Ladies of the Fountain


The Three Rules for Wishing on a Fountain (if you really think your wish will come true):

1. Make your wish.
2. Throw your coin.
3. Run like hell.

He threw three coins, but the damn fool didn’t run.


Staring into the white sculptured eyes of the first lady of the fountain, he said: “I want you to be alive and be my woman.” He threw the first coin and it landed in the top bowl. To the next lady he said: “I want you to be alive and be my woman.” He threw the second coin. It landed in the middle bowl. To the last lady, he said: “I want you to be alive and be my woman.” He dropped the third coin right into the bottom bowl. As it dropped through the air, he was happy and thought about how cool it would be if all three of the statues in the fountain came to life and were all madly in love with him and wanted nothing more than to accompany him everywhere and fuck his brains out every day.

Cool, he thought.

“Thunk,” said the last coin as it sliced into the water.


He didn’t run. He stayed and stared at the fountain: a big circular bowl made of white marble. A short podium with three rams’ heads jutted out the center, and three ancient Greek-looking women, arms crossing their chests, stood back-to-back in a circle on top of the podium.

“Run, you idiot,” said thunk. But he stayed and he stared at the fountain.

Balanced like half the scales of an unfathomable justice on top of the three ladies’ heads was a second bowl though smaller than the one on the ground. A pillar sprung out the center of this bowl as though it were a single purpose of thought spurting from the minds of the three ladies, and there was a third bowl, smaller than the second bowl, on top of the pillar. The whole thing formed a V pointing skyward with water from a metal tube bubbling into the top bowl, trickling down into the middle bowl and then into the bottom bowl.


For makeup the ladies wore spider webs and dark streaks blown across their faces by the wind and the rain. He used to clear away the webs with this hand until one day a large brown spider with long legs poked its obscene body out from under a stone white lock of hair just inches from his hand. After that, he thought the webs actually lent the ladies a touch of naturalness so he left the webs alone.

The fountain appeared ancient, ancient and Greek, like the kind of thing to inspire myth and mayhem, which was exactly what it would do.


He stared into the ladies’ white stone eyes as he walked around the fountain, loving them and wanting them. Stone sculptures in a fountain. Beautiful and timeless. But stone. White stone.

He really didn’t have much of a life.

He looked away from the fountain, into the long narrow distance of The Green, a strip of grass, trees, walking paths and benches by the river, and of course, a white stone fountain with three sculpted women of indeterminate ancient origin.

He strolled to the edge of The Green where it banked on the river, stood by a massive weeping willow and stared across the river, so wide at this point that tourists mistook it for a lake. A light wind whipped across the gray water and brushed gently through the droopy leaves of the willow. Alder bushes, reeds, ferns and saplings crowded the bank down to the water’s edge where muddy flotsam dried in the sun. Further down The Green, Dutch Elms towered into the sky, their tops spreading out like giant umbrellas in the heat-dazed air.

His head bustled with images of beautiful women whose loose robes flapped in lusty zephyrs revealing perfectly sculpted legs and cleavage plunging into depths that would drive him mad.

Warm gusts of wind rippled the deep grass of the Green like footprints of an invisible presence.



It was an abrupt change in the splish and drip of water in the fountain, a change in delicately balanced rhythms. The breeze evaporated into stillness. A million blades of grass stood erect. Every leaf on every tree hushed and hung. Time blinked for an instant and something sneaked past time’s inexhaustible logic and dipped its magical toes into the water of the fountain.


Too late to run.


The ladies stepped out of the bowl wiping spider webs and whiteness from their faces. Deep blue flashed into their as eyes they looked around curiously, taking in the grass, the sky and the trees. They looked each other up and down with growing recognition and smiled.

“At last,” said Tia. “Time to party.”

“You might want to cover up a bit, dear,” said Alaia, pointing to a comely example of ancient breast slipping into full view at the top of Tia’s robe. “We don’t want our cleavage plunging into depths that will drive the mortals mad.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Tia as she nudged her robe barely enough to cover the pale pink of an eternally erect nipple.

“Oh, you guys,” said Epsy. “Always on at each other.”

The other two looked at her, thinking simultaneously All this time to contemplate, and still a ditz.

“Where is he?” said Tia.

Alaia pointed at a man standing by the riverbank. He wasn’t a memorable person: balding up front, long ponytail dangling from the back, generic face.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Tia.

“Think about it, dear. What kind of man is going to throw three coins into a fountain, make the same wish three times and really expect to get his brains fucked out?”

Tia looked at him again, shrugged her shoulders and pouted. “You’re right. If we just didn’t need the losers.”

Alaia nodded. “Better make this good.”


His name was Rollo. Rollo. His jaw hung dangerously close to falling off his face as Tia walked toward him, her robe slipping ever so slightly to reveal the tip of a nipple winking from depths that threatened to drive him mad. She moved across the grass like butter mixing with warm honey and put her arms around his neck. He felt her breath on his face―a warm Mediterranean scent heavy with lust and music―and all his strength flowed out of his body and into her lips as they pressed on his mouth. He flowed into her, eyes wide and body sapped of the will to even tremble. Her kiss drained his soul and left his body a single vibration of desire. He felt her thigh pressed up hard against the hardest erection of his entire life.

Alaia and Epsy looked at each other, winked and smiled.

Tia’s lips seemed to float away from Rollo’s mouth and she giggled and every giggle blew hot pleasure into his face. “I’m Tia,” she said. “And you’re…?”

Her voice sent a wave of pure lusty energy caroming off every cell in his body and landed full on his erection. “Huh!” he said.

“Huh,” repeated Tia. “Strange name. Is there a story behind it?”

Her voice rolled through his body like a hot snowball gaining strength and momentum and splashing into his penis with a force that nearly emptied his brain into a black hole of pleasure.

“Look, Huh, I know you can talk,” said Tia. “You made the wishes. Three times. Once for each of us…and here we are. Say something.”

“R…” said Rollo.

“And…” encouraged Tia.

He felt himself falling into her eyes and somewhere in the space that he fell through, the word “Rollo” slipped into the paralyzed wind.

“Rollo,” said Tia, nodding. “Reminds me of someone I used to know a long time ago.” She took his hand and led him to where Alaia and Epsy stood, smiling.  “I want you to meet my…let’s say…sisters. This is Alaia.”

Alaia curtseyed and said, “Pleased to meet you Rollo.”

Rollo opened his mouth slightly and nodded.

“And this is Epsy,” said Tia.

Epsy futtered her lashes and winked at him. “I don’t care what the others think,” she said. “I think you’re cute.”

Alaia and Tia looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Rollo stared into Epsy’s eyes and felt himself evaporating into her direction. He smiled. His mind was beginning to clear enough that he could think at least one clear thought. His wish. In his wish, they were supposed to fuck his brains out.

“That’s right, Rollo,” said Tia.

His eyes widened. Did I say that out loud?

“It’s Ok,” said Epsy, giggling. “This way we know how to please you.”

Suddenly, everything seemed to make sense to Rollo. His wish had come true. They would be with him. The three women looked at each other and grinned. “For a slow start, this one caught on quick,” said Alaia.

“Time to explore!” said Tia. She pointed toward the end of The Green where buildings peeked out from behind the maples and elms. “Is that a city?”

“You might call it that,” said Rollo. “More like a glorified town, if you ask me. It’s…”

“Are there places to eat and drink?” asked Tia.

“And shopping?” said Epsy. “Are there places to shop?” “How is the food in your glorified town?” asked Alaia.

“Is the wine heady?” asked Tia.

“Actually,” said Rollo, “this city is known mostly for its relaxing atmosphere and absence of choice.”

The ladies looked at each other, puzzled. Then they giggled and grabbed Rollo’s arms and dragged him toward the buildings. “We need to party,” said Tia. “And you…you need a life.” She winked at the other two.

As they passed by a statue of Robert Burns, the Scotch sage seemed almost to look on in approval through pigeon-shitted eyes.


FountainSrory 005

On the opposite side of the street, sprawling Victorian style houses put on Victorian airs in the morning haze, their wood rot painted over,  dusty curtains sagging heavily behind fading windows.

“What a shame to build with wood,” said Epsy, “when stone is so much more permanent.” Tia craned her neck around Rollo and joined Alaia in glaring at her.

They passed a marble and brick building fronted by sculptures of animals and abstract shapes clawing at the air.

“Is there food and wine in this building?” asked Epsy.

“That’s just an art gallery,” said Rollo. “Mostly paintings and… “At least it’s made of stone…for permanence.” Tia and Alaia glared again.

They came to a building that filled the sky, stone and glass towering above them. Epsy regarded the building approvingly. She was about to comment on its stoneness when another thought crossed her mind, something deep and infinitely meaningful for someone cast in stone since God knows when. “I have to pee.” All three ladies stopped, almost tugging Rollo off his feet. “And that’s not all I have to do,” said Epsy, slapping her robed rump. The three giggled and Tia pointed at the building. “Are there facilities in there?”

“It’s a hotel,” he said. “But they’ll have public washrooms on the main floor.

“We have to pee in public?” said Epsy. “I don’t think I want to do that. At least not yet.”

“I mean, they’re…”

“He means open to the public, Eps,” said Tia. “Nobody’s going to watch you tinkle.”

They went through a pair of massive brass doors and into a high-ceilinged hall, ornate with leather, red felt and muffled air. Daryl Shaw, a reservations clerk who dreamed of someday owning his own bed and breakfast, suddenly put together all the parts of his life into something that finally made sense. He saw into the deepest meaning of things and realized that he really didn’t want a bed and breakfast because he didn’t really like people and didn’t want to spend his life serving and reserving them. He grabbed onto a bundle of initial plausibilities, walked off the job, and set out to make his life itself a work of art.

Rollo led the ladies into a hallway and pointed at an overhead light announcing RESTROOMS. “The door under the light,” he said. Giggling and pinching each other, the ladies disappeared into the washroom. Rollo waited for what seemed like hours. He thought that no human being could pee for so long. He was about to knock on the door when it burst open and the ladies barged out in a storm of laughter. Tia hooked her arm under Rollo’s. “You don’t notice it so much when you’re stone and have a couple hundred pounds of fountain on your head.”

Rollo nodded. “I suppose so.”

As they passed an open door with an unmade bed, Tia looked in and said, “A bed!” Without another word, she pulled Rollo into the room and threw him onto the bed. His clothes peeled off as he flew through the air and he landed naked. Tia was also naked. Behind her, Alaia and Epsy were naked. Staring at Tia’s marble-like breasts, Rollo said: “I think I’m going to loose my mind.”

Mounting him, Tia said, “You most certainly are.”

She pounded onto him for what seemed like hours. He was a wave rushing over an infinite ocean as she surfed his penis into a crazy horizon. He felt his pleasure soar into the universe and crash into the end of time and then soar again over and over and then it was Alaia riding him and then Epsy and then Tia again and all the fixed perspectives of his life seemed to flow out of his brain and evaporate from the churning surface of a pool of pure pleasure. It might have lasted hours, it might have lasted years.

As they left the hotel, Rollo had difficulty getting his head around the fact that it was still mid-morning. So he stopped thinking about it.


On the sidewalk, Epsy belched hard enough to knock three pigeons senseless. Passerby Richard Conway saw this, walked into the street and fell into an open sewer. As he plunged to certain death, he wrote an entire rock opera about a down-and-out truck driver in his head. It ended with a plop.

Tia yelled, “Gypsies!”

Everyone followed her eyes to the park across the street, filled with open-walled tents and tables. “That’s an arts and crafts fair,” said Rollo. “They have it every…”

“Oh, look at the beautiful scarves,” said Epsy.

“You said the shopping wasn’t good,” said Alaia, one eye cocked scornfully.

“But it’s only…”

“It’s wonderful!” yelled Tia. “Let’s shop!”

They pulled Rollo across the street and past ticket attendant June MacLean who picked up her iPhone and began writing that novel she’d always dreamed of, now that everything was suddenly so crystal clear.

“Oh look at the scarves!” barked Epsy. They rushed to a green-topped tent with hundreds of tie-dyed scarves flapping from wooden hangers and the ladies disappeared into rows of swaying color.

All around them, artisans, artists, crafts persons, patrons, customers, critics, apprentices, sculptors, weavers, etchers, potters, jewelers, glass blowers, and stone masons perked up from artistic detachment, and a new generation of craft emerged from their collective consciousness. Never-before dreamed of motifs that mocked all pre-conceived notions of design sprouted willy-nilly from minds suddenly bursting with fiery notions.

By the time the ladies exited the tent―scarves blowing from their necks, arms and ankles―the laid-back mid-morning arts and crafts show was bustling with excitement. They passed a tent with racks displaying thousands of porcelain pins, broaches, ear rings, and belly button rings all decorated with colorful bugs. Rollo noticed Epsy’s attention pausing a moment on a bright black and white ladybug pin. He bought it for her. She smiled and giggled and pinned it to her robe right over her left thigh. Then she kissed him on the cheek.


FountainSrory 004

A folding sign advertising a special on Irish stew caused them to detour into Molly’s Coffee House. Molly’s turned out to be a licensed coffee house. The ladies drank every drop of wine, beer, and spirits from the bar and then from the store room. A group of Bohemian tourists passed a note book around their table and wrote the world’s first collective unconscious novel to win the Nobel Prize for literature. It was about coffee and beer.


Back on the sidewalk it was mid-morning. Rollo and the ladies were festive and drunk as they passed a man in a three-piece suit who gawked at Tia in a manner that displeased her. She smiled at him and ran her finger down the inside neck of her robe just enough to reveal the exact amount of cleavage to make him tear off his clothing and devote the remainder of his life to naked barding.

They passed a tall red brick building with a sign announcing Sports Hall of Fame. Alaia pointed at a large patch of thick grass shaded by a towering Dutch Elm. “Let’s rest awhile,” she said. Nobody argued.

Laying in the grass Rollo listened to the three ladies talk of many things, like how Tia drove Nero fiddling mad with her cleavage and Alaia teased Da Vinci by changing the slant of her mouth every time he was just about to get it right. Epsy giggled as she told how she inspired Catullus’ bed sheet tent.

“Which brings to mind…” said Tia.

And the three ladies converged on Rollo in the deep green grass under the tall Dutch Elm on a hazy summer mid-morning.


They came to a fountain similar to the one on The Green, except it had just one figure and it was on top of the fountain.

“Pan!” screamed Tia, pointing wildly at the golden figure, naked and mischievous-looking with his baby face and old eyes. “What are you doing here!”

Rollo half expected the statuette to answer but it remained frozen in stone and gold paint, unspeaking, water pouring from its midsection. A tiny breath of sadness seemed to surround the ladies as they nodded to each other. Alaia said, “Another time.”

“You knew him?” asked Rollo.

“Partied with him many times,” said Alaia.

“Sometimes he had sex with the wrong people,” said Tia.

“And the wrong beings,” added Epsy.

Alaia shrugged and smiled at the statuette. “See you later,” she said. “Party animal.” She pointed to a sign over an alley between two red brick buildings. “What’s that?” she asked.

Rollo read the sign. Piper’s Lane. “It’s named after the statue I guess. It leads to an outdoor party area with tables and decks and umbrellas.”

“Party area?” said Tia.

“Yes, but …”

“What are we waiting for!” said Epsy.

“But, it’s …”

“Time to party!” said Tia.

“But it’s closed!” yelled Rollo.

“What do you mean closed,” asked Alaia. “It’s late.”

Rollo looked around at the mid-morning cityscape and shrugged. “It doesn’t open until noon. In fact, most of the bars…”

“Let’s go,” said Tia.

As the ladies pulled Rollo away from the fountain, he could almost have sworn that the Pan’s mouth curved into a brutal smile. Seconds later, they were in shade between the two old buildings in an alley that smelled of urine and wood rot. The stone walkway was cracked and potholed. Epsy made no comments on the permanence of stone.

The alley opened into a sunlit square with brightly furnished decks, cobblestone walkways, specialty shops, pubs―most of them closed―and a large roofless dance area with an empty stage. There were about twenty people scattered through the decks and tables, drinking coffee, reading newspapers or talking quietly.

Epsy and Alaia pulled Rollo into the center of the courtyard where they sat under a wide blue and white striped umbrella while Tia grabbed onto a bartender, ignored his pleas that they were closed, and told him to bring food and drink, lots of food and drink. “More food and drink than you dare dream of,” she commanded. The bartender would eventually write a film script about two beer bubbles that fall in love and soar to the top of the glass where they evaporate together and reach an infinite oneness in the surrounding air. It would be lauded as one of the most remarkable films of all time but, with a running time of twenty-four hours, it would never actually be produced.

By the time Tia got to their table, other people were starting to arrive. Bar owners messing with computerized accounting programs closed their laptops after deciding that today would be a good day to open early. People working in surrounding buildings decided it was time for a break, time for a frosty cold beer and some salad. A group of drunken rednecks who had slept under their table the previous night so as not to lose it the following day decided to start the world’s first intellectual country band. They called it the “Existential Cowboys Who Are In Touch With Their Feminine Selves.” During their first live performance―in a country bar―the audience would pummel them to death with beer mugs and pitchers.

Within minutes Piper’s Lane was hustling with the sound of laughter and clinking glasses. Everywhere, the conversation was animated and passionate with talk of spatial relationships and the delicate balance between reality and illusion. People theorized and postulated new meanings into their ordinary lives, rising as they did into new realms of awareness.

A group of musicians lugged instruments onto the stage, plugged in and started playing. The music was indefinable, like something not heard on earth since gods slept in the clouds and woke up in ditches. The music flowed like hot tomato sauce over the tables and umbrellas and into the streets and over the buildings and over the naked bodies of hundreds of vibrant humans gathered in Piper’s Lane talking of form and content and the countless ways of arranging them into new meanings.

Rollo glanced around at naked men and women standing with drinks in hand, sitting with palms cupped over bare knees, absently scratching public hair while making a point about the ontological proof for the non-existence of reason. It didn’t surprise Rollo that he was also naked. In fact, it seemed more than natural, almost expected. And he wasn’t surprised when the three ladies pounced on him as one. Everyone was suddenly inside everyone else. They coupled on tabletops, on bench tops, on chairs, on the ground and standing up. An elderly man who’d just been told by his doctor an hour earlier that he would never get it up again felt his penis whip up like a telephone pole. People performed wild acts on the naked musicians as they played without dropping a note. Their music spiraled inexorably from mild to frenzied, and electrified the air, propelling the gathering into further sexual acts, into new ways of inserting body parts into body parts and positions that broke all rational laws of gravity and flexibility.

As they fucked, they talked. They talked about literature and art and ideas. They spoke in poetic tongues. They plotted plays and devised dialog. They inspired each other and consumed each other.

Whatever Rollo was feeling was far beyond sex with the three ladies who pummeled his penis and licked his body and kissed him all over as though they were one thing covering every square inch of his body simultaneously. He felt alternately on fire and frozen in space and time. His mind emptied into a beautiful ocean of calm and Tia, Alaia and Epsy were waves breaking over his being while he sank happily into a void where everything was waiting to become.

His loins began to build to something wonderful and great and the thought crossed his mind that in all the sex he’d had so far, he hadn’t come once.

Now, he felt the impending explosion. His awareness flew out the top of his head and soared into the air. He gazed right through the blue and white umbrella at himself covered with three beautiful women of indeterminate ancient origin mauling every cell of his body with their lust as all around them hundreds of people talked and found new ways to penetrate each other.

His brain exploded as his loins exploded.

And he emptied.


Rollo shook his head. It was dark. He was standing by the bank of the river under the massive weeping willow. The air was still. The grass was motionless. Every leaf on every tree slept, dreaming of the warm sun and winds that would come the next day. He looked across the river, so wide it appeared more as lake than river, and he wondered where the day had gone. He turned and looked longingly at the three ladies in the fountain. He reached into his pockets for coins but his pockets were empty. He remembered wishing earlier. How long had it been? How long had he been standing by the river?

