared at each other, both knowing where it all was leading. Barry looked away not wanting to see the hurt in her eyes. He didn’t want this awkward moment to lead to a fight. He clicked the off button on his amp and set his guitar down.

“You don’t have to stop,” she said, wiping her eyes.

“No, no, that’s all right. It’s gettin’ late anyway, I suppose. I don’t want to upset you.”

“I’m not upset, dad. Just…I’m sad…for us.”

He leaned forward putting his elbows on his knees. He shook his head, agreeing with her feelings of their sad, miserable relationship.

“What’s wrong with us?” She said. Her voice light yet raspy.

Like an internal switch of emotional distress flipping on inside him, a hard lump formed in his throat. A sudden wave of despair came over him and an intense feeling of having missed out on her life; that and the grueling feeling of wanting to go back and start over and do things right. But he can’t go back. He’s spent most of his life being a jerk and his daughter’s tears are the price. No. There is no going back.

It was too much for him, all this sadness. He felt like he could throw up or pass out from the overwhelming trauma of his life.

Don’t fight it Barry.

But he will fight. He won’t give in and surrender to it all because he’s conditioned to tune it all out. Like changing the radio station when there’s a song he doesn’t like. He only knows how to be bitter and hold grudges and keep love out.

Stop all of this, Barry. You can do it. You can change this right now and make things better. All you have to do is hold out your arms to your daughter and let her know that you’re truly sorry and do love her…

“What do you mean us?”

Her already drooping shoulders drooped a little more. Her mouth slowly opened in disbelief of his words. Her eyes growing bigger as his accusation seeped deeper into her brain.

He yelled, “You’re the one that never comes around!”

She laughed. But there was no humor in it, just the strong feeling of her knowing that this was going to happen. Her eyes were wetting with tears, but they were turning to angry tears.

“You wanna know why, dad!” She yelled back at him. She went around to the cluttered coffee table forcefully grabbing the Daze cd while knocking some useless junk over in the process. “It’s this, dad!” She held up the cd, feeling her fingers tremble on its hard plastic case. The cover seemed to laugh at Barry when he looked at it. What that translated to was him feeling like a jerk and a loser for buying his old band’s newly remastered debut record. The funny part was he hadn’t even opened it yet. He just threw it on the coffee table along with all the other junk.

“What does that have to do with anything?” He said without looking at her.

“I think everything, dad. You can’t even look at it, can you!”

He waved his hand at her like she was a fly annoying him.

She was fighting the ocean of tears building up inside her wanting to burst out. No more, Kathy. No more tears. She threw the cd back onto the cluttered table, as if disgusted with it.

“I’m not going to fight with you anymore, dad. I can’t do it. Please, just let the past go.”

And then a small trickle of a tear did escape her left eye. Barry stood up and was getting fidgety once more. He scratched his head, rocked back and forth on his feet, looked curiously at the ceiling as if it needed repaired. He did anything to distract him from the reality of his life.

But when he did look at her, he didn’t like what he saw. She had her arms wrapped around herself with a look of both defeat and pity on her face. Her eyes letting him know that she felt sorry for him and how his life turned out. It wasn’t a look he was used to. Usually it was an angry scowl, most of the time. Now, she just looked tired and the saddest he’s ever seen her. He felt a rise deep in his chest. I could let it go right now. Just let it all out and start new with my daughter. But if I do, then I know that it will truly be over. The dream will be dead if I give in. But that’s all it ever was, just a dream.

He wasn’t sure if he was ready to let go of his self-pity, and his every day agonizing over how it should have been him that became successful and played to thousands of screaming fans every night. Self-loathing was his drug. He was a full blown addict.

He was waiting for her to say something; anything really, that would keep their current relationship alive because that’s all he knew. She only looked at him with that defeated mask of pity.

“Please, dad.”

The punk ass kids next door turned on their stereo. A loud, yet muffled heavy drumbeat vibrated through the walls. Kathy winced at the abrasive booming, feeling angry at them for disrupting what she hoped to be a breakthrough in her and her father’s damaged relationship. She let out a breath of frustration, bringing her fingers to the sides of her head. A loud bump hit the wall. She jumped.

“I can’t fight with you anymore, dad!”

“But I’m sure that’s why you paid me a visit, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not, dad. I’m your daughter. Can’t I just stop by to say hi or see how you’re doing?”

Barry blew out a laugh of sarcasm. “Since when have you been the caring type?”

She was losing her patience. But she wasn’t angry. Only tired and wanting to change.

Barry continued, his voice becoming louder. “I know how you really feel about me. You think I’m a godamm loser, don’t you!”

She shut her eyes tight, trying to fend off the guilt, because at one point she did think that of him, but not now.

“Dad, right now it looks like you are the only one who wants to argue. I just want all this to change. You have a grandson for Christ sakes! He barely knows who you are. And yes I’m partly to blame for that. But, dad, we can’t do this anymore!” Another bang hit the wall. “Fuck!” Kathy shouted.

“He has his other grandpa, anyway. What does he need me for?”

It was a losing battle. One that Kathy has fought one too many times. She had enough.

“I gotta go, dad.”

He gave her a sulking look. She paid no attention.

“Go on then!”

“Jesus, dad, just stop.”

She was at the door with her hand curled around the doorknob, ready to leave, but turned around abruptly. Her keys chimed loudly on her purse strap when she whipped around.

“Don’t you see me standing right here, trying to make things better for us. You’re so caught up in your misery, you don’t even want to try and change. You’re not hearing me, dad. It was just a band. I know it was everything to you, but you were everything to me a long time ago. And know you don’t even care.”

She covered her mouth, feeling both angry and embarrassed for coughing out a cry, falling apart in front of him.

He stood there in front of her, his shoulders hunched with that pathetic, glum, sulking look on his haggard face. He raised his hand to touch her but she backed away like he was a disease.

“Don’t,” she said tiredly and sniffed. She wiped her eyes, smearing black mascara on her face and hands. “Shit.” She laughed.

The increasing rumble of thunder was like an intermission as they stood silently by the door.

“Dad, the door is open. You just have to walk through. Thanks for the drink.”

She left him standing there by the doorway; the loud music next door echoing down the hallway.

Kathy pushed through the exit door at the bottom of the steps. She continued to wipe her tears away as she walked to her car. A bright flash of purple lit up the sky. A gust of wind blew her hair over her shoulder. “He’ll never change.”

Upstairs, Barry slowly closed the door. He turned and gazed angrily at the Daze cd on the coffee table. Without even realizing his feet were in motion, he was at the table, staring down at the square piece of plastic. Caught somewhere between his hatred of himself (for letting his past rule and destroy his life) and his desperate need to know what could’ve been, he slammed his fists into his forehead. They opened like a tarantula’s legs, gripping his thinning hair as his inner self crumbled.

He fell to his knees, letting out an agonizing yell, filling his small apartment with hopelessness and despair. Another bang hit the wall, but he didn’t flinch. He released his grip from his hair and threw his thin arm across the messy coffee table, spewing paper and other assorted junk on the floor. He howled again. The kids next door howled along with him, ‘Whooo Barry’, completely unaware of his mental breakdown.

Standing up, he staggered to his lazy boy where the Jack Daniels bottle sat next to it on the floor. His knees popped when he lowered himself to retrieve the pain killing alcohol, letting him know his age and old bones. He grabbed the bottle in desperation and put it to his mouth and took one long gulp of the fiery, brown liquid. It burned his throat but he didn’t care. He let out another howl of despair. The next five minutes he downed the rest of the Jack Daniels. His world was spinning out of control. Chaos whirled in front of him, blurring his vision. His daughter, old bandmates, ex-wife, Jack Goldman, the old man at the liquor store and the pretty, dark haired bartender with eyes as big as quarters all flew past him in a drunken blur.

should have kept my mouth shut are you good here friend mommy likes to listen to daddys band and clap along push me on the swings daddy i love you go fuck yourself jack happy birthday kathy eat shit loser fuck you it should have been me what if what if what if what if shut the fuck up barry drink the night away and the pain play a tune its out of tune its okay it aint okay youre fired fuck you drink some more and pay for all your sins I love you daddy

Barry stumbled around in his living room, not even feeling the pain in his shin when he ran into the coffee table because he was so numb. He spun around with his arms outstretched until he collapsed into his lazy boy.

“Okay, Jack. It sounds great,” he said, slurring his speech with his eyes closed and head leaning back on the recliner, feeling the effect of the hardcore whiskey flooding his veins.

“Ya hear me! It sounds great! Play it back. I wanna hear it one more time.”

Now he was crying.

“Sounds great, don’t change a thing,” he said over and over again.

And then he drifted off to some hazy, drunken world of sleep and self-pity. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, shaking his apartment. But Barry was already asleep.

His demons, wide awake.

 

***

 

A deep rumble and a persistent, dreadful feeling of being watched woke Barry from his drunken slumber. His eyes shot open but he knew he wasn’t truly awake. A moment of panic thrust into him like a jolt of electricity when he saw only pure blackness around him. He opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out. His mind was alive though.

“I’m dreaming.”

The horror of being blind washed into him like dark waves on a midnight ocean.

“I’m blind! Dear God, what is happening?”

Then he felt movement. Am I still in the recliner?

He no longer felt plastered. His mind was clear and well aware of the darkness shrouding him. The recliner began to slowly move forward like an old school funhouse ride at the county fair. He tried to move but was stuck to it, although his arms were free to move around. Then a faint white dot appeared in the distance. It was a dull white. Not bright. Barry squint his eyes, focusing on the small dot.

“Who is that? What’s going on?”

His words were not answered but only greeted by a more revealing shape coming straight at him.

“AHHHH!” He screamed and covered his face. But he still saw the shape. There was no defense in the dream world. Anything can happen. Anything your dark heart desires.

He screamed again but the shape kept coming right at him. He had no choice but to stare at the ghastly, horrid face of a hooded skull face lurching towards him in this eternal, black void. The entity reached out for Barry with dull white, cracked, bony hands. But then it stopped in front of him, only a few feet away, looking haunted and darkly menacing; it’s deadly black robe, suspended and waving in mid-air, moving slowly as if under water.

“What do you want?” Barry asked the entity.

The death skeleton raised its bony hand and commanded Barry to follow him, gesturing with its first finger. The recliner started moving again, this time a little faster. The robed thing opened its arms wide as if to take Barry into its dark, death embrace.

“God, help me. Please!”

The recliner took off on its journey, following close behind the skeleton, going down a long, dark hallway. Everything was black. All Barry could see was the grinning skull face, but then the recliner came to a dead stop. He jerked forward, snapping his neck. The dark hallway suddenly lit up with bright, white bulbs going down the center of the ceiling. On each side of Barry, black walls were adorned with shining, platinum records with his name engraved in red on the bottom. He looked at them in confusion.

“What is this?”

The skull face released a vile, sludgy cackle. And then the platinum records morphed into metal saw blades and began spinning violently. Great sparks of white light shot out as they swooped down at Barry’s head. He covered himself and screamed as the lazy boy bolted down the hallway. The high pitched buzz assaulted his hearing without remorse. ZZZZZZZZZ. A metallic odor filled his nostrils. He could feel the heat of the sparks hitting his body. The light blinded him when he braved peeking through his fingers.

Up ahead, a massive black door came into view. A blood red door knob was attached to it. Barry was speeding straight towards it. The death skeleton continued its dark laughter. Barry screamed. He was going to slam right into it. But the lazy boy came to another dead stop, halting itself in front of the door, jerking Barry forward again. He covered his face with his sweaty hands, muting his scream of terror. The skeleton moved to the left of Barry and outstretched its right arm, welcoming him to see what horrors lie behind the great black door. Barry slowly lowered his hands from his face just as the door creaked open. The lazy boy inched forward. The door opened a little more and the sound of a roaring crowd could be heard, but only faintly. A dazzling array of lights splashed across Barry’s face. He could hear the heavy thump of a bass drum and the buzz and rumble of a guitar and bass. The high pitched wail of a scream flew into his eardrums. The lazy boy pulled to the edge of the door and stopped. As if looking over a cliff at a great height, Barry looked down.

Daze was on stage playing to a sold out arena. His eyes widened at what he saw. He smiled at the sight. Then tears rolled down his face when he saw his younger self near the edge of the stage, belting out a blistering guitar solo, a mob of raised fists in front of him, finger tips reaching for the arena ceiling. The loud rock fodder echoed to Barry as he sat confined in the lazy boy. He bounced his head to the rhythm and moved his left hand along a fretboard that wasn’t there, only in his mind. Then the band stopped playing and a single spotlight drew itself on Barry on stage. Older Barry watched his younger self shred a killer guitar solo. The notes flowing along the guitar with liquid fluency, pummeling out badass bends, scales and hammer-ons. But as Barry watched his younger self slay the audience with blistering, rock guitar mayhem, the fluent notes began to go off key. It made him cringe. They got worse as he played and the crowd began to boo and hiss obscenities at Barry on stage.

“No, no!” Barry yelled from his lazy boy. He tried to jump out but couldn’t.

Then Barry on stage glared at his older self from afar; an evil, malicious grin on his face. He played on single note that screamed from the stage all the way to Barry in the lazy boy. It knocked him backward. And it was a familiar note; one that changed the course of his life forever. He was suddenly sitting right up again. Younger Barry spoke to him then.

“Hey, Barry.” His voice travelled from the PA to the lazy boy. They were a football field away but older Barry heard his own voice crystal clear.

“GO FUCK YOURSELF!”

And then Barry on stage hit a power chord that sent older Barry reeling through a time warp tunnel in his blackened nightmare. He was spinning out of control and screaming, flying wildly along a deep black hole of nothing. Bolting through the black tunnel, he knew he was in for something far worse that an out of tune guitar. He was being transported to a darker place.

He could feel it.

And then he was there.

 

***

 

A well-kept, high rise building stood tall in front of him. It was a warm summer night at two a.m. Even at the late hour, a small crowd of people stood at the entrance of the building.

“What is this place? What’s happening now?” Barry asked loudly in frustration. His guide grinned sinister like and pointed to the top of the building.

The Hyatt.

The lazy boy lifted up off the ground. It startled Barry but he really lost his shit when it started going up towards the roof of the building at a roller coaster angle. It got higher and higher until it reached the penthouse suite of the hotel. He braved a look downward at the group of people standing at the entrance. He gasped at the sickening height. Then, the lazy boy drifted closer to the building where it easily disappeared into the wall, going inside the penthouse.

“Where am I? Dammit, do you hear me!” Tears of both fear and anger slid down his face. The skeleton stretched out its robed arm like some mechanical, funhouse ghoul. Its bony finger pointed to the other side of the room. Barry followed its direction but squint his eyes to see. The room was dark but eventually he saw a large bed….and something else too.

A body.

The lazy boy moved slowly to the bed. Barry heard a soft crying. A girl he thought. The heavy stench of whiskey, sex and pot lingered all around him. A human form then took shape on the bed, appearing out of nowhere. A bright, almost surgical light popped on, exposing a young, blonde haired female of about twenty or twenty-one. Her hair was cut short just above her shoulders. Her arms were splayed out and handcuffed to the bedposts, as well as her legs too, with red leather cuffs wrapped around her milk white skin. She wore a white bra and nothing else. Her blonde thatch was dyed red.

Barry felt his stomach turn. I don’t want to see this.

Her hourglass figure bucked and writhed on the bed as she tried to break free from the hand constraints. Her high pitched yelps of fear sounded oddly arousing to Barry. Her hips pushed hard into the downy softness of the bed. It was no use.

“Oh, dear God. Somebody help her! What is all of this!” Barry screamed.

“Do you really wanna know?” A voice sounding vicious came from somewhere in the dark room.

“Who said that?” Barry cried.

“It was you, Barry.” The voiced chuckled. “Or maybe it was me!”

A figure jumped in front of Barry, making his heart jump. He shrieked at the sight and covered his eyes. But the figure smacked them away and said, “Have a look, Barry. Go on. Don’t be afraid. It’s only you!”

A naked man stood before him, wearing an executioner’s mask and a spiked, black leather choker around his neck. He wore long, black rubber gloves going up to his elbows. His long hair was pulled back tight in a ponytail.

“Hi, Barry!” The beastly man yelled in front of Barry’s face. Barry’s fright coiled around him like a snake. “What are you?”

“Don’t you mean, who am I?” The man laughed loudly. “Why, I’m you Barry!” He removed his mask, revealing a sick, pale white face, like it had been powdered. Thick, black mascara outlined his eyes, going to sharp points at the sides. Barry wanted to scream once again for the millionth time but couldn’t because of the harsh taste of bile tearing at his throat. His eyes lingered on his nightmare self. He noticed then the other accessory the beast was wearing; a pair of black, seven inch platform boots.

“This isn’t me! I’m not him!” Barry cried out, shaking his head. “You hear me! You’re not me!”

“Oh, but I am, Barry. Now don’t you wanna see what I’m gonna do to this pretty little gal all tied up behind me, with nowhere to go?”

“No, no. GOD, NO!”

“Yes, yes. GOD, YES! I think you do! In fact, you always wanted to know what your life would have been like if you kept your dumbass mouth shut and just left that sour note alone, right?” Well, watch this, rockstar!”

Young, blissfully demented Barry, jumped on the bed, straddling the girl; his platform boots tightened around the curve of her waist. She squirmed beneath his gaunt, thin framed body. He took ahold of her face, squeezing her mouth hard with his clammy hand. Then he bent forward, bringing his horror white face to hers. She screamed in the dark room, turning away from his hideous, nightmare face.

Barry in the lazy boy looked away too. But it was the gurgling, ripping, tearing tone that made him look at the big ‘what if I made it’ nightmare unfolding in front of him. Young Barry was hunkered down over the girl, his head bobbing up and down over her face. Animalistic sounds mixed with deadly, female screams. He lifted himself up, holding out his arms in a crucifix pose, clenching his fists, growling like a bloodbeast.

He turned his head to the side. A thick piece of skin dangled from his mouth. Older Barry covered his mouth in disgust, but that didn’t keep that force of hot bile from finally rushing up and out his mouth. He vomited and it splattered on the floor. Young Barry pounced off the girl, whose face was a bloody, torn up mess. He spit out the pink piece of flesh he had ripped from her face.

“The grass really isn’t greener on the other side, now is it, Barry? It’s black and it’s vile and has fucking teeth!”

“YOU’RE NOT ME!”

Young, bloody, Barry cocked his head back and laughed out loud at older Barry’s anger. Drops of blood fell from his lips onto the floor.

A familiar flash of bright purple lit up the dark hotel room and then a blast of thunder shook the floor like an ancient beast rising up from the guts of the earth.

Barry shut his eyes tight, willing this nightmare to leave him be. This is just a horrible nightmare. That’s all, Barry. Wake up. Come on, wake the fuck up!

But it wasn’t finished with him yet. A hard rain began to fall down on him. It pierced his skin, hurting him. His vision was obscured by the downpour. Disorientation overwhelmed him from the lightning and thunder. And then he was standing up; the lazy boy recliner long gone.

Now a new scene showed itself in front of him. It was similar because there was a building, but not the same one that housed face eating rockstars. It was a tall, grey building. Its dismal color matched Barry’s doomed feeling.

There were a series of steps leading up to the main entrance. A strange, square object sat at the top of the stairs. The hard rain made it difficult for Barry to see exactly what it was. Lightning flashed. Barry looked up, shading his eyes from brilliant light.

Standing at the center of the building, on the roof, the robed skeleton floated eerily, gazing down at Barry. He shuddered at the sight; the dark monument in this hellish, prison of a nighmare.

“What is this place? Why am I here?” Barry yelled at the entity as rain fell down on him.

The skeleton only looked at him from above, giving no direction of what to do or where to go. Barry looked at the square object again. He felt drawn to it. Like it was a magnet and he was the weak, metal piece giving in to its powerful pull. He walked up the steps keeping his eyes on it. But first he noticed what was written on the main entrance door in big white letters. The Indiana State Mental Hospital. Then he looked down at the mysterious, square object at his feet. It was a bundle of newspapers. He reached down and lifted up the heavy stack. On the front page a headline read: Rock guitar hero committed to mental health facility. He opened his mouth and gasped a breath of shock. His eyes quickly scanned the article beneath the headline. Barry Lebbon, guitarist for the rock band Daze was found outside the Hyatt in Cleveland, running around the premises half naked. Inside, a twenty-one year old female whose name has yet to be released was found tied to a bed in Barry’s hotel room. The young girl was alive but had major injuries to her face and body.

“No, no! This can’t be happening! I never did this!”

Thunder crashed and he was inside the insane asylum. He jumped from the jolt of being instantly transported from rain to shelter. He was standing in a long, wide hallway. It was dark and stunk of piss and other bodily fluids; at the end stood the robed entity. It’s hideous, white skull face glowed in the darkness. It pointed its finger at Barry and then swept away down the adjacent hallway.

Barry followed, trying to keep up with the inky shadows layering themselves on the walls. Up ahead he saw the slow motion movement of the entity’s robe.

“Wait!” Barry yelled. “I want out of this place! Please!”

The skeleton edged around a corner, gliding down yet another darkened hallway. As Barry ran past closed doors of mental patients, he heard loud, wild, lunatic laughter all around him and then a bone jolting banging coming from behind the doors, like thunder in hell.

The hall lit up neon purple when lightening flashed. And then he saw the entity a few feet away, hovering inches above the floor, next to a room with the door cracked open, a ray of cold light shining out. Without asking, Barry cautiously went to the door. Somehow he knew it was a room reserved for him; a special room for him in this dark nightmare. He grimaced sickly at the entity as he moved closer to the room. He heard a sound. Something like a rusty swing set gliding back and forth but lighter and squeakier.

His foot stepped into the light.

Don’t do it Barry. Just wake yourself up and get out of this hell! But the entity engaged in that familiar gesture by outstretching its arm towards the door, prompting Barry to go inside and witness the outcome of his chosen path if he had so chosen to keep his opinion to himself and become a full-fledged rockstar.

“What if?” He said quietly to himself, his eyes full of fear.

He knew this was the final stop on this hell tour and the last time the entity would extend its bony arm.

With trembling hands he closed his eyes and pushed the door open slowly. It creaked like an ancient coffin. Once inside, he opened his eyes. The room was warm, humid and dark. That cold ray of light was coming from the bathroom.

Jesus, Barry, wake up, dammit!

Thunder rumbled, vibrating the floor. He was right next to the bathroom door and the squeaking sound was so incredibly loud.

Do I really want to see this? Do I want to see what could’ve been? It’s been nothing but a nightmare so far.

A keen sense of being completely alone came over him. He turned around quickly, searching for the robed entity but it was nowhere in sight.

You’re on your on now, Barry. It’s up to you; no one here to force you inside. I could turn around and walk out of this room and nightmare and wake myself up.

But he knew better. He pushed the door open.

His knees met the floor when he saw the terrible sight in front of him. He felt no pain. He was too numb. An aching howl soared from his internally broken self.

In front of him he saw himself hanging from an orange extension cord wrapped around his neck. The suicide contraption was rigged at the top of the bathroom door. His drooping body looked utterly pathetic in a teal green hospital gown. His knees were hanging just above the floor. His dead self’s arms lay close to his body. An unpeaceful look of sleep and grief was on his face; directly under him a puddle of urine pooled around his hairy knee caps.

Barry gazed at his dead self in more pity than shock.

A mass of bowels then discarded itself from his rectum, making a wet, plop sound as it splashed into the puddle of urine.

Barry gagged but did not vomit. Instead he cried. The poor son of bitch cried at the sight of his nightmare suicide reality. A blast of dream thunder startled him but he kept on crying. Death and sadness surrounded him.

“Oh, but you didn’t fail Barry. You made it. You became successful. And your band went on to go double platinum and sell out the arenas of the world. The problem was, in this world you couldn’t handle the fame.”

He stopped crying and looked up to see a somber faced, grandfatherly looking doctor in a white coat, holding his hands behind his back.

“In reality, you are much better at handling the idea of never making it, than you are with actually…well, making it.

“You’re a drunk and your daughter hates you, but you are alive my good sir. You are not dangling from an extension cord you swiped from the janitor’s closet, shitting and pissing the death out of you. And you know what, Barry? You don’t even appreciate that.”

“But I do! Dear, God, I do! I just want this to end. Please, no more!”

A flash of purple and then thunder exploded.

“Whooo, rock and roll, handsome!”

Barry screamed at the sight of the hourglass, naked dead girl with an eaten off, bloody pulp face.

“Remember me, Barry? Cleveland, front row, me and my girls smiling and saying hi to you up onstage?” She clutched her boobs, bloodying them with her handprints and then laughed a sweet, girlish laugh. A hunk of flesh fell from her lips. “Oops! Look what you did to me, Mr. Rockstar. You and your fit of PCP rage!”

More thunder crashed.

“Daddy, will you take me to the park? I love the swings the best!” The dead blonde said but in a little girl’s voice. She morphed into Barry’s daughter, Kathy, when she was eight.

And then her mother appeared. “Come on honey. Daddy’s dead. He can’t take you to the park anymore. He was better off telling that producer to go fuck himself. Let’s go dear.” She took her by the hand and led her away. Kathy turned and gave her father a sad frown.

Barry chocked back a harsh cry.

“Wait! Don’t go!” His voice echoed.

Goodbye, Daddy. I love you.

And then the room went black. He was blinded by the same suffocating darkness he felt before at the start of this horrible nightmare. His released childlike whimpers of fear. He couldn’t speak. Fear consumed him entirely, swallowing him up like some greedy monster.

“Barry” An evil voice whispered in the darkness.

Barry brayed something inaudible upon hearing the voice. He knew the voice; knew it well, because it was his.

“Barry, come and play.”

And then evil, sinister laugher.

A hissing, screeching guitar sound began to pierce Barry’s ears. It was a recognizable cacophony; his wrong, out of tune notes, screaming like bloody violins.

“Sound familiar, Barry?”

“NOOOOOO!” The broken man finally screamed.

The tone was getting louder and it was still pitch black all around him. Searing chaos filled the void. Sick laugher joined it. Barry covered his ears. He let the nightmare truth of ‘what if’ rain over him. He fell to the ground, giving up, letting the terror seize him.

And then it ended.

The only sound now was his weak, sobbing. But the nightmare wasn’t over yet. One more for the road.

