Category Archives: Story

A Band of Black (part 5)

A Band of Black

part 5

by Thadd Presley

“So, you were talking about psychedelic mushrooms, right?” He nodded. “I can’t wait to try one. I mean, I’ve heard of them for years, but never had the opportunity and I’ve always wanted to have a natural trip.”

Ozzy was watching me closely when I spoke. So close that it had an effect on my thinking. I realized, it was my accent that made him have to pay close attention to what I was saying.

“Psychedelic mushrooms are perfectly natural, aren’t they?”

“Yes, natural. Nick has an organic set up.”

“We have all the acid and ecstasy anyone could ever want back home, but no mushrooms. I’m sure with Nick at the helm of my trip through America.” I smiled.

“Pun intended,” Ozzy chimed in.

I knew we would get along. “I’m sure I’ll get a taste of my first American party, soon enough.”

“But first you should rested and meet a few more people.” He walked further into the house.

It was obvious that Ozzy was going to take me on the tour. And the first place he stopped was a poster hanging on the wall. This place was paradise. And just as all others, it had rules that had to be followed.

On the wall, written in large black letters was the “House Rules” followed by seven serious rules. The rules were written on a large piece of cardboard and sticky-taped to the beautiful marble walls of the foyer. It all seemed funny. The cardboard on marble was like a joke, but Ozzy’s body language and tone in his voice told me otherwise.

I glanced over the rules and smiled. All of them seemed sensible. Well, almost all of them. I had no intention of breaking any of them. Two of the rules stuck out immediately as probably not as important as the rest. Rule #3 was “No Females Allowed in the House” and Rule #7 “No Alcohol in the House.” I was surprised at these rules, but said nothing.

Ozzy did not read them to me. I’m sure he didn’t want to come across as one who lays down the law. It was as if he were saying “The rules are right there and if you are a wise man you will heed them.” Then, he opened the foyer door and continued the tour.

We walked from the marble foyer into a larger, more beautiful room where a stunning staircase rose gracefully from the floor up and up to an open, second story landing bordered only by a lovely and dainty wood and iron handrail.

Ozzy spoke in a normal volume, explaining how Nick was currently responsible for the house and essentially had become King of the Castle until Fall Semester, but as we passed from the marble foyer into the open room, the size of the room caused his voice to fall to a hushed whisper. The foyer door closed silently behind us and a quiet calm came over me

It was a feeling that told me I was in the right place for once, that coming to America had been the right choice.

I slipped my shoes off before walking onto the carpet. Although I’d never removed my shoes at the door at my own home and did occasionally when it seemed necessary at someone’s home. This house was different. It demanded respect. It was built and arrayed with upper-class values and manners in mind.

I asked Ozzy to tell me again how Nick had come into such a nice place and he laughed. “Yeah, crazy as hell, but it’s Nick’s for the summer. He’s fallen into graces with the Frat. The Alumni love and have high hopes for him. It was their decision to have him come to Tennessee.He has lived here since day one. When summer came and most of the student were leaving, the council voted him as a temporary Sargeant at Arms to watch over the house. Trust me, he’s got his hands full. It’s more of a curse than a blessing.”

“And he’s going to school?”

“Of course, he’s taking a full load. Chemistry and Physics and Botany. That where he got the strains for the mushrooms. It’s all done through the University as research. He’s growing them for use in the labs.”

“Just like back home. He’s always had this way of getting things other people could only dream about having.”

“Yeah, you’re pal Nick is smart as hell.  He came over here and took over the frat house and is now teacher’s pet to most of the important professors. He blows my freakin’ mind man.”

Ozzy was ahead of me and heading for the the stairs and I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell he was smiling.

Once we got to the top of the stairs, he pointed to a closed door. “That is your’s and Nick’s room. He wanted to bunk with you like in the old times back in…”  He thought.  “Where did you guys come from?”

“Wales.”

“No man, I mean, what town?”

“Oh, we grew up in different places. He is from Dartford, close to London, and I’m from Eastbourne, close to the Channel.” I opened the door and looked into the room. A set of bunk beds were against one wall. “Yeah, it’ll be just like old times. We slept in bunk beds while we were in a school.”

“You had beds at school?”

“It was a boy’s school. We lived there.”

He smiled again. “We call it reform school here.”

“No, no. It weren’t nothing like that. In England some of the children go away for school and stay until they end of the year. It’s like private school.” I looked around, noticing a pile of dirty clothes crammed into the front of a drum set. “Where is Nick now?”

“Um, today is Thursday, so he’s in school most of the day. He has at least one class everyday, except Tuesdays. But, he’ll be home in a few hours.”

I walked into the room and he didn’t. “Look, if I were you, I’d get some rest. You’ll need it to be ready for when the group gets home. I’ll show you the rest of the house later.” He turned to leave, but quickly turned back. “And remember, Tuesdays are band practice. So be ready.”

Band of Black: part 4

A Band of Black

(part 4)

by Thadd Presley

I stepped out of the cab in front of a huge, two story estate complete with four high-rising pillars and a circle drive big enough for ten cars. It was a brick house with six tall windows on the second story and eight on the ground floor. Eleven wide, concrete steps lead up to the front door where Ozzy was standing.

He had just opened the door when the cab came to a stop.

I imagined him looking down from one of the second floor windows at the immaculate yard when the yellow cab turned into the driveway.

Now we stood face to face and his smile was beautiful.

I already knew his name was Gerald Osbourne, but everyone called him Ozzy. I shook his hand and thanked him for meeting me.

“You have luggage?” He pointed to the car. “If not, he’ll still want a tip.”

“Not much. I have a little in the boot.”

“Money to boot or a trunk full of money?”

I looked at him confused.

He smiled. “My, you Australians really know how to…”

“No, not money, just a bit of luggage.” I walked to the boot, which was opening, and removed my bag. I then quickly walked to the driver’s window and handed the driver the fare and turned away. He drove away, knowing to keep the extra for himself.

“And not Australian, although I do appreciate you meeting me. Seems Nick has forgotten his manners.” I took a step back, now that the cab had gone, and looked up at the second floor windows. “This is truly a beautiful place.”

“It belongs to the University. Nick totally knows how to talk to these authoritarian types. He’s got the run of this place for the summer.” Then he looked at me again. He was certainly a beautiful man. He had perfect white teeth, blonde hair, a real tan, and blue eyes. It was so American of him. “It’s really good to finally meet you. Nick has told us so much that we feel like you are already part of the family.”

“That’s great of you to say. I’ve been quite nervous about all this.You really wouldn’t believe the emotions I’ve had.”

“Hold on!” Ozzy said loudly.

“Sorry?”

“No, no. Noel.” He pointed to his ear. “Sara is on the line and I…” He put up his hands as if in frustration. “Sara, you just made me yell at Noel and he’s trying to tell me about his emotions.”

He listened.

“Yeah, he’s right down your street.”

He listened and when he did I faintly heard Sara’s voice.

“He’s here in front of me and I’m trying to give him…” A moment of silence passed, while Sara’s tiny voice continued. Then he caught a second and spoke. “Yeah, well these English folk need to be greeted properly and you are interrupting our chat.”

