The good people at Fiction Vortex have seen fit to publish one of my stories. Imagine a world where carnival barkers sell time, and you've only just scratched the surface. Be sure not only to check out my story, but the other fantastic tales you'll find here. And at the end of the month take the time to vote for your favorite. http://www.fictionvortex.com/2013/09/time-to-sell/
Yvonne and I stepped out of the alley. She waved to the shadows eliciting a round of caws. For some reason I felt it necessary to say out loud, “So I take it you’re a Crow.”
She shook her head, “Not anymore. Back in the day, yeah, but I’m on my own now.”
“You must’ve left on good terms.”
She didn’t say anything. I let the matter drop. It was none of my business anyway, and I didn’t want to make it mine. I just wanted the bus out of town.
Yvonne read my mind, “The bus won’t leave for another three hours.”
I figured how hard could it be to lay low. Granted, things hadn’t exactly been going swimmingly so far. However, my hang over was finally starting to abate. I wasn’t a hundred percent yet, but I felt the gears shaking off their rust. Once my mind got going I’d be better able to happen the situation.
I said to Yvonne, “Look. Thanks for everything. I’ll be alright if you just aim me towards the bus station.”
She folded her arms across her chest, “You owe me two favors.”
“Which I will repay…”
I sighed. Nothing is every easy. I said, “Right now,” and she smiled. Yvonne reached into her pocket. She pulled out a sheet of paper that had been ripped to pieces then reassembled with tape. Her eyes scanned a chicken scratch list. Best I could tell it looked like a column of names, places, and punctuation:
So on and so forth. Yvonne pointed to one of the columns. She said, “There’s a guy down in the market named Bryce. He sells orange bottle rockets for two bucks a pop. He’s trying to take my corner.”
I am not known for being physically intimidating. In fact, I think I once thought about kicking my own ass when I saw my reflection out the corner of my eye. Tall, yes, but skinny enough to make a skeleton feel fat -- I’ve never been much of one for beatings. That said I’m good in a fight provided I’m drunk. My main tactic is to come flying in like a rabid squirrel, kicking and punching as I leap at my attacker. The main point being I don’t start fights. I told Yvonne as much.
“First off,” she said, “Stop calling me Yvonne. It’s Y. Simple. Got it?” -- I got it -- “Second, I’m not asking you to kick anybody’s ass. If I wanted this guy fucked up I’d stab him in the ass when he wasn’t looking.”
“In the ass?”
“Right in the hole.” She made a motion that could only be called stabbing something into a person’s asshole. It seemed well practiced. Feeling too disturbed by her anal perforating capabilities to question further, I let Y go on, “I want you to buy a couple of his bottle rockets. That way I can test ‘em. Once I know where he’s getting his stash I can make a few subtle moves.”
Although I hadn’t agreed to anything yet, Y was already walking. I followed. I almost had to run to keep up with her. Not so much because she moved quicker than me, but because she slipped through the crowd like mercury. At one point she simply walked past someone then tossed me their wallet.
“You’ll need money, and I don’t expect you to use your own,” she said. I took all the cash, and was about to pitch the wallet in the trash when Y asked for it back. Seems she wanted the leather.
I said, “You mentioned a corner.”
“Yeah. The market has shops, but everyone sells on the street. I’ve been staked out at my spot for two years now. Then Bryce showed up a few days ago. He flashed a pistol, and evicted me.”
A pistol. The idea of pissing off yet another murderously minded individual in Beecher’s Hollow didn’t sit well with me. Then I considered I would be on the next bus out of the town. Worst came to worst, I was just chalking up another reason never to come back. Still, the fragments from my blackout creeping back into my mind told me I didn’t want to leave straight away. I kept thinking I’d be leaving something behind. A woman in a pinstripe suit wearing a thin purple tie. Her eyes unlocked the horizon, let the Moon rise. Vague hints of a voice echoed from a place in my memory too far to tell me what she said or how she sounded. But I could still feel her. She left an impression in my bones.