He was hungry. He walked toward the fountain looking at the one he thought of for some reason as a bit of a ditz and feeling strangely as though he could almost imagine her thighs wrapped around his waist. He walked past the fountain thinking about the relationship between Incan architecture and the work of Andy Warhol. These thoughts would eventually lead to a unified theory of the arts that would make Rollo the greatest art theorist of all time, even though he would never be able to actually sit down and discuss a single one of his arguments without losing interest and turning his attention to something else like perhaps a mote of dust riding the tide of an exhaled breath.

He passed by the fountain without noticing the faded stone outline of an insect much like a ladybug pinned on the robe over the left thigh of one of the ladies.


He lived for another forty years. He never married. He never had sex. He worked day and night on his unified theory of the arts and he sculpted in stone. He was never lonely, feeling in some reach of his being that he’d reached some inestimable height from which he was slowly falling back to an world that he would probably never reach. For the most part, he was content.

He died in a car accident. The doctor who performed the autopsy was surprised to find no brain in his skull.


NOTE: This story was originally published in Twisted Tails VII: Irreverance by Double Dragon Publishing. If you’d like to read some more fiction like this, you can get the anthology at Amazon.


These Eyes


(Note: This one was published in the Stranglet Literary Journal . Why? Oh..right..the eyes..thanks Amber.)

I’ve given myself a week to live. I think that’s a reasonable timeframe. One week.

It’s going to be tough. I just received another call. From her. Like nothing’s happened. Like everything’s normal. It shook me the first time she called. It shook me a few minutes ago. Tomorrow at 7:29 PM, it’ll shake me again.

She talks about ordinary things: “Did you find that clicking sound in your car?”

I try to keep my answers short. I get a feeling that she only has so long. About ten minutes, including the silences, those wordless seconds when we’re likely more connected than when we’re talking, when all we can do is feel each other’s presence. “Do you still think about me?”


   “Yeah. I do.”


   “Did you get the new air conditioner installed?”

Deliberately drawing out the silences, savoring the closeness that comes from knowing the other is waiting, as though we become real knowing someone is waiting for us.

I’d like to say I waited my whole life for her, but I didn’t. She was sprung on me out of the blue, something I would never have seen coming because I really didn’t need―or want―it at the time. But suddenly she was there and going back to the way things used to be was…well, I’ve given myself a week.

I was on my way to the Cedar Tree Café for a hazelnut coffee, something I’d been thinking about all morning, mentally savoring the sweet nut taste and the hot cream-thick liquid. My agent had just called with great news; my latest book had just been picked up by a publisher of photography books with some of the biggest names in the field on their list. Mine was a book with a hundred and twenty images of shopping carts that had been abandoned around the city, pictures of shopping carts left on curbs, stashed under verandas or pushed over the banks of ravines. I had a picture of a cart that someone had lugged up to the top of a billboard advertising the city transport system.

It was a three-year project with thousands of images pared down to the essential. I used the carts as a metaphor for the sense of abandonment that runs through industrial/digital society, but I won’t get into that now. Maybe later.

It was a big step forward. I was excited. I was on top of the world. I was in a hurry. I didn’t see her as I rounded the corner. She was right in front of me, standing there with a vacant look in her eyes, something I noticed at just about the same time I walked into her hard enough to knock her off her feet, hard enough so that her ass hit the ground about the same time her head hit the door―the metal rim of the door. I should have turned around and headed back to the studio right then.

But I didn’t.

I was stunned motionless. She lay on the sidewalk, slumped against the door, her plaid skirt pushed up revealing slim legs with black leggings. There was a couple on the other side of the door looking through the glass at her. They couldn’t open the door with her lying against it and I could see the struggle in their eyes: wait until she’s not against the door before opening it, or risk hurting her more by opening the door so they could ask, “Are you hurt?”

And, yeah, I just stood there like a frozen turkey until she lifted her hand up to me. It took a few seconds to sink in: she wants me to help her get up. Her eyes were a deep brown that created an earthy aura around her eye lids. She didn’t seem angry or hurt, not even flustered. She seemed amused, calm. I thrust my hand out clumsily, missing her hand by a good few inches. She grabbed my wrist and pulled herself up, almost pulling me down in the process. Not that she was heavy, it just took me by surprise. I was suddenly face-to-face with her. She was beautiful, with brassy brunette bangs bouncing off her shoulders and cutting sharply across her forehead. She reminded me of pictures I’d seen of hippy women during the 60s: no lipstick or makeup or other fakery―just natural beauty. A black turtleneck suggested college girl from some other period. I didn’t see a purse. She was smiling.

The couple at the door were outside now. The woman asked, “Are you alright?” She ignored the question, still smiling, looking straight up into my eyes. I think I was blushing as I stammered out a barely coherent apology, gesturing with my hands, lusting for a hazelnut coffee, in a hurry, rounding the corner…but, oh my god, she was beautiful.

“You’re Steven Glen, aren’t you?”

She knew my name.

This wasn’t as much a surprise as it might seem. My work had been exhibited around town for several years and I’d been interviewed by newspapers, television and regional magazines. I wasn’t a celebrity, but I wasn’t invisible.

I nodded yes.

“I saw your exhibit at Ingrid Mueller’s Art + Concepts two months ago.”

I nodded yes.

“You’re very talented.”

I nodded yes.

“You don’t talk much do you?”

I nodded…”I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you until…”

“It’s OK. I’m all right. Back of my head’s a bit sore, is all.” She rubbed her backside. “Sore butt too.”

My god, she was beautiful. I was feeling a bit woozy from just looking at her. “I was in a hurry, not thinking. Just got some good news.”

Her smile widened. “And your good news was?” She seemed cheery and relaxed, but for some reason, I couldn’t shake that image of her eyes just before I knocked her down, the vacancy. There was something almost chilling about it.

But she was so beautiful.

I bought her a coffee―hazelnut, of course. She loved it. I told her about the book, how it as a big step for me. In fact, that’s all we talked about: me―my books, the shopping carts, my exhibitions, my artistic vision. Whenever I asked her about her own life, she turned the talk back to me, and I let her. Ego: that slippery plain of victories leading to ultimate defeat. I should have pressed her but I was on a ME high with a beautiful woman, and less than two hours later we were at my place, in bed, naked.

Yeah, that fast. I should have known something was out of whack. But I was on top of the world. I was invincible. Nothing could bring me down.

Her name was Heather. Heather Smith. Although I’m still not sure if that was her real last name. I’m not even sure if that was her real first name.

While we were drinking the coffee, I asked her, “How would you sum up your life?”

She said, “I’m the seed pod that fell into the river and was carried out to the ocean. How about you?”

And, of course, I blabbed on about myself, never bothering to ask what she meant by the seed pod, and that was the closest she ever came to saying anything really personal about herself other than to talk about her current mood, how things went at work, where she’d like to dine out.

Her moods were always the same: tranquil in a disquieted way, as though something was rumbling under the surface. She was a graphic artist for a company that produced educational software. My sum total knowledge of her work: the graphics have to be meaningful. But I did know if the day went well, fast, slow, or challenging. In the time that we were together, we never dined at the same place twice and in all that time she never failed to take my breath away.

She moved in the day after we met. The last thing in the world I wanted was a roommate; I didn’t even want a relationship, didn’t want the complications. I was so close to having everything I’d always wanted. I needed to focus on the book, on the exhibition for the book launch. Plus, there was the commercial photography―the weddings and portraits―to pay the bills. My life was too busy for a relationship. I thought about this while I was waiting for her to show up with her things and I made up my mind that I was going to tell her that we should wait a bit. This was too sudden. It wasn’t like me. I’m sorry but…

I answered a quiet knock on the door. She stood in the hall wearing blue jeans and a dark gray sweater, a suitcase in each hand. She took my breath away.

“Just two suitcases?” I said.

“I like to keep things simple.”

I kissed her and she walked through the door into the rest of my life.

Two suitcases.


Living with a woman was something new in my life. I’d had women stay the weekend but this was different. It was an adventure. Physically, she didn’t put much of a dent in my apartment. We shared my dresser, and the closet was less stark. Cosmetics, brushes and hair products appeared in the washroom along with a cherry red bathrobe and matching towel. We moved the couch to the middle of the room, closer to the TV, which I started watching more in the evenings. Things materialized in the refrigerator: yogurt, tofu, plastic containers of bean sprouts. All-in-all though, she made as much an imprint as a hotel guest.

But she brought a certain color and texture to life in the apartment, as though I’d turned the settings of my life to black and white and she re-set them to color.

My apartment was no longer just a place to eat, sleep, shower and catch the news; it was a place to live and create memories with color and texture. I looked forward to going home and finding her waiting for me. Seeing her on the couch or strolling out of the kitchenette or just hearing her calling out from the washroom: “Be out in a minute.” I never tired of her beauty. In fact, I never really got used to it―like it was something I could never define or understand. Like her.

Just like her.


 We ate together, usually in the dining area, with music in the background and candles in the foreground. Sometimes we ate in the living room and watched TV. Conversation was sporadic. We didn’t talk much and when we did it wasn’t for long. I talked about my book, my exhibitions, plans for my next photo project, problems with my commercial work. She talked about things in the news or asked questions about my work, my artistic vision, my hopes and fears.

Weekends we got out of the apartment, starting with the Farmers’ Market early Saturday morning. She loved the Market: the stalls with fresh produce, the crafts (which she adored but never bought, not even letting me buy them for her), the exotic foods (her favorite was mild chicken samosas), the buskers juggling bowling pins or staging puppet shows. She never once became impatient because a line was stalled by people stopping to talk or someone just stopping to take in the movement and noise. She blended well into crowds.

After the market we took to the sidewalks for some window shopping or drove into the country where I’d take pictures of barns and ponds as backdrops to her beauty. Sometimes we’d go to a mall where she’d admire everything and buy nothing. She loved the shopping experience but wasn’t into accumulating things, except for the odd piece of clothing.

No matter what we did, though, her conversation focused on what was happening around us: “Oh look! A puppet show!” “Can you get the water lilies in just behind me? What kind of lens do you need for that?” “How do you think I’d look in that red dress?” She lived in the immediate.

We didn’t go to church on Sundays. Sunday was our stay-at-home-in-bed-and-make-love-all-day-long day. Conversation was mostly me telling her over and over how beautiful she was, how perfect she was, how much I needed her.


 After a couple of months, I stopped doing portraits. I needed time to work on proofs for the book and re-write captions and the artist statement―a sprawling twenty-page monument to ambiguity, which I eventually pared down to a few pages. I needed time to start my next project: abandoned toys. These were pictures of toys, like play kitchens, play houses and pedal cars left on curbs for trash day, or left at the back door of the Salvation Army store. I had a rough concept about what I was doing, something along the lines of shedding the tools of our youth, learning to let go as part of the growth process. Something like that. I was having a hard time focusing and I can’t say that it was her fault. It was my fault. I couldn’t stop thinking about her, day and night, even when I was with her. Yeah, even when I was with her. I think most people think about other things when they’re with the ones they love because they’re right there with you, where you just feel them and think about other things.

In my case though, she’d be right there, lying beside me or sitting across the table from me, and I’d be wondering about her, wondering about her day, wondering about her past, about who she was and what she was doing when she wasn’t with me.

Wondering about why she was with me.


 “So what meaningful graphics did you do today?”

“Mostly boring ones.”

“Boring? How so?”

“Just boring. Visual representations of boring material.”

“What kind of material?”

“Really boring material.”

“You’re not going to tell me anything about your job, are you?”

“Did you find out about that clicking noise in your car?”


 We’d been together almost six months when I first noticed it. By that time I’d cut my commercial work down to almost nothing, taking occasional jobs to pay rent on the apartment and studio. She took care of all the other expenses, and the publishers had given me a generous advance―something unheard of for a still not-so-well-known photographer.

I spent my days roaming the city looking for cast-away toys―snooping around alleys, frequenting dumpsters, scouring the early morning streets on trash pick-up days. I’d finished the work on the shopping cart book. My next exhibition was a few months away, in conjunction with the book release.

I was at the studio, going through pictures I’d taken of her over the weekend. On Sunday we’d gone to the college campus, to the geology building, where they’d painted the walls in one of the stairwell alcoves with a lifelike forest motif. The alcove stretched up three stories with towering rainforest trees. The predominant color was deep green. She was wearing blue jeans and a loose red blouse, the first time I’d seen her wearing a bright color other than her bathrobe. It was raining lightly that day and she had a red umbrella. There was a long bench built into the wall at the base of the forest mural. She lay down on the bench with the umbrella open beside her. The contrast of colors was breathtaking. I took almost a hundred pictures.

I’d just deleted the ones that were definitely a no go, leaving me with ten images to process. In three of them, taken in succession, she was looking straight into the lens, smiling seductively. The bright irises spread a light brownish tint over her eyelids and the hollows of her eyes. Even looking at pictures of her caught my breath. I zoomed in on her eyes. The screen turned monochrome brown. My chest began to tighten with excitement as I leaned forward to let myself be lost in those eyes. And that’s when I saw it.

I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, only that it triggered a cold flash across my back and froze me like in those moments when you wake up feeling threatened by something you can’t define but and you know that if you move, it’ll pounce. It was the vacancy I’d seen in her eyes the first time we met, but it was more―like a pit descending into bottomless nothing, a complete absence of…I didn’t know what. I jerked back, fearing I’d be sucked into something from which I’d never return.

I sat at my desk, sweating, cold, shaken, fingers trembling. My thoughts tripped over explanations that might make sense of what I’d seen.

After a few moments I calmed enough to lean forward into her eyes and confirm what I’d just seen but it was gone, if it had ever been there. It could have been stress, change of lifestyle, anything.

I spent the next couple of hours working on the remaining pictures. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. In each of the pictures she was beautiful and her eyes took my breath away without swallowing me whole.

I didn’t mention any of this to her.


“As a photographer, there’s something I find really odd about you.”

“What’s that?”

“You don’t have any pictures.”


“Yeah, pictures…family, travel, childhood, school. How come you have no pictures?”

“Well, hun, as a photographer, you weren’t around then to take them.”


 I started losing it. Whatever I’d seen in her eyes wouldn’t let go. I went through hundreds of pictures, burrowing into her eyes as she sat on the edge of the fountain by City Hall, zooming into her eyes as she smiled under a black moustache at the dollar store, digging deep into her eyes as she waved to me high in the air from a swing at the playground across the street― searching her eyes in picture after picture.

But it was gone. I tried to chalk it off to imagination. Stress. A disagreeable lunch. I tried to doubt what I’d seen, distrust my eyes, but that look in her eyes when we met hovered over me. I remembered the chill I’d felt.


 I started an obsessive campaign of picture-taking, catching her while she ate, watched TV, slept, showered, dressed and undressed.



“I’m undressing.”

“I know. And I’m taking pictures.”



“Why are you taking pictures of my eyes while I’m undressing?”


 I put over a thousand images through every Photoshop routine I could think of, including a barrage of special effects like fish eye, sepia, duo tone, HDR, everything I could think of. I varied the resolutions, hues, temperatures, white balances, color saturations, brightness, sharpness, densities.

Did I mention I was obsessed?


 I decided it was time to talk to her about it. We were eating authentic Mexican food in an authentic Mexican restaurant with authentic Mariachi music in the background.

“I know I’ve been acting weird lately.” I was on my fourth Corona

“Oh, you noticed?” Sometimes she could be a bit of a shithead.

“Yes, I did.”

“Steven.” She leaned forward, looking me straight in the eyes. “There’s something wrong.”


She reached over the table and took both my hands. “When you’re not taking pictures of my eyes, or working on my eyes on your computer…”


“You stare.”

“I stare?”

“Into my eyes, constantly. Like you’re looking for something.”

“You have beautiful eyes. I…”

“Steven. This is a nice restaurant. Don’t make me pour a bottle of beer over your head.” She squeezed my hands tightly as she talked. “I want it to stop…the whole eye thing. It stops.”

I nodded yes.

“Give me your word.”

“I promise. I’ll stop. No more eye fixation.”


For a while, I managed to reign in the eye fetish and pay more attention to her as in: “Nice to see a man who appreciates his woman undressing for the camera.” I immersed myself in my abandoned toy project and scoured the streets looking for toys left on the curbs for trash day or tossed beside dumpsters. Gray drizzly days were my favorite, with the rain adding a bit of the old sparkle to the colors of the toys, now contrasted so vividly with their drab surroundings and suggesting the magic they once cast on the children who owned them.

I was picking up more commercial work. My book release was a month away, and I was almost ready for the exhibition and launch.

She seemed to be more excited about the exhibit than me, talking about it incessantly, asking me if I was excited, telling me how beautiful the prints were. Her favorite was of a cart sitting in snow up to its lower tray. Behind it, a field stretched into a narrow line of trees. Behind that, a black storm-filled sky stretched across the horizon moving with a precision edge into a sunny cloudless sky. The play of light between the storm and the clear sky was surreal and foreboding. The cart was about thirty feet into the snow and, strangely, there were no footsteps leading out to it, as though it had just appeared there.

Things were looking good.

For the time being.


 “I know hardly anything about you.”

“What’s my favorite pizza?”


“What’s my favorite color?”

“Brown. Chocolate brown.”

“What’s my favorite food?”

“When you want a break from health food…steak, medium rare, baked potato with sour cream, and broccoli with cheese sauce.”

“What’s my favorite song?”

“But, what’s this…?”

“Indulge me. What’s my favorite song?”

“These Eyes.”

“Most men wouldn’t be able to answer those questions.”


“So, you know me better than most men know their women.”


 There’re two schools of thought about balance. One claims that the purpose of our lives is to attain a state in which everything is completely in balance and then keep things that way until we die. This is a kind of spiritual approach. The other claims that it’s just fine to work towards a state of balance, but then we need to find ways to throw everything into chaos again so that we can start over trying to achieve balance. This would be an evolutionary approach with the rationale being: if things are always in balance, nothing happens—nothing goes forward, nothing goes backward. We have stasis. No progress. No evolution.

I guess I’m one of those people who need to evolve.

Things were too good between us. It was driving me nuts. Who was I to have this perfect relationship with this breathtakingly beautiful woman who never complained, who wanted the same things I wanted, who treated me like everything I did and thought was essential, who never told me how to live my life and who arrived on my doorstep devoid of historical baggage?

These were the kinds of crazy thoughts I was beginning to have. On the one hand, I was afraid to push things; on the other, I couldn’t resist the urge to push.

I started investigating. Google, LinkedIn, MySpace (after all, she was a graphic artist), Facebook, Twitter, online directories and dozens of other cyber ways to stalk a person were all dead ends. I couldn’t find a single pixel of her on the Internet.

Of course, it didn’t take long before she noticed that I was acting crazy again.


 “My brother and I used to love toasted peanut butter sandwiches dipped in tea with lots of milk and sugar for breakfast.”

“Peanut butter is good for growing bodies.”

“Mom used to pack salmon sandwiches for lunch. Every day. And a banana. And Kool-Aid.”

“The salmon would explain why you have such a strong heart.”

“What was your favorite breakfast when you were a kid? Let me guess…bran flakes.”

“Why would you say bran flakes?”

“Um…I don’t know. Just a wild guess.”

“Did you get around to taking the car in about that clicking noise?”


 “You look tense tonight, Steven.”

“Got something on my mind.”

“Sounds serious.”

“It is.”

“How serious?”

“Really serious.”

“You just put half an inch of salt on your baked potato.”

“I like salt.”

“With a bit of potato on the side?”

“Who are you?”

“Who do you think I am?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is this why you were taking all the pictures, tracking me all over the internet?”

“Tracking you? What…”

“Browsers have this thing called histories. You were searching for information on me day after day. You even searched for things like demonic eyes. I’m guessing in relation to me.”

“You knew all this? Why didn’t you say anything?|

“I was hoping you would either find whatever it was you were looking for, or come to your senses.”

“I need to know about your past.”

“You need to get over this obsession.”

“But why can’t you just tell me…”

“OK. I was raised on a farm. I came to the city. I met you. Happy?”

“Is that true?”



“Do you love me?”

“Yes. Of course I…”

“Then just love me.”