It was then that I noticed a small black and blue plastic piece in his ear. It was smaller than a hearing aid.

“Sara says ‘hello Noel’ to you and you can’t kiss anyone. She says that she wants to give you the first kiss you get in America.”

I smiled trying to be cool, as if this was just another part of being me, but I felt my cheeks getting hot.

“And,” Ozzy continued, “don’t eat the ‘shrooms before she gets to properly introduce herself.”

I was beginning to feel very self-conscious. I didn’t know where to put my hands or where to look. I picked up my bag and set it back down again. I couldn’t help but wonder how she really felt about me.

“She says she wants you to play for her.”

“Play what?”

“Hell, I don’t know. The national anthem I guess.” He shook his head at me. “Look, I’m not being the messenger between you two.”

I heard her tiny voice raise a bit and then laugh. Ozzy joined in.

“You’ll have to wait until you see him to tell him that.”

I was extremely happy that Sara wanted to see me, but I didn’t want it to show, so I looked up at the house again. It was really a mansion.

“Sara wants to know if you will really play for her. The piano. She says please.”

“Yeah, but how did she know?” I began t ask, but I didn’t need an answer. I knew Nick told her.

“He says he will. Now I’m going.”

He listened.

“Yes, I will. Now, his majesty needs to be shown to his room.” There was another pause. “You can tell him all of that yourself. Bye. Do it when you get here. Bye.”

I didn’t see any obvious way he disconnected with Sara, but I could see the relief on his face. When he began speaking to me, it was in his normal voice again. “Ok,” he said, “I’m supposed to keep you off the ‘shrooms and show you around the house a bit. So, first we are going to the room where you can reset your jet lag.”

“Shrooms?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Ozzy smiled. “Oh, yeah.”

“Are they any good?”

“I’ll put it this way. Everything here is good. This has been the best summer I’ve ever had and it’s just beginning. We have some really great gigs coming up and with you on bass.” He smiled again, showing his teeth. “I hear you can really play the hell out of a bass.”

“I picked up a few things here and there.”

“So I’ve heard. Oh, and just so you know, the band is me, Nick, Sara and you. In case you’re asked, you’re not replacing anyone. Just come on board and do what you do. The band is called ‘Black’ but the fans usually referred to us as ‘A Band of Black.”

“I like that better, actually.”

“You do, do you?”

“Yes,” I said as a matter of fact.  I had a great reason to push against using “Black” as a band name. It was mine and Nick’s old band name, from our punk days in London and it didn’t seem right to use the name again. Of course, I didn’t tell Ozzy this small piece of history.

“Well, Nick wants the band to be called ‘Black’ and you know how Nick is when he wants something.”

Yes, I did know. I also knew that I liked ‘A Band of Black’ better than the one word. But I simply nodded and smiled, allowing the moment to pass without further comment, and followed him through the door and into the fraternity house.

Band of Black (part 3)

 

 

Band of Black:

(Part 3)

by Thadd Presley

In the Yellow cab on the way to Nick’s house on Park Place, I asked the driver to take me through downtown. He looked in his rear view mirror at me with a puzzled look. I didn’t know what the look meant.

“Which downtown?  You want the pretty part or the ugly part of town?”

“Oh, I see, yes. I want to see the places everyone parties.”

“Gotcha.”

He took me through the Old City and up Neyland Drive describing some of the landmarks, local heroes like Pat Summit and Phillip Fulmer. The first thing I noticed was how old Victorian-style mansions sat next to small country style farmhouse and right across the road a hacienda. As we got closer to the University the size of the houses got bigger. Immaculate neighborhood with tree in the lawns and forests along the roads.  The driver explained to me that the fraternity houses were spread through the community. I told him this particular house I was looking for was Psi Omicron Zeta. He knew exactly where it was.

I didn’t like being forgotten at the airport, but a feeling passed over to me, at that moment in the cab, watching the houses pass by the window, that I was in for a really good time. Possibly being forgotten had given me the opportunity to learn something about Knoxville and realize that the rest of my life was just beginning. Although the future was taking on an unknown quality, it was exactly what I wanted.

The April air was warmer in Tennessee than in Wales, so I had the window down and spring was in the air.

I was anxious to see Nick again and also to meet his friends, but there was one aspect of this visit that I’ve tried not to focus on to much. Her name was Sara.

My first reason for being in America was to sit in with the band and there was no doubt I could pull it off given the chance to learn the music. From what I’d seen just from the cab ride over, I reckoned there would be a copious amount of drugs and women provided.

Atleast, it was the usual unspoken musician’s deal, no matter what country. But, that wasn’t the only reason. Just as important as seeing my friend and playing in his band, I was finally going to see Sara in the flesh.

If it wouldn’t have been for her and the possibility of meeting her, I probably wouldn’t have come to America at all. You see, I secretly wanted to play for her and I couldn’t wait to get the chance
I’d corresponded with her through Facebook a few times and talked with her during a couple phone calls I’d had with Nick. She was a very smart woman and I liked her immediately. Even though, she told me she loved my English accent, I never told her how I felt about her and that I wanted to know her better.

I’d instantly fell in love with her smile and her sweet giggle.
She told me once, while we waited for Nick to get the phone, that she would love to date a man who could play a piano. My heart melted in my chest and I thanked God, my mother, and Mrs. Wilkerson for making me practice for two hours every other day and thirty minutes a night for six years.

I almost told Sara that very night that I had a surprise for her. But, I didn’t want to give myself away.

Maybe, I would be her dream guy.

I felt we were soul mates.

Band of Black (part 2)

Band of Black  (part 2)

by Thadd Presley

Nick was my best best friend. We grew up together in a small Wales village. He moved to Knoxville, Tennessee last year on an educational exchange program just after he started his first semester in Bangor University. He wrote me once he got settled in America and told me all about the fraternity house he’d been staying in and the friends he’d made. He even told me about the new band he’d started and seemed to be boasting about all his good fortune.

I took the letter all wrong and it made me mad. The more I thought about it, the more offended I became. His new band, his amazing luck, his friends this and that. It was more than I could take. Living in a mansion filled with half naked girls and I’m still at home giving guitar lessons to twelve year old boys.

I was mad to the point my hands trembled. Tears were in my eyes.

I’d lost my friend and my band mate to this great fortunate turn of events.

These emotion quickly turned when I got near the end of the letter and he finally got around to inviting me to America. Saying in his letter that: We would join forces again and it would be like the old days.
America! I was going to America. I couldn’t believe it. The ticket would be waiting at the airport. Tears were in my eyes.

The switch of emotion from rage to elation was too much for me and for the first time in my life I had to sit down before falling over. I was so over come with sensation my legs were actually weak.
I only wished Nick could see me. What a picture it would make. His oldest friend collapsed in a chair laughing and crying at the same time. If only he could see me now.

After a moment, I put the letter to the side and just sat in the chair. My imagination took me to America. Floating before my eyes was a new city, a new stage, a new crowd of people. It was overwhelming at the least.

