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.

Whippersnapper

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“I hate when it rains. Reduces visibility.” That was my uninformed, upstart of a partner running his mouth again, not knowing a damn thing about anything that mattered.

“You talk too fuckin’ much,” I said gruffly. Stakeout tête-à-tête made the time go by, but it was only when that conversation wasn’t for the sake of creating carbon dioxide. “What’d I tell you about that?”

He sighed like a frustrated little brat that’d been relegated to the nearest corner when all he wanted to do was play.

“Rain is a good thing,” I informed him. “Reduced visibility makes it harder for witnesses to make out detail…and it washes away evidence, too. Lemme see your piece.”

I didn’t particularly like breaking in the new guys, tagging along so they didn’t make the stupid mistakes not covered in class. However, it was us older cats—me being one of the most ancient still able to work in the field—that pulled the coattails of the irreverent ranks.

He unholstered his firearm—a huge, gaudy monstrosity that would make a movie action hero soil himself with delight. He was trying to overcompensate and impress me. The organization already knew he had the basic skills to do the job; it was left to me to get the tyke fine-tuned.

“.50 cal, huh?”

He nodded proudly, big stupid grin extending upward to his rosy cheeks.

“We ain’t huntin’ buffalo, kid.”

His smile faded a shade and his brow creased ever-so-slightly. To him, I was a crotchety old relic that should’ve retired around the time his daddy refused to pull out the kid’s whore of a mother. I could’ve said something to the beat of the best part of him went running down Mama’s thighs and gummed up the sheets, but I didn’t. This was a learning opportunity for the youngster. I reached into my belt and pulled out my primary: an easily concealable, smaller caliber wheel gun.

“Whatcha gonna do with that, Pops,” the kid demanded to know. He was determined to let me know he had the cajones, smarts, and speed to get the job done. It was yet another teaching moment, of which the night seemed to have no shortage. “Rob stagecoaches?”

To that, he guffawed, still gripping the butt of his hand cannon. I smirked, since I could appreciate a good sense of humor. Besides, it would take more than remarks about my age or tools of the trade to get me seeing red.

“You’re funny, son. I like that.” A silence settled between us and I didn’t blink. “How many rounds does that thing carry?”

“Twelve,” he said with a defiant nod. “Twice as many as your old peacemaker.”

“Twice as likely to get your hopes up and twice as likely to get you killed, too. I have exactly six chances to get the job done right. That means I take my time and aim, remembering my fundamentals. I breathe, apply even pressure on the trigger, and pull it smoothly to the rear. Each round counts.”

“Takes too long,” he exclaimed dismissively. “By the time you fire your second shot, I’d already have emptied the clip and begun my reload.”

“You’re right. And there would be empty shell casings all over for the cops to find and accidentally wounded bystanders for them to question.” I leaned back a bit, squaring him up. “I’ll bet you even shoot sideways, like you’re in some in-the-‘hood gangster flick.”

His smartass expression said, Yeah and so what, old man?! It was his blatantly disrespectful attitude that made me decide just how to capitalize on the moment. After all, lion cubs had to be groomed to one day lead the pride.

“Let me tell you a story,” I began, much to his chagrin. He stifled the breath he wanted to huff, thinking better of it. “I was probably about your age…”

“Back in the days when they invented the wheel and Moses rode the ark, right?”

I shot him a glare, not bothering to correct him on the fact that it was Noah. But Sunday School was a class I hadn’t been paid to teach.

“Mind if I finish?”

He nodded. “Please…by all means, carry on.”

“I was arrogant like you when I was your age. I was fresh out of Force Recon when I was recruited by the organization. Had done a good share of wet-works by then, too.”

The kid exhaled, his eyes bugging as if to say, Is this gonna be a long story? I got shit to do, man!”

However, the only shit he had to do was whatever I told him. And, regardless of his insolence, I had to issue the story as a preamble. It was only right to give him a chance.

