Writing as Protest: “Blood Tribe” in Response to Dr. Ben Carson’s Inept Commentary

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Just a few days ago, HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson made a comparison between African slaves and immigrants. I can go on and on about this and many people already have about the Good Doctor’s daft statement. Instead of kicking up more dust than I already have on the matter, I will allow my work to speak for itself.

I wrote “Blood Tribe” a few years ago to be included in the Sins of the Past (2014) anthology. Back then, Carson had never even shown up on my radar, as he had yet to throw his hat in the ring when running for POTUS. I will attach my story here. Though it is a tale of horror, please realize that the REAL horror was that suffered by the common ancestors I share with Dr. Ben.

Blood Tribe

I was perched atop my favorite palm tree, basking in the glow of a bright moon, sampling the different scents on the salty coastal breeze.  What came to me nearly singed my nose hairs with a sharp, long-forgotten stench.  The tribal members in my village were too caught up in their activities which focused on sitting around a fire and listening raptly to the griot’s tale.  The children guffawed and hung onto every word that filtered through his cola-nut-stained teeth as he spun tales of the trickster spider god, Anansi, and of creatures like me…

But I’m getting too far ahead too quickly.

It is true that I am not quite human, but you’ll learn more about that as I unravel the tale.  Where was I?  Oh yes, the smell that hung in the air…  The villagers were more concerned with libations brought in calabashes by beautiful dark ladies whose breasts hung free.  The men stood around in the background, also bare-chested, sharing rumors and tales of their own.  Nobody else had picked up on that smell.

My senses are keener than those of humans.  Not to say that I am not human at all.  I am just something…more.

From time to time, I made the obligatory physical changes so that I could mingle with them.  Some looked at me as a goddess walking in their midst while the superstitious regarded me a necessary evil.  Both views were at least partially true: my power and those of others like me would make me something of a minor deity at best and, though my intentions were usually good, I had been known to drift to the darker side when provoked.  Besides a painless sacrifice every now and then, I demanded no tribute and hated when someone wanted to fall at my feet.  Flattering, yet completely unnecessary for my personality type.  Other Nameless Ones got off on that sort of thing…

The rumor of the origin of my species was shrouded in mystery, as none of us could ever recall not being.  What we did collectively remember was a man who was more than just a man nailed to a wooden shape in a desolate place called Golgotha.  It was said that the ground below, which had been saturated with despair, death and excrement, was the bloodstained clay used by our creator to form us.  We would remain until the Man-Who-Was-Not-Man came back to this realm.  Until that return, we were scattered to the ends of the earth, protecting or terrorizing humans, becoming guardian angels or monstrous devils as we deemed fit.  We were beyond being named or categorized, so we didn’t bother using personal identifiers for each other or the humans to which we seemed drawn…

I lived in an uneasy symbiosis with my assigned tribe.  Remote regions had guardians of their own.  Unlike my brethren, I had a certain fondness for my humans and didn’t treat them merely as food.  There was the occasional requirement of blood, though.  I only fed on the willing and the overly curious.  However, extraction of that precious liquid tissue wasn’t necessarily tantamount to death, unlike with some other fluids and…

I’m getting ahead of myself again.  I tend to ramble sometimes, which is a symptom of having lived for at least 1,500 years, I guess.  Where was I?  Oh yes: the stench.  I was used to all sorts of smells and could withstand the putrescence of waste material and even rotting flesh.  What didn’t set well with me was the foul odor that had hijacked an otherwise delightful breeze to assault my senses and ruin my night.  That stink was the same as what I could recall of Golgotha: despair.

The ship, still a day or two out, had a cargo unlike any I’d ever seen.  Yes, I could actually close my eyes and, by sniffing, could make out vague mental pictures of obsidian human husks whose spirits had been all but exorcised.  There was a great and constant moaning which, though some of the cries were made in the tongues of peoples from different regions, was universally understood.  Some sounds superseded human language, such as laughs and cries.  The overwhelming reek caused me to spit up a rather delicious dinner of raw snake and overripe mango.

I remained on my perch just shy of dawn, when I had to retreat beneath the canopy due to my extreme allergic reaction to sunlight.  I sampled the air a final time, hoping the craft would bypass us or, even better, go back to its origination point.  But by morning, the images of flayed skin and ululating rape victims were stronger than the rays of the morning star that filtered downward to the jungle floor.  From my resting place in the earth, I decided I would approach the tribal chief and council of elders shortly after the sun had descended for the evening.

 

 

Upon waking, I shifted to an upright biped form.  I could modify physical characteristics, altering species, skin tone and gender at will.  I entered the village as I usually did: in the guise of a stunning woman with wide, swaying hips and a dermis the color of plum flesh.

I loved taking the feminine appearance because, anywhere outside the village, I was underestimated and sometimes allowed to blend into the backdrop.  Members of the tribe knew my familiar forms because of the dark indigo hue of my eyes, which glowed in bright moonlight.  They’d learned to respect me more than their own women, whose standing was based on serving and childbearing talents.  The men weren’t misogynist, though they did have a lot to learn concerning their female counterparts.

The elders had learned to render honor in whatever avatar I chose, though a couple of the younger members of the council barely hid their disdain with pursed lips when I came as a woman.  By tradition, the men took aversion to receiving orders or advice from what they’d deemed the lesser sex.  On the rare occasions that I appeared as a man, I was larger and stronger than their mightiest warriors and raw power was something they respected outright.  They had lessons yet to be taught.

“The village is in trouble,” I announced before the panel.  I described what I’d sensed the previous night, down to the details of the ship’s sails.

“Then why have we not heard drums in the last few days to warn us?” one of the naysayers spat.  “Our allies and even our enemies must know of this vessel that hugs the coastline and stinks of death.”

“Let them come,” stated one of the newer, younger members of the group.  He was renowned for his skill in battle and welcomed the challenge of any group that would try to steal their women.

He and his kinsmen obviously didn’t understand the gravity of such things.  To them, enslavement was something that happened to the prisoners taken by one tribe upon defeat of the other.  The captives, though made to work hard in the years to follow, were able to do so with some sort of dignity.  They were often able to gain a foothold and eventually assimilate into the tribe.  The ship that was on its way would not offer the same.  My humans would be reduced to beasts lower than the dung-slinging monkeys that inhabited the baobab trees.