What would the University of Tennessee be like? Did they have a good football team?  It would be American football of course. But, the local bars downtown might be the same and the crowd inside would be wanting to hear music.

Would it be anything like London’s music scene? I couldn’t imagine a club like Heaven being in Knoxville, but there might be a place like Barfly and Nick.

No matter, though, because I was going to find out for myself and Nick said his band was doing well.

So, I was going to America. I’ll play bass with Nick on the drums and everything will be just as it was before.

Before Nick left for Bangor, our band had quite a reputation in London. We were practically local punk celebrities. Many times after playing a show, I find our names spray painted on the sidewalk and walls outside the venue. The clubs didn’t seem to mind.

The letter from Nick arrived in my post in January, but it wasn’t until April that I actually leave for America.

In my heart, I was still jealous. I couldn’t imagine, after all the time Nick and I had spent together, after all the music played together, and all the time sitting in my dad’s garage, listening to records, playing until our fingers bled, that he could replace me. I remember many mornings, sun barely poking above the sea to find us arguing over fingering patterns, push each other to stretch our minds and incorporate more than fifths, but to play seconds, ninths, and flattened eleventh chords. It hurt my feelings that he was happily jamming with other people. There’s a ritual to music, it was sacred and magical, and for him to practice our sacred witchcraft with others was almost unforgivable.

In the same thoughts, I couldn’t help but wonder what was his new band like or if the would like me?

These questions would continue to haunt my days and nights until the day I met them in person. And there was also the point of them knew that I was coming and all the questions being reversed upon them. Were they wondering the same about me.

Although that was a distraction, it didn’t make waiting any easier.

In a sense I was scared of them.  All I could imagine were cowboys and Hooters girls with attitudes much larger than they needed to be.

So, needless to say, I was reluctant and nervous to meet them. I worried about it and dreamed about how terrible it would go everyday. I was worked up into a frenzy.

On the day I was to board the plane, I hesitated.

I questioned my responsibilities.

I had been working in a London studio four days a week laying down bass tracks for various groups. It was the best playing gig I’d had all year and it was a steady gig.

I could see myself staying. I was so close to not going.

That morning I went into to work.

The entire place was surprised to see me. They knew I was going to America, so question came from every direction.

Nine A.M. came and a band called The Stevenage Three came through the door.

They took their time setting up and I noticed the guitarist had a rare guitar. For a moment, I watched him and I could feel the magic on coming off of him. I went into the studio and began to set up my gear, which only took a second.

My back was to him and he hit a note, then played a riff, then the music filled the room. It was true magic. The notes set me on fire. They made me want to be in front of an audience again. The keyboard joined in, driving the music up another dimension.

I realized in that moment that I need my own band. I would soon get bored with the studio schedule and be on the street alone. I needed to move on for my own good. I had to have a band again.

A rolling stone gathers no mass and all that, I told myself.

In truth, I think I wanted to see my best friend more than anything.

So, I laid two tracks for the band and at lunch I quit.

The studio head, who I’d only met three times before, Emmett Barrett, came down stairs and shook my hand. “You’ll be back, my boy. And I want you to come back. Do it when you’re ready and bring your band with you. We’ll cut a track that tops the charts. Now, take this.” In is hand he had an envelope. “Go get some lunch, then go see America.”

With his blessing, I went home to pack. I didn’t look in the envelope until I got home.     Inside was five hundred Euros and a letter of introduction to a studio in Nashville.

The next morning, I was 35,000 feet in the air on my way to Tyson McGee airport where Nick would meet me at the gate.

I couldn’t wait to see him again.

Band of Black: part 1

A Band in Black

by

Thadd Presley

When I came to the United States for a week, Nick was supposed to be waiting for me at the airport.  I crossed the Atlantic Ocean by myself. A metal head from Sweden was my row companion. He had a good mind and we spoke on everything from music to world events, but I was relieved to hear the captain inform us the flight was just about to end. I watched as the mountains passed below us. They were more rolling hills than mountains. Once you’ve seen the Alps, you’ll understand what I mean.
As Knoxville came into view below me, a display of lighted streets and buildings broke broke over the mountains. Again, it wasn’t London or Paris, but after the all darkness it was beautiful.
The musician, whose name was Heinrick, exited the plane directly behind me and once we were on the tarmac, asked if I would like a CD of his band to which I said yes and thank you. He rummaged through a small carry on backpack and handed me a CD and a wristband. I thanked him, but he waved his hand and thanked me back, saying it was his first time in America that his band was about to officially begin their North American tour. I thanked him for the gifts again, silently wishing I had something to give him. After all, I was in a band as well.

Black was a London based rock group I’d started with my friend Nick. We just hadn’t played together since he left for school in the States. My short vacation to see him was going to change all of that.
I made it through customs with only a limited sexual encounter with a large black lady. Her hand actually touched my package and moved it to the side while she left into my pocket. And it wasn’t just a passing brush. She actually moved it over. I thought for a minute there would be more to it, but by then it was over.  As I stood around the pick up area for my two bags, I reflected on the security nod I received in London and realized I could have brought anything onto the plane with me. But, the game would have ended in Knoxville. The search was so thorough, my ink pen was taken from my jacket pocket and screwed apart, the contents emptied on a tray.
“You weren’t supposed to have this on the plane,” she said and it seemed like a warning. As if I knew better and did it anyway. I held back the urge to make an excuse.

No attempt was made to put my pen back together. The tray was pushed to the side for me to deal with how I wanted.

It was two hours later, when I realized I’d have to make my own way to The University of Tennessee and find the fraternity house. I walked up to a cab sitting in front of the terminal, cursing Nick for forgetting about me, and began my journey down Interstate 40.

Count ’em Out

Count’em Out

by Thad Presley

“Get up,” the drill Sergeant ordered, cocking his head at the man on the ground. When he didn’t move, he turned his attention to the platoon. “We have a dead man laying here and all you can do is stand there. You,” he pointed to the Private on the first line, “what did you see?”

“I don’t know Sergeant.” Then, “Nothing Sergeant.”

“You don’t know?”  Like a bolt of lightening, it happened. The drill sergeant hit private Gerard in the stomach with the butt of his M16-A2 service rifle. “Now, what do you know about that?”

The recruit fell to his knees out of breath and looked up at The Ape from the ground and shook his head, “Nothing Sergeant. I didn’t see a thing.”

“And you,” The Ape shouted, looking at the other recruits. “Did any of you see how this forgetful puke lost his weapon and then got killed?”

A thunderclap of voices lifted into the air, “No, Sergeant.”

“And what about Private Gerardo, here? Does anyone know what killed him?”

Again the voices thundered, “No, Sergeant.”

Sergeant Perry was called “The Great Eight Ape” because of rumors he’d received a Section Eight and then got it over ruled by some big wigs way high up in command. The next yer, he returned as an instructor a Ft. Lost in the Woods. Rumors going around said he’d been found eating an Iraqi soldier during the First Iraq War.

Everyone hoped it wasn’t true, but the rumors persisted. All the recruits called him The Ape and although he was an extremely hard instructor many of the men were honored to be under his guidance. It made for great war stories if nothing else.