I continued: “My field training officer seemed more ancient then than I am now. Had a buzz cut of white needles framing his leathery face. Never smiled. Growled a lot, though…”

Yeah, yeah, yeah! And, as he lay dying in your arms, he passed on some sort of profound knowledge concerning this job. That’s it, right?! You don’t hafta go describing the type of aftershave he wore or the repressed homosexual urges you all shared. Just get to the fuckin’ point, man!”

I chuckled, looking through the windshield at the rain coming down in sheets. “Why don’t you step outta the car, youngster?”

To that, he exploded. “Ya know what, Gramps? I ain’t yer son, I ain’t a kid, and I ain’t here to listen to some tired old windbag relive his friggin’ glory days!”

I calmed myself, slowing my heart rate, taking time to breathe. This is what I did before engaging a target with a weapon or in hand-to-hand. Though I could easily leave the kid with a knife through his windpipe or a smoking hole in his temple, I still wanted to give the kid a chance. I liked him. “Step out,” I repeated, unbuttoning my jacket and opening the door.

Five minutes later, he was huffing and puffing, the fingers of his right hand broken to resemble a windmill. I’d hung that miniaturized missile launcher off his trigger finger, which he couldn’t bend. I’d told him not to reach for it, as I just wanted to knock him around a bit to prove a point. He didn’t believe fat meat was greasy and had to find out the hard way.

“M-may I please have a cigarette,” he begged. He was dripping wet from the rain, cradling his useless arm with his left. I didn’t break his elbow as much as I’d given it a nice hyperextension to reinforce some respect for his elders.

“No smoking when you’re with me. Cigarette butts leave a trail like breadcrumbs.”

“I-I-I’m sorry,” he said through bruised gums and clenched teeth. Though tempted to knock them out and leave them on the pavement like candy-coated tablets of chewing gum, I didn’t. The organization had an excellent dental plan, but he’d already be exercising the medical benefits that night.

“I know,” I said coolly, looking at his humbled countenance from the driver’s seat. “Now, may I please continue on with my story?”

His swollen lips drooled blood and saliva onto his dark shirt. The white of one eye was discolored from a nice blow to the temple. A little harder and I could’ve made his eye pop out altogether. Hell, I’d done it before.

He nodded. “Please do, sir. Please do.”

I cleared my throat, watching the rain, which had muffled his screams, washing any remnants of blood into the gutter. “As I was saying, I was also arrogant at your age, until I ran afoul of my mentor.”

The kid’s eyes blinked and he sat up straight, giving me his rapt attention.

I displayed my right hand, opening and closing the fist. “In fact, my arthritis flares up whenever it rains.”

The whippersnapper frowned at his own hand, the tips of each finger snapped to point leftward. His thumb, which I’d broken inward on itself, remained balled up against the palm. It was the same type of learning moment that’d enlightened me over 20 years before. It was a lesson that, if he was lucky, the kid would one day pass on to another aspiring assassin that’d been left in his care.

© Don Miskel, 2014.

Image courtesy of kellieelmore.com

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.

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)

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!

Zombies for Trade: It’s All About Money (Excerpt from Dead Assets)

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 eBookCover_DeadAssets

 

As the older man went over his inventory and prices, I perused the room. I looked at the writhing, sometimes naked bodies in various states of decay. My eyes set on a tiny figure in a far corner, spinning around with the intensity of a whirling dervish. She’d once been a small child, about five years old. She scowled and glowered at me with blank eyes, the pupils of which had taken on a color of sour milk. Partially clad in a blood-spattered pink-and-white dress, she looked like a tattered Raggedy Ann doll that had been dragged through the mud. Her little voice was part of the hoarse, off-tune vocal symphony, hissing and inviting me to join her hellish little tea party. She looked as if her mother had dressed her up to give an Easter speech at church the day of her demise. She wore frilly little socks that had been powder puff pink at one time. Her clothes being unseasonable for this time of year, I imagined she had been walking around the woods since before Labor Day, preying on forest creatures. One of her white patent leather shoes was missing and there was a dirty bow still propped in her matted, once-golden hair. She was secured to one of several cylindrical poles that had been installed and cemented beneath the barn floor. As she made a run at me, the forward motion and limit of her chain caused her to go in circles. Round and round she went, stopping to growl and chomp at the air with her stained, jagged baby teeth. Then she’d go in circles again. A normal child would have dizzied and given up, but she continued this cycle, clawing the air with her little hands, opening and closing her fists angrily.

