31 January, 2011

Sketch of The √úbermensch

After the call ended, Jackson sat up, turned his legs around, and sat on his bed. He stared out the window that looked down on the alley below. Everything was still wet from the rain. To someone who didn't know any better, Jackson looked half asleep. But Jackson didn't sleep. Not really. He associated sleep with dreams and he couldn't remember the last time he had a dream. Whenever he laid down on the narrow bed and closed his eyes to rest his body, he drifted in darkness until he opened his eyes again.

For this one thing he was grateful.

The man who called had asked if he was disturbing Jackson; this was more out of formality than actual concern. Jackson knew the man only as Kingston, and he knew that Kingston imagined himself to be a gentleman. He often wished that Kingston would give up the charade – especially when he called in the middle of the night. Jackson preferred short and concise conversation. It saved time and, what was more important, didn't waste his.

“Give me the name,” Jackson had said. Kingston laughed, but didn't comment further. Jackson didn't need a false sense of camaraderie to do his job; he didn't have friends, didn't have family. He had long given up on the idea of brotherhood he'd learned in the Army and again when he rode with the club. Jackson was his own army, his own club. At least Kingston had learned to stop asking him if he wanted to meet for a drink.

“Cranston,” Kingston said. “William G.”

“Okay.”

“Need any particulars?”

“Only if they're important.”

Kingston went on to tell him where William G. Cranston could be found, and where he could be found for the next four days. That was the window. Four days. If things went the way they usually went, Jackson would be seeing this Cranston within a day and a half, unless there was some delay he couldn't account for. People, in spite of being addicted to routine, changed it on occasion. And if Cranston had any idea who was coming for him, he might change his routine. Sometimes they ran. Mostly they didn't. If this one ran and it took longer than four days, he had an understanding with Kingston that it cost extra. Kingston didn't have a problem with this, and Jackson didn't object to making more money; it was more about time.

He took his last cigarette from the pack next to the lamp on the bedside table, lit it with a match from the book of matches sitting next to the pack, and stood up. The moment he stood up his entire body was awake.

Before he tossed the book of matches back on the bedside table, he looked at it. He'd picked it up in a bar three nights before. Jackson only went to this bar once every other month or so. He'd gone there for the same reason he always went there. To meet Audrey. Audrey was a hooker – though for as much as it cost, she called herself “a professional girlfriend.” It was supposed to be a joke; Jackson supposed it was funny. But as far as he was concerned, whether you pay $20 or $20,000, a whore is a whore. Audrey kept herself up and was still young enough to be sexy. She was the most recent in a line of arrangements he'd had over the years. She was smarter than most and didn't mind that Jackson didn't really like to chit chat. He met her at the bar and they left soon after, going to a hotel downtown where Jackson had reserved a room. He never brought anyone to where he lived, never went anyplace with them he didn't know, and he never spent the night.

Audrey was one more in a long line that would probably include many more before he got beyond the need to get his rocks off. By that time Jackson figured he would either be dead or he would retire and disappear completely. Then not even Kingston would be able to find him. And if he happened to, Kingston wouldn't be found, either. By then Audrey would be a faint memory; he might not even remember her name. He rarely remembered information was not necessary.

But there was something different about her, too. Jackson wasn't entirely sure what it was. In the past, he would get what he needed and when he tired of their company, he would stop seeing them. There had probably been a few who had made the mistake of falling in love with him – that chubby blonde one in Kansas City had been like that. But he never led them on, never allowed them to expect more than a generous tip and money for a cab ride back to where ever they slept. He didn't offer personal information and didn't ask for any.

He was not different with Audrey, and she was quick on the up take. She was all business and he liked that. No bullshit. No fuss. Maybe that was it. But that didn't explain why he sometimes woke thinking her name or why he sometimes thought he smelled her his clothes, even after he'd had them laundered.

He put on clean clothes, pulled on his coat, grabbed his case out of the closet, and walked out the door of his small one room apartment. It opened into an interior court, like many of the old buildings in New Orleans. One way in. One way out. His room was on the top level in the corner near the stairs. He stood at the railing for a second and looked down. There were some quarter kids living on the level  below him. They were awake, playing music, getting drunk and high. They were round-faced and starved at the same time. The girl, a tattooed whore of no more than 17 years old, had propositioned him before. He never spoke to her. She looked and smelled diseased.