A hot, red light suddenly stabbed the darkness with its blood red color. Barry lifted his head. Heat radiating from the red glow made his forehead breakout with sweat. Before him was his other self, but not the broken man in a hospital gown. No. It was his twisted other from the hotel room. Black platform boots, naked white face of horror and black mascara all bathed in blood light. He did however have an accessory and that was the orange extension cord around his neck. His head hung low. Then he started to laugh, softly at first but growing to an evil crescendo of lunacy.

As Barry looked on at the face eating Barry thing, he began drifting away from the horror image. As he floated away, his other self lifted its dead head, revealing a sinister grin.

“Sweet dreams, Barry.” Insane laughter. Dark echoes in darkness. “Sweeeeet dreams.”

Every time a giggle would occur, his dangling male appendage would shake, making the image more revolting.

Farther and farther away, Barry drifted from the hellish scene.

And then he stopped. He tried to move but his feet were stuck to the ground.

“Hey, Barry.” The thing said half a football field away.

“GO FUCK YOURSELF!”

FACERIPPINGSERIALKILLERGUITARGODFREAKMASTERSAYSKILL

 

 

***

“AHHHHHHH!!”

Violent thunder exploded all around Barry, waking him from his guilt and whiskey induced night torment. He awoke with a hard jerk, unknowingly kicking the Jack Daniels bottle across the living room floor. He fell out of his lazy boy, hitting the floor hard. His head roared with pain. His mouth was a cotton field. He had no idea how long he had been asleep. Terror had its massive hands wrapped around him at the moment. He wasn’t sure if he was fully awake or still trapped in his nightmare.

A flash of lightning lit up the living room. In the corner of his eye he saw the demonic other Barry, hunched over a dead body like a ravenous animal. He whipped his head around at Barry, snarling as he did, also gibbering and laughing with a blood splotched face; a piece of skin hanging out his mouth.

Barry screamed and rubbed his eyes and looked again in the corner but the haunting, nightmare after image was gone.

He pulled himself up and leaned back on the recliner. His hands covered his face trying to contain the tears flooding his eyes, but the pain current was too strong. They came rushing down.

He cried until dawn and until the thunderstorm had dissipated, fizzling out to a mere light rain with intermittent, weak rumblings of thunder, sounding like tired, defeated gods.

 

When he awoke sometime later, the sun was shining brightly through his small kitchen window. He didn’t remember falling asleep again; only the sad, bitter tears gushing from his old eyes, because the nightmare had tortured him, making him see what indeed would have happened if he had become a success and remained the axe man for his band Daze.

What if, he thought with a chill once he was fully awake. Part of him was telling himself that he experienced the worst nightmare he’s ever had. The other part was fighting the razor chill feeling that it was all real. He rubbed his forehead. A pain of regret turned his stomach when he saw the Jack Daniels bottle across the living room; just another wasted Friday night, drowning my mistakes in the whiskey river. And then he remembered the ghastly being that was himself, all decked out in an executioners mask and tall black boots. He shivered, trying to make the image go away in his mind. That wasn’t me.

The clock on his microwave said 7:32. Way too early for a hangover. He sighed at the disaster of his living room. Scattered paper and junk was all over the floor; his apartment in general needed to be cleaned up. Under all the crap was a piece of plastic. The sun was shining directly on it making it glare and shine like a diamond hidden under a pile of coal. Barry saw it and wished the sun would melt it and destroy it for good, removing it from his life. He didn’t really want to hear it that much anyway. He wrote the damn songs. But that itching, annoying feeling kept gnawing at him to go buy a copy just to see if they at least mentioned his name. Would they thank him or bad mouth him saying they were better off without him.

He was looking at the still unopened cd and thinking of his nightmare that felt so damn real. He cringed at the picture in his mind of the blonde girl with her face ripped off. He equally cringed at the memory of him standing face to face with Jack Goldman in 1976 telling him to go fuck himself.

He flinched at the image of him hanging dead in an insane asylum bathroom. His mind was battling back and forth between reality and a dream of what did happened and what could have been. He didn’t know which was worse.

In the end, he allowed himself to believe they were equally bad, but in different ways. One thing is certain, he thought. They both have taken my life from me in some way or another, be it abandoning my daughter for my misery or going off the deep end of fortune and fame, torturing a young girl and then killing myself.

It was enough of a wakeup call.

He was amazed by his lacking an enormous hangover of death from drinking the whole bottle of Jack Daniels. It was the next size down from the biggest one they had at the liquor store. This was enough of a push to get him up and moving. He went to his bathroom. Leaning his hands on the sink, he looked at himself in the mirror. The haggard mask on his face overwhelmed him and made him sad of how he’s let himself go. Images of the nightmare kept popping into his mind. He weighed the dreams and reality again. As real and vivid as his dream was he knew it was only a dream.

But what if it was all true? What if I did end up torturing a girl and committing suicide in a mental hospital?

That scenario made him sick.

What if, he thought. What if I just let it all go.

And then he knew what he had to do. He splashed cold water on his face to kill the hangover and went back out into the living room. He turned on the radio as he cleaned up the mess on the floor.

A smooth, sultry voice of a female dj came through on the speakers.

And that was one doozy of a storm last night, folks. I hope everyone made it through. Damage, however, was minimal. Today it’s a scorcher with a high of 92. Then on Sunday, 95. Ouch!

Barry worked quickly, focused like a man on a mission. He worked with a new sense of vigor and hope. An hour passed and his apartment was renewed.

He shaved and took a quick shower, hoping that the water wouldn’t be a bastard and turn cold too quickly. When he was finished cleaning himself up, he looked at himself in the mirror again, this time combing his rough hands through his gray streaked, frizzy hair. He grunted at the idea of getting a haircut. A few minutes later he was sitting in his lazy boy, smoking a cigarette thinking he may try to kick the habit soon, but not today. He was staring at the phone, contemplating. He grunted again, got up and went to it, slowly picking up the receiver. He dialed his daughter’s number.

“Storm get your place?” He said loudly into the phone.

“What? Dad, is that you?” His daughter said sleepily.

“Yeah, it’s me. Your yard a mess? That wind was pretty bad.”

She didn’t say anything for a few beats, a little confused.

“Uh, I think its fine. You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m just checking in on you and Avery. Is he around?”

“Yes. He’s watching Gargoyles, eating Fruity Pebbles.”

“Gar what?”

“Gargoyles. It’s a kids cartoon.”

“Oh.” Tell her your sorry, you dumbshit! “Um,” he coughed.

“Are you all right?” Kathy said and then paused. Barry stayed silent. “Dad, is everything okay?” She said softly, with concern in her voice.

“Sure, I’m good. I was thinkin’ of heading down to Jimmy’s for a snip. Think Avery might wanna go with me?”

“Oh, he had a haircut two days ago.”

“Oh, okay, well.”

“But, I’m sure he’d like to go with you.”

“Great, okay. I didn’t wake you up did I?”

“No, I was up.” Had too much on my mind to sleep.

“Tell you what, when we’re done at Jimmy’s, we’ll go over to Stenmore’s hardware and pick up a glue gun and everything he needs for his car you were talkin’ about.”

“You don’t have to do that, dad. I got it.”

“I know, but I want to Kathy.”

“Yeah, but…all right.”

“After that I’ll come back by and take you guys out for lunch. Sound good?”

And of course she knew she would be paying for all this. A janitors pay can’t cover lunch, a haircut and a trip to the hardware store. She figured they were in there ‘let’s get along phase’ now. But hoped it was more than that.

“Dad, if this is about last night…”

“It’s okay, Kathy. Really it is. Don’t worry about any of that. Please, just let me do this.”

She sighed and was quiet for a moment. Barry could hear the TV playing that Gar kids show or whatever it was.

“You didn’t get struck by lightning last night, did you?”

“Ha!” He laughed. No, honey. But I did see something that I never want to see again. “I’ll be by in about twenty minutes, okay.”

“Okay.”

“Well, all right then.”

The both were silent then as if trying to read each other’s thoughts.

“Hey, dad,” Kathy began to say.

“Yeah.”

I love you.

“I’ll see you in a bit.”

“All right.”

“Be careful.”

“I will.”

Barry set the phone down back in its cradle. He took a seat in his lazy boy again. As he was putting on his shoes, getting ready to leave, that feeling of hope rushed over him again. He glanced around his freshly cleaned apartment as warm, sunshine filled the room.

Clean kitchen, uncluttered living room. An unopened cd in the trash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midnight Special

 

 

Greg stared out the front windshield of is ’91 Dodge Omni and took another long drag from his Camel Light. The building in front of him was a large brick structure that seemed menacing to him, but really it was just an old building that housed some of Indiana’s finest mentally ill folks. The sky was colored a deep purple as a summer evening thunderstorm threatened the town of Blare and the surrounding areas. A distant thunder made itself known and heat lighting lit up the sky, making the Indiana State Mental Hospital seem even more menacing to Greg.

The I.S.M.H. was home to more than three hundred insane humans with talents ranging from hearing voices, seeing things that aren’t really there like blood drenched horses with devil wings, government conspiracy experts and more. Greg really didn’t care about the patients. He just needed a job; mostly to get his old man off his back. You need to get a job and make something of yourself. Besides, it might help you with what happened. Greg flinched at the memory of the stupid pep talk his dad gave him a month ago and how he put his hand on his shoulder, making it seem as if he really cared. What a crock. He was convinced neither of his parents gave a shit about him. They were consumed with constantly yelling and fighting with one another. Divorce was on the horizon. He wished they would just hurry up and do it already, instead of torturing him with their hatefulness every day.

But Greg is twenty one and a big boy now and has to start handling all of life’s hard knocks that are just knocking the fuck out of him lately.

First there is his home life. It sucks. The screaming, the fighting. The, ‘I hate you and I want you out of my life’ routine was getting old. Oh, and not to mention his mother’s constant goddam crying and throwing the occasional dinner plate at his father’s head. Her chain smoking and drinking didn’t help matters either. They were a well to do family, his dad being a high powered lawyer. Nice big house in a gated community.

Secondly, his girlfriend of five years, cheated on him. He showed up at her house four months ago, knowing that her parents were out of town, and let himself in. Standing in her kitchen he heard something he didn’t really want to hear coming from upstairs. He followed the sound of her voice yipping and yapping like she was nearly in tears, only to push open her bedroom door to find her bouncing herself silly on top of Bo Sterling. He was the star quarterback when they were in high school.

Another girl was in the room too. She was sitting next to the fucking couple, playing with herself. Greg immediately recognized her from high school but couldn’t remember her name. She was from ‘the other side of the tracks’ back in school. From the looks of it, things haven’t changed.

Greg’s girlfriend turned her head upon hearing the door open. The shock of seeing him standing there with a six pack of Jolt and a rented vhs copy of Clerks, (Aww, you kids were going to have movie night, weren’t you. How sweet), had thrown her body into a fear induced orgasm. She ejaculated her sex onto the jocks jock, letting out an animalistic screech of pleasure and shock. The jock yelled, ‘Yahtzee’ when she did. He was completely unaware Greg was in the room witnessing all of this. Greg’s girlfriend jumped off the couch and charged furiously at him, pushing at him, yelling and cursing at him to get out. “Get out! Get the fuck outta here, Greg!” The other girl, whoever the fuck she was, started laughing.

The girl Greg had been with since he was sixteen had suddenly turned into this hideous, sexual monster. He found it both scary and arousing. Her face was fever red and sweaty from all the sex. But really, it was because she was angry she got caught and for a split second Greg saw a desperate pleading in her eyes for him to leave because she knew it was killing him. However, for reasons unknown, he wanted to push her to the floor and fuck the godamm shit out of her because he was so turned on and he didn’t know why. She looked so hot and smelled like sex. But then the sex buzz started to wear off inside him. And then the hurt took over. And it was painful.

And to make things extra painful, she had went to his house the next day and offered him a blowjob as she sat on his bed, crying, trying to explain what happened. He accepted of course, but cried as she did it. She finally stopped, rolled her eyes, sighed and then left.

Then, there was that other terrible thing that happened a few weeks later, but Greg doesn’t like to think about that too much.

He flicked his cigarette out the window. It landed on the black top parking lot and fizzled out. Blowing the rest of his smoke out, he sighed and cringed when he put his hand on the door handle. Who starts a new job on a Friday night? He thought, and then, losers like me. He got out and slammed the door and made his way to the entrance of the building, totally not ready to begin a twelve hour shift as a night security guard at the crazy house.

It was a quarter to seven in the evening.

 

***

 

“It’s as dead as a graveyard in here, come nightfall. But that’s a good thing, makes the job nice and easy.”

Greg felt ten rather than twenty-one as a white haired security guard of sixty-eight explained his job duties. He could smell coffee on the old man’s breath. They were both sitting behind a large glass sliding window. A big, grey desk lay before Greg, with a plethora of office supplies scattered about. A 1970’s walkie talkie sat in the corner along with a Mr. Coffee coffeemaker.

The old man slapped his hands down hard on the desk. Greg jumped in his seat.

“Well, you got me until nine. Then its lickety split for me.”

Great.

Most of those two hours were spent watching doctors and other staff exit through the turnstile door, ready to start their weekend. Probably having a bbq or taking the boat out to the lake or whatever rich doctors do on weekends.

And of course Greg had to sit through the old man gawking at a Hustler magazine with his feet propped up on the messy desk top. Greg could hear the old man’s steady in and out breaths of oohs and ahhs and ‘would ya look at that’. At one point the old man got up, holding the magazine under his arm. “Back in sec.”

Greg didn’t even want to think of what the old guy was planning, but knew damn well what he was doing. He let out a bored sigh, sitting there alone, wearing a uniform that was too big on him. He laid his elbows on the desk and covered his face. I could try again. I’m sure this place has got drugs and needles all over. The harsh slap of the old man’s dirty magazine hitting the desk startled Greg out of his dreams of suicide, ten minutes later.

“Well, that ‘bout does it for me. Lickety split time.”

After a few general rules about what to do and not to do, the old man left Greg to fend for himself.

Twidly dee twidly dum suck my fuckin’ thumb.

The clock was running on molasses rather than batteries. During those first fifteen minutes of being alone and bored out of his mind, he peeked under the desk in hopes of finding a treasure of porno mags.

Nothing.

Oh well. You still have the image of your girlfriend bouncing up and down on that jock, her chestnut hair and round ass going along for the ride. Greg wished he had a steak knife right about now so he could tear himself open and let the pain leave his body. Sorry, Greg, no steak knives at the crazy house.

The coffee pot caught his eye. He’s never attempted to make a pot of coffee before, but it was nine-thirty and a long way till seven a.m. He ended up burning his finger on the damn thing thus lowering his self-esteem even more. Can’t even make a fucking pot of coffee. After putting a boat load of cream and sugar in his Styrofoam cup, he looked out the big glass window at the main lobby. There were no more hustling and bustling rich docs antsy to get home. The old man was right. It was dead as a graveyard. Greg was thankful though for the small radio they had sitting there on the desk. But even the goodtime sounds of The Guess Who couldn’t keep him from dozing off. His eyes became heavy and then he was asleep.

An hour later he was startled awake by a distant scream. Or what he thought was a scream, coming from somewhere in the building. It was ten-thirty. He knocked over his now cold coffee when he jumped up, wide awake.

“Shit!”

The scream or whatever it was, echoed to the main lobby again.

“Hello?” He said to an empty lobby and felt dumb for doing so. The old man never trained him on what to do if you heard someone screaming in the night. Do I call for help? Is there an alarm I push? What the fuck do I do? A loud bang suddenly hit from out of nowhere, and it wasn’t the ongoing rumbling of thunder for the past hour. Or so he thought. Lightning flashed outside, lighting up the lobby for a second, and then a boom of thunder vibrated the desk. Okay, it was thunder. Jeez, pussy. Why so jumpy? He thought of saying hello again but decided not to. Instead, he put on his big boy pants and left the security area, going out into the lobby, and then braved a trip into the depths of the halls of the institution. They were dark with only a small security light to keep them lit at night.

Heeelllppp, meeee!

Greg froze. The voice sounded closer. This was the last thing he expected to happen on the first night, but the night was young and anything can happen, and dammit, he was a security guard now. He filled out the fucking application and now here he is. Do your job. Secure the place.

“Are you hurt?” It was all he could think of to say. He didn’t think his voice was loud enough. It sounded small to him and not very authoritive. It came out sounding like a kid whose dad forced him to get a job he really didn’t want.

“Over here.” The voice called out.

“What? Okay, where at?” Greg fumbled his words.

“Over here, behind the laundry basket.”

If the voice was male or female, Greg couldn’t tell. However, he did think it had an old hag, witch like tone to it, which freaked him out, standing in the dark hallway. He spotted the laundry basket. A mountain of clothes was piled high. Slowly and very cautiously he walked over to it. He had no gun or any kind of weapon to protect himself with; only the shiny, gold security badge that would do nothing to ward off a crazy or a ninety year old woman in a wheelchair.

“Hello,” he said again as he got closer.

“Come closer my pretty.”

“Huh?”

“That’s it. Closer, closer.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No. But you’ll be!”

The laundry cart skidded away and a strange human shape hidden in the shadows jumped out in front of Greg.

“Ahh, what the fuck!”

“The devil has some candy for you my precious!”

The thing cackled wildly in Greg’s face. He uttered an incomprehensible vocal pattern and pushed the crazy away from him. It had on what looked like a mask and a long, black wig. Greg started swatting at the thing as if being attacked by hornets. He looked like a caricature of Steve Martin doing a comedy skit on Saturday Night Live, circa 1977. The freak in front of him stood still, just looking at him. From behind their mask, a muffled voice broke through.

“What are you doing? Am I a nest of wasps? Buzzzz!” The thing mocked Greg, scratching at its fake wig. “Are you Bruce fucking Lee or something?”

“Get the fuck away from me!” Greg commanded.

“Stop! Stop that!” The thing said, putting his hands up.

And then Greg did stop, once he realized there was someone real under that mask. Finally the crazy pulled its hideous rubber mask off.

“Look, see. I ain’t a crazy. I work here, dude. I’m not gonna hurt you. I was just fuckin’ around with you, relax.” He held his hands up to show Greg that he was harmless. But he broke out into a laugh that he’d been trying to hold in after seeing Greg’s little dance.

Breathing heavily from being scared shitless, Greg calmed down and slowly put his arms down. He was looking at his attacker with angry eyes. His chest was heaving.

“Why…why would you do that?”

“Because, I had to,” he laughed uncontrollably. “You’re the new security guy. I always fuck with you guys on your first night.” He turned his mask upright, looking at it proudly, his laughter simmering. “Say hi to Sally.” He waved it in front of Greg’s face but he pushed it away. “Ah, come on man. I was just having some fun. It gets so killer boring around here on the night shift. What’s your name?” The cheesy grin on his face indicated he was clueless to his lameness and lame scare tactic. He acted as if it never occurred.

Greg gawked at him with his mouth hung open, stunned at what he was seeing. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs of what just happened.

“Greg,” he said half heartily and with a laugh of disbelief.

“Cool, nice to meet you, Greg. I’m Steve. I’m an RN.”

He extended his hand, still with his cheese grin on his round, unshaven face. Greg didn’t want to shake his hand. He wanted to walk the fuck out of there and go home. Home, he thought with a pain in his gut. No girlfriend to see or parents to talk to. Yeah, home. He didn’t realize it but this moment has been the most exciting thing he’s encountered in the last four months.

“I won’t bite,” Steve said and then growled and barked at Greg making him back away. “I’m just messin’ with ya man. Hey, you wanna smoke a joint?”

“No, man. I just started.”

“I just started,” Steve mocked in a low, dumb voice.

“Whatever, man.” Greg turned around and started walking back up front.

“Whoa, whoa, hang on dude. Okay that was a little too forward, my apologies. I can come on kind of strong at first. How about I show around the place?”

“I have to get back up front.”

“And do what, play with yourself? C’mon.”

In the darkness of the hallway, Steve could see that Greg was fuming. He put his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, look, how about we start over. Hi, my name is Steve Winsfield and I work as an RN at this fine nuthouse. They put me on the night shift because we’re short staffed and there is absofuckinglutly nothing to do and I really want someone to hang out with, so please just be cool and come with me.”

Greg almost felt sorry for him from his pathetic speech of being lonely. He could relate. He thought it over. You know you really don’t wanna go back up front. You know you’re not coming back tomorrow night. You’re gonna quit this lame job anyway. Fuck it. He rolled his eyes and sighed.

“Cool, atta boy!” Steve said.

And then they were off, walking down the darkened halls of the Indiana State Mental Hospital.

 

***

 

“You don’t look like an RN,” Greg said as they walked down the hall, going past closed doors of the mentally ill. Steve could sense the suspicion in Greg’s voice.

“What? You don’t like my pretty blue scrubs with fishsies on them? Maybe I am. Maybe I’m not. For all you know I could be one of the crazies and I’m leading you to my torture…”

“Where are we going anyway?” Greg cut him off. In the short time he’s known this person, he was already getting on his nerves.

“I just need to drop of Sally.” He raised the ghoulish mask and waved it in Greg’s face. Greg pushed it away again.

“Why do you call her…I mean… your mask by that name?”

Steve let out a mild yet genuine chuckle.

“Oh, one of the patients made it for me. You get to know some of these folks pretty well after a while. Let me tell you, they’re not as far gone as people may think.”

“That’s good to know, I guess,” Greg said.

“Well, here we are. The ol’ office.”

Greg eyed the big grey door in confusion. Steve was fumbling with a massive key ring, trying to unlock the janitor’s closet. They stepped inside.

“This is your office?”

“Well, no, not really, but it’s where I hide Sally and of course some other goodies.” He put on a chest shire cat smile. Doubt filled Greg’s face, not knowing what he meant by ‘goodies’.

Steve flipped on the light. It was obnoxiously bright. They both squinted and covered their eyes for a moment.

“Come on in. Don’t worry, your eyes will adjust.”

Greg wasn’t sure about stepping into a room with a total stranger. He wasn’t sure about anything lately. Fuck it. He decided to just go with it.

“This is kinda my own private breakroom,” Steve said looking around with a look of pride on his face.

Once Greg’s eyes adjusted to the light, he saw a plethora of janitor supplies in front of him: Cleaning bottles, blankets, mops, buckets, extra scrubs on hangers, white shoes, white sheets and some laundry detergent.

“Homey,” Greg said, not caring if he sounded sarcastic.

“It’s home away from home,” Steve said, stuffing Sally behind a stack of white blankets. “And then there’s this.” He pulled out a bottle of Jim Beam, brand new and unopened.

“No way, man! I’m not getting busted!” Greg protested.

“What? This?” Steve said looking in amazement at the bottle. “Relax, no worries. They ain’t got cameras on this wing. Shit, you know how many docs I’ve seen drinking on the job. It’s cool.” He held up the bottle to Greg as if trying to convince him that drinking on the job was acceptable and the right thing to do.

“We shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Goddam right we shouldn’t. But we’re gonna.”

“I don’t know,” Greg whined. Yes you do pussy. You and your cheating girlfriend use to sit up in your room every Saturday night and drink your teenage selfs silly and then fuck your brains out. You even stuck a beer bottle up her godamm pussy and made her cum. She fucking puked afterwords, but hey, what a goodtime that was!

Steve made his case. “Look, I ain’t sayin’ we need to get shit faced drunk, I’m sure there’s plenty of people doing that right now as we speak, somewhere in this shit town. I’m just sayin’ a swig or two.”

It didn’t take long for Greg to cave under the pressure of this goofy, six foot, brown curly haired, semi overweight RN named Steve.

Fuck it.

 

***

 

“So, how old are you?” Steve said after taking a drink and then handing it Greg.

Greg eyed the opening of the bottle with unknowing eyes.

“Don’t worry, man. I don’t have aids. Just take a drink.”

“I could be underage for all you know.” Greg smiled at his wit or at least what he thought was a witty statement.

“Nope,” Steve said with confidence. “You gotta be at least twenty one to be a security guard in the state of Indiana.”

“I’m twenty one, dude.”

“Cool! Drink up, but not too much. You don’t want the bosses seeing you stumbling all over the place in the morning.”

“I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that,” Greg said nonchalantly and took a drink.

“Huh?” Steve said and took the bottle from Greg. He took a drink.

“My old man made me get this job. I already have it in my mind that I ain’t sticking around.”

“Why not? Its money, dude. How much are they paying you?”

“Seven seventy five.”

“That ain’t bad. I remember working at my uncle’s gas station for two twenty five an hour. And that’s when I was going to school.”

Greg couldn’t relate. Steve handed him the bottle. He took a small drink. He liked whiskey every now and then but he hated the burn.

“How about some music,” Steve said, standing up. He dug around within the mountain of supplies and pulled out a small cassette radio with a cd player. Greg wondered if this strange guy he just met and was now having a drink with in a janitors closet, had work he needed to be doing such as checking on patients.

Fuck it.

“You look like the heavy metal type of guy, am I right?” Steve said, smiling and pointing at Greg. He turned on the radio. Greg shook his head, agreeing wholly with that statement. “Let me guess,” Steve continued, “I bet you like Sepultura and Pantera and fucking Ministry and White Zombie.”

“How do you know of all those bands?” Greg laughed, actually stunned.

“Kid, how old do you think I am? Careful now.” He pointed his pudgy finger at him.

“I’m guessing thirty eight?”

“Ohh! Fucker, I’m thirty years old!” Steve laughed. Greg laughed too. It felt odd. He hasn’t smiled in months. It actually felt weird on his face. For a second he thought it might cramp up.

“Man, I love all that shit. But you probably don’t call it heavy metal anymore, like I use to back in the day.”

“Not really. That’s eighties.”

“Hey now, I dig Pantera, but I was around your age back in ‘dem eighties. Fuckin’ Black Sabbath, Dio and Wasp were the shit!”

“Wasp?” Greg laughed out loud. “They suck!”

“Do not, ass wipe! And yes I called you an asswipe even though we just met thirty minutes ago.” He smiled at Greg. “See, aren’t you glad you decided not to go back up front?”

“I guess so.”

“I guess so.” Steve mocked him again in his low, dumb voice.

He’s thirty and acts like a damn kid, Greg thought in amusement.

Steve plugged in the radio and hit play on the cd player. Pantera blasted through the small speakers. He did his best air guitar as Fucking Hostile violated the once silent janitors room.

“Fuckin’ Diamond Darrell is a badass on the guitar, man!”

Greg shook his head in agreement once again. He said, “I saw them last year.”

“What?” Steve yelled over the loud, metalized radio.

“I said I saw them last year!” Greg responded loudly.

“I saw Don’s last beer? Huh?”

Greg rolled his eyes. “Turn it down for a sec!”