It was the fifth week of Basic and the platoon was in the middle of Bivouac training where they were learning how to live without luxuries and to keep a camp in working order.

Missouri was known for it’s great expanse of woods, hence the name. The day before was spent on the “old firing range,” which was not supposed to be used but The Ape didn’t care. He usually just trained the men how he saw fit.

During the evening of the night before, the platoon displayed their weapon cleaning skills and made small bets, which involved betting their rations and duties to see who was the fastest. Pvt. Ensign bragged that he could clean his weapon blindfolded and was taken upon the bet by Pvt Greene.

Greene bet Ensign that he couldn’t disassemble, clean, and reassemble his M16 blindfolded. Of course, Ensign took the challenge and bet if he did it blindfolded, then Greene would have to take his Fire Watch for the next week. They both agreed and shook hands.

Everyone watched as Ensign began.

The evenings had become the most exciting time for the men. The drill instructors were starting to lighten up on the recruits. With the dropouts already sent home, the mood was serious but laid back. Ten minutes later, Ensign took off his blindfold and held his clean M16 out to Greene to be inspected. Just as he’d said, he’d taken apart every piece, just as he’d learned the second week in training, and cleaned it.

The day had been fun for everyone and all was well until the next morning when Pvt. Ensign realized his weapon was missing.

The Ape had not taken kindly to the missing rifle and out of frustration began to punish the recruit with exercise. Little did the sergeant know, it was all just a gag orchestrated to make Pvt. Ensign look bad.

After his performance the night before, the platoon got together for a little fun and retribution. No one thought it was a big deal. Practical jokes were played all the time by the men. Two recruits devised a plan to steal Pvt. Ensigns M16 and hide it near the latrine.

It was Corporal Smith and PFC Greene who snagged the weapon. It wasn’t meant to hurt anyone, they just wanted to get back at Ensign for showing off, but things escalated faster than they anticipated and before anyone could say anything. The Ape had swung on Pvt. Ensign.

When Ensign ducked the punch and then a few guys in the platoon laughed, the Ape started to walk away, but turned abruptly and hit him in the stomach with the butt of his rifle. He then quickly brought it up catching him square under the chin. Pvt Ensign fell to the ground and didn’t move.

Everyone knew two other sergeants would show up within the hour to take over the platoon, but that seemed like a million years away.

As Pvt. Ensign laid on the ground, The Ape began to tear into Pvt Gerardo who stood beside him in line.

Growing irritated by the concern on Gerardo’s face, and at Ensign for daring to challenge his authority in front of his men, The Ape raised his weapon and placed the cold steel of the barrel in the center of Gerardo’s forehead. “Do you have a God, son?”

At first, Gerardo couldn’t speak and once he gathered his courage in the face of death, he opened his mouth and the words were interrupted by a stream of puke that erupted from his throat. “Holy mother of Crow, look at this dumb fuck puke on my boots.”

He grabbed the private by the collar and pulled him close.

The private instinctively pulled away from the Sergeant. “You know what you have to do now, don’t you. You’ve got maggot detail.”

Private Gerard knew exactly what the sergeant was going to make him to do and he would have done anything to get the sergeant off his back. But, licking puke off his boots was too far. He couldn’t do it.

“You’re a chicken shit, no brain, puke-eater and it’s time you do something for my Army.”

A wave of anger filled him.

Why won’t anyone help me? One of him and sixty of us, he thought.

No one moved.

Ensign was knocked out. And they did nothing. Reality set in. He wasn’t going to lick the Sergeant’s books.

I’m going to be killed, he thought.

“Do it, puke-eater.”

Gerardo once again gathered his courage. “I have a God, Sergeant.”

“You do? Great. So do I.”

“But,” Gerard was shaking so bad he felt his chin quivering. He had to focus to keep his teeth from clashing together. “I try to do what my God desires of me.”

“Oh, for Crow’s sake, don’t give me that crazy religious nut shit. I can just see it now: Private Jesus Freak sent home on a medical discharge. You trying to act crazy with me, Private? You want to clean my Army up and make us PC and lovely?”

“No, sergeant.”

“I think you do. I think you have a big plan on how you can make my Army a better place. Well, I’ll give you a chance to show me what your worth. You want a nice, pretty, clean Army? Well, you can start by licking Uncle Sam’s boots clean.” The sergeant looked at the other soldiers. “What do you think men?” No one moved a muscle. They didn’t want the man in their face. “If he cleans up the mess he deposited on Uncle Sam’s beautiful pair of boots, maybe we can let him live.”

The private looked down at the boots.

“That’s right maggot. Get to work and you can live to fuck up another day.”

“You won’t shoot me.”

The Ape’s voice lowered to a grumble. “What’s wrong with your ears, Private. Let me tell you in another way. Do it now!”

Private Gerardo held back tears. He fought desperately to hold a straight face. But, it wasn’t going to last long. His emotions were under too much stress. The only way to get this over with was to do it. Just lick the puke up. After all, it was his own. He could do this. He was a soldier. Slowly, he got down on his knees and started to bend over the right boot.

Then, The Ape kicked him in the chest, rattling his head. It hurt so bad that Gerardo thought it broke his sternum. “Do whatever you got to do, private, but get to licking, right now. Them boots better be in parade condition by my count to ten.” He looked at the platoon, “Count ’em Out.”

Slowly the dry tongue of private Gerardo came out of his mouth and stretched toward the black, polished shoe of his sergeant. “One…” The men began in unison,  anticipating the first lick. The Ape, held up his hand and stopped them.

“Come on puke-for-brains, get in there. I want to see you licking that boot the way Jody’s licking your girlfriend’s twat. Clean that Crow-loving boot.”

Then, in a desperate attempt to get out of the situation, he started licking the boot.

“One,” the men counted.

Gerardo just did it, fast, not thinking.

“Two, Three…”

The cooling puke entered his mouth and he swallowed it.

Luckily it was mostly tasteless with a bitter after taste that only barely burned. “You disgust me.” The sergeant yelled, taking a step back and look down on the private as if he was seeing an alien slug for the first time.

“Get on your puke eating feet.” The sergeant was just getting on a good roll. “We have a real, honest to God, puke-eater here. Not in all my time, not in all the holy time of the immaculate Army have we ever had a puke eater in these hallowed ranks.”

The sergeant walked back and forth in front of the men who were still lined up at parade rest. They had been formed up for nearly an hour now and they were all looking for the jeep that would herald the arrival of the two relief sergeants.

“As you all know, we don’t have much time and I need to know what is happening to this world. Terrorists, sympathizers, sleeper-cells, God knows what all. I could say a lot more, but I do not use derogatory names. Because most people are good people. Most people are not puke eating, shit for brains.”

The platoon of sixty men waited to see what the sergeant would do next.

“Let me ask you this. Do you men want a puke-eater watching your back when the chips are down? Do you want him walking the perimeter when you know all he thinks about it slurping puke?”

The men give a sloppy, “No sergeant.”