As he made his way down the stairs to the street, he thought about William G. Cranston. Kingston had sent the man's picture to his cell phone. He was a thin man with brown eyes and a pock marked face. He didn't look like he would be any trouble.  

28 January, 2011

The Beans, Bread, and Beer Fund: An Explanation

Making it as a writer is rough, no matter how you go about it. Mostly people get some kind of pointless day job, or they become college instructors. Either way, you're more or less screwed out of valuable work time. A tedious day job saps your strength, your soul, and your imagination. Teaching on the college level isn't much better, except that you're expected to jockey for position, scramble your way up the ladder by stepping on the backs of your friends and colleagues, chasing that mirage once called tenure.

The other option -- go at it alone, try to come up with some other equation. And unless you get "discovered" or picked up by some eye tooth licking salivating agent or a big house publisher that wants to own your work into the next century, you do, more or less, go it alone. That's just the way it is, and, like Bukowski wrote, "isolation is the gift."

But life, even an inexpensive one, isn't exactly cheap.

I've learned a lot over the last year about hawking my own stuff and hustling to get writing work as well as exposure. While that oft dreamed of dream of writers to get picked up, get a major contract, and skyrocket into literary fame still pecks at me, I have learned to stop hoping for it. I still have my need to write, though, and I am still dedicated to the Art and the Craft of it. I write, in some fashion, nearly everyday. And I will continue unabated.

The Beans, Bread, and Beer Fund was something I started and posted on my blog as a sort of joke. Okay, half a joke. If I can't get The New Yorker or Playboy to pay me, maybe I can find people who wander across my blog, like what they see, and are willing to help. It's the digital equivalent to singing on a street corner with my hat on the sidewalk. But I haven't pushed it or explained it.

Until now.

I can't tell you your contribution will be tax deductible. It won't. I'm not a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization. Whatever you contribute will go towards what the name suggests – food, shelter, and some beer (I'm just being honest.)

If I can get enough money in this fund, it's my intention to put that money toward a limited run of print chapbooks, in addition to my Dead Machine E/Ditions.

I have two chapbook length manuscripts of poems: Boomtown Holiday and Love and The Baboon that I intend to release as E/Ditions within the next six months or so. If you are so kind as to give, depending on how much you give, you could end up on the dedication page.

Here's how it works:

$1- $12.99: your name will appear on a dedication page in one of the upcoming E/Ditions, and you'll get a free copy of one.
$13 - $29.99: your name will appear on a dedication page in both the E/Dition and one of the limited edition print chapbook. If you leave me your address, I'll send you a signed copy of the chapbook of your choice.
$30 + : all of the above. Plus, I'll list your name on a permanent page on deadmachinefictions.com as a  motherfuckin' god send. Really.


The link on the right sidebar will take you to PayPal, where your personal information is secure. I will not have access to your card numbers, and you can use any credit or debit card, or your own PayPal account. The link below will also take to the same place.


Thanks in advance for your goodwill and your support. I won't forget it. Ever.







By the way:

I'm also thinking about putting together The Beans, Bread, and Beer Tour.

I'll come to your venue and read from any number of my works and teach workshops on fiction, poetry, and independent publishing. Base cost is the cost of a bus ticket to wherever you are, a cot or couch in a reasonably warm place, and a flat fee to be discussed, depending on whether you're looking for a reading, a workshop, or both. If you're interested email me at mickp@deadmachinefictions.com.


21 January, 2011

[All Indications Contrary]: Excerpt from THE MUCKRAKER'S CHRONICLE

 I had a message from Sam. He wanted to talk to me. Mostly we exchange emails about the articles I send him and about when he's going to pay me. Sometimes we talk on the phone; but I hate talking on the phone.

“What does he want to talk to you about?” Maude asked. She was trying not to sound too worried. I would like to say that her worries were unfounded; but since I have a history of telling supervisors, foremen, editors, and publishers to go to hell, I can't really blame her for being a little concerned. To her credit, she does a better job of keeping it in context, or at the very least masking the depth of her worry.

“He didn't say. He said he wanted to talk about some things, is all.”

“He never told you what it was about?”

“Nope.”

“Do you KNOW what it's about?”