I tried getting the point across, appealing to the chief, who I had known as a wise man all his life.  Instead of intelligent consideration, the discussion devolved into arguing, disbelief and outrage but no resolve.  Finally, the chief spoke: “Purple-eyed demon,” he called me, trying to show strength before his council, “You come bearing bad news based on paranoia and superstition.”

My instinct was to laugh in his face, but I neither wanted to be disrespectful of his position nor forget the issue at hand.  His challenge had more to do with the vestiges of masculinity: the perceived length of his penis and how many children he had sired.  In short, he didn’t want to look bad in front of his entourage.

His face was etched with determination, though I could see the glint of fear in his eyes.  “Why not turn yourself into a great sea creature and sink the ship?”

His sarcasm bit me.  Though I had never lorded over the tribe as some of my ilk would have, his words provoked me and made me want to morph into a huge, black bear or silverback gorilla (which was about as big as I could get) that could maul each member seated before me.

I fought the urge and did not alter my form or relent.  I said nothing and left the hut regretting I’d ever brought up the slave ship.  They would regret their mockery and underestimation of an enemy the likes of which they’d never even seen.

I had been around longer than any of the elders and many generations of elders before them, so I had a good idea of how bad it could get.  I’d witnessed women ravaged to the point of death, men hoisted high on impaling stakes and suckling babes ripped from their mothers’ teats and thrown to lions for sport.  I had watched torturous vivisection under the guise of scientific advancement.  I had seen true evil and the tribe’s experience of regional skirmishes could not compare.  I knew the incursion of white men rowing ashore with bad intentions would be much worse.  I was left no choice.  No matter the consensus of the committee, I knew what I had to do as a guardian.  But they would have to learn the hard way before I would come to the rescue.

 

 

Trapped in the rainforest with the sun hanging high overhead, I remained hidden beneath palm leaves and loose soil as screams and wails and clinking iron disturbed my slumber.  The ship had sped in and dirty men with pinkish, sunburned hides rowed to the beach.  The slavers didn’t arrive acting as missionaries who’d come in peace.  The tribal warriors were expecting a battle in the conventional sense and had never heard or felt the explosions of gunfire before that day.

 

 

When night fell, I transformed into a cheetah and ran swiftly through the jungle toward the water’s edge.  The captors had done a snatch-and-grab, plundered quickly and returned to their vessel with a good portion of the villagers.  The more robust men who hadn’t been felled with rifles put up enough of a defense to hasten a retreat.  There was blood in the sand and the rotten onset of despair had infected those left behind.

But the human traffickers weren’t done.  The ship was anchored a mile off, which was out of reach for any volley of spears or arrows.  The white men would return for days on end, making their way about a mile inland to grab up any tribe members they could find.

The Chief’s first wife was on her knees, crying, reaching out toward the horizon as if she could bring back her husband and son.  The griot, her older brother, was nursing a smelly protrusion of intestines, trying to put them back in his belly with bloody fingers.  He lay agonizing in his sister’s arms, shaking his head feverishly.  The pain would be enough to make him lose consciousness but he would survive a day or two before the peritonitis became too much.  I said nothing, just met her eyes, which were drowned in oceans of tears that made waterfalls down her cheeks.  She needed say no more.

I had made it my mission to never undergo transformation in front of my humans as not to frighten them.  That night, I was beyond caring about such things.  Their wails signaled my change, my muscles jerking in spasm as my skin stretched and bones bent and creaked to accommodate.  The fact that I’d done the same for centuries didn’t make the process any less painful.  However, the hurt I felt on that beach was nothing compared to the vengeance I was going to dish out.  After all, hell hath no fury like a bloodsucking shape-shifter scorned…

 

 

My wingspan was so great, it nearly eclipsed the moon.  I circled above until I spotted one of the pirates in his forward cabin.  Dumb bastard didn’t even notice as I materialized in the tiny room, so caught up in terrorizing some frightened teenaged girl.

“Get ‘em hard, girlie,” he barked, twisting her exposed nipples, spittle running from his lipless mouth and down his stubbly chin.  I didn’t know what he was saying exactly, only that the language was Latin-based.  However, I understood his meaning.

The girl whined to her assailant’s delight, his breath stinking of grog and his penis stiff against his leg.  He wouldn’t have chance to use it ever again.

It’s amazing how much blood the capillaries spurt, though the veins and arteries are much more generous with their output.  As the filthy sailor presented his third leg, I ripped it from his body, baptizing the cabin as he convulsed and ejaculated in violent shades of red.  He tried screaming but I slashed his vocal cords with jagged claws, leaving him hissing and gurgling, with a look of surprise on his death mask.

He got off light.

I went partially reptilian and slithered down into the hold, where the bulk of the human cargo was chained.  Their flesh was torn and bleeding and stinking of waste.  Some were physically ill while all were infected with the desolation that hung stolid in the air.  Many spoke different languages, misunderstood by people from far off regions.  Former enemies locked eyes with previous foes, past disputes dissipated, wishing they could unite for freedom’s sake.

They would get their chance.

I could singlehandedly do the job but wanted these tribesmen and women to take ownership in proclaiming their own independence.

I searched through the rows until I sniffed out the chief, who’d been badly beaten and bridled.  I could smell in his sweat that he’d fought with all he had before his capture.  He wanted so badly to tell me that he wished he’d listened to my advice about deserting the village to move his people inland.

He could thank me later.

I sunk my fangs deep into his jugular and fed greedily from the geyser that eagerly burst forth.  His cry was muffled but became more of a drunken lullaby as I literally sucked the mortality out of him.  It was a sanguine exchange that granted a wonderful, dark gift: the power to adapt, overcome and, ultimately, survive.

To say what took place after was a chain reaction would make me the teller of bad puns.  No metal—save silver—could hold the chieftain and his fellow prisoners.  He broke the restraints and snatched the contraption that’d held his tongue in check.  He didn’t take out the bridle so he could give some vainglorious pep talk to the troops about what they needed to do.  His directions were transferred with his bite.  Each African communed with the other by way of blood, their linguistic and geographic differences dissipating with every coppery mouthful.  They instinctively drank just shy of stopping the heart, which was necessary to conversion.  Once they’d undergone the change, they were reborn into a new tribe.

