Yellow Mama Archives

Ciro DiLorenzo
Adhikari, Sudeep
Ahern, Edward
Aldrich, Janet M.
Allan, T. N.
Allen, M. G.
Ammonds, Phillip J.
Anderson, Peter
Andreopoulos, Elliott
Arab, Bint
Augustyn, P. K.
Aymar, E. A.
Babbs, James
Baber, Bill
Bagwell, Dennis
Baird, Meg
Bakala, Brendan
Baker, Nathan
Balaz, Joe
Barber, Shannon
Bates, Jack
Baugh, Darlene
Bauman, Michael
Baumgartner, Jessica Marie
Beale, Jonathan
Beck, George
Beckman, Paul
Benet, Esme
Bennett, Brett
Bennett, Charlie
Berg, Carly
Berman, Daniel
Bernardara, Will Jr.
Berriozabal, Luis
Beveridge, Robert
Bickerstaff, Russ
Bigney, Tyler
Blake, Steven
Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
Booth, Brenton
Bougger, Jason
Boyd, A. V.
Boyd, Morgan
Bracey, DG
Brewka-Clark, Nancy
Britt, Alan
Brooke, j
Brown, R. Thomas
Brown, Sam
Burton, Michael
Bushtalov, Denis
Butkowski, Jason
Butler, Simon Hardy
Cameron, W. B.
Campbell, J. J.
Campbell, Jack Jr.
Cano, Valentina
Carlton, Bob
Cartwright, Steve
Carver, Marc
Castle, Chris
Catlin, Alan
Chesler, Adam
Clausen, Daniel
Clevenger, Victor
Clifton, Gary
Coffey, James
Colasuonno, Alfonso
Conley, Jen
Connor, Tod
Cooper, Malcolm Graham
Coral, Jay
Cosby, S. A.
Crandall, Rob
Criscuolo, Carla
Crist, Kenneth
Crouch & Woods
D., Jack
Dallett, Cassandra
Danoski, Joseph V.
Daly, Sean
Davis, Christopher
Day, Holly
de Bruler, Connor
Degani, Gay
De France, Steve
De La Garza, Lela Marie
Deming, Ruth Z.
Demmer, Calvin
Dennehy, John W.
DeVeau, Spencer
Di Chellis, Peter
Dick, Earl
Dick, Paul "Deadeye"
DiLorenzo, Ciro
Dionne, Ron
Domenichini, John
Dominelli, Rob
Doran, Phil
Doreski, William
Dorman, Roy
Doherty, Rachel
Dosser, Jeff
Doyle, John
Draime, Doug
Drake, Lena Judith
Dromey, John H.
Duschesneau, Pauline
Duke, Jason
Duncan, Gary
Dunham, T. Fox
Dunn, Robin Wyatt
Duxbury, Karen
Duy, Michelle
Elliott, Garnett
Ellman, Neil
England, Kristina
Erianne, John
Espinosa, Maria
Esterholm, Jeff
Fallow, Jeff
Farren, Jim
Fenster, Timothy
Ferraro, Diana
Filas, Cameron
Flanagan, Daniel N.
Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
Francisco, Edward
Funk, Matthew C.
Gann, Alan
Gardner, Cheryl Ann
Garvey, Kevin Z.
Genz, Brian
Gladeview, Lawrence
Glass, Donald
Goddard, L. B.
Godwin, Richard
Goff, Christopher
Goss, Christopher
Gradowski, Janel
Graham, Sam
Grant, Christopher
Grant, Stewart
Greenberg, Paul
Grey, John
Gunn, Johnny
Gurney, Kenneth P.
Haglund, Tobias
Halleck, Robert
Hamlin, Mason
Hanson, Christopher Kenneth
Hanson, Kip
Harris, Bruce
Hart, GJ
Hartman, Michelle
Haskins, Chad
Hawley, Doug
Haycock, Brian
Hayes, A. J.
Hayes, John
Hayes, Peter W. J.
Heatley, Paul
Heimler, Heidi
Helmsley, Fiona
Hendry, Mark
Heslop, Karen
Heyns, Heather
Hilary, Sarah
Hill, Richard
Hivner, Christopher
Hockey, Matthew J.
Hogan, Andrew J.
Holderfield, Culley
Holton, Dave
Howells, Ann
Huchu, Tendai
Hudson, Rick
Huffman, A. J.
Huguenin, Timothy G.
Huskey, Jason L.
Irascible, Dr. I. M.
Jaggers, J. David
James, Christopher
Johnson, Beau
Johnson, Moctezuma
Johnson, Zakariah
Jones, D. S.
Jones, Erin J.
Jones, Mark
Kabel, Dana
Kaplan, Barry Jay
Kay, S.
Kempka, Hal
Kerins, Mike
Keshigian, Michael
King, Michelle Ann
Kirk, D.
Knott, Anthony
Koenig, Michael
Korpon, Nik
Kovacs, Sandor
Kowalcyzk, Alec
Krafft, E. K.
Lacks, Lee Todd
Lang, Preston
Larkham, Jack
La Rosa, F. Michael
Leasure, Colt
Leatherwood, Roger
Lees, Arlette
Lees, Lonni
Leins, Tom
Lemming, Jennifer
Lerner, Steven M
Lewis, Cynthia Ruth
Lewis, LuAnn
Lifshin, Lyn
Liskey, Tom Darin
Lodge, Oliver
Lopez, Aurelio Rico III
Lorca, Aurelia
Lovisi, Gary
Lucas, Gregory E.
Lukas, Anthony
Lynch, Nulty
Lyon, Hillary
Lyons, Matthew
Mac, David
MacArthur, Jodi
Malone, Joe
Mann, Aiki
Manzolillo, Nicholas
Marcius, Cal
Marrotti, Michael
Mason, Wayne
Mattila, Matt
McAdams, Liz
McCartney, Chris
McDaris, Catfish
McFarlane, Adam Beau
McGinley, Chris
McGinley, Jerry
McElhiney, Sean
McKim, Marci
McMannus, Jack
McQuiston, Rick
Mellon, Mark
Memi, Samantha
Miles, Marietta
Miller, Max
Monson, Mike
Mooney, Christopher P.
Morgan, Bill W.
Moss, David Harry
Mullins, Ian
Mulvihill, Michael
Muslim, Kristine Ong
Nardolilli, Ben
Nelson, Trevor
Nessly, Ray
Nester, Steven
Neuda, M. C.
Newell, Ben
Newman, Paul
Nielsen, Ayaz
Ogurek, Douglas J.
Ortiz, Sergio
Pagel, Briane
Park, Jon
Parr, Rodger
Parrish, Rhonda
Partin-Nielsen, Judith
Perez, Juan M.
Perez, Robert Aguon
Peterson, Ross
Petroziello, Brian
Pettie, Jack
Petyo, Robert
Picher, Gabrielle
Pierce, Rob
Pietrzykowski, Marc
Plath, Rob
Pointer, David
Power, Jed
Powers, M. P.
Prusky, Steve
Pruitt, Eryk
Purfield, M. E.
Purkis, Gordon
Quinlan, Joseph R.
Quinn, Frank
Ram, Sri
Rapth, Sam
Ravindra, Rudy
Renney, Mark
reutter, g emil
Rhatigan, Chris
Richardson, Travis
Richey, John Lunar
Ridgeway, Kevin
Ritchie, Salvadore
Robinson, John D.
Robinson, Kent
Rodgers, K. M.
Roger, Frank
Rose, Mandi
Rosenberger, Brian
Rosenblum, Mark
Rosmus, Cindy
Ruhlman, Walter
Rutherford, Scotch
Savage, Jack
Sayles, Betty J.
Schneeweiss, Jonathan
Schraeder, E. F.
Schumejda, Rebecca
See, Tom
Sethi, Sanjeev
Sexton, Rex
Seymour, J. E.
Shaikh, Aftab Yusuf
Shepherd, Robert
Sim, Anton
Simmler, T. Maxim
Sinisi, J. J.
Sixsmith, JD
Slagle, Cutter
Slaviero, Susan
Sloan, Frank
Smith, Brian J.
Smith, Ben
Smith, C.R.J.
Smith, Copper
Smith, Paul
Smith, Stephanie
Smith, Willie
Smuts, Carolyn
Snethen, Daniel G.
Snoody, Elmore
Sojka, Carol
Solender, Michael J.
Sparling, George
Spicer, David
Squirrell, William
Stewart, Michael S.
Stickel, Anne
Stolec, Trina
Stryker, Joseph H.
Stucchio, Chris
Succre, Ray
Sullivan, Thomas
Swanson, Peter
Swartz, Justin A.
Sweet, John
Tarbard, Grant
Taylor, J. M.
Thompson, John L.
Thompson, Phillip
Tillman, Stephen
Titus, Lori
Tivey, Lauren
Tobin, Tim
Tu, Andy
Ullerich, Eric
Valent, Raymond A.
Valvis, James
Vilhotti, Jerry
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Walsh, Patricia
Walters, Luke
Ward, Emma
Weber, R.O.
Weil, Lester L.
White, Judy Friedman
White, Robb
White, Terry
Wilsky, Jim
Wilson, Robley
Wilson, Tabitha
Young, Mark
Yuan, Changming
Zackel, Fred
Zafiro, Frank
Zapata, Angel
Zee, Carly
Zimmerman, Thomas