“What's THAT supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what I said.” It was her turn to cook. She was making chicken and dumplings using her great-grandmother's receipe. She hadn't made it in a long time, but I knew it was going to be good. When we first got married, we ate a lot of dumplings, usually sans chicken because it cost too much. Chicken bullion broth and dumplings. Flour was an easy commodity to afford, and for that I always felt lucky. That we could now afford to use chicken and even incorporate some vegtables I saw as an indication that things were still better than they once were.

“I'm not worried about it.”

“But you NEVER worry about anything!”

“That's not true. I worry about things all the time.”

“Like what?”

I thought for a second. “World peace?”

She wasn't amused. “You nearly quit the last time he wanted to have one of these talks.”

That was months ago, and I was over it. I had gotten pretty pissed off – justifiably – after Sam gutted an article I wrote about the Arliss Church of God and it's relationship with the Arliss Town Council. Apprently several members, some of whom own businesses that frequently advertise in the Star Advocate – said I was picking on “a fundamentally American Institution.” At least, that's what one of them wrote in a letter that she didn't want printed in the paper. Sam showed me the letter. The author, one Fay Parris, was also upset that I spelled her last name wrong. That her husband is also a respected church elder and majority owner in the one of the biggest graineries in the county also had something to do with it. Sam wasn't so much concerned about the fact that I was highlighting what we both see as a problem, even though Establishment Clause issues tend to have little place in small town discussions. He was more concerned about losing the advertisers – which is his concern, not mine, and that's what I told him.

“Relax, will you? I'm not going to quit.”

“He might fire you.”

“He can't fire me. I'm freelance.”

“Well, he could stop taking your articles, then.”

“He won't.”

She snorted. “Why?”

“I'm the best writer he's got.”

“That's why I love you; you're so humble.”

“And here I thought it was because I don't leave the toilet seat up.”

“Not anymore.”

“See? Proof that I can change.”

She finished stirring the pot on the stove and turned the heat down to let it simmer a little longer. The house was starting to smell like chicken and dumplings, and it was making me hungry. She came back into the living room, sat down, and lit a cigarette. “You're not taking me seriously.”

“I am. I just don't think there's anything to worry about.”

“What did you write about this week?”

“The usual. Small town intrigue. County politics. Committee meetings. Boring shit, really.”

“So why does he want to talk to you?”

“Maybe he wants to give me a full-time job.”

She shook her head. “You wouldn't take it.”

“Probably not. But it's always nice to be asked.”

I could tell by the way she was smoking that she was getting pissed off; when she smokes when she's mad, she guns them, like she's trying to get every bit of smoke before it burns down to the filter. I didn't see any reason to worry about Sam's intentions. Sometimes he just liked to check in with his writers; Sam had the personal touch. His operation employed three full time employees not including himself, his wife Sandy, and his son David, who was the business manager. He was a politic and considerate guy, with an ocassional tendency to fly off the handle in ideological discussions. I didn't always agree with his truths, but I liked that he had them. Sam didn't always like my truths, either. But no one's perfect.

“I know you think it's a big fucking joke,” she said, “but some of do actually worry about whether or not we're going to have a roof over our heads.”

“I didn't know that was a concern at this point.”

“It's ALWAYS a “concern”,” she said, stamping out the butt of her cigarette in the small plastic ashtray sitting between on the end table between our chairs. “It's just not always YOUR concern.”

“That's unfair,” I said. “I'm working, right? It's not my fault there's shit here to do that doesn't include shoveling cow shit and farming corn. We knew it was going to be this way.”

“So it's my fault?”

“No. Who said anything about fault? It's not about fault. We moved here for your job; we discussed it, decided, and did it. I was okay with it. I'm still okay with it.”

“You were going to lose your job in Phoenix anyway.”

“Yes. I know.”

“And the problems started out the exact same way. And then one day, you get called in for “a talk”, and ...”

“I told you I wasn't going to screw this up, okay? Trust me. He just wants to talk. It'll be fine.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because I haven't done anything to piss anybody off lately.”

“Huh. How would you know?”

She had a point. “I'd know. That's all. People here are obvious.”

“No. They just don't tell you to your face.”

“So they're cowards. How is that my problem?”

“Because instead of telling YOU they tell ME.”

Sigh. And that,I thought, is the point.

“What have you heard?”

Not me. Peter.”

“Again? Doesn't that spineless bastard have anything better to gossip about?”

“He's the President of the playhouse board,” she said. “People tell him things.”

“Are they trying to threaten your job again?”

“No.”

Yes. Just not directly.

“I just don't understand why you have to be so difficult.”