“Burn it down for Seth? What the hell are you talking about? Are you sure you’re not one of the crazies?” Steve yelled and then laughed his ass off as Dimebag r.i.p.ped out a rebellious, hellacious guitar solo.

Greg turned down the radio.

“No fun, dude,” Steve said again in his exaggerated dumb voice which was getting annoying.

“I said,” Greg said with a hint of frustration, “I saw Pantera last year.”

“Oh, I heard you the first time.”

Gregg huffed.

“Anyway,” Greg continued, “It was awesome. Crazy, insane mosh pit. And that vampire band opened for them.”

“Oh yeah. I know who you’re talking about. Type O Negative. I saw them when they opened for Danzig. That giant lead singer was getting heckled by some asshole. He threatened to shove his bass up the guy’s ass.” He laughed and took another drink of whiskey.

Just as he was getting ready to reveal more concert stories (mostly of him being stoned and or drunk) a high pitched alarm went off.

BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP

Greg lowered his eyes to the harsh tone of Steve’s pager going off.

“Oh, shit. It’s almost time!” He said with a big smile on his face.

“Almost time for what?” Greg asked.

Steve gave him a devilish grin. What is he going to do? Greg thought.

“Almost time for the midnight special!” Steve’s eyebrows danced up and down on his forehead.

“Huh? Your what?”

Steve rolled his eyes. His grin disappeared. He looked serious then.

“Look, kid. I haven’t really been straight with you.”

“You’re not gonna stab me to death, are you?”

“What? Hell no, kid! What’s the matter with you?”

Damn.

“Well, what’s going on?”

Steve looked at him for a moment. “You remember how I told you earlier that there was nothing to do around here?

Greg shook his head, a confused look on his young face.

“Well, I kinda fibbed about that.” Guilt masked Steve’s face.

“What? Wait, I thought you said you wanted someone to hang out with.”

“I do, I do, but there’s this other thing,” Steve said in a hushed whisper, even though they were alone.

“What other thing?” Greg said slowly in a fear laced voice.

Steve’s devilish grin returned.

 

***

 

 

Five minutes later they were standing in the darkened hallway. In front of them was a door labeled number twenty-two. Steve made a fist and brought it to his mouth. He spoke into it as if it were a microphone.

“Rod? Yes, Bob. Show the kid what is behind door number twenty two. Well, all right, Bob. What we have here is….”

“Would you shut the hell up and just tell me what is going on. We’re just standing here in the dark. It’s weird.”

“All right, settle down. Let me ask you a question.”

Greg looked at him curiously but was still annoyed.

“What is it?”

Steve’s eyes sparkled with insanity in the darkness. He whispered, “Have you ever killed someone?”

“Dude! What the fuck!”

“I’m just jackin’ ya man. Okay, okay, here’s the deal. Do you have a girlfriend?”

That threw Greg off guard. What kind of question is that, he thought. He didn’t know what to say. Yes, no, maybe?

Steve put his hand on Greg’s shoulder and that sparkle returned to his eyes. “Because what we have here behind door number twenty-two are girls, my friend; hot, sweet smelling females that are totally crazy and love to fuck!” His voice rose higher and higher with excitement. “Ain’t that awesome!” His voice squeaked.

You gotta be kidding me, Greg thought.

But, a quick flare of excitement did surge to Greg’s crotch at the thought of female flesh. He hasn’t had sex in four months. That’s equivalent to seventeen years in the life of a hormonally wrecked twenty one year old male.

Greg glanced down at Steve’s hand still on his shoulder. He looked at him then. He was grinning his up to no good, cheesy grin again. Greg could smell the whiskey on his breath. It reminded him of the time he almost got into a fight with some drunk at the bar (All Nighters), because the fucker was hitting on his girlfriend.

Greg pulled away from Steve. “I’m going back up front, man.”

“Whoa, wait, wait!”

“Wait nothing.” Greg pronounced. He started walking away. Steve hustled up to him. Greg could smell the desperation rolling off of him in pathetic waves. [_ Those girls he’s talking about are probably dog- ass ugly as hell. _]

“Look, I know I just threw this on you and I’m sorry. But I’m telling you, these chicks are cool. Besides, I kind of have this thing going with one of them. She’s my midnight special.”

Oh, brother.

Greg looked away again; contemplating taking up Steve’s offer to go in that room and play with those girls, if that was what they were going to do. He didn’t have a clue what to expect. Maybe one of them has some pills or maybe some razorblades and maybe you’ll man up this time and not chicken out and….

“So I guess that means you do have a girlfriend. That’s cool, man,” Steve said, sounding let down.

Greg thought about that for a moment. He remembered the gut wrenching scene of his ex-girlfriend pushing at him, yelling at him to get the fuck out of the room because he ruined her orgasm and was angry she got caught and felt only one percent guilty when she gave him that look like she was going to cry for a second but kept on yelling. Sweatygirlflushedfacelittlefirecrackerbulldogonlylikesjockscocks

“Nope,” Greg informed him with a smile. “Sure don’t.”

Steve grinned in the darkness. And then thunder rumbled its promise of turbulent weather on the way.

 

***

 

 

As they stood facing two lovely female mental patients, Greg jumped when a bright flash of electric blue filled up the dark room.

“He seems a little jumpy,” said one of the girls. “It’s only lightning sweetie.” She smiled at him.

Steve turned to Greg.

“Greg, this is Marla.”

He half assed waved to her, feeling like an idiot, even though the girls were not dog ass ugly like he thought. They were actually pretty which he found strange. They were after all in a mental hospital. It was the last place he would expect to see a pretty girl. They smelled nice too. But they were mentally unstable.

“Hi,” Marla said raising her hand. “I’m Stevey poo’s midnight special.

Stevey Poo?

“That’s great, really.” Greg responded sounding as enthusiastic as Willy Wonka urging bratty children to stop eating his candy.

“Uh, Marla, honey, why don’t you introduce your friend to Greg,” Steve said nervously; the awkwardness of this situation just now hitting him in the face.

“Oh, and this is Sara. Say hi to the boy,” Marla prompted.

The girl standing next to her roommate was wearing a white bath robe and pink fluffy slippers. Her pure blonde hair was up in cute pigtails. She was smiling at Greg.

“Do you like cookies?” She asked him, still smiling.

Greg looked at Steve for help.

“Yeah, oh yeah, he loves cookies. Hell, I freaking love cookies!” The nervous grin attached to Steve’s face was making Greg more nervous.

Just leave. Get the hell outta here. This is too strange. Why does that sound familiar. Get the hell outta here. Fuck. She’s not bad looking for a looney. I shouldn’t think that, she’s probably really nice. What’s with the pigtails, I should’ve just went back up front, but….

“I like lambs,” Sara blurted out. “But you shouldn’t eat quarters, mother says.”

Did she just curtsy? What the hell?

Now, Marla’s expression joined Steve’s after hearing her roommate’s safety tip of not eating spare change. They were both smiling nervously, with their mouths partly open in what could’ve been shock.

“Uh,” Steve said and turned to Greg. “Why don’t you and Sara go and ….”

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” Greg interrupted, pulling Steve away from the girls. They hustled to the other side of the room. Another flash of lighting hit.

“Man, I’m not doing this!” Greg whispered loudly to Steve, whose goofy grin of nervousness finally melted away.

“What? Why not?”

“You can screw you midnight special or whatever the fuck she is, but I’m outta here!”

“Dude, chill for a minute, okay. Sara is a little off but…”

“A little off?” Greg said.

“Okay, a lot, but she’s a sweetheart. C’mon, man.”

They stared each other down in the dark room. Greg looked away with that same contemplating, lip biting look on his face.

Steve said, “I can’t force you to stay, though. So, you do what you want.”

So why aren’t you moving your feet? Go on. Here’s your ticket out. Go back to your miserable life of suicidal dreams and sleepless nights about the girl who fucked you over.

Why can’t I move my feet. All I have to do is walk right out of here. Do I really wanna stay and be a part of this, whatever it may be?

Greg’s internal war fired a hail of confusion bullets into his mind. He knew he didn’t want to go back up front to that giant desk and twiddle his fucking thumbs for the rest of the night. But he knew he was going to quit in the morning. So why not have a little fun and see what the crazy, yet oh so pretty girl had to offer.

He thought of walking in on his girlfriend riding that jock to high heaven and the sounds she was making. His stomach tightened at the memory. He thought of how he drove home that night in complete shock and didn’t shed one tear, but only smoked a whole pack of cigarettes and listened to music and dealt with the hard lump in his throat that wouldn’t go away. And that boiling, sick feeling of hurt rising in him telling him his life would never be the same.

Greg turned to Steve and his pathetic look of desperation on his face. He looked over his shoulder at the girls. Lightening illuminated their bodies. They waved to him. Thunder boomed. He dug the pigtails.

Fuck it.

Greg said, “All right, but if she loses her shit or something, I’m outta here.”

Steve smiled.

“Cool, man. Don’t worry, she won’t do anything like that. These gals are level one patients. They’re not dangerous. Just a little cuckoo that’s all.”

“How reassuring,” Greg said; his sarcasm spilling forth.

“You won’t regret it, dude.”

“But wait,” Greg said. “What if we get caught?”

Steve pursed his lips and rolled his eyes. He slapped the embroidered security logo on Greg’s shirt.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s not like the security guard around here is going to do a walk through.”

Greg laughed, not really caring anymore if he got busted or fired. This was a bizarre situation, this he knew. But the feeling he had of total freedom was rather strong. I can do whatever I want now, with whoever I want. The thought of possibly having sex with another girl was giving him a monster boner.

He looked over at Sara again, with her blonde pigtails. He was glad he changed his mind.

 

***

 

“You two behave yourselves now,” Steve told them, smiling stupidly and pointing his finger at them. Sara and Greg were sitting next to each other on her bed. It was rather comfy Greg thought for a hospital bed. He was glad that it was dark in the room. He could feel himself turning red.

“I know we ain’t gonna behave!” Steve yelled and grabbed at Marla’s backside, making her giggle and squeal. “We’ll try and be quiet.” Steve lied.

Yeah right, Greg thought as they both went to the other bed, pulling a white dividing curtain between them.

Greg shifted nervously on the bed. Thunder rumbled sounding closer.

Well, say something to her Romeo. As excited as he was about the possibility of feeling his dick completely smothered in another vagina, he couldn’t figure out how he ended up sitting next to a hot, mentally ill girl in a matter of hours.

I don’t even know her. I don’t even know Steve. He is okay, I guess. He acts like he’s sixteen. I wonder if….

“I just blurt out things sometimes,” Sara blurted out.

Huh? What? Did she say something?

“Oh, that’s cool. So do I sometimes.” No you don’t you idiot, except maybe now, jeez.

“It’s part of my condition,” Sara said. “My mind is always on, I guess. It usually happens when I’m nervous or upset. However, I’m a level one patient. I’m not a danger to myself…or anyone. Do you wanna have sex?” She covered her mouth quickly. Her eyes went wide. Greg’s mouth parted. That’s a little damn quick, girl, don’t you think?

“I am so sorry about that,” she said with pure honesty in her voice, laughing nervously. “I just say whatever is on my mind at the moment. God will kill the ducks. There is no dairy queen. The moon is red.”

Her hand went to her mouth again. Greg gawked at her. She thought, Please don’t leave. You scared off the last one. He wasn’t that cute though. This boy is cute. He looks really sad though go moe doe so. Just talk to him you crazy ass.

“Is this your first night?” There you go.

He was staring at her in the darkness with only the lighting brightening her face every few minutes, reluctant to answer. She’s just a girl, dude. Speak.

“Yeah.” That’s it?

“Do you like it so far?”

“Well, so far I haven’t done much, other than follow Steve around.” He laughed.

She let out a laugh as well. “He’s a big goof. But he’s a good guy.”

“So, what do you think of his ‘midnight special’? Doesn’t it bother you that he and your roommate are…you know.”

“Oh, I don’t mind it. They have a thing bling sing.”

Greg shrugged.

Sara said, “It’s nice meeting someone different for a change. Everyday it’s the same faces. Same docs, shrinks, janitors. It gets super boring around here. But it is home blome gome dome.” She tucked her hair behind her ear and looked away, feeling embarrassed by her uncontrollable vocal rant.

Greg pretended like he didn’t notice but she could tell he felt uncomfortable. Don’t go. As weird and awkward as this situation was, he couldn’t help but feel a small burning ember of excitement in his gut. Am I feeling something with this girl? Can’t be. You’ve only known her ten minutes. Maybe it only takes ten minutes for your life to change and to know you’ve found the one.

“So, do you like music?” Greg asked. What?

“Hmm’m. I listen to the radio all the time. They let us have them in our rooms. The super crazies on level four get padded walls and straitjackets. We’re lucky I guess sess beth kess mess…jesus, I’m so sorry.”

“That’s okay. You’re who you are. It doesn’t bother me.”

Sara’s bottom lip started to quiver like she might cry. Most of the time people would tell her to shut up or stop saying weird shit, even though the ones telling her were mentally ill also.

She put her hand on his. Her skin was warm. A jolt of excitement coursed through him at her touch. She smiled and moved her hand over his leg. He shifted for a second and cleared his throat.

“Everything okay?” She asked.

“Um, yeah.”

“Is it too hot in here? It can get a little warm.”

“No, I’m good.” Yes it is very fucking hot in here. “You smell really nice.” Seriously dude?

That made her laugh. “Thanks.” I showered three times in the last three hours. One for every hour dour cower sour.

And for reasons unknown, Greg started laughing too. She followed suit and laughed along with him; their nervous laughter filling the dark room and space between them.

“I’m a little whacky aren’t I?” She said.

“Nah, well maybe a little.”

Sara snorted out a laugh, covering her mouth; the absurdness of the situation coming full circle, the both of them realizing how awkward it all was but at the same time exciting because they both felt something; some unknown, surprising spark. They laughed some more bringing their heads close together; both of them knowing what was coming next. Her grip on his leg tightened slightly. Their laughter simmered. And then the girl he’s only known for roughly fifteen minutes brought her lips to his. He didn’t object. Wild, excitement rushed to his crotch. Their tongues became tangled and slippery. A heavy dose of her girl scent reached out and pulled him in. He was dizzy with it and her touch. She put her hand to his rising bulge in his pants. She giggled into his mouth, her warm breath filling him with the excitement of being with another girl. It was overwhelming to him, these new tastes, new smells.

Don’t come!

And then she stopped. Noooo.

“Wait,” she said, “We’re moving too fast aren’t we.” She wiped her mouth.

“What! No, well, yeah, but no, I don’t think we….”

She smiled at him and shut him up when she resumed kissing him. She laughed. Lightning flashed and she squealed into his mouth. Her hand took his and put it inside her robe where his palm melted into the warmth of her stomach. She sighed.

And the she stopped again. Noooo.

“How old are you anyway?” She asked.

“Twenty-one.”

“Hmm,” she sighed thoughtfully. “I’m twenty-seven. This could be fun. Are you cool with it?” His eyes widened, he felt his heart speed up. An older girl? Holy shit, yes, I’m cool with it!

Trying to contain his excitement he said, “Sure, I mean, yeah, I’m fine with it. It’s not like you’re thirty-five or something.”

“Holy hitler spritzer gangolon dumdum! Crap, I did it again. Here, kiss me, that way it’ll keep my damn crazy mouth shut!”

Greg started to laugh but stopped himself.

“It’s okay, you can laugh. I know I’m whacky.”

They continued their make out session as the thunderstorm moved in. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed like mad. Rain began to pour. Greg tried not to think of Steve being on the other side of the curtain. He could hear them both, laughing and carrying on like two teenagers sneaking around. He also tried like hell to remove the sudden images in his mind of his ex. The pangs of guilt were tearing at him and he didn’t know why. Unwanted memories flew past him. He thought of when Christy helped him with his geometry, them shooting hoops at the park, eating a slushy after school, the first time he went down on her, the ring he gave her, their graduation. It all dissipated when both his hands reached further into Sara’s robe, forming perfectly around her wide hips.

“I got them from my mother. It’s the one thing I can thank her for I guess splat kill a cat not a rat. Sorry.”

“It’s cool.” He could tell she genuinely felt bad for her outbursts. He thought they were kind of sweet.

“Are you ready?” She said softly into his mouth.

“Huh?”

She leaned back a little and looked at him.

“Are you ready to run naked around the building?” She had her tongue lodged into the side of her cheek, trying not to laugh.

“What? No, I mean yes, huh?”

“I’m just teasing you blue cool rule. I mean, are you ready?”

“Oh, yes, hell yes?”

She leaned in and kissed him. “Are you excited, rin tin man god hates cheese but diving boards can kill you unless properly fitted with strands of turkey guts I am Dorothy I am not the tin rin man stan death lullaby I like pancakes.” She clapped her mouth shut. She shook her head back and forth slowly. Greg laughed but not in a mean way. He thought she was going to cry but she didn’t.

“My oh my,” she said fanning her face. “I go off like that when I get really excited and oh my gosh I am so sorry but I have to pee now.” She bit her lip and smiled guiltily at him.

He leaned back on the bed, suddenly relaxing a little, and smiled, letting her know he wasn’t upset at her for needing to empty her bladder.

She stood up from the bed and started walking to the bathroom. She stopped, turned and waved at Greg, motioning at him to follow her.

“Come with me,” she smiled. Her pigtails bounced.

“What, to the bathroom?”

She lowered her shoulders and said in a low voice, “Yes, to the bathroom.”

He smiled, shrugged and got up and went to her. She whispered, ‘silly boy’, as he walked by. She also smacked his bottom too. “You’re cute.” His feel good endorphins were in the near red.

They went into the bathroom where he was overwhelmed with the scent of girl, baby powder and something lilac. He felt his erection stiffen even more.

Sara lifted up her robe and sat on the toilet. The bathroom was dark except for intermittent flashes of lighting through the window out in the room.

“The sound of rain always makes me have to pee,” she said as her stream hit the water. “Come here.”

Following her command, he stepped in front of her.

“You’re not embarrassed are you rin tin?” She smiled up at him. He shook his head. “I’m sure you went in the bathroom with your mom when you were a little boy, like at Hill’s or something, right?”

He thought for a moment and he actually did remember doing that and seeing rows of women’s shoes under the stalls; all their peeing sounding like a waterfall.

She began to unzip the front of his pants.

Oh, shit. Don’t forget, dude, don’t come!

“Are you okay with this?” Sara asked just as her stream ended.

“Sure.”

She took him into her mouth. He had to focus the first thirty seconds to not come. He wanted to enjoy this. This isn’t happening. How did I end up here? This is nuts! Fuck it.

Once he got over the ‘I’m not going to blow my load’ hurdle, he relaxed. But at some point during Sara’s amazing mouth technique, Greg felt a weird vibration on his penis. Is she humming? No. Singing? No.

And then it hit him. She’s having an uncontrolled outburst, but with my dick in her mouth. Wonderful. Her mind went haywire with random thoughts she couldn’t keep silent. Her voice vibrated Greg’s penis, giving him a strange, yet unique experience. He was trying not to laugh, mostly because he didn’t want her to bite his dick by accident. That would suck. Horribly. Adding to the odd yet arousing moment, he could hear unpleasant, libido reducing sounds coming from the room. It was Steve and Marla, but mostly Steve. Greg would cringe every time he heard a grunt or a slow, out of breath moan. It made him wonder what Marla saw in Steve.

Sara took a break, removing Greg’s penis from her mouth.

“Whoo!” She laughed. Her eyes darted to the room. “I know, he sounds like a bear dreaming.” They both laughed. She pushed Greg away, and stood from the toilet without flushing. She went and shut the bathroom door. A great blast of thunder filled the room. For a moment, Greg thought she looked like a ghost in her white robe, drifting back to him after shutting the door. Am I dreaming? She is so wonderful.

She wrapped her hands around his head and brought him to her and they kissed once again. He could taste himself in her mouth but he didn’t care. Then, he felt his pants being pulled forcefully down to the floor. They were around his ankles.

“Sit.” Sara said.

“On here,” Greg said, pointing to the toilet seat.

“Hmm’m.” Pigtails swaying.

He did. The seat was warm from her body. He could smell her scent drifting up from the toilet water. She got close to him and rubbed her hands over his hair. His cheek met the softness of her stomach. She touched his face. It felt good. Sara took him by his hands and caressed them as well. She kissed them gently. He thought it was too intimate of a thing to do since they barely knew each other, but he was feeling her and let her do it. He really missed the scent and touch of a female.

With her robe on still, she turned around. She lifted it up showing him her ass. “Well, grab it silly.” She laughed.

He did and thought I shouldn’t be here. Dammit, why do I feel guilty? Christy’s the one that cheated on me. We’re not even together anymore.

Sara gently massaged his forearms and wrists with her fingernails, her backside nudging his face. But then her movement’s stopped completely. Her left hand was wrapped around his wrist, almost examining it.

Greg froze.

“Oh, you too?” She said.

He quickly pulled his hand away like he touched a hot stove. She turned and faced him. Her expression was blank at first but then confused. His penis was going limp and he expected her to blurt out a string of crazy sentences but she didn’t. A small grin appeared on her face when lifted her left arm, pulling up the sleeve of her robe.

“It’s okay, look.” She held up her right arm and pointed to a series of scars on her wrist. Greg turned away.

“I think I need to go,” he said and sat up from the toilet. Sweet sex dreams turned black.

“What? Why?”

He didn’t respond as he started pulling his pants up.

“It really is okay, Greg.” She ran the back of her hand over his cheek. He flinched away, giving her a quick glance. He saw the hurt on her face.

“Why?” Quietly she said.

“Why what?” Greg said, not yelling but making the irritability in his voice known.

She touched her right wrist with a sad look on her face. Long gone was the sassy, funny, I wanna have lots of sex look. He stared at her and knew what she was thinking. He felt grossly exposed and hated it. A hot flash surged through him. He’d never felt so uncomfortable in his life. Lightning lit up their staring eyes.

Why, she mouthed.

There was no way in hell he was going to reveal the details of the darkest moment of his life to a girl he just met, even if he was going to fuck her.

“I have to go,” he said.

“We can finish,” Sara said quickly with enthusiasm.

“I’m not really in the mood anymore, sorry.”

“No, I mean we can end it right now, both of us, together. We can sit in the tub and hold one another and bleed it all out.”

He looked at her like she was either truly insane or he had just found his suicidal soulmate.

What a way to go. End your life bleeding to death in a bathtub with a crazy girl you just met who gave you a blowjob in the middle of a thunderstorm.

A smile formed on his face but Sara couldn’t tell the nature of it because it was dark. When lightning flashed, she backed up and sucked in a breath.

“You know what. Let’s talk. Let’s just sit down and discuss how and why we both wanted to end our lives. Sound good?” Sara was beginning to cry even though she didn’t feel threatened by Greg. How can you be in danger from a wounded heart? “Mine was because I couldn’t get over walking in on my girlfriend who I thought was my forever girl, getting the shit fucked out of her by some meathead jock!”

Sara covered her mouth trying to contain the cry she coughed out. She shook her head slowly. I’m so sorry rin tin. “And it’s not like my fucking parents would care that I was gone. They don’t even pay any attention to me anyway. Jesus Christ, why are you crying? Let me guess, your excuse was your parents didn’t understand you or maybe the fucking voices in your head told you to slit your wrists because that would really show them! Fuck! It sounds like some fucking after school special or a bad idea for a book!”

But it’s what you want. You want to die, remember? Or maybe not. Having second thoughts? Or maybe you’re just confused; a wreck of emotions right now. She discovered your locked treasure of secrets and now she wants to unlock it but you won’t let her. Those cold chills you keep feeling right now are driving you mad. No one was supposed to know about your little, failed suicide attempt. Of course your loving, fighting, almost divorced parents know but you hate that they do. Maybe you really don’t want to die. Maybe all you want is for that lump in your throat to go away. Maybe you might actually like this sweetheart of a girl, standing in front of you with her pigtails and pink slippers and sexy hips. Maybe you just want to start new on a clean slate and give in to that warm, tingling feeling in your stomach that you’ve had since you first saw her.

In the darkness, Sara’s eyes filled up with tears. She wasn’t hurt even though his attack was brutal and mean hearted. He felt like shit now. She sniffed her nose and wiped her face. A face that he thought was too pretty to be locked up in a place like this.

“Ronald Mcdonald likes to eat flies it was just a suggestion rin tin. I wanted to die at one point, yes, but not now, not really. I’m sorry.” Her voice was soft yet full of hurt.

Greg looked away. She cried just a little more and he wondered when she was going to wig out and start scratching his eyes out in an insane rage. But she didn’t do anything. She was harmless. A good soul, he thought. She crossed her arms, looked away for a moment and then back at Greg. Try, try, try Sara to speak normal. Calm down. 123456 abcdefg breath breath Minnesota Wyoming Delaware Indiana 9 10 11 12 13 rats.

“Look at me, Greg.”

He did.

“When I was nineteen, my mom dropped me off here. She said to the doctors, ‘She’s all yours. You take care of her. I can’t deal with her nonsense and her crazy talk anymore.’ I haven’t seen her in six years blears cares deers. So yeah, you’re right. I was abandoned. But my family is here now and I love them.”

Greg didn’t know what to say.

She continued. “I’m sorry about what happened to you rin tin man.” She began swatting at imaginary flies but stopped, feeling embarrassed that her condition was acting up and she couldn’t help it. “I know that’s why you said those things, because you’re hurt and angry.”

Greg felt that lump in his throat harden and tighten. He wanted to kiss her so badly. But he would never see her again after tonight because he was going to quit. Fuck it.

“If I was your girlfriend I wouldn’t do that to you. You’re really nice rattle tattle blum blum. I hope rats crawl into her bed at night.”

You can’t be with this girl. Get out of here now. She’s six years older than you and she’s cra….she’s a doll.

His face was a mask of guilt, shock and confusion. He felt a warm liquid feeling in the corner of his eye.

He walked quickly to the bathroom door, just wanting to get out of there even though he did want to stay. It was all too much.

Animalistic sounds and drunk like laughter made him stop with his hand on the door handle. Steve and his midnight special were having themselves a good old time, romping around like teens in the bed. Greg made a look of disgust and opened the door. Sara went out after him. Steve popped his big head out from under the sheets.

“Hey, dudes! What’s happening?”

Marla came up then. She said, “Finished already you two,” with a mischievous smile.

Greg and Sara weren’t smiling. Steve and Marla smiles faded when they looked at one another.

