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.

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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.

Cuckold’s Comeuppance

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“The day was non-descript and far from special when I found out you’d been cheating on me. The depth of sorrow I felt—a grief deeper than a well that led to the bowels of the earth—erased the bright sun and wispy puffs of clouds against a beautiful blue sky. My thought process was replaced with pain and all that beauty melted away to a dark reality.

“You thought you’d break me, didn’t you? I mean, the fact that you cheated on me with her—a woman who was nowhere near as pretty as I was before I’d begun pushing out your pups. Though you’d dug an emotional grave for me, that’s not how this is going to play out.

“No, don’t snivel! It’s unbecoming of the man you once were; the one I trusted in and with whom I’d exchanged vows. Now you sit here, gagged, hyperventilating, and utterly helpless, wondering what will happen next.

“I want to keep you guessing.

“Did you know that a woman comes closest to death when she’s bringing life into the world? Did you realize that I was your legitimate shot at immortality? That’s right. Your DNA strand will live on in the children you fathered with me, long before your lies.

“You hurt me in a way I never thought I could hurt. And, though through therapy I’m just about over it, there’s still some bitterness left that has to be dealt with.

“That’s why I’m holding this in my hand. Scary, isn’t it? I was always the one afraid of guns. But this is the only time I intend to ever shoot one. I picked a revolver because it won’t jam. Semiautomatics tend to do that if you use cheap ammunition or hold them wrong. Yeah, I did my research.

“I purchased the .357 Magnum because of its option to use smaller .38 Special rounds. However, for this occasion, I chose to use the larger load to make this as quick and painless as possible. Plus, I wanted to spare no expense in giving you nothing but the best.

“You’re shuddering and sniveling again, tossing your head to and fro. As if I’d miss at this close range. You look ridiculous with snot curving over that nasty mustache and over your top lip. I’ll bet I could take a sample of that hair and find some of her dried essence still in there, couldn’t I?

“And to think, you’d probably kissed me with those tainted lips after making a meal of her. Had me practicing in lesbianism without my knowing. Shit, I may have experimented that way in a threesome, if you’d asked me.

“But you never did.

“You just took matters into your own hands… And used those same hands to spread another woman’s legs.

“You thought your indiscretion and repeated unfaithfulness would be the end of me. But oh, how the tables have turned.

“Remember, in the old comic books, how the good guy would often hold the villain’s life in his hands, then relent at the last moment? He’d typically say something corny like, ‘You’re not even worth it,’ and heroically save his archenemy in the end.

“Well, I’m no superhero. I’m just a woman. And you, my dear, the love of my life, are very much worth it. Now stop all that crying and hold still. This will be over before you know it.”

© Don Miskel, 2014.