Project On Hold
Due to unavoidable circumstances, this project is being put on hold. Thank you for your submissions and support. We’ll be re-booting this project down the line.
Those fucking people.
Due to unavoidable circumstances, this project is being put on hold. Thank you for your submissions and support. We’ll be re-booting this project down the line.
Those fucking people.
I spent the next two days loading up a Uhaul I’d acquired with supplies from a dozen different dead retailers. The utility items were first on the list and I spent three hours driving through aisle after aisle loading up. I crashed a pickup truck through the front vestibule of a Home Depot and used it as my shopping cart. Its vanity plates read BGBOYTOY.
I filled the bed of the BGBOYTOY four times and transferred its items to the Uhaul, including everything I thought I would need and many things I knew I wouldn’t.
After that, I made stops at the camping, fishing and hunting megastore, the grocery mart megastore, the furniture megastore, the clothing megastore, the music megastore, the all purpose megastore, the sporting goods megastore, the restaurant supply megastore, the used bookstore, and many others.
Upon arriving home I parked the Uhaul in the front yard. It was dark, about 10:40. The mountain air was still holding on to the relatively pathetic cold that had made up this last winter, enough to chill my ears and cause a slight headache, but when I started lifting and moving, the only things that hurt with cold were my lungs.
I drank coffee in the kitchen. Lots of coffee. Then I began working.
The rooms were culled one by one of the things I no longer wanted inside of them. Mind you, I kept a lot of things, things that I could use or just plain liked. The Livingston’s had pretty good taste, the furnishings were of a darker variety and they had a lot of distressed metal pieces worked into the design and function of the home. I also kept their antiques and draperies. They had an eye for Victorian accouterments.
All of their personal items were thrown out except for a good deal of Mr. Livingston’s clothes and tools. Their library was halfway decent so many of their books stayed on the shelf as well.
In going through the whole of the house and its family’s innards, I discovered all of their secrets. The sixteen year-old boy had very predictable things. Porno hidden in his closet, a fifth of whiskey that looked like it might’ve had one sip off the top, rolling papers shoved in the back of a speaker, a couple pairs of panties, and a well smoked bowl. The girls, who were younger, didn’t have any contraband at all. They were on the straight and narrow. Mr. and Mrs. Livingston however were a different story.
In Mr. Livingston’s office I found, concealed behind a false drawer bottom in his desk, pictures of many naked women, none of which were his wife, obviously not pulled from any magazine. A few of them had him in them doing filthy things. They were in poor motel rooms and he had a strange look in his eye that I had never seen. There was a small bit of cocaine lying next to a pack of condoms and the photos.
In searching through Mrs. Livingston’s vanity I found all sorts of hardcore BDSM literature. Thin volumes that looked self published and were easily concealed in rags and stockings. There were also razor blades and riding crops and heavy rubber bands and vibrators.
They were a pair of fiends unbeknownst to each other.
I had been throwing everything out the windows. Shards of the Livingstons were lying around their home like a halo. The piles of what was now refuse had layers of organization similar to that of the earth’s tomography. The bottom layer I had thrown out from the first floor was made up of general items, family items that had connections to every member of the home. Objects that fused them together, that built cooperation, like board games, easter egg kits, DVDs, a set of television trays, and magnets that held photos to the fridge. The next layer of the piles were items from the second floor, all of the children’s bedrooms. These were strictly juvenile. Even the boy’s things were at their most base children’s toys. This layer was colorful and oddly shaped. It smelled a bit worse. There were things that were hard to get out of carpet, like glitter and putty and incense. The third layer was from the simplest floor. That of the parent’s master bedroom and its attached facets. It was a crust of beiges and expensive things. It masked everything else like a scab. It was a clean layer, however, the one with the most broken glass. I hadn’t counted the framed pictures but there must’ve been over forty. They covered 90% of all surfaces. I saw my reflection in every memory I lifted and threw out the window.
The attic was filled with boxes. I didn’t look through any, just disposed of them. It was stupid, not knowing their contents, but at this point I was unbelievably tired. I went to sleep on the Livingston’s naked bed. I could still smell her shampoo.
The next day was sunny. I picked up the halo piece by piece, brought it to the center of the backyard and placed it in the fire pit. Well, the first few items were placed in the fire pit, the rest of the bits snaked out from there until the new pile ran almost 35 feet in diameter. An axe I acquired the previous day divided the girth of the larger pieces into more tightly packed lumps. This process took longer than when I removed it all from the house. I was exhausted and my insides were beginning to sting. I hadn’t been eating enough and was shaking violently. I needed lunch and rest.
I drank pint after pint of water while I ate a frozen pizza for lunch. My stomach’s ability to expand when at its most empty disturbed me. I simply couldn’t drink fast enough. The sweating and pissing took care of its contents almost immediately. The shaking stopped.