 But I couldn’t just love her. I pushed it like picking a scab trying to heal over a major artery.

We were home, drinking wine, watching a Seinfeld re-run, eating homemade guacamole. I felt like I was sitting beside myself, watching myself reach for the remote and turning the TV off, watching as I turned to her.

“Tell me about your past.”

“You don’t want to know about it.”

“I have to know about it.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Where did you come from?”

“I told you…a farm.”

“You told me that wasn’t true.”

“Maybe I lied about it not being true.”

“What was it I saw in your eyes?”

“Probably your imagination.”

“What are you hiding from me?”

“Nothing that should mean anything to you—to keeping us together.”

“But I have to know.”

“Maybe I don’t want to know.”

“But you do know.”

“I just want things to stay the way they are.”

“Things will stay the way they are, but I’ll know. I have to know what you know.”

“What I know—and all I have to know—is that I love you and I want things to stay as they are.” She stood up and walked slowly to the window. She stared towards the park but her eyes seemed focused on something far away, lifetimes away. It was a sad stare that flushed me with guilt. I should have backed off then. I should have put my love before my curiosity and gone to her and held her and told her everything would be all right. Just like in the movies. But I didn’t. She stood by the window for a few minutes before turning to me. Tears glistened on her cheeks. “The truth is, Steven, I don’t know. I remember my job and the people I work with, but that’s all. I went home after I met you and packed some things. As soon as I arrived at your door, I forgot where I’d come from. At work, I sort of floated through each day listening to people talking about things I should have known about but didn’t. I played along with them. It happens less often now. But, Steven, I can’t even remember the things they used to talk about. All I remember is you. And what we have. And I don’t want to lose it.”

“But you have to remember.”


 Finally, she remembered.

I came home late one night. She was sitting on the couch. I said something about being sorry for missing supper but she ignored me. The hair running over her shoulders was like a chocolate waterfall. Even the back of her head thrilled me. I walked quickly to the kitchen to see what I’d missed eating by candlelight.

There was nothing. Not even the smell of cooking. Evening sun cast a surreal aura over the kitchen. There was a note on the breakfast table. I picked it up and read.

Steven dearest,

I remembered. Thanks, Steven. We should have left it alone like I wanted. Just left it alone.

As for what it is: no, you don’t get to know that. At least not yet. I’ll be in touch. Oh, and sorry for the blood stains on your couch.

Love always,


The calls started a week later.


 When I think of it now, I got home at around close to eight that night. The blood on the couch was still slightly warm. Maybe it was 7:29 when she pushed the butcher knife into her stomach, maybe that exact moment when her soul fled her body. Maybe that’s why she calls every night at that time. I’ll ask her about that next week. It’s the kind of thing I should ask face-to-face.

One week.

I think that’s a reasonable amount of time to talk myself out of this. Though I can’t see that happening, and it’s going to be tough waiting through those seven days. But like I said, I have a solid objective within a reasonable time frame. She’s waiting for me. She knows.

And I need to know.

Smoke Break


A kettle boiling water into dry hell―Kyle’s first thought as he stepped out of the air conditioned building. Pools of heat wavered visibly on the rooftops of mini vans and cars parked in the asphalt lot as Kyle cussed himself for wearing a suit and tie. But the radio had said rain today, just like it had yesterday, when the temperature had soared to an energy-sucking ninety-five. He loosened his tie and undid the top two buttons of his shirt. He took a package of cigarettes from his jacket pocket, opened it and thumbed out a cigarette, thinking that maybe after this pack he’d try quitting again. Yeah, quit the damned things for good and stay inside all day in the office rooms filled with computers and cool air. Pocketing the pack with one hand, he reached into his pants pocket with the other and took out his lighter. Sweat popped out of his underarms as he fired his cigarette and put the lighter back in his pocket. God, it was only mid morning. What would it be like in the afternoon? He took a deep drag, his first cigarette of the day, and felt his head spin into a nicotine high.

He blew out a long stream of bluish smoke that traveled straight ahead, dissolving into the air without even a slight movement upward. No wind to cool down the scorching heat. Sweat dribbled from the pores in his forehead. He wiped it away with the palm of his hand and then dried his palm on the inside of his jacket. He took another long haul on the cigarette, wondering why the hell they couldn’t put aside just one small air conditioned room for smokers, a room with vents to pump the circuit-destroying smoke outside into this godawful hot day.

Beside him stood a three foot high air conditioning box churning out a strained humming sound, the diamond mesh grill on top ripped open by a snow plow during the winter. Kyle looked at the splayed metal and thought that maybe the heat wasn’t so bad after all, not after the skin-numbing temperatures of a winter that had seemed to freeze and storm forever. The problem with weather, either too cold or too hot, but at least you didn’t have to shovel driveways in the heat.

As he lifted the cigarette to his lips, he noticed movement inside the darkness of the air conditioning unit. He blinked. Probably just heat waves under the torn metal. But it moved again, and not like any heat wave. Must be the nicotine high, playing tricks on his eyes. He stared at the hole in the unit. The metal was ripped right down the six foot length of the gray metal box with a round gouge in the middle where diamond-shaped mesh curled up and away from the hole like grisly lips. Another movement, something long and dark, it looked like. Something solid.

Kyle wiped sweat from his forehead again, wiped his palm inside his jacket again, stepped closer to the, felt air even hotter than outside blast into his face. Just as he was about to step back, he saw it again. Something long and dark, black, shiny black. He blinked his eyes again, wiped sweat from his brows, and stepped away from the unit. Yeah, just the nicotine high, and the heat, the godawful heat, and him wearing a suit, his shirt soaked under his arms and across his back.

He looked at his black Honda, parked thirty feet away, heat waves dancing on the hood where the protective coating peeled and flaked in white streaks. From parking under a pine tree, the autobody guy had told him. Have to strip it down to the undercoat and repaint. Too late to fix the protective coating. Bloody pine trees. Cost a fortune to have it painted.

And then he heard a faint thump in the direction of the air conditioning unit. He looked, saw nothing. Must be the motor stressing out on the heat. Or maybe it was his head stressing. And then another movement, something definitely long, slender, black, moving from one side of the gouge to the other. Something loose in there? Blowing around in the exhaust? But the movement seemed too slow, too deliberate. What the hell was it?

He took another drag on his cigarette, exhaled the smoke before inhaling it fully, walked right up to the unit and looked into the hole.

There it was.

A twig? Too small. A branch? No. A thick, black spine, leading to what looked like a joint, and then tapering to another joint, and tapering into a smaller spine. No, not a branch, not wood, but something definitely familiar. Where had he seen that shape before?

He bent forward cautiously. The long black spine moved slowly back and forth. Gotta be something caught in there, moving with the exhaust. And then another one appeared from the left side of the hole, exactly like the first, long and shiny black, three spines tapering down through two joints. And they both stretched straight forward and stopped, forming two parallel spines about six inches apart, each at least three feet long.

Where the hell had he seen those before? Still bent forward, peering into the torn grill, He stepped back. Something too deliberate in the movement of those things, something too familiar that wasn’t invoking any pleasant memories, something sinister in the way they just lay there side by side, so intent on remaining still.

And then he heard it.

Not from outside, but inside, inside his head, like something effervescent bubbling into his awareness, the bubbles bursting into words strung together with no tone, no pitch, no base or treble. Just the meaning of the words.

“What are you?”

Kyle jumped back, almost losing his balance, the cigarette dropping through his fingers, burning them as it passed through.


Regaining his balance, he looked around, eyes popped wildly, shaking his hand as though he could shake the burning away. No one was there. Just hundreds of empty cars boiling under the blistering sun, and beyond the parking lot, the city fuming in a smoggy haze. Gotta be the heat, the nicotine high. Sweat stung his eyes. He wiped them with both hands, felt the pinching hurt in his fingers begin to loosen into a throb, then waved his hand in a futile attempt to cool the burning fingers. He looked back at the hole in the grill.

The spines were gone.

Too creepy. Too much heat. He stepped quickly to the door, opened it and walked into the cool of the building.


You could almost bounce off the wall of heat and sear your brows in the process. It took Kyle’s breath away. The metal door thumped closed behind him as he reached into his shirt pocket for his cigarette pack. His mind bristled with flashing screens from hours of research on the Internet, the muscles in his right palm throbbing from using the mouse. Have to fill out a requisition for one of those ergonomic models. His burned fingers had stopped throbbing. Lighting his cigarette, he glanced briefly at the air conditioning unit, still humming its strained monotonous tune.


Two long black spines stretched out in the hole. Damn, what are those things? Time to get to the bottom of this. Ignoring the alarms firing in his head and stomach, he marched directly to the unit, bent forward and gazed at the spines laying motionless, side by side on top of the fan box. He dropped his cigarette onto the butt-cluttered cement, crushed it with his heel and moved his hand slowly toward them.

Just as his hand reached the opening in the grill, the spines moved. And something in the grillwork right under his head moved. What the hell was that? His hand froze. His body froze. He watched as a dark mass of material roiled under the rusted mesh, moving with slow, fluid motion. The spines curled under at their joints and disappeared, the dark mass gliding forward to replace them. Kyle’s eyes widened, their lids the only part of his body that wasn’t paralyzed solid. The mass in the unit was round and translucent black with a coat of short shimmering hair. It must have been as big as a medium-size dog, or more like a large beach balloon, but bloated in the center and tapering to a point at one end. It turned smoothly around and the end facing Kyle lifted.

First, he saw a flat, crusty section attached to the bloated black beach ball. Sprouting out from the bottom of this, he saw eight of the long spines. The crusted shell rose to reveal four liquid black eyes forming a square under a shell-like brow. Beside the square of eyes, two more larger sapphire blue eyes bulged menacingly. Below the eyes, two hairy black appendages like swollen, droopy lips sucked in and out. Each appendage had two reddish black fangs that curved inward, almost touching each other as the appendages sucked slowly in and out.

Goddam, a spider.

Kyle broke through the spell and jumped backwards. He heard the flat dead-like words bubbling in his mind again.

“What are you?”

Everything in Kyle’s body was moving now, especially his sweat glands, his shirt and pants starting to drench. His heart thumped hard enough to make his head spin. And the words intruded into his mind again, floating somewhere between conscious and unconscious, sanity and insanity.

“What are you?”

And that’s when Kyle realized that the words came from the spider.

The realization came in layers: a spider, a giant spider, a giant spider somehow throwing words into his brain, a giant spider asking him what he was. Mustering his senses like melting tar in the sweltering heat, Kyle broke through the barrier of impossibility and whispered: “What?”

“No need to talk out loud. Just think it.”

Whispering again: “What?”

“Just direct your meaning to me. Just think your words.”

Kyle thought: “How ..”

“That’s it. Just like that.”

“But …”


Kyle stared into the eyes, four black and two blue, all six of them vibrating with inner life, seeming to float around in their hairy sockets, surrounded by the monstrous body with the black fangs moving slowly in and out like breathing.

“What the hell are you?”

“I think I asked you that first, only somewhat more politely.”

What kind of craziness? The thing was talking to him. He was talking back to it. The damn thing had to be real, but the damn thing couldn’t be real. He reached for this cigarettes, the outside of the pack was moist with sweat. He opened the pack and fumbled out a cigarette, hands shaking. Returning the pack to his shirt pocket, he groped in his pants for this lighter. Craziness! Maybe some kind of Internet surfing-induced hypnosis? Too many screens flashing by on his monitor, like the dividing line on a dark night, inducing highway hypnosis? He lit his cigarette with difficulty, lip muscles shaking as much as his hands. Sweat stung his eyes. He wiped it away with the lighter hand, left his wet hand on his cheek still holding the lighter, took a long drag on his cigarette, his eyes transfixed by the six eyes moving around but knowing they were focused on him, and he heard more words.

“No, Kyle, you’re not crazy.”

Kyle’s jaw dropped. “You know my name.”

“It’s in your mind. But what are you?”

“No way, you first.”

The spider’s head lifted up slightly, the eyes now all definitely focused directly on Kyle. “I’m me.”

Kyle pondered this a moment, still shaking from head to toes. “Fine. That’s what I am too … me.”

“But, what are you when you say me?”

Some of Kyle’s shaking began to loosen up in the rhetoric. This is not the way a spider talks. Not to mention that spiders don’t talk. And spiders don’t get this big. But there it was, a big spider, a giant black spider in the air conditioning unit. And it talked. “OK, I’ll bite. I’m a person, a human being.”

“What’s a human?”

“Oh no, you next, what the hell are you?”

“No, Kyle. Let’s focus on one thing at a time, take this step by step.”

Some kind of goddam analytic psychologist spider? What the hell was going on here? “Look, I don’t even know if you exist! Why should I answer questions from something that might just be a figment of my stressed-out mind?”

“How do you know that you exist?”

Kyle thought a moment. He knew the answer to that one, knew it from first year Philosophy. He took another puff on his cigarette. It came to him: “I think; therefore, I am.”

“Well, Kyle, I think too. Therefore, I am. And you’ve been reading my thoughts. Therefore, you know that I think; therefore, you know that I am. What’s a human?”

Kyle blew out cigarette smoke in a rush, the long blue stream racing through the windless air right into the face of the spider. The spider recoiled.

“Hey, watch that stuff! It burns my eyes!”

Kyle’s eyebrows lifted. The shaking in his body stopped abruptly, the spider not so menacing now in its vulnerability to the smoke. “Sorry.”

The spider shifted back into a relaxed crouch on top of the fan box, its movements smoothly fluid and silent, almost graceful. “Apology accepted. So what is a human?”

He thought. Images came to mind, images of people working, playing, doing a million different things, but how to describe human? Surely the spider could see that he was a smooth-skinned biped with hair on his head. Start with apes? Describe evolution? Opposable thumbs? The ability to think abstract thoughts? He took another drag on his cigarette and blew it out, this time away from the spider. He replied: “Look, I’m going to have to think about this. It’s kind of a complex thing. And I have to get back to work. Can we talk about this tomorrow morning?”

“You’ll come back?”

“Yes, I’ll come back. I come out here every day, twice, for a smoke break.”

“You’ll tell me what human is?”

“I’ll tell you what human is.”

“Will you bring others?”

Kyle thought about this. Tell Ernie and Jim when he got back upstairs? No. What if he was just imagining this? They’d think he was nuts, and maybe he was. Best to keep this to himself, for the time being. “No, I’ll come alone.”

“Good. I don’t like crowds.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’m not sure. I just know it.”

Kyle dropped his cigarette and crushed it out. “Tomorrow, then.”

“And you’ll tell me what human is. I’ll keep an eye out for you.”

More like six of them. Gotta be going crazy. Find out tomorrow, if it’s still there. Kyle opened the door and walked into the building as the spider glided back into the darkness of the air conditioning unit.


Almost like God had waved a wand over the sky and the earth, the weather had changed overnight, cooling down under a slate gray cloud cover. A soothing breeze brushed against Kyle’s face as he stepped out of the building, cigarette and lighter in hand. He ignored the breeze, the sky, the parked cars, and looked straight at the air conditioning unit. And there it was, crouched as yesterday on top of the fan box. So it hadn’t just been the heat, or Internet hypnosis. And any further doubt was shattered when the deadpan words invaded his mind.

“Good morning, Kyle.”

It was still unnerving. “Good morning. Sleep well?”

“As well as can be in here. Not much space to stretch out.”

“Ever think of moving to the suburbs?” Kyle lit his cigarette.

“What is suburbs?”

“Oh, just a place with more room, bigger air conditioners.” Putting his lighter back in his pocket, he stepped closer to the unit. “Just joking. Didn’t sleep much last night. Thought maybe I was going crazy or something.”

“I suppose I would have that effect. I don’t socialize much.”

What the hell was this thing saying? How would it even know to say these things? Kyle scratched his head, stared into the lidless, unblinking array of eyes. “You seem to have a good vocabulary for a spider.”

“Is that what I am? A spider?”

Kyle thought a moment. “I’m not sure. It’s what you look like. But different, bigger.”

“Then, that’s what I am. A spider. Have you had enough time to prepare your explanation of humans?”

Kyle sighed deeply. Between bouts of wondering about his sanity, he’d thought about being human, what it meant. He had his answer ready. “Yeah, I think I can describe humans.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Yeah, sure, where?”

“Just a manner of speaking. Please, tell me about humans.”

Pausing his thoughts for a moment, Kyle took another long drag and blew the smoke out, away from the spider. Today the smoke arced upwards in the light breeze, disintegrating quickly into the surrounding air. “OK. But, keep in mind, I’m not the world’s biggest expert on this kind of thing. Took some philosophy in college, read a few books, but mostly, this is just from living my life as a human.”

“Knowledge by experience is good.”

Kyle thought about this a moment. Where does it come up with these remarks? Got a library in that damned air conditioning unit? TV? “We weren’t always the way we are.”

“Nothing is.”

“Look, can we do away with the running commentary? This is hard enough as it is.”

“Sorry, Kyle. Please continue.”

The spider’s mass moved backwards gently, as though relaxing, the eyes still seeming to move, but not move, the black fangs breathing in and out from their hairy appendages.

“We started off as fish, turned into apes, evolved from apes into humans. It took millions of years but, during that time, our brains evolved into something that set us off from all other animals on earth, and maybe all life forms in the universe. We developed the ability to think, to solve problems, to think in the abstract.” Damn, none of this was coming out right. Why hadn’t he written it down the night before? It all seemed so apparent then. “What I mean is, we have the ability to change the world around us so that we enhance our ability to survive.” Kyle paused again, puffed on his cigarette.

“That’s it?”

“Well, that’s enough, isn’t it?”

“I can do all that. With the exception of fish and apes, I must be human.”

“But you can’t change the world around you.”

The spider waved one of its long, spindly legs over the inside of the unit. “Made some changes in here.”

“Oh yeah, like what?”

“Would you like to stick your head in and take a look around?”

Kyle shuddered. Duck his head into the unit right under those two chomping fangs? Not likely. “Think I’ll pass on that.”

“You’re still nervous. Is that a human trait? To be nervous?”

“Only when we feel threatened, or when we’re in a situation where everything is uncertain, or improbable. Like when we’re talking to giant spiders that can’t possibly exist, and we think maybe we’ve gone over the deep end.”

“Would you like to touch me? Maybe that will convince you that I’m real.”

Kyle’s stomach tightened at the suggestion. “Thanks, but …”

“Right. Nervous.”

“No offense meant.”

“None taken. But is that really all there is to being human? It took you the whole night to come up with that?”

Kyle puffed on his cigarette, getting smoke in his eyes. He rubbed them with his free hand. “Well, no, it’s a lot more than that. I told you I wasn’t an expert on this. I’ll have to give it some more thought. I have to get back to work. Meet you here this afternoon?”

“You’ll come back?”

“Of course I will. Didn’t we already go over this yesterday?”

“That’s right. I hope I didn’t sound insecure. You’ll come alone?”

“Covered that ground too.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

Kyle flicked his cigarette onto the pavement. In the distance beyond the parking lot, the tall buildings of the city appeared as gray as the sky, floating in their sea of exhaust and smoke. “Catch ya later.”

“Catch you later, Kyle.”

He opened the door and walked into the building. The spider remained on the fan box.


Mid afternoon, and the clouds were beginning to open up with a miserly sliver of blue sky here, a sprinkle of sun beams there. So what happened to the rain the radio promised? Kyle walked to the air conditioning unit. No giant spider. Nothing in there. He bent forward. “Hello, Mr. Spider!”

“Hello, Kyle.” The words rippling across his cerebral landscape like tiny bubbles bursting with meaning before taking any particular form.

Kyle watched as two long, black legs speared over the fan box and shifted to the left, the unimaginable black beach ball sliding in from the right. The spider perched on the box and lifted its head, all this in one elegant, fluid motion. The eyes focused on Kyle, but moving still, taking in the back of the building and the area around Kyle. The fangs moving in and out, in and out, slowly, like labored breathing.

“Before we get into this human thing… ” Kyle put a cigarette in this mouth, lit it. “…I have a question for you.”

