“Sunday night, Sport! School
tomorrow! You need a bath, Buddy! C’mon
Turn the TV off and let’s go!”
Ron DeLuca yelled upstairs to his son from the living room.
“Okay dad. But let
me finish by myself and don’t walk in
on me, okay?”
“I promise. I’ll
come up and get the water going and you
get your jammies from your room and put ‘em on the toilet seat for after you’re
dried off,” his father said.
what to do! You don’t have to say
it every time!”
Johnny got his
pajamas while his dad got the water going and put the bubble bath in and waited
for the Everest of foaming bubbles to form in the center of the tub as it
When Ron felt it
was full enough, he turned off the water.
He turned and his son was already down to his undies and piling his
clothes in a corner.
said. “I’m old enough to take my bath by
myself. You don’t need to rinse me any
more. I can work the handles and drain
the soapy water out. I can turn on the shower
and rinse the soap off me. Can you let
me do it all by myself this time and promise you won’t come in?”
“Okay. I’ll only
come in if you call me or if I
think you’ve hurt yourself.” He ruffled
his son’s hair and stepped out closing the door behind him. He opened
the door again quickly and popped
his head in.
John? No talking to your friend,
okay? You’re too old for that now.
You should’ve grown out of that two years
“If Rall shows up,
I’ll ask him to come back later.”
“No John. Tell him
to leave and never come back. That you’re too old for him and he needs
go.” He shut the door firmly.
Ron DeLuca was
always warning his son Johnny about his bath time buddy. He hated when his son
played with Rall,
Johnny’s imaginary friend. And he hated
that Johnny always took bubble baths.
Never showers, never straight baths.
He was obsessed with bubbles. And
Strange kid, he thought.
“I don’t know why
he can’t just break free of this Rall crap, honey,” Ron told Jeannie, his
wife. “I mean, he’s eight years
old. Going on nine!”
“He’ll grow out of
it, they all do. Give it time, Ron. Think
about something else. You’re always riding him about
everything. School, sports, his
friends. You even chide him for
insisting on bubble baths! Let him have
one thing to himself. Hell, you might
have actually helped create Rall with your constant nagging,” his wife said
while doing the dishes, her back to him.
you say?” She didn’t respond.
In the moment of silence between them,
muffled conversation wafted down to the kitchen from the upstairs bathroom
where John was.
“I can hear him up
there, talking. If he’s doing it after I
asked him not to, his TV goes up into the attic until it stops, and it stops tonight!” Ron leapt from his chair and stormed out of
Ron took the steps
two at a time and made for the bathroom door.
He stopped just outside it, and listened. He heard voices from inside
bathroom. He listened from the hallway
and heard his son’s voice and for a moment he almost thought he heard another,
more adult voice. He waited for his son to speak to muffle the click of the
lock as he gingerly turned the doorknob.
He swung it open as if in slow motion, and swore he could hear a deep
“My dad wants you
to leave, forever. He says I’m too old
for you to be with me,” Johnny said.
“Too old? Why would...”
It was a
voice! A whisper. Someone was
in the tub with his son! He looked at the window. It was locked. But John could have opened it
and let someone in, closed it again. He
said he could work the shower handles.
Maybe he did the window...or maybe he’s schizophrenic. Maybe he‘s...(possessed?)
He heard the
whisper again and rage took him.
Who the hell?
He lunged forward
and grabbed the shower curtain, flung it open wildly, tearing it loose from the
rod, sending some of the plastic rings flying into the wall, noisily bouncing
off the tiles.
Johnny looked up
at his father in total shock.
he screamed, his head covered in mounds of soap bubbles which dripped slowly
down the sides of his cheeks.
Across from his
son was something that totally disarmed him.
It was a monster with a big head, bulging eyes and a gaping mouth filled
with rows of shark teeth. It seemed to
be made of soap bubbles and bits of wet toilet paper. He momentarily forgot
his anger and marveled
at the amazing sculpture his son had created.
you...” He knelt in front of the tub and
reached out to touch it, vaguely aware of his son’s angry screams when the foam
sculpture lunged at him and grabbed his head with its pit bull jaws and crushed
The sound of
splintering bones echoed off the tiled bathroom walls as the thing stood up to
its full height, like a living volcanic eruption of suds, a leviathan rising
out of the water, and throttled John’s dad, like a feral cat with a freshly
caught mouse, sending his limbs crashing from wall to wall, knocking tiles
loose and flinging a shoe out into the hallway, until his head was torn off and
his stump of a neck sprayed blood all over the bathroom in rhythmic jets, his
body collapsing, bent over the side of the tub, feet and legs on the floor,
arms and torso in the bath, turning the water a dark crimson.
creature swallowed Ron’s head, licked its Tyrannosaurus Rex chops, and belched.
Johnny looked at
Rall. “He promised,” he said, and
shifted his gaze to his father’s headless body.
“Your mother is
running up the stairs to see what all the noise was about. After she’s
gone, there’ll be no one to come
between us,” the thing whispered as it picked its teeth with a spindly claw.
Johnny smiled at
His teeth were
MAN’S BEST FRIEND
Raymond A. Valent
Ed was fourteen the first time it hit him real strong. He’d felt
it before, but in a vague, misty way. Sort of like when you’re not quite
well but not yet sick. Your stomach’s doing butterflies but you don’t
quite have to puke.
He was in tenth grade math class, sitting next to Sally Stern, studying the geometric possibilities of things he would
never use in later life, as all kids felt about education.
At home, it started with his mom, constantly criticizing his friends.
“You think they like you? They don’t like you. They’re just using you.”
“Using me for what? I’m twelve, mom. I have no car, no money, you won’t
let them in the house so they’re not eatin’ our food or watchin’ our TV.
What the hell could they possibly be using me for? You IDIOT! Do you
ever think about the stupidity that comes out of your mouth?” Ed said,
fighting back tears. His mother never had anything good to say about his friends. And the few she liked were the ones he didn’t care for. They were on the periphery of his crowd.
“Don’t you ever talk to me like that again, Edward!”
Ed felt that he’d explode in a matter of seconds if
he didn’t get out of the house and away from this woman. He sensed the
volcano of anger surging up his back and spilling over into his shoulders. Hot
lava flowed down his arms, curling his hands into fists. He felt the heat blast
his face, the hair on his neck stand on end; he thought of the statues he’d seen in National
Geographic of Buddhist demons with their eternally opened mouths displaying endless rows of fangs and giant wide open
eyes like brass cannonballs searching for some poor, dumb soul to eat.
Ed looked at his poor, dumb soul of a mother. So defenseless, it would be no great victory to swallow her whole, but the meal would still be satisfying.
you and the rock you crawled out from under,” Ed said in a flat monotone. He
opened the door to the kitchen and walked out, slamming the door so hard that the glass fell in long, flat icicles onto the
kitchen floor. His mother screamed after him that she’d change the locks
and never let him in again.
Now Sally was in class whispering to him, berating him for a wrong answer to an easy question.
He hated her, hated his mother, hated
everyone. Especially girls. Boys
he could dismiss as useless, but girls, women.
They were deliberately evil, mean to him on purpose. He glared at Sally. She giggled at him.
