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Paul Heatley
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thedancers.jpg
Art by Lee Kuruganti 2015

The Dancers

 

By

 

Paul Heatley

 

Not long out of prison and there he goes, ski mask on, gloves on, baseball bat down by his side like he’s itching to go back. He’s parked outside the building where Cherry lives, ‘cept Cherry’s a stage name, down at the club where she swings naked round the pole. She’s about nineteen maybe, though she’s telling everyone she’s twenty-two. Got the tight little body of a dancer and still sportin the tits God gave her, not like the other girls, most of whom’ve taken a trip under the surgeon’s knife.

          He thinks of Jazz, those two telltale scars on the underside where they slid the silicone in to pump her up. They wouldn’t be noticeable if it weren’t for them being so pale, the rest of her skin tanned almost orange the way it is with cream squeezed out a tube.

          Jazz didn’t make much noise when he was on top of her. Kinda just lay there, stared off into a corner of the ceiling, face blank. They’d shared cigarettes at the back door of the club, and she’d wear that same look on her face, staring out across the car park, into the bushes on the other side of the fence. He’d ask her what she was thinking about and she’d say Nothin, but he’d keep pushing and after a while she let it all out, slowly, dribs and drabs like a broken tap, he waited one cigarette to the next for another little piece of her story.

          She’s getting older. Her looks are fading. The manager is bringing in younger talent and she’s getting edged out.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, Jazz was the number one attraction, the top earner, the woman all the men and boys paid to see, clamouring over each other for a one-on-one dance in the backroom. Those days are done. Now they want Cherry, a slice of sweet and innocent Cherry pie with her long lean body, blonde hair and blue eyes. The girl next door, that’s what they’re after, not some broad looks like she can’t cut it in porn so she’s turned to the stage and the pole instead.

          She didn’t say all that, not word for word, but he understands. People think he’s dumb, but he understands plenty well enough.

          After that time, that one magical time he offered to give her a lift home ‘cos it’d been snowing, then he invited himself up and she shrugged and said Sure, not giving a shit, after they’d done the thing and he was lying on the bed and she’d gotten up to make herself a drink, he’d said to her “You know who you remind me of?” When she didn’t answer he told her anyway. “My ex-wife. You remind me of her. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re a helluva better looker believe me, and if the two of you were stood here right now I’d go for you every time, but there’s just somethin about you that’s got me thinkin of her.”

          Jazz took a sip of her drink then lit a cigarette. “You sure know how to flatter a girl.”

          “Hey, no, she turned out to be a bitch and everythin, but I meant what I said in the nicest way. Y’know, you can hate a person in the present but you mighta loved them once, and sometimes it’s those little things you loved that get you thinkin.” Like the way she’d lie there and take it, the way Jazz had.

Or the way she’d stand and take it until his fists finally knocked her down, mouth bloodied, eyes blackened, and she’d never say a word. Until the day came she did say a word, and the fucking police turned up at his fucking door.

          “You think you’re gonna hate me one day?”

          “Baby, I doubt it. I don’t wanna do nothin but treat you right.” He gave her his best, most charming smile, but she wasn’t looking. He sat up then, took a cigarette from her pack on the bedside table, lit it and blew rings. “Say, that girl in the club, the one causin you all the trouble – Cherry, right?”

          Jazz breathed out through her nose, mighta been a sigh. “She ain’t causin me the trouble.”

          “That ain’t what you’ve been tellin me.”

          That sound again, another sigh. “It’s not just her. It’s…it’s everythin.”

          “Yeah, but forget about everythin else – this girl Cherry? She’s takin your place at the top, am I right?”

          She turned to him, raised an eyebrow. “The top of what?”

          “In the club – you were marquee, baby! You were the girl until she came along, right? Anyway, just hear me out, okay? All you gotta think is that she’s young, she might decide this ain’t for her, move on to somethin new, you get me? Then you’re gonna be right back where you belong, on top.”

          She looked at him for a long time. “There’s no top. There’s just a pole, and the women that dance round it.”

          He winked. “Got ya.” He took a long draw on the cigarette. “By the way, what’s Cherry’s real name?”