Ciro DiLorenzo


          As the pack’s population expands, their supply of abandoned garbage shrinks, forcing the famished rats to devour their newborn. There are hundreds of them, sprawled throughout a vacant country house they invaded weeks ago.

          Their desperate situation shifts dramatically when they hear the front door open. They scatter behind cupboards and into rat holes, then peek, as a very thin, gaunt, six-foot man called Poppa enters. He stands in the entranceway, looks around, then walks across the kitchen. He carries two folding chairs in his hands and rope across his chest. Poppa yanks open the cellar door and walks down the stairs. The rats follow as they hop down each step.

          Two squat cellar windows shed enough light to allow him to go about his work. He opens a chair and ties it to a wooden column, the other he opens and places behind it. He spots some of the rats scurrying about. He finds a piece of wood on the cellar floor and throws it at them. They scatter. He takes a quick look around, climbs the steps and leaves.

          The rats break out to search for scraps Poppa may have left. He hasn’t.

          Several days later, the rats delirious from hunger, nipping each other for every bit of rotting garbage, see the man return. It’s nightfall when he kicks open the door and enters the darkened house. The beam from his flashlight frightens the rats into hiding again. He wears a tool belt with a hammer and small burlap bag dangling from it. Tucked in pockets on the belt are pliers and a razor knife. A water bottle sticks out from a pants pocket. 

          He lugs the bound limp body of a man, tied with rope around his feet, across the kitchen floor. The man’s eyes are closed. Poppa drags him down the cellar steps causing his head to slam on them.

          At the bottom of the stairs, he stops and leans against the railing, his breathing comes labored. The rats gaze as he drops the rope and removes the burlap bag from his belt. Poppa reaches in, extracts a candle, pulls something from his pocket and suddenly there is the flash from a flame, which he places on top of the candle causing it to light and brighten the room. He repeats this with two dozen candles, placing them strategically around the cellar.

          He returns to the bound man, drags him across the cellar’s dirt floor, then struggles as he hoists him into the chair tied to the wooden column. He secures him with the rope, strengthening the final knot with a stiff jerk of his hands. From his pocket comes a thin wire. Poppa ties it around the column then loops it around the man’s throat with great precision, adjusting the tension several times. He steps back, takes a deep breath and exhales.

          The rats peer from hiding places as Poppa pries open the bound man’s mouth with his fingers, then takes the pliers, pinches the man’s tongue and stretches it from his mouth. He pulls the razor knife from its sheath, exposes the blade then draws it across the tongue, slicing two inches of it off. The rats creep closer, agitated by the scent of blood.        

          Blood streams from the tongue, down the chin, onto the man’s lap. The only reaction is a slight cough, which brings forth more blood.        

          Poppa puts the severed tongue in his shirt pocket and slides his tools back into his belt then grasps his hammer, raises it up slowly to his shoulder and with two powerful blows; smashes the thumb and index finger of the man’s left hand. Two loud cracking sounds break the air.  He slips the hammer back into the wire ring on the tool belt, plops down in the empty chair behind the man and waits. So do the rats.

          Fifteen minutes pass before Poppa and the rats see the bound man begin to stir as his stupor fades. He starts to moan while thick blood dribbles down his chin onto his lap. He attempts to spit but like a failed chewing tobacco spurt, red spittle runs down his chin. A puzzled look crosses his face.

           The man blinks, turns his head slowly side to side as he scans the small low ceilinged room with its dank, musty stench. The cellar’s stone walls, illuminated by the flickering flames from dozens of candles, glisten with dampness. Shadows scurry across the top of a wall, then vanish. His eyes bulge and his back stiffens. He strains to break free but can’t. A garbled, painful cry erupts from his mouth along with a mist of blood as he looks down at his left hand and sees his two fingers crushed. They are swollen and bent. One has a bone jutting out of it. He thrashes in his seat while more blood drips from his mouth.

          The rats see his chest heave in and out as he twists his head in all directions. The wire noose tightens.

           When his breathing steadies, he hears a deep voice from behind say, “Well look who’s finally up,” sending the man into a frightened frenzy as he twists his head rapidly side to side towards the voice.

          “What’s the matter, cat got your tongue? Well actually I do, right here,”  Poppa says. He reaches from behind and dangles the severed tongue in front of the bloodied man’s face.

           “I cut it out after I drugged you and brought you here.  I didn’t want you yelling and talking and giving me a fucking headache.” He pitches the tongue onto the cellar’s dirt floor. More shadows appear.

          “I had a hell of a time dragging your ass down these stairs. Good thing you’re small,” he says, patting the bloodied man on the shoulder. The man squirms.

          “I wouldn’t struggle if I were you. I’ve got you trussed pretty good and that wire around your throat will tighten the more you twist. That’s a little something I learned when me and the Montagnards interrogated ‘Charlie.’”

          Poppa gets up from the chair, pulls the bottled water from his pants and walks in front of the man.

          He raises the bottle to the lips of the bloodied man and says, “Have a drink. I wouldn’t want you choking on your blood and dying. I want you to really get to know me.” The man jerks his head away.

          “Oh, okay, here watch,” Poppa says, then gulps down some water then lifts the bottle to the man’s lips pouring some into his mouth. Much of it trickles down his chin onto his shirt.

          Poppa says, “That’s it, now rinse and spit as best you can.”

          The man opens his mouth allowing diluted blood to pour out.

          “Good,” Poppa says.

          He stares at Poppa, who, with thinning gray hair, a chalky complexion and weary bloodshot eyes, stares right back.

          “My Special Forces training really came in handy,” Poppa says. “I researched the latest drugs that would render a person unconscious in seconds and picked out this location where I could slowly kill you. Then I waited for your release.”

          The bound man struggles to say, “Why?”

          Poppa gets in the bloodied man’s face, sneers and hisses, “Don’t recognize me, Murdock? Well it’s been ten years, one month and fifteen days since we’ve seen each other.”

          Murdock lets out a moan. The chair he’s sitting in shakes as he desperately tries to loosen the ropes which bind him.