His felt like a balloon about to burst. His temples throbbed and his
left eye twitched until it was almost closed. Then he felt it. Raw hatred. He fumed, turned red, bit his tongue and endured.
Later that week, Sally Stern’s
dog Chummy would run away. A few days later, Sally’s father would notice
a detestable smell in the garage and he would eventually find Chummy decomposing in the trunk of his new Saab. Sally blamed Ed, but her parents discounted that. How could
he get in the garage and get the keys to the car?
In school, Sally kept far away from Ed. She was careful never to make eye contact with him or sit near him. For Sally, Ed was a non-entity. Even worse—he was
a possible dog killer.
Ed liked the reputation, and it spread like a Serengeti wildfire. Soon,
the whole school regarded Ed as the dog-killer. Ed was “special.” The kids called him “Special Ed.”
And Ed just smiled contentedly to himself. He was already itching for
Sally’s baby brother liked to hang out around the pond and catch frogs and tadpoles and newts and anything else
that would happen to be around the dampness of the lily pads. Ed saw him as just another piece of potential fun.
Ed played with the idea of just walking
up to him and killing him. But the thing inside him that made him do these things
wouldn’t be satisfied with that. It wanted squirm and screaming and terror and...
Ed began his descent from the small hill above the pond, only a few yards from the house, but concealed by a thicket
of wild rose bushes. No one in the house could see him or the child. He stalked
up behind Sally’s brother and stopped a few feet from the intended victim, and realized he had no weapon. He’d have to do this with his bare hands.
This was new.
This opened up new doorways, new passages through his psyche.
Ed was about forty feet from the boy, crouching in the bushes. He slowly
stood up and began to take careful, measured, hopefully silent steps. He waited
until the kid was engrossed in some aquatic event or creature and then he began to stalk his way to the small target, the
sense of excitement mounting inside him like the hiss of a firecracker fuse makes you tense up waiting for the impending explosion.
Ed stopped dead in his tracks, frozen. He heard something in the bushes behind him.
He actually felt a shiver of fear run up his spine and wondered whether to turn around or not. But he needed to know. If someone was there, he’d
have to kill a witness as well. He didn’t know if he could handle two
in one day. On the other hand, hitting a double was always better than a base
straight up and spun around in mid-air. Ed landed in the same spot, looking into the shrubbery from which he heard the noise.
He slowly turned his attention back to the boy. Still absorbed in whatever it was.
Kids get so engrossed in what they’re doing. Then again, so do I, he thought, and smiled broadly.
He was about ten feet from Sally’s
brother and decided he needed to get there fast. He stepped forward briskly,
fingers curling and uncurling in anticipation.
I can feel his throat already.
Ed reached down and grabbed the child around the neck from
behind. The kid immediately began thrashing like a crazy thing, kicking, biting
and screaming. Ed tightened his grip on the boy’s throat to stifle
the screams. He didn’t think there was enough for anyone to hear.
The kid was a wild one for a four-year-old. Every muscle was seemingly in spasm as the kid flailed wildly.
Ed was losing him. He was on his knees with the kid at arms length, trying
to avoid the flailing extremities. He decided to drag the kid to the pond and
hold his head under water. He got up and the brat landed a foot in Ed’s
testicles, and Ed dropped to one knee and fell forward, driving his victim’s head into the pond. Bubbles emerged from the pond where the kid’s head was.
That should shut him up.
Ed’s guts hurt from the kick, but he had to keep the kid submerged until he stopped moving. Only a few seconds had passed but it seemed like hours. He
felt better enough to get to his knees and try to bear hug the kid and break his neck.
He took a deep breath and bit down hard to fight the pain in his groin, and pulled the splashing maniac out of the
pond, quickly getting a hand over his mouth.
He heard the rustling in the bushes again. He started to turn to look
over his right shoulder, when the rock hit him in the cheekbone. It dazed him
and distracted him enough for the boy to get free and he heard a high pitched voice screaming.
Run home and tell Mommy!”
Ed tried to stand up and lunge at his attacker, but he saw Sally already had a rock about the size of a basketball
in her hands just above her head. She was straining to get it higher as he got
one foot flat on the ground, but the other was still kneeling. Sally pushed
the rock forward with all she had, and it hit Ed squarely in the forehead, knocking him backward off his feet. The rock sort of pushed him over and rolled down his body as he fell, then rolled off his waist to the
stunned on the ground staring blankly into the sky. He couldn’t move a
muscle. Sally came around to his side and strained to lift the semi-boulder
again. She planted a foot on each side of Ed’s head and managed to get
the rock about five and a half feet off the ground, directly above Ed’s head.
He heard Sally say “Goodbye” and saw her let go of the rock. He
strained to move his head but couldn’t.
Ed saw the rock fall, closed his eyes and waited.
THE MAN IN THE CAR
Raymond A. Valent
He drove like a
The kid in the car
had his hands clamped onto the steering wheel so tight his knuckles were
white. The tires threw gravel and dust
like a Kansas twister in August.
The car clung
tenuously to the dirt, ready to fly off into the woods on either side of the
old farm road at any moment. One miscue
by the kid and it would all be over.
He’d be a fond memory, a bloody lump of chopped meat covered in glass
shards and metal fragments. Except,
there was no one to remember him. Paulie
had been alone ever since he was old enough to drop out of school. He never
liked crowds. He had a few friends, and even those, not
really what you’d call close. He
couldn’t share with his buddies the way other kids shared their inner thoughts
“’Cause I’m a
freak. A fuckin’ wack job,” he said.
He stretched one
long arm out over the dashboard and grabbed for his pack of Newports. His six-foot-five
frame barely fit into the
old Nissan. He flipped open the box with
one finger and shook out a smoke. One
eye on the road, the other searching the car for a book of matches or an old
lighter. He never knew what would come
flying out from under the seats at the next turn. Once he took a ninety-degree
left at almost sixty. He’d lost control
of the car for a few seconds but quickly regained it again, when he noticed
something round and cylindrical on the floorboards. It had rolled out from under
the seats. When he got home later that night, he
discovered that it was a wad of hundred-dollar bills all rolled up and wrapped
with a rubber band. Almost three
thousand dollars. Just the amount he
needed to cover the last three month’s rent before Mrs. Broderick threw him
into the street.
“Well fuck me,” he
He spied a lighter
on the passenger seat, under some old mail he’d never gotten around to dealing
with. He reluctantly relinquished his right hand’s grip on the wheel and groped
for the old Bic. Paulie quickly flicked
it, and a yellowish flame almost two inches tall flared out from the plastic
torch. He flinched in surprise and then
touched the end of the flame to the cigarette that was dangling from his
mouth. After a long drag, he flipped the
lighter back onto the seat next to him and locked his fingers around the wheel
again, staring straight ahead at the unlit road, wary of odd things popping out
in front of him in the dark. He slowly
exhaled a long blue plume of cigarette smoke that fogged up the windshield a
little, making it difficult to see. He
cracked his window and waited for the glass to clear.
“What‘s it gonna
be this time?” When he frightened
himself with these death-tempting daredevil rides, something always
happened. Either something rolled out
from under the seat, or someone he needed to see, meet, or interact with in
some way manifested before him.
