The following stories are in-progress. Some are small, on their way to bigger stories, while others are meant to be just that: short.
TIL DEATH DO US
Colson Porter stood on the muddy banks of the East Tennessee river. His bare feet sank into the soft mud; it oozed between his toes. He liked the feeling. Anything helped break the monotony of a heat streak that had strung on for nearly three weeks straight. The humidity hung in the air like a wet wool blanket. Mosquitoes hovered around his arms just waiting for a snack of blood. One landed, but he quickly swatted it away—his eyes never leaving the moving rust-colored water of the passing river. His mind drifted back to just last summer when a two week long storm made the fierce river swell up like a pregnant cow, until it burst at the edges, vomiting brown water, dead fish, broken tree limbs and all sorts of trash from up the river, toward Bended Gap—the next township up.
But today, the river was quiet, slow and lazy much like his head. He and his buddy Dylan Babcock had gone out last night to the local hangout, Jessie’s Bar & Tackle. Called that for the obvious reason that is was the only bar in Cypress Hollow—the town he and his buds lived in. But it was also the best place to get night crawlers, fat crickets and oversized blood worms. Fishing around here was not only the best pastime in the world, but also just about the only way a lot of the guys were able to eat.
Colson, or Cole—to some of his friends, was caught in a trance right between a small hangover and a large nap coming on. He swatted at a huge mosquito that had just sunk his vampire teeth into the back of his knee.
“Shit!” he whispered aloud, adding a mumble of, “Gosh darn skeeters ‘bout to eat me alive.” He felt it, smacked it—without taking his eyes off the lumbering river, and put his hand up to his nose to smell the faint odor of blood that the now-dead skeeter had left behind. He licked his hand where the squashed pest had come to its death.
Smells like a penny left out in the rain, he thought to himself.
He was swaying back and forth just a little bit. Just enough to remind him of the cheap whisky he buried deep in his hollow belly last night. That, and old stale ‘tater chips from the local Piggly Wiggly. He and a few friends had been fishing all day, but hadn’t caught a thing. So, instead, they slipped into the back of Jessie’s, stole a three-dollar bottle of cheap hooch and sat out back in amongst the rotting trash and barking dogs and emptied that bottle in less time that it took to clean a trout. Which, by the way, they had none of, given the day was just to hot-damn-stinking steamy. He guessed to himself—in the pre-drunk slur of last night, that the fish musta dove to the bottom where it had to be fifteen degrees cooler.
Now, standing there, along the bank, like some dead tree in the woods, Colson reminded himself why he liked to stick to cheap beer instead of cheap whiskey. Besides the fact that he got a whole lot drunker a whole lot faster on the brown liquid than the piss-yellow kind, he could at least afford the cheap, sometimes flat beer that he and the boys snagged from the gas station. But that other rot-gut; well, they only drunk that shit when they stole it from the ass-end of Jessie’s. And the only way they got away with it was the fact that Jessie was dating Colson’s sister, Sarah. Her given name was Sarah Lee, like them sweet, puffy wrapped desserts in a box their momma got from the grocery store, but the family never called her than for the reason that she got teased nearly every blessed day from kids up at the high school. Anyways, she would let Jessie slide his hands up her blouse and caress her nearly eighteen-year-old breasts, in return for letting her twin brother Colson get his jollies with his pals nearly every weekend of the summer. It wasn’t that Jessie was any smarter than them, or handsome—in fact, he wasn’t that much of a looker, but he had his own bar and that stood for something. Oh, and he was nearly 30, and in these parts that made you some kind of big deal. Weren’t that big, really, given that his daddy, the former Mayor, died around Christmas. This let Jessie buy the place that was known as Maynard’s Bait ‘n Tackle and turn it into something the locals could really appreciate: bugs ‘n beer.
Colson heard something in the distance. He knew what it was. It was his best pal Dylan. He’d probably just taken a big dump in the woods. Dylan was one of those boys who loved to tell you every last step of anything that was going on—whether it was at home, in school, or in this case, what was happening up inside his ass. Colson never understood Dylan’s fascination with shit. In fact, on more than one occasion, Colson would tell his best friend since grade school to keep all the details about his ass mud to himself. He didn’t want to hear about it. Their friends didn’t want to hear about it. Ain’t nobody want to hear about it. But they would, if Dylan had anything to say about it. And he did. Nearly every single time they went into the woods.
This time? Colson just ignored his friend. He was lost in the moment, enjoying the last tiny bit of a buzz from last night. Hell, even the heat ain’t botherin’ me none, he thought to himself.