          Poppa calmly orders him to, “Sit still. I knew when you were getting out, so I checked the sex offenders list to find where you live. I’ve been stalking you for a week. Perverts like you don’t change. I saw you hanging around schoolyards and play grounds. So I made my move. I snatched you coming out of that bar while you were walking towards your car.”   

          Poppa straightens up and says, “It was easy to find this abandoned house. Shit there’s hundreds of them. This one is nice and tucked away. It’ll give us plenty of uninterrupted time. How do you like this cellar, kinda creepy huh? Look on top of that wall, see the rat? Well, you know there’s more just biding their time. Hadn’t counted on them, I hate those goddamn disease carrying pieces of shit, how about you?”

          “I’ve broken two of your fingers and that’s gonna continue until seven are broken. Now, now, no use bulging those eyes and rattling around in the chair, see, you’re throat’s turning all red.”

          Murdock is sweating; his chest starts to heave again.
          “Here’s what I figure. The first two fingers were for Marcy, then one for my daughter, one for my son-in-law, one for my grandson, Jimmy, one for me and one for my wife. I’ll leave you the rest. I want to be fair about this.  

          “So let me tell you what happened to my family when you came into our lives like a fucking wrecking ball.  

          “While you were having your way with my only granddaughter, the police put out Amber alerts, volunteers posted her picture all over town. Hell, they even had blood hounds crashing through the woods. My daughter and son-in-law went on TV and pleaded for the abductor not to hurt their Marcy. For the first forty-eight hours they were investigated before being cleared.”

          The rats, perched on top of the cellar walls and tucked behind corners watch Poppa pace back and forth, coughing between sentences.

          “We couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t sleep and when we did, the nightmares would snap us awake. My wife sobbed when she stared at Marcy’s picture. My daughter and her husband shuffled around like zombies, she still does. Even having little Jimmy a couple years later didn’t help. Their marriage fell apart.”

          Poppa’s voice starts to rise, shaking with anger, he yells into Murdock’s face, “We feared the worst and you didn’t disappoint. A dumpster, you tossed my precious Marcy into a fucking dumpster after you raped, tortured and strangled her to death. The cops said they never seen anything like it.”    

          “My daughter fainted when she saw Marcy laid out on a slab in the morgue, with broken arms, body all swollen and bloodied with the outline of your fingers etched on her neck.”

           Murdock tries to talk but can only mumble, so he shakes his head vigorously from side to side. The noose tightens some more. 

          “I think it’s time to hammer another finger, you son of a bitch.”

          Poppa whips the hammer from his tool belt, raises it shoulder high and with all his might, brings it down onto the man’s middle finger. There is the sound of bones crushing as one half of the finger bone separates from the other half.

          Murdock screams but emits more blood spray than sound as he tries to wiggle his finger. Only the bottom half moves.

          Poppa yells, “That’s it, try to scream, go ‘head, see how she felt. Watch that throat wire; you wouldn’t want your skin to get cut.” 

          He composes himself and says, “There, all done for now, catch your breath. It’s amazing how flies seem to come out of nowhere when there’s raw meat around. I got a feeling they’re not going to be your biggest problem.”

          The rats begin to scramble a little closer to Murdock.

          Poppa paces in front of the man and says, “After the funeral I was still sleepwalking, that’s the best way to describe it. Everyone would have to say something twice to me. I just couldn’t focus.

          “Then there was that farce of a trial. For her agonizing death, they gave you a lousy ten years in prison because of some bullshit legal technicality your defense attorney pulled out of his ass. You didn’t see me get ejected from court for yelling at the judge after they escorted you out. That’s when I vowed you and I would have this day.”

          Murdock keeps his throat still as he follows Poppa with his eyes.

           Poppa says, with an even voice, “Marcy is frozen in time. Her friends are starting to get married and there’s Marcy forever thirteen. My wife’s dead, the doctors didn’t really give me a clear answer on what she died of. I know though. My daughter is in a constant state of depression and my grandson Jimmy walks around with a worried look on his face. The poor kid lives with a mother who just stares out into space and a grandfather who has stage four lung cancer. He should to be fishing with his father. You have ruined every Christmas and birthday. Jesus, what you have done to us, you bastard.”

          “All the bad shit I did in ‘Nam, assassination, torture, that took years in therapy to forget, came rushing back thanks to you. Man, have you picked the wrong guy to fuck with. I’m busting more fingers before I leave. Stop, stop bouncing around. See now, you’ve cut the skin around your fucking throat.”

           Poppa takes the hammer and starts to pound. Murdock jerks in his chair as middle fingers and index fingers, wedding fingers and pinkies crack with a sound like crab shells being broken.

           “There, all done,” he says. “Wake up, wake up don’t pull that shit with me. No passing out.” A thin blood necklace appears around the throat of the nearly unconscious Murdock.

           “I’ll leave you bottled water, with a straw; I’ll hang it from the ceiling, so you can drink. Look, more rats,” as he points his finger downward. “We’ll finish this up tomorrow. You should be dead by then, if not, I’ll kill you.”

          “You’ll have company tonight. The candles will be out in about twenty minutes so you won’t see them coming, you’ll just feel them. If you want to end it all, just start moving around a lot and get that throat noose going. It’ll cut your throat in half. I’d do that if I were you, before those goddamn rats get to you. Not that I really give a shit.”

          After hanging the bottle of water and checking the man’s bindings, Poppa climbs the steep cellar steps.

          He stops, turns to the bloodied man and says, “May God have mercy on me. You…you burn in hell.”

          Poppa pushes the cellar door open, steps through, then slams it shut. Murdock and the rats hear him walk across the wooden floor; hear the front door open and close, the car start then pull away. Now the only sound Murdock hears are little squeaky sounds. 

          Some candles flicker out as more rats dash along the tops of the cellar walls and across the floor, their beady eyes glowing when light hits them. One runs off with the severed tongue.

          Minutes later, with just a few remaining candles glowing, the first rat makes its move as it bolts towards him. It sniffs the blood dripping onto the floor from Murdock’s lap. It looks up, stands on its hind legs, resting its front claws against the man’s leg, sniffs some more then climbs up the leg and onto his lap.

          There’s a muffled scream, as more blood dribbles onto the floor. Murdock jumps and squirms in his chair, finally shaking the rat off his lap. The noose tightens causing blood to ooze from his throat.  

          Another rat grabs hold of a finger and starts to nibble. A second arrives to feast on another. One is shaken off but the other bites down hard and dangles stubbornly as the frantic Murdock unsuccessfully tries to shake it loose from his bound hand.

          The last candle flame fades out. From the kitchen cupboards and the front porch they race, from the attic and the cavities of the wood walls, they come to feast. They’re too famished to be timid. One scampers up his pants leg and rests on his shoulder to lap up throat blood. Now more, then still more assail him, claiming their take of the feast.

          A rat lands on the face of the man, sending him into an insane delirium as he moans and rattles in his chair as if being electrocuted. Some rats watch as he frantically begins to move his head back and throat forward causing the noose to become tighter and tighter. The wire cuts through the throat as if it were soft cheese as more blood pours forth. The rats snap at one another as they compete for throat blood. The more they feed, the more he thrashes, until he severs his windpipe. He makes a gurgling sound, as his body shakes in reaction to dying. His death results in his head tilting back like the top of a Pez dispenser, presenting a smorgasbord of muscle, sinew, arteries and veins rich with blood. The greedy rats cover his throat and face in a feeding frenzy, devouring ears, nose, lips and fingers.       

          Hundreds of rapacious rats jump onto the man, creating a pulsating, hairy mound as they rip and tear away flesh and muscle.

          The next evening, the rats, sitting on window sills, see Poppa arrive at the abandoned house. They watch as he grabs several items from the front seat of his car. Poppa gets out of the car, turns on his flashlight and with slumped shoulders and a shuffled walk he slowly makes his way towards the house.