“Oh, so, what’s up guys?” Steve said, sitting up.

Sara looked like a deer caught in headlights, everyone gawking at her. Her arms were by her sides, her hands rolled into fists of stress.

“You okay, baby?” Marla asked, getting out of bed.

Greg had his head down, feeling weird and stupid for agreeing to go with Steve into this room of pain.

Sara was fidgety, acting like she was trying to get up the courage to say the right words.

“I like you!” She blurted out, sounding desperate to not sound crazy, but like a normal twenty-seven year old girl.

Steve put on a big, open mouth cheesy grin. He smacked the bed with his hand and pointed at Greg. “Awesome! See, man, she digs you, right on!”

“I gotta get outta here.” Greg said.

He ran out of the room. Steve jumped out of the bed with his boxers around his ankles. Sara winced, turning away at the sight of his sweaty backside.

“Whoa, kid! Hey, kid, wait up!”

“Rattle tattle ding dong larry is harry I’m not a fairy rats run in packs fuck fuck fuck poopy!”

Sara stomped back into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

Marla followed her. “Oh, baby, it’s okay. It’s just a boy. I’m sorry honey.”

The storm raged on.

 

***

 

“Greg! Yo, Greg! Wait up!”

Steve was yelling at him and breathing heavily as he half assed ran down the hall. He started hopping when he pulled up his white boxers. His blue scrubs were still down around his ankles. Greg was way ahead of him, walking fast like he was on a mission. That mission being to get the hell out of the crazy house before he either loses his mind or falls in love. But it may be too late for both. His mind was spinning. How could a girl he doesn’t even know front him out on such a dark and private thing as suicide? His emotions were torn in half. He was angry at Sara for accidentally discovering his scars; scars he wanted to keep to himself. Yet he couldn’t deny the spark he felt between them. And to make matters even more complicated, she gave him a blowjob and they almost had sex. And it was all awesome, weird, fun and strange at the same time because he doesn’t even know her, but part of him was saying ‘I really dig this chick even though she’s a little older than me and confined to a nuthouse.’

He could smell her on him as he paced down the dark hall, ignoring Steve’s pleas and yells to stop or at least slow the fuck down so he could catch his breath.

“I ain’t a youngin’ like you anymore, kid! Slow down! Come on! Shit!”

Greg stopped. He didn’t know why. Conflicting, messed up feelings were running rampant inside him. Steve finally caught up.

“Jesus, kid, were you in track or something in high school? Steve said bent over with his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. “Shit, I need to start working out.” He stood straight and put his hands on his hips, not noticing or caring for that matter that his pants were still down. He grimaced and blew out a long breath like he just moved a piano up a flight of stairs. “So what the hell happened back there?”

No answer.

“She didn’t try and bite your dick off or anything did she?”

He was still breathing heavily but was getting concerned that Greg didn’t laugh at his joke. His back was turned to Steve. Rain was slamming the roof like falling bullets.

“I’m leaving, now.” Greg said somberly.

“What? No, man, c’mon.”

“No, dude,” Greg yelled and turned around. “I’m outta here. This night has been complete crap.”

“Seriously?” Steve said. “You were just with a hot girl. She might be a little loopy, but she’s a level one. She’s harmless. What happened?”

“I don’t even care. I’ll see you around.”

‘Whoa, hold up, hang on, hang on, dammit!” Steve hopped over to Greg as he began walking away. “Man, just tell me what’s up. What’s on your mind? Go ahead, shoot. I’m a really good listener.”

Greg was fuming, trying to keep it together.

“You wanna know what’s up!”

“Yes, actually I do, Greg. I introduced you to a really cool chick and…”

“That’s just the problem with tonight; you and your stupid excursions!”

“Whoa, keep it down.”

“You ducks better quit quackin’ out there!” A voice yelled from inside one of the rooms.

“Shush, Melvin! Go back to sleep!” Steve yelled out in the dark hallway.

“Like you fucking care that someone is yelling out in the hallway at three in the morning. You get high in the fucking janitors closet where you work. Pull your pants up dude, you look ridiculous.”

“So, you’re pissed that I introduced you to Sara. And you guys fucked. You did fuck her didn’t you?”

Greg rolled his eyes and started to walk away again.

“Okay, okay, just chill. I was joking.” Steve put his hand on Greg’s shoulder. He pushed it off. “Man, I just…. I wanna know why you’re so uptight. I know we don’t really know each other, but, brother, I can tell something is on your mind.”

Greg finally did look at him. For the first time in months, someone has taken notice of his down and out demeanor, his lack of enthusiasm for anything, his moodiness and probably the dark circles under his eyes from not being able to sleep.

“What’s wrong, Greg.”

This time he didn’t push Steve’s hand away when he put it on his shoulder again.

That dreaded, hard lump was forming in his throat. He looked down at the floor, overcome with a barrage of emotions.

He raised his head.

“Everything,” he said.

 

***

 

“Pantera dude, fuckin’ right!”

Steve did his best stoned surfer voice as he took a hit from the joint he was smoking. It was the same joint he had told Greg about earlier. Greg declined to join him. His mind was already stuffy enough. He sat with his back against the wall in the janitors closet, next to some dirty mops. Steve was on the other side, a full cloud of white smoke hung over him. 10’s by Pantera was playing at a low volume on the cd player. He figured the kid wasn’t in the mood for head banging, at least not the kind you do to heavy metal music. Besides, the pounding thunder was enough.

It was still raining. The storm had not let up. It was three fifteen a.m.

Greg had his head leaning back against the wall. One leg was stretched out in front of him, the other raised with his hand hung over his knee. He stared out into nothing towards the ceiling. He didn’t know why he decided to stick around after he was dead set on getting the hell out of there. He was torn apart on the inside, an emotional car wreck. Maybe he didn’t know how bad off he was. On some subconscious level he did. That could explain why he was sitting here in the janitors closet in the first place. And the fact that all the liquor stores were closed was a possible reason why too.

Steve was drumming his fingers on his knee, wondering if the kid was going to say anything or if he was having some kind of breakdown. It’s sure as hell possible, he thought. Just talk to him you dumb fool. It’s obvious something is wrong. What the hell did she say to him? He blew out his smoke and sighed. Jeez, talk about the damn weather or something or if he’s into cars or some shit or what’s his favorite fucking color.

“So,” Steve said stretching the word out. He turned down the radio just a bit. “Can you tell me what’s up, man?”

Greg’s mind was elsewhere, his eyes now staring over Steve’s shoulder. Steve didn’t press him. Finally, Greg did make eye contact with him. Although Steve didn’t like what he was seeing in those eyes. Nothin’ but hurt.

“You wanna know what’s up?” Greg’s voice ached. He looked away quickly and then back at Steve. “Well, I live in a big house with a maid who cleans and does our laundry because my mom is either too drunk or lazy to care if I have clean clothes. My dad is usually upstairs all the time, fucking around on the new computer he bought. He keeps talking about emailing and how futuristic it is. And when they’re together they fight and yell and say hurtful things to each other and I just sit in my room and put on my headphones and try to drown it out. They’re getting divorced. I’m almost glad they are. Not that they care about what I think anyway, most of the time they ignore me like I’m a leper.

“Let’s see, what else is there. Oh, my girlfriend of five years cheated on me. That was a lot of fun, especially when I walked in on her getting fucked by this bruno ape. There was another girl there too. I can’t remember her name. Who care’s right.”

He paused and looked away again. That dreaded lump was forming in his throat, almost screaming at him to just let it go and scream and cry out his pain. But he wouldn’t. Not in front of Steve.

Gone was the happy go lucky look on Steve’s face. He looked his age now. He scratched his head.

“Dude, listen, I know shit can get…”

“Man, spare me the after school special. I know my life is shit!”

“Your life ain’t shit!” The force of his yell and sudden change in mood startled Greg. “You’re fucking twenty one and just happen to be going through some bad stuff right now. Godamm, man! We all go through bad things in our life. Me included.”

Greg was silent.

“Ah, fuck it anyway!” Steve stubbed out his joint and looked away, trying to contain his emotions. He let the hard rain and Pantera fill the void in the room for a moment as he collected himself. He leaned his head back on the wall where he was sitting indian style.

“You know, I have two kids,” he said. Greg’s eyebrows rose. Really? You? “A boy and a girl, eight and ten. I don’t get to see them much. Their mom and I split a year ago. She stopped bringing them over every other weekend. Now, I only see them once a month or so. I guess she got tired of them being subjected to spaghetti O’s and Crash Bandicoot.” He laughed. “Hell, I ain’t the world’s greatest dad. I’m fucking behind on my bills and rent. My van is crapping out. They fucking put me on nights to work…ah, hell!”

Greg stayed quiet. He was baffled. He couldn’t believe someone like Steve could get upset by life’s bullshit. But he was. He suddenly felt embarrassed by his own meltdown and like a child. After a few minutes of silence he built up the courage to speak.

“So, why did they make you come to the night shift?” He said quietly.

“If you’re parents never talk to you, why did your dad make you get a job?”

Touché.

They both were staring at one another, knowing they each had a dark tale inside of them waiting to be let out. Steve rolled his eyes.

“Fine, I’ll go first.”

He turned over a white bucket and sat on it. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He sighed, looked up at the ceiling, and then Greg.

“As you know this is a mental health facility. But they do employ medical doctors and nurses for some of the patients. Some of them come straight from their office elsewhere and make their rounds, others are working right here in the building.”

Greg nodded.

“About four months ago I was assigned to this lady up on the third floor. Her name was Meredith Stenmore. She was fifty-eight. You may or may not know her husband. He owns that hardware shop downtown, Stenmore’s.”

Greg nodded again not sure if he did. He knew of the store though.

“Anyway, she was admitted here and I was her go to RN on day shift. She really was a sweet lady, too. Couldn’t hurt a fly. If you were to see her you’d never guess that anything was wrong with her. It was all up here.” Steve tapped his head with his finger. “Brain cancer. It was moving pretty quickly the docs said. They sent her over here. And by the time she got here she had full blown dementia. They brought her here because she was starting to annoy and disrupt the other patients at the other hospital. I guess it’s a little cheaper here anyway. She never had any relatives with mental illness. From what her husband told me, whenever he did speak to me, he didn’t like me too much, was that she was as sharp as a knife; had been all her life. It was that fucking cancer making her all loopy and a chatterbox. I got to know her. But I was a different person to her every day. I was Fredrick, Ben, Manny and Joe all in one week. I also got the full scoop on the rocket ship that was supposed to land any day in her room and deliver oranges with messages inside revealing the meaning of life and how to bathe your dog.”

They both laughed quietly.

“I would joke around with her and just play along with all her stories. Her husband would sit there and glare at me like I had lost my mind as well. He’d call me a damn jackass. I was just being myself. Some older folks from the old generation are assholes like that. They think they’re right about everything and pretty much know all of life’s secrets and how things are supposed to be. I guess that might be true, but I’m also guessing he’d never met anyone like me.

“It was all harmless and entertaining but I knew that cancer would take over her brain completely. And it did of course. She became a vegetable. I’d spoon feed her and then her husband would for a while. Those last few weeks were hell, man. I’d come check on her and her husband would be leaning over her bed, crying, holding her hand, begging her not to leave him.

“I came in one morning and found out she passed away during the night. I wasn’t the same after that. It really affected me, man. I don’t know why either. I guess my boss noticed how glum I had become. He thought it would be a good idea to let me come to third shift, just for a while and of course work with the level one patients.”

Steve held his head down as if exhausted from talking. Greg wasn’t sure if he heard sniffling sounds or not. But he thought he did. And he wouldn’t be surprised to see Steve shed a tear. But he had a problem now. There was no way he could tell Steve that he tried taking his own life, especially after hear such a heart breaking story.

Steve lifted his head and rubbed his face. “So, what’s your story? Why did your old man make you get a job?”

Greg froze. His mind shutdown. He couldn’t think of a decent lie to tell him. Not even the obvious, ‘he threatened to kick me out’ lie.

 

***

Four months earlier, Greg had gone over different ways to end his life. In the end he chose slitting his wrists. Hanging himself seemed like too much trouble and a gunshot to the head would be too loud and probably messy. Then again he didn’t think about the amount of blood that would soak into his sheets once he cut his wrists and laid down for the last time; his eternal sleep.

It was a Friday night. Both his parents were home but in separate rooms. His mom was downstairs watching Seinfeld with a drink in her hand, his dad upstairs emailing away on his new computer. Greg was lying on his bed listening to Slayer and feeling the sharp bite of a razor blade cupped in his hand. His palms were sweating so much he thought cut himself and was bleeding already. He had it all planned out. He was going to slice his wrists and just drift away on his bed, hoping once he was consumed by complete darkness his mom would barge in, after he hadn’t responded to her incessant knocking, and then collapse at the sight of her dead son, with the soundtrack to hell playing in the background.

But that’s not how it went down.

He cut both wrists and then as if the meaty hand of reality had come down out of realville and slapped him in the face, he lost his breath and started to panic.

What have I done!

He sat up quickly and began covering his wrists with his hands, getting blood all over them. He wrapped the sheets over them but they still gushed out. Sex, Murder, Art by Slayer accompanied his terror. And the one fucking time his dad did actually give a shit about his well-being, horrendously coincided with his failed suicide attempt. He knocked on Greg’s door, and then pushed it open. “Hey, meathead, are ya hungry? I want a pizza, how about….What the hell are you doing!”

Massive embarrassment and humiliation rained down on Greg when he saw his dad. “Jesus Christ, Greg!” He ran to him. “What the hell is going on?” Blood was all over his hands and bedsheets. Greg tried to stutter out a response for his actions but there was no denying what was happening.

It all went wrong. It was not how he intended it to be. He fell to his knees, looking away from his dad who seemed more concerned at there being blood everywhere than he was with his own son’s life. Greg wanted to die and didn’t at the same time. “Godammit,” his dad yelled in annoyance. “C’mon, we gotta get you to the damn E.R. Don’t say anything to your mother when we go downstairs. She’ll have a damn conniption!”

Greg was sick with despair hearing the way his dad was talking to him in that annoyed tone with a complete lack of compassion or concern.

They slid past his mom who was buzzed and laughing her head off to fucking Seinfeld. She didn’t hear them go out the door.

On the way to the hospital, Greg leaned his head against the window of the car. His hands were wrapped in brown and white bedsheets.

“Try not to get blood on the seats. I can only afford one BMW you stupid son of a bitch. Jesus Christ, Greg! What were you thinking!”

They got to the hospital and once inside the E.R. two pretty RN’s ran up to them.

“My son, suicide attempt. I’ll be waiting out here.”

One of the girls gave him an appalled, open mouth look of disbelief. “Come on sweetie. Have a seat in this wheelchair. Quick, we gotta get those stitched.”

Greg had a permanent frown on his face, not making eye contact with anyone. He was trapped in a dark world. But still he couldn’t cry. They stitched him up, let him talk to a phycologist for an hour and sent him home to his loving family.

“Remember, don’t say anything to your mother,” his dad said pulling into the driveway around dusk. “Christ, I need a drink.”

Greg traipsed ghost like upstairs to his room and fell into a dark sleep that lasted ten hours. He didn’t eat or talk for two days after.

 

***

Steve was looking at him, waiting for him to start talking.

“You okay, man?”

The lump in Greg’s throat swelled. That’s all he wanted to hear. And hearing it from this guy he met nine hours ago meant everything.

Warm tears filled Greg’s eyes. The sensation felt strange to him because he couldn’t remember the last time he cried. The tears came and he tried to stop them but he couldn’t. And part of him welcomed the great release of despair from his mind and body. He coughed out two great sobs that embarrassed the hell out of him but he couldn’t help it. The face of his mom and dad flashed in his mind. It was a family picture when he was twelve. They were all smiling. He tried hard to understand what went wrong. He squeezed his eyes tight trying to hold in the tears, but they broke through.

He looked away from Steve feeling like a crazy person because he was crying, laughing and hyperventilating all at the same time. Steve, being an experienced RN has seen things like this before; the great human meltdown. He let him cry it out.

Greg, in his half crying, laughing, I’m losing my mind look, raised up his left arm and pointed to the scar on his wrist. He dropped his arm back down and covered his face.

That’s what I thought, buddy.

Steve scooted the bucket he was sitting on next to Greg. He put his hand on his shoulder.

“Brother, are you all right? You gotta breath now, don’t forget.”

Greg’s body shook with sobs, coughing and sniffling until he finally calmed down. He still had his face covered, too embarrassed to show himself. But he did after a few moments. He could hear rain hitting the roof. Ironically, Greg thought of what his dad told him two weeks ago. Maybe you should get a job or something to get your mind off of… At the time they felt heartless and hollow, but in an odd way he was glad he was here with Steve right at this moment.

The Pantera cd had ended. The only sound now was the raging storm. Steve rubbed his face and looked at his watch. 4:00 a.m.

“Sorry about all that,” Greg said.

“Dude, it’s all good. That ain’t the first breakdown I’ve seen. However, that was pretty intense I have to admit. I thought I was gonna have to break out the defibrillator.” They both laughed. Steve slapped him on the back. “But sometimes you need that, you know.”

Greg shrugged and pretended like he was okay. Emotionally cleansed? Maybe. Feeling like a dork? Completely.

“I guess I should get back up front,” Greg said, although he made no effort to stand up.

“Yeah, probably,” Steve said.

And then Greg did begin to stand up but Steve stopped him.

“Hey, Greg.” He nodded at the floor. Greg stayed seated, but was confused.

“What?”

“About your job and my job and working here and all that.”

Greg smiled. “Don’t worry, man, I may stay.”

“That’s great, but I have to tell you something.”

“What, man?” What now?

Steve crossed his arms, looking Greg in the eye.

“I’m not an RN.

“Huh?”

“I’m not a nurse. I’m just like…everyone else here.”

Greg couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope.” Steve shook his head, looking guilty.

Greg laughed again but wasn’t angry.

“Wow.”

“Three Thorazine a day. But at least I’m a level one patient. I ain’t dangerous or anything. I only killed four people in here already. But that was because they wouldn’t let me…” BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP

Just as Greg’s shock was settling in, Steve’s beeper alarm went into a frenzy.

“OH, Shit! I gotta go kid!”

He jumped off the bucket and ran to the door.

“Wait! What the hell is going on?”

“It’s Ms. Sutton in room 44F. She’s a diabetic. I gotta check on her. You know what, I may need you. Come on!”

“Wait, I thought you said you were…”

“Bad joke kid, sorry. Just tryin’ to break the tension. I’m the real thing. C’mon, we gottta go, quick!”

 

 

***

 

Thunder blasted outside and blue electricity lit up the dark halls as they hustled to Ms. Sutton’s room. Greg kept hitching up his pants because they were too damn big on him, even with the belt.

“What do you need me for?” Greg said as they feverishly jogged down the hall.

“I ain’t got time to explain kid! Hold on!”

They skidded to a stop by a closet door. Steve fumbled with his massive keyring, trying to find the right key to unlock it.

“Fuck, c’mon!”

Once he opened the door he grabbed what looked like a syringe in a plastic bag.

“What is that?” Greg asked.

“Glucose!”

“Glu what?”

“Shut up, man, come on!”

They ran a few more feet and then they busted through 44F.

“Jesus Christ!”

Ms. Sutton, who was sixty four, was lying on the floor, moaning; a broken plate lay scattered on the floor around her and a demolished piece of blueberry pie. A pair of glasses lay broken by her feet.

“Okay, kid, here we go!” Steve kneeled down next to the old lady.

Lightning lit up the room and Greg got a better view of the scene in front of him.

“Betty!” Steve yelled. “It’s Steve, can you hear me?”

She only moaned in response. He quickly started to open the plastic bag with the syringe in it. He handed it to Greg who was standing there looking freaked out, wondering what the fuck just happened in the last ten minutes or the whole night for that matter. He suddenly thought of Sara and got a tingling sensation.

“Kid, take this!” He handed him the glucose shot. “Just hold it.”

He accepted it with nervous, shaking hands.

“Betty!” Steve yelled again. “You’re having a low blood sugar. Just hang tight. I’m gonna help you, okay!”

He took out a small black bag. Greg didn’t even notice him carrying it earlier. Steve pulled out a small glucose meter. As Greg watched, he remembered seeing a video in health class on diabetes. He wished he would’ve paid attention.

Steve gently stuck the old woman’s finger and drew a drop of blood onto a test strip attached to the meter.

Six seconds later, Steve gasped.

“Oh, shit! 13! She’s on her way out! We gotta move. Give her the shot, Greg!”

“What! Why me?”

“Because, dude, she may start to seize and I need to hold her head. Fuck, Greg, we don’t have time. Give her the shot!”

“Okay, okay. What do I do? I’ve never done this before!”

“Jesus, Greg, just pop off the cap and stick the needle in her leg and push the syringe in. She’s going to fucking die if you don’t hurry!”

“Okay, okay!”

Greg kneeled down and gently raised her nightgown.

“Shit, she’s seizing, man! Give her the shot!”

Greg’s hands were slippery with nervous sweat. His heart pounded in his chest. His ears rang. He raised the syringe and gave Steve an unsure look before plunging the lifesaving, fast acting glucose into her leg.

“You got this, Greg!”

He brought the needle down and into her leg.

At that moment there was only the syringe and the old woman’s leg. Everything else seemed to be insignificant and irrelevant to his current situation. There was no life altering scene of infidelity and no Christy pushing him telling him to get the fuck out. No cold uncompassionate, unloving parents, no razor blades. Now it all seemed like a big joke, just a stepping stone (a rather broken one) to something bigger and better down the road. The people in his life were like teenage actors in a high school drama; a particularly bad one at that. A play where the audience is thinking they wasted there money because the actors are horrible.

Time and motion slowed down. His thumb pressed hard into the syringe, driving the much needed glucose into Betty’s war torn body. He saw Steve yell out ‘Yeessss!’ in that dreamy, slow motion view. And the old woman was coming back. Her death moans turning into slurred speech and then somewhat coherent words.

“Betty, can you hear me? It’s Steve. Your blood sugar dropped. Do you know where you’re at?”

“Oh, Stevey,” she muttered.

Steve released a breath like he just tight roped across a lake of demons and serial killer souls and made it to the end.

“Welcome back, Betty.”

Her blood sugar was 59 and slowly rising. Greg was staring in awe at the syringe in his hand; a look of bafflement on his face. What did I just do?

“’You can take it out now, Greg. She’s gonna make it.”

Greg lifted his head at the sound of Steve’s voice. Slowly, they both grinned. “You, did it, man. Good job.”

“We did it,” Greg said, feeling still a little out of breath.

“Fuckin’ right.”

 

***

 

And that was one doozy of a storm last night, folks. I hope everyone made it through. Damage, however, was minimal. Today it’s a scorcher with a high of 92. Then on Sunday, 95. Ouch!

The security guard on day shift turned down the small radio as he settled into his chair, preparing for his shift.

He muttered, “We know, lady, it’s hotter than hell out and it ain’t lettin’ up. So, where is the new guy? Should have been up here already.”

Just as he spoke those words he saw the director of the I.S.M.H., a scruffy looking RN and of course the new guy all walking towards the security area. Bright morning sunshine pierced through the entrance doors. A long yellow ray cast itself on the floor with the shadow of the three men walking into it.

The director waved to the security guard who was now standing up, looking a bit angry with his hands on his hips.

“It’s okay, Larry. I got the new guy right here,” the directory told him once they made eye contact. They went inside the security office. Greg looked around, feeling like years have passed since he last saw the big, gray desk, along with the radio and coffee pot that burned his finger. He internally scowled at the damn thing.

“We had ourselves an incident last night,” the director began to say to Larry who then crossed his arms over his giant gut and eyed Greg suspiciously.

“Really, what happened?” His chin lifted up when he spoke.

The director smiled, “Well, it seems as though our new employee did a great thing. He saved someone’s life.”

Greg could feel his face turning red. The security guard looked stunned.

He said, “I really didn’t do anything.”

“Young man,” the director put his hand on Greg’s shoulder. “Because of you, Ms. Sutton is going to see a lot more sunrises in her time.”

Steve smiled at Greg, nudging him on the shoulder. It was something Greg was starting to get used to. He couldn’t help but feel like he was ten and maybe a little proud of himself. The director went on the explain Ms. Suttons low blood sugar episode to the security guard, his manner not as threatening now.

Steve said, “I’m thankful he was here. Ms. Sutton is doing fine. She slept for a couple of hours after.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” the security guard said.

“She really needs new glasses,” Steve said. “Once she was okay and able to sit up and talk, she said, ‘All I wanted was a piece of blueberry pie.’ And I told her that from now on if she needs help reading her insulin dosage to call me and I’ll help her.”

The old gal was up early and had a hankering for a piece of delicious blueberry pie. Instead of taking seven units like she thought she did, she accidentally added a one making it seventeen. She was lucky she had her life alert button in her pocket.

“Well, Greg,” the director said, “We just need to fill out a report and then you can go home and get some sleep, okay. You must me dog tired from being up all night.”

Both Greg and Steve looked at one another, trying not laugh.

 

***

 

“Let me walk you to your car,” Steve said once they were finished filling out the proper paperwork for incidents involving patients.

“Sure,” Greg said.

Steve noticed a change in his voice. He sounded upbeat, despite being exhausted. They walked slowly, dragging their feet along. Steve yawned and stretched.

“Jesus, what a night that was, huh?”

“Yes it was,” Greg said but now looking off into space again. He suddenly seemed lost again, but Steve knew why.

“Dude, she’s right over there if that’s who you’re thinking of and I know it is.”

Greg turned to him, looking confused.

“What? Who?”

“Turn around.” Steve told him with a smile on his round, three day unshaven face. Greg did and his heart jumped when he saw Sara sitting with a group of other patients at a table in the cafeteria.

Steve pushed him.

“Go on, man. Go talk to her.”

Greg just stood there.

Steve rolled his eyes.

“Go on, pussy, she won’t bite, jeez.”

Greg gave him an annoyed look but after being around him for twelve hours he wouldn’t expect anything else. He started walking toward their table but stopped and turned around.

“But, what about…”

“Yes, dude, I’ll still walk you to your car. Go on. I gotta take a shit anyway.”

As Greg got closer to her table he noticed that her hair was down and not in pigtails anymore.

Her blonde hair was straight, curtaining her face. He thought she looked pretty. She looked up when he was a few feet away from the table. She sucked in a breath and he thought she might go off on a runaway sentence killing spree. Instead, after her initial shock of seeing him since earlier faded away, she smiled at him and waved. Ms. Sutton was sitting with her and the small group of people. She was in a wheelchair. Greg prayed that he wouldn’t have to go over and give her a hug and all that crap. He felt good about helping her, but not like a hero.