The spider crouched motionless, only the fangs and their appendages moving, slowly, in and out. “The floor is all yours, Kyle.”

Where the hell did it learn that? “I’ve been wondering about this all morning.”

“Applying abstract thought?”

“Hey! The commentary …”

“Sorry. Please, continue.”

Another puff on his cigarette. Gotta give these damned things up. Maybe not a good time now, though. “Where do you come from?”

Silence. The fangs moving in and out. The legs spread out over the sides of the fan box, motionless. The lustrous, black body, motionless.


“Yes, Kyle.”

“Oh, OK, just wondering if you heard the question. Where do you come from?”


He puffed again on his cigarette, eyes squinting with puzzlement. “Here?”

“Where I am.”

Kyle thought about this a moment, shrugged. “Oh yeah, well, that makes sense. Been anywhere else?”

“No, just here.”

“I see what you mean about your social life.”

“I get by. But enough talk about me. Let’s talk about this human thing.”

Suddenly, the spider’s eyes seemed to go wild, gyrating in their sockets, the appendages froze. In one quick movement, the spider was gone. Hearing something behind him, Kyle turned in time to see a red Dodge Caravan pulling out of a parking spot about fifty feet away from him. The driver, a man with short dark hair and a black suit, eyed Kyle as the mini van pulled out slowly and then drove to the far exit. All I need now. People watching me talking to an air conditioning unit. When Kyle looked back at the unit, the spider was there.

“A little on the shy side?”

“I enjoy my privacy.”

“Then, why are you talking to me?”

“Why not?”

Kyle expelled a long, forceful sigh. “Have you ever heard about semantics?”

“No. Are they a human thing?”

“Yesterday morning, I would have said yes. You seem to be an exception, though.”

“Thank you, Kyle. I’ve never been called exceptional before.”

“Have you been called anything before?”

“Not that I can think of. But again, enough chatter about me. What about this human thing?”

Kyle flicked an ash off his cigarette, took another puff. Blew the smoke out. “OK then, back to the human thing. I suppose the best way to put it is … we’re the caretakers of everything around us.”

“You clean things up?”

“No. Well, yes. In a manner of speaking. We have the ability to look around us and see the way things are. Then, we apply abstract thought and see the way things could be. Then, we apply creativity to abstract thought and this gives us a vision of how to turn the way things are into the way they could be.”

The four black eyes in the center, though motionless, seemed almost to be spinning with movement deep inside.



“Why change things from what they are to what they could be?”

“Well, to make them better.”

“I see. Could you give me an example?”

Kyle thought about this a moment, snapped his fingers. The spider jerked back. Kyle jerked back, regained his composure quickly. “Let me guess. Sensitive to sound?”

“Right on the money.”

“Sorry about that. Something we humans do sometimes when we get an idea.”

The spider moved forward slightly, relaxing back onto the fan box. “Apology accepted. What was your idea?”



“A body of water that flows through the land. If I want to drive my car from one side of the river to the other, my car will sink and I’ll drown. That’s the way things are.”

“I see. Not a happy prospect. But why do you want to get to the other side?”

“That’s not important. Maybe just for the sheer hell of it. Maybe I left something there and I want to get it back.”

“So you’ve been there before?”

“What does that have to do with it?”

“Well, you must have crossed the river without drowning. Why not do the same again?”

Kyle threw his arms up. The spider backed up again. “I haven’t been across the river!”

“Then how did …”

“It’s not important!” He tossed his cigarette down, and in the same movement, brought his hand up to his shirt pocket, took out another cigarette and lit it. The spider moved forward and relaxed. Kyle blew out a stream of smoke. “Let’s say I’m just curious about what’s on the other side of the river.”

“I can live with that.”

He glared at the spider. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Kyle rolled his eyes. “Now, I want to change the way things are. So I apply some abstract thought and realize that I could drive across the river … if I had a way to do that.”

“How would you do that?”

“That’s what I’m coming to.” Another puff on the cigarette. “That’s the first step in being human. I accept that there is a way to cross the river. We’ve just gone from the way things are to the way things could be. And now we add a little creativity to the situation.”

The spider’s legs moved. Kyle asked: “What?”

“Oh, nothing. Just getting ready for the revelation.”

Smart ass spider. What the hell, talking to a giant spider. Well, this argument has the logic, even if the situation doesn’t have any. “The creativity is what allows me to put two and two together.”

“You use it to add?”

“In a way, yes. I use it to add up the things around me. For instance, I see trees. It occurs to me that, if I cut the trees down, and attach enough of them together, I can build a road out of wood that will span the river, what we call a bridge. Then, I can drive across the bridge without losing my car and without drowning.”

Again the spider’s eyes seemed to roll about without moving, the in and out movement of the fangs quickening slightly. “Amazing.”

Kyle’s eyebrows lifted as he puffed again on his cigarette, looked almost mockingly at the spider. “The human mind is amazing. Probably the most amazing and complex thing in the whole universe. It makes us special, gives us the ability to be the caretakers of everything around us.”

“The trees might not agree with that.”

“The trees?”

“Wouldn’t they die when you cut them down to make your bridge?”

“Of course they would. But they’re only trees!”

“But they’re alive.”

“But they don’t think.”

“I see; therefore, they don’t exist. Pretty shaky bridge.”

“No, they do exist, but they don’t think.”

“But you said…”    “I know what I said, but that doesn’t apply to trees, or rocks, or anything that can’t think enough to ask if it can think.”


Kyle lifted the cigarette to his lips, puffed slowly.

“Well, I’m glad I can think.”


“It would appear to make me safe from the caretaker’s creativity.”

“I have to get back to work.”


A light breeze cooled the morning air under a blue sky studded with random puffs of cloud. Kyle watched the spider mount its perch on top of the fan box, repulsed by the horror of a creature so deadly grown so large, but mesmerized by the fluid beauty of its movement, fascinated by the anomaly it posed in everything he knew for certain.

“Beautiful day,” he said.

And the words came like hooded specters drifting through his mind. “Cool during the night, but nice now.”

An image of the spider shivering in the night-cooled metal of the unit dropped into Kyle’s mind and he almost felt sorry for it. He took the cigarettes from his jacket pocket, stared into the translucent eyes, his focus moving from one to the other, wondering how he looked through them. “I worked out a plan.”

“Plans are good. They give direction, establish order in chaos.”

“Exactly. Now, to continue…” Kyle lit his cigarette, took a deep drag, blew the smoke out slowly. “…I think the best way to handle this is to just let you ask questions and I’ll answer.” A horn honked loudly from the street beyond the parking lot. Kyle noticed that it didn’t seem to have an effect on the spider. “Horns don’t bother you?”

“I get used to them, and the sirens. You humans live in a busy world.”

“Not much going on in your air conditioning unit, I guess.”

“Just the usual things.”

Kyle decided to let that one go, took another drag on his cigarette, stared into the eyes smoldering with spider consciousness. “So, any questions?”

“Just one. How does it feel to be human?”

Damn, where was that covered in first year Philosophy? Psych 101 maybe? Kyle thought, dragged fitfully on his cigarette. He caught his fingers in mid snap, just as the answer came to him. “It’s kind of like a feeling of being in control, of nothing being impossible.”

“That must be a powerful feeling. Can you explain it?” The spider shifted its weight slightly to the left. Must get uncomfortable supporting all that weight on those spindly legs.

“Let me think now.”

“Take your time, Kyle.”

He rolled his eyes.


“OK, here’s the way it works. As humans, we can control the world around us. Remember the bridge across the river?    “How could I forget? A beautiful example.”

Kyle wondered. Smart ass, or sincere? He shrugged it off. “Well, that bridge would have actually been constructed out of metal.”

“Good news for the trees.”

“I’m sure they’re all breathing a sigh of relief. But it would have been constructed by people we call engineers, using something we call engineering. Engineering applies things like technology and science to control the world around us, to build things, to change the world into something that makes it better and safer for humans to live in.”

“Just humans?”

Well, no, for all living things.”

“Except the ones that don’t think.”

“I’m not going to get into that.” Kyle puffed on his cigarette. Damned spider with a one track mind.

“I’m sorry, Kyle. Sometimes I become fixated on details and miss the larger picture.”

God, where does it get these things? Graduated from Arachnid U? “Fine. Let’s look at the larger picture, then. But first, any questions…that don’t have anything to do with trees?”

The spider crouched forward, eyes seeming to blaze with movement under their surface sheen. “Just a small clarification.”


“Engineering is what makes it possible for humans to control the world?”    “Engineering is one of the things. Like I said, it uses science and technology. These are really the things that make it possible for us to control the world.”


Kyle sighed loudly. “I was getting to that. It works like this…science allows us to understand how the world works. Technology allows us to take what we learn from science and make the world do what we want it to do.”

“Could … “

A raised finger to shush the spider. “For example, science shows us how atoms work, and technology allows us to use the way atoms work so that we can build power stations to keep us warm in the winter and bombs to protect us from our enemies.”

“You protect yourselves with atoms?”

“No, we protect ourselves with the things that atoms do.”

“And what do atoms do?”

“They make large fires that destroy cities and make them uninhabitable for years.”

“And this is how you use atoms to keep yourselves warm in the winter?”

“In a way, but on a smaller scale. That’s where control comes in. We control the fire so that it heats buildings without burning them.”

“And using them as bombs means not controlling them?”

“No, it means controlling them so that they’re out of control somewhere else, away from us, in our enemies’ cities.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to just eat your enemies?”

“That’s what a spider would do. Spiders don’t have science and technology.”

“But spiders would be able to live in their enemies’ cities after eating their enemies.”

Frustrated, Kyle looked at his watch. “Gotta get back to work. Let’s try this again this afternoon.”

“You seem to be angry.”

“Not angry, just a little…I don’t know what. But, this discussion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere constructive. Let’s just try again later.”

“You’ll come back?”    Kyle frowned.

“You’re right, Kyle, we’ve covered that ground. You’ll come alone?”

Kyle cocked his head to one side, remained silent.

“Right, alone. I’ll see you this afternoon. Have a good morning, Kyle.”

Walking away from the spider, Kyle felt his mind stewing in frustration and possibly a hint of anger. Getting flustered and boggled by a spider? Maybe start smoking at the front of the building? No, can’t do that. Not now.


The day was still breezy, the sky spotted with puffs of cloud as Kyle stepped out of the building. In the distance, high rises sparkled above the haze of smog. Kyle took a few steps toward the air conditioning unit, saw the black mass of the spider hunched in the darkness as his hand reached for his cigarettes. “New plan. I’m going to sum it all up, and we’ll leave it at that.”

“Is it wise to switch plans unilaterally?”

No longer phased by the spider’s retorts, he shrugged as he lit his cigarette. “Do it all the time. Called adapting on the fly.”

“You change plans on flies?”

“Just a manner of speaking.” Pocketing his lighter, a thought occurred to him. “By the way, you must eat a lot of flies.”

“Not really. Never acquired the taste.”

“Then, what exactly do you eat? I mean…” waving his hand over the direction of the spider’s body, “…you have to be eating a lot of something.”

“Oh, this and that. I try to keep my diet balanced. Tell me about your new plan, Kyle, your summing up of it all.”

He held a deep drag of smoke in his lungs for a few seconds, then blew the smoke out slowly, a bluish white plume rolling through the air from his mouth. “First of all, let’s forget about the allusion to caretakers. We’ve done a lousy job of taking care of things.”

“Admitting the mistake is the first step toward correcting the mistake.”

Kyle thought for a moment, puffing on his cigarette. “How do you know these things?”

Shifting its weight slightly to one side, the spider lifted its appendages, the fangs moving in and out slowly, and then crouched backwards a few inches. “I have thoughts about these things.”

Kyle waited, dragged on his cigarette. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Kyle shrugged. “OK, then, so … we’ve polluted the world, screwed up the weather, murdered millions in senseless wars, used science and technology to make money for a few while ignoring the suffering of the millions we exploited to make the money, and we’ve created nuclear and biological weapons that might eventually kill us all off.”


Kyle looked at the spider, smiling the smile of a victory won, nodded his head. “I knew you were going to ask that.”

“Then, you have your answer prepared.” The spider crouched forward.

“I have.” Another puff on his cigarette. “It’s because we know things are going to work out in the end. We know that our science and technology will save us in the end, because they are, after all, an extension of ourselves. What you said about admitting the mistake being the first step to correcting the mistake. You’re right.”

“Thank you, Kyle, it’s…”

“It’s the way we do things, throughout our history. We make mistakes, we learn, we go on. And what gives us the will to go on is a thing we call hope.”


“We have hope in the future, belief that things will work out.”

“And that’s it?”

Exasperated, Kyle blew a long plume of smoke in the direction of the spider. The spider backed up. “Hey!”

Kyle waved his hand in front of him, an effort, too late, to stop the barrage of smoke. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that. A little frustrated, I guess. What do you mean by: ‘That’s it?’”

The spider moved forward slowly to the top of the fan box. “Apology accepted. I meant, that your hope seems to put the future on a shaky foundation.”

“How’s that?”

“Shouldn’t you be doing something other than hoping?”

“We are doing something. We have people working on these things.”


“The scientists and the technologists.”

“The people who made the mistakes?”

“Well, yes, they’re the ones who understand the mistakes, and how to correct them.”

“And if they don’t?”

“They will.”

“How do you know?”

“Because that’s in the nature of humans. Nothing’s impossible for us.”

“So, the rest of you sit around and hope while the people who make the mistakes correct them.” “No, we keep track of what they do, form groups to protest and watch over the things we don’t like, pass legislation, write letters to the editor, post angry letters to news groups, promote dialogues, demonstrate.”

“Does it work?”

Kyle threw his cigarette on the ground, crushed it with his heel. “I have to get back to work.”

“You seem angry.”

“I’m not angry.”


“No, just a little drained.”

“You’ll come back…”

“I’ll be back tomorrow. Alone.”

“Sleep well tonight.”

“You too.”


Lighting his first cigarette of the day, Kyle looked over the puddles left by the early morning rain in the parking lot, the radio finally right. Yeah, predict it till it happens. Must be a lot of hand shaking at the station, maybe a few medals passed out, letters of commendation, promotions in the weather department, and predictions that, maybe, today we’ll have sun. To the west, small puffs of cloud trailed in the wake of the heavy cumulous clouds fading into the east. The spider looked dry and relaxed, legs spread over the sides of the fan box. Kyle’s hair was disheveled; his eyes, bloodshot.

“You look terrible this morning, Kyle.”

“Thanks.” Kyle pocketed his lighter, blew smoke through his nostrils. “New plan.”

“Didn’t like the way the last one was going?”

“It was going nowhere.”

“Time to change the fly.”

Kyle pursed his lips and opened his mouth with a pop. “Something like that. Here’s the way it works. Each of us humans do our own thing. We have scientists and technologists to do the science and technology things, accountants and financial experts to do the business things, laborers and clerks and salespeople to do their things. We specialize in our own areas and we all work together to make the world a place that makes sense. But, each of the things we do takes time and ability, just enough time to keep each of us busy with our own thing. So we have to rely on the people who are doing other things to do them right. And if they don’t do them right, we have to raise hell until they do them right. We can’t just start doing them ourselves.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“It is.”

“Sounds too complicated.”

The spider froze, Kyle dragged on his cigarette, eyes on the ground as a blue Cavalier drove past them, splashing through the puddles. The woman behind the wheel ignored Kyle as she drove by.

“What do you mean by ‘too complicated’?”

“Sounds like a lot of potential for things to get out of control.”

“Sometimes they do. But, we get them back into control and go on.”

“Can you give me an example?”

Another long puff, and then inspiration following on the heels of nicotine ingestion. “OK. Money markets depend on thousands of variables and the cooperation of just about everybody who works in the markets. Sometimes some of the variables go haywire and people stop cooperating. The market collapses. But, then, people start cooperating again and the market rebuilds and comes back stronger than ever.”

“Until some of the variables go haywire again.”

He flicked his cigarette into a puddle where it fizzled out in a puff of smoke, and reached for his pack in the same movement. “You’re making me smoke a lot more.”

The spider slid forward a few inches, the huge black beach ball body rippling with the movement. “Why do you light those things and blow out the smoke?”

Kyle thought a moment. How to describe why he smokes? How to describe why he does something he wants to quit doing. “They make me feel better.”

“Then they must be good for you.”

“No. They’re bad for me. They ruin my lungs and heart with thousands of deadly gases, make my breath stink, stain my teeth and harden the capillaries in my brain. They make it hard for me to walk up stairs without losing my breath.”

“And that makes you feel better?”

Bloodshot eyes rolling, head cocked to one side, smoke rushing out of his nostrils. “No! That makes me feel really bad. But smoking them makes me feel relaxed, like everything is OK.”

“Even though everything isn’t OK. Even though they’re killing you?”

“I don’t think about that part.”

Silence from the spider as it shifted its body again, the luminescent eyes motionless in their sockets, but turbulent with whatever fluids washing about under their surfaces. “Is this a hope thing, Kyle?”

“A what?”

“You hope that you won’t die from them?”

That’s gotta be it! Somewhere, somehow, this thing has read a book about psychology. “That’s right! I hope I won’t die. And, if I do get sick, doctors who specialize in making people well again will make me unsick. But, that’s not the point. I can’t just stop smoking.”

“Why? It seems like the right thing to do, especially for a being with such a well-developed mind that it controls the earth.”

“Controlling the earth is one thing. Quitting smoking is another. Smoking is an addiction.”

More shifting from the spider, the eyes compelling in their motionless movement. “Can you explain addiction?”

More smoke exhaled through nostrils, the bluish white plume rolling over Kyle’s jacket and shirt, dispersing into the air about him. “It’s when we want to stop doing something, but we can’t because we depend on it for a sense of well-being. A sense of well-being that we get from the thing we’re addicted to.”

“Then, why did you start to depend on it in the first place?”

Shrugging, arms upraised, eyes brimming with anger, Kyle began to reply, dismissed the thought before it formed, puffed on his cigarette again, staring into the deep wells of blue and green surrounded by fine hair, sunlight bristling along their short lengths. Only six of them? For a second there appeared to be hundreds, all focusing through the bone of his skull, deep into this brain. Shaking his head, he snapped the mood. “My friends smoked. It was the thing to do.”

“Your friends were killing themselves, so you joined them?”

“It’s called peer pressure. It’s a human thing.”

“Can I forward a suggestion, Kyle.”

“Be my guest.”

“Wouldn’t it have been better to have persuaded your friends to quit?”

“They were already addicted. And, besides, it was the thing to do. They wouldn’t have listened.”

“Sounds like the caretakers should learn to take care of themselves before taking care of the world around them.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You needn’t get angry with me, Kyle. Just making an observation.”

Kyle sighed, flicked his second cigarette into a puddle, lit another. The spider watched. “OK. Point taken. We’re not perfect, but we try. We try to better ourselves; we try to better the world. Sometimes we make mistakes. Then, we correct them. Then we make more mistakes and we correct them. We get better as we go along. Things get better.”

“Convince me, Kyle.”


“Convince me that you can make things better.”

Interest perked, Kyle stared deeply into the eyes, shifting his vision from one to another, wondering which of them was focused on him. All of them? How does it process input from six sources? The same way humans process from two? “OK. I’ll bite. How do I convince you?”

“Throw down that cigarette. Stop smoking now. Prove that just one caretaker can take care of himself.”

An exasperated sigh, another puff of smoke exhaled roughly. “That’s not going to prove anything. It won’t make a spot of difference on the rest of the world.”

“But it’s a start. It’s one of the caretakers correcting a mistake, making this thing you call hope something real. Just throw down the cigarette.”

“I can’t.”


“I just can’t. I want to smoke. No, I don’t want to smoke. I want to quit. But I can’t quit.”


“I’m not ready.”

“When will you be ready?”

“When things are better.”

“When will things be better?”

“When I quit smoking.”

“Kyle …”

“No! That’s not what I meant! It’s more complicated than that.”