Y said, “This guy Bryce is nothing. Trust me. If shit gets weird I got an old picaroon ready to go.”
“Picaroon. Is that a word?”
“I don’t know, but that’s what he calls himself, the old picaroon. I think it means pirate. At least that’s how he dresses.”
This was sounding better by the minute. There’s nothing like knowing one’s safety is in the hands of the mentally deranged.
She slipped down an alley. I hurried to follow, and almost walked eye first into the point of a cutlass. I felt my asshole tighten to the point it almost turned inside out.
“Arrrr! Speak if ye be friend or foe.”
I will say this, the old picaroon looked exactly like a pirate. More to the point one of those pirates from classic silver screen black and white swashbuckling adventures: eye patch, peg leg, tri-corner hat -- the works. The only thing out of place was his hook. It appeared to be a twisted bottle opener rather than a genuine hook.
Y said, “Easy now Cap’n. He’s a friend.”
The Cap’n bobbed his head, “Well, I know ye girlie. But this scurvy dog means nothing to me.” He climbed out of his ship to have a better look at me. His ship, by the by, was a dumpster. Half of a telephone pole -- Lord knows, and I don’t care where he got it from -- served as mast, while a series of shoe strings operated the sails, which themselves were a crazy quilt of various old clothes. A trash can lid welded to several metal bars appeared ready to act as a steering wheel.
The Cap’n hobbled over, the plink of his peg leg drawing more attention to us than I cared. Inches from my face, he used his free eye to examine me. He smelled like good rum and old fish. Muttering some conclusion to himself, he then shifted the patch to examine me further with his other eye. Or I should say what was left of his other eye. It appeared to have been pecked severely some time recently.
Nodding, the old picaroon said, “Aye. Aye, this one’ll do.”
I said, “That’s good to hear.”
The Cap’n said, “He hasn’t the spine to fuck with ye lassie.”
“Few do,” Y said. The old picaroon laughed. He slapped me on the shoulder. It almost knocked me down. He peg hopped to where Y stood. The two smiled at one another like they were closer than family.
The Cap’n produced a bottle from some secret compartment on the side of his ship. The label on it was a skull and crossbones. He offered the first drink to Y. She refused, and he took a long pull from the bottle. He made no move to share any of his concoction with me. I felt slighted, yet somehow glad.
The Cap’n stood up straight. He addressed me like a man used to being in charge, “Are ye aware of the plan?”
I shrugged, “I go up to this Bryce, and buy a few bottle rockets. Simple as that. If anything goes wrong, you’ll spring into action.”
“Indeed. Lets hope the deed is done as easily as it’s spoken. Arrr.”
There are actual buildings one can enter to buy things in the Beecher’s Hollow market. However, all the sales are done on the street. The sidewalks are crowded with independent vendors selling everything anyone could ever want. These dealers form columns in front of brick and mortar businesses. The columns are so thick no customer can make it through the blockade of sales people.
Street vending in Beecher’s Hollow is a clannish affair. Whole families prevent any from entering the hardware store; life long friends form ranks to stop any inflow to the tailor shop, and their phalanx then steers potential customers to a row of woman at peddle operated sewing machines; a loose confederation of like minded fruit dealers bar entrance to the grocer; an entire enclave of Bohemian puppeteers use marionettes to sell strange looking furniture, “This stool is made from my great grandfather’s remains.”
A few of the brick and mortar businesses stand firm, but the only one’s doing well have hired goons out front. Armed thugs beat a path for potential customers. The less well off store owners have been forced to join the mob selling in the street.
Into this cacophony of sales pitches and haggling I plunged find… I didn’t even really know what he looked like. Y told me to head across the market square at a diagonal. On one of the corners at the northeast intersection I’d find Bryce. Except when I finally made it through the dense crowd I found a hundred guys loitering on said corner.
I’ve been around too long to think it’s a good idea to look lost in a sea of con artists, pickpockets, and hard sellers, so I didn’t ask about fireworks. Still, I didn’t see anyone selling anything remotely pyrotechnic. I considered ditching out, but remembering Y’s mercurial movements, I doubted I could give her the slip no matter how dense the crowd. And she was watching me. If things went wrong she was in position to signal the old picaroon.