“I'm only as difficult as the situation demands,” I said. “If people would just behave, I wouldn't have any problems with anyone.”

She smiled. A little smile. “Maybe you're the one who needs to behave.”

“Maybe you need to teach me.”

“Flirt.”

“Tease.”

She stood up and walked into the kitchen. “Dinner's ready,” she said.  

   

17 January, 2011

11 January, 2011

Bump

Lou woke up with one of the cats sleeping over his head, hogging the entire pillow. He didn't have to reach up to know which one it was; it was Skeeze, the long haired hermaphrodite. The little fucker never really forgave him for moving in and taking its side of the bed. It seemed to Lou that he always started out sleeping firmly in the middle of the pillow, but by morning, he had slid – or been pushed – down almost to the edge. Two of the other cats – Fauntleroy and Scar – were sitting on Fiona's side of the bed, watching him with the unblinking eyes of scavengers. They're hoping I'm dead, he thought, so they can eat my eyes and my tongue.

Sitting up and putting his feet on the narrow strip of floor between the side of the bed and the outside wall, Lou almost stepped on two of the kittens. There were four of them. Lou hadn't bothered to learn any of their names because he was still hoping that Fiona would come to her senses and find homes for them. Seven cats in a small one bedroom apartment was six too many; but he knew better than to convince her to get rid any of the full-grown ones. She had made it very clear when he moved in that he would move out before the any of her cats would; she also made it very clear that she wasn't the kind of person to clean out the litter box or the entirely too frequent hairballs, or the puddles of semi-solid puke from her changing the food all the time, depending on how much money she had. And the fur. There was fur everywhere, on everything. Not even the food was safe from random blowing fluffs of cat hair.

It was daylight and she wasn't home yet; that surprised him less than the cat hair he found in the bottom of the coffee pot that Fiona had left on last night. She'd had a couple of friends over while he was at work – a couple of guys that had, once upon a time, been fuck buddies, and a particularly angry lesbian named Marie. Marie was angry because Fiona was still fucking men. Lou wasn't sure if he would've minded if Fiona went ahead and fucked Marie; because except for the fact that she was a very angry, very man-hating lesbian (the result, according to Fiona, of being tricked out by her father to his friends when she was very young), Marie was a beautiful woman. Nice big tits, slim waist, round hips and a heart shaped ass. If he had ever come home from his third shift gig at the sock factory and found the two of them in bed together, he wasn't sure he'd be all that pissed off. He pointed that out once to Fiona, who snarled and said “How is that any different than you coming home and find me in bed with another man?”

“I don't know,” Lou answered. “It's just different.”

“You're a pig.”

“At least I'm honest.”

He had tried hanging out with Fiona and her cabal of post-modern goth intellectuals before; they liked to sit around and drink cheap wine out of gaudy goblets and name drop philosophers and the authors of crap vampire fan fiction. Early on, Fiona had wanted him to make the attempt. She gave him books to read. Many books. But they all seemed like the same book. Pretty vicious vampires that bite instead of screw. Lots of homoerotic undertones. Lots of long wordy descriptions after the manner of Bram Stoker, lacking anything else that made them interesting. He found them unreadable and was embarrassed to be seen with them at the break room – not because he gave a damn about what any of them thought. Just because.

It was Friday, which meant he was off for the night. He'd gotten his check, pathetic as it was, and he wanted to spend some of it on himself. The bills were paid, but Fiona would want to spend on expensive cat food that would end up in puddles of puke dried into the cheap shag carpet.

The first thing he did was take a shower. Not that it did any good. No matter how many times he showered or washed his clothes, he always smelled like a walking litter box. When he was in the apartment, he didn't notice except for when the central air kicked on and moved all the dust around. Fiona was a lousy housekeeper, and Lou wasn't inclined to clean, either. She always complained about it. But did she ever pick up a rag to dust, or plug in the vacuum cleaner? Lou never complained about it. Not anymore. She used to at least straighten up before her cabal came over; now she didn't even bother to do that. Why should she when she could blame the mess on him?