The day before, when I was on my way from the furniture megastore to the clothing megastore, I loaded up four red gas cans at a Shell station. I dumped every bit on the mega pile in the backyard. It didn’t work as well as I thought. When it comes down to actually burning a sizable hill of pieces made from unpredictable materials, they don’t flare up with a whoosh and stay burning no matter how much accelerant you use. Some things do of course, but there are loads upon which the gas simply burns away superficially and they sit smug and only slightly damaged. I had to go out and get more gas.
This time I brought back eight cans.
Before dousing the contents I got out the axe again. After that, I ran much of it over with the truck. I added newspaper and wood into the cracks and crevices of the mangled forms. I shoveled them into higher piles, like small huts of charred garbage monsters.
More of it burned when I lit it again. I used a blowtorch and held it on the particularly stubborn parts. While aflame I moved bits with a pitchfork and blew life into the heat with a weak leaf blower. This whole process was repeated four times until everything was dead. I raked the embers and char into the fire pit the next morning and used the leaf blower again to get the dust and the soot in there as well. I had burned all the grass away in the thirty-five foot circle surrounding the fire pit. It looked like a blackened nipple in the center of the back yard’s grassy breast. I cried for the first time since the big day when I noticed this. My face contorted and I felt lonely and the pain in my innards I had felt before lunch the day before was back. It was worse. And I was shaking again.
I spent the next four days unpacking everything from the Uhaul and loading it into the house. It was invigorating. The exercise lifted my spirits. I felt powerful and sovereign. The process of gutting the majority of the Livingston’s possessions and filling the home up with my own, however new they may be, put my mind at ease. I felt as if the house was changing hands. That it was giving itself to me. That I owned it more than any buyer in this world’s previous life could because of something as petty as money.
I felt a constant loneliness but channeled it into the creation of the house. It was romantic, like I was courting this vast structure with poetry and sweat. My alienation brought me closer to the home, like she and I were wrecked on an island away from humanity, spooning for warmth in history’s cave.
[By Dylan Conway Tuel]
Robert looked down as the waiter placed in front of him a twenty-ounce black-pepper-crusted bone-in Ribeye topped with a melted gorgonzola and burgundy sauce served over potatoes au gratin, with a side of the biggest fucking asparagus spears he could ever remember seeing. He thought, a welcome home dinner indeed, as he looked up at Betsy—in a sleek black dress of modest length but a not so modest neckline. She was hot—like wake you the fuck up coffee—even after all these years—and certainly hotter than most of the leathery bartender groupies Stephen was used to taking home. Robert thought, not tonight, as he picked up his glass of Cakebread Cabernet and toasted, “To the two of us.”
“To putting the past behind us,” Betsy said through red-stained gums as she caught his eyes with a code red seduction. Their daughters were at her parents’ house for the weekend.
Robert closed his eyes as he felt the sensation of chocolate and cherry notes masked in a smooth dry finish roll down his tongue, and he saw, in his mind’s eye, Dr. Walters’ violet eyes against the plain white back-drop of his hospital room. He opened his eyes to see Betsy again glowing in the candlelight, and then downed the rest of his glass of cab before picking up the bottle on the center of the table and pouring the rest in to his glass. He motioned the waiter across the dining room—pointing at the bottle and then holding up his index finger to indicate one more.
“Jeez Robbie, slow down a little, we’ve got some—well—some—catching up to do later. I don’t want you to spoil yourself.”
“I’m sorry Bets—I’m just—well—you know—trying to relax. This’ll help,” he said as his olfactory got a hold of the unbelievable vapors underneath him. He grabbed his fork and cut off a glistening dripping piece of steak and fat marbled together, put it in his mouth, and before he even started chewing began to sound like Homer Simpson drooling before moaning out, “Oh my God…This is fucking good shit—goddamn—this place is legit.”
“Well, we do come here every other week.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I love you. I’m glad it’s good—shit?”
“Fuck yeah it is. How’s the fish,” Robert asked as Betsy looked down and to the left and fidgeted with the red linen napkin on her lap.
“Fine. It’ fine.”
“Oh god Bets—don’t cry—what’s wrong?” At least he still called her Bets.
“Why do you keep talking like that?”
“Like the language.”
“Oh shit—I don’t know—I’m sorry—I’m just still a little confused is all. I’m sure it will be fine.”
“No, I’m sorry—I know—well, I know you’ve been through a lot. This is supposed to be a celebration,” she lifted her glass again, he followed, and they clinked them together before she finished what was left in her own glass. Right then, the waiter walked back up with another bottle of wine. He uncorked it, and she decided she wasn’t so interested in them slowing down anymore. He refilled the glasses, and she raised another toast, “To new beginnings.”
“To new beginnings,” Robert smiled, and she almost didn’t recognize him. She hoped his moods wouldn’t get her out of the mood. It’d been two months. She deserved this.