          He opens the front door, steps in and shuffles across the kitchen. As he approaches the cellar door, he hears squeaking and scratching sounds. He raises a .38 revolver, points the weapon at the cellar door and lets off two rounds. He hears the rats scamper.

          Slowly, he opens the creaking cellar door and with pistol in one hand and flashlight in the other, he descends the steps. Half way down, his footing becomes wobbly and he instinctively grabs for the railing, dropping the flashlight onto the dirt floor. The impact cuts off the light. The cellar is as black as a closed coffin.

           He shouts, “Damn it, shit.”

          After a pause, he yells, “Hey, you still alive? Come on, I want to get this over with and get the hell out of here.” Nothing but the sound of distant squeaks as Poppa tiptoes down the stairs.

          He staggers towards where he estimates the man is. He feels around with his feet for the flashlight and steps onto something soft, hears a squeak and jerks his foot up. With his next step, he senses something round and solid beneath his foot. He smiles, as he stoops down and picks up the flashlight from the floor. He finds the switch and flicks it on. With a sigh of relief, he begins to scan the room. He sees them with their beady, red eyes carpeting most of the floor and lining the tops of the stone walls. As he lowers the flashlight, he turns to his right. Within inches, what’s left of Murdock suddenly jumps into the light. Poppa lets out a scream.

          He stands transfixed, mouth agape, at what he sees. In the glow of the flash light, is the nearly decapitated head of the man Poppa waited ten years to torture and kill. Murdock’s head, which is at a ninety-degree angle to his neck, has had all the skin and most of the muscle eaten away. There are no eyes, ears, nose or lips left. His clothes are tattered and bloody.

          Suddenly, from the open neck comes the head of a rat. Its mouth is covered in blood, like a lion’s gorging on a fresh kill. It looks side to side, then at Poppa, blinks and scurries back down into the neck.

          Poppa screams as he stumbles backwards, causing the light to dart around the room, picking out rats everywhere.

          He shouts, “Fuck you rats, fuck you,” as he shoots off two rounds to scare them off.  Most of them scatter. His ears are ringing when he feels a tug on his pant leg. He shines the light down and sees rats pulling on his pants. He tries to shake them loose. He’s running backwards, shooting down at his feet when a bullet strikes his left ankle. He screams as blood and bone fly everywhere. Poppa staggers, hitting the back of his head on a wooden column. He slumps to the ground totally dazed, barely conscious, blood pouring from his ankle.

          Weakened by cancer, hobbled with a shattered ankle, he tries to get up but as he raises his leg his foot dangles, swaying left to right. The rats watch Poppa drag himself across the floor in a desperate attempt to escape. Hundreds of them congregated on the cellar floor, hesitate for a second, then with a great burst of pent-up tension, they swarm Poppa, biting and ripping flesh off. Poppa raises the .38 to his temple.       

          There are two sounds heard beneath the blanket of hairy rats covering Poppa, a click and a muffled scream.


Art by Kevin Duncan



By Ciro DiLorenzo


Dear Sister Margaret,


I write this letter not to obtain sympathy or forgiveness, certainly not from God; God will do with me what He will. It is my hope that my story will help in your counseling of prisoners and dysfunctional families.

You have been a steadfast pen pal over the years. Your soothing words of encouragement, always a comfort, persuaded me to get my GED and take correspondence courses in philosophy. I will miss our visits and your brilliant mind. I ask, as always, that you pray for me.

After eight years in solitary on death row, I don’t recognize the angry twenty year old that had all that rage. But I know how he got it. I’ve told very little of what I am about to reveal, even to you.

          First, if given a second chance, I would still kill them. They needed killing. I ask for your understanding as we walk through my wretched life.   

          I lived in a slum, the end of the line where the dredges dwelled. We were society’s white trash. Men clustered in hallways playing craps, always a good source for stabbings. On street corners, thirteen year olds, imitation men, dealt drugs to the bored rich who drove in from up town. In the alleys, wasted old drunks sat with their backs resting against walls, their heads slumped. Name the vice and this slum, this scab on the city, could provide it.

The tenement buildings, long past their glory, stood shoulder to shoulder on both sides of the mean streets creating an urban canyon. When you entered their hallways, you were assailed by the stench of piss and vomit. We existed in a third story hovel, a cold water flat where cardboard covered broken windows and plaster fell from ceilings. Your feet would stick as you walked across the worn-out vinyl flooring in the kitchen. Garbage overflowed from paper bags onto the floor, enticing roaches to a never-ending feast. This was 'home' for me, 'mom' and 'dad'.

They depended on welfare checks, shoplifting, prostitution and muggings, anything to fill their ravenous hunger for booze and drugs.

The old man was a no-good drunk son-of-a-bitch with this big bulbous nose and a constant scowl on his pitted face. A burly man with hairy tattooed arms and long greasy hair, he was a mean bastard who was mad at the world. He enjoyed two things, getting drunk and beating me and the old lady.

           We'd hear his footsteps thumping up the apartment stairs getting louder and louder, if they were steady, we were okay. If they were slow paced, he was real drunk and it was walk on egg shells time. The old lady would stiffen like a board. I'd clench the sides of the kitchen table and my leg would start bouncing. He'd fling open the door with his usual greeting of, 'What the fuck are you two lookin' at,' followed by, 'get me some food.'

          She served it up walking over to the kitchen table with her head down like some goddamn servant girl. Then he'd start with the TV volume, it's too low, it's too high or it's too hot in here or it's too cold. Once in awhile the old lady would mumble something and if he caught on to it, watch out. He'd pounce on her screaming, ‘what did you say bitch, huh what did you say?' He'd storm over to the broom closet and get out his favorite thing to beat us with, a barber's belt. He’d raise that arm up and down he came with that thick leather belt as hard as he could, whipping her arms held up in defense. They would get all red and welted, sometimes cutting her skin open. Every time he hit her she would drop down until she was on the floor, him standing over her beating her. You wouldn’t beat an animal like he did her.

          I was only seven at the time so I ran and hid in my closet and listened to that bastard hit her and hit her. He yelled as she screamed in pain, ‘Don’t ever talk back, ever’. I covered my ears trying to block it all out. Then it would get real quiet and I'd hear that thump, thump coming down the hall, him yelling, 'You’re next, kiddo.' He'd almost rip the bedroom door off its hinges as he stormed into the room. The light flashed on and I'm in a dark closet cowering in the corner. The closet door would yank open and all I could see was his face contorted in rage, his hand coming at me getting bigger and bigger and I’d be praying, let me vanish, let me vanish. But God wasn’t listening. As soon as he got hold of my hair, I pissed my pants. The crazy thing is it all happened in slow motion. Then he started in with a few shots to my arms, then my back, legs and head, screaming in a drunken delirium, 'Like this pop, huh, am I doin' it like you?' I'm screaming, he’s screaming and the old lady just laid on the floor moaning.

          She was a heavy meth user. Tall and reed-thin with arms and legs covered in scabs from constant scratching. She had 'meth mouth' which caused rotting teeth and bad breath. Her eyes, dilated by the meth, looked like two black button eyes on a doll with dark circles surrounding them. Fidgety and paranoid, she was always on a prowl for meth or any other drug she could snatch. Every cell of her being was devoted to drugs. I was an afterthought.

           My first vivid memory of her is when she held my hand over the open flame of a cigarette lighter. I was about four years old playing with the old man's lighter. She yanked me away saying, 'I'm going to teach you a lesson the same way my mother taught me. You stupid little shit.'  She taught me well. I screamed and struggled to get free but she just tightened her grip around my wrist. The smell of burnt flesh was etched into my memory.