          Anna Oates. Number seven. He doesn’t hit the buzzer cos he knows she won’t let him inside. What he does is, he waits round the corner until someone with a key comes, then he grabs the door an inch before it closes, then hangs around the lobby until he can be sure this resident has gotten to their apartment, locked themselves in and they ain’t gonna catch a glimpse of him. Then he goes up the stairs, goes to number seven, knocks on the door.

          Then he leaves, hurries from the place, and there’s a ringing in his ears from all her screaming, and there’s blood on the bat. He throws it in the trunk of the car, with the ski mask and the gloves, and he drives away fast, clears a few blocks before he pulls over next to a payphone. He catches his breath before he drops a few coins, and he can hear something else now, something breaking through the screams. The cracks, like stepping on dried twigs. Up on the stage, musta been the lighting, her legs looked all muscle, but up close they were real thin, real fragile, and they broke real easy. She ain’t gonna be dancing again for a long damn time, if ever. And shit, missing a few teeth like she is now, she ain’t even gonna be able to get by on her smile. Maybe one of those teeth is still in the bat, he’ll have to check. He bites on his lip, feels an excitement course through him. Her pretty face is all bust up. He’s done good. He’s done real good.

          “Hello?” Jazz sounds tired, like she’s just got back from work, the same weariness Cherry had in her voice when she opened the door, looked him up and down, the mask, the gloves and the bat, and said I think you’ve got the wrong place before she tried to slam the door.

          “Hey baby, it’s me.”

          “Me who?”

          “I get it, pretend like you don’t know – good thinkin. Hey, that thing that needed done? It’s done.”

          “You’ve got the wrong number, buddy.”

          “Sure I do. Hey, I just cut myself a nice big slice of cherry pie. I’m real sorry, but I didn’t leave any for anyone else.”

          There’s silence on the line for a long time. When she speaks again, her voice is real quiet. “Who is this?”

          “It’s your number one fan.”

“What have you done?”

          “I got her for you, baby.” He smiles into the phone. “You’re back on top.”

 

The End







thelizard.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2016

The Lizard

By

Paul Heatley

          The night is cold, but Lizzie does not feel it. Her skin is stone. Her heart is glass. The cigarette draws fire into her lungs.

          There are other girls, but they are not stone. They wrap themselves in scarves and oversized coats, rub their arms and hug themselves. Their hands shake when they try to smoke. Their breath mists from between chattering teeth.

          Lizzie stands in the shadows, watches them. Watches the lorries as they pull in, the overweight drivers that hop down from the cabs and go to the diner, or to the motel to book a room, or stop and talk to the girls.

          She wears heels, and a short skirt that pulls tightly across her buttocks. Her jacket is zipped, but only to her cleavage. Beneath it, she wears nothing but a bra. No one can see her. She is in the shadows.

          Eric grabs her arm harder than he needs to. He and Buck have been watching the drivers as they pull in, have studied their rigs. “That one,” he says. He points.

          Lizzie looks. The driver is not overweight. He is lean, looks like he is not long free of prison. His hair is shaved short and tattoos snake up the back and sides of his neck and down his arms. Two girls are already talking to him, one has short hair and the other has long, both brunettes, both pale-skinned and big-eyed. “He looks mean,” Lizzie says.

          “Sure does,” Buck, her other brother, says. He stands behind Eric.

          “Looks like trouble,” Lizzie says.

          “You scared?” Eric says.

          “Nah, I ain’t scared. Y’all scared?”

          Eric pushes her out of the shadows. “Just go get him.”

          She takes her time walking over, rolls her hips and blows smoke rings. When he sees her, he will want her. All interest in the women before him will be gone. They are haggard, sickly, strung-out. She is not.

          “Hey.”

          The three turn. The three look her up and down. The women scowl. The one with long hair wears denim shorts that don’t entirely cover her crotch. Through the half-light cast by the streetlamps that mark the perimeter of the lot, Lizzie can see pubic hairs poking free like spider legs, as well as the track-marks that pock the insides of her thighs and arms. The short-haired girl has similar scars. She picks at a weeping sore on the inside of her left elbow.