[by Mike Hilbig]
When I was a child, my father would often take me to a town eleven miles south named Fairville. We didn’t have any record shops in our town and it was the only place you could buy music and rock and roll t-shirts without going all the way to the big cities. We would take the backcountry roads, past the groaning farmland and gravel pits. There were old farmhouses here and there that always had pieces of junk at the end of their driveways with FREE scrawled across discarded chunks of plywood. We could’ve taken the big highway, my father and I, it was faster and more direct, but we liked the scenery.
Just before arriving in Fairville, we would pass a house whose front yard contained a mighty oak that scraped on their shingles and deprived their lawn of the sun year round. On one such trip I noticed what I thought was a body or a scarecrow hanging from its lowest branch as we approached. We got closer and saw that it was a white-tail, hung upside down by its rear hooves and gutted. Chest through abdomen pried open like a pistachio shell exposing its startlingly bright insides. Its head hung down and nearly swept the browning grass blades. Its tongue hung out of its now purple mouth. I thought I saw it steaming but that was most likely my imagination.
I drew in loud breath and my father assured me, “Oh don’t worry, they just got a deer. It’s hunting season you know. You gotta take the organs out and hang it from a tree like that before you carve the meat and throw it in the freezer.”
“If you leave the organs in, it keeps the body warm, then all sorts of bacteria grows and it goes bad. You gotta bring the body temperature down as fast as you can.”
“And they just leave it up there like that?”
“Well, for awhile.”
“Don’t the neighbors complain?”
“Doubt it. Everyone around here hunts. It’s natural. We’re supposed to eat meat.”
I thought about my father every time I brought a body home.
The first priority, after I got him out of the truck, was the exsanguination. I hung him by his boots wrapped in FlexiCuffs from the Livingston children’s monkey bars. I would’ve been nervous of the weight if the Livingstons had been poorer, with poorer backyard recreational equipment, but their jungle gym was thick and strong, built from space age materials. The feet of the support beams were cobbled in cement boots, dug into the ground.
Under his face, which was about two feet off the ground, a seven-liter basin sat burrowed in the gravel and caught the spew when I cut his throat. The speed of its fill surprised me every time. After the initial flood of constant bloody gravity, it came out in pumping clumps, like ejaculate. I was surprised even more by how long it took to finish. I smoked his cigarettes, straddling the fiberglass seahorse with handles through its head and coiled metal running to the ground, and waited for the drip to end.
I thought about the deer. I wondered what the hunters did with the blood they drained. I wondered if they poured it into gallon water jugs and brought it to the fridge like I did.
I took his body, after a time, into the house through the front door on a sturdy red wagon. He was a bit lighter now. It was getting late and my muscles were tightening up and beginning to ache. The speed bump of the threshold bucked his right arm loose and it fell to the ground dragging along. His knuckle popped as his hand was run under the back wheel. I turned the wagon left into the TV and snuggled his hand back into his left armpit. The music of the rolling wheels changed slightly as they hit the floor of the new room’s painted wood from the tile of the entryway. I stopped the wagon under the hook, put him on it, and began butchering.
The TV room was the last room I renovated after moving into the house in April.
I had stayed in my apartment for only 3 days after the big day. I knew very early on that it wouldn’t do. I needed someplace big, with resources and protection, with space and cover. I needed a homestead.
I wandered for weeks. I drove to the top and bottom of the Puget Sound and everywhere in between looking for people. I gathered shortsighted supplies. Everything was quiet. I got drunk every night. The radios and televisions were blank. The power was still on but the stations were dead. I called everyone I knew and no one answered. I called random numbers on the east coast and in the south, in Canada and even Mexico. No one ever answered. Once I came across a group of three people when I was searching the neighborhoods but I didn’t make contact. I just hid from them and watched through the buildings and trees with a fine set of binoculars I picked up at the sporting goods warehouse. I didn’t trust anyone or anything.
I drove down to Portland and it was empty as well. I drove over to Boise. Same thing. I searched farms and factories and museums and the state capitol. All I found were animals.
I lived in the back of an Econoline van while I roamed around. There was no shortage of food or other supplies; I was pretty much the only one taking them.
I thought of Mister Livingston on an overcast Tuesday. Well, I thought it was Tuesday, there weren’t many accurate ways to keep track anymore, beside memory, and really, no reason. He’d been the only boss I’d ever liked, the first one to treat me like a person. He’d have meetings with me in his office to discuss my flaws and how I could improve them, so someday I could advance in the company. We’d talk and talk and I’d always let my eyes wander around his office. He had two framed pictures on his desk. One of his family, two girls and one boy, and one of his house.
He wasn’t an architect but had a heavy interest in it, so when they’d decided to build their dream house, he found an architect he could work very closely with during its design. Mr. Livingston wanted everything to his specifications. He was obsessed with the idea of a replicating his vision exactly. He had literally been dreaming of it for years.