Sometimes a hitchhiker, sometimes someone who needed help fixing a flat
or to pour some water into the radiator in a broken down over-heated
jalopy. But he had to get to that point
where fear took over and logic ceased.
Only lately, he
really didn’t need the car to scare himself.
Things had begun
to happen to him lately. People had come
to him unbidden. People he didn’t know
who heard about him, about the things that happened when he was around. Or the
things that seemed to happen around him, and only him. That’s why he
left his parents and quit school.
To get away from them. He
just wanted to live his life as a normal
nineteen-year-old without strangers looking for him, hunting for him as if he
was some kind of trophy. Like they were
waiting for some kind of reward. Maybe a
healing or a conversion. A photograph,
some type of memorabilia.
“Something to tell
the kids, or the grandkids about,” he said aloud in the car. “Maybe
a fuckin’ medal.”
Maybe I should just
pull the wheel to the
right and floor it. Head into the
woods. Pick myself a nice big red oak
and turn myself into worm food, he thought.
Up ahead, there
was something in the road. Something
large and upright. He glanced at the
speedometer. He was doing seventy.
Slowly, he took his foot off the gas.
Immediately the car began to slow down.
Up ahead was the
figure of a person standing in the middle of the road, stooped over a dark mass
on the pavement, directly in front of him.
The figure stared down at the blob and remained still.
Paulie was less
than two hundred feet from the man, if it was a man, so he slowed down and hit
his high beams to see if he
could make out more detail. The man in
the road looked at the car and waved his left hand, signaling the car to slow
down, be careful of the blob, and pass him without stopping. Paulie did just
that. As he passed, he noticed the man,
apparently quite elderly now that he could get a good look at him, was staring
down at a dog that had probably been hit by a car. It lay in the road, motionless. Paulie pulled over to the right shoulder and
parked his car. He got out and took one
last drag on his Newport and flicked it into the road ahead, sending a spray of
orange sparks ahead of him as it struck the pavement.
happened?” he asked the old man.
“My dog’s been
hit. Goddam dog’s all I got left.
Wife’s gone, my kids don’t care. Fuck ‘em.
They‘re out of the will. Take care of that soon enough. Call my
attorney first thing tomorrow. Damned ungrateful brats. Now Fella here’s been killed by a damned
moron racin’ down the road. Maybe a
drunk at that. Or maybe one of them sick
fucks that swerve intentionally to hit
an animal. Any animal. I was at Fort
Hood in Texas when I was invited to join the service. I was buddies with a guy
like that. Liked to get liquored up and race around
killin’ strays. Fucker he was,
though. Vietnam. You remember
that shitty little war? Damned Johnson and Nixon were suckin’ each
other’s dicks, you ask me. No
one cares about anybody else these
days. Everyone for himself. Fuck
your neighbors, fuck your family, fuck
the human race.” He pronounced it
“hyooman,” like Paulie’s third grade teacher, Mrs. Halberstam. The
thought of her triggered a set of
associations and he let them flow through him.
He remembered the
time in the third grade when Angela Dixon was telling the class about her
grandfather. Mrs. Halberstam asked the
class to talk to their grandparents about
how life was when they were younger, and Angela told the class about how her
grandfather had been in the German army in the Second World War. The kids taunted
her about it. Called her a Nazi and all the cruel things
kids do. Paulie felt sorry for her and
thought to offer to walk her home after school that day, when it took him. He
stood up violently, the backs of his knees
pushing the seat back behind him and into Mary Lou Hacker’s desk, knocking her
history workbook to the floor. He stood
frozen, a living stalagmite. He couldn’t
breathe, couldn’t move or speak. It had
him again. He clenched and opened his
fists over and over. They were the only
part of his body that responded. His
eyes were clamped shut and his head throbbed at the temples. He saw Angela’s
grandfather in an old Nazi SS
uniform walking down a row of very skinny men in white and black striped
clothes that looked to Paulie like pajamas.
They all looked sad to Paul. The
men needed shaves and many were sickly.
A lot of them were missing more than one tooth. Some could barely stand
without the others
holding them up. They were lined up as
if they were in a parade, except that they weren’t moving. Then a man
in a black military uniform came
up to the first man on the left and spoke words Paulie didn’t understand.
language. It’s German, I think.”
Paulie stood erect like a buck private when
an officer steps into the room. He
repeated loudly: “I think it’s German.”
asked him what was wrong.
it’s German. His name is Herr
Dixon. (In his mind-he thought “hair”) They’re all calling his
name now. Softly, with respect. Yes,
Dixon. No, Herr Dixon. And fear.
Terrible, terrible fear. They’re all so afraid of Herr Dixon!” Paulie was
sweating now, and his hands trembled so badly that he thrust them into his
pockets to keep them still.
You sit in that seat and you don’t stand up until I say so. Do
you hear me? Paul!
Is that clear?” Mrs. Halberstam
was trembling and she flushed a bright pink with a little crimson thrown in for
dramatic effect. Her face looked like a
Wilson was still standing behind his desk.
He was crying.
mean Herr Dixon, is yelling at a man
and smacking him in the face. The man
falls down on his knees and starts to cry. Herr
Dixon, he...he...” Paulie was starting
to sob audibly. Mrs. Halberstam thought
he was having a fit and sent Johnny DeMarco, one of Paulie’s almost-friends,
to fetch the nurse.
Paulie began to
rock back and forth in rhythm with his deep sighs and sobs.
“He is shooting
the man. Herr Dixon is. He shoots the
man in the head and there is blood. So
much blood!” Paulie wipes his hands on
his shirt over and over, trying to get the blood off of them.
“And then there is
another shot and a new man falls down holding his head and he’s running around
with his feet but he’s on the ground
so he keeps going in circles like a circus clown, or is it a rodeo clown, and
now the man Dixon, the “Hair” man is shooting him again and again and the first
man is bleeding, oh all over the ground and the second man has stopped running
and after the war Herr Dixon thinks
he will go to New York with a fake ID and no one will suspect that he was a
butcher in a kosher meat store called Buchenwald and he thinks the Fuhrer is a
madman and we must get our
little Gertie out of this terrible place before the Russians come and take our
women and little girls, and now he is leaving for America because they will never
find out who he was and he can live and never think of the things he did in the
speaking. The class stared at him. Little
Michael Federico was unconsciously
grabbing his crotch to try and stop the uncontrollable flow of urine that was
slowly trickling down his pant leg, turning it a darker shade of blue. Mrs.
Halberstam’s mouth hung open as she slowly approached the boy. She sat
down at a desk directly in front of
Paulie and stared at him, waiting for him to . . .
Explode? He’s just a child,
frantically wiping his hands over and over, and then he stopped. Paul slowly
opened his eyes, stared at his
He smiled. It
was an eerie smile. A smile that Mrs. Halberstam never saw
before, and if there was a God in heaven she would never see again. It was a
Cheshire cat smile. The smile a predator might flash its victim
just before the kill. A shudder ran down
Mrs. Halberstam’s spine. Paulie looked
at her, cocked his head to the right, lifted one eyebrow. The old woman grabbed
her forearms, stared at
“What do you want,
Jew?” Paulie said to her.
