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Joseph H. Stryker
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badcallv4.jpg
Art by John Lunar Richey 2015

Bad Call

 

By Joseph H. Stryker

 

 

          “Please, Paul. Just put the knife down,” I said, clutching my phone.

          “Why?” He pointed it at me, a long silver carving knife. “So you can take all my shit in the divorce? Fuck that.”

          I pressed the three digits without even thinking, it was instinct. “Paul, you're drunk. Just put the knife down, before you do something stupid.”

          He grabbed the yellow-colored coffee mug I was drinking from, and threw it at me.

          I ducked. Barely missing me, it bounced off the wall. Damn cup was stronger than our trailer. Hot liquid splashed across the back of my neck, it burned. I didn't let him notice. “I'm leaving, Paul. You need to calm the fuck down!”

          “What, are you gonna go to Jimmy's?” he asked, sounding regretful for just a second.

          “Maybe I am, Paul. Maybe I'm going to go suck his dick. The fuck are you going to do about it? Huh, you gonna cry? Maybe throw up then pass out in your own vomit again?”

          “Fuck that little shit, see if I care. Go ahead, you cunt! I don't need you,” he said stumbling across the kitchen. “I don't need anyone.”

          I quickly grabbed my coat and ran out front. Outside our home the air was cool and calm. The sky itself was gray and cloudy. Past the dirt street that old hag Mrs. Thompson was looking at me. I showed her my middle finger. She glared at me then went inside her little 1974 Scotty Gaucho.

          We lived in a nice enough trailer park right next to the lake. Well, nice for folks like us, that is. Across from Thompson's Gaucho our mobile home looked like a castle, we even had a small patch of grass for a lawn.

          “Hello, is anyone there?” A faint voice called from the phone in my hand. I put it next to my ear. “This is the third time this number has called. We're sending someone over.”

          “What, no! Everything is fine,” I yelled into the phone.

          “It didn't sound fine. What was that clatter?”

          “What are you talking about?”

          “Ma'am don't lie to me. I heard a clatter. I'm pulling up the record for your number right now.”

          “Oh, that was just the TV. Everything is fine.”

          “You called in about domestic violence three months ago, Mrs. Lane. We sent someone to your house and you said everything was fine then. I'm getting the feeling that isn't true.”

          “It was just a misunderstanding, is all.”

          “Stay on the phone and stay where you are. The police are coming and you can sort everything out with them. Now I just need to ask you a few quest-”

          “Oh grow up,” I said hanging up my phone.  I pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Looking back at Mrs. Thompson's trailer I noticed the curtains behind the window were twisted. The bitch was watching me.

          That old lady had a hard-on for Paul and I. Thought we stole her dog. Ratty little thing probably ran into the lake and drowned for all I know.

          Aside from Thompson and us, the trailer park had few other inhabitants. Permanent ones that is. There were always the one or two night all-American families, passing through Elsinore on their way to Mexico, San Diego, or some other shit hole.

          I looked back at my cigarette, it was nearly gone. I flicked it towards the hag's hovel.

          That was when the cops pulled up. Just one actually. He was short and stocky with a black crew cut. When he stepped out of the car he emptied a cup of coffee on my lawn.

          “Get out of here!” I barked.

          “What?” He coughed.

          “We don't need you.” He looked at me like I smelled funny then whispered something into his little shoulder radio. “What, you can't understand me? Your pig brain don't get that?”

          “Why did you call 911, ma'am? I've been told this is a domestic issue.”

          “Cuz' I was worried he might cut himself. He's not gonna. I just needed a cigarette.”

          “With a knife? Your husband has knife?”

          “The fuck else?”

          “Does he have a knife?”

          “Yes!”

          “Come out here, step off the porch.”

          “What? You didn't hear me, everything is fine.”

          He leaned into his radio and said, “The male's inside. Trying to cut himself with a knife.”

          “No, he's not. He's drunk, that's it.”

          “Please step away.” He looked straight through me.

          “I just-”

          “Get off the porch, Ma'am. Do not move!” His eyes were moving fast now, scanning every inch of our trailer.

          “Which one? I-”

          “Do not move!” He said some stuff I couldn't understand into the radio then drew his gun. I wanted to say something, I wanted to stop him. But I didn't. “What's his name?” He called back as he passed me and entered the trailer.

          “Paul,” I said backing away from the porch. I started shaking and getting a cold feeling.