Suddenly, a big, fat bullfrog leaped from the thicket of the tall weeds, not ten feet from where Colson was standing. It caught him off guard because of his mind wandering. That frog leaped straight up into the air, maybe another ten or fifteen feet, before landing smack on his belly in the passing current.
It was then that Colson saw something he had never seen in his life. There, along the edge of the river, where the soggy green moss meets the sparkling brown river, laid a body.
His eyes nearly popped out from his skinny, sweaty skull, but he didn’t make a sound, except the quickest of inhales like he’d swallowed a gnat.
Life stood still; his stare not shifting. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He wondered if she was dead, or just sunbathing. Hell, she was dead. The way her eyes pointed toward the sky, all milky white, made him know something was fucked up. Her blouse was pulled up nearly to her face, exposing the whitest skin Colson had ever seen. Her nipples were a soft pink, but her breasts had a slightly blue tinge to them. They were bruised like they had been squeezed too hard.
Then, he looked down.
Her legs were laid out in an odd fashion; like she had been running and maybe her heart just stopped, making her fall into a queer position that seemed unnatural.
His eyes drifted lower to her crotch.
Except in a National Geographic at the school library, he’d never seen a girl’s private parts before. And he was surprised to see that there was no hair down there. It was just pink and blue and looked like she’d been kicked there.
The bluish-purple and black bruising all along her thighs matched the color of the bruises all the way around her neck. Her wrists had the same colors. The dead girls knees were skinned and raw, and the blood must of run down her leg at one time was now dried, looking more like tobacco spit that had oozed down her chubby legs.
She looked sad and sexy at the same time. But it was her crotch that pulled his eyes in and wouldn’t let them go. He couldn’t decide whether to throw up or rub himself. Confused, he did neither. And just stared.
The voice of Dylan got closer.
“Hey, Cock-breath, let’s go up to the store and get some cigarettes and chewing gum!” he shouted, swatting no see-ums from his face.
Colson didn’t budge. Instead, his eyes remained glued to the dead, white body—his eyes skimming the soft terrain of her discolored body. His eyes continued to shift from her crotch and her thighs to her dead, cloudy eyes.
He could feel his gut tighten at the sight of the body. But, he could also feel the crotch of his blue jeans get a little tighter, too.
What the hell?, he thought to himself, trying to ignore the agitation going on in his pants.
“Hey, fuck-knuckle, are you listening to me, or what?”
What an asshole. Wait’ll he sees this. Maybe he’ll the shut the fuck up for five minutes.
Dylan approached, still mumbling something about smokes. He squinted at Colson like a bright light was shining in his eyes. Seeing his pal mesmerized by something toward the riverbank, he followed his lazy gaze. His yammering stopped the minute his eyes fell on the dead girls body.
“Goddamn,” was all Dylan mustered; his eyes glued to the corpse.
Colson didn’t shift an inch. Didn’t turn his head to see his buddy’s reaction. Didn’t give a shit what he had to say. Didn’t expect Dylan to hurl into the tall weeds that separated him and the girl.
It was then Colson finally distracted his gaze from the girl to his pal. Looking at the vomit that slowly oozed down the tall thicket, Colson only said, “Nice” and watched as his friend shifted his moist eyes from the sleeping corpse to his soiled sneakers.
“What? Ain’t ya never seen a dead body ‘fore?” Colson asked, more to further embarrass his childhood friend than anything.
“Uh, well, not like that anyhows,” he responded in a voice as quiet as Colson had ever heard him speak.
“You said that like…you may have seen one…some other time.”
“Couple summers ago, me and my old man were driving back from the Smokies when we came up on a helluva wreck. He got out to help—giving we had a four-wheeler. The rescue squad was pulling a man from the car. Seems they’d slammed into a car coming down the mountain. It had jumped the divider and hit ‘em head on. Guy’s head had gone through the windshield. ‘S fuckin’ mess.”
Colson thought Dylan was going to throw up again. He didn’t. Instead, he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and started down the bank.
“Hey, wait!” Colson shouted, “What’re you’re doing?”
“Going to get a better look. What do you think, ass-wipe?”
Colson stood there, frozen, not able to decide whether he wanted a closer look, or to high-tail it out of there. He was mesmerized by the body down by the rivers edge.
“Well?” Dylan asked, waiting just long enough to see if his partner was interested. “C’mon, how often you get to see a nekked girl up close.”
“But…she’s…dead,” Colson said, overstating the obvious.
“And the flies…” his voice trails; his eyes follow the circling flies around her slack mouth. He stares at her pink crotch and he felt his shift again. He hoped his pal wouldn’t notice. No telling what he’d have to say.