“I’m getting confused. I’ve been under a lot of stress at work. I’m talking to a giant spider, answering questions that there’s no way it can be asking. Having doubts from something that lives in an air conditioning unit.” He stepped closer to the unit, bent down toward the spider, bringing his face inches from the terrible eyes. “It’s just too damned complicated for a spider to understand.”

“You’re right, Kyle. Not only does it seem complicated … it seems senseless. You aspire to control the world, but you can’t control yourself. It all sounds pretty fucked up to me.” The words bristled with the fury of thousands of bubbles popping soundlessly through Kyle’s mind.

“What would you know about it? You’re just a spider!” His own words burst through the air, flaring in a noiseless play of color in the hundreds of eyes spinning in the sockets under the bony brow.

“But I have one uncomplicated thought.”

Kyle pushed his face into the face of the spider, nose almost touching the coat of fine hairs below the eyes. “And what the hell might that be?”

“I’m hungry.”

The panic too late, as hundreds of eyes seemed to bore into his brain, the sting of fangs piercing both sides of his neck simultaneously, a sense of being lifted off his feet, a feeling of skin ripping against the barbed metal of the grill, and then numbness, all feeling dissipating into quiet terror, the words flowing dead-like through the remnants of his fleeing consciousness. “And when I’m hungry, I do something about it.”


Blistering heat. Too cold inside with the air conditioning turned up so you have to practically wear a sweater while you work, and then outside for a smoke and come back covered in sweat and freeze even worse. No wonder people get colds all summer long. Crystal struck a match, lit her cigarette, staring at the air conditioning unit. Must’ve been my imagination this morning. Maybe a trick of the heat. Too much pressure at work. Maybe coming down with something. That’s it! Coming down with that cold everybody’s getting. Viruses spreading like plague through the air conditioning. And then, from somewhere inside her head, like something effervescent bubbling into her awareness, the bubbles bursting into words strung together with no tone, no pitch, no base or treble. Just the meaning of the words: “What are you?”

(NOTE: This story was originally published as a standalone ebook by Echelon Press between 10 and 15 years ago. It’s based on a true story, of course.)

Killing Assholes

NOTE: This novella was published as a standalone ebook somewhere between 10 and 15 years ago by Echelon Press. It was originally published under the name The Baton, but after Dexter…?


I’m not a bad person. Not really. I pay my bills on time. Like, I’m a goddamn fanatic when it comes to paying bills. I’m not one of those dickheads who runs up a tab and then says “screw it, I got better things to do with my time and money than pay for something I already used.” I don’t do that shit. I pay my bills. My parents did. I do. It runs in the family, like almost a genetic thing…you owe money, you pay it off. And I’m a considerate driver. I mean, I don’t take any shit when I’m driving. I mean, some asswipe cuts me off, I give him the finger. It’s a woman…hey, I’m all for equal rights…I give her the finger too. But before I lost my license, I stopped for pedestrians. I stopped and let people out at intersections, even if it meant that the prick behind me honked his horn and I had to give him the finger. Or her the finger. Makes no difference to me. I’m that fucking considerate.

I’m not some kind’ve sexual deviate. I haven’t had it in a long time and, you know, like I’ve done some arm wrestling with the Big Snake, but I don’t bop hard bellies…nineteen’s my cutoff and no younger no matter how big their tits are. And when a lady says back off, I back off. No’s no in my book, same as hers. And I don’t watch porno flicks or read those expensive hardcore magazines. Playboy and Penthouse. That’s my limit.

I don’t cheat on my tax forms, even if I knew how to do that. I don’t steal. I don’t lie, at least unless I really have to and then it’s okay because I really have to. You know…life’s gray sometimes. I don’t talk about my friends behind their backs. I don’t do that ever, and I’ve smacked a couple of dicks in the head for doing that in the past. No excuse for backstabbing your friends. No excuse at all. I don’t cut into lines if I see somebody I know near the front of the line. I hate it when people do that! I don’t play my music loud. I figure my music is my choice and it might not be my neighbor’s choice, so I keep it to myself. That’s kind’ve a choice I make for everybody so, like, being considerate can even be empowering sometimes. I don’t give the check-out people in grocery stores or department stores a hard time when their computerized cash machines fuck up or the bar thing on the merchandise doesn’t work and makes the computer fritz out. I don’t give innocent people a hard time. Innocent people get a hard time from every direction…but not from me. I don’t do that.

But there’s one thing I do…and I gotta say that I really love doing it.

I kill assholes.

About one a month.


What finally broke the camel’s back was one day when the guy in the scabby t-shirt spit on the sidewalk. That was it. Shit. I was sitting on a bench eating a sandwich. He saw me sitting on the bench eating my sandwich. And the cocksucker spit…I mean, a big white stream of white gunk, the kind that’s thick and sticks to the sidewalk like dirty lard. I mean, what kind’ve asshole does a thing like that? And he was looking right at me when he did it. Like his eyes were saying: “Enjoying that sandwich, chump? Here, enjoy this.” Hack. Pitchu. White gob piled up on the sidewalk right in front of me. And I lost my appetite.

So I followed the prick.

Yeah, followed him. Really surprised myself when I did that. Just stood up and went after the dumb prick. He didn’t see me…didn’t even suspect that somebody was walking behind him about thirty feet away and sticking to him like a shadow. Probably all wrapped in thinking who he was gonna gross out next. Prick.

I followed him for most of the day…and what a prick he turned out to be. Like, right after grossing me out, and I mean, this was only about a block away, about two point zero minutes after grossing me out…he shoved a kid.

A kid.

Like, he was walking down the sidewalk all wrapped up in asswipe thoughts, probably laughing his brains out about grossing me out a block and two point zero minutes back, and he’s not even looking where he’s going and there’s this little girl in a sort of white and blue sailor’s dress and she’s just standing on the sidewalk right in front of this prick with her back to him. I dunno, maybe waiting for a cab or something…maybe waiting for a friend. But the prick I’m following comes up behind her and instead of just moving a few inches to the side and walking around her, the jerk reaches out his hand and pushes her. Just pushes her! Knocks her right down on her ass. And just keeps on walking. I mean, the little girl didn’t start crying or anything…just got back up and made a nasty face at the guy’s back and went back to waiting or whatever she was doing. I would’ve stopped and asked her if she was okay, but I didn’t wanna draw any attention to myself, following this prick and all, you know. So I just kept on walking and, shit, it didn’t take long before he was into it again.

This time with a dog tied to a street sign in front of a music store. It was one of those ones you read about a lot, attacking kids and stuff. Not a Doberman…the other one, with the flat ugly face. But it was all tied up to the sign and it wasn’t growling or dripping stuff or anything, just lying down all curled up and looking like any normal dog, but the guy I’m following slows down and looks into the window of the music store and looks to the other side. Prick didn’t look behind himself so he didn’t see me, but he suddenly bends over and scoops up a piece of red brick that was littering the sidewalk from construction on the building next to the music store, and not thinking that anybody’s watching him, he just ups and throws the piece of brick right into the poor dog’s side, and the dog takes to yelping and growling at the prick but it’s tied up to the street sign and the dumb prick I’m following walks around the dog just far enough to be out of biting range.

And what happens when the owner comes rushing out of the store after hearing his dog making all that noise? Old guy in one of those hats. Even wearing suspenders. The prick turns on the old guy and starts giving him shit for having a vicious dog and says that he oughta call the cops. Fucking nerve! The old guy just stands there looking between the prick and the dog and not knowing what to say, just looking kind’ve old and confused and worried about his dog…maybe even afraid that he’s gonna lose the dog if this creep calls the cops. But the prick just turns around and keeps on walking.

And I keep on following him.

By now I’ve got this guy sized up for a real creep. He’s about medium tall, real short hair like he’s one of those punk guys but he’s not wearing those fruity red boots or anything. He’s wearing a dirty brown t-shirt, faded blue jeans, and Jesus boots with no socks. I always hated those fairies in sandals. Think they’re cool, but they’re just a bunch of fucking fairies. He’s got squinty eyes and a long nose. Hate those too. And his mouth is kind’ve pinched up like he spends a lotta time sucking on his thumb or something.

And then he does it again.

Prick gobs another big white pile of spit on the sidewalk like something he’s been saving up at the back of his mouth for a long time. Even looks down at it and I swear he was smiling, thinking about the people who were gonna walk by that pile of shit and gag or barf or something. Cocksucker.

I followed him for another hour, watching him gob and strut and act like a prick, like when he went down a whole block with a key scraping the sides of parked cars. Shit, one of them was a ’78 Firebird. In immaculate condition! Prick should have his hands cut off for something like that!

That’s when I knew that I had to do something, something that was gonna really put him in his place, something that would, I dunno, even the score or something. The prick spit again on the sidewalk and it was, like, all this white froth blowing out of his mouth and that’s when it came to me. That’s when I knew what I had to do. That’s when I made up my mind that I was gonna do it.

I followed him home. I found out where he lived, at least what apartment building he lived in, and it was a real dump. No surprise in that. The sidewalk had all kinds of garbage piled up. Even the steps leading up to the doors of the buildings on his street had fuck graffiti painted on them. Just figure what the buildings looked like…and his was the worst on the block. But I knew where he lived. I knew where to find him. And that’s just what I was gonna do…find him every day for the next few days and follow him.

Prick wasn’t working so he just walked around every day with me following him and him doing the same messed up stuff every single day…spitting all over the sidewalks, scratching cars, stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down and hanging around with a bunch of losers just like him, but he didn’t spend much time with them…seemed like they didn’t much like him either. Seemed like they cussed him a lot and said things that pissed him off, but then they looked pretty pissed off all the time. Buncha bald-headed leathered-up weirdoes is what they were.

But here’s what I did. I followed him and I carried a big empty Vitamin C bottle and a butter knife. And whenever he spit on the sidewalk, I waited until he got a good distance away and then I went over to the spit and scraped it up with the butter knife before it could sink into the sidewalk or dry up. Sickening shit that was, but I did it. And I didn’t barf once. Came close a couple of times, ‘specially at first, but I kept my cookies down. And I followed the prick around for nearly a week…until I had a full bottle of his gob. Man, it was starting to stink like something dead when I opened I up to put more in. You can bet I was glad when it was full and I wouldn’t have to be smelling that shit anymore, at least, not for more than one more time…and it was good that it smelled bad for that one more time.

If it smelled that bad, then it must’ve tasted twice as bad.

I think it was something like the fourth or fifth day that I was following him that I was ready. This time when he walked up the steps and through the door and into his building, I followed him right in. Not really close…just close enough that that I wouldn’t lose sight of him. But, hell, I wasn’t really all that worried about his seeing me anymore.

Nothing was gonna stop me now.

He looked around when I came through the door and he gave me a look like I was maybe the most unimportant thing in the universe let alone his life and he just looked away and started walking up the worst set of rickety-rackety steps I’ve ever seen in probably the worst looking stairwell on the planet. The walls looked like the people that died in World War III…like, when it ever happens. I followed him up the stairs and the prick never even suspected he was being followed, just walked up the steps real arrogant like and I followed him up to the third floor. The hall was the shits…I mean, the walls here were painted with bad smells instead of paint. He stopped at a door. He just turned the knob and walked in. Didn’t even keep the door locked. Man, I could hardly wait to see what this place looked like.

It was a dump. Just like the hall. Just like the prick I was following, and he was looking at me now…still with that fucking arrogant better-than-you look, but I could tell that he was worried about seeing me coming through the door with a big Vitamin C bottle in my hand. I could smell the worry, like he was sweating it or something.

“Who the fuck are you?” he said.

“Got a present for ya, prick,” I said.

That’s when he got really worried…soon as I called him prick. He knew I wasn’t no friend, and now I could really smell the sweat coming off his asshole body.

“Take your fuckin’ present and get the fuck out of here,” he yelled. He still had that arrogant look, but I could smell the sweat.

“But I put a lot of work into this present for you,” I said.

Now he looked a little bit puzzled like he almost wanted to know what the present was, ‘specially thinking that a lotta work went into it, but I could smell that he was afraid of finding out what it was…probably got a lot of rocks and dog shit wrapped up as presents when he was a kid. He sure didn’t look like the popular kind. Not like me. I was popular…or else.

“I don’t care how much work you put into it…take your fuckin’ present and get the fuck out of here now!”

That’s when I just dove right at him. I’m one fast motherfucker. People don’t expect that in someone my size, but it’s true…I’m like pig fat on a freeway. I took the cocksucker by surprise. Works every time. People don’t expect people to just attack that sudden. Catches them with their guard down, even if it’s already up. I was on him and he was on the floor and I was on top of him and I had one hand clutching his throat, squeezing the life out of him. His ugly hairless face was kind’ve bloated like and now he looked more pissed off than arrogant, but I could smell the sweat in his eyes like it was rotten hamburger. He tried squirming his body around, but I was too heavy for him. He was trapped. I pushed my face right into his ugly face and I said: “I spent a lotta time on this fucking gift for you and you’re gonna take it. You ain’t got no choice, ya prick.”

He just stared up into my face, gagging and turning purple, while I wedged the big Vitamin C bottle on my hand that was squeezing the prick’s throat and used my other hand to untwist the top. I tossed the top away and took the bottle in my free hand and held it right over his mouth.

“You ever hear the old expression, what goes around comes around, prick?” I said. He just gagged and looked confused. Dumb fuck. “I’m the guy who was sitting on the bench last week, remember? You ruined my lunch with this stuff!”

And then I jammed the top of the bottle into his mouth and watched the shit inside pour slowly into the prick’s mouth. Watching that thick shit emptying into a human mouth almost made me puke but I watched. I mean, it was like I had to watch, like it would be some kind’ve crime against God if I didn’t. So I watched. And when the bottle was empty except for the stuff sticking to the insides of it, I pulled it out and, really fast, I put my hand over his mouth so’s he couldn’t spit the shit out. That part felt really right. He was stuck with his own gob in his mouth and couldn’t spit it out. Stuck with himself, sort of.

And then something really weird happened. At first it made the hair all over my body kind’ve stand up or something, it was that weird, but then the weirdness kind’ve melted away into something else.

I mean, I couldn’t see his mouth because I had my hand over it, but I was looking right into the prick’s eyes and it almost looked like he was smiling. He wasn’t struggling or anything, just lying there with his mouth full of scraped-up gob and me sitting on him and his eyes were smiling. And then his eyes kind’ve went really dull, like, what’s that word? When something looks not as bright…luster! They lost their luster. And he still wasn’t moving, not struggling or anything, just lying there with a mouth full of gob and all the life drained out of his eyes. And that’s when I realized what was so weird.

Prick was dead.


I walked around for the rest of the day just thinking about that prick, what an asshole he was, how I followed him and scraped up his spit, watching him and getting to know what a complete asshole he was and then making him eat is own gob. But mostly I thought about that look in his eyes just before he died. And about the way he just sort’ve gave it all up and stopped struggling before he was dead, like he didn’t give a fuck, like he didn’t even want to go on living, like he was almost happy or something. I mean, that smile in his eyes…

I thought about the way that made me feel. It was almost like some kind’ve freed up feeling, like a lot of stuff was being lifted off my shoulders…or like some kind’ve cosmic vacuum cleaner sucked a shit load of crap out of me. It was like God himself was in my arms, in my hands, making it all happen, making it all come to some kind’ve close. It was like I was the last chapter in that asshole’s life.

I was the happy ending.

It made me think about assholes in general, about all the people in my life…in everybody’s lives…who make living more of a hell than it really is. I thought about those assholes who call you up on the phone…on your own fucking phone…and try to sell you something you don’t want and don’t need. I mean, one of those dumbasses dragged me out the shower when I still had a phone and I was dripping water and soap all over the floor while some idiot asks me if I want to buy gardening equipment and I’m telling the prick that I live on the third floor of a fucking apartment building but he says that it’s on sale and they’re never gonna be selling the gardening stuff at this price again, whatever the fuck it is–I don’t know dick about gardening–so I should buy it or I’ll miss out. “I live in a fucking apartment building!” I screamed at the prick. “The back yard’s a fucking parking lot!” And the prick still tried to sell me gardening shit. I hung up. I would’ve killed the prick. I would’ve jumped right through the phone line and killed the prick if he would’ve called back.

That’s what I mean about assholes in general. Like the people who make those automated telephone answering systems that send you around and around, asking for this option and that option, and sending you to this place and that place, and then they send you into some fucking dead end with dead end music like the shit they play in elevators or in some doctors’ offices. I think it’s supposed to calm you. It just pisses me off. And I really get pissed off at the ones that say: “Your call is important to us. Please hold.” If my call is so fucking important, then pick up the phone and turn off that goddam music! Almost seems like phones breed assholes.

* * *

My second asshole had a cell phone.

I hate those things. Don’t know how many times I’ve come a pube hair away from being run over by some asshole talking away on a phone while he’s, or she’s–and it’s really easy to be sexually orientated fair on this one–driving along yakking away on the phone, all wrapped up on the cell phone and not watching where they’re going, so god help anybody who gets in their path because they’re gonna ram their front bumper up your ass and probably just keep on driving and never even know they killed anybody. If assholes had uniforms, they’d probably have cell phones hanging all over their jackets like soldiers have grenades hanging there. Fucking grenades probably do less damage.

So there I was…about a month after killing Mr. Gob-a-Lot…sitting in a this place having a coffee and chocolate dip donut or three, and there’s these two guys sitting about four seats away from me and they’re talking away. One of them is small with dark hair and he’s like mostly listening to the other guy, who’s kind’ve big–maybe about one ninety-five or thereabouts–and they’re talking for about five minutes, mostly the big guy talking, like I said, but I’m kind’ve of studying them. I do that a lot…just sort’ve look at people and try to figure them out, see if I can guess what they’re about. Think maybe someday I might, you know, write a book or something. I think I got a lotta stories I could write about. But I’m thinking that these guys work together or something. I mean, they’re both wearing white shirts and ties and it looks like they just sort’ve dropped into this place for a coffee break to talk business maybe. And right when the little guy starts to say something, the big guy holds up a finger to shut him up and pulls out a cell phone and starts talking into it.

What the hell is the world coming to! I’ve seen this a million times. The big guy just starts yakking away on the phone as though the other guy doesn’t even exist, as though as soon as the cell phone rang or buzzed or whatever they do, the little guy just disappeared into some other world, like he existed only when the big guy wasn’t talking on the cell phone. At that moment, I could’ve gone right over to their table and grabbed that phone and shoved in right down the prick’s throat. “Fucking message on hold!” I could’ve yelled while he choked on his call. I watched for about five minutes and the whole time the big prick didn’t even look at the other guy…yakked away on the phone. The little guy looked kind’ve like he really didn’t give a shit at first, just sipped his coffee and sort’ve looked around the place, but after five minutes, he looked like he was starting to get a little bit irritated, and if the big guy had given a fuck about anything else but talking on his cell phone, he would’ve seen that the guy he was sitting with was getting just a little bit pissed.

I kept watching. By this time, I could’ve just started smashing the phone over the big guy’s head until I cracked his skull open. The little guy was starting to get fidgety. He took a business card out of his shirt pocket and started reading it and flicking it with his thumb. I wanted to just yell at him to just get up and walk out of the place and leave the prick with the phone sitting there talking all by himself. But he stayed and the longer he stayed, the madder I got. The more he flicked that fucking business card, the more I wanted to kill the big prick with the phone.

So that’s exactly what I did.

Not right away though. Not right then. In fact, as soon as I made up my mind that I was gonna to kill the prick, I calmed down. I wasn’t mad anymore. I was determined. I was determined that the prick with the cell phone was gonna die, so I just sat there all relaxed and drinking my coffee and watching the two men for about another ten minutes while the big guy yakked and yakked on the cell phone. I mean, there’s assholes and there’s assholes…making anybody wait that long while you just ignore the poor bastard while you talk on a phone sitting right in front of the guy so that he can’t do anything but try to not interrupt your call and pretend that his time is worth dick-all while the other guy just yaks and yaks. The little guy was getting more irritated. Like, it showed in the way his eyes were all over the place like he was looking for some place to escape but always coming back to the card he flicked with his thumb because there was no way out…except maybe to just get up and walk out. But he wasn’t gonna do that.

