The Sleepless Sleuth

Seven days.

He propped his leg on the chipped windowsill as he emptied what was left of the pill bottle past his lips.

Clouds in the sky. Gray clouds.

Looked like rain.

He hoped it wasn’t rain. The integrity of the roof in that dilapidated building couldn’t take another washout.

Cracks in the ceiling were spreading. The leaks were decaying the walls.

Thank goodness he didn’t keep too many of his important files there.

Time for a new office.

He reached past the powder vial in his breast pocket to draw his stuffed envelope.

A faded picture fell out of his pocket and onto his lap.

He picked up the picture and stared at it a while before placing it in his pocket, closest to his heartbeat, once again.

Rest easy, Sister Nanci.

He stared at the wrinkled envelope.

It’s an envelope he’d been carrying around for weeks. An envelope some street fiend would have gutted him to get their hands on. An envelope he should have used to repair the moldy roof, or a lease on an entirely new office on the North Side of town. An envelope he thought of gifting to someone far more deserving than he was instead of pissing it away on another commercial space.

She can do so better than this dump.

He stuffed it in his pocket before washing down the pills with a mix of two day old cup of rancid coffee, melted ice with a splash of vodka.

Breakfast.

His vacation was imminent. It was seven days away and no amount of old joe, case files or expensive street pharmaceuticals were going to keep him in the city past seven days. It wasn’t his reservation to cancel. The vacation was happening whether he wanted it to or not. And, something told him that it would be a trip from which he would never return.

“Your desk is full,” My assistant said from the doorway behind a cart with a single file.

“Sorry.” He turned to face her and nearly kicked a tower of files from his desk. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Into the office?” She asked.

“Into work,” He replied.

“I’ve been here since morning, Malone.”

“That so?”

He was buried so deep in his thoughts, so focused on his works, that a marching band could have set off a fireworks display in his living room and he wouldn’t have noticed.

“Have something for me?” He asked.

“Work.” She handed him a file.

“I was hoping for coffee.” He stared into his empty cup.

“You’re out of coffee,” She said.

He placed the empty mug on his desk. “I figured… If you have time.”

He hadn’t left the office in a few days. Maybe weeks. He couldn’t recall the last t..ime he hit the market for food.

“I’ll buy coffee,” His assistant offered.

“That’s kind of you,” He said.

“It’s nothing,” She took his mug.

He hadn’t eaten in days. He’d been so distracted in his mad rush to solve cases before his vacation that he kept forgetting to eat.

He felt normal. He felt no pain. No weakness. His stomach was unusually silent for someone who is starving themselves to death.

“Anything else?” His assistant gestured for the empty pill bottle he was squeezing.

He was gripping the bottle so tight it had left his fingernail dents in the empty white label.

“No thanks.” He pocketed the empty bottle. “Just coffee.”

She cleared old cigarette butts from his desk and ashtray. “There’s a client.”

No time for any new cases.

“Uh huh.” He flipped through the new file. “Where?”

“The waiting room…”

“No kidding…”

“Will you meet with him?”

“When?”

“Now?”

“Unlikely.”

“Right…”

He had more important things to do than to take on a new case. Also, it wasn’t like he needed the money. He had more money than he needed to take care of himself and to pay for a new faucet for the bathroom and paint to cover up the green fuzz growing on the walls.

He felt her staring at him. “Yes?”

Her posture was like one of those billboards in Time Central. Blaring, bright and boisterously advertising her innermost thoughts. All she needed was a cigarette and an over the top pose.

“Ask me anything, alright?” He faced her.

She huffed. “Are you leaving again?”

“Yes.” He returned his attention to the file. “Soon.”

“How long this time?” She asked.

Wish I had answers for you.

“Last time it was weeks.” His assistant cleared all the solved case files from his desk. “How long this time?”

“A few days, hopefully,” He answered.

“That’s what you said last time,” She answered.

“Sorry,” He replied.

Silence.

“Need someone… to water your plants?” She asked.

He shut his file and clasped his eyes. “Yes…. Please. That would be appreciated.”

He loved his plants. His plants were colorful and too beautiful for that world. He would hate to return from his vacations to see his beloved plants dried up.

His assistant perched her lips. “Okay.”

“Slip this into a red folder.” He drew a pen and wrote a few notes in the file before placing the file on top of the pile. “File it under solved.”

“I just handed you that file,” His assistant opened the file.

“I know.” He replied. “It’s connected to the big arson case we just solved.”

He remembered the Arson case being an open and shut one. The Police Chief wanted to give him credit and the keys to the city for that one. He refused. He neither wanted nor needed anymore accolades from the city.

“I’ll have the courier collect it,” She placed the file evenly atop the tower of solved cases in her cart. “And I’ll tell the client in the waiting room you solved his case.”

“Thanks,” He said.

“How much should I charge him?”

“Nothing… Tell him it’s on the house.”

“Will do…” The little lady shuffled quietly out of his office before he could reply to her insistence on seeing the client in the waiting room.

He faced the window again but didn’t bother reclining.