It was the thunderous breaking of chains and bestial growls (replacing moans and cries of despair) that brought members of the ship’s crew into the hold to investigate.  They were met by 113 freed men and women, some halfway transformed to beasts and nightmarish creatures with no fear of weapons wielded by the impotent…

Just as the strangers didn’t bother with pleasantries when they’d arrived on the shore hours before, the newly made shape-shifters saw no need for niceties, either.  The shrieks of their captors went forth in a discordant series of shouts from throats rendered raw from the effort, yet unable to stop.  The background music was punctuated by the occasional solo effort, usually from some poor lout who was forced to watch as his shin or forearm was snapped open to retrieve the delicious marrow—a sheer delicacy that had me licking my lips and wanting to join in on the killing.  No.  As new recruits of the Nameless, that rite of passage was theirs alone.

I’ll admit I was jealous, particularly when the warrior member of the elder council, eyes glinting indigo in the glow of torches, figured out how to extract grey matter—much to the chagrin of the host.  The poor bastard’s skull cracked like a pigeon’s eggshell, hissing briefly as the gas pressure leveled with the outside air.

The frenzy went on through the night.  It was the change in the color of the sky that stopped the hoisting up of the ship’s captain in a noose made of his entrails.  Covered with the blood of their prey, there were only two choices when dawn came: strike below in that cursed hold or make way for the jungle beyond the shore.  All 113 either grew fins to jump ship or sprouted wings to take flight, avoiding the forthcoming rays of the sun.

The vessel sat at anchor, carcasses and body parts left exposed to the vultures, stinking of death and ghosts of despair.  Even after the reformed council met in the nights to follow, I forbade burning or sinking the frigate.

“Let it remain as it is,” I commanded.  Being the eldest and their maker, my word was undisputed.

So there the craft remained through the next 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade, its timbers never rotting and the stench of its corpses disgustingly fresh.  It bobbed in the waves and never sank, serving as a warning to all who would venture to that cursed part of the coast with ill intent.  A few did, arrogant and ready to refute primitive superstition for a chance to capture the legendary.  Their vessels were added to our collection, a glamour put over the ghost fleet, floating in the harbor like ghastly chess pieces.  After awhile, the slavers got the hint and chose to steer clear of the Nameless Blood Tribe.  The unfortunate souls stupid enough to challenge our guardianship over the land and its people are trapped until the Word Made Flesh—the Named One—returned.

 

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Antioch Jackson: Monster Hunter (Part 1)

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Ghost, Man, Scary, Alleyway, Night, Walk, Alone

Englewood had once been an up-and-coming neighborhood for immigrants. That was long before Antioch was born and many years before White Flight. Now, all that was left was an urban war zone, stranded four miles inland from the coastline, and all-but-forgotten by the sprawling city.

The residents never saw the money brought in by big business and tourism in the city’s affluent Downtown and Gold Coast areas. For everyone not living there, it was a place to be driven through quickly or to see on the news as the murder rate climbed.

But it was the place that Antioch Jackson called home. And the apartment she shared with her mother and father was full of love. And, though she and her little brother Corinth did more fighting than anything else, the actually loved each other, too.

Their place overlooked the large grassy median on Garfield Boulevard. It ran east from Washington Park, past her house, and west to Gage Park. There were apartment buildings on her side of the boulevard, but large bungalows and old miniature mansions on the other. During her walks into Sherman Park, which sat diagonal from her building on the corner of Garfield and Racine, she imagined the neighborhood a century before. Back then, it was a place where doctors, attorneys, and affluent businessmen took up residence. But not anymore.

“Antioch,” a booming baritone called in a singsong-y cadence from the dining room.

“Yes, Papa,” she replied, emerging from her bedroom.

She headed toward the back of the house to find her dad sitting at the dark wooden table, taking up an antiquated pastime: reading the newspaper. She could smell the hash browns, turkey sausage, and eggs that Mama had placed beside him. There was a crinkling sound as he turned one thin sheet to the next page.

“Yes, Papa,” she repeated.

He had heard her footsteps and felt her presence, but like many other things in life, Gerald Jackson took his time. There was a pile of books next to his plate, the bottom being a thick, hardback tome. It wasn’t surprising for his wife, Demetria, or his children to see his nose between the pages of some volume or paperback whenever he was not at work. His eyes roamed from one article to the next, before he turned the newspaper page again.

“Is Cory up, yet?”

She and her brother had been named after the cities where churches were set up in the New Testament. His name had been shortened to Cory while hers didn’t get a nickname. This told her something about her position over her less-than-responsible sibling: she was the one to be taken seriously, while Cory had the luxury of slacking off.

Though she read about as much, Antioch had not taken on her father’s patient outlook on life. She was up early each morning, even on weekends and during summer vacation. And, save the time she set aside to read, she almost hyper-kinetic.

“He doesn’t want to let that pillow go,” she said with a sigh, “But I shook him after his alarm went off the second time.”

The top of the newspaper canted downward so she could just see the frown on Papa’s brow. His eyes were serious.

“You tell that boy I said for him to get his butt up!”

Her father never raised his voice but he knew how to convey the gravity when he needed to. She had accepted she was the liaison between her father and brother. More often than not, she was the one to plead Cory’s case when Papa was ready to use his belt.

“Yes, sir.” With that, she excused herself and gave her brother’s box spring a good kick. “WAKE YOUR BEHIND UP! Daddy said if he has to come in here, you’re gonna be dancing above the sheets!”

Corinth half-grumbled and half-whined in protest, sounding more oinking pig than growling bear. He was tangled up in the sheets and swinging for his sister, he rolled out of bed, and hit the floor.

She giggled.

He rolled his eyes and yawned. He liked sleep too much and what she imagined the modern-day Rip van Winkle to be.

“Dang, Antioch,” he complained. “You didn’t have to kick my bed.”

“I’m gonna tell Papa you’re trying to cuss again.”

To that, he sucked his teeth, and tried unraveling himself. “What time is it?”

“Not enough time for you to eat breakfast. You’ve got about five minutes to brush your teeth, get dressed, and get out the door for school!”

What ensued was a catastrophic, offbeat dance that sent Cory knocking over the lamp, losing balance, and falling to the floor again.

“What the hell is going on in there,” she heard her father boom from the table.

“Nothing, Papa,” the children said in unison.

They heard the faint crinkling and he went back to his morning reading.

Antioch made a playful fist at Corinth, putting it under each of her eyes in a comical threat. “Five minutes,” she said plainly.

When she left out the door, it sounded like her Uncle Chris was playing his trade on the drums. Her brother was still wrapped like a pig in a blanket, trying to untangle himself. She shook her head, kissed Papa on the cheek, and made her way to the bus stop to wait.