She jumped up and
grabbed him then. She grabbed him and
shook him and shook him until it stopped. Oh, she’d stop it. If she had
to shake that little monster to
death, she’d stop it. This was her
class and no psychotic
eight-year-old was going to ruin it.
Paulie felt Mrs.
Haberstam’s hands shaking him and shaking and yelling and more shaking and...
wake up now. Stop it, Mister! You
hear me? Right now, Mister.”
wrong?,” the old guy asked.
Paulie looked at
the old man, shook his head and sniffed.
“Nah. Just reminiscing a little.”
“Best to keep that
for inside. Cold as a witch’s tits out
here, boy. Why’d you stop anyway?
I motioned for you to keep goin.’ Don’t need anyone
out here with me and
Fella. You go on about your business
now. I don’t need no one hangin’
around. Jus’ wanna bury my dog.”
Paulie noticed a tear on the old guy’s cheek. The old man looked
away, embarrassed by his
affection for his animal.
and his body broke out in a furious sweat.
Paulie took off his coat and dropped it on the ground next to Fella.
“Looks like a
shepherd mix, no?”
doin’? Wanna freeze to death? Yeah,
he’s a mutt. But mostly shepherd, or coyote for that
matter. Not really sure.”
Paulie put one
hand under the dog’s head and his other hand stroked Fella’s belly.
doesn’t seem to be hurt too badly.” He gazed up at the dog’s
master. “Let’s see if we can fix him.”
The old guy
snorted in disdain. “Buddy, I appreciate
the sentiment. His skull’s a bloody
mess. He’s deader than a rock.
Don’t fuck with my head.”
Paul Wilson was
shaking like an epileptic on crystal meth.
His arms shook as he gripped the dog so tightly that clumps of fur came
loose in his fists. The heat ascended
his spine in a slow, agonizing spiral, twisting and turning its way up,
radiating out from him in great undulations, from his hands, from the top of
his head. Sweat poured down his
forehead, filling his eyes and making the world a watery blur.
“Hey mister, you
okay?” The old man stared at Paulie,
shifting his feet and looking around to see if maybe someone was watching. “Mister?
Hey Buddy. What’s wrong
with...” Paulie turned and glared at
him. His face was glowing, otherworldly.
It reminded him of the look on the face of a
soldier he knew in Vietnam just after he saw his buddy’s head torn off by a
The old guy
stepped back a few paces.
The dog snapped
its head up and whined through its bloody muzzle. Blood bubbled from its nose
saliva oozed from its jaws. He jerked
upright and fell on his side, scrabbling on the tarmac, trying to stand on two
mashed legs, the pain forced agonized yelps from his slobbering jaws he
collapsed to the pavement.
Steam rose from
Paulie’s body, like thick smoke from a grass fire, distorting the air around
him into a shimmering mirage.
What the fuck are you...”
The dog yowled and
pushed himself up again, this time managing to get to a sitting position. Paulie
yelled in unison with the hound’s
baying and they both caught a pink shower as the dog barked, yelped and growled
his way upright, fighting the pain and the blood and the cold. Paulie’s
grip never loosened. The heat inside him built to a smoldering
crescendo. Every last bit of it had to go into the dog, or he knew he wouldn’t
sleep for days. The old man looked at the dog and his jaw went slack. It looked
like a scene from The Exorcist
and his dog was Linda Blair. Paulie’s
arms throbbed with the weight of the mutt.
He held Fella upright and bolts of pain coursed through his arms as if
he‘d grabbed a live wire with wet hands.
The dog’s spine was twisting and cracking, sounding like a bag of
popcorn in a microwave, its head violently swinging from side-to-side, eyes
rolled up showing the whites.
The old man
thought to get a weapon, to kill his Fella, his dog. Something to bring this
horror show to an abrupt
Then the dog
jerked erect, stood up and shook off violently.
Paulie and the old man were showered with a gooey spray of half-frozen
blood and saliva. Paulie let his hands
drop to his sides as he stood up, panting like a long distance runner, plumes
of steam sprayed from his gaping mouth.
The old man looked
at Paulie, and then looked at his dog.
“He’ll need lots
of rest and water. He’s lost a lot of
blood. Pretty strong little fella,
though.” Paulie reached down and rubbed
the dog’s bloody muzzle. The mutt’s tail
began to wag.
The old man stared
at Paulie as if at a leper. He looked at
his dog, who now bounded over the stone wall to the front door of his
house. He barked a few times, and then
ran back to his master’s side, tail wagging furiously, impatiently stamping his
The old man looked
at Paulie again.
don’t know who or what you are, or how you
did this, or what fuckin’ planet you’re from, but that was just fuckin’
amazing. Anything I can ever do for you,
if it’s within my means, I’ll do it as long as I’m still breathin’ God’s clean
air.” He knelt down to accept the
slobbering kisses his best friend began to cover him with. The dog jumped up
and put his two front paws
on his master‘s shoulders. “All right,
all right, Fella. Let’s git you in and
git you cleaned up a bit.”
“Remember, lots of
rest and water. Maybe some well-cooked
hamburger, too.” Paulie watched the dog
follow the old guy into his front door, the man mumbling baby-talk to his resurrected
pooch. The man stopped after the dog ran into the house, turned and looked at
Paulie. A single tear coursed down the
side of the man’s nose.
need, ever. You just knock on my
door.” He sniffled, nodded slowly, and
closed the door. Paulie could hear the
dog barking inside the house.
“How ‘bout keepin’
your mouth shut.” Paulie stood in the
road, looking down at the small puddle of blood at his feet. He wiped his hands
on his shirt, picked up
his coat, and got back in the car. He
turned the key and the engine started.
He flipped the heater off, and opened his window and took off his bloody
shirt. He stared ahead and thought of
the old man’s offer. But what could the
old guy do for him? He lit another
cigarette, stared out the windshield at the dark road
ahead of him.
He heard the old man screaming as the dog
tore into him. Paulie wondered how long it would take; after all, the old guy
was pretty feeble. The mutt should finish him off pretty quick.
Must’ve crossed some wires in his head. But
you’d never be able to keep quiet about it anyway.”
After a few
minutes, he turned the car around and drove home.
|Art by W. Jack Savage © 2014
TODAY IS LOST IN YESTERDAY
Raymond A. Valent
was there, just out of his sight.
The fresh-cut grass smelled sweet and green in the afternoon sun, and young Bobby
Thompson sat high in the seat of his John Deere. The tractor pulled its circular blades
that plowed the rich, dark soil into deep, even rows. The corn
would be planted soon, and about the time the plants were up to his belt, high school would
be over forever. To Bobby, his eighteenth birthday meant freedom. Then thoughts of college
would swarm into his head, crowding out those of farming, football, racing and girls.
maybe not girls.