He thought about his cases were getting easier to solve, and how there was no need to leave his office anymore to solve them. Much like he never needed to see a chess board for more than a second to beat the pants off of a park hustler. He learned early in his career that people in that city were walking-talking game pieces– at most, wind up toys. Everybody’s movements. Everybody just played their positions from sunrise to sundown. Wake to sleep. Birth to death. People in the city were like flesh-carved chess pieces, and Rose city was the overcrowded, noisey, polluted game board, tearing at folds in the center and barely being held together with flimsy tape; and all he needed to see was a first move. One move and then he could step away from the table, and call in checkmate from a pay phone from the South Side of town.

Sad.

He grabbed his scarf, hat and pistol.

He once considered himself lucky for his omniscience. He once considered himself God’s favorite– if a God existed. It took him six vacations to realize the truth.

He yawned.

Truth was, he was cursed. He was being force-fed things his tired mind and deteriorating body could barely handle.

He needed some air.

The one case he couldn’t solve was his own– what’s happening to him. The human brain wasn’t built for what he was being forced to carry. There was no way to stop it. His next vacation was going to kill him.

He needed a cold shower and a hot meal.

He threw on his hat, holstered his pistol in his pocket and wrapped his scarf around his neck before leaving his office.

He waved to his Assistant as he walked past her and some other guy in the waiting room. “Take the rest of the week.”

“Malone…” His assistant chased him into the hallway. “Are you leaving now?”

“Just heading out for some air,” He paused allowing her to catch up.

“And you’re coming back, right?” His assistant questioned. “For your coffee.”

He peeked back into my office and noticed a small, jittery looking man slouched over in our rickety waiting room chair.

“Maybe tomorrow,” He said.

“I won’t make it until then.” She painted a smirk across her face. “The coffee.”

“Thanks.” He pulled the fat envelope from my pocket and handed it to her. “Take the kid out for a steak.”

The contents of the envelope would allow her to buy steak dinners three times a week for the next month. Knowing her, she would use forego the luxury and spend it on something more responsible rent and groceries for the next six (months).

She took the envelope. “He doesn’t eat steak.”

“Pie then,” He said. “Get pie.”

She nodded while examining the envelope.

The envelope he handed her could be severance pay. He hadn’t decided yet. It may not be his decision after all after he goes on his forced vacation.

“Thank you,” She said.

His assistant didn’t even check the envelope. She just held it in her hand like an empty pack of cigarettes.

He called the elevator.

He didn’t deserve her. Not only was his assistant the lifeblood of their agency, she was the most honorable, warm-hearted person he’d ever meet. She was a partner, a friend; the closest thing to a wife and family he’d ever have in his waking life.

“I’ll buy fresh coffee.” She tapped him on the chest with the envelope. “And some new chairs for the waiting room.”

“That would be nice,” He replied.

Ping

The elevator arrived.

He stepped into the elevator.

She waved at him as the door closed and the elevator descended.

He stuffed his hands in his pocket instead of waving back.

He was never good at goodbyes.

The elevator rumbled down to the first floor. He saluted the door man before leaving my building for the darkness and the drizzle.

His car was parked out front.

Fuck driving.

He tightened his top button started his way up the damp street in the opposite direction from his apartment.

The Stockton’s had a monopoly on refueling stations. On all energy in the city. He’d sooner walk in the rain and catch pneumonia than to give those gluttonous bastards another cent of his cash.

“Sir,” A sheepish voice called from his flank.

If he had to guess based on his voice, his stalker was an unimposing man. The nail-biter from the waiting room must have been following him for a good mile.

“Mr. Malone, I was hoping you’d take this case,” nail biter said.

“It’s closed,” He replied. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

He wasn’t even in the mood to humor nail-biter.

“It’s not,” nail biter insisted.

Arson. A hospice ward full of coma patients incinerated by a lone wolf lunatic. It was an open and shut case. One of the easier cases to solve.

“Mr. Malone, you’re the only one who can solve this case.” The stout little guy positioned himself in front of him.

“Nothing left to solved,” He said. “The arsonist is getting the chair in a week.”

Executions were speedy in that city. Trials were quick and efficient. To save space in the overflowing jails. Soulless but practical.

“No…” Waiting room man blocked his path. “You locked up the wrong guy.”

“What’s your name?” He asked.

“Cyrus,” Waiting room man replied.

“Okay Cyrus,” He jabbed his finger into Cyrus’s chest. “I caught the right guy.”

“Not this time,” Cyrus said.

That Cyrus fellow was really trying his patience.

“Get home safely.” He stepped around Cyrus and started walking.

“You’ve got seven days right?” Cyrus said. “Your sleep cycle. Seven days until you go on your vacation.”

He paused. “What did you say?”

“I know what happens when you sleep, Mr. Malone,” He said. “Where you go….”

He drew his pistol grabbed Cyrus with his free hand and slammed the portly man against a store gate.

“I have visions too!” Cyrus pleaded as he gasped for air. “You and I are the same!”

He pressed his pistol against Cyrus’s temple. “Choose your next few words carefully.”

There was only one person in the city who about his vacations and she’d died months ago.

Rest easy, Sister Nanci.

He nearly Cyrus’s front teeth shoving his pistol in his mouth. “Say something useful.”