***

When Cory emerged, he looked like he’d slept in his outfit. No doubt he’d whisked past their father without being seen. Though not always he newest items, Papa wanted their clothes to always be pressed and neat. Cory, however, marched to the beat of his own drum.

“You’re ridiculous,” she said.

“Shut up,” he shot back with a frown.

“Up late again playing those games, I see.”

“You ain’t my mama,” he fussed.

“The word is aren’t and you still have some crust in the corner of your eye.”

He stopped and used his shirtsleeve to get it together. She shook her head.

Though the Number 55 bus stopped right in front of their apartment, they would walk down a few blocks until it caught up with them. Mr. Anderson, who was a family friend, would pull over even if they were between stops.

As they made their way east on Garfield, Antioch looked at the dilapidated homes on the other side of the boulevard. She imaged buying one, fixing it up, and moving her family into it. Then, all of Mama’s early shifts and Papa’s extra hours would be for something more than paying rent.

They were nearing Carpenter Street when Antioch noticed something different. She nudged Cory and pointed toward the corner diagonal. “Look at that.”

“Okay, it’s a crew, working. What’s the big deal?”

There were men in hard hats with tools and equipment moving about, busying themselves, and making a fuss over a house that had been abandoned since her Mama was a little girl.

“They’re not tearing it down.”

“Okay, so what’s so weird about that?”

“Nothing, I guess. But why now?”

Cory was munching on a granola bar he’d pilfered from the pantry. He took a bite and, with his mouth full, said, “You ask too many questions.”

He may have been right. Her curious nature kept her in the books, inquiring about things most kids never bothered to ponder. But something about that house on that corner had gotten her attention. Yes, part of it was the construction crew but that wasn’t the only thing.

Then she saw it. The figure appeared to be a man but something about him was out of place. He was very tall, extremely skinny, and stood stark still. While the men moved about with pieces of lumber and bags of concrete mix, he stood there in his dark clothes, not wearing a hardhat at all.

“Look at him,” she said, trying not to point too obviously, though the figure’s back was to them.

Cory took his last bite. “So what? It’s a man standing on the corner.”

“Look at how he’s dressed.”

“He’s rocking a black getup,” Cory said dismissively. “Maybe he’s just making a fashion statement.”

The gaunt man with the wiry, gray mane of hair did appear to be dressed for a funeral. But something about him made her suddenly feel like she had to use the bathroom. Reality seemed to retard itself and cars rolling down the Garfield seemed to do so at a turtle’s pace, still blurry from their momentum.

It was a cool autumn day and the colorful leaves were swirling about in the wisps of wind in slow motion. A closer observation revealed that many of the leaves were gathering at the man’s feet, as if he was the center of a vortex. She had to squint from across the street but it appeared that the ones that were drawn to him lost their bright colors of orange, yellow, and red. As they came to him, the brilliance of each leaf dulled, the color fading until they were about as black as his pants.

Her stomach churned. She looked to her right and her brother’s mouth was moving in slow, silent commentary, a bit of granola stuck to his lip.

She looked to her left and the creep across the street turned without effort. His feet levitated above the pile of leaves and his entire body rotated until he faced her. He wore black shades and his skin was about as gray as his shock of hair. His shoulders were slightly hunched like a predatory cat.

Antioch froze in place. Her heart was all over the place, palpitating like Uncle Chris slapping the skins on his latest Jazz tour. As when she played Hide and Seek as a younger girl, she suddenly hoped that shutting her eyes tightly would render her invisible.

It didn’t work. When she opened her eyes, the gaunt man raised his glasses so he could see her clearly from his perch. In a fluid motion, he rested the shades on his prominent brow, continuing his hand upward to the mushroom cloud of wiry hair. As if smoothing his mane, moving his hand backward pulled his facial muscles, his somber countenance transformed to a wide, snaggletooth grin.

His smile sent an electric chill from the base of her neck to her tailbone. She could barely control her urge to run to the restroom as not to soil herself. She gasped and suddenly…

The world was moving at its normal speed again. Cory was in the midst of telling her how silly she was and how she thought too much.

She furrowed her brow, wondering if her overactive imagination had gotten the better of her again. The construction crew was still buzzing about and there was a dark figure looming on the corner, watching their progress. However, his back was to her and her brother.

Antioch sighed with relief. Corinth, her mother, and her father were probably correct. Whereas her brother stayed up late playing video games, she put off sleep to read her books long after her mother told her to turn off the lights. Her e-reader was perfect for what she deemed night ops. Could it be that the superstitious and mythological world had converged on her real one?

“You’re right,” she told her brother.

He stopped and his eyes nearly popped from his head. “Say what?”

“I said you’re right. I probably do think too much.”

“You alright Big Sis? Do you have a fever or somethin’? You never admit to being wrong!”

“Hardly ever,” she agreed monotonously. That may have been true but what she had seen seemed so real.

They continued to walk and the man in black took up space in her periphery. The sickening feeling in her gut returned and she tried not to look. But that didn’t stop him from rotating above his pile of leaves so that his predatory eyes remained locked on her.

When they passed Carpenter, she ventured a peek over her shoulder and found him standing there, just a stone’s throw away. He was no longer on the other side of the street but right behind her and Cory.

Her mama had told Antioch from the time she was little that she was a tomboy who didn’t seem afraid of anything. But Mama had never seen this looming, levitating presence in his musty, tattered suit. He was casket sharp and just as dead.

His announcement was timed to get her attention and shake her up a bit. It had unsettled but not immobilized her. She had seen ghosts before, though they were non-sentient, spiritual recordings. People were spooked by them but the ones she’d seen were virtually harmless.

Not this shadowy man. He was interacting and intelligent. The beady, fiery eyes, which has sucked the color from the leaves, framed in his dark sockets, told her that. His crooked smile of jagged, yellowed teeth, was beaming malicious intent. When he winked at her, she knew she had an adversary with which to contend.

B: The Biggest Trick

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Alliteration aside, Luscious Lucius really was the lothario of leisurely ladies. His track ran ‘neath those of the el train that delivered potential tricks and proven clientele to the product he offered. Well, offered is inaccurate: he was simply the middleman who ensured the transaction took place and his stable of ladies were kept draped in only the finest.

One night, Square Biz Sue—his bottom bitch—brought him a new lovely to audition. Sue, who looked more like the schoolteacher she had been at one time, screened all potential candidates. “Hey, Daddy,” she called to him, as was her custom.