Bob Livingston had grown up in Maine, by the sea. His father owned a fleet of fishing vessels and they had money. His youth was spent in a towering and gothic Victorian house behind iron gates. It was a deep peach color with gargoyles flagging the front steps. His dream house was a replication of this but with all modern amenities, a few rooms added and subtracted, and sided in naked wood, like that of a vacation lodge.
They built it in the forests of the Cascade Mountains, thirty minutes east of Seattle. It was at an elevation where they received snow during the winter but not so much as the passes. Their driveway snaked off of a winding country road that connected five miles down the way to Interstate 90. All the roads in that area were tunneled in trees. It was like driving through the bottom of the ocean, the sun barely peeking in micro rays down to the forest floor. Their neighbors were situated quarter miles apart. The mowed grass of the front, side and back yards was about an acre square and then turned into conifers hundreds of feet tall, circling the property like a mote.
The house had 20 rooms if you counted the two that made up the basement. A formal family room, an office, a library, a TV room, three bathrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, a mud room, three small bedrooms, one master, a sewing room, a laundry room, a game room, an attic, the coal room and the rest of the basement.
At the end of the two weeks in the van I thought back to those meetings in his office. I thought about the picture of the house. At the time it was just a picture, he had told me a little bit about it, being quite proud, but I wouldn’t learn the majority of these facts until later on. However, in my memory of it I could feel something. I could feel the soul of the house radiating through the frame, calling out. It clicked. I knew that’s where I had to go. So I did.
I really didn’t expect his address to be in the phone book, but I guess he was old fashioned. It was listed as being in a town named Riverwell. Turned out Riverwell was really just a segment of road that supported a neighborhood of rural homes and a gas station with an attached diner. When I first arrived at the house in the Econoline van, traversing the two tire tracked driveway of 70 feet through dense brush coddling the property like a cocoon, I laid eyes on its three and a half stories and felt a sensation of warming viscous comfort in my abdomen, like oatmeal.
It was square. The wrap around screen porch edged the north and west sides. The clapboard wood siding was a deep earthy brown. The shingles were a beautiful shade of rust. It was a well cared for home. The porch was half open to the elements, half screened in. The rest of the house was covered in just the right amount of windows. They had shutters, none of which were closed. Four pipestone chimneys ran up the back of the house. A flagpole grew from the ground halfway to the tree line but had no flag. A mallard walked across the lawn and I wondered if there was a pond near. A massive turret ran up the northeast corner of the house. Its top row of windows towered over the peak of the rest of the home’s roof. The first three levels of the turret opened right up into their adjoining floors, extending said floor’s corners outward and creating circular sun rooms on each. There were two more turret levels above those, which were accessed by an iron spiral staircase in the turret’s center, twisting upward like a double helix.
After touring through the home and making my final decision, I left my wallet on the kitchen counter and drove back to the city.
[By Dylan Conway Tuel]
“Mr. Lannigan, wake up, wake up, someone’s here to see you.”
Robert opened his eyes to effulgent light bouncing off the barren achromic walls meant to project an image of sanitation and hygiene within his as well as the many other rooms at the Western Glenn Memorial Hospital. As the blinding effect of fluorescents in his retinal glands calmed, the familiar shape of Dr. Walters’ face emerged. He was standing next to a woman who Robert also felt a strange sense of familiarity towards although he was sure he had never met her. The transformation from plenary whiteness to hospital room yanked Robert back into the shock of his initial arousal—four days ago—in the very same hospital bed wondering what the hell was going on.
Of course, most of his thoughts were preoccupied with reminders of his experience with this mystifying memory of smoking JD. The doctor’s eyes particularly fascinated Robert because they were the same tint as Omar’s. Omar’s irises were a shade of deep blue and almost appeared violet when the light hit them just right. Of course, Omar, as he appeared to Robert during the JD trip, had eyes of only sharp violet. Robert had counted five, maybe six times, since his stay in the hospital that Dr. Walters’ eyes had also gone sharp violet, and Robert was beginning to wonder if he had been involved in some sort of elaborate prank.