If the man know about his… then he’d know about how to fix it. If Cyrus didn’t know how to fix him, then he would have to immediately remove Cyrus from the equation.

“The arsons… my visions… your Insomnia…” Cyrus coughed. “Where you disappear to twice a year…Its all connected.”

He removed the pistol from Cyrus’s mouth and took a step back. “Connected how.”

Cyrus hunched over, trying to recapture his breath.

“Connected how?” He asked again. “Answer now.”

Cyrus stood tall and handed him an envelope. “You’re the only one capable enough to find out.”

He opened the envelope.

On the inside was a tape labeled Sister Nanci, and it was dated on the label as recorded seven days ago.

“First, we listen,” Cyrus said. “Then we bring her back from the dead.”

The Proud and Grateful Pan Knight (On his Tenth Birthday)

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My tenth birthday was a full sixty years before my final birthday. 

I somersaulted over the gate and landed in an ankle deep excrement pie. There was no time to clean my boots so I quickly abandoned them on the porch before sprinting into my cabin. 

“Morning mother,” I said. 

My mother nodded. 

I was up long before the sun to feed the chickens early so my mother could not scold me for not taking care of the coups and the stocks before breakfast. So I was free to sit by the big unmarked box in the living room, near the fireplace.

Mother cleaned and brewed Ginger Coffee while grandfather sucked on a pipe. 

“Can I open it now?” I asked

“Have a seat?” My mother ordered.

I nodded and took my seat quietly at the kitchen counter. 

“You need your srength,” Mother said. 

“Grandpa says understanding self is as important as building strength,” I said. 

Mother placed a steaming bowl of fish porridge before me and started wiping the counter. “Your grandfather will never be drafted.” 

“I can still scrap,” Grandfather coughed. 

Mother stared at Grandfather. “If he’s not strong enough to wield the armor…” 

“Then he’ll get lighter armor,” Grandfather answered. 

My mother slammed her rag on the counter. “And less protection.” 

“He won’t grow much bigger than he is.” 

“Yes he will, father…” 

“Let the boy discover what is best for him,” Grandpa lowered his pipe. “What’s best may not be a heavy suit of armor. ” 

“What’s best won’t matter if he’s dead, father.” 

Silence. 

“I will check on the chickens,” Mother said before leaving. 

I fed them already

“And some more tobacco, please dear,” Grandpa said. 

“You have legs,” Mother shot back. 

The poultries and meats were reserved for the Shining Knight brigade. Nothing more important than to support God’s mandate to expand the Potentate’s vast kingdom. We had mud-salmon for protein. 

Mother’s seasoning masked the bitter taste of Mud Salmon. 

I was happy to support the war effort by tolerating a few more months of mud salmon for breakfast. Anything for our divine potentate. Anything for our Glittering Knights.

“Did you thank the Gods?” Grandfather asked. 

I nodded. “And the empire.” 

“Then, open your gift,” Grandfather said. 

I looked over my shoulder. 

I was far from finished with my breakfast and I didn’t want to incur mother’s wrath. 

“I’ll deal with your mother,” I said. 

“Thank you!” I leaped off my stool. 

Grandfather grabbed my shoulder. 

“Patience,” Grandfather said. 

I slowly approached the box. 

The box seemed even bigger than when grandpa brought it into the house a week earlier. 

I took a breath. I removed the ribbon. I removed the lid. I reached in. I pulled out what looked like…

“A pan?” I said. 

I reached in again. Pan lids strung together with chains and leather. 

“Your new armor,” Grandfather said. 

I wiped away a tear. “I love it…” 

I loved it because it was mine. I didn’t care how it was made. I didn’t care how inexpensive it was. I planned to train in it to make it an extension of me. 

“Thank you, grandfather,” I said. 

Pots vs. The Glittering Knight

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“Reliance on my advantages was my greatest disadvantage…”

I stifle my laughter just long enough to draw my Great-sword. 

My opponent has a rice pot for a helmet and small frying pan lids for shin, and elbow guards while my armor glitters as it was forged in the sun’s corona using minerals from the far side of the moon– armor I received from my uncle at my recent birthday. My opponent looks more like the town beggar than an actual warrior. 

We were yards from the rogue village. I can see into the empty town from the empty road– our battleground. I can almost see their eyes peeking from the cracks in their window shutters. 

They will watch me break their champion. Slaughtering their village was unnecessary because defeating their champion will break their spirits. They’ll beg to be folded back into the kingdom. They’ll have the privilege to bow to us once again. 

I turn my attention back to the opponent before me. 

He was wheezing heavily. My opponent’s mouth is buried beneath his coal and ash peppered beard. He is diminutive and frail and has yet to show he can lift his spear. 

I am amused, but also disrespected by the champion the village sent forward to face me. Of all This will be easy. 

“Surrender,” I command. 

The broken old man lifts his spear. 

“Is there nobody else?!” I call towards the village. 

The old man grunts. 

I lift my sword. “Alright then.” 

His crudely made armor will shatter easily, but not on first impact. His armor was made of old pots, but they were metal nonetheless. They’ll require one or two strikes before I’m able to cleave through his bones. His neck was unprotected, so I figure two strikes and I will have his head. 