Bobby stood up on the tractor, careful to keep his hands on the wheel, and gazed
around the field. In whatever direction he looked, there was farmland. He held
the wheel, kept one eye on the row to his left, and sucked in a deep breath of
that sweet air, filled with pollen and that curious ozone smell your skin took
on when the sun beat down on it. There was the rich, heavy smell of manure,
always manure, combined with the smell of freshly turned earth, topped off with cut grass
and an occasional whiff of the ’Deere’s diesel exhaust. He threw his head back
and took in another lungful of that magnificent tossed salad of aromas. The rumble of the
tractor and the incessant chirping, whistling song of the swallows that dive-bombed him,
trying to get as close as they could without committing suicide, rang in his ears. Everything
was grand in that magnificent, eighteen year old life he was living. Everything was wonderful;
the air, the sun, the dirt, the farm, his parents and siblings, and himself. It was nineteen fifty-five, and he stood up
on that tractor like he was on top of the world. The smile on his face was
angelic. He saw the Johnson farm across the dirt road to his left. He imagined Margi out
in the front yard, and he studied the way she walked. Her posture
always mesmerized him. He wondered how someone with such an erect,
athletic body could not be an athlete. It wasn’t fair how some had to work for a
body like that and she was just born that way.
He looked back at the
row to his left and then glanced directly ahead to see how much room he had before the
road came up on him and he’d have to turn around.
That’s when he saw it.
He cut the wheel sharply
to the right and almost ditched it. If he did, the tractor would bog down in the soft earth
and he’d have to solicit the neighbors to help get it out. Nothing would hide his
embarrassment then. He’d have to endure
an entire summer, three months of ribbing.
“Neva woulda got
that cawn planted if t’werent fer us gettin’ that tractuh outtuh thayah,”
old Mr. Neville would say in his New England accent. No one was sure if he was from New
England or if he just like affecting the accent. Sometimes he spoke like he was British,
He almost lost it, but managed to keep the machine on a somewhat straight path,
albeit not a planting row. He’d have to do the end of that one over again.
tractor came to a stop and Bobby sat down hard on the unpadded seat, put it in neutral,
depressed the brake and locked it. He turned off the ignition, stepped down off the machine
and stood looking out at the dirt road not a hundred and fifty feet from where he stopped.
the hell is that?” he whispered.
He began to walk slowly, very slowly, towards the road. From where he was he saw
only the top of the thing. The rest of it was hidden by the tall roadside
grass, swaying gently in the breeze. Waves of heat were radiating from its
black surface in the direct midday sun. The image took on a dreamy, hallucinogenic
quality, and Bobby began to feel a little light-headed, as if he’d seen the thing
before. He slowed down his pace, stared at it. He shook his head slowly.
was black, shiny, like painted metal. He’d heard about the UFO things buzzing
the White House, but hell, this was nineteen fifty-five. There were no such things as
aliens and even if there were, why would they be on his family’s farm? Shouldn’t
they be back in Washington or Moscow? As he got closer, he saw windows. Two. One directly
behind the other. Glass, he thought. But they were dark, like smoked glass or some
kind of stained glass, but not the kind you see in church. He couldn’t see into it,
whatever it was. Then there were two more big windows. One in front and one in back. The entire upper part that was visible to him
was glass, except for the roof, and that looked like it had some kind of
windows in it too. Fear started to creep up on Bobby and he slowed his pace
He made his way over to the right, so he could get in the road behind (or in
front?) of it so he could see the whole object without the grass blocking his
view. He made a wide detour in the field and stepped over the small fence and
onto the road. He stared at it. There was a white rectangle with numbers and
letters on it. Below this were two round objects with extremely shiny metallic centers,
spaced evenly apart. It had what looked like lights in various spots. There was a symbol,
writing, a word, a long word in shiny silver or chrome to the right of the white triangle.
squatted, bent forward and squinted hard to see if he could read it.
was a car.
A car unlike any he’d ever seen. It had no fins, and its edges were rounded,
not sharp like all the modern cars were. He looked again at the rectangle with the
numbers and letters on it. It was a license plate. A government license plate.
was embarrassed by his fear. He stood and swiftly walked up to the car, false bravado
tinged his voice.
“This ve-HICLE is on our property. Whoever’s car this is needs to move
There was a rustling of leaves behind
one of the oaks that lined the roadside.
Bobby bristled with fear again and overcompensated in his voice. He was
“This your car, Mister?” he yelled to the tree.
behind the oak tree stepped a smallish man in a black suit with a very thin black
tie worn against a dazzlingly white buttoned down collared shirt. e fidgeted
with the zipper to his trousers.
“Sorry. Had to
stop to take a piss. This your farm?”
“Yeah. I don’t know where you’re from, but around here we don’t
just stop to piss on private property.”
“I figured you
owned the land, not the roads runnin’ through it. The government owns them, right?
So I guess I just pissed on the government, huh?”
“You a communist?” Bobby asked.
Are you Bobby Thompson?”
Bobby jerked involuntarily, looked at the ground. “Who’s askin’?”
am. Came all the way out here from Washington, D.C. that is, to see if we could
“We? I only see you.” Then the passenger door opened and Bobby took
a step back as another man came out of the car and stood still, leaned against the opened
The man with the bladder problem walked up to Bobby and extended his hand to him.
Bobby ignored it. The man wiped his hand on his pant leg and said, “Yeah. Sorry,
He strode over to the larger man and reached into the passenger seat for a pre-moistened
anti-bacterial wipe. Bobby stared at him. He cleaned his hands and threw the
balled up wipe into the back seat.
“Excuse my friend here. He’s just so talkative and friendly. You just
can’t get him to shut up.”
The larger man nodded
“’Lo, Bob,” he said.
“So, I guess we
found you, huh?” the small one said.
“What do you want? Did I get accepted into another college?”
No, nothing like that.” tall man said.
“Then what? And is that a car?”
don’t say Cadillac for nuthin,’” short man said. “And as far as I know,
Cadillac don’t make nuthin’ but cars.”
seen a car like that, Cadillac or not. Where’d you get it?” Bobby
stroked the chrome window frames and pushed on the windows,
looking at his fingerprints on the glass.
“Uh, it’s a, uh…” the small man looked at the silent taller
“It’s for a movie. A man in Hollywood designed it and we were making
sure it ran okay for him,” the big man said. “Want to go for a ride, Bob?”
it’s like for a sci-fi flick, and the engine’s normal, just the body is,
well, I guess you’d call it futuristic,”
the small man said.
“Go for a ride? I don’t know either of you gentlemen, and why do you
know my name and why would government men be looking for me? And if this is a fake car
for a movie, why would it say Cadillac?”
The small man with the
urinary problem looked at the bigger man and shrugged.
“Smart kid,” he said.
we’re here,” tall man glared at short man. “Cadillac is paying the producer
of the movie to put its name on the super car of the future to help increase sales.
Anything else you’d like to know?”
“What’s the movie called and who’s starring in it?”
Nine From Outer Space and Ronald Reagan will be the male lead.”
Tall man picked out whatever he could remember
of movies and actors of the fifties, and prayed it made sense.
“Sounds like a piece of crap.”
sure it will be.”
“Anything with Ronald Reagan in it is crap.”
couldn’t agree more,” tall man said.
“Can I drive?”
asked if I wanted to go for a ride. You don’t seem dangerous or anything, so if
I go for a ride, can I drive?”
“It’s an automatic. Can you handle an automatic transmission?”
you can, I can. You guys can’t decide if you’re from Hollywood or the
government, so I guess if a couple of confused guys like you can handle her, I can.”
Bobby was already pulling
at the edge of the driver’s side door trying to take his place behind the wheel.
“Let me help you,” tall man said, and punched a series of numbers into
a panel on the door and it popped open.