I concentrated on the others instead. The little girl became a spinning blur in my periphery that I was trying to ignore. It was much easier focusing on those that were in tattered work clothes and even a mustachioed man in smoking jacket and gore-stained ascot—anything but the little girl.

“Oh, we get a fresh shipment ‘bout ev’ry couple o’ weeks,” I heard Maynard brag. “Most of ‘em are put down out in the field, but the best are delivered to me to sell.”

“What happens to the ones nobody buys,” I asked, still avoiding the determined gaze of the tiny flax-haired terror, daring me to go over and read her a bedtime story.

“Well, we don’t release ‘em back into the wild, that’s fer sure,” the broker of undead flesh said with an unsettling chortle. He was smiling at first, but the upturned corners of his mouth flattened out into a straight, serious line that resembled a jagged slash made with a dull scalpel. The friendliness in his face had downgraded to a stoic mask, jowls sagging. “We burn ‘em.”

“Burn them shits,” Steed piped in from the amen corner. “Sounds good to me!”

Maynard studied my face, his glasses helping him to take in every detail with clarity. “Magda got ya spooked, huh? Looks like she done chose you. They do that from time to time, almost like selectin’ a mate.”

“Who’s Magda?”

He didn’t blink and only his slash of a mouth moved. “That’s the lil’ girl you done turned away from and refuse to look at. She got eyes for you.”

Steed spotted her and snickered at the cartoonish fashion of the creature that had at one time been dainty, now propelling herself around incessantly. “She’s a vicious lil’ thing, ain’t she?”

Maynard’s arms crossed over his chest. “Sonny,” he said to us both, as if teaching a lesson, “If I loose them chains, she would chew you up with them tiny, needle-sharp milk teeth of hers. Whatever she was in life, she ain’t no more.” He paused for a moment, rubbing his chin, working math in his head. Then he smiled a rather reptilian grin. “Shit, I’d be willin’ to throw her in with the lot for a special price.”

I glared at the farmer, who had seemed so warm before. He was a businessman and trading bodies, selling little girls, even burning them, was just par for the course. I suddenly wanted to put as many miles between Maynard and this place as quickly as I could.

“You might not wanna judge me too harshly,” he said, collecting the bills Steed handed him. He licked his thumb and counted out nine notes that bore the face of Benjamin Franklin.

Blood money.

“After all,” Maynard continued, pointing, “You the one out here in the middle o’ the night buyin’ corpses for god-knows-what and who-shot-John. You also the one transportin’ undead bodies ‘cross state lines. That’s a federal o-ffense accordin’ to Madame President herself.”

I looked at Maynard and didn’t like him very much. He pocketed the knot of cash and beamed his serpentine fangs. Though spoken softly, I’d heard his threat loud and clear; was sure he was connected to local and state law enforcement agencies that turned a blind eye to his late-night business activities. He could probably land me in jail or make me disappear with a simple phone call if he wanted.

Of course, I could have also cleared leather and let two bullets crack his fucking cranium before he could speed dial or pull the trigger on that double-barreled boom-stick. I could then feed him to his zombie horde, including Magda. Their hisses would be gurgled in the red froth of his blood.

Two rounds in three seconds.

“Not passing judgment, Maynard,” I said solemnly, taking the high road. “I just never seen a zombified little one up close.”

The monstrous tyke was in the corner of my eye, growling, snapping and doing her nightmarish rendition of a washing machine’s spin cycle.

“No problem here. No siree bob.” He held up the greenbacks. “It’s all ‘bout the money, son.” To that, he laughed, his lungs full of phlegm. “All about the money.”