The shower left him feeling refreshed, but he knew the feeling was fleeting. He didn't feel like risking having cat hair in his coffee (rinsing it out didn't do any good. He could rinse it a hundred times and he'd still end up with stray hairs floating in his cup. He opened the refrigerator. It was empty except for a six pack of expensive beer and there was a Post-It note on that read MORGAN'S MEAD. DO NOT TOUCH. Morgan was one of the former fuck buddies that Fiona spent all of her free-time with … free time that had grown exponentially since she got herself fired from her job. When Lou met her, she had been the manager of a men's formal wear store. She claimed the owner sexually harassed, tried to get her to sleep with him for a bump in pay. A bump for a bump. That was what she told him, anyway. Came home crying and everything, and Lou bought into it. He offered to go kick the guy's ass. He tried to convince her to get a lawyer.

“No, no,” she sobbed, burying her head in his chest. “ I'll never be able to prove anything.”

And Lou let it go at that.

The tuxedo shop fiasco had been more than six months ago, and Fiona still hadn't found a job. According to her, she was “psychologically shaken.” He accepted that for the first month or so; after all, he had no idea what it meant to be sexually harassed, or, in the words of Marie, to be “assaulted by yet another miniscule man's disgusting member.” Lou could only assume that if Marie had ever had any experience with a man's member, it must have been a man who hadn't heard of bathing. But he couldn't argue with the fundamental logic beneath the bitch's biased words. He supposed she had the right to be biased.

He ran out of sympathy, though, when he overheard her talking about how she really got fired. Apparently she had been stealing from the till in order to buy expensive cat food and gaudy cheap wine goblets and badly written books. And the owner-- having caught her twice on hidden camera – fired her. When he confronted her the following morning, she cried again and accused Lou of being part of the “global patriarchal conspiracy to claim ownership” of her vagina. They argued, then she stormed out and didn't come back for three days. And when she did come back, she claimed it was because she was worried about what he would do to the cats.

“You're nothing but a neanderthal with a college degree,” she said.

“Morgan's Mead,” he muttered. “Fucking moron.” Does he even know the difference between beer and mead? Or does he think he's being cool? Leaving his beer in the fridge like he paid rent was worse than fucking Fiona. At that point, the dumb son of a bitch could have the malicious cunt; but he was going to be damned if he was going to let Morgan move into the goddamn refrigerator. Lou took one of bottles, opened it with a bottle opener sitting on the kitchen counter that was supposed to look like a medieval mace, and emptied it down his throat.

Fuck him, Lou thought.

10 January, 2011

And Counting

Christ. 388 days and the tundra
is still expansively contracting.
Fields of green and brown corn
have turned shit and soil brown,
laced with remanded snow
and lingering ice. It was once
explained to me when I was
very young: in the winter
the world sleeps
and the soil rests
to prepare for the spring
for what was once a plow
but is now a machine that cuts
more and better; plus, the cost
is more and better than most
houses and has taken the place
of hundreds of men and
man hours. It's big business here
and the corn is owned by companies
and seeds, like our future is copyrighted
by the anonymous holding company
that bought our parents' futures
cheap with promises
of a peaceful old age replete
with fat corn fed dreams.

07 January, 2011

Death Head Cheerleaders

They marched into the room one at a time
shadows from the valley of death
every long hair atop their heads wound
tight and high and kept in place
with heavy duty hair lacquer –
the kind marketed only
to Southern Baptists and Drag Queens –
their faces dried out
their eyes full of recently applied tears
legs swishing under the layers of clothes
and ankle length denim skirts
hands shaking from years of clutching bibles
and fresh from the freezer casserole dishes
murmuring the prayers taught to them by elders
who, too, were afraid of the dark. Leaning over
carefully, each one whispering only
so everyone could hear, asked
the only question they knew to ask:

                                                         Are You Right With God?

Accepting the dying woman's moans
for the answer they were looking for,
they shuffled out and back into the shadows
in the manner that they shuffled in –
shaking heads made heavy with hair pins
and fearful restraint ,silent as the grave
they try to hold at bay
using wooden crosses, family hymnals,
and worn out bibles listing the names
of the dead in the front and back cover
like a list of pious all-stars who,
like the savior whose name
they have all laid claim to
was revised over countless years
of enforced transubstantiation
in a way that in no way
contradicts the fire and brimstone preview
their pastor gives them each
and every Sunday.