I lower my helmet and and take small steps towards my opponent.

I want to punish the feeble old man for wasting my time and tricking me into donning my new armor. 

My opponent backs way from me. 

I pause.  “You won’t outrun me.” 

My opponent raises their spear and pauses. 

I’ll easily overwhelm him. I’m stronger. Faster. Younger. 

I raise my sword. “Goodbye, sir..” 

I rush my opponent and bring my sword down on his head. 

My sword strikes dirt. 

My opponent’s spear pierces the side of the knee, beneath the hinge. He withdrew just out of my reach before I could counterstrike with a slash of my sword. 

I’m bleeding through my armor. My armor is stained in blood red and dirt brown. 

I’m furious. 

I stalk my opponent and follow him off-road and into the dirt. 

My opponent circles back towards the road but remains within striking range. His spear is raised but he’s leaving his whole right side open. 

I swing at his right side. 

He parries and throws his body into my chest, knocking me off balance. 

I slash again but fail to connect because my opponent has already retreated to outside of my range. 

Clonk!


I am blind for a moment. I’m rattled. 

Frustrated. Perplexed. 

I couldn’t see the hit coming. 

I shake it off and start applying more pressure to my opponent. 

I’m faster but none of my attacks are connecting. The harder I push the more I’m fumbling over myself. 

The old man is moving blindingly swift in his armor made of rusted pots and pans. 

I’m moving like cement in my celestial armor. 

I attack with all my might. All my speed.  

I’m hoping to tire him out but I’m taking brain rattling hits to the head and stabs to the tender spots in my armor. 

I’m striking where he’s standing and either meeting resistance or empty air. 

It’s not as if he’s moving very fast either. The old man just seems to know where to be like a magician. Like he has precognition.  

I’m crumbling. 

“Enough,” I say as I fall to my knees from exhaustion and all the blows I took to my helmet. “You win.” 

The old man staggers towards me and steps on my sword. 

My sword is too heavy to lift, especially from beneath my opponents tattered boots. 

“Nice armor.” The old man removes my helmet with the blunt end of his spear. “Is it yours.” 

I don’t answer.

“How did I beat you?:” He asked. 

“You tired me out,” I say. 


“You tired yourself out,” He replies. 

My head was pounding and I was starting to feel pain in all of my joints from stab wounds, and from small punctures and incisions from the old man’s spear. 

He takes a seat besides me and lights a pipe. 

I could smother him where he sat. My armor would be too heavy for him to push me off. I could finish this-

“Relying too much on your advantages was your greatest disadvantage,” He says.  

I release my blade. “I don’t understand.” 

“If you’re lucky, you’ll live to be a broken old man like me,” He exhaled a smoke ring. “Then what will be without your speed, strength, and youth?” 

I recognize the sweet scent of smoke. It was the sweet scent of Jane flower. It was often used by peasants as an opiate to calm the body or suppress pain. His hand trembled as he extended the pipe to me. 

I take a quick pull of the old man’s pipe.

The pain quickly disappears and all my regret and disappointment is replaced with a blissful emptiness and clarity. 

“Know your weaknesses better than anyone,” The old man stands and returns to the road. “You understand?” 

I stand and nod.  

Schwoop! Schoop!

Two arrows strike the old man in the back. 

I look over my shoulder. 

An Imperial archer aiming another arrow at the old man. 

I stagger towards the bleeding old man and turn him on his side. “I didn’t order this.” 

The old man laughs and gags on his own blood. “I guess my weakness is mercy.” 

The old man’s head rolls back and so does his eyes. 

An imperial army materializes behind the archer. 

Heads Up Display

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“I think we’re making progress… don’t you?”

 

He blinked rapidly trying to rid his irritated left eye of the rapidly expanding red meter. 

His therapist didn’t believe him. Nobody ever does. He regretted even making the appointment.

His therapist sat there, tapping her cleft chin with her designer pen.

He wanted to stand up right there and leave the room. The display in his eyes- something akin to a power meter in a role playing game- in the corner of his eyes was blinking fast. The word warning started to appear in bold white letters whilst the room was starting to light up like a Soviet submarine.

“You see things…” His therapist inquired.

“Yes,” He replied.

“You see a meter that reads your stress levels.”

“Something like that.”

“Right now?”

“Unfortunately.”

She was questioning him like he was crazy. Maybe he was crazy. But he paid her hourly to make him feel better about himself. Like a whole person. Not to judge him with her eyes.

He sat forward from his sofa with the intention to leave.

“You leaving?” She asked.

“No,” He fibbed.

“Please don’t leave.”

“Okay,” He laid back on the sofa.

His stress meter was full to capacity. The blinking lights ceased and steadied. The room was a steady red. His muscles felt like wet sandbags.

“Still see it?” His therapist asked.

He sank in his seat. “That’s correct.”

“And this is a result of a head injury,” His therapist asked.

“A concussion,” He added.

“And how did you get this concussion?”

“I tripped… Trying to fix a light bulb.”

I tried to hang myself and the rope snapped and I hit my head. 