Feeling like a failure I heard a voice, “Bottle rockets. Rockets here. I got what you want.”
I saw a man in an orange fishnet shirt and baggy khaki cargo pants leaning against a lamppost. Between bites of a cinnamon roll he pitched to the crowd, “Fire in your eyes. Get ya bottle rockets.”
For some reason I felt the need to make a furtive gesture before heading towards him, some type of signal to Y I was going in. However, I’m pretty sure all I did was signal the man on second to steal third.
Across the street I inquired, “You Bryce?”
Without looking at me he said, “Who fucking cares? You want some bottle rockets?”
“Orange bottle rockets?”
“What? Do I look like a fag? Of course, they’re orange. You want purple go see Jimmy Spade. Other side of the square.”
A dim bulb brightened, and I realized orange bottle rockets did not mean actual fireworks. I started to wonder how many of the pitches clamoring around me were euphemisms. What did buying a Sunday suit mean? Are knit sweaters erotica? Did I want a bathtub?
Bryce said, “Look, I ain’t got all day. It’s two bucks a pop, but as good as it is, this shit don’t last.”
“Yeah, you gonna want like six or seven. Believe me.”
“I see no reason not to,” I said and paid him because fuck-all it wasn’t my money. He handed over six vials full of an orange smoke. I put them in my pocket, a faint curiosity forming as to the contents.
I will always blame my parents for what happened next. They regrettably instilled some decency in me which is why I felt compelled to say, “Thank you Bryce.”
He immediately took this the wrong way, “Why the fuck you thanking me? You think I fucking care? You paid. Now get the fuck outta here.” He shoved me to emphasis my dismissal. This would prove to be a fatal mistake.
An actual bottle rocket whistled into the air. It screamed high then burst in a colorful shower of sparkling red. The firework didn’t draw much attention from the crowd. However, the cannon fire that followed it did.
The crowd from the other side of the square screamed. The mob of vendors surged to clear a path. I heard a distant squeal of rusty wheels, clanging metal, and a far off Arrrr! coming closer. When the street cleared enough I saw the old picaroon at the helm of his ship. A slight incline in the road allowed him to pilot his vessel down hill at a shockingly quick speed.
Before I could blink the ship rocketed past. I saw a glint of steel as the Cap’n whipped out his cutlass. A spray of warm liquid hit me in the face when the ship sailed by. Bryce looked stunned. He reached up as if to pull off a hat then collapsed to the ground, the top of his skull tumbling away into the gutter.
The old picaroon steered a sharp turn. The dumpster-ship went up on two wheels. A wreck seemed imminent, but then the old girl righted herself, and the Cap’n vanished around a corner. The silent crowd turned to stare at me. By which I mean the everyone in the market square turned to stare at me. I suspected they were waiting, in part, for some explanation. Realizing it probably didn’t look good being covered in Bryce’s blood, I pointed down the street, “Get him!”
The mob gave a collective shrug. A street cleaner in overalls was already hoisting Bryce’s body into a mobile bin. The cleaner didn’t bother with the skull top. He just kicked it down into the sewer. Soon everything was back to business as usual.
A tap at my shoulder. I turned to find Y standing behind me, a sheepish expression on her face.
She said, “That did not go exactly as planned.”
It was time for a drink.
Coming Soon! Part 6: The Man With the Clockwork Face
The second the quiet hits
the screaming starts.
Instead of a tooth brush
to get past
the need to clean.
A straight razor
to shave off the scalp
and get those eyelids,
sick of blinking.
Drink to puke.
Eat the refuse.
Kick a baby ten yards.
Shit on a nun.
Turn the headlights off
And drive in the dark
Down the highway,
70mph and climbing --
But don't turn
the radio on.
No need for distractions.