          The driver smiles. His right canine is missing. “Hey.”

          Lizzie smiles, puts a hand on her hip and cocks it, keeps smoking. She takes a long moment before she says anything else. “Y’all orchestrating a threesome?”

          The driver flashes his missing tooth again. “There’s always room for one more.”

          Lizzie makes a show of looking the other two over. She sucks her teeth. “No thanks,” she says. “I don’t need no team-mates.” She walks past them, brushes the long-hair with her shoulder, hears her hiss, but she’s already gone. Her hips roll, her heels click-clack on the wet tarmac.

          She hears the driver follow. He catches her up. “Slow down,” he says.

          “Told you already,” she says. “I ain’t interested in a gangbang.”

          “Then maybe you can dissuade me.”

          She cocks her hip again, blows smoke over his shoulder. His shirt collar is unbuttoned and she sees tattoos on his chest, too. LOVE and HATE are across his knuckles. “How long ago’d you get out?” she says.

          He regards her for a moment, then says “A year.”

          “Figured.”

          “That right?”

          “You ain’t got that hunched look no more, like you think someone’s gonna sneak up on you in the shower to either fight or fuck you. And you’re still lean. Long days drivin that rig hasn’t played hell with your gut yet.”

          He laughs. “How d’you know so much about it?”

          “I been doin this a while.”

          “That so? You’re still a young thing. How old are you, eighteen?”

          “Thereabouts.”

          “When’d you get started in this game, when you was twelve?”

          “Thereabouts.”

          He laughs harder. “Darlin, you still got all your teeth, you ain’t sportin bruises or needle scars, and your hair ain’t fallin out. You didn’t walk the walk and talk the talk, I’d think you started last week. Shit, I’d believe you started today.”

          She drops what is left of the cigarette, crushes it with her heel. “Believe what you want, honey.”

          He bites his lip.

          “What’d you do to get locked up?”

          “Assault.”

          “Did they deserve it?”

          “Everyone does.” He looks round, sees the two hookers he’d originally been talking to still staring them out. “Get outta here,” he says. “I ain’t interested.”

          The girls stink-eye Lizzie, then move on.

          “You got a room?” Lizzie says.

          The driver checks the time. “I ain’t stayin long. But I got the rig.”

          “It big?”

          “Big enough for what I got in mind.”

          He takes her by the hand, and her fingers lace through his. She strokes the letters that spell HATE. They go to his cab and climb inside. Lizzie lies across the seats, opens her legs. The driver sees she does not have underwear and his face lights up.

          “Nice and smooth,” he says, unbuckling his jeans, chewing his lip and running it through the gap where his tooth should be. “That’s how I like it, honey, nice and smooth.”

          When he comes closer Lizzie looks past him, to the mirror. She sees Eric and Buck heading to the back of the lorry. They will break inside, help themselves to the merchandise. Lizzie will keep the driver busy until they are done.

          The driver forces himself in. Lizzie bites her lip, arches her spine, pretends like she feels it, like she enjoys it. She pulls the driver in closer, puts her hand to the back of his head and keeps his face at her neck so he will stop looking at her, so she can stop contorting her face. As he breathes in the smell of her hair, as he thrusts, she watches the mirror. She sees her brothers carry things to the motel room they paid for earlier in the day. She sees them rush back and forth. Occasionally, for the driver’s benefit, she will moan, she will shift beneath him. She waits for her brothers to finish. She waits for everyone to finish.

*

          Afterward, she lights a cigarette and slips back into the shadows. The driver goes to the diner. When he is inside, Lizzie goes to the room.

          Eric and Buck open boxes, inspect their looted cargo. Lizzie lies down on the bed, taps ash into the bedside ashtray, stares at the ceiling.

          “He gone?” Buck says.

          “He’s eating,” Lizzie says.

          “Didn’t ask you to join him?” She can hear the grin in his voice.

          “He did.”

          “One day I reckon you’ll take up one of these boys on their offer to run away.”