Sara got up and went to him. She was wearing grey sweatpants and a plain white t-shirt that formed nicely over her figure.

“Hi,” she said bashfully once she reached him.

“Hey.”

He noticed right away how nice she smelled, like she just got out of the shower. And she did. It was her third one already that morning. He was expecting her to be angry with him about their thing last night and her touching his suicide scars, but from the smile on her face he figured she was okay.

She said, “I heard about what happened. We all did rid glid blid.” She looked down, feeling embarrassed for her minor flub in speech that she couldn’t help.

“It really was nothing,” Greg said trying not to make a big deal of it.

Sara looked at him like he was the crazy one.

“Uh, dude, you saved Betty’s life glife rin tin apples.”

He just smiled and shrugged.

“Well, I’m glad you were there to help her.”

Sara put her hands out and folded them over his. He didn’t object. She held them lightly.

“Well, I guess you’re not coming back tonight, are you rin tin man, dolly bread earthquake.”

He gazed down at her hands touching his. They were soft and felt so good. He looked up and smiled.

“I am.”

Her eyes widened and her look of excitement radiated over to him and he felt excited too even though she was mentally ill and they could probably never have a normal relationship; but that feeling in his stomach, oh that sweet feeling.

“Canaries like houses of fire so they can play grocery time in the field of marshmallows and big trucks!”

Sara quickly removed her hands from his and covered her mouth.

“That’s totally okay.” Greg assured her with a smile. He knew she was getting excited internally and her thoughts were running again. He thought he saw her tear up but maybe not. He gently removed her hand from her mouth.

“Mommy’s shoes can fit little brother in the hen house rattle blum.”

It went back up. He removed it again, laughing this time, but she knew it wasn’t a mean laughter.

“I eat radios and gum and shoestrings sing cling ratta tat tat big house!”

She laughed and began fanning her face. Tears were forming in her eyes.

“Shit, man, I can’t stop.”

“Hey,” Greg took her hands again. “Look at me. Relax and breathe very slowly, in through your nose and out your mouth, deep breaths.”

She followed his directions, breathing with him and it took everything in her not to break down and cry and hug him because he was so sweet to help her even if she’s been through this kind of self-meditation a thousand times before, she let him help her anyway. They held hands and breathed slowly together while the other patients ate their breakfast and babbled about nothing.

“There you go. Nice and calm,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said, now feeling at ease and less manic.

“Better?” He asked.

She didn’t seem sure, even though she seemed fine.

“Yeah, I guess so. Hold on a minute, Greg. This is all wrong. I can’t do this. I really can’t. It’s not right, ya know. You and I.”

What! No! Please, God, no! I really like you, Sara. And I don’t care that you talk crazy, you’re beautiful and so nice and….

“I’m not twenty-seven, Greg. I’m fifteen.”

His mouth hung open in shock, horror or both. Their eyes locked together. But they both knew. He pursed his lips and gave her a suspicious look because he knew she was full of it and she knew it too.

“You’re right. You’re not twenty-seven. You’re crazy!”

She let out a laugh that to Greg sounded as normal as anyone else. She smiled brightly at him and he wanted to kiss her so badly, but not in front of everyone.

“Yep, I am.” She scooped away a ribbon of hair from her face; a seemingly normal thing that girls do.

“I’m just playing, rin tin man. You like it that I’m older than you. I can tell.”

He smiled.

They settled their laughter and touched hands one more time. They were quiet now, looking into each other’s eyes. She raised his hands to her lips where she closed her eyes and gently kissed his wrists, covering his scars with love. And then a tear did escape from her eye.

When he looked at her, there was a split second flash of pure normalcy about her. She’s the most beautiful, crazy, normal person I’ve ever met.

She released his hands. She backed away slowly from him. See you tonight? She mouthed.

He nodded and smiled. Yes, definitely.

She waved her hands at him, shooing him away. Go home. Go to bed. She made a nap gesture with her hands, smiling at him. He felt ridiculously warm and fuzzy.

She went back to the table and sat next to Ms. Sutton. Greg couldn’t stop smiling as he watched her. She tucked her hair behind her ear and smiled back at him. Her attention returned to the group.

From where he was standing he heard Ms. Sutton say, “What! What did she say? Rin tin what? What’s wrong with this girl?”

Sara shrugged her shoulders, and smiled one last time at Greg, showing him her bright smile.

She is so beautiful.

“She give ya a handjob?”

Greg turned around at the sound of Steve’s voice.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

Steve laughed and punched him lightly in the arm.

“I’m just jackin’ you, man.” He made the classic jerk off gesture.

“Whatever. She’s great,” Greg said.

“I know that.”

Steve yawned, stretched and then farted.

“Come on, dude, let me buy you a beer.”

“What? It’s seven-thirty in the morning.”

“So, that’s the best time for a beer.”

Greg sighed, but smiled and gave in.

“So, where are we going?”

“Shit, son, the best and only bar in town. All Nighters.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Call

 

 

 

“Drink up people! Six hours till last call!” There was an unenthusiastic rumbling from the few people sitting at the bar at All Nighters.

Elizabeth Crenshaw, who declared the warning for the quickly fading time slot for drowning your sorrows, had long black hair and eyes as big as quarters. She stared out into the dark, dreamy bar. Another Friday night pissed away, she thought. A group of already buzzing ladies sitting at a table laughed in unison. Elizabeth winced at the sound, wondering what in the fuck could be so funny. She sighed and threw her white dishcloth over her shoulder. The smack of a cue ball jolted her senses. A hill jack wearing a Cummins hat and mud caked jeans was shooting pool.

She took a seat on a stool behind the bar, knowing that she should enjoy the calm before the storm, that being the Friday night rush of folks ready to drink the bar dry of fuck it all liquid.

She changed the TV perched up in the corner from MTV to ESPN. Boring, she thought, but knew most of the customers would prefer to watch football highlights over Trent Reznor dancing around in tight, brown leather pants. Elizabeth on the other hand would not mind that at all. Not one fucking bit.

She scratched her left eyebrow. The piercing she had done a week ago was beginning to heal and was bothering the shit out of her. But I look so damn hot, she thought foolishly. You’re not a kid anymore, Lizzy. You’re a grown ass thirty-four year old woman. She didn’t think of it as an early midlife crisis, getting the addition of an eyebrow piercing to go along with her already three times pierced ears. And it wasn’t like those goth kids she’s heard about in the news or that Marilyn Manson character who has been terrorizing arena’s and church goers all across America as of late with his satanic, freakish looks. It was just a thing.

“Are you good here, friend?” She said to a ragged looking man in a tan trench coat. He said nothing in response, only nodded at her. She shrugged, not really caring if he needed or wanted another drink. Damn weirdo. Be nice Lizzy. But she knew better. The strange ones never left a tip and she even had on her extra short shorts, white of course and her favorite black top. Thin, sexy, spaghetti straps and all. Who cares. I’m at fucking work. Where is Danny?

She had no choice but to dress in such light clothing due to the broken ac unit. Danny Kentner, the manager of All Nighters, was slow in getting the damn thing replaced. Not enough money. Elizabeth was actually the only employee that was currently staffed at the moment. Danny was also failing in the hiring department as of late. Elizabeth often wondered why he even bothered trying to manage a business if he was never around to help and or do managerial stuff, whatever the fuck that is. She also wondered if she should just take over the business. Make it hers. Do things the right way. Change that stupid name, All Nighters, to something else. Give it some class. But she knew where she lived and the kind of people that went to a place called All Nighters. It would never fly.

She hoped someday to break into the restaurant business and Danny’s lack of interest was just enough of a push to get her motivated to do something about it. However, as of this morning, her dreams of serving fried zucchini and homemade pot pies came crumbling down on her. She was denied a loan from the bank. Bullshit! Her heart was set on the small, vacant building across the street. It was perfect for a small diner. She even went back to school to get a business degree. She had been doing fine, she thought, until her teacher broke the news to her, ironically this morning, that she was failing accounting, Double Bullshit!

What the hell was I thinking? She internally punched herself for believing that she could go back to school at her age and then get a business loan.

Just because she could cook up a mean meat loaf along with a virtual dinner menu of kick ass eats, didn’t mean she knew how to run a business. It’s like a great swimmer thinking that going shark hunting is a good idea or a constant reader believing they could write a book without ever having picked up a pen and paper.

She began reading today’s newspaper to get her mind off of things; nothing interesting going on around town. Same old shit, same old town with the crazy house up the street. Good old, boring, Blare, Indiana. Welcome fucking home. She set the paper down on top of the bar; too much on her mind to concentrate. And where the hell is Danny? He better fucking get here before the rush hits!

She saw the man in the trench coat staring at himself in the mirror behind the bar. I wonder what his problem is. And why is he wearing a long coat. Jesus Christ! It’s July!

She sighed, letting out a long breath, hoping it would calm her, make her forget the terrible morning she had that was full of tears, pity and self-doubt. I’ll be stuck at this fucking bar forever.

She drew her eyes once again over to the darkened seating area of the bar. She’s known most of the people in here her whole life. Marvin Stenmore was one of those people. He was sixty, already with a full head of white hair. He was sitting at the bar, working on his second beer and dreaming of his third.

He owned the local hardware shop in town, obviously named, Stenmore’s. He claimed to have better prices and selection than Sam’s hardware in Bludenhale, three counties over. Some of Elizabeth’s earliest memories began in Marvin’s shop; her four year old eyes, ears and nose taking in the long rows of metallic junk and that cedar wood and motor oil stench that all hardware stores seem to have.

Marvin’s wife, Meredith, passed away four months ago from brain cancer. The town of Blare felt a shadow cross their small town heart upon hearing the news of her passing. Everyone in town loved the Stenmore’s. They’d gotten married right out of high school, had two sons. Life was golden. Now, Marvin was a widower at sixty and from the way Stacey Welch was flirting with the old guy, who had an amateur bodybuilder’s physique, one would believe he is a free agent with a flashing neon sign around his neck saying, ‘Hey there ladies, I’m single and horny. Let’s get together.’

Elizabeth crossed her arms, feeling angry at the twenty-three year old girl she used to babysit, watching her playfully slap Marvin’s bulky shoulder and laugh like some bimbo at a Las Vegas casino. She knew Stacey came from a broken home and suspected something terrible might have happened between her and her step dad when she was little, though she had no idea what, but that didn’t excuse her behavior for trying to get her young hooks into Marvin. And why is he letting her do it? He loved Meredith more than anything. Stacey was nine years younger and Elizabeth thought it was despicable what she was doing right now with Marvin. The girl slept around, plain and simple. She’s had sex with nearly every man in Blare, Elizabeth believed. Now it was as if she was happy that Marvin’s wife was dead, so she could sink her teeth into the old guy. That in itself Elizabeth thought was sick because of the age difference. However, she knew of Stacey’s daddy issues. She just hoped it was all flirting and would stay that way. She loved Marvin but didn’t care for what he was doing right now. It’s his life I guess.

Elizabeth jumped when Stacey let out a high pitch shrill laugh at some ridiculous joke Marvin was telling her over his second beer. He put his arm around her thin waist. She wore a tight, form fitting black skirt with some flowery, tan top that was short enough to show off her pierced belly button. Her hair was pure blonde, almost white and cut short just above her shoulders. Black hair clips sliced through it. She obviously dolled herself up extra special tonight.

Another shot of the cue ball from the hill jack playing pool echoed in the bar. Elizabeth put her hands to the sides of her head. She didn’t have a headache but every little fucking sound or noise was annoying the hell out of her. She really didn’t want to work tonight even if she did make close to two hundred dollars. The bad news from this morning had brought her down. The overwhelming feeling of just giving up both school and the dream of owning a restaurant had been on her mind ever since. She sucked it up anyway, put on some makeup to hide her puffy eyes from crying and went into work just a little early. No sense in sitting around feeling worthless. I can do that here and get paid at least. Where in the hell are you Danny!

She heard a sound like the flicking of paper. She slowly turned her head toward the direction of the annoying sound. Her eyes settled on a mousy looking man in an ugly brown suit and yellow tie; his bony finger flicking a matchbook. He looked deep in thought with his eyes staring at the matchbook until they caught sight of a dark haired, moody bartender giving him pissed off eyes.

“Must you, Tony.”

The flicking stopped. The matchbook fell from his fingers onto the bar, next to his second beer.

They both stared at one another for a moment until Elizabeth rolled her eyes and resumed looking at the paper again, even though she set it down and wasn’t interested in reading. She huffed out a breath of discontent at the shoe store owners love of making noises that pissed her off.

Tony Thompson was a regular every Friday night at All Nighters. Usually his wife was with him, smoking Virginian slims and drinking vodka on ice but he walked in on her giving a blowjob to her boss last week and then he walked out. For good. Tony had been married to his wife for as long as he’s been selling shoes. His little shoe store downtown has been the main supplier of foot comfort for the good folks of Blare. His humiliation of catching his wife with another man’s dick in her mouth was too much to handle. He didn’t go into work for three days which broke his streak of never missing a day’s work in twenty years. Most everyone in town knew about what happened. He couldn’t bear to show his face, even at his own store. He did finally go back to work on Tuesday of this week, resuming his usual demeanor of good cheer and a smiling face. But once the open sign flipped to closed, the darkness fell over him, killing and shadowing his fake smile. Now he was at his usual spot on a Friday night, flicking a matchbook, annoying the crap out of the bartender he’s known since she was born. He helped Elizabeth’s mother pick out her first pair of shoes and then countless others after that throughout the years, and he would always give little Lizzy two suckers instead of one because he liked her best. He would joke with her about her feet, pretending they were monsters and she would giggle, but now as an adult she just thought he was creepy. He was certain she knew about him catching his whore wife, but he knew Elizabeth wouldn’t talk about it or give him that look of pity like everyone around town had been doing all week. It actually made him feel good to see that pissed off look in her eye’s because he wouldn’t fucking stop flicking the damn matchbook for no reason like a crazy person.

“Sure, Jack. It sounds great. Don’t change a thing,” said the scruffy man in the tan trench coat. Elizabeth peeked over the newspaper.

“You say something, hon?”

“Nope, sure didn’t.” said the man.

The front entrance door shot open. A group of bikers drifted in. Elizabeth looked up, seeing the first trickle of the oncoming rush. She let out a sigh. I need to call Danny. Asshole better not bail.

She looked around one last time at the people she’s known her whole life, growing up in this no name town that is home to the state’s largest and only mental health facility. She loved them but necessarily didn’t like them. And for this she felt guilty. They all knew her well and loved her just the same. And they all saw, minus Stacey, how difficult it was for her after what happened when she was fifteen.

The group of people in leather jackets and blue jeans dispersed to a tall round table in the back, leaving a man of about thirty or so, standing there looking lost in a pair of Jesus sandals and a white, button shirt, with his left hand in his pocket. He waved foolishly to Elizabeth and when she caught sight of him she lost her breath.

You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.

The man in the long, brown trench coat was gone.

 

***

 

 

“Lane, is that you? Oh my gosh!” Stacey pulled herself away from the flirting game she was playing with Marvin. He waved her away like a grandpa letting his granddaughter go play with her friends at the park, and finished off the rest of his second beer. He motioned to Elizabeth who was standing behind the bar looking like a house fire survivor at the sight of her ex-boyfriend walking through the door. She didn’t see Marvin wave his hand at her.

“Lizzy?”

What the fuck is he doing here? She thought.

“Yo!”

It’s been two years.

“Oh, dear lord help me, I’m dyin’ of thirst. I think I might need another cold’n frosty alcohol beverage to save me, dear lord!”

This can’t be happening. Not now. Not today.

Marvin threw his meaty arms down on the bar in defeat and gawked at Elizabeth. And then at Lane, who was being mauled by Stacey with an overzealous greeting. Lane looked similar to the cat trying to get away from Pepé Le Pew.

. But he had a smile on his face. At least someone is glad to see me, he thought.

Marvin was looking back and forth at both Elizabeth and Lane, wondering when the girl he’s known since she was born was ever going to come out of her state of shock and go get him a damn beer.

“Liz.” Marvin said.

Left me high and dry, just like that.

“Lizzy!

What a bastard!

“ELIZABETH!”

“What, shit!”

She shot Marvin a look that made her hair whip over her shoulder.

“Now that I have your attention, come here. Please.” He said with a sarcastic smile.

She huffed and went to where he was sitting. She grinned sarcastically. “Let me get you another one, hon.” She took his empty mug ignoring the way he was looking at her. He gently took ahold of her wrist. She stopped where she was, looking down at the floor.

“What, Marvin.”

“You okay?”

Finally she did look at him and he realized that was a dumb question because he could see an old, familiar pain creeping into her eyes. She smiled an unhappy smile. Forced and full of stress.

“Want me to beat his ass?”

That got her to laugh just a bit.

“No, Marvin. He never hit me. He just…walked out.”

He tapped her wrist with his large hand, letting her know that he was there for her. It temporarily made her feel warm and fuzzy, having Marvin there for her. She waved his mug.

“Let me get you another one. But go easy gramps, you don’t wanna get too sloshed in front of your girlfriend.”

“Huh? Oh, shush, now!”

As she filled up the mug with Bud Ice, she made accidental eye contact with Lane who did the same. They both looked away quickly. She returned to where Marvin was sitting and slid the frosty mug to him. He was lighting up a Camel non-filter.

“Thank, ya, hon.” He took a drink and looked at her ex. “You know it’s gonna be one hell of a long night if you keep starin’ at each other like that.” Just then another large group of folks came through the entrance. “Hey, where’s Danny?” Marvin said.

“Oh, shit.” Elizabeth scowled putting her hand to her forehead, clenching her eyes shut. She inhaled a deep breath and let it out slowly. She forced a smile that said she was already over this night. But it had yet to begin. “I need to call him. His dumb ass better not bail on me.”

Stacey returned to Marvin. A somewhat guilty look was on her face, along with a rosy hue from four shots of whiskey. She slid up next to him, putting her hand on his shoulder. He patted it and gently removed it. Despite his hard-on, he could see Elizabeth was already having a bad night. He knew how she felt about him and Stacey. She never has said anything directly to him about it. She didn’t have to. Her eyes told him everything.

“Sorry, Lizzy,” Stacey said, smoothing out her skirt just to have something to do to break the tension. She took a seat next to Marvin.

Elizabeth only looked at her with her big, eyes. Without saying a word, Stacey knew what she was thinking.

That’s okay, hon. I wouldn’t expect any other type of behavior from someone like yourself. I love you Stacey but you need to learn to keep your legs closed.

Stacey cleared her throat and messed around with her hair, which was perfectly fine. She was just too damn fidgety. Horny too.

Another group of people burst through the door. Stacey stopped fucking around with her hair and took notice of them.

“Hey, where is Danny?” Ooops. Shut up Stacey.

“I’m calling him right now. Don’t go anywhere Stacey.”

“I have to pee. Be right back.” Stacey bolted to the ladies room, sliding easily through the growing crowd of people ready to get their drink on.

Marvin shrugged his meaty shoulders and laughed. Elizabeth wasn’t laughing. Marvin stopped.

As she picked up the phone to call Danny’s no good lazy ass to see if he was coming to work or not, she scanned the bar, watching Lane laugh it up with some old friends from high school. This time they did make eye contact and both held each other’s gaze.

Why are you back? Things not so great out in California? Her eyes told him.

His said, I fucked up. You look great.

And of course Marvin was watching them both. Jesus h Christ you two.

A few minutes later Stacey returned. “It smells like a whorehouse in that bathroom, Liz. You ever hear of air freshn….

“I need you, babe.” Elizabeth said.

“Fuck! Dammit Danny. What was the lazy fucks excuse now?”

“Oh, you know, trouble with his car, his girlfriend, his bowels, whatever.”

“It’s Friday night though, Liz.” Stacey pouted and slouched like a child on her bar stool. Buzzkill. No sugar daddy dick for honey girl tonight.

“I know it is Stacey, but it’s piling up in here and I could really use your help. Just until the rush is over.”

“Yeah, and that’s like three hours long.”

Stacey sulked, wondering if Elizabeth was glad Danny called off, just so she could keep her away from Marvin.

“Look, you can have a drink on the house later. Maybe a couple of shots during the rush, but not too many.” She pointed her finger at the twenty three year old with white blonde hair, and a sick, southern Indiana drawl.

Stacey looked at Marvin as if for approval. He nodded at Elizabeth.

“Go on. I ain’t goin’ anywhere. Ain’t got much to do now anyways now that my Meredith is gone. “You make a killer margarita anyway, girl.”

Stacey rolled her eyes and smiled at Elizabeth.

“Okay, fine. Let’s do this, c’mon.” She sluggishly withdrew herself from the barstool.

“Thanks, Stace. Just think of it as payback for me babysitting you when you were a kid.”

“Whatever.”

“You’ve been saying that a lot lately. You’re watching too much Jerry Springer.” Elizabeth told her.

“Jerry who?” Marvin asked.

“Nothing. Shit, here they come.”

A group of people and the bikers from earlier came up to the bar, ready to drink the night away.

Elizabeth was in no hurry as she crossed her arms and sat back down on the barstool.

“Is this cool, Lizzy?” Stacey held up a Memorex tape with the words bar songs/rock stuff written on it. Elizabeth compiled it earlier as she was crying over the failed bank loan. It was easier anyway to just play a tape with songs on it rather than screwing around with cd’s all night. Besides, an Onkyo five disk cd player cost three hundred and eighty nine dollars. Danny was too cheap to fork out that kind of cash just for tunes.

“Yes, ma’am. And here we go.” She blew out a sigh as Type O Negative’s version of Cinnamon Girl began to play on the four speakers nestled in the top corners of the bar. Looking past the group of people with money in their hands, ready to be blown on liquor and beer, she saw Lane sitting in back at a round table. Some girl she didn’t know, surprisingly, was sitting with him, gabbing about something. He lit a cigarette. The smoke cloud obscured their view of each other for a moment, but as it dissipated their eyes held the distance between them. Outside, a distant thunder boomed. The night carried on.

 

***

 

Dirty cash was laid down on the bar by the hands of factory workers from the surrounding area. There were even a few docs still in their scrubs from the Indiana State Mental Hospital. The music was loud and vibrated the walls. People hooted and hollered and praised the lord that it was Friday. No one heard the distant thunder. Tony had resumed flicking the matchbook even through the din of people yelling and hard rock anthems such as Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Rock and Roll All Nite. Elizabeth asked if he wanted another beer. He nodded without looking at her, still focused on the matchbook. Weirdo, she thought and then felt bad for thinking that.

Stacey finally lost her bad attitude of having to help out and began singing along with the music from the tape. She swayed her hips to the music and winked at Marvin and he soaked it all up and Elizabeth internally gagged. At one point she envisioned herself cracking a Red Dog beer bottle over Stacey’s head. Cut it out, kid. Can’t you see Marvin is still grieving over his dead wife. Marvin could see it in Elizabeth’s eyes and he gave it right back to her, giving her a look that said, I know what I’m doing kid. I’m sixty years old and can do what I please. That’s just how he was. He was an old school type of guy who got up and went to work every day and then drank beer and played cards with his buddies at the Eagles. He was the old timer that wore John Deere hats and had that constant look in his eye that said: Don’t you fuckin’ tell me that the grass is green. That shit’s yellow if I say it is. You hear me. And he wasn’t about to let anyone tell him how to live his life. He loved Elizabeth and she was almost like a daughter to him. But as much as it broke him, knowing the terrible thing that happened to her when she was fifteen, he still wouldn’t let her make him feel like shit for wanting to live his life.

Elizabeth did her best to keep her mind on taking people’s drink orders. It was hard because she had so much shit on her mind. Those intermittent stares that she and Lane kept doing were getting old too.

“You can’t ignore him all night you know,” Stacey told Elizabeth.

She knew Stacey was right.

“But why is he here?” Elizabeth said, looking out into the bar.

“I don’t know babe. Why don’t you just go talk to him. It can’t hurt anything.”

But Elizabeth knew better. Talking would only reopen already healed scars. She was over Lane. Or at least she thought she was. There was someone in her life now and has been for a year. But it was bugging her why Lane just showed up out of the blue and she didn’t know why. We’re old news. Nothing to see here. An old hat boxed up and shipped out to that old chapter in my life.

The girl who was sitting next to Lane got up from the table, hooked her purse strap over her shoulder and slid her hand across his, giving him a small piece of white paper. Elizabeth was watching every move. The rush had ended and only a handful of people were still in the bar. Marvin and Tony were still in their respective places. The mix tape was on its second round. Dirty Black Summer by Danzig was playing. It was a fitting tune due to the broken air conditioner unit at the bar. The fans Elizabeth had set up didn’t do much to alleviate the heat, but still the fine folks of Blare came to drink and didn’t seem to mind the mugginess.

The girl left the bar. Lane lit up another cigarette and took a drink from his beer mug. He and Elizabeth resumed their ridiculous staring game.

“Can I go play now, mom?”

Elizabeth’s attention was broken when Stacey nudged into her.

“What? Oh, sure. Thanks for helping me. Here, grab a….”

“All ready on it.” Stacey held up two bottles of Red Dog and one Kahlua Mudslide. Two for her. One for Marvin. She sat next to him again, this time almost on his lap. She put her arm around his big shoulders. She swiveled around in her barstool “Hey, Lane, come sit with us.”

Elizabeth’s big eyes grew bigger when she heard Stacey. Her mouth began to open in protest. She shook her head vigorously at Stacey. In a loud whisper she said, “No, kid. What are you doing?”

“It’s all right, Lizzy,” Stacey said, her southern Indiana accent flowing with ease from her pretty, lipstick coated lips.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and began cleaning up the bar area.

Lane seemed hesitant at first, not wanting to get up and be within the vicinity of his ex-girlfriend. He was perfectly content with playing Mr. Fucking Mysterious ex-boyfriend showing up out of the blue flirting with some bimbo who gave him her number and play this stupid staring game with the girl he use to spend every day with and then left because she had…..

“C’mon, Lane”, Stacey insisted. “I’ll buy you a beer and you can tell us all about the Wild West.”

With a sheepish grin on his face, he got up and went over to where Marvin and Stacey were sitting. Stacey patted the bar stool next to her. Elizabeth fidgeted behind the bar, doing mindless tasks like checking the cooler numerous times to see if there was enough beer stocked up and of course there was. She lifted the coffee maker, inspecting it to see if it needed to be scrapped or not and of course the fucking thing was fine. The tension was thicker than the summer night air at the moment. Not even the blast of pre-storm wind blowing outside could cut through it.