And that made me think…one of the biggest things that assholes have going for them is the fact that the people they fuck over don’t do anything. They just sit there and take it, just like the little guy was doing right now. Just sitting there wanting to get up and just walk out but glued to his chair because he didn’t want to look like an asshole by walking out on the other guy. I mean, shit, that might interrupt the prick’s phone call. They got all those books on etiquette and doing and saying the right thing, but somebody should write a book about when you don’t have to be considerate anymore, about that line that people cross over where you don’t have to treat them like humans anymore and you can just tell them to go fuck themselves. Maybe some day I’ll write that book. I got a lotta thoughts on the subject.

And then, wonder of wonders, the big guy finally finishes his call and puts the phone back in his pocket and, get this, he just like starts talking to the other guy like nothing ever happened, like he didn’t just spend nearly half an hour ignoring him and making him waste his entire coffee break listening to some fat tub of cell phone yakking machine blatting to some dumbass somewhere else who’s probably doing the same thing at that end. He didn’t even say he was sorry. I could see it in the way he looked while he talked. It was like the little guy was nothing more than some kind’ve stage prop in a play all about the big guy and everything that he didn’t have time for was just supposed to disappear but be right there when he paid attention to it again.

Yeah. This guy had to die.

I waited a bit after they left and then I got up and followed them. They were walking. That was a sign. It meant the big guy had to die. I mean, if they were in a car, I wouldn’t be able to follow them, but they were walking. They walked down the sidewalk about a block away to a discount furniture store. I was right…they worked together…probably furniture salesmen. The store was pretty shabby looking: big dirty windows with cracked tiles under them, and the top part of the building looked like it had cheap apartments and probably needed paint for the last fifty years. But there seemed to be a lot of customers inside looking around. Must be good prices. I walked by the door and slowed down just enough to read the sign with the hours listed. They closed at nine.


That’s when the big guy would be mine.

I was parked across the street when the store closed. I was kind’ve split between which was the bigger high…killing the asshole with the phone or using a stolen car. I was fucked if I was caught at either of them, completely fucked if I was caught at both. But what the…with my record, I was already fucked. No loss!

He was the first out. That figured. Probably left all the paperwork for his skinny buddy. And, holy shit! He was walking out of the store with his cell phone jammed into his ear. But that was good. Meant that he wasn’t looking around, wasn’t seeing me waiting there across the street for him. He was all wrapped up in something that had nothing to do with here and now. And I was here and now.

He walked into a parking lot around the corner of the store and disappeared for a couple of minutes. Then his car pulled out of the lot and onto the street. He was driving away from me. Great! I didn’t have to do a ninety-degree, or whatever they call that thing they do. He was driving a Toyota something or other…no patriotism…but that figured. And the prick was still talking on the phone. Took the turn onto the street wide. Not paying attention. Not here and now, where I was waiting for him. I started up the car and followed him. Prick was all over the road, head bobbing up and down while he talked, not paying any attention at all to his driving. Pissed me off so much, I almost hit an old guy who came right out of nowhere on a crosswalk.

He finally pulled up in front of a small single-floor house in a sort of nice neighborhood, like the kind’ve place where there’s no bars on the doors or windows, but there’s all these signs that the place is close to bars…paint peeling on just about all the houses, garbage on the curbs that looks like it’s been there a while meaning that the city’s starting to give up on this street, same with the burnt out street lights and the street signs painted over with “fuck you” for god knows how long.

This is where the dumbass lived. This was his house. The lights were off. He lived alone…or the others were out. But I figured he just lived alone. Only real people in this prick’s life were at the other end of his cell phone.

His next call was gonna be a wake up call from reality.

Reality was parked across the street from his house, watching him, and noticing that there was no basketball net over the garage door. Something unnatural about that. Reminded me of when I was a kid.

I waited for the deep dark, the time when everybody’s probably in bed, even the dogs. I got out of the car and walked real casual-like up to his yard and looked around. Nobody was looking out the windows of any of the other houses, so I ducked into a clump of bushes and made my way up to the house. Fucking prickly rose bushes in there somewhere. Hate those things. There was light coming from a window at the side of the house and that’s where I went. I looked in and there he was, sitting in a recliner chair, watching TV, eating something from a white bowl. That’s when I noticed how big the prick’s gut was. Must wear a girdle or something in the daytime. His arms were big, but they didn’t look hard. I could take this guy…I knew it. I made my way around the house, peeking into all the windows I could see into, and it looked like he was alone.

It was time to kill him.

I went to the front door and knocked. Just like that…I knocked on the door and stood there like I was just any old visitor dropping by at two o’clock in the morning to pay a visit or something. Who the fuck knows, these days. Prick just opened the door. Didn’t even ask who it was. Cocky bastard, this one. He said: “What the hell do you want?” I just ran right into him. Pushed upward on his upper body and lifted him right off his center of gravity and down he went onto the floor. I kicked the door closed with my foot and then punched him a couple or three times with my fists until he stopped struggling as much. He could take a beating…but soon as he quieted, I jumped up and brought my foot down into his chest as hard as I could. I could hear bones snapping. Ugly sound, but this prick needed it. I looked around and saw just what I needed.

He was sort of squirming around on the floor with a dazed look in his eyes, or at least the one that he could still open. He must’ve farted, ’cause the air was filled with something that smelled like burning sulfur. He was moaning with a kind’ve gurgling sound. I didn’t have much time. I jumped across the living room and grabbed his cell phone from the TV table beside his recliner chair and then jumped back fast to where he was just starting to push himself up on his elbow. I let him have it in the side of the head with the cell phone. And then I let him have it again with the cell phone…this time square in the face. By this time, he wasn’t making any more noises and I wasn’t saying a word. It was just the two of us, looking at each other and the only noise was the sound of the cell phone smashing into his face until I was sure that the cocksucker wasn’t ever gonna talk on the phone again while some poor bastard had to wait for him.


Walking home from his place, I did a lot of thinking. I guess killing people does that to you. I thought about what a fucked up world telephones were making the place. I remembered when I still had one…assholes calling me up and asking me to buy all kind’ve crap I didn’t want. One time, this bitch calls me up–although I know some guys who’re bitches, just to be fair with the sex thing–and she starts asking me questions about what kind’ve shit I buy and I said: “I don’t do shit over the phone. Take me off your fucking list.” And she says: “I’ll do that, sir, but first, can you tell me how many children you have?” I hung up. Phones make it easier for assholes to be assholes. They make it possible for the assholes to come right into your home and fuck you up. Best thing that ever happened to me was losing my phone.

* * *

It was just a little over a month after that that I killed another asshole.

Started in a movie theater this time. I was watching a movie, minding my own business, and this skinny prick sits right down behind me. Lots of other empty seats in the place, but he sits right down behind me. Place was so empty I could almost hear the dumbass breathing. Prick even knocked my chair a couple of times. People should have their feet cut off for doing that. Then I heard some kind’ve crinkling noise, like paper or something. And then I heard it…the one sound that I really hate coming from another human being.

He was chewing gum. With his fucking mouth open! Making all kinds’ve snapping and cracking noises, bouncing the wad of gum off his tongue, wrapping it around his teeth, and making sucking noises with his lips. Whole theater with empty seats and this prick has to sit down right behind me and chew his gum with his fucking mouth open.

Big mistake, asshole.

And there was the feeling again…once I knew that I was gonna kill him, I calmed down. The sound didn’t bother me anymore, just fed my resolve, and I kind’ve enjoyed it now. I sat right through the whole movie listening to him chewing and smacking his lips together. Prick went through three pieces of gum. I turned my head sideways once and saw him putting the chewed-out gum under his seat. That’s why I never touch the bottom of a seat in a movie theater ever since I was a kid and put my hand right smack into a pile of sticky gum that I had to wash off in the washroom and miss half the movie. Man, would I like to run into the dumb prick who put that gum under the seat now. Right fucking now. But he’s long gone. Probably choked to death on a wad of gum.

But the prick behind me was here. Still chewing. With his mouth open. Right behind me. Pretty soon…pretty soon, prick wasn’t gonna be chewing gum anymore. I can’t even remember any of the fuck scenes in the movie…just remember trying to think about how I was gonna handle this one.

It had to be gum. Just like the prick who spit all over the place. This asshole had to die by gum. Fuck, that meant following him around for the next week, hoping the prick would spit out the gum where I could get it. But if the guy had to die by gum, then that’s the way he was gonna die and I would follow him around and I would pick up the slime ball’s gum wads and save them for him. This thing had to be done right, and I was gonna do it right.

I’m that much in tune with my inner balance.

The movie ended and they started playing the credits–credits for a fuck movie…yeah, sure–and the five or six people in the place stayed and watched them, maybe waiting to see if they were gonna give out the phone numbers of the sluts in the movie. Or maybe they just didn’t finish whacking themselves. But the guy behind me got up about a minute into the credits. I stayed where I was, just sort’ve looking over to the side to get a good look at him. Skinny, just like I figured, blond hair growing down over his ears, wearing a blue sports jacket with a wide white line going down one side. Prick wasn’t half bad looking and I wondered what he was doing in a movie like this when he could’ve probably been making it with the real thing. I waited until he was well up the aisle and almost to the exit before I stood up and started following him.

The sun was bright when I walked outside, but these movies were too dicey at night, especially leaving the building. Besides, I figure it’s good to work up your appetite for the nighttime just in case a little action comes along at night. Not much likely to happen in the daytime. I looked around and saw him almost right away. He was on the other side of the street, walking south. Hey, this was looking to be a cooperative asshole…that’s the direction I was gonna go. I crossed the street and followed him.

This neighborhood was a dive. Used to be kind’ve a nice place when I was a kid. Like, the stores used to have big picture windows with lots of neat stuff right up close where you could grab them after smashing the window with a brick. Not anymore though…like everything was barred up and some of the stores even had cashiers inside bulletproof cages with little slots all around where they could poke a shotgun out and like blow your head off. It was a lot easier to get away with things around here when I was a kid.

Two minutes into following the prick from the movies, and like doesn’t he just spit a big wad of gray stuff out of his mouth. Well, Mr. Gum Chewer, looks like you go out the same way as Mr. Gob-a-Lot. I looked around and saw an old cardboard coffee cup by some garbage on the sidewalk. I scooped it up and kept following the prick. I looked around. There were other people walking and standing around doing nothing, but nobody was paying any attention to me or the prick I was following, so when I came to the gum, I scooped it up with the cup. It must’ve still been wet because it didn’t stick to the pavement or anything. This guy was making it too easy for me. Gotta love it when that happens.

I followed him for about three blocks before he came to a door between two storefronts. He unlocked it and walked in without looking around. I went to a restaurant across the street, Dixie’s Diner or something…the words on the big glass window were faded and peeling. On one side of the front, I could see one of those sliding steel grate things that they slide over the front of the place when they close up. Like people just don’t trust people in this neighborhood anymore. Makes it impossible to pull anything. I went in and sat down where I could keep an eye on the prick’s door. Waitress was right on my case to buy something, so I ordered a coffee. Looked like this prick was going to be expensive to kill. Thought that maybe I should save receipts or something and claim them on my taxes the next time I ever filed the fucking things. Position: Asshole Killer. Expenses: One coffee at Dixie’s Dive.

About the same time the waitress was getting in my face again for taking too long to drink the coffee, the prick came out. I gave the waitress a dirty look and left. As I passed by the window, I saw her at my table picking up the cup and looking around for a tip. She looked up and saw me and gave me a dirty look. Watch it lady…I might start following you, so just shove your fucking tips down your throat till change for a buck comes out your ass.

I followed the prick for about a week…took that long to get enough gum saved up. Couple of times, people saw me scoop it up in the old coffee cup and looked at me real disgusted like, but I didn’t hang in this area much anymore anyway, just came around sometimes to check out a fuck movie or three.

This prick had a sort’ve girlfriend he dropped by to see whenever he felt like it. I mean, he spent most of his nights at a pool hall doing a lousy job of sharking…dumbass couldn’t bank worth shit and made about every fourth combination. Sometimes I stayed for a while after he left and got the gum he stuck to the bottom of the table. Had to be real careful about that…fuckers in this place see you doing anything weird and you ain’t walking home…you’re lucky if you can still take a cab home. But the cup was finally full…or about as full as I could wait for it to get. It was time to kill.

I knew about what time he was gonna get home on Monday nights–just before dark–so I was waiting by the pricks’s door when he got home. I had my back to him, leaning against the building like some kind’ve homeless bum or a drunk. I heard the key clinking in the lock and the door creak as he opened it. I half turned my head and watched him go in through the corners of my eyes, and when he was inside, I stepped closer to the door and put my foot out to stop it from closing completely. I stepped right in front of the door and looked up a whitewashed stairway. The prick was nearly at the top of the stairs and he wasn’t looking back, so I scooted in. At the top of the stairs, he turned left into a hallway so I hurried up, trying to be as quiet as possible, like trying not to creak any of the rotten floorboards with my weight.

Dumbass was waiting for me.

Right at the top of the stairs and at the beginning of the hall. Came at me with one of those Karate or Kung Fu kicks, kind that goes around in a big circle and smacks you in the side of the head. Fucking kick did hit me in the side of the head…last place in the world that’s gonna do me any harm. So there he was with his leg still off the ground and me pissed off because the dumb prick just kicked me and almost made me drop the coffee cup filled with gum. I punched downward with my left fist right into his dick and then I brought my right fist–squeezed full’ve the coffee cup and gum–flat down on the top of his head as he doubled up. Prick hit the floor like he was filled with lead. I went down on one knee and grabbed his neck and pulled his head up. I had the gum ready to jam into his mouth, but there was something weird about the way the prick’s head kind’ve just hung in my hand and his eyes were open but not seeing anything. Dumbass was dead.

I stuffed the gum into his mouth anyway.

But I didn’t feel too good about that one…left a kind’ve unfinished taste in my mouth, like there was still something I was supposed to do but I didn’t know what it was. Maybe I was supposed to say something to the prick before he died, or maybe he was supposed to say something to me. Maybe he was supposed to taste all that gum that came from his mouth. I dunno. I thought about it for a while and it didn’t make any sense…so I stopped thinking about it.


Instead, I started thinking about all the kinds of assholes there are in the world. I mean, it was kind’ve of scary at first. I was hearing all these voices, not God’s voice or voices from demons: I’m not crazy or anything…I’m just as normal as you. The voices I was hearing were the voices of all the pissed off, fucked over, dragged down, and tired people of the entire fucking world. You know who I mean…the people just like you who’re like sick and tired of people who call you up when you still had a phone and it’s the wrong number but they just hang up without saying sorry or anything, just hang up as though they’re pissed off at you for being the wrong fucking number. And I heard about the pissed off people who put shit up on bulletins boards in super markets and Laundromats and then come back a few days later and see that some jerk has pinned a notice right on top of theirs so that nobody can even see it.

* * *

That did it! I started hanging around the bulletin board at the Washing Green Laundromat. Just waiting…waiting. Like, it didn’t take long. She was one big, mean looking woman. Big with frizzy brown hair that looked like she dried it in the microwave or something. And she had on too much makeup. She looked like some kind’ve frigate in a parade. Like, right away I knew that she had a mousy little husband who said things like yes dear and yes dear. And she was dressed just the way you would expect…a plain top that didn’t say anything about how big she was, and pants that showed her flat ass. Like, I don’t wanna be prejudiced against fat people or anything, but how could this woman sit down with all that weight on that no-ass and not damage nerves or bones around that place where the rest of us stack our fat. I mean, she had her cushions in all the wrong places.

And then I saw her do it. Fucking bitch (and not all fucking women are bitches, but this one was) took a pin out of one of the ads on the bulletin board and pinned her ad right on top of it. Like, her ad completely covered the other ad…and she was using the other ad’s own pin! Man, that’s like beating somebody to death with their own tire iron. I mean, who would even see the ad underneath her one? They wouldn’t even know to lift hers and look under it for some kind’ve hidden secret message or anything. Whoever put the ad up that she covered was just wasting their time and their paper! I hate it when that happens. I mean, I try to see this from the eyes of the person who wrote the ad she covered. I mean, this is some poor slob who needs money and has to sell something because they can’t afford to pay the bills or some other thing and that’s why they had to put the ad up in the first place. And then some fat bitch with no ass covers it.

Fat bitch had to die.

And to seal it even more, the bitch looks right at me as though I’m some kind’ve dirt…like maybe I’m some kind’ve criminal scum or something. Like, she was gonna pay for that. I waited until she left and then I went over to the bulletin board and pulled her ad off. Some dumpy woman with a hamper gave me a dirty look. I told her that the woman who just left pinned it on top of somebody else’s ad and she said: “And that makes it alright for you to tear her ad down?” If I wasn’t such a fucking gentleman, I would’ve slapped the bitch right in the chops, right there by the bulletin board. But being a gentleman, I just told her to fuck off and walked away with the ad. It’s people like her give the assholes so much power, like those pricks who say jailbirds should have rights and all that shit. Nobody cares about the victims anymore.

When I got outside, I saw her car pull away, big new Buick. Bitch didn’t even need the money. I looked down at the ad. It was for some kind’ve church thing, a bazaar. It had an address. I knew where to find her. It had a date and a time. I knew when to find her. No phone number, though. But that was all right…I wasn’t the kind of weirdo who would play games with the people he was gonna kill.

I was waiting outside the church when she drove up in her big fat Buick. I hate Buicks; they’re for nose-up-their-asses old people who don’t wanna have anything to do with the rest of the world. That’s why every Buick on the planet has tinted windows…just like the one pulling into the church parking lot now. I was standing in a dark area not far from the front doors to the church…just waiting. She got out of her car and walked across the parking lot. I should’ve been waiting there, right in the parking lot, but I was by the front door. Fucking bitch went in a side door. Shit, I had to go in. Had to pay two bucks to some old cow who looked me up and down like I didn’t belong there or something. Figured I might come back for her some day…you know, people who pass judgment on others…biggest assholes of all.

There were tables all over the place, loaded with old used shit that people didn’t want anymore. Some of it was even new shit. Saw an electric wax buffer still in the box for ten bucks. Could’ve used one of those at one time. Then I saw a set of steak knives for a buck. Those, I could still use. I bought them. Then I started looking for the Buick Bitch.

She was at the other end of the room, giving orders to a bunch of old ladies standing around a table with cakes and cookies and other baked shit. She was looking at the old ladies with that same better-than-you look that she gave me at the laundromat. I ran my thumb across the blade of one of the steak knives. This was going to be sweet. I stayed at my end of the room…well away from her…just in case she might’ve recognized me from the Laundromat, and I watched her for about twenty minutes. That was about all I could stomach. I don’t like watching fat old bitches like her pushing sweet little old ladies around. But she wasn’t gonna be doing that for much longer.

I looked around the room. It was a big room. I saw a door about halfway down the wall on my right…and another one on the same wall, but all the way down at the end, where the Buick Bitch was still yakking out orders to the old ladies, getting them to rearrange the cookies and stuff as though making different patterns on the table was gonna make the fucking stuff sell better. I mean, a six-foot long table with cookies and cakes. How much bossing around can anybody on the planet come up with for six feet of church hall real estate? I figured it was the far door, the one closest to the table. She would’ve stormed right through it, taking the old ladies by surprise and making them piss their diapers. Wouldn’t be too hard to find it from the outside.

That was where I was gonna wait for her. As I walked back through the front door, I made sure the old cow at the admission table saw the steak knives. I smiled at her and she looked away from me as fast as she could. Not so fucking uppity now, old shit cow.

I walked around the side of the building to the door at the back and waited in the dark by some high bushes. I wasn’t worried about her coming out with other people. She wouldn’t. I wasn’t worried about her coming out in a crowd at the end of the bazaar. She would leave early, after she got bored pushing people around. And leaving early would just drive in the fact that she was above the others. Come in late…leave early. Stick around just long enough to make life miserable for a bunch of feeble-brained old ladies. She wasn’t gonna be doing that much longer. Not after tonight. Not after meeting my bargain steak knives.