          “He didn’t offer.”

          “He’s one of the few.”

          “Leave her alone,” Eric says.

          “Just askin how she’s doin,” Buck says.

          “Well don’t. Let her rest.”

          “Ain’t sure I would call what she’s been doin work.”

          Eric clears his throat. “I ain’t gonna tell you again.”

          Lizzie glances at them, sees what is in the boxes they took. Microwave ovens. Eric puts down the one he has been inspecting. Her brothers are staring hard at each other. They are both older than she is, and Eric is the oldest. They are equally broad, equally muscled.

          Buck grins. “Relax, Eric. You’re so tightly wound, you’re liable to give yourself a heart attack.” He turns to Lizzie. “Why don’t you get yourself a shower. You ain’t gonna get a chance come the mornin.”

          Lizzie stares at the ceiling, watches the smoke that passes her lips as it makes its way up there.

          “You listenin to me?”

          There is a knock at the door. A hard knock. Her brothers fall silent, look at each other.

          There is another knock, harder and faster. The door rattles in its frame.

          “He see you come this way?” Eric says.

          “No,” Lizzie says.

          “You sure?”

          “Yes.”

          Buck starts carrying boxes into the bathroom. Eric helps him. The person outside knocks again, calls “Open it up! I know you in there, bitch!” It is a man’s voice, but it is not the driver’s voice.

          Eric pauses with a box, looks at his sister. He puts the box down then goes to the door, stands behind it. He motions for Lizzie to answer.

          She does not recognise the man, but she knows the two women behind him, one with long hair and one with short. The man wears a wifebeater stained with egg yolk, and there is more drying yolk at the corners of his mouth. He sucks on his teeth and Lizzie guesses he was eating when his girls went to get him. She guesses he’s their pimp.

          He steps into the room without an invite, jabs a stubby finger into Lizzie’s face. “You workin?” he says. He is head and shoulders shorter than Lizzie. “This is my lot, girl. You don’t just come on up in here and look to take away my muthafuckin bidness, you unnerstan?” The two women follow him in. “Gimme the money, bitch. That’s my money, you hear that? Gimme that fuckin money or I’m gonna cut your face up real pretty.” He produces a switchblade from the pocket of his sweats, waves it in front of her face.

          Eric comes up behind him, grabs the switchblade from his hand and throws it to one side, then clamps on a chokehold. Buck leaves the bathroom, plants punches into the pimp’s ample gut. After a few hard shots he starts to throw up. The two women squeal, hold each other. Eric and Buck take the pimp to the ground, stomp him. Teeth fly from his mouth, past busted lips. His nose is crushed. One eye closes completely while an eyebrow tears, is almost scraped from his face by a rough sole.

          The two women look at Lizzie, still holding each other. They’re too scared to move. Their legs shake. Lizzie looks back at them. She blows smoke. She sits on the edge of the bed, then she lies back and closes her eyes.

The End



ticketstoheaven.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2017

Tickets To Heaven

By

Paul Heatley


          It took three days and nights, but once I had the money I got myself down to The Row and got high. The crack hit my lungs, I phased out, sunk into the floor, and everything else was gone – the taste of come stuck between the gaps in my teeth, the pain and itch in my asshole like it had been ripped wide and was trying to knit itself back together, the general aches and nausea all over my damn carcass – it all faded, it was all forgotten, and I floated away on that cloud, floated far, far away –

          – until it wore off and I hit the earth with a crash. I didn’t know how long I’d been gone, maybe a couple of days, maybe a few. It didn’t matter, I was back. Staying on the ground seemed like the best course of action. I curled into a ball, my insides feeling like they were on fire. Everything hurt again. It all came back just as fast as it had left. Faster, even. I checked the pipe but it was empty. I’d kept myself floating until I couldn’t anymore.

          Around me, there were groans. Others waking, others still under, some writhing on the ground, unable to get up. There was a stink in the air, the fetid mix of sweat, piss, shit, and blood. I stuck my hand down my pants and checked. I’d fouled myself while I was under.