Without looking at her ex, Elizabeth went out into the seating area and began wiping tables down. Slowly.

“So, Lane,” Marvin said as he lit up a cigarette. “What brings you back home?”

Lane was leaning forward with his elbows firmly in place on the bar. He was a shade hesitant to respond to Marvin, even though he had his response rehearsed in his mind of what he would tell everyone once he returned, or in this case just show up out of the blue. He looked up, still with that sheepish grin attached to his face. But before he could even open his mouth, Stacey, who was getting close to drunksville, blurted out, “Lane writes them books, Marvin. And pretty well. Ain’t that right, Lane?” She downed the rest of her Kahlua Mudslide.

He scratched the back of his head, feeling nervous and now thrown off track of what he was going to tell them.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right. I done forgot,” Marvin said. He had been so caught up and incapacitated with his dying wife, Meredith, he completely lost track of what was going on around him.

“Well,” Lane began to say and took a drink. “I’m writing a new book.” Liar.

Stacey squealed. “Oh, wow. Ain’t that exciting.” She was beginning to slur her words but that didn’t stop her from sliding her hand up Lane’s arm. “What’s it about?” Her eyes were full of drunken interest.

“Now, Stacey, you know a writer can’t say too much about the books he writes. Don’t wanna give too much away. However, I can….”

“Oh, oh, let me guess. You’re writin’ ‘bout the town where you grown up. That’s why you came back to Indiana. And we’re all in it, right?” She laughed. Her alcohol breathe swooping out of her mouth when she did. Lane caught its sweet scent along with cigarettes. He could also smell her hairspray and perfume. He looked at her hoping the look of awe on his face didn’t make her feel like too much of a dingbat. That’s a terrible idea for a book, no one would read it, he thought. No one want’s to read about a bunch of losers like us.

“Well, not exactly,” he told her. Lane wasn’t in the mood for talking about his life as a writer. He just didn’t want to be rude. Come on guys, just change the subject, talk about something else, anything, the fucking storm heading our way. I don’t know. Just don’t tell them you failed as a writer and had to come crawling back to the land of corn and hospitality.

“Well I just know it will be great,” Stacey said and then, “You wanna another beer?”

“Sure, why not.” Lane began reaching for his wallet but Stacey laid her hand across his forearm, stopping him.

“That’s okay, baby. It’s on the house.”

“You sure? Great, thanks.”

She went behind the bar and gave both Lane and Marvin a show when she bent over to open the cooler full of ice cold beer. Marvin hooted out something about her backside. And then it dawned on Lane. Why is he flirting with Stacey? What about his wife Meredith? I thought she was sick. I’ve only been gone two years. How much has changed. He thought it was best not to ask. Stacey returned with two beer bottles, one in each hand. It gave Marvin impure thoughts seeing her hold them that way. It made him sick with guilt.

“Thanks,” Lane said.

She winked at him. He faked a smile and tried his best to not to look awkward.

Slaves and Bulldozers by Soundgarden started playing over the cheap speakers.

“Oh, my god! I love this man’s voice! Whoo!” Stacey swooned as Chris Cornell r.i.p.ped out a vocal line of hard rock mastery.

Lane took a swig from his bottle and swiveled around in his barstool. There were only a few people left in the bar. Two guys still playing pool and looking over at Elizabeth wiping down tables, both nodding to each other like snickering school boys. She usually welcomed such high school behavior, but not tonight. She internally told them to fuck off.

Lane saw her in the darkness of the bar seating area, only a few neon signs giving off little light. Jesus, she’s beautiful; too beautiful for this heap.

A tapping sound broke his concentration. It was apparently loud enough to hear over the music, which wasn’t that loud because Elizabeth had turned it down a shade once people started baling out. He turned back around and saw the man that sold him his first pair of shoes sitting at the other end of the bar, staring at him, Marvin and Stacey.

“Is he okay?” Lane asked Stacey.

“Oh, Jesus, he’s been doing that all night. He caught his wife messin’ around one night with some guy. I guess he caught her in the act,” Stacey explained.

“Damn, that’s horrible.”

Then Stacy yelled over to Tony.

“Hey, look, Tony! Lane’s back. He’s writin’ a new book. Ain’t that neat?”

Tony stopped his incessant flicking of the matchbook and just stared at them, not saying a word. A collective chill went through all of them and then he resumed flicking the matchbook.

“He’s lost it,” Stacy said as if stating a fact. “Anyway, you ain’t gonna get far by just sitting here looking at her Lane. Go talk to her. She won’t mind.”

Oh yes she will! I walked out on her after eight years. I told her I didn’t think she and I were good for one another because…..

“Besides,” Stacey continued, “She’s had a rough day. She could probably use the company.”

Lane looked at her like she had lost her mind somewhere around nosenseville. She saw his stare and laughed out loud, her eyes crossing just a little from her alcohol level.

“Now come on Stacey. You know I’m the last person she wants to see much less talk to.”

“Yeah, probably. But you know her the best.”

That made him laugh.

He did know and understand the inner workings of his ex-girlfriend pretty well. However, he doubted she would confide in him, releasing all her pent up anxiety of her rough day as Stacey put it.

Why did I come here then? Do I really miss her?

The two guys shooting pool laughed about something and then headed toward the door. They left leaving Marvin, Stacey, Tony, Elizabeth and now Lane the only ones left in the bar. It was one a.m.

Elizabeth, realizing that wiping down tables at such an absurd hour was a waste of time, stopped where she was and looked at the people she’s know her whole life.

What the fuck, she thought and went back to the bar. She avoided eye contact with Lane as she went behind the bar. She crossed her arms and leaned back on an ice cold sliding door cooler. Both Marvin and Stacey did a horrible job of trying to act like everything was normal by not saying a word even though Stacey turned into Ms. Chatty Chat when she drinks. It was obvious the tension had reached a high point. Finally, Elizabeth looked at all of them, including her ex. His face was somber, almost guilty.

She sighed like a teenager having to go sit next to her ailing aunt at Christmas time because her mother told her to, and rolled her big eyes.

“So, Lane, what brings you around these parts? California not everything you expected? Nothing there to hold you back or embar…”

“How’s about another cold one, Lizzy, whaduya’ say?” Marvin broke in.

Lane put his head down and stared at the bar. The lame smile on his face indicated he knew something like this would happen and that he expected it. He wasn’t angry. Stacey laughed nervously to herself and then hiccupped softly. She quietly excused herself. Elizabeth began filling a mug of ice cold beer for Marvin, never taking her big eyes off of Lane as she did. She slid the mug over to Marvin without sloshing it. It was from years of practice.

“Thank ya, dear.”

She resumed her stance by the cooler, crossing her arms again, glaring at Lane. He could feel her eyes burning into him, even though her look wasn’t hateful, just very hostile.

No one said anything after that. Stacey adorned a nervous, cheesy grin, focusing on her Kahlua bottle. Lane however did brave a look at Elizabeth and then the staring game began. Jason Vorhee’s machete couldn’t cut through the sludge like tension of the moment. Tony’s incessant and near psychotic flicking of the matchbook did however.

They all turned their eyes to the defeated, mousy looking man who’s sold every one of them shoes at some point in their lives. He hasn’t said a word all night.

Elizabeth’s mouth drew open, a look of massive annoyance once again on her face. The corner of her left eye twitched. Her eye lids fluttered up and down like a butterfly in distress.

“I need some air.”

She left the bar area, with the intent of going out back for a cigarette. But before she did, she went to the main entrance. “I’m locking the front door, Stacey. Don’t let anyone in. We’re closed.”

“Okay,” Stacey said quietly, almost childlike.

Elizabeth tied up a garbage bag and then replaced it with a new one. She hauled it off along with her irritability and overall pissed off attitude of this shitty day that was quickly turning into a shitty night. Her fist met the back door, making a loud bang as she went out into the hot and windy night.

 

***

 

 

The scent of rain mingled with the ozone tinge of the heat lightening. It was damp, heavy and wet like walking into a bedroom bursting with the odor of fresh sex. A high wind blew the rain and lightning smell all around Elizabeth as she smoked a Camel light; its fiery orange tip fading in and out from the wind. Her back was turned to the exit door when she heard it creak open. She didn’t bother turning around because she knew who it was.

Her right arm wrapped around her mid-drift, her left hand cupping the elbow. The sound of Lane’s sandals skidding across the black top made her wince. It seemed like every little sound or noise was irritating the fuck out of her. She just endured a bad day and it didn’t help that she hasn’t had an orgasm in two weeks either. She had been preparing for the stupid final test that she ended up failing and hasn’t had much alone time to release her tension.

She heard his footsteps getting closer. She wasn’t in the mood for reminiscing about the good old days of her and Lane and how they use to fuck all day long, every day. Yet, she didn’t understand why she wasn’t yelling and cursing at him to get the hell away from her. Don’t give in Lizzy. Just be cordial.

“What the hell do you want Lane?” She said still with her back turned, throwing the idea of being cordial into a fiery pit of winged tarantulas with rabies.

His scuffling feet came to an abrupt stop.

“Can’t a guy step outside for some air?”

He saw her shoulders shrug.

“I’ve always loved thunderstorms. Looks like a big one is on the way.”

Did they not have thunderstorms in California?

He was beginning to feel now like a true idiot, standing there with the girl he was with every day for eight years, mumbling about the fucking weather. But more so of how she was ignoring him. As if he was a pimply faced seventeen year old and she was the prom queen, totally sickened and annoyed by his presence. Be gone lowly loser born into a family of forever factory workers living in a one TV household.

This is ridiculous, he thought. We’re not kids. We’re adults. I can’t blame her though for the silent treatment.

A great boom of thunder sounded off in the distance. It echoed it’s way to them. It made Lane look up.

“Huh, look at that,” he said.

Elizabeth turned her head to the side, fighting the natural urge to say ‘what’ because that would be talking to him, acknowledging his presence, but she’s already done that. Too late.

“Look at this, Liz. It’s so odd. There’s…”

“Oh for God sakes, what is it Bill Nye?” She finally caved and turned around. Fuck it. How much worse can this day get?

He seemed immune to her sarcasm.

“Look, the stars are out.” He looked up into the blackness sprinkled with shining, bright stars.

Elizabeth, still feeling annoyed, looked up too.

“So,” she said gazing upward.

“It’s just strange seeing stars like that before a thunderstorm.”

Darkened clouds drifted quickly above them, giving them a great view of the stars above.

Inside, Elizabeth heard the music go up in volume and then a staccato ‘whoo’ from Stacey. She didn’t care. She trusted the people inside, knowing they wouldn’t steal from the cash register. Mailman by Soundgarden vibrated through the walls, sounding muffled yet doomy and downtrodden; the way fucking Soundgarden should sound.

Lane lowered his gaze from the sky, his eyes falling in line with Elizabeth’s.

He said to her, “To answer your question, I don’t want anything from you.” Liar. You want her sex, just admit it, you wanna be smothered in it because you still love her and haven’t had any in five months. And now that Mr. Bigshot Author (at least that’s what everyone thinks) has returned to his hometown of local shoe stores and hardware shops and one big ass crazy house, you’ve got only one thing on your mind.

“Then why are you here? I thought you were embarrassed to be seen with me anyway, right? But here you stand.”

Lane’s shoulders slumped as if some of the life had been sucked out of him.; a terrible look of guilt and knowing spread across his face; his eyes full of empathy. He knew exactly what she was talking about. He was hoping she wouldn’t’ve brought it up, but he knew better. He let out a sigh; his guilt blowing away with the wind.

“We don’t have to talk about the past, Liz. I just came in for a drink.”

She looked at him and laughed. “You fucking came from California just to get a drink, here? And don’t call me Liz”

“Look,” he ran his hand through his hair. “I’m…”

“Sorry?” She finished for him.

Yes, Elizabeth, I truly am.

She didn’t want to see the truth in his eyes, showing that he was remorseful. But she did.

“Look, I’m back,” he said.

She let out another humorless laugh.

“Not in my life you’re not. What do you mean, Lane?” Her tone was full of agitation.

He hated that tone in her voice of complete irritation, like he was the last person she wanted to talk to, or was the dog shit stuck to the bottom of her shoe.

“I mean I’m back from California.”

“Wait, you’re saying you moved back to Indiana? Why?”

She said it as if he was insane. It wasn’t a concerned ‘oh my gosh, what happened, baby?’ kind of tone which he was hoping for but knew it wouldn’t happen.

It pissed him off. She really doesn’t give two shits about me. This is useless.

“I know, crazy right?” I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

Elizabeth’s eyelids fluttered again, hating his choice of words and how they perfectly rang true for her and her current situation concerning a failed test and bank loan. Join the losers pity party, she thought.

After a few moments, she said, “I thought that was your big dream, to go out there and wow some giant publisher or whatever.”

He hated her sarcasm. Why am I even here?

“Well, I thought too big I guess.”

She hated herself for wanting to ask him what happened, but she was curious.

“What did you do, punch an editor?”

Lane actually laughed at her comment.

“No. Nothing like that, although there were a few that were deserving of it.” He tried to stall the conversation. The reality of it was too much to bare for him. Fuck it. “I just don’t have what it takes.”

She felt no sympathy for him, just a now realizing thought dawning on her like a black sunrise. You son of bitch. After your little speech about us and your stupid stories, you realize you can’t hack it? She wanted to scratch his eyes out as well as hers from frustration. He could see her blank face turning angry and he knew what she was thinking about. She simmered, however. Too tired to be angry.

The truth was she was feeling a tad guilty and she couldn’t stand it. When they were together he would always let her read his stories once he was finished with them. She, wanting to be the sweet, supporting girlfriend, stroked his ego, making him believe he was truly a good writer, but her mind did the equivalent of throwing up in your mouth every time she read one of his crap stories. Be honest, what do you think, he would say with that pathetic look of hopefulness on his young face. They’re great, babe. Stroke, stroke, stroke.

And after they broke up or rather when he walked out on her, he flew out to California with a suit case of clothes and manuscripts, in hopes of getting the attention of some big name publishers. After a year of living there, he had gotten slammed in the face with a good old dose of reality pie. You just don’t have it kid. He stuck it out for another year, but with more drinking than writing and trying to get better. Even after twenty six rejections for his short stories, a couple of novellas and some bullshit story about a scarecrow terrorizing a small Indiana town, he still hung on to his dream.

That was until he awoke one night at 2 a.m. The girl he was seeing at the time was snoring and dreaming of silicone. He got up, went into the bathroom, flipped on the light and stared at himself in the mirror for five minutes. Then afterword’s, he quietly packed his bags, went to the airport, bought a ticket and left California for good. He landed at Indianapolis International, with the same bag of manuscripts and a sense of dread. Now what?

Now he was standing in front of his ex-girlfriend with the wind blowing and thunder booming in the distance, letting him know that it was going to be a rough one, but he didn’t care. He’s already been through hell.

One More Time by The Reverend Horton Heat vibrated through the walls of All Nighters. Once again Elizabeth could hear Stacey and now Marvin both laughing and hooting out loud. Tony was silent as the dead. She figured he was still flicking the matchbook like a crazy person.

“God, those two are rowdy,” Lane said, hoping this would change the subject, and then, “Hey, by the way, do they have something going? I could just imagine the look on Meredith’s face.”

Elizabeth’s already big eyes got bigger. She was surprised he even remembered her name. But she couldn’t contain her emotions. Lane could see it on her face.

“What? Are you okay?”

She looked away for a moment and then forced herself to look at Lane. “Meredith died, Lane. Four months ago.”

“What? No. Not Meredith.”

He covered his mouth in disbelief. Elizabeth heard him say ‘Oh, God’ under his hands. She wanted to cry but fought it off. Lane’s mind reeled with incoming memories of him as a kid at Marvin’s hardware shop, and Meredith being silly with him, making him laugh and then giving him three suckers from the candy jar next to the register.

“It was cancer,” Elizabeth informed him. Long gone was here sarcasm.

Then Lane remembered that she had been sick before he left Indiana. It was a brutal, two year battle of dementia and bedside tears from her husband. But now she was gone and Marvin was inside, living out some kind of fantasy with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. He was lost and had no idea what he was doing, but only did what felt good and right now as Stacey rubbed her body up against his crotch, it was the best he felt in months.

Lane was dumbstruck. Elizabeth wanted to feel for him but couldn’t bring herself to. You’ve been gone for two years. What do you expect?

That far away thunder jolted him out of his memories of the past. He looked up at the oddly star sprinkled sky, hearing the thunder blast from far away, sounding like bombs.

“We should probably head in,” he said.

“I’m fine,” Elizabeth said in a matter of fact tone. Lane took that as his cue to just leave her alone and go back inside and have one more drink and take one, hard look at Stacey’s ass popping out of her tight skirt and then go home and jerk the fuck off; home being apartment 3B above Thompson Shoe’s. It was the cheapest place he could afford right now. He’d been back in town for two weeks and somehow stayed under the radar of his homecoming, a rather difficult feat to achieve in such a small town. He got a job working at the local newspaper, The Blare Reader, as a writer, but more or less a contributor to their little paper. They only paid seven dollars an hour.

Feeling like shit, he turned around and started walking to the back door. But then something crossed his mind.

Don’t do it, Lane. Just leave her be and go home.

He stopped by the door, resting his hand on the handle. You know it’s been bothering you ever since you got back in town. Just ask. It’ll be fine.

“How’s Conner?”

Elizabeth’s head shot up from staring at the ground at the sound of her son’s name. Her nineteen year old son.

She stared at Lane, not at all expecting him to ask about the well-being of her son.

She couldn’t help but huff out a short, humorless laugh.

“You mean my little embarrassment?”

 

***

 

Marvin, Tony and the rest of Blare, Indiana were shocked beyond belief when they heard the news that fifteen year old Elizabeth ‘Lizzy’ Crenshaw was pregnant. The year was 1977 and Kiss was the biggest rock band in America. Two weeks before she found out she was pregnant she and her eighteen year old boyfriend had went to see those knights in satan’s service at Market Square Arena. The opening band was Daze. She didn’t care for them. However, she did enjoy Paul Stanley strutting around on stage, making all the girls scream and ruin their panties. She rode on her boyfriend’s shoulders, down in front, a few feet from the stage. Not once did she think about the blowout fight she had with her parents, hours before the concert. And how they fought and cried to her about her too old boyfriend and of course going to see the knights in satan’s service. She truly believed she was in love with Ryan Bolinger, star quarterback that year on the high school football team.

After the Kiss concert, they were all wound up, overdosing on sweat, volume and adrenaline. And of course horny as fuck too. It made Lizzy even hornier knowing that she ran out on her parent’s, disobeying them by sneaking out, going to the evil Kiss show, with her too old boyfriend. Sweet teenage rebellion.

They had been using protection, however, this particular time when they were about to explode in the backseat of his ’74 Dodge Challenger, they tossed the idea of protection out the window. Literally. She grabbed the condom packet out of his hand and threw it out the window.

“Hey! What are you doing? I ain’t gonna be a daddy.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve been having a period for a while now. You won’t get me pregnant. I wanna feel the real thing.”

“Well so do I Lizzy, but…”

“But nothin’ Ryan. Just a few times in and out and then I’ll suck it for you.”

There was a part of Ryan that was slightly disturbed hearing a fifteen year old girl talk that way. He knew she was too young. No one really seemed to care except for her their parents.

He entered her and was happy not to inhale the nasty rubber scent of the condom. After a very short while, (a minute and twenty six seconds to be exact) he came. Two weeks later she was puking her brains out before school and didn’t know why. Four months after that she was trying to hide the bump in her belly. At six months her mother cornered her in her room, demanding answers until they both fell to the floor, crying and holding each other but for different reasons. Her mother cried because she knew it was too late for an abortion. Lizzy cried because she was terrified of pushing a human out of her vagina. Three months later, she screamed in ungodly pain as she pushed out her newborn son. She named him Connor. Her fifteen year old mind thought it sounded sophisticated. Marvin and Meredith were at the hospital to support her family. Her dad cried as Marvin put a comforting hand on his shoulder. A year later Ryan split. He got a football scholarship and never looked back. And then three years after that, Elizabeth graduated high school. She waved and smiled at her family and friends as she walked across the stage in a blue gown to receive her diploma. Tony and his wife along with Marvin and Meredith were all there. They all hooted, clapped and yelled her name. So did her three year old son. Mommy, mommy!

 

***

 

“Elizabeth, please don’t say that. Your son is not an embarrassment. Come on now. That was just…”

“Don’t kid yourself. That’s how you really felt, Lane. If I remember right, you told me that you were embarrassed that I was thirty-two and had a seventeen year old son, oh, and that it wouldn’t look good on your resume.” Her sarcasm was back and in full tilt. “Eight years, Lane! Eight fucking years of my life I gave to you and you destroyed it in a couple of sentences! And now your back, with nothing to show for all those words you can’t take back.”

He really wanted a beer right now. No. A full bottle of Jim Beam would do rather. But that wouldn’t be enough to help drown his guilt and the overwhelming feeling of having fucked up his life and possibly two other people.

“Don’t you think I know I screwed up, Liz!”

“Jesus Christ, Lane. That wasn’t a screw up. You flat out pushed me and my son out of your life, all because you thought we would hold you back and you didn’t want whoever in fucking California to ask questions like, ‘is that her son?’ ‘Why is she so young?’”

He stood there sick with guilt, under a badly lit alley next to a dumpster behind a bar, listening to, but mostly enduring the words coming out of his ex’s mouth.

And it was all true.

He looked at her under that pale, blueish white light and noticed for the first time her eyebrow piercing.

“Don’t look at me that way, Lane. You said what you said and that’s that.”

“No. What is that in your eye?”

“What?” Her hand automatically reached for her eye.

“You’re eyebrow. Is that a piercing?”

Her fingers touched the small, metal barbell piercing. She felt self-conscious and a little embarrassed.

“Yeah, sure. I got it done last week. Does it embarrass you?”

He gave her a look.

“No, Liz. It doesn’t.”

“Stop calling me that, please.”

“It is your name, right?”

She looked away and shrugged. The wind picked up, blowing her black as night hair around her face. A few strands got caught in the piercing. She flinched as she slowly pulled them out.

“I’m still trying to get use to that.”

She was surprised by her casual tone. Keep your guard up Lizzy.

“Did it hurt?” Lane asked.

“No, not that bad.” You lying bitch, you cried like a baby.

“I don’t think I could do it; too much agony to have a look, but, hey. I was surfing the web and saw a picture of Metallica. Their guitar player has all kinds of shit attached to his face. They’ve really changed.”

“Yeah, they suck now. Have you heard it yet?”

“No.”

“You’re not missing anything.”

Elizabeth felt ridiculous suddenly, standing in a dark alley, talking about eyebrow piercings and rock bands. For months she has been caught up in essays, tests, homework and bank loans. In a weird way it felt good to talk about simple things for a change. It was a break from the barrage of adult bullshit she’s been dealing with. She just hated that it was with her ex. She still didn’t know why she was standing there, talking to him. Fifteen minutes ago she could’ve said, Piss on you! See ya.

It’s been two years, Lizzy. I’m over him. Am I?

She wrapped her arms around herself like she was cold or was trying to cover up her visible mid-drift. They were both silent for a few moments, only listening to the distant thunder getting closer. She hadn’t realized Lane was now standing closer to her. Close enough to kiss possibly or look each other in the eye and hope to see some kind of fire leftover from their sexually heated past relationship.

Nothing.

Only dark, cold pupils.

Inside, Stacey and Marvin were still bumping and grinding their radically different bodies together to the music on the tape. Tony was still flicking the matchbook, although his eyes were soaking in everything around him.

“Anyhow,” Elizabeth finally said, breaking the silence between them. “Conner is doing fine. Actually better than fine. He’s doing pretty damn fantastic.”

Lane’s mouth turned upward into a smile, hearing that. Elizabeth swallowed, looking choked up as she talked about her son.

“He got accepted into Purdue last year, of course with financial assistance.” She nodded with a look of disgust at the brick wall of All Nighters.

“That’s great, Li…Elizabeth.”

“He’s majoring in science. He loves weather. He’s probably outside right now, taking notes on all of this.”

“He’s home?”

“Just for the summer. He goes back in September.”

“That is really awesome.”

“You say that like you forgot he was gifted in math and science and wanted to be a weatherman when he grew up.”

“I didn’t forget, Liz. Sorry.”

“Yes, you did.”

She looked away, visibly upset by the show of tears pooling in the corners of her eyes.

Back inside, Stacey propped herself up on the bar and then stood up.

“Careful, baby,” Marvin said to her as he held onto her ankles, steadying her so she wouldn’t fall. She cackled drunkenly; her body teetering and swaying; the demon alcohol hard at work inside her. Come to Silver by Danzig began playing on the tape. Its massive industrial beat, challenged the thunder outside. Stacey awkwardly moved stripper like to the rhythm as she ran her hands through her hair and over her face, but not feeling a thing because she was numb. Marvin watched her every move, feeling himself become aroused by her sexuality, until he caught sight of Tony staring at him. Both men who have known each other since they were kids running through Black Creek River, locked eyes.

A brilliant flash of heat lightning lit up the night sky an electric blue. Wild streaks showed themselves shortly after. Despite the wind, the temperature was still very warm.

Elizabeth turned away from Lane, still hugging herself. She started thinking about her life and how she ended up thirty-four, stuck in a stagnant life; a non-moving carousal where the ride is watching other people revolve around you while you stand still, doing everything but nothing at the same time, getting nowhere.

She was a proud mother. Her son was on the right path. But where’s my path? She raised him the best she could being the age she was. Of course she had help from her parents and her older brother who died in a car crash in nineteen eighty-five. She prays to him all the time. She figured it made more sense to talk to someone she actually knew rather than angels or saints in a book.

As difficult as it was raising a child when she was still a child herself in some respects, she made it through jr. high and high school. The thought of going to college wasn’t even in the vicinity of her mind. A year after her brother passed away, she met Lane, at All Nighter’s of all the places. It was nineteen eighty-six. She was out with her girlfriends for a much needed break from being a single mom. Lane was shooting pool with a friend. Elizabeth didn’t think he seemed like the type of person to be at a bar, playing pool. He was bookish, wearing thin framed, brown glasses, but she still thought he was cute. They played the flirting, staring game until he final went up to her and offered to buy her a drink. She accepted. And then they fucked in the back seat of his Camaro. The radio was on, casting a sickly green light on the interior. Samhain was playing at a low volume on the local late night metal show.