          One other time, she yelled at me, 'Go make coffee.' I told her I didn't know how.

          Again she yelled, 'You're so goddamn lazy and stupid. Get the pot, put in some coffee and water and turn on the burner. When it starts to boil, turn it off.'

          It boiled all right, all down the front of the stove. She screamed a phrase that I would hear over and over, 'can’t you do anything right' and then slapped me across the face. Never a hug and kiss from this one. I was six years old. Here's what she felt I was good for. Bait.

          She would take me to some dives. The old man never cared what we were doing. We'd sit at the bar and sure as hell some guy would come over and say what a cute kid I was and could he buy us a drink and pretty soon they'd be talking and giggling and I'd just sit there feeling lonely.

          They'd go off into some back room and fifteen minutes later they'd come out with her lipstick smeared and him zipping up his pants. The old lady would slip the bartender a ten and we'd go sashaying out to score her meth.

          I knew what was going on because I once walked in on her being forced to give the old man a blow job. I apologize for the language but saying she performed oral sex would only sanitize this disgusting scene.

          I was about to run out the door when he yelled, 'don’t move kiddo, this is what women are good for.' He was drunk as hell. She tried to stop but he just held his big hand behind her head and said, 'Keep goin,' while I stood there until he was finished. The old lady got up and ran to the bathroom with one hand over her mouth and the other raised up hiding her face. The old man was laughing his head off as he zipped up. I heard her in the bathroom gagging and spitting.

          When I was eleven, the old man went to jail for ninety days. It was a good break for us, until she brought this guy around. She told me he was a friend of the old man's. I knew it was a lie, he had no friends. They'd spend most of the time getting high in the bedroom while I watched TV. One night I heard them talking, he hands her some money and she says, 'Okay, he's all yours.'

          Later, he came into my bedroom where I was asleep on my filthy mattress laying on the floor. He forced me on my stomach and bent me over. I tried to resist but it was useless. He pinned my hands down then sodomized me.

          When he finished and went back to his bedroom, I just lay on my mattress. I didn't cry and I wasn't angry. I just stared at the ceiling. Hours later I got up calmly, went to the kitchen and got the biggest knife I could find. I went to their bed, stared down at them sleeping, then plunged the knife as deep as I could into his thigh, twisted it, then yanked it out, just in case I would need it again. He screamed like nothing I ever heard, got out of bed, stumbled out of the apartment and that was that.

          The old lady jumped up from the bed just as he screamed. She looked at me with this shocked expression. I shot my finger at her, gave a glare and said, ‘You’re next if you say one fuckin’ word.’ She didn't and it was never mentioned again. That night I learned, use violence to get what you want.

          The summer of my twelfth year, I met the only person I ever loved, Maria Alvarez. She was a petite beauty with jet-black hair and dark eyes that lit up when she smiled. Her mother had been sent to jail on drug possession charges, her father was long gone, so she came to live with her grandmother. She was too innocent for this place. The first time I saw her she was strolling down the street like she was in a field of daisies. I blocked her path, put on my tough street face and said in a threatening voice, 'Who are you and what are you doing here?'

          She just smiled and said, ' I'm Maria Alvarez, do you want to play?' Totally thrown by her reply, I blurted out, ‘Ok, my names Luther.’ We were inseparable after that.

          The whole ghetto seemed to disappear when we were together. She talked me into going to the community pool located in the “good” neighborhood.  I was scared, I couldn’t swim but she just held my hand as we waded into the shallow end and said, 'Trust me Luther; it's going to be all right. On the count of three we'll go underwater.'

Kids were running and yelling all around us as she counted, 'One, two, three.' Down we went. My God, Sister,there was total silence. The water seemed to cocoon us into our own world. I never felt so peaceful and safe. I wanted to stay underwater forever.

          When we burst up, we went right back under. We sat on the bottom of the pool. She put her head on my shoulder and I placed my arm around her, holding her tight.  We turned, looked at each other and that's when she gave me my first kiss on the lips. Underwater became our special place. It was the best summer I ever had.

          We both loved school and looked forward to going. I'd have to wake myself, get dressed and scrounge around the kitchen for something to eat. The 'parents' were too stoned or drunk to stagger out of bed that early.

          I'd meet Maria and we'd fast walk to school as we dodged needles and empty whiskey bottles strewed along the sidewalk. We’d get all excited, talking about getting out of the slums. I was going to be a fighter pilot and she was going to be a doctor.

          Always wanting to keep her safe, I'd tell her, 'Stay up with me, don't fall behind. Don't make eye contact with any of the bums.' I carried a stick to keep them and any snarling dogs away from her.

          A few months later, I woke up to the sounds of police sirens. An everyday occurrence I thought nothing of.  I left the apartment and waited outside for Maria but she was late. Maria was never late. I tried to run to her apartment as fast as I could but my breathing came hard. My feet felt like two weights.

          I ran up the steps to her apartment. There, stuck across the door, was crime scene tape confirming what I had feared. A neighbor came out and told me she called the cops when she noticed their front door open, went in and found them. A cop told her that Maria and her grandmother had been raped and murdered the night before.

          I remember sucking in a lot of air then throwing up as I staggered away.  I was swooning as I stumbled down the stairs and into the streets. I struggled as I tried to run again, finally gaining speed, not stopping until I reached my apartment.

          I cried hysterically as I burst through the door yelling, 'She's dead, they're both dead, Oh God'. As I entered my ‘parents’ bedroom, I stood with my arms open and started to approach my 'mother' for some comfort when she said, ' That's what you get for hanging around with a spic girl.'

          I let out a scream, then started to beat her with my fists. The old man jerked up in the bed and tried to pull me off of her, so I started to pound him. It didn't end until he fractured my nose.

          I bolted from the apartment holding my nose as blood poured into my throat, mouth and down my shirt. After a few blocks I was stopped by total exhaustion. I slumped down in an alley and this cat walked over to investigate. He started licking my bloodied hand resting on the ground. I went to shoo it away when it hissed and struck me with its paw. It hurt like hell as I looked down at three red stripes on my hand.

           I grabbed the cat by the throat and started choking it to death. As it's jerking around in my hand, my mind was screaming, 'I told you, Maria, nothing comes to any good in this hell hole. Now you're dead. God damn my life and damn you God for taking Maria and her grandmother.' I stood there with the cat limp in my hand and screamed and screamed.

          The cops never found who did it. They didn't give a damn about Maria and her grandmother. White trash, that's all we slum people were to them.

          I became real withdrawn after Maria's death, ignored my parents as much as possible. I started to become a bully at school, skipping days and stopped going at age fifteen. I was barely passing anyway. Now I was isolated from everyone but them.

          The truant officer came around once. I stood by the open door as my mother screamed at her, 'He doesn't need anymore schoolin' than I had, so fuck off.' The officer just stood in the hallway with the back of her hand covering her nose and mouth, forehead all wrinkled, mumbling ‘oh, oh’. She wasn't used to our hovel's stench of body odor, rotting garbage and stale smoke. A huge cockroach scurried out of the apartment and across the truant officer’s foot. She screamed, turned and bolted down the hallway with her hand still covering her mouth. The old lady was cackling all the while.

          A year later the old man started taking me with him to mug drunks. Now that he had some use for me, he no longer beat me, besides I was now bigger than him. Brawn and a big set kept me safe.

          We'd wait in a dark alley by a bar so no one could get a good look at us. When a drunk came out, my job was to distract him by asking for a light or the time of day. The old man would sneak up, whack him behind his head with a black jack and the guy would just crumble to the ground. He would dig through his pockets for any money, while I yanked off watches and rings.