          I used the wall to get up, took a moment to steady myself while the room span. The nausea was the worst. I braced, ready to fill the place with vomit, but it never came. The bearded guy that was curled next to me, we looked to be a similar size. I checked his pants and they were clean. Clean as I needed them to be, anyway. I took my own off, wiped myself down, and threw them to one side. They landed on someone’s face, couldn’t tell if it was a he or a she, and they moaned and grabbed at them and hugged them like a child’s toy, then puked a little but didn’t let go. I took off the guy’s pants and pulled them on. They were a little loose but I found a belt on someone else and cinched it tight.

          Outside, there were voices. Raised voices. I couldn’t make them out, but it sounded like someone was preaching. I wondered if the Catholics had made their way down again, trying to save us, or if maybe the cops had come back, were giving us the warning to come out quietly before they came in loudly. It had been a while since I’d last heard about the cops coming to The Row though, not since that dumb bitch had stole the baby from its pushchair with the intention of selling it on the black market. It never happened. The dumb cunt fell asleep with the baby in her arms, rolled over in her sleep and smothered the thing. It hadn’t happened on The Row, but the cops and everyone else figured it was the best place to find her. We all took some lumps that day.

          I went to the window, hung with ragged curtains and the glass coated with old newspapers and black mould. I found a gap to look through, winced against the light, checked who it was. The Catholics I couldn’t give a shit about, they would stand out there hollering and praying, but they’d never come inside. If it was the cops, I wanted to make sure I had a head-start out the back door.

          Far as I could tell, it was a preacher. Couple of them. They didn’t look like any preachers I’d ever seen before. There was a group of junkies gathered around them and a couple of dealers, some of them sitting cross-legged on the floor, all of them narrow-eyed against the glare of the sunlight.

          I went out to get a better look, but by the time I got there the two preachers were walking away and the gathering had dispersed, talking among themselves. Some of them clutched slips of paper, clutched them tight.

          I caught a guy I recognised, a double-amputee on his wheel-board, dragging himself along the ground with one scarred hand wrapped around a brick while in the other he pressed his own slip of paper to his chest. “Hey.”

          He looked up at me with suspicion, clutched the slip tighter. He looked worse since I’d seen him last, the tip of his nose was blackened and rotten away. I could see up his nostrils like I was looking into a death’s head. “Whut?”

          I nodded after the leaving preachers. “What was that all about?”

          “Just spreading the good word.” He made to wheel away but I stepped in front of him.

          “What’s your rush?”

          “I got somewhere to be.”

          “What’s that you’re holdin?”

          “None a your business.”

          “Let me take a look.”

          “Fuck you.”

          “What you think I’m gonna do? It’s a piece a paper, ain’t it? What good’s that to me?”

          “This ain’t no piece of paper, and you know it! Get outta my way afore I knock you down!”

          “You ain’t gonna knock me down.”

          “I’ll chew your fuckin balls off, swear to God.”

          “Let me see the fuckin thing, damnit.” I held my hand out.

          “Just cos you didn’t have no money ain’t mean you got a right to come and try and take it offa me, you son of a bitch!” He lowered his head but before he could charge I stuck a foot under his board and flipped it over, sent him toppling. When he hit the ground I reached down, grabbed the paper from him. He screamed and tried to roll over, his arms flailing, brandishing the brick, but I kicked it out his hand then pressed a boot to his chest and pinned him down. I straightened out the piece of paper, crumpled from his death grip. It had been crudely cut round the edges, hands unused to using scissors for crafts, and made to look like a ticket. It read:

 

ADMISION – 1(ONE)

TO HEVEN

This tikket enshures the holder entranse to Heven at the time

of his or her deff.

By the Will of God.

 

            I read it over a couple of times. The amputee writhed below me, screamed and cursed. His face was bright red and there were tears in his eyes, streaming down his face.

          “Give it back, motherfucker! Give it back to me, you piece of shit! It’s mine! It’s mine!”

          “Well ain’t you the lucky one.” I crumpled it into a ball and dropped it on him, took my boot off. He scrambled for it, grabbed it tightly in both hands. He cried harder, pressed it to his face. I left him on the ground, followed the preachers down The Row, caught up to them at the corner just as they started to make their way up the pathway towards the house there. “Hey!”