“Sure you still
want to drive?”
Bobby stared at the luminescent dials, numbers everywhere, red, green, blue, colors
everywhere. “Oh hell yeah!” Bobby slid in behind the wheel. “Well?” He stared at tall man, drummed his fingers on
the steering wheel. The tall man walked around to the passenger side and sat
down. Small man took his place in the
“Keep it below seventy. These roads are dangerous and you don’t know
the car,” tall man said.
“Yeah. This ain’t
no TIE Fighter,” small man offered.
“TIE Fighter?” Bobby asked.
“Star Wars reference.
Never seen that movie? Been livin’
in a cave?” small man said.
“It’s nineteen fifty-five,” tall man said and frowned.
tall man put on his seat belt, he looked at Bobby. “Buckle up,”
asked for the key.
“Foot on the brake,
press the button on the dash,” tall man smiled.
Bobby pressed the button, and the engine fired. He’d never heard an engine
like that before. He could barely hear it at all. He looked at his passengers and
was a very big smile.
Bobby took the curves at more than seventy, and although the speedometer indicated
the speed, he couldn’t sense it the way in his pickup and his Olds.
down, Bob,” the tall one said.
“What are you guys anyway? You don’t seem like actors. You certainly
don’t act like government agents. No dark sunglasses. Everyone knows the FBI wears
“Who said we were FBI? I didn’t!” the short one said.
we have some music? Does this thing have a radio?”
“Yes it does. But
I don’t know what kind of reception it might get,” The
taller one looked at the shorter one.
“Maybe some recorded
music might be better,” tall man said.
“How would we do that? You have a tape recorder in the trunk?”
Just press this button and it will play.”
“Are you crazy? What…”
Bobby looked at tall man.
“I told you it
was the sci-fi car.”
“Got any Chuck Berry?”
“As a matter of
fact…” Tall Man pulled out a CD and pushed it into the player. He didn’t
have it on digital yet, but he knew the kid would think it was part of the Hollywood effect.
It was a CD he burned himself. Chuck Berry followed by Night Train, Green Onions and then
he forgot what was after that. They drove for quite a while, out past cow pastures, a large
lake, other farms. And then something unexpected came out of the speakers. A high pitched
shrieking sound. A sound Bobby had never heard before. The two men in dark suits were startled
to hear it, and the tall man reached over to turn it off, but Bobby blocked his
“What the heck is that?”
would you have a recording of that?”
Bobby asked. Then a male voice said, over the shrieking females; “We’d like to do a song called Dizzy Miss Lizzy.”
shrieking grew to a fever pitch, a veritable hysterical outbreak. Bobby
couldn’t imagine the crowd size.
man turned it off.
“That’s the Beatles. A rock band. They were, uh, created for the movie.”
“Pull over, Bobby. We need to talk.”
swerved to the right and hit the brakes. The car rolled to a stop on the unpaved
road and kicked up quite a dust cloud. Bobby smiled from ear to ear.
“This is one helluva
Tall man reached out and hit play. John Lennon was belting out Dizzy Miss Lizzie
live at the Hollywood Bowl and Bobby was mesmerized. The crowd was a hysterical
shrieking mob. But the song is what interested him. And
Lennon’s screaming. He was entranced.
“Never heard anything
like that, have you Bob?’ tall man asked.
“No. That’s a real band. A serious band, not a Hollywood creation. That’s a real song he’s singin’
too. I think you guys need to explain something to me.” Short man looked at tall
do you know when that song was recorded?” Tall man asked. Bobby
shook his head. “In nineteen sixty-five. The man
singing it was shot dead in nineteen-eighty. They were the biggest band ever. Hear those
people screaming? No band or political leader or anything or anyone would ever create that
kind of hysteria again. Never”
Bobby stared at him, turned to short man. “Is he nuts, or are you on his side?”
Short man pulled out another CD and handed it to Bobby. He perused the artwork, a
Medusa-like woman with snakes for hair in an olive drab setting, suggesting
Satanic overtones. “Ever see anything like that?”
ELP. A band from the decade after the Beatles. Look at the fine print.”
was an Emerson, Lake and Palmer CD. Brain Salad Surgery. He scanned the cover and opened
it. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, 1973.
“This is a joke, right?”
man took it from him and put it in the slot, selected the second track. He looked
“Tocatta,” he said.
Out of the speakers flowed
one of the most mind-bending pieces of music from the acid generation. Carl Palmer thrashing
classical piano music into electronic rock percussion madness.
never heard anything like that. If you’re not fulla shit and you’re from the
future, what do you want with me?”
“Hard to explain. You are going to major in physics, correct?”
“You are going to be interrupted. See, there’s something you’ve
been asking yourself for a long time, and that question is a dangerous one, and some people,
and some things that aren’t people, don’t want you to ask that question
because they’re not sure they want to know the answer. The answer is not
something you’ll invent, but you’ll lay the theoretical groundwork for someone
else to. And we need it to be invented.”
“In the future?”
“In the future.”
you’re both fulla shit.” Bobby turned
the CD over in his hands and saw Jerusalem. The author was William
They make songs out of five-hundred year old poems?
you disturb the past to change the future, you’re throwing a rock into a pond
and the ripples go on ad infinitum. You
have no idea what effect they’ll eventually have.” Bobby was gone. Doctor
Thompson had replaced him.
“Smart kid,” short man said.
Tall man looked at him and frowned.
the effects and…”
“There’s no way to do…” Tall man grabbed Bobby’s arm,
put a finger to his lips and shushed him.
the probable effects, and decided the risks are worth taking, considering the possibility
for disaster if we don’t.” Tall man stared at Bobby, waited.
do you want from me?”
“We want you to come back with us. To your future, our present. After you get your degree, there will be a
concerted effort to kill you before you lay the groundwork for our project. Those
who oppose us can see into the past as well as anyone and they mean to stop you. It’s
sort of like if the peace freaks of the future could kill Einstein to prevent World War
III and nuclear annihilation, would it be worth it? They believe so, just as those who
oppose us believe it will be worth it to kill you before you can do something that will
keep the world intact, not destroy it.”
if they killed Einstein, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would never have happened and
World War II might still be going on.” Tall man stared at Bobby.
Real smart kid,
short man thought
“So we’re the good guys?” Bobby asked him.
“How do I know that for sure?”
man looked at short man. Then looked at
“If we were the bad guys, you’d be dead by now.”
put the CD back in the player and hit play, asked Tall man to play the Jerusalem
“No. We’ll be back. You need to decide if you will go. It’s free
will, no coercion. We’ll be back after you’re Doctor Thompson.”
be back in seven years?”
“Overconfident, aren’t you? No. Ten years to you. About a day to us. We need you at full brain power. But you need
to think it out. That’s why we’re here now. To give you time to think. We’ll
see you in ten years, Bob. And one
thing; try to keep the personal attachments to a minimum. You’re supposed to
die in ten years, but we’ll grab you just before they get to you. Either way, you’re leaving, if you agree. Try
to make it as easy as possible.”
“Well, I guess I’ll see you in ten years, then.”
Give me the CD, there’s no way to play it here.”
“Hey guys, tell
me something that’s gonna happen in the next fifteen years. Just so I know it’s
all true. Something big.”