Lucius was posted up next to one of the steel girders that served as support for the train tracks. The muck and filth of the city was beneath his Italian leather shoes he’d had imported all the way from 63rd Street. His face, affixed in a semi-permanent sneer, he’d been watching one of his newbies turn a trick in dark alley. Only lames paid for the horizontal mambo, even when performed vertically. He turned his attention to Sue, considering whether or not to deliver a swift backhand for distracting him from observing the back-alley Olympics. “What you want, bay-bee,” he asked in his sing-songy cadence which was his manner of speaking.

“I brought you a new one, Luscious.”

He exhaled, rolling his eyes behind the sunglasses he wore even during his nighttime hours. Only suckers got up in the morning for work, after all.

His pimp hand itched. One of the best ways to show just how cold of a player he could be and make an initial impression was to issue randomized discipline, whether his lady deserved it or not. Sue was loyal and brought him every dime; she even kept the other hoes in line, making them do the same. Still, his pinky ring desired to make its mark.

He readied his paw, the fingernails manicured and buffed to a gloss, about to deliver some of that corner education. The gorgeous slab of steak that stepped out of the conical streetlamp’s glow caused him to freeze in mid-strike.

Sue had already done the perfunctory cringe, a dull look of acted surprise on her made-up face. It was almost funny, watching one of her eyes slowly open when his hand didn’t hit its mark. It was almost as comical, seeing her pimp standing statue-still, his ring gleaming, his rat-fur coat blowing in the breeze, while his mouth hung in a guffaw.

Her assumption was correct, for Sue wasn’t as dumb as he always told her she was.

“Hi, Luscious,” the neophyte purred, rocking a t-shirt so tight, jeans so hip-hugging, and afro puffs so soft, it left her beholder bewitched.

The man forgot his assault and almost stood to attention, composing himself. With two long fingers, he slicked his hair back and adjusted his fedora. He smiled, forgetting all about Sue. “And who are you,” the human cartoon character inquired.

She puckered her reddened lips, her voice never rising much over a whisper: “I’m Sweet Shannon.”

“CLAWD HAMMERCY,” he exclaimed. “Indeed, you are!”

Sue had seen it dozens, if not hundreds of times when a new girl came to try out for Lucius’s stable. He always got dumb for a new set of thighs and the thought of a new piece of ass giving birth to dollar signs. Though he claimed he was, he was far from a good man. And it was time for things to change.

He buzzed around Shannon like a bee over a field of daffodils, high from the thought of the forthcoming “audition.” But he was in for quite the surprise.

The girls weren’t happy. Lucius was like all other purveyors of human flesh, making false promises that were backed up with the ready threat of violence. And, for all the work they put in on their knees and backs night after night, a misogynistic clown with bad fashion sense wouldn’t rule over them.

Susan had earned her nickname because, unlike most of the other girls, she was older and college educated. After some personal tragedy and the loss of her home, she had to do something to survive. Selling herself went from being a short-time plan to three years under Lucius with his constant cruelties. It didn’t take a CPA license to understand that the balance sheet didn’t. She was smarter than him and much more than some man’s living blowup doll.

For all the sexy pouting and primping, Shannon was much more than she appeared. Sue had met her and other members of her coven during a rare night off and made a deal. Her name wasn’t actually Shannon, but Sanguine. Sue didn’t expect for an idiot like Luscious Lucius to be able to understand the meaning or pun in the new girl’s name until he gave her a complimentary “test drive.”

Sue watched the seductive sway of the younger-looking woman’s ancient hips as she coaxed the pimp into the alley for what she’d been doing for more than a thousand years, if her claim was right… She’d worked the pyramids in what was now Central America forever ago, where the blood flowed down the steps until it congealed at the foot… Sanguine and her kind reveled in and subsisted off the red stuff.

And Lucius would be her next meal.

Sue smiled under the glow of lamplight, happy for the first time in years. She thought to turn away, but decided instead to invite the other girls watch as they all were about to be freed. After all, it wasn’t everyday a pimp was subjected to being the biggest trick…

Cuddly

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Like clockwork, each month, my uterus went through a ritual of trying to turn itself inside-out. This made for some rather sleepless nights when the cramps were at their worst. I stumbled back from the bathroom, initially happy to get back to sleep until I saw him. Gerald had wrapped himself up on his side of the bed, stealing all the covers. As if to balance out his inconsiderate move, he’d left me a hot water bottle.

“I brought you a little something,” he said.

I wanted to comment that he’d also taken a little something by rolling himself up in the comforter, hogging it to the left side. Instead, I took notice of the bottle’s silhouette and replied, “How’d you know?”

“C’mon, babe,” he said, shifting a bit on his old pillow. “After all these years, you think I wouldn’t be aware of such a thing?”

“I guess you’re right.”

Oddly, I didn’t hear him head to the kitchen as I made my way to the restroom. I didn’t hear him stumbling about clumsily as he typically did, nor did I pick up the sound of running water. I wasn’t going to question how he’d done it. He wanted to impress me with the fact that he’d done it at all. I just wish he could’ve been as considerate when he was still…

“Come to bed,” he said, patting the right side of the mattress. “We can cuddle.”

With the blinds partially open, the pale moonlight formed stripes that contoured over the sheets, pillows…and my husband’s body, wrapped up in the blanket. This was a problem, because Gerald had been dead for over thirteen months and I’d paid good money to ensure he was. Yet, he always came back, more like cockroaches after an exterminator’s visit than undying love. I saw his presence as the former, his being there making the hairs levitate from the back of my neck; he saw never leaving me alone as an act of the latter: love everlasting.

I just wanted him gone.

“Come to bed,” he repeated, more demanding than asking this time. That’d been more like the tone I was used to, thinly veiled by feigned sweetness. The hand flipping back the covers and inviting me into his cocoon was gray and skeletal. Earthworms slithered through and beetles gnawed away at the dermis and tendons of his forearm. Graveyard dirt soiled the sheets and matched the dank, stolid smell hanging in the air. “We can cuddle.”

But I didn’t want to be near him, let alone make spoons so that his bony, dead fingertips could make my skin crawl. “I’m not feeling well, hon.”

“I know,” he said, his empty eye sockets ogling me. “But that’s why I’m here. The vow I took said ‘in sickness and in health.’ Remember that?”

“Yes. But I also recall something about ‘till death do us part.’”