          They stopped, turned. Like I said, they weren’t like any preachers I’d ever seen before. The guy was pale, and thin, his cheap grey suit ill-fitting, his chicken-neck looking breakably small inside the wide collar. He had a red goatee, and a shaved head, and across his forehead were tattooed three swastikas. The backs of his hands were covered with ink, too, and they also looked decidedly Aryan. The girl by his side was black. Her kinky hair was wild on her head, pointing outward in every direction but down. She wore an orange dress and walked on bare feet. There were dark scars on her face, on her right cheek and round her eyebrows, a couple on her lips. The scars on the insides of her arms were pale, and they were dotted all up and down the insides of her elbows. I reckoned if the guy hadn’t been wearing a suit, he’d show similar track marks.

          “Help you, brother?” the preacher said. The girl smiled at me. Her teeth were yellow, but they were all there.

          “What game you playing?” I said.

          They looked at each other, then back at me. “No game, brother. Just spreading the word of the Lord.”

          “And tickets to His home, looks like.”

          “We’re all welcome in His house.”

          “Uh-huh. If we can afford it.”

          “I’m merely a messenger, brother. The Lord spoke to me, and this is the mission He chose to bestow.”

          “Sure. He came right on down, told you there ain’t enough junkies and whores stinking up Heaven.”

          “In death, we’re not what we were. All will be forgiven. We’re washed clean in the blood of the lamb at the moment of our passing. These tickets ensure that. They ensure we ain’t gotta go through all the suffering of Purgatory, or be cursed to the eternal damnation of Hell. If we have a ticket it shows that our intentions were good, that we craved redemption and that we were worthy of it.”

          I looked at the woman. She stared at the guy with something like awe in her eyes, nodding along with everything he said.

          “You can cut the bullshit with me, brother.”

          The preacher smiled. “No bullshit.”

          “God chose to speak through you, huh? A shining bastion of the white race.”

          The preacher touched the tattoos across his forehead without thinking, grazed them with the tips of his fingers. “It’s not hard to see the error of your former ways when God Himself tells you you’re wrong.”

          “And your redemption is as a ticket tout?” I turned to the woman. “What’s your role in all of this, honey?”

          “She don’t talk none,” the preacher said. “Go on and show him why, Luann.”

          She opened her mouth wide, stuck out her tongue. Stuck out what little tongue she had.

          “Had herself a fit and bit it off,” the preacher said.

          “Was God visiting you, too?” I said.

          “No,” the preacher said. “God ain’t never visited Luann, here. But she was the first to listen to me, the first to buy a ticket. These,” he indicated the forehead tattoos, “she knew that when I was speaking the word of the Lord I was a changed man, and these damn things didn’t matter one jot.”

          Luann beamed proudly.

          “Been by my side ever since. She understands what an important mission the Almighty has sent me on.”

          “Uh-huh.”

          The preacher looked me up and down. “You interested in a ticket, brother?”

          “How much they cost?”

          “How much can you give?”

          “If I got a penny, that enough to get me in?”

          The preacher and Luann looked at each other. “Well, ideally we prefer a fifty dollar minimum. When you consider the reward you’re gonna reap, it really ain’t too much to give.”

          I snorted. “Fifty bucks, huh? That’s a specific request the Lord has made. No. No, I ain’t interested. Ain’t no scrap of paper gonna keep me from where I’m going.”

          “You might be surprised, brother. The second you done paid for it, the moment it’s in your hand, you’re gonna feel it. You’re gonna know.”

          I looked them over a last time. “Nah. I ain’t gonna know.”

 

*

 

          I went back to the city, needing to make some more money. I hung round the usual places – the porno theatres showing the queer flicks, the public toilets with the glory holes in each stall. I wanted to be high. Being straight wasn’t my preferred frame of mind.

          A couple of days passed. The weather was turning colder and I was sleeping under a vent round the back of some cheap burger joint. I forewent food and scraped together my dirty notes and my loose change, went back to The Row. I hadn’t finished with the last trick not a half-hour before, and I could still taste him. No matter how much I spat, it persisted.