05 January, 2011

The Copper's Report

I was drinking in a town I'd never heard of in a bar that I wasn't familiar with when I overheard a group of men talking down bar from where I was seated mulling over my scotch and trying to catch some warmth. My purpose for being in an unfamiliar place? Story hunting. I was writing an article for a travel magazine of miniscule circulation about antique shopping in down state Illinois – down state meaning every place that isn't Chicago, for those not familiar with the gravitational truths of living in the Land of Lincoln. If you're not in Chicago, you're not anywhere, and never did that truth present itself more than when I sat in that bar, in town whose name I didn't bother to read on the sign, in a bar whose name I didn't bother to notice. The town was one of the more significantly sized towns I'd been through, a little southeast of my final destination, North Eustacia – known for it's antique shops, pleasant small town folk, and as the once world capital of hickory smoked lard. (That particular title still stands, though I understand that the town no longer uses it as a bragging point or in any of it's tourist literature.)

“Tell us about it again, Jasper.” So said one of the men, an older, grizzly humpty-dumpty shaped individual wearing engineer's bib overalls (and matching cap) that were near worn out in the ass over top a bright red flannel shirt that was crusted with the remainders of several long forgotten meals. “Tommy here hasn't heard the story.”

Tommy was apparently the much younger man in the group. Given his looks and general disposition, he was clearly related to Humpty; I would venture to call Tommy the man's son, but I couldn't help but wonder what happened to the poor woman who was undoubtedly too drunk to know better than to spread her legs or blind, deaf and dumb as to her lover's true nature. The resemblance was undeniable, though. From the size of his gut, though, Humpty could have birthed a slightly smaller version of Tommy and still made it to the bar on time.

Jasper was also a younger man, though clearly no direct relation to Humpty or Tommy. Jasper Cullen, as I later found out was his full name, was a part-time Police Deputy. His head was square the way most cops' heads are square … probably just the choice of hair cut … but his shoulders were narrow and he had a slight hump in his back. At first I thought maybe Jasper had had too much to drink; I soon realized, however, that the slight slur and the way he sometimes ran his words together had nothing to do with booze. It would be unfair – or at least, politically incorrect – to call Jasper Cullen the town idiot. It would be fair to say that his mother held the record for the most drinks consumed in a single evening, a distinction she achieved during the fourth month of her pregnancy. And if that didn't explain the pointed head and wide sloping forehead attached to entirely too small a face and nonexistent chin, the fact that he was birthed in womens' underwear section at JC Penny's 30 miles away might. At the time of her son's birth, the woman claimed to not only be unaware of her pregnancy, she also claimed emphatically that she was virgin; she had also “forgotten” about several panty and bra sets she had stuffed into her purse to purchase.

Either because of his parentage, or in spite of it, the men in town had always taken care of him; as I was to discover later, the women all took this personally, since any one of their husbands or fathers could have been the divine instigator. As such, when he wanted to become a cop after watching a three day television marathon of TJ Hooker reruns, it was generally agreed upon to let him hang around the police station; and maybe because the mayor at the time was high on the list of people who might actually be the other half of Jasper's genetic soup, it was agreed upon that Jasper could be a part-time deputy. It was a more or less harmless position: one that garnered more respect than dog catcher and put him in far less danger of being hurt.

Jasper smiled and laughed a slurry laugh. He seemed almost embarrassed. But after some more encouragement, he took a drink of his Shirley Temple and started in.

A call had come in while he was sweeping up the gun room and preparing to empty the trash cans. A teenage girl – someone everyone knew, but did not to mention specifically by name – called the station, crying. Her mother – someone all the men in town were well acquainted with – had locked herself in her bedroom and would not come out. Jasper told her he needed to call someone else... though why the girl didn't think to dial 911 was beyond Jasper... and that he would send them as soon as possible. But the girl was hysterical. Something was wrong; it wasn't unusual for her mother to be nodding out on the couch half drunk and wacked out on her prescribed pain killers in the mid-afternoon when her daughter came home from school. But it was very odd that she locked herself in her bedroom and refused to answer the repeated yelling and banging on the door. The daughter told Jasper that she had pushed something in front of the door and she couldn't open it at all.

Jasper tried telling her again that he would call someone; the chief was out of town on at policeman's conference and the other deputy was on vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Jasper, as a general rule, didn't go out on calls; he had a driver's license, and was cleared to drive a squad car, and to even carry a gun – though it generally didn't have bullets in it and the chief let him wear the holster to make him feel more like part of the department. But it was generally understood that Jasper himself didn't answer calls; and if any came in... mostly they didn't because anymore people dialed 911... he would call someone more appropriate. But the girl, who at that point was so hysterical that Jasper could hardly understand what she was saying, begged him. Please, she cried. Please come save my Mommy.

