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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2017

"Regarding the Destruction of the Fool Peter Clayburne

at the Hands of Sofia the Foxqueen"

By Matthew Lyons


          He finds her in the heart of a slurred world, foggy with pills and smoke and enough tequila to kill a howler monkey. He doesn't know how long he's been like this, pissing himself nightly in free-fall, lost count of the days and weeks months ago, maybe years. Nothing but rubble behind him, an exploded life littered with five disappointing kids and three bitch wives and a job he's hated for years. Family of alcoholic fuckups who hate him for having his shit together, a couple hundred grand in credit card debt.  Car that needs fixing all the time, house falling apart at the seams. Everything, everything, everything.

          Fuck all of it. If there's such thing as rock bottom, he hasn't seen it yet.

          He's drowning in neon at some K-town karaoke bar when he sees her first, drenched in blue and pink, draped in black, belting out the chorus to Heard It In A Love Song. Her lips are painted green and her eyes are ringed in black stain and when she smiles at him from the stage and snaps her hair to the side he feels something like a coil of snakes behind his fly. He's at the bar dropping extra shots of Old Crow into his half-beers and chasing them with Dexedrines when she sidles up next to him and kisses him on the mouth. When he pulls his shit back together, she's grinning at him, wide with crowded, lopsided teeth.

          "Always thought that was better than hello."

          He wipes at his mouth—his fingers come away emerald.  "Okay."

          "I saw you looking at me. When I was singing."

          "I wasn't."

          "Don't lie. It's unattractive. And anyway, it's okay if you do. I like when people look."


          "Yeah. People."

          "People like who?"

          She smiles. Wicked. "People like people. People like you."


          He introduces himself as Pete. She tells him he has to guess her name. He never does. They spend the night together and in the morning he notices she doesn't shave her legs or her armpits. She smells like vanilla and good weed and bad gin. When she wakes up and sees him staring at her she laughs at him, calls him fucking stupid, then makes him eat her out again. When she comes, she clamps his face with her thighs and growls like some animal on that TV channel.

          They go on like this for days. He tries to give her nicknames, just to have something to call her, but none of them stick. She won't let them. She laughs them off and tells him to try harder, except it never does any good. She tells him about bands with pretentious names and singers he listed to back in the '70s. He tells her about himself, except she's never listening. They live on cigarettes and the rest of their myriad addictions in her shitty hotel room, they fuck with death and destruction and talk about nasty what-ifs. They stain the cheap sheets and clutch at each other and mostly she calls him the wrong name and eventually his kids stop calling his phone.

          Then he does the idiot thing and falls in love with her.


          The first time she suggests it, Pete's not sure if it's her talking or the crank, so he just sits there staring at her like she just started yammering in Greek or something. For all he knows, she is Greek. She doesn't talk about it.

          "What was that?"

          "I said it's just a couple of guys. We can do them at the same time. Total pussies.  Hang out at the Vodka Room a lot. They sell me weed sometimes, a little coke, couple baggies of crystal. Sometimes."  She gives him that grin again.

          "So what?"

          "So they should be easy to hit. They'll definitely be good for a couple hundred, maybe more. Quick cash, like."

          "Wait, wait. I'm not robbing anybody here. I don't want any trouble."

          "They're not gonna be any trouble. Like I told you, I know these guys, we go way back. We hit 'em, lay low for a while, avoid the VR like the fucking plague, couple months we cycle around again, make nice, act like it was all a big joke. They'll understand. They're cool."

          Pete bugs his eyes out at her, but his heart flutters at the suggestion of a future together. Still. Fuck all that.

          "No. Just, no, okay? I'm not gonna do anything like that. Got plenty of my own problems without dealing with armed fucking robbery."

          "Who said anything about armed?" She bats her heavy-lidded eyes at him, an eat-shit innocent face stapled crookedly over her normal one.

          "I just, no. No. It's not happening. We have our own money, we don't have to stoop to that. Okay? I said, okay?"

          "Okay, okay. Sure. We'll see. I mean. You'll come around."


          And of course he does. Call it love, or laziness, or plain old stupid desperation.  Maybe his money runs out, maybe she threatens to leave him if he doesn't do it. The reasons, the specifics, they only serve to propel them toward the inevitable.

          Of course he comes around. Of course.


          The bullet splits the first guy's skull like a buzzsaw through a watermelon, and when he hits the ground, Pete can see all the awful colors inside: pinks and reds and frothy whites, even some purples and blues smeared around in there. The guy's not totally dead-dead when he drops, and he makes a warbling guhhhhhh sound as he pours out onto the floor. Pete has to shoot him three more times just to get him to stop, and by then the partner's rushing him, shoulders squared like a linebacker. They go crashing through the door of the handicapped stall and hit the tile hard, bones clacking stiff through soft flesh.

          The partner rains fists down on Pete, thwocking his teeth loose, his lips split, his eyes black. But Pete still has the gun. It belches fire into the partner's belly and he flops off him, already clutching at the new holes in his middle. The bathroom smells like smoke and hot copper and when Pete sways up to his feet, she's already kneeling over the first dead guy, rifling through his pockets.

          Pete points his shitty little revolver at the empty place between the partner's eyes and doesn't entirely understand how things escalated so quickly. He looks up again, at her, wants her to know that all this is a gift, something to make her happy. She deserves to be happy. All he needs is for her to look up and see him, give him a smile, some little token of approval. Some tiny recognition, that's all.

          Look up. Please look up at me. See what I'm doing for you, what  I'm about to do.  Please. Look up and love me back for all the things I've done and turned myself into for you.

          She never looks up.

          Pete almost can't hear the last gunshot over the nauseous throb of the Vodka Room's bass-heavy stereo system, almost sure nobody outside did either.

          She goes through the partner's pockets too, careful to avoid the blood, hands Pete wads of crumpled-up cash and dime bags of crank, and then they limp out the door, her slightly ahead of him and not looking back.


          That night, he goes harder than he ever has before. Lines and shots and pipes and fistfuls of pills. He scorches out whole chunks of his brain, whole sides of reality, like man-sized cigarette burns. Entire slabs of perception, reduced to blurry ash.

          He loses her in the darkest depths of the high, if he ever had her in the first place.


          He wakes up the next evening to the black mouth of a shotgun hanging an inch from his face. Behind that, a nervous-looking tweeker with eyes somewhere between pissed pants and mass murder. Pete doesn't move, doesn't blink, doesn't breathe.

          "It was you," the tweeker says.

          "I don't know what you're talking about," says Pete, but it doesn't really matter—the tweeker's not looking at him, he's looking at the baggies and bloody bills scattered all around him.

          "You killed them."


          But then he sees her. Through glass, perched on the fire escape, watching them with narrow eyes, half-hidden by the oncoming dark. She cocks her head to the side, like a curious bird, then turns and vanishes beyond the edges of the window frame.

          "No," Pete whispers. "Please, wait..."

          And he tries to remember the taste of her, the smell of her choppy, grubby hair in the mornings, the feel of her skin against his own, but he can't and then there's a terrible noise and a wave of impossible heat and then there's no more Peter.


Matthew Lyons is a writer living and working in New York. His work's has been/is scheduled to be published in Abstract Jam, Daily Science Fiction, Ghastly Tales Quarterly, and more. He’s probably taller than you. . . Not that it's a competition or anything.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2017