He remembered being warned that JD fucked with people’s heads, causing preoccupations with the experience and a sense of life being surreal when they first came down, occasionally causing someone to feel like an entirely different person, but no one had ever shared any accounts of the drug being nonexistent to the rest of the known world upon reintegration. Over the last few days, Dr. Walters informed Robert, well first, that his name was actually Robert Lannigan and not Stephen Coleridge, the only identity Robert could ever remember existing as. He was no longer a bartending philosopher—no longer a man who decided not to pursue a doctorate after finishing his Master’s, and decided to become instead a legal drug dealer on work nights, and an illegal drug user on play nights—a manboy who claimed hedonism as a practical lifestyle choice. No, Robert Lannigan was frankly a square, a successful real estate agent who had a wife, two daughters, a large but not grandiose home in the suburbs, and a prized Mercedes which he drove around the city to meet potential homeowners for his properties. Dr. Walters told Robert that there was no known record of any plant called Lupinus deum or any street substance labeled as “Judgment Day.” No one was really sure what had happened to Robert the night before the morning he was picked up by a police officer while sitting naked on a park bench yelling out Biblical verse—Corinthians 4:16-18 to be exact—at timidly passing strangers. An officer arrived on scene and deemed Robert to be in the midst of a psychotic episode and transported him to the Western Glenn Memorial Hospital where he was immediately admitted to the psychiatric ward on the highest level. Initially, upon arriving, he required sedation to keep him from thrashing at the orderlies and nurses, but after awakening from the sedatives, the doctor noticed that despite an extreme disorientation and a wild story about an imagined hallucinogenic plant, Robert was entirely capable of carrying a cohesive conversation, had lost all impulses towards violence, and displayed most of the normal signs of a sane person minus the ongoing identity crisis. He informed Robert that they wished to keep him until they might be able to figure out what had happened to his memory.
Robert gained more cognizance as his recent slumber receded, and he began to experience a curious phenomenon while staring at the woman next to Dr. Walters. He noticed the champagne cascade descending from her scalp, and his mind began to play the reel of a movie of him as a young man pacing down a hallway at a quickened gait trying to catch up with the ethereal blonde female a few meters ahead. As he reached her and tapped her on the shoulder, the face that turned around was a younger version of the same face he was viewing from his hospital bed. Robert heard himself ask her for her phone number and could feel a slight palpitation in his heart as she took a piece of paper, scribbled seven digits, and floated away into a classroom door. Robert then noticed the watery wells of her emerald eyes about to overflow as she maintained a defensive posture next to the doctor seemingly not sure how to react. His cerebrum started playing another video of the woman, whose beautiful eyes, like four-leaf clovers, filled with tears as she met his intent gaze. During the next sequence of film, the neurological camera panned out, and Robert saw her in a brilliant accoutrement of white walking down a church aisle where he noticed his own body ornamented in a tuxedo. From there, he recognized the jewel-encrusted earrings dangling down by the side of her jaw. At this point, his mental broadcast looped an image of two young girls, maybe three and five years old, taking a small wrapped box out of his hands and running up to this female before him, jumping into her lap, and smiling wildly as she opened the gift box to reveal the same earrings. As Robert vaguely began to view her with recognition, her eyes ruptured into a salvo of saline, and she began moving towards him with her arms outstretched. Robert’s brainwaves accelerated, and these short films started running through his head at a high clip like the fast forward motion on a DVD player—dinners with the family, Saturdays at the tee ball park with his daughters, closing real estate deals with a smile and driving home excited to tell his beloved, buying the first home of his own in the suburbs, the first day of school for his daughters—until he was almost sure this must be his wife.
“Bets?” Robert said almost in a question as these new memories birthed themselves like a set of Lego’s being built into a toy house. Unlike the experience he remembered of smoking JD, which felt completely genuine, these new memories had a fictitious flare, and Robert was completely unsure of which reality he should embrace. Nonetheless, he felt a stirring in his gut and knew that a foundation of loving desire was now also forming for Betsy, his beloved wife character.
“Oh, Robbie. Thank God you’re ok. What happened to you?”
Robert thought hard, but still, these new 8mm sketches of an alternate reality he now knew must have existed somehow end the day before he was admitted into Western Glenn. As he thought, he felt this sense of longing for any kind of normalcy, whether he was to return to his life as Stephen Coleridge or fully embrace this new Robert Lannigan. As confusion and hormones infused into a potent blend of unencumbered emotion prompting an identity laden stream, he whimpered out to her, “I’m really not sure Bets—I’m so sorry—I wish I could figure this out—I love you.”
[by Mike Hilbig]
Thankfully, I can still put on the music in a world without power. I found a hand-crank Victrola record player in an antique shop in a very rich area of Bellevue and brought it into the house shortly after moving in. It contained a set of 36 classical records. I had quite a collection of records before the big day, but this player as it initially sat couldn’t play them. These old machines have a very heavy needle and the records themselves are made from a much harder vinyl, so it would’ve eaten right through mine. I travelled up to a Seattle recently culled of its population, to my favorite record shop, and took a stash of replacement needles along with three carts of new albums.
I rigged the replacement needles to the Victrola with a light solder. It’s played beautifully ever since. It requires 17 full cranks before starting a side, then another 17 nearly halfway through. There are two volume settings. Front doors of the cabinet open, and front doors of the cabinet closed. It has always been plenty loud.
It is quiet in the Cascade forests.
The sun has now fully set and the grandfather clock in the corner opposite the Victrola says it is just after seven pm in my late morning. The other two corners are occupied respectively by the fireplace and the hallway that leads to the formal living room by way of Mr. Livingston’s office. His office is the only part of the house I haven’t changed. I don’t go in there much.