At this point in the story, while he was imitating the girl's voice, the men at the bar all guffawed.

Well, whether the young girl's crying pulled on his heart or whether he imaged what TJ Hooker would do in that situation was unclear; but it was at that point that Jasper … who himself had a mother he loved dearly … dropped his broom and told the girl he was on his way. He took the keys for the squad car – it was actually the K9 vehicle, but the dog had recently died from Parvo and had not been replaced – got in, started it up, turned on the siren (something he said he had always wanted to do) and went at high speed to the girl's house. He arrived in less than 2 ½ minutes and found the girl standing in the yard, crying and pacing. She had been crying so much that her eyes were near swelled shut.

Jasper said he didn't know a girl could cry that much.

She led him to the bedroom in the back of the small house. Jasper found that the door was, indeed blocked as the girl had told him. He drew his unloaded fire arm and announced himself as he had heard it so many times on television. “THIS IS TH' PO-LICE! OPEN UP!” Of course, there was no answer. Jasper tried pushing on the door. It was a little open, enough that Jasper could see the bed. There was no one on the bed. He pushed on the door a little harder, but it was blocked by something. He pushed a little harder, but the door seemed to push back. Then he put his shoulder into it and it seemed to give a little more. But not enough to get into the room.

Either out of desperation or frustration, the girl – who had just turned 16 – helped him on the next attempt. At this point in his story, Jasper got a little dreamy eyed and started to stutter a little. The girl, apparently, was very pretty and had a nice shape and was pushed right up against him – which was probably as close to someone of the opposite sex as he had ever gotten. Humpty asked him how it felt to have a pair of nice young tits pushed up against him and what she smelled like.

Jasper smiled, shifted uncomfortably on his stool, turned a little red in the face, and took another drink from his Shirley Temple to finish his story.

The door finally gave way enough for Jasper to get inside; before he did, though, he turned to the girl, making sure to look her in the face and not in her heaving jail bait breasts, and told her to go call the fire department. He told her to dial 911. And then, after taking a deep breath, Jasper, fire arm pulled, announced himself again, and pushed his way into the room. The bed was indeed empty,but it had been laid on recently. There were two empty fifths of rum, and a pile of little blue pills on the night stand. There was a funny smell and a muffled buzzing sound; but upon first glance, the room appeared empty. Jasper heard the fire truck sirens coming, and he was unsure of what to tell them when they arrived; he didn't want to look like fool for calling them out for an locked and empty room. And then he thought of the door, and how it was blocked and how there was no furniture in the middle of the room. Then he turned around.

The woman herself had been blocking the door; not a small woman, she had fallen and blocked the door, presumably after drinking too much and taking too many of her prescription pain killers. And there she was, jammed between the door and the wall. She was naked with a self-massager, the kind you can buy in most drug stores, stuck up in her. Her head was bleeding – probably from being banged when Jasper and the woman's daughter pushed the door open.

When the emergency crew arrived, they walked into find Jasper staring at the woman's naked body, his fire arm drawn. After they finally turned off the massager and removed it – the EMTs drew straws and the short straw lost – they attempted CPR. But it was no use.

At first, it was supposed that the head trauma had killed her; it was later discovered that she had been dead before she hit the floor. Apparently, the woman suffered from depression and chronic pain, and had decided to end her own life; but sometime between downing the pills with rum – her drink of choice – and dying, she decided that she wanted to go out smiling, which explained the clearly unorthodox use of the massager. At that point, the coroner could only theorize, and he supposed that maybe after achieving a mechanical climax, the poor woman decided she had something to live for after all, and she left the bed in an attempt to call for help; but, sadly, it had been too late.

“So what did you think, Jasper?” Humpty asked with a smile that showed all five of his teeth. “You ever see a woman like that before? Huh?” The men laughed and guffawed and shook their heads. They all knew the woman, each in their turn. And while she would not be missed, her death was considered a tragic inconvenience.

“So what DID you think, Jasper?” Tommy spoke up. Everyone had supposed – correctly – that the closest he had ever come to a naked woman was in a late night movie or one of those magazines they sell behind the counter at the corner gas station. Jasper took a drink of his Shirley Temple and smiled, his eyes wide and empty.

His pronouncement was met with laughter and fresh drinks all around. “Big titties,” he said.  