          “Paul, I need you to put the knife down,” said the cop. Paul didn't reply. “Paul, listen to me. I need your help here.” Still no answer.

          “Fuck you,” I heard Paul mutter.

           Then the cop continued, “Drop the knife,” his voice was getting more intense “Sir, do not move,” he was yelling now “Drop the knife! Drop the fucking knife!”

          Then I heard it. Three loud bangs that rattled through my skull. It was real. I screamed. All the while not moving forward, or back. I just stood on the grass screaming.

          When I came to my senses, I saw the cop come back out and start writing a report. I studied his face, it was sweaty but stoic. He looked like a football player preparing for his next play. Behind him I saw something moving, it was the old lady.

          Mrs. Thompson was peering out from her doorway now. She looked at me and smiled.







suicidedetour.jpg
Art by John Thompson 2016

Suicide Detour

By Joseph H. Stryker


            I didn't have a note and I didn't have a plan. But before the night was over, I was damned sure I'd be dead.

          It was past ten when I snuck out. Didn't want my parents to find the body, didn't like 'em much, but no one deserves that. They'd see my bike was gone and think I'd run off. I hoped they'd leave it at that.

          My idea was something involving the lake. Maybe drowning, but probably not.

          When I reached the shore I took a moment to look around. My side was clear, empty all the way to the tree line. But the lack of a full moon kept me from seeing all the way across, and the water was darker than the night sky, could've been anything out there in the deep.

          Lake Charco was roughly the size of a baseball field, hidden away in the hills behind town. The only people who ever went there were casual fishermen. The fish they caught weren't natural, though. They had to be added. Now I was about to add something else to the waters.

          The boat I took was an old thing full of splinters. It had been there for as long as I'd been alive.  Sitting there on the shore, slowly losing its red and white paint. Once I asked my dad what it was there for and he just said, “Guess someone forgot about it. Not everything is important, you know.” I hoped someday the same could be said for me.

          As I pushed it into the waters and out of the mud, I threw my back-pack in and then myself. I paddled with a rotted piece of wood, I think it used to be one of the seats. It took a lot longer than I'd imagined. I was used to boats with motors. Physical activity was rare for me.

          Bugs were crawling up my legs. I don't know whether they were spiders, ants, or beetles. All I know is that they made my skin itch. Was this old boat their home? I thought to myself. Did I upset their peace? I didn't try to stop them from moving along my body, soon they would have just as much a claim to it as any other. I ignored them and kept rowing.

          When I had enough, and thought I was close enough to the center, I stopped moving and let the boat find its resting place. I pulled from my pack an apple and a water bottle. As I took a bite, my mind began to wander.

          My memories of the lake were good ones. Fishing, swimming, and playing. These were the things I always retreated to in times of stress, in times of sadness. This place meant so much to me as a child. Why did I stop coming here?

          When I reached the pit of my apple, I chucked it into the lake. Taking a sip from my water, I laid back and stared at the stars. The bugs were on my neck at that point, yet I couldn't care less. They were just bugs doing what bugs did. My mind was still on the past. What made it so much better than the present?

          Then a noise broke my comfort. It was an engine on the shore. I peered over the edge of the boat and saw a vehicle's lights. I think it was an SUV although the make and model were unknown to me. Tied to its roof was a boat.

          After it parked, two men, one small and one big, got out. They pulled the boat, a black canoe, off the roof. Maybe it was a brown one, even with the car lights it was hard to see. The men opened the car's trunk and pulled out a man-sized bag. After giving the bag a few punches the big guy flung it over his shoulder, took a few steps and then flung it into the canoe.

          Then the big guy grabbed what I assume was a big gulp from inside the car and took a sip. While my eyes weren't performing too well, my ears picked up everything.

          “How can you drink that shit?” asked the little one.

          “What? This shit's fucking delicious.” While talking they pulled paddles out of the car.

          “High fructose corn syrup, caramel color, and who knows what else. You think it's delicious.” The little guy cursed in Spanish for a while. I'm not proficient in the language, but it was something along the lines of, “You stupid fat fuck. I'd rather be related to a pig” He then went back to English. “Haven't you ever heard the expression about treating your body like a temple?”

          “I do treat it like a temple. Every so often though, my temple wants to party. Ain't nothing wrong with a little treat here and there.”

          “You. Like a temple?” The little guy scoffed. “More like a Chuck E. fucking Cheese!”