He flashed a snaggletooth grin, his lips long devoured by insects, yet smiling, nonetheless. “That’s a minor hiccup, since I died before my time. I’m never going to leave you, Marjorie!”

I wished that he could’ve relented on that statement like his empty promises to stop drinking and to never hit me again. In death, there was no need to consume alcohol, he’d once told me, and with his muscles rotted away, he exerted no physical strength to worry me. It’s just that my husband’s constant nighttime visits ate away at my sanity like the spiders and maggots and stink bugs had done to his body.

The moonlight shifted and more of him was visible now. There was a garter snake inching along his pelvis where his penis should’ve been. He’d raped me the night he died, so anything phallic near him made me relive that horror.

Tears streamed down my cheeks and I forgot about the cramps and the hot water bottle which had been his gesture of kindness. And, though I wanted to run, my feet were cast in magnetized lead. I could move no way but toward him.

“That’s it,” he sang, his deteriorated vocal cords making his voice sound like fingernails across a chalkboard. “Come cuddle with your man, girl!”

With my sobs came the irrigation of snot and I didn’t care to wipe it away. All I could do was submit to his beckoning and climb back into the bondage of our marital bed.

© 2014, Don Miskel.

A Nightmare in Orange (Part 1)

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Spooky Apartment (Obtained from Fazinphoto.com)

The entire apartment building was haunted—I could feel it in my bones. We stood there, staring up at the looming tower, which seemed to be the last dying thing against a backdrop of urban decay. Even the moon, which I could’ve sworn had been full and bright before we’d ventured into that part of town, refused to glow. Like a coward, it hid behind cloud cover, and I halfway couldn’t blame the heavenly body for doing so.

“Will ya look at that,” Marq said, holding his cap to his head as a warm gust of wind sucked the breath from his broad chest.

Lisa tilted her head back cautiously, as if the boogeyman was going to suddenly pop out and scare her out of her skin.

“Yeah, it’s a focal point of spiritual activity,” I informed them, “which is another way to say it’s haunted.”

“How do you know,” she asked, mesmerized by the five-story pile of bricks.

“I just do.”

“You sure we have to go in,” Marq asked. Though he was the largest of us—the highest curl of his head standing above mine a good two inches, his athletic frame draped in a football jersey—he was the most easily spooked.

“You big wuss,” Lisa ribbed. She was rarely kind to her on-again-off-again boyfriend. For the moment, they were on the outs. I suspected she was pretty enough behind thick, pop-bottle glasses, but would never take them off for confirmation. Kissing her would be like kissing my kid sister—at least, that’s what I kept telling myself. She probably would’ve belted me if I’d tried. Despite wanting to push her aside, there was something about her plaited, sun-bleached hair and cocoa skin that sent electricity up my spine.

“Yeah,” I sighed, answering my best bud. “My uncle lives in there. And, as Lisa said, you are a big wuss! In fact, that should be your new nickname!”

Marquez shot me a frown, his café au lait face sprinkled with bits of coffee that were a major turn-on for Lisa. She loved the freckles on and green eyes set in his olive-toned face, while I silently pined for her. And Marq, well, let’s just say he was enamored with the reflection in every mirror he encountered. We were all children of Caribbean parents; Marquez’s folks hailed from Puerto Rico, Lisa’s from Jamaica, and me, a second-generation Haitian. We made for an odd trio but this was my crew.

Clouds of moths, gnats, and mosquitos danced around the pale streetlamps. With the exception of the lights on the top floor, the building looked abandoned. That was where my father’s youngest brother, Georges resided. He’d called me and I came running to his rescue. I never asked why he couldn’t simply leave on his own. I put on the spectral specs I’d fashioned and didn’t have to question his logic—the place was overrun with ghosts like a Chicago apartment with a cockroach infestation. I had a deep disdain for cockroaches. They (the ghosts, not the bugs) swam in and out of the windows, most of which were broken, the jagged edges of glass having no effect on their ethereal movements.

“Whaddaya see,” Marq asked nervously.

“Yes, John-Henry,” Lisa joined in. “Don’t keep us in thrall!”

I grinned. Dead leg on a crooked love triangle or not, I was the de facto leader; the brains of the outfit, if you will. Oh, you’re probably wondering about my name. Well, let’s just say my mom and dad wanted to pay homage to an American folk hero while appeasing their desire for a strong Haitian moniker. I’d taken it upon myself to anglicize Jean-Henri so I’d be able to fit in. But fitting in was awkward for a gangly, 6’1” kid with the complexion of a black grape, an oversized head, and large extremities. I could palm a basketball and wore shoes large enough for a pro athlete, but alas, couldn’t dribble to save my life. What I did have in spades was smarts and a rather velvety voice at such a young age. Even then, I figured I might have a future in radio.

My maternal grandfather, who was reputed to have been a witch doctor of sorts, told me in broken Creole that I had a shine to me. That meant I could see spirits. The glasses I’d created helped to take their blurry figures and put them more in focus. He was a strange guy, my Gran-Pere, always mumbling stuff with a chew stick in the corner of his mouth. Most was in his brand of French, with snippets of English here and there. I was amazed by his creepy stories of zombies and magic and…

“Hey,” Marq yelled, giving me a light punch in my left arm. A light punch from that behemoth meant I slid to the right about a foot, and part of the earth knocked out of alignment just as much. The dude was strong as an ox, which was a benefit to him being my best bud. “Pull your head out your butt and let’s get to work, man!”

Lisa peered at me and smiled, her teeth beaming like beacons on the darkened landscape. I didn’t want to like her as much as I did and I feared what could happen if I’d stepped out of line with Marq. It didn’t matter that he didn’t want her half the time…

“You’re always daydreaming,” she said.

“He’s living the dream,” the jock chimed, making reference to my head perpetually floating in the clouds.

“Nah, bro. I’m dreaming to live!”

Marq paused and blinked, not understanding my brand of humor. “Whatever, man. Let’s get this over with.” He shook his head with a smirk and began trudging toward the building entrance, Lisa in tow.

Well, I thought I’d said something clever that would make them take notice. Guess not. I pulled a flashlight from my bag and followed suit.

The foyer leading to the staircase was black as a starless rip in the night sky. There was the spirit of an old doorman frozen in a long bygone era, when the neighborhood hadn’t looked like it’d been through a WWII air raid. In his dapper blue coat with gold trim and his hat placed perfectly, he stood proud. It was a warm summer evening and, as sharp as his outfit was, no living person in his right mind would wear such a heavy coat in this weather. But the dead were always dressed as they had been at the point of their transitions, their see-through bodies having no sense of hot or cold.