          I'll never forget one night when things got a little out of hand. He missed his mark and the guy started fighting back and giving the best of it. The old man pulled out something from his pocket and I heard this snap and all of a sudden he's holding the biggest damn knife I've ever seen and he buries it into this guy's gut with one mighty upper thrust. The drunk lets out a sound like Lee Harvey Oswald did when he was shot. Down he goes. It may have been dark in that alley but I got this picture burned into my memory of my old man holding that knife with blood dripping off of it and that guy doubled over on his knees. My mouth must have been gaping because the old man turned to me and said, 'Shut that mouth and let's get the hell outta here.' From that moment, I was obsessed with getting that knife. It had power.

          When we got back to our dump, we sat at the kitchen table, he poured us a shot and said, 'Go on, drink it, it'll calm you down. Now listen, that thing you saw back there, that guy deserved it. He shouldn't had fought back. That knife is to keep control of the situation, always keep control kiddo.'

          I belted back the shot, banged the glass on the table, looked at him and said, 'I want half the take from now on.' He let out a laugh, I never heard him laugh so hard, and said, 'Kiddo you're a chip off the old block, that's what you are.'

          A couple of years later, I was climbing the stairs to the hovel when I heard the old lady screaming while he beat her. I thought, I can’t take this anymore, day after day of their screaming and the beatings, I can’t take it, so I raced up the stairs, flung open the door and yanked the old man off of her. He was stunned at first. I saw him glance over to the kitchen table and that's when I spotted the knife. I knew, if he could get to it, he would slice and dice me. We lunged towards the table but I got there first, flicked it open then calmly held the knife point under his throat and said, 'It’s mine now, I'm taking control of the situation, just like you taught me. Make a move; please make a move so I can ram this into your goddamn throat.' He offered no resistance.

          The old lady stormed over and screamed, 'Keep your goddamn hands off of him, don't hurt him.' I couldn’t believe her! I got up, shoved him aside and waved the knife at both of them, keeping them at bay. I backed up to a kitchen cabinet, brought down a coffee can, opened it and took her drug money.

          I yelled, 'I hate your guts, I'm out of here. Both of you better stay the fuck away from me.' I ran out, down the stairs and into the mean streets. I was seventeen, on my own and I never looked back. Soon afterward the final death of my soul began.

          I made money from mugging, fencing stuff I stole from warehouses and selling pills from drug store break-ins. Once in a while I'd do some enforcing for the local mob boss.

          By the time I was twenty-one I had been arrested eight times and in jail a total of two years. I just got out when I met the Bone brothers, Billy and Jimmy, twin psychopaths about seven years older than me.  I'd do jobs with them when they needed another set of hands for a burglary.

          One night I bumped into them at a local bar. They shouted for me to join them in their booth. I walked over and sat down. “Looks like you guys are celebrating,” They were the drunkest I've ever seen them, eyes all blood shot, words slurred from doing shots with beer chasers for an hour.      

          'Yeah, me and Jimmy just scored big time,' Billy said, 'Money, jewels and the old lady.'

          'What do you mean, the old lady?' I said, then shifted in my seat.

          'Me and Jimmy had ourselves a little gang bang,' Billy said with a proud smile. 'We tied up her old man and let him watch the whole thing.'

          Billy laughed and said, 'She's saying please don't kill me, please don't kill me. So we just fucked them up a lot. Good thing we wore ski masks or they'd both be dead.'

          Just as I'm taking a shot of whiskey, thinking I need to cut these two loose for good, Jimmy says, 'Yeah not like that time we did the old lady and the kid.'

          I stifle a gag and asked, 'What's that all about?' They loved to brag so I knew they would tell me.

          'Happened in your neighborhood,’ Billy said, ‘shit we was young and crazy back then. Musta been around eighteen, it was some spic lady and her granddaughter. It was suppose to be a drug dealer's place we were gonna rob but we were high and busted into the wrong apartment. Not much to steal, so we did the kid and the grandmother who is pleading, 'Please, please she's just a child.' That kid was some fine pussy.' They both started to laugh, and then raised their glass to toast themselves.

          I had all I could do from taking my knife and slitting their throats right in the booth.

          Jimmy says, 'Hey, Billy, what did that girl keep saying while you were doing her, something about underground or somethin.’

          'Underwater, she kept saying, I'm underwater, I'm underwater, whatever the fuck that meant.' Then the bastards started laughing again, Sister.

          I got up as calm as I could, went to the men's room, punched a hole in the wall then threw up. I'm thinking, as I splashed water on my face, don't kill them now. The alcohol has dulled their senses, do them when they're sober and can feel everything I'm going to do to them. I left the bar and two days later told them to meet me at midnight in this alley so we could case a warehouse.

When they arrived, we made some small talk and then I told them to follow me around the alley corner. As soon as they rounded the corner, I stabbed Billy then Jimmy with rapid upper cuts to their guts. The whole thing took five seconds. They dropped to their knees looking at their stomachs then held up their hands examining the blood on them. They turned to me with puzzled looks and Billy said, 'What’d you do this for?' he tried to get up but it was useless. I went and got the duct tape I had hidden along with my knife, stood behind them and as I taped their mouths, I said, ‘Their names were Maria and Concetta Alvarez, you know the kid and the old lady you raped and murdered. They're the only ones who ever treated me good and you two sick fucks killed them. Now you're gonna die real slow and painful, you sons-of -bitches.'

          Their eyes bulged when I unzipped their pants and pulled out their dicks saying, 'You boys won't be needing these anymore.' Good thing I covered the mouths, you could hear them screaming through the tape as I cut their dicks off, ripped off the tape and stuffed them in their mouths. Then I slit their throats.

          I stood over them as they bled out, the knife dripping blood as I held it in my hand. I knew Maria would never have wanted me to do this but it was inbred in me to use violence, to seek revenge.

          The cops caught me right away, being the last one to be with them. They figured it was over money or drugs. I let them believe what they wanted. I didn’t care anymore.

          Sister, I hear some commotion at the end of the corridor. I must prepare for the state to extract its eye-for an-eye justice. So I’ll finish my story.

          The old lady died of AIDS several years before you and I met. No surprise there, what with all the drugs and whoring around. The old man? He mugged the wrong guy, the local mob boss's uncle. I told the 'capo' I would whack him but he gave it to some other guy. He didn't believe anyone could be cold-blooded enough to kill their own father. I did help with the chopping up part, though.

          When they open the curtain tonight I will look only at your peaceful face.  I hope to be with Maria soon, holding her and kissing her in the only place I ever found peace and love, underwater. That's if the devil doesn't find me first.        


Goodbye Sister Margaret,

Your friend Luther




Art by Marina Rodriquez 2016

Rita’s Blue Dress

by Ciro DiLorenzo


The dark gray hearse crept into the garage of the Country Side Funeral Home. The name was a joke to local residents because it sat in the seediest part of the city where many buildings stood shuttered.

Fifty-five year old Ed Jenkins, church deacon, well respected funeral director and mortician, waited with a gurney. He was a tall, thin, black man, with cropped white hair, who took great pride in his profession.  Mourners always found his soft eyes and warm smile a comfort. He thought today was going to be an ordinary day of embalming.

The driver turned off the engine, got out, and immediately walked to the rear of the hearse followed by Jenkins, who pushed the gurney. No words were spoken. Both men had done this hundreds of times and knew what was expected of them. The driver opened the rear door, then both men, with little effort, slid the body bag containing Rita Ruiz, age thirty, onto the gurney. Rita was thin, petite. A Puerto Rican spitfire some called her. They wheeled her into the embalming room where she was placed onto a cold stainless steel table. The body bag was unzipped by Jenkins, then removed. Rita’s body lay naked before the two men.

          “My God, what kind of animal does this to another human being?” the driver, Simms said, looking down at her, shaking his head. He was seventy years old and worked for his friend Ed Jenkins for five years since retiring. “I’ve never seen a body this violated before.”