“You know that this maggot, first thing, is going to run to CO and rat on us. Rat on you!!” The Sergeant let this sink into the heads of the men. “That’s right, he’s not going to tell on me. No, cause he can’t hurt me. He’s going to say ‘THEY let him do it. They made me eat puke.’ Well, lt me ask you this. Can anyone make YOU eat puke?”

There was another, “No, Sergeant,” and this time it had grown in strength.

“Hell, no, they can’t. There ain’t a man in this world that could make ME eat puke. I’d rather die than be a puke eating maggot. But, you were witness to this. You watched as this maggot licked puke and swallowed it. I tell you now, he’ll say to Captain Barrett. Through his sobs, he’ll tell them and swear that YOU let it happen. Both of these numb skulls aren’t worth the time it’s going to take to bury them and yet here we stand wasting the whole day on them. Private Dumbass Number One got himself killed by threatening and then attacking a killing machine known on this base and around the world as Section Eight. That’s right, I know all about my little nickname. But, Private Puke Eater here didn’t learn anything from his battle buddy’s stupid mistakes. He wanted to dance in the mine field. He will now be dealt with in an expedited manner.” The sergeant wait a beat and began again, this time addressing the men eye to eye, one at a time. “But, it’s not ME who will suffer. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind a vacation. It’s YOUR asses that are on the line. Do you want a puke eater lying to the powers that be about your character? Do you want im protecting your six out there when the shit hits the fan?”

“No, sergeant.”

“Then, who wants to do something about it?”

Silence.

“Are you all puke eaters?”

“I’ll do it.” Corporal Hicks, from Knoxville, who the Sergeant called Hicksville, stepped backwards, looked left then right, and ran to the end of his rank and around to the Ape.

“At least we got one set of balls between the fifty-eight recruits standing here.”

“About to be fifty-seven, sergeant,” Hicks said.

A smile formed on The Ape’s face. “Then, get to it, soldier.”

Hick’s wasted no time in attending to his duty. “Turn around, Gerardo.”

“No, shoot him in the gut Private. I want to hear him call for his mommy.”

“Sergeant, this puke eater does not deserve to be shot in the front. He is a coward and should be killed as one.”

“God Damn it, Hicksville, I do the thinking around here. Now do it the way I want you or step back in line.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

Corporal Hicks shouldered his M16-A2. Then, he lowered the weapon. “I can’t do it, not with him looking at me.”

“Then get back in rank, maggot lover.”

The Corporal Hicks turned and started back into line, but he had a change of heart. “Sergeant, I want to do it. I have to do it.”

“Well, get here and do it this time. We’ve got a day to build and it’s getting late.”

At that moment, a shot rang out and Section Eight the Great Ape dropped to his knees.

The platoon looked at Hicksville as he lowered his weapon. Blood bubbled from The Ape’s mouth, but he still spoke a few last words. “This Army is going to maggots and puke eaters and…” then he slumped and died.

A hush went over the men. It was like the flame in their souls went out. Gerardo dropped to his knees and put his head on the ground. He couldn’t believe he was alive.

Hick’s took the lead. “Everyone get ready and pack up the gear. Gerardo stay with me.”

At this, the men, gave a weak, “Huaa!!”

Hicks called a medic and then put in a call to the MPs so they could come out and process the scene. He spoke to Gerardo after he hung up. “I want you to tell them exactly what happened here.” Gerardo started to talk, but Hicks held up his hand. “Don’t worry about me. I have a God too. I spend most of my time in this Army ignoring my morals, but I couldn’t ignore them today.”

“Thank you.”

“Yeah.”

Minutes later, the two relief sergeant’s pulled up in a jeep along with the driver. They unloaded and began asking questions.

Dear Michael

Dearest Michael,

I hope this letter reaches you. I have so much to be thankful for and everyday is a blessing. But, honestly, I am afraid I’ll not see you again.

I sewed up a deep wound today and this is how it went:

“Please hold still,” I told the patient nervously, knowing that he did not understand what I said. “If you keep moving this will not heal…”

“He does not care to heal.” The words came from an elder who stood behind me, watching me closely. The man wore a mask, as did the young man I operated on, and so far, he has been the only one to speak to me in English. “He only wants to fight once more before he dies.” The man on the table jumped as the needle pressed into his skin, jerking the needle from my hand. “To die on this table will endanger his life in Paradise, to have you touch him has made him unclean, that is why he cannot die. If he dies here he will certainly go to hell.”

“I’m doing the best I can,” I told the man, holding the needle close to ripped flesh, “but if he keeps moving he will certainly die here.”

At this point the man on the table passed out. Maybe from fear of eternal damnation, maybe from the loss of blood. His leader must have thought he died because he hit me with in the stomach with the butt of his rifle. I fell to the floor. Suddenly, angry words came from outside the room.

I hate to be telling you this, but I have to tell someone.

I am now directly in the middle of a holy war, although nothing about it seems holy. I knew where I was going to be before I came here, but I did not tell you the truth. I apologize for that. I told you I would be living in Jerusalem, but that is not where I went. Instead I went to a small town near the Syrian border because they needed doctors.

I am still at the school house, just like I said in my last letter. Remember, I told you about the children who were learning English and Bible scripture? That was true, but the children are no longer here. Only a small, rubble-filled building remains. The entire village has been abandoned.

Before the militants came, we had transformed school room into triage and another into a small operating theater. Doctors from the area came regularly to learn new procedure. As a result, many people were receiving medicine. Only now, it all seems pointless. All of our work has been reduced to smoking remains.

Don’t be mad, I’m so sorry.

We heard the explosions getting closer days ago.  We decided we would all go back to Jerusalem. I wanted to leave so bad and come home to you and the kids, but it all happened so quickly. Before we had a chance to pack, men arrived and began giving us orders. It seemed they only wanted medical attention, when we were taken hostage.

We are now trapped and the leader — I can’t spell his name — killed Steven and Matthew. He cut their heads off while they were still alive. I started crying because they were the only men with us and they beat me.

Now there’s only three women in our group and we are all Christian. It seems our captors have no conscience about what they do to us.  One minute they do not want to look at us, then their hands are all over us doing terrible things. Patricia has been wounded and won’t stop bleeding. I have tried all I can. I’m afraid she will die soon. I am the only surgeon left and I think I will be kept alive, but I do not know how long.

I’m sure this will be my last letter to you, my love. I don’t want you to worry. By the time you get this letter I will either be saved or dead. I need you to know that I am not afraid to die. I feel that I am doing God’s work even when I sew together the enemy’s wounds. I can feel mother’s presence all the time.

Please, give the children my love and tell them that I am with the angels. Tell them I am with grandma. Will you do that?

For now, I just am trying to think of my mother and how we used to stay up late and sew quilts for the homeless. Momma always told me I had the hands of a surgeon. When I graduated and began work at the hospital, she told me I could change the world with God’s guidance. Even now, I believe that is true.

Please dearest Michael, do not mourn me for too long. Your love is so strong and it has been my greatest strength here. Promise me that you will show another your wonderful love.