Elizabeth shivered in the dark as her mind drifted into the past. Life was good then. Conner had a father figure around and Lane loved and accepted him fully. She took up cooking along with concocting badass margaritas and other alcoholic beverages. Lane wrote every day and dreamed of becoming a full time writer. They both worked at decent jobs and eventually bought a small, two bedroom house, perfect for the three of them. At night, when they were done making love, they would make plans for the future. Those plans included marriage and the possibility of another child.

It all came to an end one day in nineteen ninety-four after some of their sizzle had fizzled out of their relationship. They were sinking anyway by then, but it was still a horrendous shock when Elizabeth heard the words, ‘I’m embarrassed that you have a seventeen year old son. I don’t wanna tell you this Liz, but that’s not good for me and what I want to achieve.’

Fucking jerk!

It was devastating and hurtful to hear, although she finally revealed to him in the same conversation that she thought his stories and writing in general sucked ass and she was only trying to support him, even though it was all dog shit.

It was a breath of fresh air once he packed his bags and left. At least she told herself it was, just to get through the hurt and pain of the break up. She did love him.

She got serious about starting her own restaurant and going back to school. It was the hardest work she’s ever done; maybe a little too hard. She was bombarded with math and science and economics and business classes. Jesus! All this for a freaking place to eat? Her son even helped her, staying up late with her, explaining math and numbers to her, them both knowing she wasn’t cut out for this. She had no idea what she was doing, but she did it anyway.

And then I failed, she thought in the dark, hearing the boom of thunder fight for dominance over Danzig pounding through the brick wall.

No bank loan. No degree.

And here she was, standing behind the bar where she works, thinking about her life and with her ex-boyfriend behind her. She was just a simple creature, roaming around this small town jungle with broken avenues and hopeless streets. Never ending, never changing, riding the carousal that never moves.

“We better get inside.”

She didn’t flinch when Lane spoke softly right behind her, putting his warm hand on her shoulder.

Don’t let him, Liz. He’s a bastard. But Goddammit, I still love him.

She turned her head to the side. A clear, visible in the dark tear ran down her face. Lane’s other hand touched her shoulder. She wasn’t sure if she had turned around on her own or if he had helped her. It didn’t matter to her. She was tired and it had been a long day. She needed something, someone. Now they were facing each other. The first rain drops of the coming storm started to fall. They were big, warm drops. Elizabeth threw all logic into the hard blowing wind as her face drew closer to Lane’s; their lips inches away from touching.

And then Stacey screamed.

 

***

 

 

A torrential blast of rain came pouring down from the black sky just as Elizabeth and Lane burst through the back door. The terrifying scream had sent Elizabeth’s heart into overdrive. It was a drastic shift of moods, jolting both her and Lane from their moment of reconnection.

“Stacey!” Elizabeth yelled as she ran to the front of the bar. Lane was right behind her.

When they reached the bar, Elizabeth stopped in mid-run. Lane ran into her, nearly knocking her over. It sent her hair flying forward, obscuring the view in front of her. She didn’t scold Lane for bumping into her. She was to in shock by the scene taking place at the bar.

“Oh, Jesus!” Lane said sharply and then turned his head.

Elizabeth covered her mouth, unsuccessfully muting a whine escaping her throat.

“Turn away, Liz!” Marvin yelled.

She was a statue.

“I said turn away!”

But she couldn’t turn away. The sick image of Stacey being raped was equivalent to staring at a highway accident. You can’t look away. Tony was in front of Stacey. His pants were down around his ankles. His bare, meatless ass bobbed back and forth as he thrust himself into Stacey. His bone white, hairy legs were like two toothpicks. Marvin’s pants were pulled down as well. His sixty year old cock was stuffed deep into Stacey’s sweet mouth.

She was gagging and making other noises too. Elizabeth couldn’t tell if the girl was laughing or crying or both. Her brain screamed, Stop! Get the fuck away from her! Her mind was full of static and the pounding rain and thunder sounded incredibly loud. Am I in hell? What do I do big brother? She backed up, bumping into Lane. Her hand dropped from her mouth. It hung open in a locked position of awe. Her big eyes were like a zombies. Thunder and lightning crashed all around her. It dueled with Stacey’s moans of either pleasure or pain. Elizabeth drug her feet along the floor, going behind the bar, taking a seat on the stool, all without taking her eyes of the horrible scene in front of her. Lane watched her with a grimace of discomfort on his face, feeling sick to his stomach. She reached down below the bar; her eyes still glued to the rape.

“Oh, my God!” Lane yelled when she raised her hand; a rifle firmly in her grip. Marvin removed himself from Stacey’s mouth when he saw Elizabeth. Tony was still pumping, going at it like an old jack rabbit, lost in young female sex, completely unaware of the big ass gun in Elizabeth’s hands, until she cocked it.

“Huh.” Tony released himself from Stacey, who was still moaning, telling him not to stop in her slurred, drunken voice. Elizabeth cocked the gun again and Stacey’s head jerked upon hearing its loud snap. She screamed and sat up as if waking from a nightmare. The rifle was pointed at no one in particular but in the general direction of the disgusting scene. Then she moved it in Marvin’s direction first, then Tony and then Stacey. Anyone of them could be blown to pieces.

“Elizabeth,” Lane said as cautiously as he could.

“Girly,” Marvin said. “Come on now,” his erection going limp. She didn’t lower the rifle. Tears filled her eyes. Her eyelids fluttered for a few seconds and then she did lower the rifle, placing it in her lap.

“That a girl,” Marvin said, a little out of breath and sweating. “It’s gonna be okay, Lizzy. We’re just havin’ fun is all.”

She looked at Lane. His heart broke.

“Tell Connor I’m sorry.”

She lifted the rifle and put it in her mouth.

Thunder crashed.

And then she woke up.

 

 

The scream she had let out was extremely loud in her ears. She also bumped her head on the window of Lane’s car.

“Whoa, you all right?” Lane said.

“Oh, shit. What the hell happened? Where the fuck am I?” Sitting up fast she began to rub her head.

“You’re okay, Liz. We’re in my car. Did you have a bad dream or something?”

She looked at him with those big eyes of hers. By the look on her face, he knew she did. She covered her face.

“Oh, God.”

Lane put his hand on her shoulder. She touched it.

“Why are we in your car?” She was looking around trying to connect with her surroundings.

“We were talking, uh…we we’re outside, remember, and it started raining, so we ran to my car. Are you okay?”

She shook her head, trying to make the sick nightmare go away. Fragments and images still lingered in her brain like ghosts.

“Yeah, I think.”

Before their lips touched when they were standing outside, it began raining. They took refuge in Lane’s car. They kissed and kissed hard, breathing into each other’s mouth. He pulled her close and held her by the back of her head, inhaling the scent of her hair, smokey bar and all. They embraced each other and didn’t let go. It was a past due, over extended hug. So gentle and soothing that Elizabeth fell asleep in his arms. Smiling, he laid her back in her seat. She slept for fifteen minutes while he sat and listened to the rain and did some soul searching, glancing at himself every so often in the rear view mirror until she screamed, waking herself from the nightmare she was having.

“Do you wanna talk about it?” He asked.

“No, God, no.”

“What was it, Liz?”

She sighed and rubbed her eyes.

“I’m sorry Lane, it’s so late. I need to get back inside and close up.”

There was no way in hell she was going to tell him anything about the horrors she just witnessed in her sleep. He understood.

“Hey, I’m sorry about all of this,” he said.

“It’s fine. We’re just tired.” She smiled and put her hand on his knee.

“Well, let me walk you in.”

“You don’t have to, it’s all right.”

“Here, take this.” He handed her his jacket from the back seat. She gave a thankful smile and put it on.

It was a short run to the back door but long enough to get them soaked from the downpour. After they went inside, a feeling of dread hounded Elizabeth. She never wanted to see anything like that again. Her stomach rolled as she remembered. Why would I dream something so horrible? Life is hard, but I wanna live.

“Guys, last call!”

She decided not to yell out Stacey’s name. It would be too much like her nightmare. When they reached the bar, a very different and real nightmare was taking place. No one was half naked and being raped. And no suicide victim with their brains splattered all over the bar. There was however, a gun. Not a rifle from her dreams but a small handgun. It was in Tony’s hand. And it was pointed at Stacey. Marvin and Tony’s eyes were still locked.

 

***

 

 

Much like her dream, Elizabeth’s mouth fell open in shock and awe. Part of her felt like she was still dreaming. A blanket of unreality covered her, but she knew she wasn’t dreaming, despite the similar layout of events unfolding in front of her.

Stacey was lying on her back on top of the bar, with her elbows holding herself up, her legs curled up in what looked almost like some classic, nudey pic. Marvin was standing behind her, hovering over her as if to shield her from the gun Tony was pointing at her face. His right hand rested on her shoulder, comforting her, the other was up in a ‘stop’ position directed towards Tony. Both men’s eyes were still locked together.

“Just relax now, Tony,” Marvin said as calmly as possible even though he was boiling internally and had already in his mind taken the small, mousy man down and had kicked him in the balls.

“You shut up! Shut the fuck up!” Tony screamed, gritting his yellow teeth. Tears of anger and possibly hurt formed in the corners of his eyes.

“Okay, okay buddy, you got it. We’re all friends now, aint’ we?”

“I thought I told you to shut it, you old fuck!”

Marvin struggled to zip it before he got himself shot. You’re the same age as me you corny fuckhead.

Elizabeth and Lane were stuck to the floor a few feet behind Tony. Oh my God, he’s lost it. He’s finally gone off the deep end. She winced in pain from the sudden urge to pee.

Tony said through his clenched teeth and angry, off the rocker mouth, “See here, this little girl here has been whorin’ it up all night. I’ve been watchin’ you, lil’ devil bitch. You just can’t wait to get your little pussy all over Marvin there, ain’t that right!”

Stacey trembled and whimpered and didn’t know what to say. She was drunk and suddenly sober and scared shitless at the same time.

“Am I right, bitch!”

Elizabeth jumped when he yelled. Stacey yelped out a scream, sounding like she was three instead of twenty three.

“Yes, yes, I guess so.”

She could feel Marvin’s big hand trembling on her shoulder, but it wasn’t from fear. He had killed Tony three times over already in his mind, but was trying to play it smart for the safety of Stacey, and now Elizabeth and Lane. He didn’t care if he himself got shot. He didn’t think he had too much to live for, now that his Meredith was gone. Help me, Meredith. Help me, baby, get through this.

Tony continued his tirade. “You’re a filthy snake, little girl. Whorin’ it up with a man whose wife just died. Shame, shame, shame on you, sissy! And shame on you Marvin for lettin’ her do it!”
Stacey broke into a cry. Of course she knew what she was doing and felt like shit for doing it, but she couldn’t help it that she liked older men and had a crush on Marvin since she was seventeen.

“You’re a damn whore!”

“That’s enough, man!” Marvin yelled, no longer able to keep his anger at bay.

“Shut it, Marvin or you’ll get a bullet!”

The widower threw his head back, barking out a short laugh that he couldn’t help. “You sound like a freakin’ movie, brother. Jesus H Christ!”

“I’m warnin’ you!”

“Kiss my white ass, ya old dickhead!”

‘No, Marvin, don’t, please!” Stacey screamed.

Not paying any attention to Stacey, Marvin laid into Tony. “Now you listen to me, you son of bitch! You sold this girl her first pair of shoes and now you’re talkin’ to her like she’s a dog and she ain’t! And so what motherfucker if she wants to fuck me. I wanna fuck her, that’s for damn sure!”

Stacey’s eyes widened as she strained her head to look up at Marvin. Tony waved his little gun at the hardware shop owner, gritting his teeth and spewing spittle in the air.

Elizabeth and Lane were still behind Tony, quiet as corpses.

“Hell, I planned on takin’ her home tonight and fuckin’ the shit outta her.” No you didn’t, liar. I’m just tellin’ you what you wanna hear, Tony. Because I’ll be damned if anyone is gonna tell me what I can and can’t do, especially some fuckhead pointing a gun at me. I love ya man, but you’ve crossed the line.

Stacey let out a weird laugh and sigh of excitement. “Oh, shit!”

“I like to eat pussy, Tony. I was gonna do that to. Get it all over my face. I think I’d like that real well!”

“Oh, my God.” Stacey cried out in that same strange half laugh, half crying tone.

“You’re just all heartbroken because your old lady had a dick in…”

Tony cocked the gun, his finger on that shiny trigger. Then, as if coming out of a trance, Elizabeth’s internal fight or flight alarm started going off.

“Wait, wait! Stop Marvin!” She raised her hands up at him. His eyes were glued to the gun that was pointed at him. “Tony, it’s me. Please just stop. Just put it down.”

“This don’t concern you Lizzy!” Tony said without taking his eyes off his target.

“Yes it does, Tony, you’re in my workplace, pointing a gun at two people I really care about. Please, just put it down.”

She was talking to a wall. She shot a quick glance at Lane. He mouthed something to her, but she couldn’t make it out. Slowly, she stepped to the side of Tony, with her hands up in a surrender position.

“Tony, listen to me. I know.” Her voice had gone up a couple of registers and was shaking like a seizure. She didn’t make any sudden moves, but braved tucking a ribbon of hair behind her ear. She looked at Lane again. He shook his head at her, not wanting her to play hero. She was a few feet away from Tony. He kept his gaze and gun on Marvin.

“Tony, I know you’re hurting. And it’s okay. You don’t have to be angry with Stacey. She’s done nothing to hurt you. It’s okay, Tony, we’ve all been hurt. What your wife did was awful.”

His gun wavered in the air for a moment. His angry scowl eased up slightly.

“You don’t know nothin’ girl,” he said, but without yelling. She thought she heard a break in his voice.

‘Yes, I think I do, Tony,” she said in a non-confrontational way, her voice still high and shaky and on the verge of breaking down. “Look, I wanted to lock myself up in my house and never come out after Lane left.”

Lane lowered his head, hating that she was having to use her own personal baggage to bring Tony down. It was incredibly awkward but he was glad she was trying.

“And remember when I was a kid, when I got pregnant?”

He kept his eyes steady on his targets, but jerked his head a little towards Elizabeth. “Yeah, I do.”

“See, when my dad found out, he didn’t take his belt to me and he didn’t go and try to kill Ryan. He just ignored me. He was so angry with me that he didn’t talk to me for a month. I was dead to him.” She clenched her eyes shut trying to contain her tears. When she opened them, they spilled out. Marvin lost his angry streak and was staring at her. I’m not supposed to hear all of this.

“But you see, Tony, I do know what it’s like to feel pain and hurt and I’m telling you it’s okay.”

His gun was trembling. That may or may not be a good thing.

The rain was coming down in a torrential blast, nailing the roof. Thunder shook the walls. Elizabeth was crying now.

“I was so confused and hurt.”

Lightning hit something outside. A crash of thunder came soon after.

“And you know what the funny thing is? I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t sorry for what happened and that I liked what Ryan and I did in the backseat of his car that summer.”

She threw her arms up in defeat, half smiling, but completely crying. She shook her head at the memory. “I liked it,” she said in a scratchy whisper.

Things became eerily silent, all except for the hard rain hitting the roof. Elizabeth hung her head down, her black hair wet and sticking to the sides of her face. “Please, Tony, put the gun down,” she said, now looking up at him. She could see the beginnings of a breakdown on his face, a sad frown and knowing look of what he had just done. His lips trembled, beckoning him to release his anger and sadness by way of an aching moan.

He was just about to do that as he lowered his gun when Stacey said, “Don’t.”

Everyone collectively turned their heads and eyes at her. The looks on their faces displayed confusion, as if they misheard what she said, possibly because of the thunderstorm. But Elizabeth heard exactly what the young, twenty-three year old had said and it was, don’t.

Don’t what?

“Stacey?” Elizabeth said as her hair dripped rainwater onto the hardwood floor. The jacket that Lane gave her was a dark army green, but was slick and shiny with rain.

“Tony,” Stacey said in a light, weak voice. “Shoot me, please.”

Elizabeth gasped, but it was soundless. She suddenly felt dizzy, her legs like rubber. The breath of horror she sucked into her lungs seemed to be trapped there. She felt the urge to scream but couldn’t.

Marvin stepped away from Stacey, removing his secure hand from her shoulder. She sat up slowly. A nightmare of tears and mascara bled down her face. She sniffed and wiped her nose. A mask of desperation was in control of her facial features.

Tony’s gun was lowered all the way now. Elizabeth’s little talk had settled him down. But now this new revelation from Stacey had thrown him off track, leaving him and everyone else open mouthed and stunned.

“Baby girl, you ain’t talkin’ right. No sense in being this way.” Marvin said but Stacey halted him when she squint her eyes shut and ssshed him.

What the hell is happening right now? Elizabeth thought. She looked over at Lane as if he had the answer but he was just as dumbfounded as she was. She looked at Stacey.

“Tony,” Stacey said again. “Please, take that gun and put it to my head and kill me, because I don’t wanna dream no more.” She broke down, letting her emotions flood out.

Elizabeth’s mind reeled. What is she talking about? Jesus Christ, what is going on?

Tony hadn’t budged. Long gone was his hate face. Now he looked scared.

Stacey’s face was a soggy mess of snot, tears and black eyeliner. She wiped her nose again with the back of her hand.

As terrified as Elizabeth was, she couldn’t hold out any longer. As cautiously as she could, she said slowly, “Baby, what’s happening right now? Why are you talking this way?”

Stacey looked at her and Elizabeth fought back a cry when she saw an absolute darkness in her eyes.

“Oh, Liz, you don’t wanna know this.” She shook her head back and forth, frowning and crying. “It’s bad, real bad.”

Rape. It’s gotta be rape, Elizabeth thought. It was her goddamn step dad. I knew it!

Thunder crashed but no one moved. They were prisoners of Stacey’s mystery. She tucked her hair behind her ear, giving Tony another pleading look to fulfill her request of euthanasia. He stood motionless, trapped in this nightmare he created.

And then Stacey spoke.

“See, there’s a video out there floatin’ around of a little girl doing some very bad things on it. Things no little girl should be doing, and that little girl is me.”

Elizabeth covered her mouth. Her eyes frighteningly huge now, almost mimicking Shelly Duval in The Shining, trapped in the bathroom, stabbing at her crazed husband. A chair skidded on the floor when Tony fell into it. His face stupefied and lost. Lane kneeled down holding his hand over his face.

“Liz,” Stacey continued, “you know why I hate dogs? They was in there too.”

Elizabeth could feel herself starting to panic and possibly hyperventilate. She felt dizzy like she was going to pass out. Think of something happy Liz. Quick, do it now!

She struggled to find a temporary happy place in her mind but couldn’t find one. It made the situation worse. She began to hyperventilate.

“So, please, Tony. I want you to shoot me because I can’t take the dreams anymore. Please, please, shoot…’;

“STOOOOPPP!”

Elizabeth jumped at the sound of Marvin screaming.

“STOP! Jesus Christ, please stop! No more, no more!”

The old man fell to his knees bellowing, begging Stacey to stop. He couldn’t handle hearing the blackness spew from her mouth. It was too much.

“No more, no more!” He continued to say, covering his ears, his face turning beet red. “Oh, Meredith!” He cried out. “I miss my Meredith. I want her back, my sweet Meredith.”

He wrapped his arms around himself, his body going into spasms from sobbing.

And then Elizabeth released a rush of air from her mouth. He eyelids fluttered, her senses coming back. Her shock spell broken.

“Marvin, oh my God, Marvin!”

She ran to him and lowered herself down, covering his body with hers as if shielding him from a tornado. She cried along with him, sharing the pain of his loss; their bodies shaking together in despair. Tony’s gun fell out of his hand, hitting the floor. Stacey covered her face in shame at what she had now caused. And Lane was the witness to it all, watching everyone spiral into an emotional abyss, one he couldn’t see anyone surviving. Elizabeth raised her head. Their eyes met. Lane drew back slightly, fearful of what he saw. Her mouth was stretched in an expression of insanity in what seemed to be a grin but wasn’t. It was all pain. To Lane it looked like she was a crazy person smiling wildly at him. Tears rushed from her now red eyes. Her teeth shown and were clenched tightly together as if she was in horrific pain. And of course she was in pain; terrorizing, mental pain. She was insane with emotion.

The lights flickered from the storm. Marvin was lost in a lake of tears and heartbreak. Elizabeth was still holding on to him. She looked at Lane and mouthed the word fuck to him. Her body was shaking and moving along with Marvin’s as she held on, almost like a mechanical bull, but this wasn’t a fun ride. This was hell. She mouthed the curse word again but Lane saw something change in her, but only for a quick second. Is she laughing? He thought.

“Fuck,” she said now for real.

Thunder boomed, shaking the interior of the bar.

“Fuck!” She said a little louder.

“Fuck!” And now Lane did see her laugh, but nothing about it was funny. It scared him.

Electric blue light flashed. Thunder crashed.

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuuck!” Crazy, drunk like laughter.

She pushed herself away from Marvin who was still lost in his private, yet not private hell. He was oblivious to Elizabeth’s own brewing, meltdown. She was standing up now, staring at Lane and he along with Tony and Stacey were all staring back at her.

“Fuuuck!” No laughing this time. Just pure agony.

“Fuuuck! Fuuuuck! Fuuuuck!” She pulled at her hair and beat her already bloodshot eyes.

“Fuuuuuck! Fuuuuuuuck!” Shrill female screeching filled the bar. “Fuuuuuck! Fuuuuuuuuck! Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck!”

“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!”

Lightning hit the roof and then the lights went out.

 

***

 

 

Forty-five terror filled seconds of darkness and thunder spread throughout the bar. The high pitch ringing after effect of Elizabeth’s violent, vocal release could still be heard in everyone’s ears. Pitch blackness and the sound of the storm united. Roiling thunder moved through the bar like a blood thirsty wolf on the hunt. The lights began to flicker and then came back on. Everyone was still in the same spot, but with terrified looks melted on their faces. All eyes were on Elizabeth. She was sitting on the floor with her knees up and her head lowered down in them. Her wrists crossed over one another, sitting on top of her head.

On the bar, a shot glass lay in pieces, shattered by her shrill, pain releasing scream.

 

***

 

 

And that was one doozy of a storm last night, folks. I hope everyone made it through. Damage, however, was minimal. Today it’s a scorcher with a high of 92. Then on Sunday, 95. Ouch!

 

***

 

 

 

Ministry’s version of Lay Lady Lay began playing on Elizabeth’s mix tape early Saturday morning. It was around seven-thirty a.m. An alarmingly bright ray of sunshine pierced through a small square window of the main entrance. The deep and heavily distorted bass line rumbled the floor, even though it wasn’t turned up full blast. It was enough to wake all five of them from their slumber.

Tony was laying on his back on one of the pool tables. His ugly yellow tie was tied around his head like Rambo. He thought he was Rambo last night when he and Lane finished off the last of the Wild Turkey and he started chasing everyone around the bar, doing a horrible impression of Sylvester Stallone.

Marvin and Stacey were on the floor next to the table where she had given him a lap dance because she had a few more shots of whiskey. His shirt was unbuttoned, exposing his white, curly chest hair. Stacey’s right hand was nestled into it. Her other hand was sitting in an almost dried puddle of her vomit. She had thrown up after the mix of alcohol began sloshing around in her belly from doing what she thought were sexy dance moves for Marvin. Its stench tickled her nose. She started to wake up.

Elizabeth and Lane were on the floor as well, but spooning; his arms wrapped around her, embracing her body. They were barely clothed. Her shorts were pulled halfway down, half exposing her bed of black hair in between her legs. Lane’s shirt was off but oddly his pants were still on. He had thin, blood red scratches on his arms and chest and he would soon be feeling the bite marks.

“Yo! Anybody home?” A man’s voice called out.

The mind jarring clink of two bells hitting each other on the entrance door, jolted Elizabeth awake. She sat up quickly, her hands lying flat on the floor for balance. She had to force her eyes open because of all the dried sleep.

“Whaa, where pants my open,” she blurted out.

“Say what?” The man’s voice said again.

She rubbed her face and felt the horrors of a massive headache coming on.

“Oh, my God,” she said under her breath, slowly realizing where she was at but not yet what she’s done.

Lane stirred in his sleep. Elizabeth slapped him weakly with her hand. “Lane, get up. Get up, Lane.”

“What’s a guy gotta do to get a beer around here, whoa! What the hell!”

Steve Winsfield stopped in his tracks. So did Greg. Before them were five people lying on the floor, all horrendously hungover.

At first Steve thought they were hurt or possibly mugged and held up. His face was full of concern but then he knew, and a big, cheesy grin formed on his unshaven, round face. He let out a laugh, covering his mouth, trying to contain it, but was unsuccessful.

“Holy shit! Are you assholes drunk!”

In her hungover, horror haze, she growled, “Steeeve.” She covered her lip stick smeared face and massaged her forehead. Her ratty, black hair fell over her hands.

Steve nudged Greg on the shoulder and pointed at the motley crue.

“I went to high school with her. She was ten or some freakish age like that when she had her kid.”

“Dude! What the hell?” Greg yelled.

“Man, it’s true.”

“I was fifteen, asshole!”

“fifteen!” Greg yelled again, this time making Elizabeth wince.

She strained her eyes to look at him. “Hey kid, do you have id on you because…fuck it.”

She was too hungover to finish her sentence or to give a crap if he was twenty-one or not. Although she thought she recognized him; probably when he got into a scuffle with some drunk hitting on his girlfriend.

“Marvin, is that you?” Steve said. “Get up old buddy off that nasty floor.”

With pain and great effort, the sixty year old sat up, very slowly. He looked at Stacey and then around the room. He spotted a semi over weight, scruffy RN a few feet away.

Steve smiled his cheese grin and waved.

“Hey, man, what’s up.”

“Ah, Christ, not this jackass.”

“You’re awesome, man,” Steve said giving him thumbs up. “That’s cool, hanging out with the young people.”

Marvin waved him off, not in the mood for small talk, much less from Steve’s smartass mouth.

Steve laughed, “Jesus, what the hell did you guys do? Get into a brawl?”

Upon hearing that, Elizabeth tried clearing the spiders in her mind. She thought hard for a second about what happened after her meltdown.

Why were we drinking?

She couldn’t remember how they all gave into the demon alcohol and drank out their fits of despair. The last thing she remembered was holding on to Marvin because he was having a breakdown; a rather difficult one too; his soul breaking and shattering at the loss of his wife.