          “Eh, blow me, pendejo. I get enough grief from my bitch.” They both chuckled, then pushed the boat into the water and started paddling towards the lake's center.

          I wasn't sure what to do. On one hand I wasn't worried about my safety, for obvious reasons, on the other hand I wanted a peaceful last night. They hadn't noticed me, or the floating termites' feast I was in, so I decided to let it all play out.

          “Why can't folks just stop ratting? Such a pain in my ass. So much work for getting rid of the little bitches. First you gotta wait until the right time, then once the stars align, you have a small-ass window to get it all done.” The big guy was groaning in between every sentence, he was out of breath. 

          The little guy laughed. “I've told you before: all you gotta do is put a bullet in their head when no one is looking. That's it, as easy as fucking a fatty. You go overboard with this perfect crime shit.”

          “Sloppy, that would be sloppy. I don't do sloppy. You get sloppy and you end up doing time. You already know that though, don't you?”

          “Hey Mr. Neat & Tidy, you got a spot on your polo. Looks like Coke Icee.”

          “Fuck. Dump the rat and let's head back. I need to wash it before it stains.”

          “The guy's still breathing.”

          “Let him drown. That old man can't swim.” With those final words and a splash, they started back towards shore.

          Now, I'm not normally the type to go sticking my neck out, but right then it didn't even cross my mind that I had a choice in the matter. I pulled off my shoes and slid over the edge into the water. I took a big breath of air and listened to make sure the guys didn't hear me. They were still arguing, yelling now. Between that and their paddling, they couldn't hear anything.

          I didn't have a flash light and I didn't have goggles. I know most people don't need goggles past childhood, but I'm not most people.

          I closed my eyes and went down as far as I could. I didn't reach the bottom. So I went up for air. I heard the guys getting in the car and driving away.

          I took another gulp of air and went back down. This time I reached the bottom and moved my arms around for a few seconds, feeling for something. All I felt was dirt and algae. It felt like cold mucus.

          I went up and got some more air. The lake was too big for me to make any headway like that.  I was stubborn though, so I kept trying. After what I guessed was the 13th or so try, I gave up. I wasn't fit. That's an understatement, I'm down right unhealthy.

          I tried to make it back to my nasty old boat. I couldn't find it. I was floating in the lake, feeling fish that were far too large for comfort touch my legs, not being able to see a thing except a few stars above. Even those weren't bright enough to be of use.

          I went in the direction I thought was the shore. On my way there I bumped into something big. I nearly shit myself. It was the bag. I grabbed hold and went for the shore. The idiots didn't weigh it down, all their talk of being tidy and not being sloppy, they didn't even weight it.  I was fuming then, breathing real hard, part from fatigue and part from anger.

          The second I reached a spot shallow enough for me to walk, I did. Dragging the bag behind me, I tripped twice. Hitting my face on the rocky shore, I split a lip. I didn't care.

          I found the opening of the bag and tried to untie the rope knot. It was no good. The bag wasn't moving and the knot was too tight. Whoever was inside had to be dead. I knew that.

          I went looking for something sharp. I found a beer bottle near the tree line. Next I found a rock and broke the bottle in half. I took the side that was easier to grip and started to cut open the bag. I ended up cutting what was inside, then felt something warm splatter on my hands.

          I pulled the bag down far enough so I could see who was in it. He was an old Asian man, with thin black hair crowning his head. His face was gaunt and his skin leathery. White foam clung to the edges of his mouth. I slapped him. Thought maybe that would do something. It didn't.

          He was dead. I couldn't fix that, you couldn't have fixed that, God couldn't have fixed that. I was a fool to try.

          So I cried, and I kept crying, and then I cried some more. Eventually I couldn't cry anymore. That's when I started laughing.

          After I could breathe normally, I got up and left. I didn't worry about the old man and I didn't worry about the boat with my things in it. I just went home.

          I got through my window and in bed before the sun came up. I didn't sleep, I just stared at my ceiling. The walls, they were comforting.

          The next morning I asked my mom if I could stay home from school. My dad said no. They asked why I looked so tired and if I had gotten any sleep. I told 'em I had nightmares.

          I went school. I listened to my friends. I hugged my girlfriend.

          I didn't want to die.


Joseph H. Stryker is a writer of lowbrow fiction, usually of the crime genre. Born in 1994 in Laguna Hills, California, he now resides in Lake Elsinore, California, on the other side of the Santa Ana Mountains. His stories can be found on Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey, Spelk, and other websites.

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