Yours forever and ever,

The Breakup

  “The Break Up”
by Thadd Presley

She called me from a pay phone downtown and told me it was over. She didn’t cry and she didn’t explain. She just said that it was over and she realized she no longer loved me . When I pleaded with her to tell me what was going on and how this could have happened, she blamed it on the summer and my part-time job at the mall. She said if I would have only been around more she would have never met Brad. Brad who, I asked. His name was like being doused in freezing water; out of no where, it stopped me in my tracks. How could she do this? How could she be with someone else so quickly? When I asked her if she had cheated on me, she hung up. I listened to the phone beep for three full minutes before it stopped. I continued to hold it to my ear for a minute longer. Then, I threw it against the wall.
During our argument, I kept my voice low. My father used to like Sally, but since he learned we were dating he didn’t want her around the house and wouldn’t let us be together, which is why I took the job at the mall. It gave me a reason to be out of the house and a place we could meet and see each other.
I knew my dad was downstairs. I imagined him sitting in his reclining chair, drinking scotch, when I was on the phone. Then he heard the crash of the telephone and I didn’t have to imagine anymore.
I knew he was on his way because the chair makes a certain sound when it is closed to fast, like a spring being tightened too much. It wasn’t fifteen seconds before I heard his thuds coming up the stairs. There wasn’t any chance he was going to my brothers room, although Jimmy’s room was across the hallway from mine. My dad never thudded to Jimmy’s room. It was only towards me that my father thudded.
Bang, Bang!! went my bedroom door and then it opened quickly enough to send a gust of air across my small roll-top desk. Two pages of algebra notes were caught up and swooped onto the floor. My dad’s eyes were bloodshot and he wasn’t in a good mood. He hadn’t gone into work for the last three days and he’d spent most of the time in the living room watching television. Now, that my mother was gone for good, he could drink at home. He used to go to the bar, three blocks away.

He surveyed my room for a moment, looking for something out of place. When I didn’t say what the noise was, he spoke: “Why are you crying?”
“I’m not,” I said and cringed.
“Don’t lie to me.” He rubbed his hands together. “Just don’t give me a reason tonight, I’m not in the mood.”
“I’m not giving you a reason.”

It wasn’t the first time my dad hit me, but it hurt worse than ever before. He never hit me hard enough to hurt, it was more of a warning, but the damage was always there. Killing very slowly my heart and spirit.

When I sat still and didn’t respond, he stepped forward. “You want that I do it again?” He asked this in a tone that I knew was going to get worse the longer I didn’t cooperate. But I got a surprise. His face changed, his hands went down. When he realized I was genuinely upset, his voice softened.
“Why are you crying? Tell me.”
“I’m crying because Sally broke up with me and pretty much admitted she has been dating someone else.” A wave of sadness filled me, tears ran from my eyes, not in drops but gushed. I coughed and gagged on the emotions that came out. I’d never cried so hard in my life, not even when mom left. I was having a break down.
Then dad started laughing.
“Is that all?” He said, turning toward the hall. “Hey Jimmy, come here. Hurry.”

I looked at him in disbelief. How could he be laughing at me? He knew how hard this relationship had been. How much I’d sacrificed to be with her. He had to know how hard it was going to be for me because of how much I loved Sally.
He knew…

My brother poked his head into my room. “Jimmy, look here,” my dad beamed with happiness, “we got some great news today and I want the whole house to hear it.”
Jimmy had heard from his bedroom and all the commotion, but he was too nervous to comment, so my father did it all for him.
“That’s right, Jimmy,” my dad continued, “Sally done called and broke the relationship off.” He put his hands up, “Thank God!! Am I right?”
This made me so mad that, for a moment, I didn’t care what happened to me. I stood up knowing I was going to punch my dad, but Jimmy saved the day.

He looked at me and noticed the small spot of blood at the corner of my mouth. “You mean, you’re not going to hit Joselyn anymore?”
“That‘s right son.”
“So, it’s true,” he asked me. “Sally really broke up with you and you’re not going to be a lesbian anymore?”
I started to say something, but my dad interrupted. “That’s right Jimmy, your sister’s not a dike anymore and we can all go back to the way it was.”
This brought such a big smile to my younger brother and I couldn’t do anything that would take that smile away. He’s suffered right along with me.
“Dad’s right. Sally broke up with me and it’s over. Cool, huh?”

He jumped for joy. My dad stood up and gave me a hug. Then he kissed my forehead. “Damn, this is such a good night.” I smelled the scotch on his breath and for the first time in my life I wondered if it would help me forget Sally ever existed. “I gotta call Fred. He’s been having the same problem with his daughter.”
I quickly glanced at the corner and saw the broken phone beside my tattered Teddy bear.
“Would you call from downstairs, so I can get ready for bed? I just want to sleep for now.”
“Sure, anything you want, darling, anything you want.” my dad said as he was leading my brother our of my room. “Anything you want…”

Lies We Tell So Well

The Lies We Tell

by Thadd Presley

It was the best company party in the history of PhyllisCorps; possibly the best party of any computer company in the last decade, on par with the likes of Microsoft and Google. The richest of the tech world came to celebrate with the geniuses in our ranks. It was the annual Employee Appreciation Party and it was bigger than it had ever been. We’d done our jobs to the best of our ability and the company was letting us blow off some steam and some money. We had finally put PhyllisCorps on the map and the world had begun to take notice. We were acknowledging profits we’d never knew existed.
The company was doing so well, that they flew us from Phoenix to Knoxville and rented luxury cars for us to explore the city. The entire weekend was paid for and we deserved it.
Words can’t express how wonderful the weekend turned out and all the amazing places Knoxville had to visit. It was so well planned that we all felt like celebrities.
As I drove up the mountain, toward North Carolina, I couldn’t believe the scenery. I had seen pictures of our chalets and the cabins were going to be amazing. We’d heard rumors about the party that was going to take place, but as I caught my first glimpses of Gatlinburg and The Smokey Mountains I couldn’t believe my eyes. The unbelievable beauty of Tennessee took my breath even as I was on the plane, but I caught a second wind of unexpected amazement on the road. There’s something about the air here, I thought — I could breathe better, see farther, even my skin felt softer — but it was much more than that; the view, the altitude, and even the local folks were great.
I stopped at an overlook and spending 20 minutes talking to other travelers as they stood and wondered at the spectacular beauty of the land before us. It took fifteen minutes more of standing alone just breathing the sweet fragrant air before I could get back in the car and drive away. As I looked toward the horizon and watched the millions and millions of trees sway in the breeze, I wondered why I ever lived in the desert. Why didn’t I move here permanently? The world was mesmerizing from that point of view; even to a logically-thinking computer-geek like myself, intelligent design made more sense from Tennessee and I realized how hostile and ugly the desert happened to be.
I told my wife, Adrian, when we got back into the car that we were coming back as soon as we could. She nodded and mumbled something about the cabin in Gatlinburg and how close it was to Harrah’s Casino.
I didn’t bother to tell her that this place was too serene for gambling, that gambling was for people in the desert where there was nothing else to do, that gambling away money in a place like this would be idiotic when there was so many things to see and so much here that money couldn’t buy.
It dawned on me, as I made my way up and through the switchback curves, that my wife didn’t understand this place at all and I would be moving back alone. There was just no way to open her eyes. She had grown accustomed to brown and dead, when I was just learning about flowing water and green mountains filled with life.
We finally arrived and the mansion sat atop a peak right in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A huge banner in the yard read, “Congrats on a A Great Year.” I could see the feeling of optimism on the faces of everyone standing out front.