I sit in a tall reading chair. It has 4 carved lions feet. The dark wood runs polished from them up the sides and around the top, bordering the deep red of its old leather. I have set out my food and drink on the side table. There’s a doily that was hand stitched by Mrs. Livingston under my meal. Her craftsmanship was exquisite. I’m playing Cranes on the Victrola. The fire is going nicely. As always, I start with the kindling of old newspapers, then small twigs and larger sticks and smaller logs and larger logs. By now the larger logs burn and heat the room with flames a foot and a half high. I feel the warmth on my hair and skin. My nostrils suck in warm air and calm my headache. The wood of the Firs, being so full of sap, crackles aggressively. The frequency reminds me of the not so distant days of microwaves and homemade popcorn, before He took all the people away. The logs pop that fast. I’ve grown to love the sap and it’s rhythm. I listen to the music and stare into the fire with a calm and steady heart.
I have one candelabra burning by the records, one burning by the room’s exit, and one on my side table. Under its pulsing light is my dinner, courtesy of the trailer park man. I stumbled upon him by accident.
Three weeks ago I was on a supply run down in the cities. It was unusually humid. The fences were steaming. I had the pickup truck, the quiet one with the broken wiper blade, and was mostly scouting for gas tankers. I also needed to swing by the all purpose store and pick up candles, kitchen knives, motor oil and shotgun shells. I was over in Thompson Hill because I remembered a strip of gas stations and car dealerships that I hadn’t hit since the big day. It was around 10:00, now fully dark.
When I came over a hilltop very near to my destination I heard the gunshot. Frankly, I almost crashed the truck. I gasped and choked on my own spit. When you’re so used to absolute silence save the noises you make yourself, hearing something like a gunshot with no warning is brutal. I felt like God had reached down and punched me in the back of the head, which at this point wouldn’t have been so unlikely. It sounded like it cracked just south of me. I slowed down to near an idle and pulled the truck behind an old Pho restaurant, hidden from view. My binoculars went around my neck and I left the truck.
Upon first look through the lenses, there was no one in sight, just a wall of thick trees beyond the road. Upon second look, now trudging on my belly through the bushed base of said trees, I kicked myself for not noticing it earlier. How could I have missed that giant plume of smoke coming up through the center of the copse?
I moved closer.
A dirt driveway ran off the main road past a sign that said Breezy Hills Mobile Home Community. Someone had kicked a hole through the sodden wood under the last word. The light of the fire danced down the path. I took off my boots and walked softly through the adjoining strand of ferns and berry bushes to where I had a clear view of the scene. My clothes were damp and my feet were stiff.
The fire was raging, six feet tall if not more. It was in the middle of the main drive between the lines of trailers. Mutating green tendrils of flame were shooting up from whatever was being thrown into it. It smelled awful, like the animal rendering plant that used to stink up Tacoma. The light illuminated the various shades of the steel and plastic sided trailers. There were 14 in all. Around the fire were six chairs. The one nearest to me and facing the other way, toward the fire, was filled with the man. He was a big man. Fat but muscular underneath. I could see broad shoulders with bulbous flappy arms spilling over the edges of the chair. In contrast, large muscular legs hung down from his shorts. I could see their poorly tattooed backs through the underside of the seat. He had a camouflaged baseball cap on and was holding a small rifle in his left hand, leaning up against his inner thigh. Next to his chair was an impressive four cases of beer. I wondered how long it would take him to go through them. His current beer was sitting on top of the boxes. His head was bouncing up and down, falling in and out of sleep. He was drunk.
There was a dead squirrel on the other side of his chair, shot through the side. It was on top of a dead rabbit. That was on top of a dead raccoon.
A 50 inch television was running off a generator under a carport attached to the nearest trailer. I assumed that was the man’s trailer. It was the only one with lights burning inside. Die Hard was playing on mute and a stereo plugged into the same generator sung a country western song I’d never heard.
Parked in front of the trailer adjacent to his was a brand new Ford F-150, a brand new Hummer, a brand new Corvette and a 94 Chevy Cavalier.
Between the television and the fire was the largest gas grill I’d ever seen. It’s top was open and nothing was cooking. It was filthy. Through my binoculars I could see grease and fat and tufts of fur caked on the grate as thick as tar. Its legs were surrounded by discarded bones.
There were mannequins in the other five chairs around the fire.
Three were men, two were women. They were dressed not in designer clothing as they had probably been most of their lives, but had been changed into old shabby rags that fit in well with their new home. Ripped jeans with motor oil stains, heavy flannels, work boots and old Nikes, t shirts with wrestlers and 70s arena rock bands across the chest, Nascar caps, some of them even had cigarettes taped to their mouths or in their hands. Two of them had guns propped in their laps. One of them was holding a leash tied to a stuffed dog. All of them had their own beers, open, sitting in their cup holders. They weren’t blank faced white mannequins that were displayed in merchant’s windows simply for their form, they were that special breed of high-end pseudo humans that looked like real people, unsettlingly so. With delicately painted faces and expensive wigs, realistic skin tones, and fake nipples that poked through their tops. The flickering light of the fire made their lids appear to blink.