I waited there for about two hours. About a couple dozen people came out, some in groups, some by themselves, but they didn’t even suspect that I was standing over by the bushes, waiting in the dark. Too wrapped up in their little church thing and their little church thoughts. Made me think about the time when I was a kid and I went to church every Sunday like I really believed or something. But I went. Until one day I went to some kind’ve teen thing, a teen dance and activity thing. There was gonna be a lot of knock-out church girls there, the kind that tease your balls off and never give more than a handful of tit…with their fucking bra still on. But I wasn’t getting much of anything anywhere else at the time, so what the fuck, me and my friend Earl went to the dance. Problem was, Earl was a Catholic. The teen thing was in an Anglican church. They told him he couldn’t come in. I told them to take their fucking cock tease dance and stuff it up their ass. Never went to church after that, fucking discriminating assholes.

The door opened.

And there she was, all alone, looking like she was disappointed or something with the whole world because it didn’t live up to her standards or something. I mean, like the whole fucking world was supposed to stop breathing and listen to her breathing so that it could pace her or something. Man, was her breathing in for a big change of pace.

As soon as the door shut behind her, I walked out of the dark by the bushes and walked right up to her. She gave me that same better-than-you look that she gave me in the laundromat. “Remember me?” I asked. She looked really angry and went to say something but saw the knives in my hand. “They’re for you,” I said. And before she could say anything, or scream, I drove one of them right into her throat. Her eyes opened up really wide, like you see in horror movies where some bitch gets killed by some kind’ve murdering psycho. Right away, I shoved another one into her stomach. She tried to look down, all wide-eyed, but could just bend her head a bit because of the knife sticking out of her throat. Now her eyes started to narrow as though she was confused or something. I stuck another knife right into her chest. It didn’t go in far though. Must’ve hit a bone, one of her ribs. Her eyes winced as though that was the first one she felt. Now she was looking at me, right into my eyes. I didn’t like that. She wasn’t uppity now, just confused and looking at me with one of those “why me?” looks that people get when shit they started comes back and bites their ass. I pushed another one into her chest. This one went in, right between the ribs and must’ve hit something important because now the Buick Bitch’s eyes were wide again…not as wide as before but wide, this time with fear. I reached into my pocket and took out the ad that she put up on the bulletin board and showed it to her. She looked at it and gagged. “Remember this?” I said. I shoved the last knife into it and pinned it straight into her forehead. It went in smoothly for going through bone. Good knives. Her face twisted really weird, like she suddenly looked really vulnerable and fragile. I almost felt sorry for her as she fell down with that fragile look all over her face.


I thought about that look all the way home. It was like, just before she died, something that was inside her came to the surface…like what she was until then was some sort of cover or disguise. I started thinking that maybe she was really unsure of herself deep down inside where we all know ourselves better than we think. Maybe she wasn’t such a bad person after all, I thought. Maybe all she needed was for somebody to dig through the shit on top of her personality and get to know her inside and maybe then she would’ve seen that the shit inside her wasn’t so bad after all, and that she didn’t have to be bossing around little old ladies and giving people like me better-than-you looks…and covering other people’s ads with her own. And maybe she would’ve driven a Ford.

Or maybe she was just afraid of dying. Maybe all bullying assholes like her are really just a bunch of cowards under the surface, and now she’s a dead coward. It didn’t take me long to stop thinking about the Buick Bitch.

* * *

It was the next asshole who stopped me from thinking about her.

I was sitting in the living room, staring at the wall, thinking about the Buick Bitch…you know, a relaxing evening, quality time with my thoughts…and suddenly it was like there was a minor earthquake or something. I could feel the floors and walls shaking and I could hear this booming sound coming from outside and it was getting louder and louder. I stopped thinking about the Buick Bitch and went to the window.

Fuck, it was like, when one asshole went down, they passed the baton to the next asshole, and there was the next asshole down in the parking lot in a big black Camaro, from the eighties I was guessing. Fucking million watt stereo pounding out that yappy ghetto crap where people who can’t sing just yell and swear a lot, sort’ve like barrio country music. The sound went something like boom boom boom boom fucking boom boom boom and it filled the whole air around the block with boom boom boom and the dumbass’s windows were all up! Guy must be deaf or something. He turned off the car engine and the music stopped. Then he got out. Young guy with short blond hair and a stunned look on his face. No fucking wonder. Probably deaf from the booming. He walked past a heap of garbage on the sidewalk and ducked into the building with the balconies. Some kind’ve rich deaf dumbass? He can afford a balcony. I didn’t remember seeing him around before, so he must’ve been new to the block.

He should’ve moved somewhere else.

Every night for a month, I listened to his fucking boom boom. He woke me up with it in the day. He dragged me away from my wall at night. He interrupted my thoughts. He disturbed my meals. He pushed his music into my life and backed me up into a corner. For a whole fucking month.

A month.

It was time. I didn’t even hear the boom boom boom that night…not once I decided it was time to kill him. It was like, when I decided to kill them, they were already dead so they couldn’t bother me anymore, and anything they did after that was just fuel, like throwing another log into my resolve. I waited until the next night…right in front of his building. And I had the perfect weapon. I picked it up as I walked by the garbage heap…a broken CD, sharp and shiny. I waited by the door. I didn’t care if he saw me. He didn’t know me from dick anyway.

I could hear him coming from blocks away, the boom boom boom in the distance, getting closer, getting louder, until I saw his car lights first and then saw his car. I could feel the air pounding into my face from the booming pushing it. Nobody has the right to force their music onto everybody around them the way this prick was doing. But he wouldn’t be doing it much longer. I ran my thumb over the sharp edge of the CD behind my back. It reminded me of something, but I had to stay focused on the prick getting out of the black Camaro. The music stopped. He banged the door shut–no way to treat a vintage car like that–and he started walking toward the door and me. I looked right into his face. He was younger than I thought, clean shaven, skinny. He was wearing some kind’ve band t-shirt, Prison, or something, and faded blue jeans. He looked at me looking right into his face and looked as though he was trying to figure out who I was or if he knew me or something.

Just before he reached me, I looked around…nobody watching. It was just me and him. He started to say something to me. That’s when I walked right at him and brought the CD up and slashed it across his throat. He looked shocked. It made him look even younger. I slashed his throat again. He just stood there, looking like he didn’t believe what was happening. Blood was spurting out of his throat. I slashed again and he sank down onto his knees. He looked right into my eyes as though he was trying to figure out why I was doing this to him. I said: “I’m the volume control.” He gave me a really confused look then and it made him look really really young, and then I realized that this guy couldn’t be much more than sixteen, and maybe he was just sixteen. Maybe he wasn’t new to the neighborhood. Maybe he was living in this building for a long time with his parents and he just got his license and the Camaro was his first car.

He was just a kid. He fell forward onto his face, dead. Blood from his throat started to spread out onto the sidewalk. He was just a kid.

I figured maybe I should cool it for a while.


And I did. For a month. And then I killed a litterbug…followed him for a week, picking up his litter. A month later, I killed some asshole who was standing in the middle of the sidewalk yakking to some other asshole about nothing. Dumbass saw me coming and just stood there so that I had to step into the street to get around him. I had to follow him for eight days before I got a chance to push him into an oncoming truck. It was like they kept passing that baton from one asshole to the next. Right after the sidewalk hog, I started tracking two dumbasses who threw a Frisbee back and forth right in the busiest section of the park, right in the place where everybody takes their kids and spreads out blankets for picnics and shit. They kept bumping into kids when they ran after the Frisbee and then they threw the Frisbee right into the middle of people’s picnics…and one day the Frisbee hit a little girl in the head and made her bleed. From that one I learned that a broken Frisbee cuts just as well as a broken CD. No sooner were they dead than I stepped into a pile of dog shit on the sidewalk. Got the dog, too. But that was the last time I followed anybody around picking up their shit. About a month after that I just jumped right into this woman’s car. Jumped right into the passenger’s side, right beside her. She was talking to another woman right in the middle of the street, yelling out their windows at each other, just ignoring all the people honking their horns at them to get out of the way. Just as soon as she finished talking and started driving away, I jumped in. Pushed her and her car over a cliff outside the city. Long walk back but it gave me a chance to think about things.

* * *

I thought about all the kinds of assholes in the world, the assholes who don’t flush the toilet and leave shit floating around or just piss all over the toilet seat so you get your ass wet when you take a crap, the assholes who give bartenders and store clerks a hard time just because they know they can get away with it, the assholes who speed up when you try to pass them in a passing zone and then slow down in the no passing zone, the assholes who draw underlines in library books or tear out the pages like I used to do, the assholes who draw fucked up graffiti on the natural beauty of bridges and freeway underpasses, the assholes who leave chewing gum under tables and chairs in restaurants so that you get their gum all over your fingers when you’re putting your gum there, the assholes who call you up when you had a phone and tell you that you’ve won something but you know fucking well that you haven’t, the assholes who make the phone systems that make it impossible to talk to a real human being even if that real human being is just gonna lie to you anyway.

I thought about all the assholes like shitty bosses, child beaters, wife beaters, animal beaters, terrorists, murderers, bankers, scam artists, politicians, thieves – especially the petty ones who steal from people who have next to nothing, like pensioners and welfare bums – pedophiles, lawyers, bad cops, used car salesmen, bullies, striking government workers, other religions, television holy rollers, cults, obscene phone callers, stalkers, rapists, tobacco companies, dictators, kiddy pornographers, vandals, and teachers who pile up the homework on Friday afternoon.

I thought: “Man, I’ve got my work cut out for me.”

It took me until dark to get home, but that was okay…like I said, I did a lot of thinking. Maybe too much thinking. I thought about all the assholes that I took out. I thought about the looks on their faces before they died. That first one, the prick who went around spitting all over the place. The look in his eyes before he died…like he wanted it. But the kid with the boom boom boom didn’t look like he wanted to die. Even the Buick Bitch looked…like whatever it was coming out of her before she died. I tried to make sense out of it. They should’ve all been happy to die…their contribution towards making the world a better place to live for people like me. They should’ve seen it as a species quality thing. But some of them seemed like they really wanted to go on living. It was those ones that I thought a lot about while I was walking home. They all looked so confused, like they couldn’t believe that it was really happening. They looked afraid. They looked pathetic. They weren’t assholes for those few seconds before they died…they were just people dying.

I don’t know how many assholes I’ve killed. Lots. About one a month for a long, long time. And now I’m tired, especially after that long walk into the city, and all that thinking. I figure the thinking is what was more tiring than the walking. It drained me. It kind’ve scared me―all the killing left to do. By the time I got home, it was like this giant wall standing in front of me and I was standing under it with a slingshot, and I couldn’t even see the top of the wall.

* * *

And now I’m home, staring at my living room wall, my bare feet bleeding and cooling down in the night air coming through the window. It smells like somebody’s cooking chicken somewhere. I’d go out and get something to eat, but what’s the point? I’m not hungry anymore. I’m not thirsty, even though I haven’t eaten or had anything to drink since this morning. Jumping into that car was a mistake. People saw. But even that’s not important anymore. And none of the assholes who stare at me frightened, relieved, or confused…stare at me in my own mind, right into the backs of my eyes…none of them are important anymore. Only one thing is important now―that one last asshole.

That one last asshole.

The Clearing


Thirty feet past the power company building the road stopped abruptly before a clearing in the woods, as though the road crew had suddenly run out of pavement and gone home. The clearing stretched about two hundred feet, bordered on either side by tall spruces and worm-tattered pines, and then veered off to the left.

It looked to Daniel like a little world, a grand naturescape in miniature, complete with rolling, snow-crested hillocks and white fields, and an ice-covered stream meandering through its center. The naturescape sloped gently towards the stream.

Daniel glanced at his watch and relaxed. It had been years since he’d walked by himself in the woods and he felt an urge to explore, to recapture the magical quality of solitude in a natural setting. The sky was thinly overcast with a cream-colored hint that the sun was melting its way through the other side of the clouds.

Daniel stepped forward and his boot sank a few inches into the snow with a muted pumf. He smiled and made his way into the clearing. Mounds of frozen brown- and white-capped soil jutted through the even white layer of snow. Snow surrounded everything. It stuck like frozen milk to dense boughs of evergreens, pulling the trees into a winter-huddled droop. On leafless trees, it piled like smooth putty filling. In the soft light, the snow appeared warm and comfortable, a glaze molded flake by flake and shifted by wind and the contours of the land into a snug white blanket.

Daniel breathed deeply, savoring the freshness of the winter air untainted by odor, though its absence was a fragrance itself composed inoffensively of the frozen landscape. Another deep breath and he shouted.


And the woods called back to him.


His echoing name scattered his presence into the woods, bouncing off trees and careening into unseen snow banks, giving him a solid sense of affinity with everything that surrounded him. He shouted again.

“I love you!”

And the woods called back to him.


And he saw in his mind, the woods tucking his words into the beads of crystal water dripping from the trees.

“I am your voice!”


“I speak for you!”


“We are one!”


Filling his lungs deeply, he broke into a slow run through the snow and down the slope towards the stream. He laughed and shouted.

“I am free!”

And the woods acknowledged.


He stopped at the stream, amazed and breathless. The stream was no more than two feet at its widest point, but the shallow gully it twisted through suggested another six feet on either side during the spring runoff. Walking along the edge of the gully, Daniel followed the stream as it wound through the center of the clearing.

A sheet of wafer-thin ice covered the stream a few inches above the trickling water. There was a hint of ochre in the tiny glints of reflected cloud light that gave the ice a sense of warmth. In places it fluffed up, sagged further on, and then slanted from one side to the other like a long curving pane of glass.

Ahead, Daniel saw a section of tree trunk imbedded sideways beside the stream, and he felt this was the place to sit, that sitting on the trunk was a significant part of being in the woods by the stream and in the center of the rolling field of snow. It was what the trunk was for. He yelled: “I will sit here!”


And he made his way clumsily to the trunk and sat down with his feet a few inches from the stream. A long crack split through the center of the ice and portions of the glistening sheet slumped into the water. Where the ice was perched just above the water, the edges melted from sun and wind into jagged fingers so thin that the slightest breeze might snap them. A few inches below them, crystalline water gurgled over pebbles and rocks and reflected light to the underside of the ice, creating smooth patches of iridescence shimmering with lambent life.

From where he sat, Daniel could see that the clearing continued for another fifty feet to the left and it occurred to him that he was at the center of the little world of the clearing. He imagined the stream was a vein coursing through the heart of the clearing, nourishing and sustaining it, and with the snow and ice melting, the stream was beginning to flow again and to pump life into the bushes and trees and the dormant seeds. Daniel opened himself to the lucidity of the moment, a comprehension of something vital, and he was in the center of it.

He pulled the glove off his right hand and scooped up a few grains of coarse snow from the top of the trunk. They sparkled in his palm like miniature diamonds. He reached his arm out and sprinkled them onto the fingers of ice. Their small weight broke a long knobby splinter off with a plick and it fell into the water and dissolved.

Daniel picked up more grains and let them fall onto the sheet of ice, where they bounced lightly and settled like transparent pimples. His hand reached mechanically for more snow, and he scattered the tiny beads until the fragile ice clicked and sagged with a small frozen sigh. Then, he picked up a larger piece of snow and poised it over the ice and let it drop. It punctured the ice, and the sheet trembled and collapsed into the water like a two-foot blade cutting into the stream.

Where it had been attached, there was now a long, straight edge that looked out of place to Daniel. He felt remotely guilty, as though he had done something ineffably wrong. His hand was cold and he put his glove back on. A shiver passed through his body and he zipped up the turtleneck on his parka.

He stood up and looked with dissatisfaction at the blade of ice breaking apart in the water, beyond his power to repair it. He looked at his watch and remembered the forecast for snow later in the day. The cream color was lost in the sky and the clouds were beginning to thicken as he scrambled up the gully and began to retrace his steps out of the clearing.

The darkening sky cast a gloom over the woods as another breeze rippled across the ground, and Daniel hunched his shoulders. His boots were wet and his toes were numb with cold. He began to jog awkwardly to keep himself warm, and his breath came in gasps. To his right he noticed a long discarded section of power line, snaking in and out of the snow, over and around the hillocks, twisting indiscriminately through the little world of the clearing.



(This appeared in a small collection my stories published by Short Stuff Books about 15 years ago. It’s one of the stories I thought I’d lost in successive computer crashes, but found recently – along with a few other stories – in a folder hidden in layer after layer of folders.)

Hot sun and high water, perfect for a day trip down the Nashwaak.

The four of us had a serious itch to relax and commune with beaver and alders, eagles and backwaters, and whatever Indian gods still cast their spell on river-goers and danced naked with moose and field mice. Not that we were planning to take our clothes off. Hell no! More like hats off to crows cawing from the banks and rocks jutting up from the riverbed, trying to trip us.

I was in a plastic Coleman with my girlfriend, Debbie, later to be my wife, then ex-wife, and finally, good friend and mother of my children. Dylan and Maura were in a wooden Chestnut. Dylan was a friend of mine before I met Debbie. Maura was a friend of Debbie’s before she met me. Dylan and Maura weren’t aware of this connection until a full month after they started dating.

Small world.

A light but pushy breeze shoved aside waves of heat pouring down like crystal gravy from the electric blue sky. Sunlight etched silver castles on the pinnacles and precipices of cumulous mountains. They were the kind of castles that fill your imagination with jumping off misty towers into sticky white pools of marshmallow icing.

Back on earth, cool wavelets flirted brazenly with our gunwales and mingled with the splish of paddles dipping lazily into the water.

Half an hour downstream, we encountered a series of alder-ringed islands, spliced by three channels. Debbie and I took the channel to the right. Dylan and Maura took the channel to the left. The river laughed: “HA!” and went straight down the center.


There’s a kind of reality game I play when I’m in a canoe. I stare at the water and blank out the passage of trees, canyons and abandoned cars until time turns into molasses. Beer helps a lot with this illusion. I reached into the cooler and asked Debbie if she would like another.

“Um?” Her voice was slow and dreamy, faraway somewhere, no doubt, bobbing in the molasses of her own reality game. I used my paddle to pass her a can of beer. Tears of condensation trickled over its frosty label.

She snapped the cap on her can with a foamy crackle, a sound that was almost thirst-quenching itself. She asked: “How much longer to the end of this branch?”

“Oh, a ways,” I said.

Twenty minutes later, she introduced a new mood into the flow of river and beer. “Are you sure Dylan and Maura are okay? We haven’t seen them in ages.” This was a mood peopled with what I called the Worry Marchers–stark little men that appeared as columns of tiny dark shadows deep in Debbie’s eyes, where they marched and marched until the tromp of their little boots became louder and louder and channeled their sound through her brain and down to her mouth where it manifested itself as: “Carman?”

“They’re fine,” I said. “The river flows downstream. It’s the only place they can go. We’ll meet them at the end of the channel.”

Minutes passed.

“I’m getting worried.” Debbie brushed a bang of blond hair out of her eyes. The bang said: “No way.” and immediately fell back, almost covering her eyes. But for the few seconds that her eyes were completely uncovered, I caught a glimpse of Worry Marchers tromping and stomping in a panicky melee deep behind the irises. “Maybe we should go back to the branch they took and see if we can find them. They’ve never been on this river before.”

I looked back in the direction we’d just come and figured, oh, maybe three long bends in the channel, a couple of miles paddling against the current.

“No. They’re fine. We’ll meet them at the end of the channel.”

“But what if their branch goes into a dead end. What if–”

“They’re fine.”


More minutes passed with the lap-lap of water lap-lapping and the occasional ba-bump of the metal keel bumping against the plastic hull. Wind tickled the hairs on my forearms. I lifted a cold brew, wet-fresh from the ice, and soaked my throat with a rush of bubbles.

Debbie looked back quickly, the stomp of the Marchers cracking the corners of her eyes with lines and shadows. Tension swelled her shoulders, pushed her arms into the unnatural act of paddling forcefully in an already quick current. Waste of energy. Better to just drink some beer and use the paddles as rudders, to steer only.