His therapist wrote something in her notebook.

“What are you writing?” He asked.

His therapist lifted her head from her notebook. “How do you feel about these, visions?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

His therapist stared at him in silence.

He asked. “You don’t believe me.”

“I believe you,” His therapist replied. “These visions could be a good thing.”

“Good?”

“The ability to see your negative feelings rise. Like, a pressure gauge on a steam pipe.”

Wow… She wasn’t judging him. He was just being paranoid as usual. Relief.

“Never thought of it that way,” He said.

The room faded to normal colors as his red gauge slowly declined. The bold warning letters disappeared and was replaced by a more subtle critical which rested at the bottom corner of his eye.

“This meter can be helpful to you,” His therapist reached over and touched his hand. “Feelings are harder to ignore when they’re visualized right in front of you.”

He smiled. “You’re right.”

His stress meter dropped to zero and within seconds, his one full blood red bar was now half-filled with a neon green.

“Thank you doc,” He said.

“We’re glad to help,” His therapist replied. “Take care.”

He grabbed his coat and opened the door.

A nagging thought prevented him from leaving. Her parting words…

“Yes?” His therapist asked.

“You said we’re glad…” He said. “Who is we?”

Glorious Transitions

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I hand my mopey traveling partner his detached jaw.

He was a sad sack. And quite the glutton for punishment. But I liked watching him fall to pieces– literal and fugurative pieces. What makes him funnier than most is no matter how many times I explain to him that only he can end his suffering– right this instance if he chooses– he decides every freaking time to keep kicking himself in the balls. What a guy. This realm nearly took his jaw. The last left him without kneecaps. The first left him without an ear. Yet, he keeps on… Thats what I call will power.

What will the next one take?

“How you feeling?” I slide his jaw into his face so he can speak.

Click… Click… He bites down to lock his mandibles in place.

“Thanks,” He slurs.

I wink. “Anytime, Jim.”

Jim is his name. Or at least the one I gave him since I am terrible with names. No point in remembering his real name since most people who take the journey end up as a pile of dust before they reach their destination. Or, eternally disappointed. I’d rather be a pile of dust than to be disappointed. Or a disappointment. Like I say… Have low to no expectations and you avoid all kinds of suffering. What was I talking about? Oh… This Jim is on his fifth realm and he’s still standing. I’ll refer to him as Jim infinity.

I hold in a laugh.

Jim looks like roadkill. He’s too exhausted to dream up some new clothes so he’s walking around in the ones he was buried in.

People come here after reading Dante’s Inferno or sitting through that incredibly confusing Robin Williams movie from the 90s and think traversing the afterlife in search of love is some simple stroll. Well its not. It can be. But its not.

“Hurry up,” Jim barks.

I slow my pace.

No pitiful, sorry excuse for a post-lifer, who is willing to torture himself like that over a speck of stardust, or whatever we’re made of, will tell me what to do.

“Okay… Jim,” I slap my traveling partner on the back.

Crrrk.

He groans.

It was a light hit, but I still knock his shoulder out of place.

“Fine huh?” I ask.

“Yeah…” Jim coughs up dust. “Fine.”

He doesn’t have long. Damn. I’m about to lose a bet. I though’t he’d make it.

I lean down to talk to him since he’s hunched over. “Sure you don’t wan-”

“No,” Jim interrupts.

Whatever… I was about to tell Jim about this beach resort realm where the illusionary seafood and wine was forever flowing. I was about to remind him, once again for the infinite time, that happiness was literally a choice in this place. There was no fire, brimstone, or red scaly beasts with tails raping you with pitchforks. Hell was a personal choice. The torture here is literally self-serve.

“Hmmmm…” I take a step towards the grassy landscape. “This is nice.”

It was nicer than the last place where I nearly caught a crossbow bolt to the face. Or the amusement park full of clowns that turn people into cotton candy.

“It’s what she’d like,” Jim replies.

“We should stay here a while,” He suggests. “Allow you to rest up a bit.”

“No time,” Jim says.

“There’s literally no time here,” I reply. “So no sense in rushing. She ain’t going anywhere.”

Crackle… Crackle…

“She’s close,” Jim says. “I feel her.”

“That’s your organs turning to Jam and oozing out your bum.”

“She’s close,” He says again.

“You said that already…” I reply.

“I’m sure this time…” Jim sticks his chest out. “She grew up on grassy acres… On a barn…”

“I don’t care!” I scream, unable to pretend any longer.

“You said you’d guide me,” Jim whines.

“Because I was bored,” I reply. “I’m even more bored now!”

“Fine… I’ll go on my own.”

“Why? And don’t say because you love her.”

“She’s my soulmate…”

“Fairy tales!”

The soulmate thing was made up by the Greeting Card industry.

Jim points his curved finger in my face. “The angel-”

I shove his hand away. “Winged lady was trolling you, pal.”

“Seven realms over.”

“Seven? Exactly Seven?”

“We’ve travelled five.”

“You most definitely look it, Jim.”

They always fall for the divine number nonsense. Why not eleven. Or twenty two?

“She wasn’t lying,” Jim says.

“How can you be sure?” I ask.