03 January, 2011

A Sketch of North Eustacia, Illinois

The report was a staggering one; three counties over, in a little town no one had thought about since nobody remembered when, the entire town simply dropped dead one day. Of course, no one noticed until the January thaw, and then it was only a lost tourist trying to get to Galena who took a wrong turn and ended up in North Eustacia, Iowa. And the tourist wouldn't have thought anything of it, except that milk cows were roaming the streets, along with the left behind chickens, pigs, dogs, and other semi-domesticated and domesticated critters that hadn't starved to death or had learned how to survive just fine on the eyeballs, belly fat, and fingers and toes of their deceased caretakers. Just walking around, like nothing was wrong. After the tourists – two little old ladies from Cicero, Illinois – noticed the milk cow standing at the corner of Main and Market Street, they noticed the broken windows in all the store fronts. The foul stench of 557 dead bodies – based on the most recent census numbers available – didn't reach them until one rolled a window down, mostly out of amazement. Neither of them had ever seen a real milk cow or a live chicken up close; neither woman expressed a desire to look at one, alive or on her dinner plate, ever again.

After the shock wore off and they rolled up the window and immediately drove themselves to the next town over – Bluffington, population 1978 souls according to the most recent census numbers – which was only about twenty miles north west of North Eustacia, they went straight to the police station and reported what they saw. The jabbering old women were not taken seriously at first, though they might have been if the Police Chief had been on duty; the Chief Delmer Cole was worldly man, a decorated veteran of both Gulf Wars, and had seen enough to know that a town full of dead people, while odd, was not outside the realm of probability. Instead, these two panicked septuagenarians had to explain themselves to one Jasper Cullen, a part-time police deputy and with a high school equivalency and plus ten academy hours. Jasper wasn't even allowed to carry a loaded gun yet, so they let him answer phones and go for coffee. Jasper had never gone any father than five miles in any direction from the town of his birth, and had only heard of North Eustacia when the high school football team played them each year at Homecoming; and even at that, he only knew the name from the cheerleaders rallying cry “There's no pretty faces from North Eustacia!” He remembered this because he liked to watch them jump up and down in their short shirts and tight sweaters.

The two old women – who have still refused to give their named for fear that the strange death they witnessed would somehow follow them back to Cicero and look them up in the phone book – were in near hysterics When Chief Cole happened to come back from lunch with the mayor and heard their story. The first thing he did was call the North Eustacia Police Chief, Watson Gunderson. Not getting an answer, he called City Hall. Still not getting an answer, he called the one or two other numbers dialed at random using the same prefix. Getting neither an answer nor a wrong number recording, Cole got into his car and drove to North Eustacia himself – leaving the babbling women in care of a much humbled Deputy Cole, who offered to go get them a cup of coffee from the new coffee house that had just opened up the street, free of charge.

It took several days to herd all of the animals. Cleaning up the bodies took more than a week, because it meant going door to door. Some people were sitting in their chairs. Some were in bathtubs. Some had collapsed in the middle of the grocery store, or sitting in their cars. It looked like all 556 of them had simply died wherever they were, whatever they were doing. A few people were found dead while having sex. Two teenagers were dead in the backseat of a Chevy Impala at the park; the minister of the North Eustacia Church of God was found dead in the ladies' restroom at the park, his pants down to his knees, his hands still clutching what remained of himself after a wandering animal, to avoid starvation, bit the head of his penis off.

The investigation into the event took longer than it should have because out of 557 residents – according to the most recent census – a total of only 556 bodies of men, women, and children were found. At first, the detectives from the State Bureau of Investigation thought there might be someone alive to notify about the deaths. Then they supposed that maybe the one missing person was somehow responsible; but when the coroner's opus report came back, indicating no cause of death this theory was discarded and the 557th person was considered a statistical error.

The water was tested, as was all the food at the grocery, and in the restaurants. There were no other reports from any surrounding town. Many of the policemen, fire fighters, and others who came to help or to gawk needed therapy for years afterward. Delmer Cole never talked about what he saw, either with the people who helped in the clean up or with anyone else. He simply wrote a report and filed it with the proper authorities. Jasper Cullen eventually passed all of his deputy training and was allowed to carry a gun … though no one ever gave him real bullets and he still only answered the phone and got coffee. The two old women, it was supposed, returned to the safe suburban haven of Cicero and never wandered that far from home again.