I watched the man for half an hour. His head would loll back and forth, up and down. Every few minutes he would come to and take a drink, most times finishing off nearly a whole can. Sometimes after swallowing he would look up at the fire and his friends and yell out to them.
“Janet! tell your boss to remembrerr ghgng…”
“Fuck no! Gimme one of thoeshabb…bbinmusta! Aalllmnm…”
Then his head would go back to lolling. Sleep rolled in and out. Here and there.
After beer number four he got up, grabbed the three dead animals, threw them on the cold grill, and went into his trailer, leaving the television and stereo on and the fire burning. I watched through the binoculars as his shadow moved about in the unit for some time, then the lights went out. I took the long route around the edge of the lot, guarded by trees, and made my way to the unit’s north wall, sitting on the ground with my back against its steel skin. The snoring started immediately. Heavy, sickly snoring. Snoring like a jackhammer, like a tommy gun.
I walked to the front hatch, still bootless and light on my feet, pulled it open and stepped inside.
It was cramped as any mobile home should be, and smelled like burning body odor. There was no food in his kitchen. There were however dozens of appliances, most still in their boxes. He had pictures of old friends taped and magnetized to his fridge. In his living room was another television identical to the one outside. There were hundreds of DVDs and video games stacked around the small entertainment center that looked as if it would collapse under the weight of the screen. On the coffee table was bag after bag of beef jerky and cases of Pringles. Next to the couch was another stack of cased beer. Next to that was a volcano of pornography. Every magazine I’d ever heard of and dozens I hadn’t. Next to that was another mannequin, this one in a lazy boy and dressed in a woman’s nightie. I stepped lightly and remained vigilant of the man’s continued snores.
Almost every inch of his bedroom walls were covered in centerfolds and single pages ripped out of old smut. It was disgusting when paired with the dying whale of a man beached on the mattress, taking up most of the square footage of the room. He was on his back.
I had strangled two men before but this one was by far the easiest. He was so inebriated that he didn’t realize what was happening until 25 seconds in, and by that time his brain was beginning to misfire. I was sitting on his chest with my knees on the inside of his elbows, putting the rest of my weight on his throat. When he realized there was a person on him, he started kicking and moaning, both very weakly. He was able to force out the words “beee friennndsss”. I stayed there for a minute and a half, long after he stopped moving. My hands were covered in his boozy sweat when I released him. Then out came his last belch of life. It sounded like the flush of a toilet. He released his bladder and I dismounted.
I went and got my truck, loaded him up, took a pack of his cigarettes, and went home. I switched off the television and the stereo before I left.
[By Dylan Conway Tuel]
“Well, let’s see, we were at my boy Omar’s house about to smoke this stuff called ‘Judgement Day,’ ‘JD,’ the fucking holy grail. I remember having a glass freebase pipe in my hand loaded with precisely eighty milligrams of—shit, actually Omar had to steal a fucking mili-scale from the Chemistry lab at his school to make sure we wouldn’t fry our fucking brains when we hit it—that crazy blue crystalline powder. It’s supposed to be extracted from this plant species called Lupinus deum. I remember Omar telling me, ‘See you in the emergency room, Stevie,’ as he torched the bottom of the pipe. Of course, I thought that motherfucker was joking—we always say that shit on straight whiskey shootin’ nights. I didn’t think I’d wake up in this fucking place.”
“Judgement Day? Hmmm…I don’t believe I’m familiar. Tell me more.”
“Well, like I said before, it’s from this plant species, supposedly grows only in the valleys of the Andes Mountain Range. There’s this one with the largest quantity of any in South America. They call it the Garden of the Forking Paths. Borges was said to have smoked that shit. Named the story after it. Really rare shit, almost mythical. I can’t believe we actually found any. Cost us a pretty penny too, five hundred dollars a gram. People call it ‘Judgement Day’ cause it opens up your mind so goddamn far that you aren’t the same person afterwards. It’s hard to explain, you see these angelic beings, maybe even God? They show you things, but they’re—well—why are you asking? Did I overdose?”
“No, not that I can tell. Physically, you seem perfectly fine. Why don’t you tell me more about the effects of this ‘Judgement Day?’”