“Because… There’s no reason to.”

“Of course there is… You’re gullible.”

And gullible, love-sick, betas like Jim are a joy to screw with. And, since winged lady and I are cut from the same cosmic cloth, or so I surmise, I figure she gets a kick out of playing the after-life’s tour guide like I do. And about her wings… I figure that was her schtick… But I do wonder about those wings….I hear they stretch across a realm. How’d she get those? Probably some trick she learned since she’s quite old and has been here since the beginning or whatever. Or so I hear. Heck, I’ve heard she’s crossed more realms than any unbothered in all of the un-xistance. But I digress. I’ll find her one of these days and pick her brain. Or, maybe pluck a few of her wing feathers.

Jim taps me.

He probably wants to apologize for being a jerk.

“Yes?” I ask.

Jim shrugs. “Hey I-”

Vooosh!

A strong gust of wind topples Jim and nearly does the same to me.

Still on my feet. I recover.

I wave my middle finger into the distance.

“What?” Jim picks himself up from the ground.

I smirk at the landscape. “Is that emotion I sense?”

“Who are you talking to?” Jim asks.

“It… them… all of this.. .” I point in all directions. “I explained this to you two fucking realms ago!”

Jim shakes his head. “I-”

“Oh, never mind…” I throw my hands in the air. “Probably scramble your brain next jump and forget again.”

Jim walks off without me.

He was being sensitive again. And stupid.

“Where are you going?” I walk after him. “You have no idea who exists here…”

“I don’t care,” Jim answers.

He must be trying to get himself blipped. Jim knows Undecideds like him were far more dangerous and unpredictable than any of my kind. Depending on the kind of torture they endured in life, and brought with them to the after-life, they could be harboring demons -etheral carnivores birthed by torture, or weapons that could blip (temporary kill) them from Purgatory. Or, even worse, their volatile emotions or desires could go nuclear, and wipe out everything in the realm. And I mean EVERYTHING, Including us. And I can’t get blipped. Not now. I’d have to learn how not to give a shit all over again. What a pain…

I have to dismiss my worry.

I have to pause. I pause. I have to cover my ears, block out the noise, and remind myself. And chant… yes, chant. Nothing matters. Nothing matters. My after-life literally depends on nothing mattering. Which, is a bit ironic now that I think of it. If nothing matters, then I won’t care if I get blipped.

I tap my chin.

I can’t recall the last time I was blipped. I literally can’t remember… which is kind of the point I guess.

Jim was yards ahead of me.

I was so deep in though I didn’t notice.

“Stop…” I demand.

“What?” Jim pauses.

“You’re torturing yourself.”

Jim shakes his head and keeps walking.

“You wait just a goddam minute,” I demand. “You owe me.”

Travelling partner stopped. “I do?”

He doesn’t owe me squat. That line always get them to stop.

“You know why I cross freely?” I ask. “Because I’ve cut away feelings. And desires.”

Jim looks confused. But he’s listening.

“You travel with all that weight. That, gunk in your soul. That garbage eat you inside out with each crossing.” I added. “You get it?”

“Sure,” Jim dismissively answers.

“So what do you say, associate?” I offer my hand. “Snip away the feelings. Let’s visit some more colorful realms. Forget this love thing.”

Come to think of it… When’s the last time I visited my own realm?

Jim approaches me again.

That’s right… You’re making the…

“Thanks for everything,” Jim says before he ignores my hand, straightens his dislodged shoulders and staggers onwards towards the cabin in the distance.

“Catch up to you later?!” I call after Him.

Jim looks taller in the distance. He walks away without even a wave goodbye.

I shrug.

Jim’s not going far without me, so I decide to allow him some time to wander the realm while I converse with my stalker.

“He looks a mess, doesn’t he?” I lean down and pluck a blade of grass. “That wind thing you did was unbecoming of you, Unhinged.”

Always watching. Listening. Probing my thoughts. They were literally everywhere. And everything. And in or of all things. That gust of wind they hurled at me and my idiotic travel partner could have easily been a category five tornado. That’s if they wanted to really fuck shit up. Ha.

I crush the blade of grass in my palm. “No need to be jealous.”

The Untethered were not allowed to interfere,interact, or partake in any of the fun within purgatory. They are… How can I explain… Semi-sentient laws. Invisible referees. They are the living embodiment of the status quo in purgatory. They are slaves to comic duty. What a boring existence.

I dust the dirt off my favorite Lee Ving T-shirt. “You don’t intimidate us. Not anymore.”

A bed of thorns form around me. Overtaking my knees. Then my hands.

“Oh, don’t be such a bitch…” I say.

The Unhinged and their rules. The Undecided and their fucking baggage. Being an Unbothered was where it was at. I’ll never choose…. Ill stay forever.

Skrrrrr! The grassy landscape blinks into a gray void before returning. It lasts a nanosecond.

I laugh.

I’ve seen that gray void before. The world around me would disappear for a nanoseconds then reappear. And it’s more and more frequent on my visits to other realms…

“What’s the matter, Unhinged?” I ask. “Feeling powerless?”

“Stop… this,” The realm replies in a whisper.