But why did we start drinking?

Then the memory of her meltdown flew into her mind. She cringed at the thirty second long screamed she emitted from her mouth.

“Ugh,” she sighed, covering her face again, feeling disgusted and embarrassed.

But what happened after that? Why can’t I…

“COLD BEER HERE! Get your cold beer, right here!”

Elizabeth heaved at the idea of having an alcoholic beverage, especially at this ridiculous hour.

“Would you shut the hell up, Steve!”

“Ya know, some of us worked all last night and are in need of a good hard drink.” He winked at Greg. Both of them knowing they didn’t do jack shit last night, other than saving someone’s life. Greg suddenly thought of Sara. A burst of excitement rolled in his stomach. He couldn’t wait to see her again.

“Don’t get up. I got it.” Steve helped himself to one of the coolers and pulled out two beers. One for him, one for Greg.

Lane was finally up, but leaning on one of the tables. He took a seat. The same one Tony had fell into when he got the life knocked out of him hearing Stacey’s life changing revelation of when she was a little girl. He tried not to think about it now. He also tried to fight the overwhelming shame and disgust with himself over the little gun fiasco. I’m just a shoe salesman. I’ve known these people all my life. I couldn’t hurt them. I couldn’t hurt a damn fly. I hope they can forgive me.

He was, however, wondering why his fucking tie was around his head.

After a few moments Lane began inspecting the scratches on his body.

“What the hell happened?” Elizabeth said, sitting down slowly across from Lane.

“I don’t know, ahhhh!”

“Shit, are you hurt!” She put her hand out to him but made no move to get up. It would hurt too much.

“It’s my chest…what…are those bite marks?” He looked at Elizabeth, her eyes going wide again.

“Oh.My.God. I am so sorry. Did I do that?”

“I don’t know,” Lane said with a complete look of bafflement on his face.

They looked at each other like survivors from a war or a severe beating from the cops.

“What on God’s green earth did we do last night?” Elizabeth said with a tiny chuckle escaping her mouth.

Her mind fought to find an answer and then she saw it; a deck of playing cards sitting on the bar. Oh, God. And then she remembered.

After the lights came back to life and the screaming therapy ceased, Elizabeth slowly picked herself up off the floor after sitting there with her head down between her knees for five minutes, and sluggishly went behind the bar. She mindlessly grabbed a whiskey bottle, not caring what it was (Wild Turkey to be exact) and juggled the bottle along with five shot glasses and a deck of cards in her hands, and went back out into the seating area. One by one she went around and handed everyone a shot glass, pouring brown, hot liquid in them, without saying a word. When Lane started to protest, saying he didn’t think it was a good idea to drink anymore that night, she kindly put her finger to her lips and sshed him with a weak smile. The last to receive a shot glass was Stacey, whose buzz had died long ago it seemed. But Mother Elizabeth was there to save the night and revive the girl’s dead buzz. Drink baby girl. Drink hard and drink it all away. Just for tonight. She smiled at the girl she use to babysit, putting her hand to her face, wiping the streaked mascara away with her thumb. She went and sat Indian style on the floor.

“Drink up, people. Last call,” she said and then tossed her shot glass behind her and put the Wild Turkey bottle straight to her mouth and drank. Night Prowler by AC\DC had been playing on her mixtape but no one seemed to notice. They played a few rounds of Texas Hold’em, but by the fifth game she was drunk off her ass and was horny as hell, so she decided to attack Lane right there in front of everyone, straddling him, making out like a demonic, sex fiend. And that’s when Tony decided that he was Rambo and Stacey gave Marvin a lap dance until she puked up her whiskey, beer and Kaluha.

Elizabeth and Lane continued their sexual assault on one another in the disgusting smelling ladies restroom, where they bit, scratched and hate fucked each other on the floor. At one point Lace began laughing and couldn’t stop because as drunk as he was he knew what they were doing. It kind of freaked him out, but was turned on. She slapped him hard in the face to make him shut up. “Cry, you little bitch!” She said. That only made him smack her ass harder and pull her down close to his face where he forced his tongue in her mouth. She lifted herself up and rode him. Her emotions turned schizophrenic when she cried, laughed and scratched his chest all at the same time. She went back and forth shouting ‘I love you, I fucking hate you!’ all under a cloud of female, orgasmic screams of drunken pleasure.

Now, sitting at the small round table, they were sober, not completely, but sober enough to finally remember what they did. They stared at each other in complete disbelief, her eyes following the streaks of red on his chest. She smiled guiltily at him and touched his hand.

“I’m sorry.”

He gazed down at his sex scars and then at her.

He said with a smile, “No, you’re not.”

Like some new couple that fucked on the first date, they broke into a laugh, their arms crossing over the table to touch hands.

“You’re right. I’m not. That shit felt good.”

“Which part?”

“All of it,” Elizabeth said and Lane went in to kiss her but she stopped him. “I wouldn’t. Hangover breath.”

“Right.”

“However, a piping hot cup of coffee sounds great for some reason.”

“Sure does,” Lane agreed.

She got up but not without teetering for a moment. She went behind the bar to brew a pot of hot, black coffee. Lane watched her with a goofy grin on his face. Once she was done she returned to the table and they talked about last night’s events: Tony pulling a gun on everyone, Marvin’s well-being and of course Stacey’s bomb of all fucked up bombs she had dropped on all of them. Elizabeth vowed to help her as much as she could, deal with the atrocity- therapy, long talks, screaming, or maybe finding the soulless deviant who made the video and do unimaginable things to their body, making them die slowly perhaps. Whatever it took. She loved Stacey and has known her since she was a baby. But as the coffee brewed and they talked, she had her own bomb to drop on Lane. You have to tell him, Liz.

“Lane, before we go any further, I need to tell you something.”

If he was internally screaming, ‘no more surprises’, he sure wasn’t showing it. He looked calm as ever. Elizabeth was a little taken back by this. She figured after last night nothing could shock any of them now.

“I know,” Lane said with a smile. “You’re seeing somebody.”

“No, wait. Yes. I am. How do you know?”

“Because, Liz. It’s been two years. I’m sure you’ve been active.”

“Active?”

“That’s not what I meant. You know, available.”

“Okay, but…”

“No, buts…”

“Lane, just let me…”

“Look, what happened with us last night, it is what it is.”

“A girl,” Elizabeth said suddenly to shut him up. Surely she didn’t want to jump across the table and start scratching his chest again like a mad, horny, emotionally fucked up woman who doesn’t understand basic economics and can’t get a bank loan.

“What?”

“’I’m…”

“Yes, you are a girl. Are you okay?”

“Seeing…a girl.”

“You’re seeing a girl? Are you hallucinating?”

“Jesus, Lane, really?”

“Really what? Wait.”

And da lite bulb goes off on da big dumb man’s head.2+2 is 1

“A girl, Lane.”

“A girl?”

“A girl.”

“You’re dating a girl.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome? Hold on, I’m lost.”

“Yes, I can see that. Lane, I’ve been seeing a woman for the past year.”

She let that soak into his slow, whiskey soaked, hungover brain for a moment. He suddenly remembered, Rambo’s gone turkey huntin’ Wild Turkey that is!

“It’s not a full time thing anyway. Not anymore.”

“It’s not.”

“You sound upset about that. Don’t get ideas.”

“What? I’m not even thinking anything like that.”

“Sure,” she smiled.

Maybe I’ve thought about it too. Two lovely females smothering a man with our soft, feminine bodies under a candle lit bedroom, with the air off to make it extra hot!

And then Lane thought, I’d love to fuck two chicks at the same time! 2+2 is 1

During Lanes two year absence, Elizabeth discovered she was attracted to women. At first she thought something was terribly wrong with her until she realized that her female parts were in good working order and was still attracted to men also. Why both? The lightbulb went off above her head. Oh, I’m bi-sexual. Hmm. Okay. The only problem was the girl she was seeing wasn’t satisfying her enough. She liked the gal, thought she was hot. Nice boobs, pretty face, slick, tasty center. But, she still needed a man.

“I’m not full time. I still like men.”

She saw the hope rise in Lane’s bloodshot eyes.

“So, you like both?”

“Yep, don’t ask me the science part of it. It is what it is.”

“So, when we were together, did…”

“I was all yours Lane. Although I think near the end, I noticed it.”

They sat for a while pondering all of this. Life, love, how people change and fall in love again.

 

***

 

 

 

Steve and Greg were sitting at the bar, drinking their well-deserved, cold beers.

“You know, kid, you should feel good about what you did last night. I was impressed. You saved Ms. Sutton.” Greg smiled bashfully. “Anyway, cheers brother!” They touched bottles.

Steve was getting ready to ask Greg if he planned on fucking Sara tonight when Marvin suddenly took a seat next to him. It took him by surprise.

“Whoa, hey, Marvin! How’s it hangin’? Want a beer? From the looks of it you had plenty last night.” He laughed and nudged Greg again with his shoulder. “Hey, by the way, I heard your shop is having a sale on rakes.” Again, he nudged Greg for the five hundredth time that night, this time sloshing his beer a little. “Dude, if you need a rake go to Stenmores, Marvin here will fix…’

“Would you shut the hell up for a minute! Jesus, don’t you ever stop talking?” Steve looked stunned. “Just listen to me for a second, dammit.”

Steve looked at Greg. They both shrugged.

In a somewhat nervous voice, Steve said, “What’s up Marvin?” He looked at Greg again and then at Marvin. He was smiling nervously.

The old man was resting his elbows on the bar with his head down, staring at his old, time weathered hands; hands that built a business, raised two sons and held his wife’s hands in both her first kiss and last breath. He looked up, staring at his broken reflection in the mirror behind the bar.

“Look…thanks…I mean, thank you.”

Steve didn’t know how to respond. He knew Marvin hated him.

“Okay, what are you thanking me for?”

“Shut up, I’m talkin’, boy!”

Steve’s eyes widened but he took no offense.

“Thank you for taking care of Meredith, during her last months. I think…I know she would’ve liked you, you know, if she never had that cancer in her.”

The air around them was still with shock. Steve fought the rise of emotions in him. What do I say? You’re welcome? Do I give him a hug? Okay, that sounds good, I’ll give him a hug.

But before he could, Marvin stood up.

“Anyways, you’re all right,” he said and slapped Steve on the shoulder, and then walked away.

Greg, who had a big, proud smile on his face, was watching the heartwarming scene with interest, wondering how Steve was handling all of this.

Greg said, “What’s that in your eye, Steve?”

“Huh? Nothin’. Just an itch. Dry air or something.”

“It just rained.”

“Whatever, dude, drink your beer.”

“Are you crying?”

“Hell, no!”

“You’re crying, man.”

“Fuck you.”

Greg smiled.

 

***

 

“You need a ride baby girl?” Marvin said to Stacey.

“You are my ride, silly. We came here together last night, remember?”

“Oh, yeah. I guess we did, didn’t we.”

A lot has happened in twelve hours.

They looked at one another, the truth in their eyes and that was they could never be together. His heart was still breaking from her words last night. He pretended to forget, but he didn’t. He looked her in the eye. “Girl, you need me for anything and I don’t care what it is, you just…

She lifted herself up and hugged him before he could finish. Her arms wrapped tight around his neck, never wanting to let go. He gently patted her back with his time worn hands and a tear in his eye.

 

***

 

“So, where do we go from here?” Lane said, although he could see the answer in Elizabeth’s big eyes; also her smile and her touch.

“Slow,” she said silently to him with a smile. He shook his head agreeing with her. Because slow is good when you’re riding down a broken avenue.

The coffee was done brewing. Its rich scent filled the smoky bar. She smiled and squeezed Lane’s hand before getting up to pour them each a hot mug. When she stepped behind the bar, a shiny mass of broken glass sparkled in her peripheral vision. She gazed at it as she poured the coffee. When she was finished, the aroma rose from the cup, alleviating her hangover, slightly. Laying her hands flat on the bar, she looked at the broken shot glass again, a bit confused.

“Hey, who broke this shot glass?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whit’s Story

 

 

A man in a long brown trench coat exits the liquor store, walking past a semi overweight RN who looks like he hasn’t shaved in three days. Both hold their heads down as they pass, not caring to be polite or simply say hello as they pass each other. They both purchase whiskey and drink for different reasons but hold the one common attribute all drunks share and that is to forget. The old cashier who has liver spotted hands rings up a customer. Throughout the night he strikes up conversations with the customers not just because he’s lonely but because he likes to talk a lot in general. And old man Whit say’s:

 

….but it ain’t the same you see, at least ways not how I remember. A man don’t drink wine, he just doesn’t. I gave a young man hell the other night when he done set one of the Zima four packs up on the counter. I know it’s a free country and we’re livin’ in these nineties and I suppose I fought for that ninny college boy’s freedom to drink whatever he chooses, but Jesus hell and Mary! Zima? That’s deesgustin’! I can’t see how a woman would even drink such a thing. Unless she’s one of them dyke type of ladies I reckon. You take care now and watch out for them storms comin’ later tonight.

 

….that damn little Korean fucker lied to me. That joint was chock full of the lsd. My troop was all in on the joke too. See, we like some of them Korean fuckers real well even though we all were killin’ one another. Didn’t matter, we smoked some hell of a devil reefer with them. They was all on the ground laughin’ till they puked, knowin’ I was gonna be seein’ shit that wasn’t there for the next three days. You have a good night now, stay safe.

 

….Yeah, that Korean war was hell, fought from Febuary of ’51 to August of ’52. You wanna sack for that six pack?

 

 

….I tried explainin’ it to his dumb ass that a full house beats a flush but he thought otherwise….that’ll be sixteen o’ two….we both ended up in the hospital that night….me because the dumb ass got pissed and shot me in the shoulder….him because I beat his dumb ass within an inch of his life for pullin’ that gun on me.

 

….my son was in one of them bands back in the nineteen seventies, punk I think is what is was.

 

….and that’s horeshit too buddy! A dollar seven for a gallon of gasoline? Hell, I remember when it was eleven cents. Those were the good ol’ days. Have a good evening, and be careful, we got a nasty one comin’ through.

 

….and that was the biggest damn fish I done ever seen and it was in Black Creek River. You believe that!

 

….I never liked killin’, never was a killer, but I had to make sure I got home in one piece to see my wife and boy.

 

….what the hell is grunge, boy? Sounds like somethin’ you’d find under your shitter.

 

….you ever see a woman shoot water outta her pussyhole? They can do that you know.

 

….ah, shit, says here that Johnny Stryker died. I liked him back in the fifties real well. Use to listen to him on the jukebox at Mickey’s bar. You have a good one, now. Be safe.

 

….he took his life in nineteen eighty. Didn’t care about nothin’, not even that damn band he was in.

 

 

WROK 106 INTERUPMISSION #1-

 

It’s getting wild out there folks with wind gusts of fifty miles an hour, dangerous lighting and that rockin’ thunder, WE HERE YOU JOHN BONHAM! OOWWW! Be safe out there people. It’s best to just stay in, take cover and rock out with us all night, all right. On the way we have the Eagles with Heartache Tonight, also lined up Dave Edmunds, I hear you knocking, by request, right now it’s Bob Seger and Night Moves.

 

….no, it ain’t pee. It’s their pussy juice.

 

….Jesus hell and Mary the cost of livin’ has shot up to the godamn moon and it ain’t comin’ back down. I was at Happy’s grocery the other night, he’s chargin’ a buck five for a can of fuckin’ tomato soup, that son of a…..

 

….now that’s a man’s drink right there son, good ol’ St.Ides. You’ll be on your ass in no time, fifteen minutes tops. But I am gonna need to see some id there young feller.

 

….so you’re tellin’ me that this nutjob is usin’ Marilyn Monroes name and that crazy fuck from back in the sixties who got all them gals to kill for him, his name too? Marilyn who? Manson? Jesus hell and Mary.

 

….gotta red section right over there, got your Red Dog, Red Wolf and Elephant Red, yes sir.

 

….alternative music? What the hell is that? Is it like that shitter grungg music? Well why the hell would I want an alternative to Elvis fucking Presely. Tell ya what, you can al-turn-ative your ass around and get the hell outta my store. No one disrespects the king in my establishment. I oughtta pull that chain hangin’ from your nose and ear right the fuck off, you hear me!

….and what it boils down to is it’s his wife runnin’ the country, it ain’t ol’ billy boy that’s for sure. And I’ll tell ya somethin’ else….

 

….ah, hell, he’s been gone sixteen years today. I sure miss him.

 

WROK 106 INTERUPMISSION #2-

 

….and we’ll say farewell to the Ramones later this month when they play their final show….Hey Ho Let’s Go!…We’ll miss you Joey.

In other music news, owners of the Louisville Garden in Louisville, Ky, are preparing for a clash between fans and religious protesters for the upcoming Marilyn Manson concert next week. He is one freaky dude, people. And speaking of freaky looking people, what is up with the new Metallica? We miss their hair and headbanging. It’s 11:45. The lightning is fierce right now so please be safe out there. The storm is heading our way. We’ll break in to keep you updated. Right now, here’s the group that did the soundtrack for this year’s blockbuster movie, Twister. This is Van Halen with Light up the sky on WROK 106!

 

***

 

It’s a quarter to midnight and Whit rings up his last customer for the night.

“Hang of Jimmy. I’ll walk ya out. Time for a smoke anyway.”

The two men step outside on the sidewalk in front of Old Hound Liquors. Despite the windy night, Whit manages to light up a camel non filter cigarette. He blows out a cloud of smoke that whisks away in the hard blowing wind like a frightened ghost.

“Yeah, I reckon there’s a nasty one comin’ through tonight. When I was a kid my granny and I would sit on her front porch and watch big ol’ storms roll in from the west. She would always say that by the time they reached us here in Indiana they were extra powerful and had gained strength. She’d sit in her rocker, sewin’ up some kind of quilt, chew tobacco and sip her beer. I liked it when she let me have just a little sip. I remember her tellin’ me, ‘Whit, when I was your age, my granny would sit with me too and watch those big storms comin’ at us from the west.’ She use to say that those storms brought evil with them, somehow suckin’ all the bad, crazy folks souls from each state it blew through. I would just laugh. My granny was of the delusional kind when it came to folklore and legends. I never believed anything like that. But what I do believe is things do happen to people when the weather turns sour. Whether it’s the crash of thunder or the hellish heat. It makes them crazy like, like they have demons inside them makin’ them do crazy things. And I suppose on a night like this, some of us do have demons.”

The old man with liver spotted hands looked up at the night sky. Flashes of blue light lit up the darkness. My son died sixteen years ago today. And I’m all alone.

“We’ll see ya Jimmy. Be safe out there.”

Whit stubbed his cigarette on the ground. He fearfully looked once more up at the black sky, praying that his granny’s words were nothing but pure mythology, but praying more that he would make it through this stormy night.

 

 

***

 

 

Whit slowly sat up in his twin bed early Saturday morning. He rubbed his eyes with his liver spotted hands, feeling slightly hungover. He had himself a little celebration after he got home last night, once the storm began its brutal assault on Blare. He had drank a half full glass of straight whiskey and took in the feel good boogie of Elvis Presley spinning on his turntable. The whisky settled into his seventy year old system as he danced around his living room, laughing his old man laugh as lightning and thunder crashed all around him, disturbing the outside world, not fazing him a bit. Indeed he did celebrate, but then he remembered the incident with the preppy looking kid wearing a backwards baseball hat, just as he was getting ready to close for the night. ‘Boy, did you not take the readin’ lessons in school? The sign says closed, c.l.o.s.e.d., now get!’

I don’t think you are closed old man, now open up!’

The bruno’s girlfriend was sitting in the passenger seat of his blue, Honda, listening to Snoop Dog, looking bored and annoyed as she applied some lipstick.

‘Old man, its five till midnight. Just let me in so I can grab some Zima and then go fuck my girlfriend!’

Whit suddenly stopped fumbling with his keys as he was trying to find the right one to lock the door. Part of him was a little scared at the kid’s abrasive attitude, even though he didn’t want to admit it. I’m just and old liquor store owner. I don’t want any trouble, he thought. But that mild fear had swept away and was replaced by an internal burning fire of rage and it was all because of Zima.

‘Boy, you grew some balls over Zima?’

‘Whatever old man, just open the fucking….’

Whit opened the door. Hard and fast like a Ramones song right into the fucking jock’s face, knocking his stupid ass baseball cap off his head. His girlfriend didn’t even notice the commotion right in front of her. That being the old man standing over the jock, slapping him repeatedly in the face, calling him a bitch and a vagina, because her vanity clouded her vision, but then she saw and jumped out of the car.

‘Hey, you old fuck, get off of him. What the hell are you doing?’

Whit stopped pummeling the jock and stared at the girl. Then he looked at the jock whose nose was bleeding.

Whit said, ‘Girl, is this here sac of shit your boyfriend?’

‘Yes, it is, now get the fuck off of him!

Whit snickered and looked down at the jock.

‘Shoot, son, she sounds like she has more balls that you! But I do have to ask. Girl, do you like vagina?’

‘What!’

‘I said, do you like vagina?’

‘Whatever asshole, no, I don’t like freaking vagina?’

‘Then why are you dating a vagina?’

The old man had his shoe buried into the jock’s face, keeping him confined to the ground. A family of moths danced around the bright lights under the awning of the store.

‘Look, just let him go,’ she had said with a trace of fear in her voice.

‘And if I don’t?’ Whit said and pulled out his pocketknife.

The girl sucked in a breath and thunder rumbled. Whit smiled like a devil.

‘Look, mister, we’re just kids, please.’ Gone was her bitch, beauty queen voice.

Whit removed his foot from the jock’s face and gazed down on him with that crazy, devil grin. But it wasn’t the jock’s face he saw staring up at him. It was a foreign enemy who he had fought years ago in a faraway land, before the thought of becoming a liquor store owner even entered his mind. A time when only the pictures of his wife and baby son were what kept him sane amidst the violent racket of enemy gunfire. He blinked his eyes, unsure of what he was seeing, but he knew it all too well. The face of a dead Korean soldier stared off into the night past Whit’s shoulder; a thick trail of blood seeping out the corner of his mouth.

‘Oh, god, what have I done?’ Whit said to the jock but not the jock, the enemy.

The girl pleaded again but Whit didn’t hear her. Only gunfire, screaming and bombs and his twenty year old voiced telling his wife, I love you, don’t you worry, I’ll be home soon. Give Allan a kiss for me.

Lightning struck somewhere far off, but close enough to jolt the flashback out of Whit’s old mind.

But not completely.

The soldier came alive and began to speak.

‘Pop, what the hell are you doing? Leave the kid alone.’

Whit blinked his eyes again. ‘Allan, is that you?’ The soldier was still there but spoke in Whit’s long deceased son’s voice.

‘Yeah, pop, it’s me, Allan. Look, I know you’ve had it rough these past few years, but that’s no reason to take it out on this poor chump. Come on, pop. Let it go. So what if the shithead likes a fag drink.

‘Anyways, look pop, I need to tell you something before I go back up. It was an accident. I mean the overdose. That girl I was seein’ got me all fucked up after my band played that show at CBGB’s in New York. I never wanted to kill myself. In fact that was going to be my last show with the band. I was ready to come home and be with you and mom. I just wanted to let you know that. Now take your damn foot off the kid’s face. I love you, pop. Mom says she loves you too. I’ll see ya pop.’

Whit stepped away from the bruno. He slowly got up with the help of his girlfriend. He was fine; maybe a little broken on the inside but physically okay, minus the bloody nose.

Now it’s Saturday morning and the storm is over. Whit rubbed his eyes again remembering the smartass punk who wanted some Zima, but he wouldn’t let him in because he wanted to get home and celebrate. Of course it was an added bonus how he kicked the punk’s ass, which was reason enough to celebrate, because a man his age could barely get from the couch to the kitchen much less throw punches the way he did, but he celebrated not the anniversary of his son’s death, but his son’s life.

He got up out of bed and used the bathroom. When he was finished he splashed cold water on his face to kill the mild yet annoying hangover. Every year on the date of his son’s death, he sees him some way or another. Last night it just happened to be on that Zima lovin’ prick’s face. He drinks a half glass of whiskey and listen’s to Elvis and it’s to commemorate his son’s life because that’s what his son’s life was all about. Whiskey and rock and roll. He knew all too well the reality of his son’s life and how he was a heroin addict and got caught up with that girl who just made things worse. To Whit, it eased the pain to think that his son was going to change and then come home to start a new life away from that girl and drugs. He liked his version better than the real life one. It was his way of dealing with his son’s tragic life and then death.

It was Whit’s story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outro

 

So there you have it. This was a fun story to write. Music is a big deal in my life and it definitely played a part in my twenties during the nineties. Everything from listening to Pantera, Prong and White Zombie on a daily basis for years straight to going to concerts and trying to meet the bands after the show behind the arena. Some of the reference’s I make in the story actually happened. I did witness Peter Steele telling some jerk out in the crowd he was going to shove his bass up his ass. It was awesome! But it was difficult at times as well; mainly due to the suicidal scenes, which was hard because of the passing of one of rock’s greatest vocalists. I had written the scene with Barry viewing his ‘what if’ world month’s before the passing of Chris Cornell. I debated whether to keep the bathroom suicide scene in or not. Obviously I kept it in because I wanted it to morbid and downtrodden and to show that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Maybe there is a reason why your life is the way it is and you should just accept it. I do not in any way, shape or form condone, encourage or approve of suicide. Life, although unfairly cruel and unbearably hard at times, is so much better. These stories are dark and grim but I tried to show a little light at the end of each, because there’s always some kind of light at the end of every bleak, black tunnel, even if you don’t believe there is. Just turn on your internal flashlight.

So that’s it. I hope you enjoyed it. Until the next one, keep reading, writing and loving. And listen to music every damn day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


96 Broken Ave.

Summer - 1996 A sever thunderstorm is heading towards the small town of Blare, Indiana. A community of hopeless dreamers and broken hearted losers. On the edge of dusk the wind and thunder pick up and the coming of night will bring nightmares to the forefront for a failed musician, a rich kid with suicidal dreams and a thirty something female bartender with a broken past. Three stories. Three lives. All intertwined, coming to a shattering climax, mixing self doubt, reality and nightmares into a storm of despair. Will they survive the internal storm?

  • ISBN: 9781370460724
  • Author: Joe Zito
  • Published: 2017-08-24 16:35:13
  • Words: 52539
96 Broken Ave. 96 Broken Ave.