          “My baby, where’s my baby?”

          Jenkins was looking at his friend when he heard the panicked voice of a woman. He snapped his head toward the body. He took a moment to collect himself. He knew a dead woman couldn’t talk but he also knew that the voice in his head wasn’t his. He recognized it as a female voice with a Puerto Rican accent.

          “Ed, are you alright?” Simms said.

          Jenkins lied, “Huh, oh, no, no, I’m fine.” He steadied himself. To distract both of them, he turned towards Simms and said, “She only merited a couple of lines in the paper. What did it say? Local prostitute dead, daughter assaulted, boyfriend still at large.”

“I ain’t no prostitute anymore. How’s my daughter, where is my daughter, goddamn it,” she yelled.

My God, she can hear me, his mind shouted. This can’t be happening, how can this be happening? It took Jenkins all he had to concentrate on his conversation with Simms. 

          “Just awful,” Simms said, “I guess if you lead that kind of life, what can you expect?” He shrugged his shoulders as if to say what’s done is done.

“To live past twenty-five would be fucking nice. Is my daughter alive? Tell me,” she yelled again.

Jenkins blurted, “She’s okay.” He cursed himself for replying. Sweet Jesus, I’m having a conversation with a dead person, Lord help me. He started to sweat. Remain calm, he ordered himself, remain calm.

“Thank God. Thank God.”

 “What did you say Ed, who’s okay?” said Simms.

“Ah, the daughter,” Jenkins said. “I’m sorry I thought you asked about her. Her nine-year-old daughter and this one’s younger sister are the only family I know of.”

“Oh.” Simms thought his friend acted strange. He asked, “You’re going to cover the neck area, right?”

“Yes, the sister dropped off a nice silk scarf with the clothes earlier,” Jenkins said.

 Like a person rubber-necking past a car accident, Simms was repelled by the sight of her but couldn’t turn his eyes away. “Need a hand getting her ready?” he said.

 “No, I’ve got it from here. She’ll be ready for tonight’s viewing,” Ed replied, anxious for his friend to leave. “You don’t have to come in early. I’m putting her in the small viewing room. Not expecting too many visitors.”

          “Well, I’ll see you tonight then,” Simms said. He had a frown on his face, a tired look in his eyes. He turned, his walk was slow, and shoulders slumped as he headed for the exterior door.  That night he would be the greeter at the front entrance to the funeral home.    

          After Simms left, Jenkins wiped his brow with his handkerchief; exhaled long and deep then grabbed a clipboard from the wall. Attached to the board were the forms he used to inventory personal items such as jewelry, clothing or any medical paraphernalia still on the body. She had none, since the body had come from the morgue where that was taken care of. On another form, he noted the specific embalming fluid to be used.

He bent over Rita’s body and began a meticulous examination starting from the head. Although this had been done by the coroner’s office, it was recommended by Jenkins’s attorney to always note any cuts and bruising to avoid litigation. He noticed an old three inch scar on her left cheek.

 “Hey, wanna know how I got that?”

Jenkins’s body jerked back. He took a moment to calm down. With stubborn determination, he ignored the voice and noted the scar on his form.

“That scum bag pimp of mine, that’s how. It happened three years ago. He said I was keeping money from him. ‘You steal from me whore, I’ll kill you, I’ll fuckin’ kill you,’ then he cuts me with a razor. It took ten stiches to close it up. Well fuck him. I did steal money.”

Jenkins continued his examination. Her nose was crooked to the right. 

“That was a gift from my no good son-of-a-bitch boyfriend. Five minutes after he breaks my nose, he’s tells me he loves me.”

Jenkins continued to ignore her. He took a deep breath and mumbled, “Here we go” then started to count.

          “One, two, three, four, five….” He said aloud, then began to mentally count them and finished with, “eighteen, nineteen, twenty.” My Lord, he thought, twenty stab wounds, how horrible.

“You missed one. Check under my left arm pit. That monster stabbed me twenty one times? I was gone after the sixth or seventh stab, then, I’m floating above my body, now that’s some weird shit. He just had to slit my throat, that sick fuck. My mistake was bringing a baseball bat to a knife fight.”

“Don’t use that street talk in here,” Jenkins reprimanded aloud then mumbled, “Nuts, I’m going nuts.”

 “Sorry, but at least now we’re getting somewhere.”

Jenkins grudgingly caved in. No longer could he ignore, what seemed, a complete mental melt down.

“Getting somewhere?” He spoke in a hiss. He had the presence of mind to make sure that his wife, who sometimes came to visit, wouldn’t hear him if she approached. “Why me, how come only I can hear you, answer me that,” he ordered.

“Me? Whadda ya think because I’m floating around, I don’t know where, I got answers? You think I’m all knowing or something? Maybe you been chosen - you know like a prophet. All I know is I can’t rest until I see that my daughter and Marie are okay, they’re safe.”

“I’m no prophet.” Jenkins objected with a stern voice, then calmed down. “You’ll see them tonight. Your sister told me your daughter sustained some wounds, most of them superficial. Her arm is in a sling from a knife puncture but she’ll be fine. Now please let me continue my work.”

“Thank God. But you must be special, I mean, you’re talking to me ain’t you?”

“Not if I can help it,” he said.

Jenkins then had a flashback of when he was six years old and his great grandmother, a mystical woman, who had homeopathic remedies for every malady, smiled at him. She placed a hand on his head and said, “Someday Edward, you gonna be doing the Lord’s work. I don’t mean preachin’ but you’ll be chosen for something really special. You got the glow Edward; I can see it plain as day.”  A year later, he stood looking down into her casket and heard her voice, “Remember what I said Edward, you got the glow.”

He looked up and prayed in silence, “Please Lord, don’t do this to me. This job is hard enough.”

He continued his exam by measuring the deep ragged gash that ran along her throat from ear to ear, then heard Rita cry. It echoed throughout the room.

“Look what he done to me. Why’d he go and do that? I knew he would hunt us down. Me and Theresa, we ran away from him two months ago. Snuck out for good after Theresa said he started touching her and creeping her out. That’s when I gave my sister Marie the money. I told her don’t give me no shit, this money is for my funeral. I want lots of flowers and a white and gold casket, none of that cremation shit. Now make sure you hide that cut real good, I don’t want Marie and Theresa to see that. So you got a scarf, right?” 

Jenkins thought about what Rita had told him. He couldn’t imagine how she and her daughter could live knowing the boyfriend would burst through their apartment door at any time and kill them. How could anyone be at peace with that?

“I take pride in my work, no one will see your throat,” he said.   

He made note of the incision on her chest. He knew her rib cage had been cracked then spread open like some massive protective gate by the coroner who removed the innards, examined them, incinerated them, then sewed her chest closed with twine.

          After another deep breath, Jenkins examined the arms. Her left wrist lay at a peculiar angle.

“Bunny did that to me last summer.”

“What” Jenkins said, startled again. He would get so engrossed in his work, his wife would say, you could march a band through the room and he wouldn’t notice.

“Bunny, that whore. We got in a cat fight over who was gonna work a street corner and she shoves me to the ground. I land with all my weight and break my wrist. I had it in a cast but my pimp wouldn’t let me wear it while I was earning. That’s why it’s bent like that.”

“I thought you said you weren’t a prostitute anymore?” Jenkins said.

“I quit before I went into drug rehab six months ago. DSS had taken my Theresa from me. They said if I didn’t change my life, I wouldn’t get Theresa back. No way I was gonna let that happen, so I got cleaned up, got a clerk job at the Dollar Store and was studying for my GED. Thank God for Marie’s help through all of it. The only thing left was to shake my psycho boyfriend.”