* * * * *

When the announcement was first made, I didn’t want to go to Tennessee. I had some work on a freelance job I’d been working nights trying to finish. I thought Adrian would enjoy a vacation instead of going to another stuffy company party. But, after talking to her about it, she talked me into going. And for once, she was right.
If we would have stayed home, I would have never met the most incredible woman. She was a pleasure to talk with, to walk with, and to look at; her ways invaded my life and made me a believer in love at first sight.
I miss her very much and often wonder why I didn’t leave with her that night. I became attached to her quickly and have thought of her everyday since the night of the party.
My wife wakes me at night and swears I say her name in my sleep. She says it bothers her and claims I was unfaithful. But, her accusation is simply not true. I never even kissed Helen or held her hand. But, I didn’t have to kiss her to fall in love with her. She emitted love like the sun does light.
She was pure.
Two nights ago, my wife woke me for the umpteenth time, and I did something I rarely do: I got angry. She began accusing me of having an affair. She screamed at me, saying that my work had suffered, our relationship was ending, and it was all because of Helen and that party. I was fully awake by the time she accused me of loving her, and part of what she said was true. My work was suffering and our relationship was ending, but it wasn’t because of Helen. Adrian blamed my actions for everything happening to us, but the truth wasn’t as simple as that. My wife was ruining our relationship by holding onto feelings she had over a dead woman, and all because I occasionally spoke her name in my sleep.
So, I did what any reasonable man would do when faced with a no-win situation. I got out of bed and walked to the bedroom door. It was my intention to walk away and let her go back to sleep. I would finish the night in the spare bedroom so I would not disturb her sleep.
“Who did she think she was anyway?” She asked as I opened the bedroom door. Lately her voice had scraped my very soul raw and I didn’t know how much more I could take before walking out forever. Her voice used to make me smile and feel good, but lately it had become very irritating and every word had me imagining the freedom in signing divorce papers. But I knew a divorce was never going to happen. I loved her and we were just having a rough patch. I loved her too much to simply leave her alone to the world. If I didn’t love her, I would have never came home from Tennessee.
I suppose she had a reason to be upset at me because I went to Helen’s funeral when I told her I wasn’t going. But, there was just no way I could not go. She was the most amazing woman I’d ever met and she deserved to be mourned by everyone who had known her.
I tried to tell myself that my mourning had everything to do with respect and nothing to do with infatuation, but that was a lie. I went to the funeral because I wished that I would have gotten the chance to love Helen and really get to know her. I would have stayed in Tennessee and gotten a divorce if I’d known her life was going to be so short.
“I know you had more to do with her than your telling me,” Adrian yelled. “I know you better than you think.”
I was standing in the hallway, turning the corner toward the stairs when she said it. I’d started toward the kitchen to start coffee and it hit me that she was right. I knew that she had to know how I felt toward her. A wife knows her husband better than he knows himself.
Sleep was finished for the night, I knew that as well.
“Admit it,” she screamed from directly behind me, startling me, her voice grating every nerve in my body. I could feel the hate shooting out from her body into mine and it made me go sour inside.
I wanted to scream back at her. I wanted to tell her that she was just being mean. But what could I really say to make her understand the way I felt? I’d tried to come up with something to say to her until everything sounded empty even to myself. So I took a breath and I gave her back the hate she was giving me.
“For God’s sake, can you shut the fuck up?”
She watched me as I seethed and I saw that she’d been wanting me to get mad. She wanted this the whole time. She wanted to fight. I didn’t understand why, but I had finally given her what she wanted. “No I can’t. Not when you won’t tell me the truth.”
“I am telling you the…”
“I’ll never shut up. I’ll never forgive you.” Her eyes were full of tears now and it shocked me. “How can we begin to make this better when you won’t help me.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Just tell me what you two did. Tell me why you’re so smitten by her. What does she have that I don’t?”
“Nothing.”
“If you don’t tell me that you two had something going on, even long distance, I’ll go insane. Do you know that?”
So, I took a chance. I lied to her. I figured if the truth wasn’t going to get us through this than maybe a lie is exactly what we needed.
“OK. We did. I mean, I did. Who cares now anyway?” Tears were in my eyes, hot tears that burned with the knowledge of time lost of tarnishing her memory. “She’s dead now and I’m stuck with you…” I was going to say more, but she slapped me.
She had never slapped me. In twenty years, we’d never touched each other in anger. “I knew you did. You didn’t even have to tell me. I knew it all along.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“I knew that, damn you. I knew it and you know I knew it. Finally, you have spoken the truth about that whore.”
But it wasn’t the truth and I regretted saying it. It would bother me for my entire life. If Helen haunted me now, I could only imagine what dreams might come of the lie.
In my frustration, my words had ruined Helen’s reputation. There was no going back now, no winning and no way out.
Adrian was in front of me now. I was now following her as she leading me toward the kitchen. She was in control. Her sobs were louder than they should have been, I knew how she cried . It infuriated me to know that I would never be able to take those words back and she would use them against me until the day I died. She would call Helen names and I’d have to hold my tongue because I was the one who damned her. I hated myself already for lying.
I regretted the entire day, the company party, my marriage — I regretted my entire life –and I’d only been awake for eighteen minutes.
Adrian was going toward the child-proofed drawer, not that we had ever had children; she was going for the pistol hidden in the back of the drawer.
I never thought to stop her
— didn’t want to stop her –
She was out of control and I wanted nothing more than to just let her go; let her kill me if she wanted to.
Then at that moment, I thought she might kill herself and I didn’t care if she did. I’d kill myself afterward, if she didn’t have the decency to shoot me first.
I started to open my mouth, to tell her that I was ready to die, but it was at this moment she brought the pistol out of the drawer and I was suddenly afraid.
“I know more than you think, you bastard. I knew the two of you had something going on and I know you were planning to move to Tennessee so you two could be closer. I knew you were going to leave me.” Tears rolled down her face and I suddenly had a vision of how crazy this could get.
“Now, don’t do anything you’ll regret. You don’t know what you’re talking about…”
She smiled. “I won’t regret shooting you. I killed your sweetheart, didn’t I? I don’t regret that.”
The short silence that followed brought what she’d said into blinding clarity.
“That’s right,” she taunted. “I caused her brakes to go out and that’s why she crashed.”
“Why would you say that? She had an accident.”
“No, no. She had no brakes, that’s true, but it wasn’t an accident.”
I didn’t believe what Adrian was saying. I knew there was no way she could have done it. She didn’t know anything about cars. She was just using Helen’s accident to hurt me. She would say anything at this point to hurt me, but that didn’t stop me from hated her for saying it. “You’re a hateful bitch you know that?”
“Maybe, but I’m not lying.” She smiled. “You stopped loving me the moment you met her.” Her tears had stopped. A smile still showed on her lips. “I saw it in your eyes that first night you saw her. I heard it in your voice when you spoke about her. A woman knows these things.”
I couldn’t speak.
“That’s right. I knew it and I put a stop to it.”
“Stop saying that. You couldn’t have…”
The smile grew wider and it made her look ten years younger. “I killed her.” The gun came up. “And now I’m going to kill you.” Her lips were red and full of blood, her entire face was flush with anger. “You hit me and chased me and I had to kill you…” The gun pointed at my chest.
“No, Adrian, you don’t understand…”
“Stop saying that.” She was raising her voice. She would be screaming soon. “Never say that to me again. You’re the one who doesn’ t understand. You’re the one who doesn’t know anything.” She lowered the gun an inch. “But, I’m not going to kill you before I explain it to you. It wouldn’t be right to let you die not knowing how much I love you.” The gun jerked toward the living room. “Go sit down.” Another jerk of the gun. “Go sit in your favorite chair and I’ll tell you everything.” She was smiling still, but I could see the hurt in her face. “You’ll want to hear this. You might even be proud of me for taking an interest in your work.”
“Adrian, you…” I stopped myself. I almost said “you don’t understand” again. “We didn’t do anything.”
“I will fucking shoot you in the chest when this is over. But, you will hear me out first. You’re the one who’s a liar and doesn’t understand what love is.”
“Don’t understand what? What do you want me to understand?”
“I want you to know how I killed Helen and how you helped me do it. Why I killed her isn’t the point anymore because you know why.”
I sat down slowly, no longer thinking of myself but what Adrian had in her mind and why she thought she killed Helen.
“It was Barnaby Jack who gave me the idea.” Adrian began. “When we were in Las Vegas and you sent me to record his conference. Remember?”
I thought of trying again to tell Adrian I lied, that Susan and I never did anything. But, the name Barnaby Jack brought me back. It was three months after the company party. I knew then that she had done something and I knew how she’d done it.
Our eyes connected for the first time in over two years. “Yes,” Adrian said. “you see now don’t you?”
I nodded my head, although I didn’t know exactly.
“Tell me, so I know you know.”