Tall man looked at him. Short man was already pushing Bobby out of the driver’s
“You would need to not do anything about any of it. You understand that, right?”
“Not that anyone would believe you. You’ll just be a wacky college kid
making predictions. You might impress a girl or two with it, though.” Tall man thought
for a minute, got out of the car, kicked some gravel around with his foot, and
looked up at Bobby.
“In nineteen sixty-two the U.S. and Soviet Union will have a showdown over
nuclear missiles in Cuba and the world will teeter on the brink of war. It will end
successfully and war will be averted. Both the U.S. president and Soviet
premier will be very quickly taken out of power. The U.S. president will be
shot dead in Dallas, Texas. You’re not going to believe the big one, though.”
“In nineteen sixty-nine, U.S. astronauts will walk on the moon.”
jaw dropped, and short man started the engine and slammed the door. Tall man
got in, and Bobby stood on the side of the road as the car pulled away and threw gravel
and dirt all over him. He thought of his tractor and how much time had passed. How was
he going to explain this to his father? How was he going to plow the rest of the field?
A pickup passed going the other direction and Bobby stuck his thumb out. The truck stopped
and Bobby hopped in.
“You ever hear of the Beedles?” he asked the driver.
freakin’ bugs. Ate the shit outta my damned roses. Wife’s furious. Damned
Bobby slumped in the seat and pondered the events of the afternoon. The music he heard was certainly futuristic,
if not otherworldly. The events were almost unbelievable. Men on the moon? Russian
missiles in Cuba? The truck hit every
bump and the primitive suspension was rough on his rear. Certainly nothing like the
vehicle he’d just vacated. That thing was no movie car. It was a serious machine,
He wasn’t totally convinced yet, but he was on his way.
two men in black suits appeared in the back of the pickup just as Bobby looked in
the rearview mirror.
“Back already?” he asked.
the hell did they come from?” the driver asked. “Did they get in with you?”
superiors informed us that you apparently already had a visit with some other
gentlemen, which leaves you available to the other side. Sorry Bob.”
realized this wasn’t the same pair as earlier.
“The other two guys told me I had ten years.”
As a result of them speaking with you, you wrote your autobiography, telling
the reader exactly when you were visited by the other two, as you call them. We simply
went back just after their visit with you to change things the way we want them to be.”
they just come back an hour before this visit and change things again?”
“No. This changes the future so you’re no longer a part of it, and your
theories never come into being. This ends it.”
you’re abducting me?”
“Not quite,” the one immediately behind him said.
Thompson never heard the shot that tore open his skull and ended his short life.
jury didn’t believe the driver’s story.
|Art by Steve Cartwright © 2015
'THE KID' IS BACK
Raymond A. Valent
time it happened, it startled him. He
awoke, as if from an impossibly long sleep.
He shook his head to try and orient himself. He
stood up, stretched. Then he saw the table.
He walked slowly toward it. Somehow,
he knew what he was supposed to do.
The guns were bigger
than he'd anticipated. As he reached out
to grasp the polished wood handle of the dull metallic weapons, he stared at his right
hand. His eyes opened wide. He brought it up to his face, turned it around to look at the palm.
His brow wrinkled, and he jerked his left hand up next to his right. He stared at both hands for what seemed a long time. He grabbed frantically at his right sleeve
and pushed it up his arm to the elbow.
and arms were massive.
He turned his hands over
a few times, staring at them and his forearms. The muscles stood
out clearly. The veins that fed them were a network
of highways, enriching them with oxygen.
up the guns. They were like toys in his
guys that used these Colts a hundred and fifty years ago must've been awfully powerful
The Kid looked down at his feet. The
holsters were halfway down his thighs, one on each side.
He spun the guns around, twirled them backwards and slid them into the
holsters, and walked out the door. His
feet made a jangling, metallic sound with each step.
was in the street, walking aimlessly down the dark sidewalk, past all the stores
and shops. It was late.
Everything was closed, except for a bar across the
street. The neon sign said The Grasshopper,
but the g and r were burned out.
You gotta be a real
cheapskate not to fix a sign like that, unless it's code.
some muffled sound coming from somewhere near The asshopper, nothing he could
distinguish. He slowly crossed the road
between the streetlights, cocked his head and listened.
There was an alley adjacent to the bar. His
legs took him there. No thought, no decision, no weighing of facts was involved. It happened to him.
He walked steadily, with a firm, determined gait.
As he stepped up onto the sidewalk, he caught a glimpse of himself in a storefront
window. He looked just like he thought he
would. Old dusty beige trousers, boots with
spurs. Black oversize long sleeve shirt
with a red bandana around his neck in case he needed to hide his identity. And the guns. Always the guns. But there would be no more bank
robberies, no more train robberies, no more dead lawmen.
He remembered a time when he was supposed to hang the next day and he shot his two
guards and escaped.
long time ago.
squealing voice of a woman startled him. He
followed the sound into the alley and stared down its length to a man holding a knife up
to a woman's throat. His left hand held
her arms behind her back, and his right held the blade.
The man kept telling her if she screamed, he'd kill her.
stared at him. "Yoo hoo..."
The guy looked up and stared at the Kid and started to laugh.
the hell are you supposed to be? Clint
Eastwood? Get the fuck outta here before
I behead this chick," he giggled a
bit at the end.
"Clint? No. Name's McCarty. Henry McCarty Junior."
I give a shit? Get the fuck outta here
before something happens you'll regret," the creep said.
I killed a lot of men back when. Some
who deserved it, most of 'em didn't. I'm
here to make amends, payback for those innocents I murdered.
Maybe you heard of me. William Antrim,
William Bonney? Ring a bell?"
got five seconds to get out of here or she dies, and you go next."
"Apparently there's this stuff called karma.
Eye for an eye and all that jazz. So
if I kill someone who deserves to die for every innocent I murdered back then, I don't
have to go to hell. Killin's all I know. Sounded like a good deal to me, so I took
"Time's up..." the creep
Left disables, right kills. Left
disables, right kills. The Kid heard
in the back of his mind.
tensed up, and William Bonney pulled both guns.
He was a rifle and single pistol man.
Drawing two guns was different.
why my arms are so big.
drew. The left gun came up in his extended
arm and fired. The creep's left elbow exploded
in a pink cloud of blood and bone fragments. The creep gasped, his opened mouth sucking
air. The forty-four caliber slug might as
well have been a grenade. The creep’s
arm fell off at the elbow, hitting the pavement like a discarded piece of old meat. The knife clanked harmlessly on the
ground. Bonney's right hand pulled the
trigger, the blast from the ancient weapon echoed off the walls of the alley
and the slug entered the creep's opened mouth and took the back of his head
off. He fell straight backwards, dead.
William twirled his guns
a little for effect, and slid them into their holsters. The
woman stood staring, mouth agape, unable to piece together what just
"I'd get home right quick ma'am. No
one's ever gonna believe what just happened here."
did just happen here?"
The Kid just saved your life, which makes up for Deputy George Hinderman. One
down, six to go."
you're dead, over a hundred...and fifty years I think."
to be, got a job to finish now."
stared at the Kid, slowly lifted her arm and pointed behind him.