He continued his work and noted six defensive cuts on the inside of her arms, but also multiple small linear scars, old ones, piled on top of one another.

           As he held her cold arms, he said, “You were a cutter.”

          “That began after Uncle Nestor started to feel me up when I was nine.”

          “Didn’t you tell your parents?”

          Suddenly, the embalming room filled with a cacophony of maniacal laughter. The more Rita laughed, the louder it became as it ricochet off concrete block walls.

          Jenkins covered his ears with his hands, staggered about and yelled, “Stop it, stop it.”

          The laughter suddenly stopped when the concerned voice of Jenkins’s wife Betty came through the room’s intercom, “Edward, is everything all right, were you yelling? I heard you all the way upstairs.” 

          He raced to the intercom, pressed a button and replied breathlessly, “Yes, ah, no, no all is well. It was just, ah; a tube came loose and started squirting formaldehyde.”

          “Oh my, I’ll come down and help you.”

          “No, no, it’s okay, it’s really okay. I cleaned it all up.”

          “Well, all right I guess. Are you sure you don’t need a hand?”

          “Yes, yes, just stay put, I’m fine dear.”

          Jenkins, mad as hell, started to pace back and forth. His eyes darted everywhere as they searched the room. For what, he thought, why am I doing this- to catch a glimpse of a voice? He gave up.

          He hissed, “Don’t do that again.”

          “Did I tell my parents? Are you kidding me? Yeah, I told my mother. You know what she did? She smacked me across the face and told me never to talk about her brother like that again. Then I found out he was supplying her with drugs. I started cutting after that. For years it went on until I was fifteen. That’s when Marie told me he was starting with her. So next time he came around me, I shoved a knife under his chin and told him if he ever touched either of us again I’d kill him. He was a skinny ass little punk. I wasn’t afraid of that pendejo anymore and he knew it.” 

          “Where was your father through all this?”

          Rita started to cry. “Don’t talk about my Popi. I loved that man. Okay, so he had his moods but when he wasn’t drinking or yelling he would buy me and my sister ice cream. When I was eight he bought me this pretty light blue dress, just for me. I gave him such a hug. I was so happy every time I wore it. Rita stopped crying, in a sad voice said, “But then a few weeks later, he’s all drunked up and tells me to get him a beer. It’s my fault, I didn’t move fast enough, so he yanks a pot of boiling water off the stove and—it was an accident—he spills boiling water on me. That’s why my legs are scarred. Being stabbed wasn’t as painful as those burns. Why would my Popi do that to me?” 

          “My God Rita, I’m so sorry,” Jenkins said softly. His eyes watered up.

          “I screamed so loud, the neighbors called the cops. They arrested my Popi—I don’t know why—and took me to the hospital. He got six months in jail but we never saw him after that. He just left. She paused then said, “If only I got his beer faster.”

          “It wasn’t your fault, you must believe that,” Jenkins said. Is this what I’m supposed to do now, he asked himself, not only console the living but also the dead? “Rita, I must prepare your body but I will handle you with the greatest respect.”

          “That would be a first. You know, I can’t explain it, but I feel totally detached to that body. Huh, listen to me, that was me a few days ago.  I finally get what they mean when they call a body, the remains.”

          Jenkins began by spraying the body with disinfectant. Next he sewed close the gash in Rita’s throat. He massaged the body to loosen it from the grip of rigor mortis then cut open an artery and started pumping embalming fluid into it.

          When the embalming was completed, he washed and dried the body.  He took a photo off a shelf of Rita, Marie and Theresa sitting at a table, smiling and hugging each other.  On the table, in front of them, stood a birthday cake with the number nine perched on top.

          “That’s the picture I had in my living room. How’d you get it?”

          “Your sister brought it by so I could see how you do your hair and makeup.”

          “Make me pretty,” Rita said, in a girlish voice.

          After covering the bruises, cuts and gash with different cosmetic makeups, he put on her panties, hose, bra, styled her hair, applied makeup to her face and from a closet he took the scarf and a pair of shoes-and a light blue dress.

          “Oh my God, it’s the same color as my other one. But how, how did you—“

          “Marie said she remembered your dress and how you loved it. She told me how you kept her out of trouble when you were growing up. Made sure she hung out with the right people, did her homework. She credits you with her being the first one in the family to graduate from college.”

          “My baby sister, I’m so proud of her. You make sure you tell Marie and Theresa that I’m okay.”

          “Why don’t you tell them?  Talk to them like you do to me,” Jenkins said, as he slipped the blue dress onto Rita then adjusted the scarf around her throat. He put on her shoes.

          “I don’t know, something tells me only you can hear me. It’s like you’re the only one I can speak to.”

          “But why? Why now, why you, hell, why me?”

          “Maybe you’re supposed to help certain dead people. You got this light all around you, what do they call it, oh yeah, an aura, that’s what you got. I got an idea, how ‘bout this. That crazy ass boyfriend of mine who killed me, once took me, a long time ago, to this old hunting cabin in upstate New York. It was on Hilly Road. I remember the name because we called it Rita Road. Anyway, if I know him that’s where he’s hiding. Nobody knows about that place so go tell the police. Maybe that’s why you and me are talking.”

          Jenkins thought about that for a moment, then said, “Maybe it is why this is happening but I can’t go to the police and say I was speaking to this dead person who told me where to find their murderer.”

          Rita said in a frustrated voice,” I don’t know, make an anonymous phone call or send one of those notes with cut out words from magazines. You’ll figure it out.”

          “Okay, I’ll think of something, now let me place your body in the casket and bring it upstairs.” 

          That night, in the viewing room, Jenkins stood by and watched the sorrowful reunion of Marie, Theresa and Rita.

          “Tell them, tell them I’m okay, it’s gonna be okay.”

          Jenkins walked up to Marie and Theresa who stood over the casket, their bodies trembling with grief as they peered at Rita. He placed his arms around their shoulders and with the warmest smile and comforting eyes said, “She’s at peace and you’ve got to believe me when I tell you that Rita is present among us.”

          They replied with a heartfelt whisper, “Thank you, thank you.”

          At the burial site, after the few friends and family had left, Jenkins stood with his coat collar turned up against the cold. His eyes were cast down to oversee the workmen do the interment, when he felt a need to glance up. He saw, standing at a distance, Rita in the light blue dress she wore to her funeral. Jenkins thought she looked beautiful, no scars, no broken nose, no gashed throat. They stared and smiled knowingly at one another then she turned and walked away. As Jenkins watched her, she seemed to change. She became smaller, younger. She became the little girl in the light blue dress as she skipped away then disappeared.

          “Peace be with you, Rita,” he said with a smile on his face.

          The next morning, his wife had placed the newspaper and a steaming cup of coffee on the kitchen table for him. He took a sip of coffee, opened the paper and on page three, noticed a paragraph with the heading, ‘Anonymous tipster helps capture murderer.’ He smiled then took another sip.    


Ciro DiLorenzo lives in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. He began writing short story fiction four years ago. He enjoys writing horror or humorous stories.

He won a Quick Contest for best fifty word story about a scent which was sponsored by The Quill, a magazine published by the South Carolina’s Writers Workshop.

Another short story about the experience of one soldier landing on Omaha beach, “The Sand Crab”, was published by Flash Fiction World.

Two of his stories, “Squeaks” and “Underwater,” have been published in the e-zine, Yellow Mama, a horror genre web site.

His story, “The Sand Crab,” was included in Flash Fiction World anthology, volume 2, available on Kindle.

“The Triangle,” a short story about parents’ grief after burying their only child, a soldier killed in Iraq, won first prize in a contest sponsored by the Union County Writers’ Club of North Carolina.

He is a member of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop.

In Association with Fossil Publications