          I got to thinking about the preacher, and Luann.

          The Row beckoned, it called, it was a siren song that was deep in my blood and drew me forth, but I walked to the end, to the house the preacher and Luann had gone into. I knocked, but there was no answer. The siren song persisted, it was practically a screech now. My hands shook, they balled into fists that tapped against my thighs. A cold sweat broke out on the back of my neck. I knocked harder, rattled the door in its frame, but still no answer. I began to wonder if they’d gone, if they’d moved on somewhere else, spreading their word and selling their tickets.

          I went round the back. The door there was unlocked, and I went inside, found them in the front room. Unlike the other houses in The Row, crammed head-to-toe with crack heads and junkies, it was just the two of them. Luann was sprawled over the threadbare sofa. The preacher was propped with his back to her, his shirt unbuttoned to the navel, exposing more Nazi tattoos, and his sleeves rolled up past his elbows, where I could see fresh track marks leaking blood. A rat scurried across the floor, disappeared into a hole in the corner of the skirting board. I watched the preacher and his woman. Luann’s mouth was wide open in a grotesque smile. Her eyes were closed, but they flickered. Her little stub of a tongue probed at the air.

          The preacher’s coat was on a nearby chair. I went to it, searched his pockets, found the tickets. I took one. Only one. I made to leave.

          “It ain’t worth nothin if you don’t pay for it,” the preacher said. I turned. He watched me with one eye. “In Medieval England, they sold penitent slips.” He blinked a lot, tried to open his other eye. “The slips reduced their time in Purgatory. That there in your hand, it’s better than that. It’s gonna take you straight to those pearly gates.” The preacher ran his tongue over his dry lips, swallowed. There was a click in the back of his throat. “Now, if those lowly peasants could afford a few pennies to cut down on their damnation, I’m sure you can too. You been gone a few days now, you gonna tell me you ain’t been working? I can smell it on you from here, brother.”

          I balled the ticket in my fist. The preacher grinned. I wanted to tear the ticket and throw it in his face. Instead, I took out the cash I had, dropped it on the floor, and I left. Behind me, on the sofa, Luann made a noise. It might have been a laugh, it might have been a tongueless ‘God Bless You’.

          I stopped in the doorway, turned. “What?”

          Luann giggled, high as fuck. It sounded like she was gargling mouthwash.

          “Have a good life,” the preacher said. “Have a better death.”

          I held up the ticket. “How many of these y’all kept for yourselves?”

          The preacher sniffed, sat up. He blinked a few times, said, “We don’t need them.”

          “We’sh touched,” Luann said. Spit hung from the corner of her mouth.

          “That’s right,” the preacher said. “We’s touched. The tickets ain’t gonna make no difference to us.”

          “How far you planning on spreading these things?”

          “Far as they’ll go.”

          “Until every junkie and scumbag gets into Heaven, right?”

          “If it’s God’s will.”

          “It ain’t God’s will. It’s yours. This right here, it’s just a slip of paper.”

          “You really think that,” the preacher said, “then trash it.”

          I went into the kitchen, took a look round. They thought I was leaving, because they started laughing behind me.

          There was crack pipe on the counter, the glass bowl blackened. I smashed the end off it, so it was jagged, then went back to the preacher and stuck him in the neck. His laughter choked off, he started gurgling. I waved the ticket in his face. “This works,” I said, “I’ll see you up there.”

          Luann was laughing still. She hadn’t realised what had happened. I walked past her, left her laughing on the sofa. I closed the door when I left the house, but I could still hear her as I walked away, could still hear her that whole night through, while I tried to sleep, the ticket clutched to my chest.

The End


Paul Heatley’s work as appeared online and in print for a variety of publications including Thuglit, Crime Syndicate, Horror Sleaze Trash, Spelk, and the Flash Fiction Offensive. He is the author of An Eye For An Eye, and the forthcoming Fatboy, from All Due Respect. He lives in the north east of England. 

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