"Is that yours?" she asked.
turned and standing behind him was his horse, shifting its weight impatiently. He walked up to it, put his foot in the stirrup
and swung himself into the saddle.
He stared at her for
a moment. She stood frozen, staring.
want a ride?" he asked.
She glanced down at the one-armed dead man, and looked up at the Kid. After a second or two, she began to walk slowly toward the Kid and
|Art by Ann Marie Rhiel © 2017
by Ray Valent
Steven Broshears never accepted his wife's death. He was lost in a miasma of
hallucination, not sure why his imaginary spouse could not respond to him. His frustration
began to build into full fledged hallucination.
Steven sat in the old aluminum lawn
chair, the metal frame pitted and discolored from decades of barbeques and dozens
of outdoor family events.
white wooden trellis archway surrounded Steven with climbing vines of morning glories and
roses. His small garden held huge sunflowers bent over from the weight of their seed heads,
which Steven tried to prop up with sticks and kite string. A thick carpet of
pansies covered the ground, leaving a narrow path from the yard to his seat in
the garden. In this floral onslaught, off to his right, stood three or four
cherry tomato plants, easily within reach from his chair, which he picked and popped
into his mouth every so often.
Steven's wife, Eileen, had been cremated eleven
months and three days before. Steven mixed
her ashes in the soil in his garden. She
was literally fertilizer. He felt comfortable here, but he didn't know why. He could not
recall her passing, or what he had done with her remains. He just knew he felt close to
her here in his garden.
Steven longed to be with Eileen again. His life had become a shambles. He lost
his job, his friends and some say, his mind.
"Sometimes I think about bad things, honey."
was quiet today.
was sitting at his dining room table staring at the plate of baked salmon and fresh steamed
asparagus on the plate at the end of the table opposite him.
His own plate was empty. He had finished
eating ten minutes ago.
stood and walked around the table to his wife’s seat, pulled back her chair and picked
up the plate of cold food.
tomorrow. You never seem hungry anymore, Love.”
Steven walked to the kitchen with
Eileen’s plate, held it over the trash can and stared at the salmon steak, wondered
how long ago that slab of fish was swimming in the Atlantic, free and vibrantly alive.
“Shame,” he said, and scraped the food
into the garbage. He put the plate in the sink and ran some water over it.
and get ready. I’ll draw your bath.”
Steven playfully swatted the air behind
her, not connecting with Eileen’s behind. He frowned. He walked to the kitchen
again, opened a cabinet and took out two wine glasses and placed them on the counter
top. A small smile replaced the frown as he opened the refrigerator and took out the bottle
He poured both glasses three-quarters
full, re-corked the bottle and placed it on the top shelf of the refrigerator
and closed the door.
Steven stared at the two wine glasses on the counter top. He tried everything
he knew to get her to pay attention to him; dinner, wine, poetry. Nothing seemed to move
her. When they first met, she was vivacious, sensual, full of the wonderment of new love.
Lately, she was quiet, reserved
and almost devout in her avoidance of him and any of his attempts at romance.
the salmon, free in the infinite ocean. Now, you’re like the salmon steak; dead,
lifeless on the plate, waiting to be consumed or discarded,” he said. He picked up
the glasses and started up the stairs to the bathroom. Eileen would be undressing in their
bedroom, and he might catch a glimpse of her if she left the door ajar. But as
he passed the bedroom, the door was closed, just as he left it.
He placed the glasses down and sat on
the edge of the tub, closed the drain and turned on the water. As the tub filled,
he stood in front of the mirror and opened the medicine cabinet. The usual bottles of mouthwash,
aspirin, band-aids, and assorted over-the-counter nonsense filled the thin glass shelves.
Steve’s eye caught sight of a prescription bottle in the upper right-hand corner
of the cabinet, a bottle of pain killers he was prescribed over a year ago for a recurring
“Oxycontin,” he mouthed the word softly.
He took the bottle and stuffed it into a
pants pocket, downed one of the glasses of wine, turned off the tub and started
to walk downstairs to the kitchen with the empty wine glass.
“Be up in a minute Hon. Take your time. The tub’s
ready for you.”
Steven stopped halfway down the stairs
and fixated on a photo of Eileen on horseback that was framed on the wall. How
beautiful she was then. How full of life.
What had happened to her? To him? He spent all his time trying to engage with
her and she shunned him, ignored him, as if he wasn’t there. As if SHE wasn't there,
He continued down the stairs
to the kitchen.
“Can’t live like this. Can’t, WON’T be ignored any longer.”
Steven counted the pills that were left
in the bottle: eighteen. More than enough.
He placed them in a cup and began to grind them into a powder with
the back of a spoon until they were fine like sugar. He poured that into the wine glass
and filled it three-quarters of the way with chardonnay.
He turned and began to ascend the stairs
to the bathroom, glass of wine in hand. He clenched his free hand into a fist,
a vein in his forehead began to throb.
“Done with begging. Can’t keep this up.”
Steven saw Eileen in the tub, submerged
to her neck in bubbles, which hid her nakedness from him. Steven placed the
wineglass on the vanity, clenched and unclenched his fists, and stared at Eileen’s
head. He grabbed the glass that was already there and downed it, wiped his mouth on his
sleeve, and stared at her.
can’t you look at me? Why don’t you speak to me? I’ve done everything
for you and you act like I’m not even here!”
Eileen stared straight ahead, apparently deaf to Steven’s words.
Steven clenched his jaw, opened his fists and lunged
at her. He went for her throat, meaning to hold her head under the water, but his hands
went through the air and into the water and came to rest at the bottom. He found himself
kneeling on the tiled floor, his hands resting on the bottom of the tub, the spell broken,
his imaginary Eileen vanished.
Steven was frozen for a moment, unsure what to do. He swept his
right arm through the entire bath, searching the water: nothing.
Steven wrinkled his brow, cocked his
head to one side.
stood then, grabbed a towel and dried his arms.
His head was beginning to feel the
effects of the wine, so he sat on the toilet lid and tried to think. He closed his
eyes and realized what he had just attempted to do, and a tear rolled down his cheek.
Then he recalled the coffin being
lowered, the flowers, the sobbing insincere well-wishers at the wake. The
friends who stopped visiting, stopped calling. The months of loneliness with Eileen, trying
to get a response from…
someone who was never there.”
He was ashamed. Steven stared at the glass
with the powder in it for a long time.
behind him came a familiar whisper. He turned, and there stood his Eileen, arm outstretched,
beckoning him to hand her a glass of wine.
Steven picked up a glass and turned to give it to...no
one. Just an empty bathroom wall. He stared at the wall with the glass in his hand. Reality
eluded him for months. Now it was all too clear.
Then after what seemed like forever, he
stood up, stripped off his clothes, and drank the last glass of wine, the one
with the drug in it. Enough to kill Eileen.
“You won’t need it,” he said. "See you soon, Honey."
After a minute, Steven stepped into the
bath tub, sunk down to his neck, closed his eyes and waited.
Ray Valent has about thirty
published stories and is currently travelling the country with the love of his life in
search of inspiration.
He likes to write stories about the intrusion of the mysterious into
everyday mundanity. (Is that a word?)
|Art by Ann Marie Rhiel © 2017