Typical of the deceased, his eye sockets were hollowed out. This was a fact that used to scare the cornbread stuffing out of me when I was little, but was nothing to be afraid of once I’d gotten used to it. The problem was encountering a spiritual entity with eyes—something that made me cringe and my skin crawl with invisible spiders. But the doorman was nothing more than a harmless, interactive recording. And he was friendly, too.

“Evening, sir,” I said with a nod of my head, to which he smiled.

“Who the heck are you talking to,” Marq asked, the doorman completely invisible to him. We’d done this half a dozen times but it was hard to retrain a troglodyte. “You do this every time.”

And you figured Marq would’ve finally gotten used to the fact that I could see ghosts and they could see me, too. That was part of the shine Gran-Pere recognized. I often saw my grandfather, too, whenever his spirit would wander into my room and stand guard over my bed.

“You already know the deal,” Lisa said, shaking her head and stifling a laugh. She couldn’t see spirits, either, but she was an empath who could feel them.

“Yeah,” my lug nut of a friend complained, “Doesn’t mean I’ll ever get used to it. John-Henry, you give me the heebie-jeebies!”

I chuckled and took that as a compliment. Without another word, we took to the stairs.

(Image obtained from Fazinphoto.com)

Halfway Down

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Brendan Fudge was as determined as he was creative. As he saw it, the reason for a botched suicide was piss poor planning. He’d succeeded in life with attention to detail and that would serve him well while mapping out his demise.

The trick to it was to have a backup to the primary plan. There was no reason to unnecessarily inflict pain—after all, he didn’t hate himself, only his life. Going out by making an incision in his gut, then nailing his intestines to ledge before jumping made for a rather painful and shocking end. He imagined his chitlins trailing behind (he snickered grimly at the thought of his entrails trailing him) like a bungee cord, only to rip loose when they’d pulled taut…

“Damn,” he said at the concept. Sometimes he could even scare himself. Perish the thought. He considered another means to exit stage left.

One of the keys to success as the CFO had been formulation, random audits, and close review, weighing out all options and possibilities before proceeding. Fucking facts and figures. It was time consuming and tended to get on most of his coworkers’ nerves, but it had always worked.

Well, not always. Violet’s decision to leave coincided badly with an investigation into misplaced funds—money he’d pilfered in tiny, seeming undetectable increments (a few thousand here, a few tens of thousands there), to keep her draped in furs and sparkling in jewels. She was neither impressed nor was the board of directors going to be lenient. The timing was all messed up and he could have dealt with either the investigation or her exodus, not both happening simultaneously. He found himself feigning heartbreak, groveling on his knees, begging her to stay. He’d even pushed out tears and wanted to make himself believe he actually loved her, though nothing could be further from the truth. He enjoyed the look of a trophy wife to some of those high-level events that required elbow rubbing with others who breathed rarified air. Besides her making great arm candy, especially with her newly-enlarged breasts, her facelift, and the great conversation piece the name of Violet Fudge made, he didn’t have much use for her. No matter the lavished gifts, she could always see though his jive ass like glass.

Which brought him back to his dilemma of how to end it all. Mr. Fudge wanted to simply disappear, which was easier said than done. All the worker bees would know is that he wouldn’t show up. Calls from that diamond-hogging heifer and her overinflated divorce attorney would go unanswered for a day or two before anyone suspected something. By that time, he’d be long gone, leaving the cares of this world behind.

He considered what he had at his disposal and his attention went to his boat—not the semi-extravagant yacht his wife had demanded, but the other one. It was little more than a fishing dingy, actually, but it had an outboard motor that could easily get him out past the shallows and beyond the reef to deep water. That’s where his salvation lay…as a secondary plan, anyway.

He cleared his mind and set it to task. A couple hours later, he was in open water, the lights of the coastal condos and resort hotels shining in the dark like jewels. It was a gilded prison to which he’d gladly never return. He puttered out to his chosen location—a spot where the undertow would sweep his remains further out to sea to be food for the sharks and fish and whatever else lay beneath the surf.

Brendan patted his pocket, the cold, blue steel of the .357 sitting against his thigh like an old friend. It was a fact that revolvers, unlike semiautomatic pistols, did not jam, so that mitigated a possible mishap. The rounds were also jacketed in watertight casings, so the powder wouldn’t get wet. Fucking facts and figures. He wanted nothing that would stop him from blowing his brains out as the anchor took hold and pulled him to the bottom of the Atlantic. He’d hedged all bets. The worst thing was to be eaten alive by sharks, which, now that the area was at full nightfall, were in their feeding phase. It was suppertime and, after he’d sunk low enough and the trigger was pulled, the mental marinara would sound the dinner bell so they could enjoy what was left of him.

The night was one he would’ve enjoyed from the patio of his rather posh condo that overlooked the shore. He’d only moved there at the half-drunk whore’s behest, but it’d had its benefits. One of them was the ability to enjoy the warm, salty air coming off the water on a pleasant night. That said, he’d picked a great evening to get this done.

He’d left no suicide note, as there was nothing more to say. Of course, he’d changed his will, leaving all his material possessions to some inane charity he neither knew nor cared anything about. The investigation coming to its conclusion, he was looking at a stiff prison sentence of 1 to 5. Though it would likely be meted out in a minimum security facility for white collar types, the shame it would bring, coupled by the empty feeling he’d gotten when Violet announced that she was leaving, didn’t allow for a comeback. The situation was not going to change and he was opting out. Besides, worse than his fear of drowning or being devoured by the denizens of the deep was what would happen in prison showers. He’d get his butt busted for sure and wind up as some troglodyte’s bitch, being violated on a whim, and forced to sit down when he peed. Yeah, he’d seen the documentaries before.

“Okey dokey,” he said, his voice lost in the breeze. After securing the anchor to his feet with a knot that could not be easily untied—especially in the inky blackness of the ocean at night—he took a final gander at the stars. They, like the coastal condominiums, twinkled invitingly. If the rumor was right, he’d be amongst those very same stars in the next few minutes. He couldn’t afford to consider the possibility of eternal damnation (an impossibly horrific slice of hell in which hammerheads ripped off his arms and legs, leaving him defenseless while incarcerated savages took advantage of what was left), so he deleted it from his cognitive vocabulary.