“Hmm, well, you sort of just have to do it. I mean, it’s a lot like other people described in books but yet completely different. I don’t remember the details so much. I remember the vapor tasting sort of like a cat’s litter box when it needs to be changed. But power through that shit, and well—I hit the pipe hard until all the smoke disappeared, and as I exhaled there was this sound like bees buzzing, but it sounded more like if bees were speaking in a human tongue, but one I couldn’t understand. Anyways, it gets real fucked up, real fast. Omar shrinks into this video game looking creature, like Link from Legend of Zelda except in like a Technicolor hue, and then he says ‘Let’s play,’ winks at me, and jumps into his television set, which now has this like blue and white swirl spiraling into the center of it. It looked like some portal in a crappy eighties sci-fi flick. Anyways, next I remember trying to follow him into the TV, but I started coughing too hard and fell down. All of a sudden, it felt like something really fucking heavy was on my back, and then everything went black. I remember it being like I was being pressed into the floor but I had no sense in that moment that I was on drugs. To be honest, it felt completely fucking terrifying—like I was dying. But then Omar reappeared to me, except now I’m not in my body. And now, it just makes no sense. I’m in some kind of like hyperspace fucking universe in complete darkness, but there are these bright goddamned stars off in the distance. Omar is like a gangleader, and there are five or six more crazy fucking video game people behind him dressed in these glittery red, blue, and yellow skin tight body suits, kind of like characters in Tron, and they all move sort of like they’re on roller skates. I think that’s also when I realized I was only two-dimensional and trapped in a grid, and they were all circling above me, or maybe through me. They kept taunting me. Saying things like, ‘Get up.’ ‘Come play.’ ‘You almost figured it out.’ ‘Don’t be such a pussy.’ And then I was trying to respond but couldn’t seem to, but I don’t remember if I was actually talking or not. I don’t remember much of anything after that except I had this recognition that possibly I had actually been there before and that these beings were like angels, and we were the only real beings that existed in this whole motherfucking universe except that we were more like what people would call—souls?—and everything else was just a projection. I don’t know, but I also had this weird notion that the games they wanted to play were like new lives—as if this place I was at was where souls go to become reborn. Oh, and there was no sense of time whatsoever. It felt like I was in that place for a fucking eternity. And then the only other thing I remember was right before I—woke up?—on Omar’s floor, these things all became a part of me, and I turned around and saw my own face—fucking as glittery as the rest of them—even more so—and I thought that maybe I was God, or Jesus, or Buddha, or some shit like that. Then, there was a screen that flashed in front of me that said ‘Game Over’ and some kind of weird music started playing before everything went white. The next thing I know, I was on Omar’s floor yelling, ‘Dying is a Game!’ ‘Dying is a game!’ Over and over and over again until I couldn’t fucking breathe. That’s all I got. Then I woke up here.”
“Ok, good, I think that’s all I need for now.”
“Wait, wait—Doc, am I ok? What’s wrong?”
“Look, stay calm, I’m just collecting a little information. I’ll be back shortly to discuss the particulars of your condition with you. For now, just try to relax and get some sleep. Everything’s going to be just fine.”
[by Mike Hilbig]
The monotone voice sounded over the loudspeaker. She opened her eyes, but there was nothing to see, just a grey haze. This didn’t alarm her. If anything, she responded to this strange loss of vision with a sense of casual curiosity; not primitive fear. In fact, she was trying to remember if she had always been blind or not.
“I can’t see.” Her voice was soft, but direct. There was a sterile quality to it. It was an eerie kind of voice, so flat and even, similar to an automated telephone operator. Her comment was phrased like a clinical observation, not an inquiry.
The voice didn’t bother to respond. Number 9 got the impression that this was all standard procedure. She was on her back, upon what felt like a table. Feeling some of her strength had returned, she attempted to sit up. Instinctively, she tried to use her arms for leverage. That’s when she realized, both her arms were missing. The good news was that she was seeing blurry shapes now. At least her eyes were starting to function properly…
Time passed relatively quickly. She was finally able to take a visual inventory of her physical condition. Essentially, she was just a torso, with four stumps where her limbs should have been, respectively. Of course it could have been much worse, her head could be missing too. Instead of struggling, or trying to make sense of the gruesome situation, Number 9 did what came naturally to her — what she had been trained to do. She waited patiently for instruction.
The lab door opened and an older gentleman, dressed in a white coat, looked her over. Wordlessly, he touched her stumps. She remained silent. She wasn’t sure who he was, but he seemed familiar.
“Number 9. Did you complete the mission?” He sounded upset, despite his best efforts to conceal his agitation. Nine wasn’t sure if the old man was upset because he cared for her or if he was annoyed because he was the one responsible for putting her mangled body back together.
Empathy was not one of her strong suits. It would be impossible for her to fulfill her duties if she had not been fully stripped of emotions… whatever those duties were. Nine was having trouble accessing her memory; everything except for the answer to his question was a total blank.
“No… there were complications.” As soon as she responded, she knew that she had broken protocol.
“I didn’t ask for details. Obviously you… Number 8… failed. But don’t think that just because you’re freshly out of the box you’re not accountable for… her… your actions. There will be consequences. Once your limbs have been attached, we expect better results. This is your last chance Number 9. We’re not making any more of you. ” He snapped at her.
[By Noelle Wonder]