I tear through the bed of thorns.

As I told the Unhinged the last time we had a row…

I do what I please here. Even if it means skull-fucking everything in Purgatory in the process.

The remaining thorns turn to ash and blow away in the breeze. I think I hear the grasslands moaning. Weeping.

Music to my ears.

“Hey, pal…” I call after my pitiful travelling Partner. “Wait up!”

I’ll help this idiot find his wife. But only because I know it will piss of the Untethered. And most important of all, I know for sure this will collapse this whole system. And its well past time the Transition, this glorious shit-hole, geta taken down a peg.

Iku’s Defeat

column-drawing-broken-column-1

Read “Scale-Lord’s Victory” here

My hallowed sword. Clear as ice. Invisible to mortal eyes. Her’s was the red dagger. Black edges. Boisterous. Hellish. Magma. My off-hand weapon.

I stalked her.

Her dagger-like nails. She swiftly peeled through my sanctified steel.

Now!

I flung Ice at her eye. Cleaved down on her wings with Magma.

Unholy rage. Desperation. Love.

Ice shattered like glass on impact. Magma snapped in threes.

She cackled. “Hopeless boy…”

I scrambled for the shattered weapons.

Useless weapons! Lying old shaman! 

Phwoosh!

Wings sliced over my head. Clipped my knotted mane.

“Enough!” I pleaded.

E’lees… save her.  

I retrieved pieces of Magma in stealth.

Enchanted weapons were her last hope to retrieve what’s left . Of her.

She summoned machines. Slicing. Crushing. Machines.

I screamed. “Stop!”

She took flight. Whipped her wings. Summoned gusts of wind which pinned me against a crumbling column.

My despair dissolved to acceptance.

I failed. 

I braced my body for a pain worse than death.

She caressed my cheek. “Oh, Iku…”

Pity in her demonic tone. Pity for me.

I opened my teary eyes.

Wings. Leathery skin.  All vanished in favor of her angelic flesh.

“Stop fighting.” She cuffed my cheek.

I looked away.

Tricks. Glamour.

You wear her flesh. But you are not her.

I unearthed her broken Magma.

“Be with me,” She pleaded.

Fine. 

I drove Magma into my chest.

To be with her. In oblivion.

Her wings sprouted. Form shifted from flesh to scales.

“Iku!” She shrieked and collapsed the temple on top of us.

 

 

 

Rockstar’s Rent I

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Goddam apartment. Can’t stand it. 

Putrescence in the atmosphere. Emanating from the mold crusted vents and the endless cracks in his one bedroom death-trap. Stagnant, like the rotting sphincter of a weeks old rat corpse but worse.

Damn.

He taped his guitar neck.

He may have cracked the guitar across the spine of a moron who interrupted his music set. Idiot. Damaged his instrument more than he damaged the disruptive moron.

Strings popped. Pegs missing. Freaking guitar neck was one hard strum away from swinging like a wooden guillotine.

Mental gaps flooding… Recalling the night.

Head pulsating.

He caught a glimpse of himself in his cracked mirror. His sickly- pale frame and sunken eyes.

Tape. He needed tape.

He searched.

Not a single piece of tape below the sea of empty bottles and ripped pages.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

“Open up!’ Landlord roared through the keyhole.

Rent day? Crap. Losing whole days now. 

“Hold on!” He abandoned his tape search to find booze.

Thoom! Thoom! Landlord pounded with something heavy.

He found a half empty marble flask. This’ll do. 

He opened his door. “What?!”

A gelatinous, cane-carrying gimp with a kickable face, piss-colored eyes and teeth like rotting toenails was at his door.

“We want you out,” Landlord said. “Tonight.”

He smirked.  “I’m all paid up, bitch.”

Landlord narrowed his eyes.

“Gold watch I handed you was collateral,” He said.

“What gold watch?”

He laughed. “Don’t play stupid.”

The watch worth more than your shitty existence. 

“I’ll pawn the watch. Get you cash,” He said.

“Bullshit.” Landlord popped two cupcake sized pills. “Pay what you owe then hit the sidewalk, deadbeat.”

I shrugged. “And my watch?”

“Ain’t no watch, shithead,” Landlord jabbed him with his cane. “Get out or get your kneecaps split.”

He balled his fists. “A threat?”

“A vow. ” Landlord poked.

Each syllable of Landlord’s threats and lies echoed in his mind.

Pak!

He smacked Landlord’s cane from his hand. Backhanded Landlord across the face.

Landlord staggered. Rubbed his jaw. Wiped tears. Rushed him swinging like a blind swordsman on steroids.

He snatched the cane out of the air.

Cane was heavy. Denser than it looked. Nearly broke his hand when he caught it.

“Wait!” Landlord pleaded.

He beat landlord bloody with the cane. Kicked him and his cane down the jagged stairwell.

Landlord screamed. “Has-been prick… You’re finished!”

He slammed the door.

Tried to be peaceful. Fuckin landlord wanted this. 

He walked to the window. Stared longingly at Rose City’s skyline.

Fucking city… Just die already.

He took a swig from his marble flask.

Forget the watch… not worth it.