As if on cue, Dylan notices his perverted pal grabbing his crotch.
“You’re a creepy muther-fucker,” he spits, turning and sliding down the slippery bank.
After a long moment, Colson shouts, “Hey, dumbass. Wait for me!”
Darien Christopher is a smart man. He is well-educated, comes from a long line of intellectuals, and is a good friend to many. He has, for the most part, always been one of those stalwarts in the community; if that community includes left-wing liberals, right-brain creatives, inside the beltway, but outside-the-box thinkers. He is to be counted among the fortunate in that he is a free-wheeler who pursues his own road to health, wealth and enlightenment. Unfortunately, he has little self control when it comes to things with curves; tight hairpin roads, cars that travel those roads, and beautiful women, especially those whose born-on dates reflect years who make his socks seem ancient.
One day, when the school year was working the kinks out and some were starting to get the hang of things while others slid toward the precipitous slope called failure, he took things just a bit too far. And, as the saying goes, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, making him the right man for the right job, if committing the ultimate sin on campus was the goal to be mastered. Darien Christopher, looking like “The Dude” from the Big Lebowski, crosses the beautiful expansive lawn of UNCB. He loved living in Boulder; the mountain scenery far surpassed his hometown of D.C. Students pass, greeting him in a number of ways; from "Hey, Professor” to "S'up, Bud” to "Prof." Either way, it was clear that he was liked by all.
Looking like he had been up all night, he rubs his face, trying to snap to. It was then that a very beautiful and long-legged brunette approached. Her come-hither look awakened the sleeping dragon. He smiles. Just as she's within hugging distance, he gets a slap across the face, knocking him to the ground, whereupon she tosses a tiny thong at face.
“Those are not mine, yet they found their way into my bed; no doubt, falling from your sport coat,” she says, storming off.
“Hell hath no furry like a woman scorned.” Picking up the panties, he inhales deeply and whispers, “Stephanie.”
Students gather in noisy clusters, waiting for class to begin. As he enters the noisy classroom, he drops his briefcase on a desk, slams a courtroom gavel, instantly quietening the unruly class, and walks to a nearby mini-fridge. Removing a cold beer, he drinks the entire bottle, motioning for the class to get quiet.
“Class? Today is the first day of a very special journey; one that will inevitably change the course of your lives forever."
THE ICE HEIST
BOOM, DIDDY, BOOM by P.O.D. was playing on the stereo. The sun was beating down like a hammer on a nail, and searing her skin like a brick oven. She reached over and picked up her cold drink and took a long, wet sip on the madras; her favorite drink once the beach became a frenzy of semi-clad bodies. It was always the same. The crowds started the first week of May, for those who liked to get a jump on the summer crowd.
Her name was Elizabeth, but everyone called her Lizzie, or, Thin Lizzie, by her closest of friends; as in the late 60's Irish rock band. I wasn't sure where that came from. Not that it mattered. My name is Darien; just plain Darien. I'm from Hollywood. Yes, actually from right here in the original Sin City. Actually, I was born in the San Fernando Valley; Glendale to be exact. But I moved to this side of Mulholland Drive as quickly as I could.
"Damn, it's hot", her perfectly plumped and semi-manufactured lips puckered to the air more than anything, or anyone, else.
Darien turned his head in her direction, peering over his Persols.
"No shit, shylock" he mumbled, mixing metaphors. And who knew better than him, now only one year into the business he'd made more than God. Well, the God he knew. And the God he knew; didn't love anything or anyone more than money. And fast cars. Oh, and beautiful women with perfect bodies, and, surprise; brains.
"Huh?" the bottled blonde responded.
"Nothing", he said half under his breath, returning to the magazine he was reading.
"Nothing as in you didn't have anything to say, or as nothing to the point, meaning you have nothing else to add to the story; soliloquy, if you will. Perhaps, a mere stanza of inspiration would do, if your shallow intellect would allow the momentary lapse of...seasoning."
He dropped his drink. Mouth agape, he said, "What the ...?"
"Exactly", she said, with a sly grin and an even more sly wit.
"Wow," was all his perfectly coiffed pie-hole could muster.
She grinned, the light sparkling off her perfect white teeth like something reminiscent of a chewing gum ad. She took another sip, set the empty glass down and rolled over on her very flat stomach, popping her bikini top.
"Don't want lines to obscure the view", she muttered.
He said nothing.
"Buy a girl a drink?"
He scanned her long, muscular body, more for mental inventory than anything else, then looked over at the bar and caught the bartender's eye, holding up two fingers.
They locked eyes. She said, "We have a winner!"