“But this is only your second time on this river. Have you ever been down the branch they took?”

“No. But it can only flow one way.” So obvious, it seemed to me.

“Unless it comes to a dead end. What if it comes to a dead end? What if it flows away from the river and takes them–”

Why couldn’t she grasp a concept that was so much like life itself? “It all flows downstream. We’ll meet them at the end of the channel.”


Splash. The Worry Marchers had changed tactics, trading stomping and tromping for slow, perfectly synchronized jumps telegraphed through Debbie’s tensed shoulders, funneled through her arms and hands and into her paddle and–


Her head had become granite–


with opal eyes–


and pumice ears–


She opened her soapstone mouth: “I’m getting really worried, Carman. We should have seen them by now. Can you at least call out their names?”

“And scare the wildlife?”

“We haven’t seen any wildlife. We haven’t seen anything.”

“Hm, yeah, wonder where all the beavers are today.”

“Just call!”

“Okay.” I cupped my hands around my mouth. “HEY, ASSHOLE!”


“Just joking. DYLAN! MAURA! You guys still alive?”

Alders and sky gobbled my voice. Not even an echo burped back, a blank response from river, land and sky, almost like Dylan and Maura had been absorbed into the tangle of roots, rock and water that was nature, dissolved into its ineffable void.

I was becoming a bit concerned. Like Debbie had said, it was only my second trip on this river, and the first one had been with a drunken armada of ten canoes full of beer and madmen. To tell the truth, I couldn’t even remember the river forking into three branches. I didn’t say this, but thinking it was enough, all that Debbie needed to pick up on it.

“DYLAN! MAURA!” she yelled.



Mother Nature, always empathetic to the moods of river-goers, nudged the biggest of the creamy white clouds right across the path of the sunlight. Shadows winked from under the crests of wavelets and smiled eerily from stands of evergreens. A cool breeze raised goose bumps on my forearms. And worst of all, my beer had gone flat.

I lengthened and quickened my paddle stroke, a useless exercise since almost no power is generated once the paddle is parallel to the body. I was working against the natural flow of the current, forcing my intent to be downstream before the river’s time.

“Dylan! Maura!” Debbie’s voice cracked the air with lesions of panic. “Carman! Where are they?”

“There’s only one place they can end up, Debbie.” I pointed ahead. “Downstream.” But my tottering certainty was no match for the genuineness of Debbie’s paranoia.

“Isn’t there anything we can do?”

“Just go forward, to where the channels merge back into the main body of the river.”

Debbie dug her paddle into the water.




We raised a high white wake as we paddled vigorously, her muscles and my muscles throbbing blood to the same heavy rhythm. It seemed that we gulped the same deep breaths, filling our lungs with the same energized air, and then expelling it through our arms and into the paddles and into the water and into our intent to be downstream. And the rhythm droned with a




until the inevitable call of the Great God of Paddling clamored in my throat.

“Time for a brew,” I said. Debbie, panting, agreed, and I passed her a beer on my river dripping paddle. We lay down our paddles and snapped open our beers. The smell of pine drifted into my nostrils as we rested and floated, sipped and thought.

“It’s beautiful out here,” said Debbie. The big cloud had passed and the sun was back, the shadows gone, and mercy be, a beaver slipped into the water to our right with a splash of its tail.

“Wildlife,” I said, pointing with my paddle.

“Was that a beaver?”

“Yeah. Big one.” We looked for a couple of minutes to see if we could spot it swimming, but it was long gone. Debbie looked back at me and smiled. “Is that why you come on these trips?” she asked.

“Part of it,” I said.

I was about to say more, but Debbie, satisfied with my answer, turned her eyes back to the shore, the blue spruce, the sun glistening on late afternoon wavelets, the melody of an endless procession of water molecules sliding over each other in a single direction beyond the march of any beat. The rest of it.


“Debbie!” A woman’s voice. It was Maura, waving madly from the river bend ahead of us, where the channels merged.

“Debbie! Carman! Where have you two been? We’ve been worried sick!”

Fishing the Moody River

Trees 8(Found a folder with stories I’d thought I’d lost. In fact, I’d forgotten some of them completely. Like this one, published about 10 years ago in Projected Letters Literary Magazine.)

Each morning she stood on the bank casting her line into the water and reeling it in slowly as white smoke curled around her nose from a cigarette lodged between her lips. She never puffed, just let them burn away as she stared into the deep brown water. Butts, burned down to the filters, littered the grass at her feet as though they’d just been dropped from her mouth after the tobacco had burned away. Her face was the color of life winding down into a small gray door with a “Do Not Disturb” sign nailed into the center. Even her void black hair, short as it was, emanated neglect and uncaring like oil dripping from untended follicle taps.

Those were pretty much all the details he could make out from this distance. That was pretty much all he knew about her. That, and the fact that he was crazy in love with her.

She was there every morning for about ten cigarettes of fishing time, from nine till eleven, enough time to catch one or two pickerel … an amazing feat considering that she never used bait, just silver spinners and rubber worms. She hooked the long skinny fishes with the flaring mouths onto a large metal hook that clipped in at the end like a safety pin. The hook was attached to a chain that was moored to the ground with a long metal spike. She eased the dazed fishes into the water where they floated in fish-eyed disbelief.

After ten cigarettes, she reeled in, looped the spinner around the reel and tightened the line. She pulled the spike out of the ground, lifted the fish out of the water, turned and walked along a path up to her apartment building a couple of hundred feet from the riverbank.

Just one fish today.

Dale loved the way she walked, slow and easy, lazy-like and sexy. And yes, she was definitely sexy with her faded blue jean cut-offs and thin, well-tanned body. She was tall, but there was nothing lanky about her: every square inch of her body appeared hand-forged in the Fires of Worldly Lust. But her face…he imagined seeing her face against the river. Only her body would be visible, and her face would be indistinguishable from the river behind it, a deep river flowing out of a bog of haunted waters populated by dour things that had walked the earth long before the Indians and their Gods had set the power of myth loose in the bulrushes and bracken.

But he loved that face, even though he didn’t have a clue what color her eyes were, or if her nose were crooked at the end, or if her eyebrows needed plucking. If her brows were anything like her hair, they did.


Dawn laid the pickerel on a sheet of newspaper spread on the kitchen counter. She used a paring knife to cut open the center of the fish’s stomach. It made a “pluck” sound. The fish was dark, stiff and sticky. She shoved two fingers into the open stomach and pulled out a mash of red and white organs and fleshy tubes. She cut off the head. Just before she threw the head into the garbage, Dawn’s eyes and the eyes of the dead fish connected. For an instant, they exchanged what could almost have been a look of recognition.

She wrapped the fish in a clean sheet of newspaper and put it in the freezer. She stared into the cold darkness of the freezer for nearly a minute before closing the door. Then she sat down at the table. There was nothing on its dull wooden surface except a package of cigarettes, a green plastic lighter, and an ashtray half filled with cigarette butts smoked down to the filters.

She lit a cigarette and stared into the clouds of smoke that billowed from her mouth.


Dale hated his job. It was boring. There was no challenge to the work and absolutely no variation. It was the same thing every day, day after day. He entered data from hand-written reports filled out by field agents into the Wahberg Mutual Assurance database. They read like police reports: no colorful words or expressions, no opinions or poignant observations, no indication whatsoever that the person filling out the report had ever had an original thought. They were straight fact stripped of ownership: The house was seen to display smoke at approx 6 PM. Some were pared to fact so concisely that they ceased to make sense: Bar’d in row 8 to sembl w wat damage perim.

He hated his job. It reminded him of his life: going nowhere, coming from nowhere, and settled into a smooth, bump-free, never-ending ride down the slow lane to carbon copy days and notes-to-self to do something someday. His social itinerary was the TV Guide. He read his junk mail, with interest. He hated his life.

But now he was in love. He was in love with a woman he’d never met, a woman who fished by herself from a swamp-fed river every morning, who smoked cigarettes like a stick incense holder, and who never appeared to smile. She walked easy but looked hard. Maybe it was the discrepancies that attracted Dale to her; she was so much unlike anything that had ever touched on the unvarying days of his life.

“Off on another one of your tangents, Claw?”


It was Pat Duncan, his boss for the last three months, three months of pure hell, of humiliation and slow burning anger. She was a big woman who towered over most men and she knew it. She loved it. She played it up, standing as close to men shorter than herself as the edges of political correctness would allow, looking down on them, bullying them with her size. And she had the girth to match the height. She was mountainous. But she drew attention away from the abnormality of her size – except, of course, when she was using it to intimidate – by dressing in nothing but plain slacks and patternless business jackets over white blouses. It was like a uniform she wore at home and at work. She had a bloated Betty Crocker face and neck-length spray-stiffened brown hair.

One other thing: she hated Dale as much as he hated her.

Dale had a flaw she couldn’t stomach. She’d told him as much soon after she took over the office: “You look like a preening pigeon when you scratch your nose with it.” She was referring to Dale’s left hand. The inside and outside fingers were missing, severed by a lawn mower when he was a child. It gave Pat the willies so badly that she used it as an excuse to spend most of the day out of the office, leaving Dale to do most of the work. She was a bad boss and a bad worker. Dale assumed that she’d been promoted to manager of this office probably to get her out of somebody else’s hair, somebody higher up the company ladder but shorter than Pat in staff meetings and around the water cooler.

She called him Claw.

“If you’d spend as much time working as you spend daydreaming, we wouldn’t be so far behind on these reports. They want that database ready in three weeks, Claw. I want that database ready in three weeks.”

So sit down on your fat butt and do some work, thought Dale. He nodded agreement, but didn’t say anything.

“Three weeks! That’s all the time we have. You’ve been on this project since before I got here, and you’re still not up-to-date. What’s wrong with you?”

I’m all alone, he thought. I’ve got nobody helping me on this damn project, especially not you. He nodded as he entered data, eyes on his computer screen. Pat watched the two fingers of his left hand race over the keyboard faster than most people could type with a full hand of fingers. She frowned.

“I need a coffee,” she said, and she walked out of the office. Dale’s shoulders relaxed. He stopped typing. He looked out the window. There she was. Standing on the bank by the river, smoke curling around her head, right hand circling as she reeled in the baitless spinner. His heart pounded.

Some day, he thought, some day.


“Unfit,” they’d said. “Unfit to raise a dog let alone a child.” She’d known what was being said behind her back, the whispers and the knowing looks. And worst, most of it was coming from people she called friends, from family, people she’d grown up with, and people with whom she’d eaten Christmas dinners. They were people who knew her past. Some even knew her secrets. And suddenly, they were turning their knowledge of her against her.

“Two men at the same time in the back of the car. That was in grade ten.”

“Sat right down on the couch without a stitch of clothing on, beer in one hand, joint in the other, dozens of people around, most of ‘em men, just talkin’ away as though everything was normal.”

“Stealing things from stores ever since she was seven. Amazing that she hasn’t ended up in jail by now.”

“She was my sister’s best friend. Or so she thought so … until she found out that she was screwing my sister’s boyfriend. And helping my sister with her Math homework at the same time.”

“Unfit,” said the judge, and that was that. She’d be lucky if she ever saw her daughter again, and even then, it would likely be with someone appointed by the court or, God forbid, her ex, watching every movement, listening to every word, monitoring the situation because, let’s face it, the judge had said: “Unfit.”

Her line tugged … a muscular, resistant movement, a movement of sudden shock, of realization and running. She gripped the reel tight, and began to reel in the line in spite of the frenzied pull in the water.


That night, Dawn was sitting on the couch watching the test pattern on the television. She had no idea what time it was. She had no idea that she was watching a test pattern. The ashtray was filled with butts, bent in the center from having the fire squashed out of them. Behind her, pictures hung askew on the wall. In the pictures, people smiled. Dawn smiled. She held a dark-eyed girl – barely visible under a mass of red snow suit – in her arms. The girl laughed as she pushed both her mittened hands into Dawn’s face. Behind them, a wooden toboggan lay on the brilliant white snow under a flawless blue sky.

Staring at the television, Dawn’s eyes were as empty as the pattern on the screen.


In his dream, Dale stands at the riverbank. In his dream, the woman he loves casts her line into the water and hooks onto Dale and begins to reel him in. Dale swims away from the tug of the lure and feels pain. Then, in his dream, he stops fighting the tug toward the shore … and the woman, along with the pain, disappears.

And then Dale woke up and said: “That’s it! That’s it!”

He wrote a message to himself on the pad by his bed and went back to sleep, smiling and strangely calm for a man who’d just dreamed of being a fish hooked on a lure.


Dale was late for work, and for the first time ever, Pat was early. Early. On a Friday morning. Normally, she wouldn’t come in on Friday morning, showing up maybe an hour or so into the afternoon. But there she was … big and Betty Crocker-faced, white blouse, business jacket and all. She was frowning. She was always frowning, but today her frown took on new significance.

She actually had something to frown about as she stood by her desk, all starched collar and heavy perfume. This was a frown of self-righteous, better-than-thou, caught-you-in-the-act legitimacy.

Dale would have balked, but he was too excited about the large plastic bag he had in his hand. That was why he was late. He’d stopped off at the hardware store to buy something that, if everything went well, might just change his life.

“Whatcha got there, Claw? Hope whatever it is, it’s worth coming in late and putting your job on the line for.” The frown changed to a scornful smile.

“Sorry about being late, Pat,” said Dale. “I just thought … it being Friday and all … and I put in some overtime this week …”

“Stow it, Claw. What’s in the bag?”

Dale smiled immediately, his eyes neon with excitement. He lay the bag on his desk and pulled out a long clear plastic package. “Going to take up a new hobby,” he said. He turned the package so that Pat could see a complete angler’s set: rod and reel, fiberglass line, spinners and sinkers, two lures, an assortment of tiny black hooks, and a small plastic box to store the equipment.

Pat stared at the plastic package. Then she looked at Dale, and then back to the package.

And she burst out laughing. She laughed so hard her face turned red. She laughed for at least two minutes before the laughter started to break up into quick gasps for air and gurgling sounds that could have been strangled guffaws or screams from her stomach. She pointed a thick finger at Dale and smiled meanly while she brought her breathing under control. “You … you wouldn’t be able to catch a cold if it bit your nose.” Her eyes widened and she fell into her chair, shrieking with wild laughter.

Dale just stared at her. She laughed and she laughed, pointing her finger at him, slamming her fist onto her desktop. Not a muscle on Dale’s face moved as Pat laughed until she’d exhausted her stockpile of vindictive mirth. Then she shook her head, stood up and walked across the office to Dale. She took the fishing kit out of his hand, stared at it a moment, smiling even more scornfully now, and shook her head again. She tossed the kit on his desk, snapped around quickly and walked to the office door. Before leaving, she turned to Dale and said: “Have a great weekend with your new hobby, Claw.”

Dale could hear her laughing all the way down the hall, until finally, the elevator doors smothered the sound.

He looked at the fishing kit on his desk and smiled.


“She was the bad one in the family,” her mother had told the judge. “The others all turned out good. Don’t know what happened with her.”

A small gray cylinder of ash dislodged from the cigarette in her mouth and fluttered to the ground, shedding flakes and ash bits all the way down. She stared into the moody water as she reeled the line in slowly. A movement to her right caught her attention and she looked.

She saw a skinny man in a white short-sleeve shirt about fifty feet downstream. He was wearing a tie. For some reason, this irritated Dawn.

It just … irritated her.


Dale tried to keep his eyes off the dark-haired woman. His hands shook as he cast his line into the water. He was terrified. What am I doing here? he thought. What the hell am I doing?

He stared straight ahead, his head and body immovable like a stump of wood hammered into the riverbank. Whatever color he’d had in his face had drained into the ground around him like white blood.

What the hell am I doing?


There it was: the tug of muscle, so distinct from the snag of reeds or submerged logs. This was the feeling of instant, horrifying realization, telegraphed right up the line and into Dawn’s hands. She had a fish.

She let the line out a bit, playing the fish, and then reeled in slowly, played the fish again, and reeled in slowly. Each time she reeled in, she brought the fish a bit closer to her than before she played it. Now, she could almost see the swimming shadow just under the surface of water. And then she felt a strong tug and the line went slack. She reeled in a spinnerless, fishless line.

Just like my life, she thought. She glanced over at the skinny stranger, and caught him looking at her. He immediately made a face and turned away.

Was that anger in his eyes? she thought. Or was that disgust, or something? Does he know me from somewhere? She picked up her things and looked in his direction again. His head pointed stiffly at the river, as though he were deliberately trying to avoid eye contact with her, to ignore her.

Screw you, she thought. And she walked, without fish, up the path to her apartment building.


Not a single muscle in Dale’s body failed to shake. He felt like his stomach was somewhere at the back of his lungs. Lines of sweat streaked his face. The armpits of his shirt were soaked.

She caught me looking at her! he thought. She looked right into my eyes! And I didn’t even smile or nod or anything. In his mind, he reenacted the entire eye-brushing incident, each time with a different scenario: smiling at her, nodding to her, waving to her, calling out something about how’s the fishing, or nice day. All the things he didn’t do. All the things he could have done. All the things that haunted him as he packed up his things and walked back to the office.


That night, Dale made up his mind that he would approach her first thing Monday morning, even if Pat were in the office and he had to just get up and walk out right in front of her, he would do it. He had to do it. He would apologize for not being friendlier on Friday morning. He would tell her that he’d watched her … no, that sounded almost like stalking … he would tell her that he’d seen her fishing a number of times and it made him think that he hadn’t been fishing since he was a kid and so he bought a fishing kit, and here it was, thanks to her. That’s what he would do … he would approach her and thank her for inspiring him … no, too slick-sounding … he would thank her for reminding him how much fun he’d had fishing as a child. And that would probably lead into something to talk about, maybe into fishing in general, or childhood experiences, anything.

I should have said something.


It’s not a cold feeling at all, thought Dawn. Kind of warm and relaxing. If she kept her arms still in the soapy water, she couldn’t even feel the pain in her wrists. And then her thoughts turned to fishing. She stood by the bank of the river with a beautiful little dark-eyed girl. They laughed as they cast their lines into the water under the flawless blue sky.


He checked his watch again. Ten o’clock. Where is she? thought Dale. She was like clockwork, on time every day, Monday to Friday, out on the riverbank at nine and there for ten cigarettes … eleven o’clock. Except for last Friday. But maybe he had had something to do with that. Maybe she liked to fish alone. Oh jeez, he thought, what if she doesn’t want me out there fishing at the same time as her. Would she leave early again today as soon as she saw him? Would she move farther down the riverbank away from him? Dale was already starting to sweat when Pat walked in.

She looked at the fishing kit leaning against the wall by his desk and smirked. Trust her to be the only person alive who could put the devil in Betty Crocker eyes. “Catch anything this weekend, Claw?”

“Not yet. But I’ll try again today. I …” He realized suddenly that Pat wasn’t listening to him, she didn’t even seem to be aware of him as she walked over to the window and looked at the building where the dark-haired woman lived.

“I think that’s the building,” said Pat.

“What building’s that?” said Dale, puzzled.

Pat shot him one of her looks and said: “Where the woman killed herself. It’s been all over the news all weekend. Don’t you listen to the news, watch television?” She smiled a smile that twisted the right side of her face into something clouded and brutal. “Or have you been fishing all weekend?”

Dale just stared at her.

“Something wrong, Claw? Cat got’cher tongue?”

He looked out the window at the building. He knew that it was her, that it was the dark-haired woman who fished. He’d known it since the first time he’d seen the life-drained outline of her face, as though her body moved around carrying on a daily ritual of deception.

She moved on.

And it was time for him to do the same.

He stood up and grabbed onto the fishing kit. It wasn’t until he was almost out the door that Pat noticed him leaving. “And where do you think…?” The door closed on her voice and the skewed Betty Crocker face.

Outside, the day was clear and the sky cloudless. It didn’t matter to Dale whether he caught a fish or not. No, just casting the line would be enough; in fact, it would even be a big improvement.