Boom! A blast through the door caused a hole as big as his torso. Dust cleared and two piss yellow eyes were peering through the hole. Landlord pumped his cane. Aimed.

A pump action cane… interesting.

He grabbed his guitar. Escaped through window and onto the fire escape. Flashed Landlord his middle finger.

Fire escape gave way. He and the rickety structure crashed four stories onto the sidewalk.

The Upside I

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Zay promised to never look back. Or down. Only up. At the perfectly capsized city in the clouds.

Clearest skies on record since the mirror world –The Upside– emerged from the smogosphere, according to Templar meteorologists. Its the divine sign he’d been praying for. Do what’s necessary. Take flight. For Shalewa.

He pumped the burners.

Balloon ascending. Turbulence. Thinning oxygen.

Flying a hastily built helium-craft composed of antiquated parts from abandoned shipyards was high-risk. Highly illegal. Suicidal. Still… far safer than returning to the Seminary.

Shalewa tiptoed to peer over the edge. “Is that heaven?”

He gently pulled Shalewa back. “Just another city.”

“Mommy and daddy there?”

“Possibly.”

Mirror versions, but their parents nonetheless.

Shalewa smiled. “Great.”

His sister was smart for her age. Much brighter than he was.

Chilly. Temperature dipping.

“Will we feel upside down?” Shalewa asked.

“It’ll feel like normal.”

Or so he’d heard from Solomonic diplomats who’ve visited the Upside.

“But then, our city will be the one upside down,” Shalewa said.

“Correct,” He replied.

“Interesting…”

Rising doubts… They’re breaking laws and risking lives to meet strangers. A selfish, dangerous plot. But… Shalewa deserves better. She needed parents, even if they’re doppelgangers of the ones they lost.

“Are versions of us there?” Shalewa asked.

“Maybe,” He answered.

Shalewa bit her fingernails. “What if they hate us?”

“They wont…”

“But what if?”

Zay felt for the pistol with the disintegration rounds hidden in his belt.

Then we’ll have to replace them…

He pinched Shalewa’s nose. “Don’t worry.”

Michaela’s Price

Angel sketch

They summoned me early…

Humans gathered in the city square. Visibly frightened but with an unmistakable resolve in their eyes.

They offered me no praise, nor sacrifices they’ve owed me.

“You no longer want immortality,” I concluded.

I wasn’t the creator, but I protected them as such. And unlike my mother– the creator, I was conflicted. Caught between virtuous duties as a cosmic being, and obligations I bestowed upon myself when I shielded them from extinction.

“We’re grateful,” The Governor declared. “But we can no longer offer you our children.”

I was not mother. My power required Life for life. An expensive, but unavoidable cost. Draining my own cosmic well could be catastrophic for all realities.

“You’ll be erased,” I warned.

Governor wiped tears.  “We understand.”

They chose offspring over immortality. Perplexing.

“Are you certain?” I asked.

Governor nodded.

I summoned swords. “Worship me.”

“Okay…” Governor’s face ashened. “Michaela.”

‘Michaela”…  the embodiment of mother’s wrath. The sword with dreams of being a shield.

My protective seal appeared above the city.

I wished to give, not take life. But they left me no choice.

I raised a sword to the exosphere. Let it simmer in the hellish heat before cleaving the seal with angry force

My seal shattered on impact. Mother can see them now.  The city and everything in it, turned to dust.

Damn you, mother. 

I felt rage. Sadness. Guilt.

Brother was right to rebel.

“Mother!” I slashed gashes in reality. “Show yourself!”

I leveled my swords at Heaven.

 

Joshua’s Moon

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I approached Joshua with caution.

We were in a twenty floor high rise overlooking the FDR Drive. Joshua was having an intense episode and dangerously near an open window.

“Where’s Joshua?” I discreetly pulled the syringe from its case.  “Can you get Joshua for me?”

“He’s resting,” Joshua calmly answered.

“Wake him.”

Joshua faced me. “No.”

My son’s illness had returned with a vengeance. The prescribed medicines were useless. Ineffective.

“Why not?” I asked.

“It hurts him to say goodbye.”

My stomach turned. “Goodbye?”

“He perceives what’s at stake.” Joshua sat on the window sill.

“Slow down, honey.”

“He understands sacrifice.” Joshua pointed to the moon, revealing cuts on his forearms. “I must take his body.”

Not this again, I thought.

“What happens if you take it?”

“Joshua goes wherever things go when they cease to exist.”

“He’ll die?”

“I’m unsure if nothingness is akin to dying.”

Now’s my chance.

I snatched Joshua from the window and pinned him to the ground.

“The earth is in peril.” Joshua didn’t struggle. “I’m the planets only hope.”

Nothing behind his eyes. The boy talking was not my Joshua.

I injected the needle into his arm.

Warmth immediately returned to Joshua’s eyes.

“Mom?” Josh whimpered.

I squeezed him tight.

“No!” He ripped away from me and rushed the window.

“Joshua!” I chased Joshua to the window.

The view of the sky weakened my knees. Impossible.

The moon. Crumbling to pieces.

“Why didn’t you let me go?” Josh asked with tears in his eyes.