PJ arrived a little after sunrise on Saturday; the day after he received the bad news. It wasn’t as much as depression he felt, as loneliness. He had lost pets before, but this pet, Bali, was his best pal since his teen years. The vet hadn't ever expected him to live this long; it was a miraculously long life. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come. And while most people didn’t celebrate the birth of a baby Llama with the pomp and circumstance of a high school graduation, PJ decided that if he was going to branch out and have a different kind of pet, well, then, he was going to do it right. And he did.
Hell, Bali was closer to PJ than his ex-wife. Wife number two. He had met Deloris in the airport terminal in Des Moines close to a decade ago. PJ was heading to South Beach on business. Delores was heading there for pleasure. Together, they carved out rapid plans for nuptial bliss over a couple of Rusty Nails; a drink that PJ introduced one Miss Pauling to, when stiff drinks were all the rage in his day. Nails, as he referred to, were the drink of choice for putting your mind at ease, as well as the tightness of your pants; or, the degree of difficulty in the removal thereof. Dee took to them rather quickly, acquiring the taste, along with the accompanying tendency to overdo them. And overdo, they did.
He hadn’t thought about Dee in over a decade, but somehow seeing the long stretch of crayon-colored structures brought the run-hard-put-up-wet look of her face and the memory of her dime-store perfume come back to his memory faster than a 747.
Pulling up in his ’74 Cadillac El Dorado, memories came flooding back. The warm sun and fresh sea air was a tonic he needed right about now. Well, a gin and tonic would be even more therapeutic; okay, perhaps not therapeutic, but certainly welcome, after two days on the road without a shower and a shave.
Driving along the main boulevard, the hotels were much livelier in color now that the renovation had begun. Old gray tenements were now green, yellow and pink; not all together, but each one, more brilliant in the morning sun than the next. But he was looking for the purple one: The Grande Dame. Or, maybe it was The Grand Illusion. No, it was the The Grande Estate. Of course; the former home of billionaire what’s-his-name, but more importantly, the place that he got hit over the head with a plastic pineapple. That’s a whole other story for another time. For now, he was on a mission to find a long lost friend with a rap sheet longer than the length of his baby, El D.
PJ had been up and on the road since 3:30 that morning; actually, it was 3:41 when he rolled over and decided it was better now than later to get on the move. He had fish to fry, appointments to keep, and dreams to decipher on the way to paradise; like, why in the hell would he be dreaming of wearing nothing but a thong, some sunglasses and flying down the main drag of South Beach on a flying carpet? Musta been the beans from last night, and the one too many tequilas.
THE TRAIN STATION
The train swayed slowly, rocking gently-as a baby put to sleep. Garbage, discarded along the rails in heaps, was tossed aside like memories-no longer serving any purpose. Perhaps the fragments of everyday life had outlived their usefulness. Windows are sparsely illuminated at the late hour. Tattered curtains and empty panes littered the buildings, hardly warming the poor inhabitants. Outside, the cold night retained the chill hanging like a wet sheet, while inside, absent dreams failed to fill the dark lives, offering a frail illumination of hope. Sad backsides of homes, were merely facades of tired structures, which barely protected the weary faces within. The train station, once grand and glorious, now acts as a tired conductor to all who travel its corridors. Sounds echo from wall to wall, reflecting as a pond mirrors the images and sounds from whence they came. Several pedestrians mill about, while others hurry. A black father, beaten down by life, huddles his children, six in all, preparing to venture. The mother barks orders in anger, “Where’s my ticket?” Father reacts with little enthusiasm, asking each child “Where’s Momma’s ticket?” No answer. Each reacts as though deaf and dumb. They searches pockets. He asks again. No response. Father swings toward the third youngest, delivering a smack on his ear. A silent scream appears on his face, producing tears, but no sound. It wasn't as though any noise would bring relief. Ripping at the tender fabric of his blossoming masculinity, pain is sent through his small, frail body and fear appears in his lonely eyes. The boy retreats. Father has sewn another seed of fear. Mistrust is now the norm. Moments later, when father goes to gather all his chicks and reaches for his son, he’ll only find a shrinking dark rose, pushing out thorns of rebellion, in the name of protection. Malice for retribution. Travelers scan the boards, searching their destinations. Some, more exciting than others. All offer their own version of adventure; all in different ways. Perhaps the only difference is merely change. Could the change be a form of deliberate desperation we impose on ourselves? Or, could it merely mask a boredom which tears at us? In the end, perhaps what they all needed was simply to be quiet and enjoy the ride. While we never know if there's enough time before the next stop, we do know another station will soon come into view. All aboard!