 * * * * *

It was the Spring after the employee party. I was sent to cover Barnaby Jack’s Hacker convention, but I drank too much and couldn’t go. I wanted to meet the man and many of the other guests, but I would have puked on them. So, I gave Adrian my pass and sent her to record his talk.
At the conference, he detailed and performed how to hack a car with a cell phone. With a simple code anyone could disable the cars alarm system, jack with the fuel/oxygen ratio, and many other things. With a couple numbers anyone could disable the brakes of a luxury car. It was a simple, just the facts, demonstration of a wireless hack, something anyone with cell phone abilities could do. Adrian had learned more than she needed to know from it.
It was the next year, at the Employee Party, that Susan left early and had an accident on her way home. It was written up as an accident, no one thought otherwise. But, I now knew she was murdered by my wife.
“So, now what?” I asked. “You going to kill me? You have to, you know that right? If you don’t kill me, I’ll turn you in.”
Then she started crying. “I did it because I love you. I didn’t want you to leave me.”
“I wasn’t going to leave you. You should have trusted me.”
“Trusted you,” she screamed, asked, and accused at the same time.
The pistol came up and I had only two regrets. I wished that I hadn’t come back from Tennessee to this barren wasteland called Phoenix, and I wished I hadn’t lied and tarnished Helen’s good name.

Easter, Bloody Easter

Easter, Bloody Easter

by Thadd Presley

“That’s exactly what she told me,” Anita said as she handed the sheriff her ID. “I don’t know what else to do. She said she would kill me if I so much as came down here. And we both know she will. You have to help me.”
“She told you not to come and you came anyway?” The sheriff was surprised.
Anita shook her head and then, realizing that she was saying no, she nodded. “Yes, I had to. She has my brother in the basement.”
“But, she said she would kill you.”
“I know. Please help me.”
“OK, OK. Just sit right there. I have to make a phone call and get this straightened out.” The sheriff rose from the chair and walked towards her from behind his desk. “Just to be sure. You’re mother has your brother locked in the basement and she is going to kill you because you came down here and told the police?”
“God, yes. What is wrong with you?” Anita was starting to get frustrated. She had already spent thirty minutes explaining to the police that her mother had gone crazy and was torturing her brother.
“Nothing is wrong with me, Anita. I have to get the facts straight. Don’t you see that it’s hard for me to believe a story like this. You’re mother is one of our town leaders and my boss’ wife.”
“Yes, call my dad. Please! I know he’s out of town, but he will tell you that she has been acting funny lately.”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
The sheriff was almost out of the door when Anita screamed.
He turned around and saw blood pouring from her eye. “Dear God,” he exclaimed and ran to her. “What did you do?”
Anita couldn’t answer him, although she tried. Her mouth just wouldn’t say the words.
“Sheriff Coffee,” a deputy called, then he saw the blood. “What’s happening to her?”
“God only knows, Stephen. Get in here and hold her head.”
Stephen couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The young girl was sitting in the expensive leather chair with her head lolling from left to right. A thin spurt of blood shot from the side of her eyeball with every heart beat.
“What is she trying to say,” the sheriff asked. It was obvious to both men that her mouth was moving and words were slowly being formed.
“Here.” Stephen pushed a blank piece of paper on the sheriff’s desk.
“Try to write on this, Anita.”
There was no time to think. The sheriff barely had his hand out of the way when Anita’s bloody finger began to draw words onto the paper. It moved back and forth and up and down, lubricated by the blood on her hand.
“What is that?” the Sheriff asked. “Good Lord. It’s not one of those pentagram things is it?”
Stephen looked at the dark red scribble and put his hand on the desk, trying to settled his spinning head. But it did no good. He was suddenly overwhelmed by dizziness and puke rushed up his throat and sprayed out of his mouth and nose. The sheriff didn’t have time to flinch before the hot, grey, half digested oatmeal landed on his shirt and fell, stinking, on his trousers.
“Damn it, Stephen, pay attention.” But it was too late. The deputy had passed out and was sliding slowly across the desk, into the floor.
“Anita, please, look at me.” The Sheriff straightened her up as he said it, wanting to get the situation under control. But as Anita continued to draw on the paper with her own blood, the sheriff realized that she had drawn a stick figure. What was she trying to tell him. He was running out of time. “Someone get in here.”
“If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you,” a voice said.
He whirled around in search of the woman who spoke,but there was no one there. The sound was in his head. Suddenly, a pain shot through his temple and his right hand instinctively went to his head.   “Who’s there?”
“No mom,” Anita said. “He won’t tell.”
“Who’s doing this?” The sheriff demanded.
“If you tell, I’ll kill you.” The voice was louder. “I have you all right here with me.”
The pain in the sheriff’s temple grew and warmth flowed from his nose. He reached for his gun and saw that his shirt sleeve was red. He realized then that his nose wasn’t running. It was bleeding. As he lost consciousness, he suddenly realized what it was she was trying to draw. He almost laughed. What could he have done to help her anyway. The police are no match for a voodoo doll.