The water was surprisingly, even refreshingly cool. He couldn’t think of a better exit and was neither scared nor hesitant. He tossed the anchor over the side and felt the tug around his legs when the chain reached its limit. Cool like the ocean water off of West Palm Beach is how he’d feel as he made his way to the afterlife. The shot to the roof of his mouth would be a snap. Before his mind could register that it’d been blown out the back of his skull, he’d be gone. Sinking into the depths would galvanize his demise and then the sea creatures would join in nature’s recycling effort.

“Here goes nothing,” Mr. Fudge said rather sarcastically. As he wiggled closer to the edge of the boat, it suddenly dipped low, took on water, and toppled. The timing couldn’t have been worse, since he’d just put the barrel of the gun into his mouth. Off balance, he reflexively jerked the trigger. The bullet tore through his left cheek, ripping off half his jaw, exploding in a burst of red chunks from the side of his face.

The agony was horrendous and, in his haste to staunch the sanguine profusion, he fumbled and dropped the gun, which sunk into the inky black water quicker than he did. There would be no second chance and his scream registered in a cloud of muted bubbles that rose quickly to the surface as he plummeted like a stone.

The muffled yell and thrashing about registered in the nerve receptors of a great white that was making its rounds, in search of a midsummer night’s meal two miles out. But that wasn’t what focused its attention, causing its black, soulless eyes to glimmer and its jagged, razor-sharp tooth-filled mouth to drool. (The concept of drooling sea predators was something that had eluded scientists. After all, how could saliva be noticed when there was water all around?) With a smile on its menacing mug, it canted its sleek, 20-foot frame and turned in the direction of the call to chow.

Several makos and bull sharks picked up on the same scent and signal, which came across like music to their antagonistic ears. So, a feeding frenzy in an orgy of guts it would be.

But Brendan was too preoccupied, cursing while feeling the burning of the salty water instinctively sucked up into his nose as he fought to breathe. He plunged deeper still, the pressure mounting as his splayed fingers clawed desperately to find the .357 that had probably landed on the reef. He’d never find it and his death would be one brought on by the pain in his lungs. Damned evolutionary theory ensured he couldn’t breathe liquid after being expelled his mother’s womb over 50 years before. Whether Darwin was wrong or right, a review of his current situation stated that drowning would be his demise.

Or so he thought.

That’s when he felt the bump of the blunt, hydrodynamic monster. Then another of the same sideswiped his left thigh, exposing the capillaries beneath his skin, drawing more blood into the water. That caused even more pain than his gaping, misshapen maw. He shouted a cloud of water, as that medium had claimed all the air from his lungs before he’d even made it halfway down. Gripped with terror, the formerly cool-headed executive shat himself, adding gravy to the tomato soup.

Crushing-sharp-jagged-serrated knives grabbed hold of his bloody leg and with a single application of thousands of foot pounds of pressure, Brendan had one less limb. Somehow, through the mind-numbing anguish, something deep in his mental process recalled an amusing anecdote about being busier than a…

Before he could imagine that kicking contest, he was out of the running—quite literally. A second bite caught him at the hip on his opposite side, ripping the other leg free and liberating his viscera. Part of that appendage, still charged with electricity and jerked out of time with the cloudy spurts issuing it from it. His bottom half—the part that hadn’t been greedily gobbled as an appetizer–succumbed to gravity as the anchor took it all the way to the bottom.

But he would never get to reach that depth. Though he could no longer register pain, he felt the pressure of the chomping and ripping as his worst fear had come to what was left of his life. The sharks—oh, how they celebrated, painting the reef red in their delight.

And Brendan Fudge, a man who’d been too smart for his own good, had only his hard head (and a bit of his neck, minus much of his mandible, of course) left. In its final, incredibly cognizant instant, his brain audited the experience of his disconnected dome floating peacefully toward the sandy corral below. There his noggin would hold a reunion with one chain-wrapped foot and that wily, if not elusive revolver.

The one that Violet had given him for his final birthday.

Fuckin’ figures.

Bought the Farm

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The Old Man bought the farm, both literally and figuratively. There were rumors and whisperings that the deal was struck with something other than money and that the possession of these ill-gotten gains was his downfall.

Riley remembered going out to the barn to find his favorite toy—some long-forgotten trinket that went to his race set. Always the early riser, a light fog rested on the wet grass which parted and stirred as he made his way from the house to that old drafty barn. He recalled not wearing shoes and that the most dangerous thing he could probably step on was a pile of poop left behind by King, his grandfather’s senile old mutt. But King had been merciful that morning and the path was clear, the dew from the grass cooling his feet as he made his way.

Something was wrong.

The door to the barn was ajar and from the inside, he heard an almost inaudible whimper. King was a hound from an ancient time, the last of Granddaddy’s hunting dogs. That mongrel was old before Riley was born and in the boy’s five years, he’d never heard King make a sound, outside the release of an occasional fart. That morning, though, he heard the dog pacing and whining inside.

Like a protestor, the wrinkled canine walked and turned back and forth, below something that swung almost like wind chimes, hanging from a rope connected to the overhead rafter. The creaking of wood was the instrumental accompaniment to King’s wounded vocals.

Beneath Granddaddy’s naked body was a pile of steaming crap, stinking up the place. Though it is said a person can’t smell in dreams, Riley swore he couldn’t escape that fetid stench in each consecutive nocturnal vision.

The grotesque sight of the undressed body and stretched neck used to jar him the first few times and he would will himself from the barn, away from King’s whining protests.

No matter his means of escape, be it by aerial or terrestrial flight, the barn sat in the clearing of his mind night after night. He was drawn to it, the soft fog around it muffling sound, but allowing details of faded red paint to be seen. The building would beckon him, the low-hanging clouds forming fingers that drew him in. It promised a toy he would never find.

Black men didn’t commit suicide, he’d been told. Whoever said that had lied.

One night, when he was twelve, the boy refused to run. He figured there was a reason the barn seeped its way into his haunted nocturnes. He had stopped being afraid and just regarded the corpse. The wood above creaked and the rope turned so that Granddaddy faced him, his visage contorted in a mask of surprise and pain. His eyes bulged, hemorrhaged and angry. Riley overlooked the distended belly and milky droplets that had run down the elder’s thigh.

That was the day his grandfather spoke.

The Old Man’s tongue, was a pale pink slug that hung lazily from bloodless lips, lolled and shifted a bit. The corpse, which had been a man he once loved, croaked a single whisper of a word: “Bewarrrrrrrre!