Out of the hotel my mind switched to one track: get out of town. The quickest road out of Beecher's Hollow didn’t seem like it’d be hard to find. If after asking around there wasn’t a train or a bus I figured fuck-all, I could always steal a car. Aim for the nearest horizon and just drift till something seemed familiar enough to get oriented. Then east or west, north or south -- home again, home again.
My skull felt like it needed to be glued together. However, hesitation has never saved anyone’s life. Not as far as I know. Recollections of the box full of Dekker brought the taste of ashes to my mouth. A breeze had called up a cloud of Bill, and I remember breathing him in. Disbelief influencing doubt -- it might have been a prank not a box full of my friend's ashes -- till I noticed little brittle chunks of bone as well as the gritty consistency of the ash. Poor Bill. He burned his life down and ended up getting caught in the flames. Maybe that’s what he always intended. Yet, I’m sure he counted on some kind of phoenix style resurrection.
What exactly he did to make even his friends unwelcome in Beecher’s Hollow barely raised an eyebrow. That is to say, as I walked the streets of said Hollow. When the box of Bill arrived, sure, I considered myriad twisted tales -- The Death of the Tommy Ks, Porcelain Fuck Doll, Gasoline After Drinking, or worst of the worst, Destined for Heaven -- any of which could’ve turned the town against us. I imagined Bill laughing at bar, a group of drinking buddies one upping each other with their exploits, and feeling too safe Bill Dekker told the tale that got him killed. But on the streets of Beecher‘s Hollow, I couldn’t give a drop of piss. I just wanted out before whoever set the boundaries discovered they’d been crossed.
I walked quick as I could. The other pedestrians did the same. We all seemed to be in a hurry to anywhere. Most kept their eyes on the road, while others watched their feet hammer the pavement. Many looked like their eyes had come loose years ago, swimming in sockets to half truth hallucinations. The sun burned down. The angle of shadows implied the hour, and for the majority that implication sent them scurrying for the shady comfort of neon adorned watering holes. I felt tempted to do the same. One two combo to steady my nerves -- shot & a beer. A box of ashes. The idea popped into my head inspiring temperance.
I followed the mainstream herd towards what I hoped would be the heart of town. Finding my best means of exit would have better odds downtown. Granted, the risk of being spotted increased. It might sound like my brain had yet to reason the chances of being recognized by a stranger are small. However, that implies I’d got into town and gone straight to bed. Unlikely. For all I knew I’d spent hours attracting attention, and it was only an ever shorter matter of minutes before the hammer came down.
Imagine a hooker that used to be the classiest call girl in the city till too many nights of hard living; fueled on whiskey and cocaine, battered by rough and strange sex, her visage needs more and more layers of paint to conceal the eight miles of worn highways she’s morphing into, but even then there’s still a sparkle in the deepest depth of her eye, one she learned to lock away too late for it to be anything more than a dim flicker. Burning passion traded in for burning STDs, she hopes, beyond any lessons experience inspires, there’s something left to lose; she’s says she’s doing fine when the truth is any step in the opposite direction is for the better. Imagine that, and there’s downtown Beecher’s Hollow. A romantic might call it the Portrait of Bourbon Street, akin to Dorian Grey’s, but that’s too kind.
For all the legends, Beecher’s Hollow looked wretched. A decaying art deco nightmare desperate to hide its decline behind neon veils. Said veils burning eyes blind to the rotted wood, chipped brick, myriad graffiti, and the grim rainbow stains on the pavement.
In a way, I wished I’d never learned the true of face of this so-called paradise.
I want to blame this revelation for what happened next. That said, I can’t blame everything on reality.
My stomach burbled, an amalgamation of hunger and nausea starting a civil war. One side craving content the other protesting the current inhabitants and even the remote suggestion of population increase. The two churning -- I‘ve got to be the only asshole in the world who ever felt the need to get poetic about an unavoidable need to puke. Not wanting to paint the sidewalk, mainly so as not to draw attention, I headed towards a nearby alley.
“Hey! Don’t go in there.”
Stopping at the mouth of the alley I saw a young girl running across the street. Black hair streaked blue, eyes behind a pair of mirror shades, she reminded me of countless women I’d never had the nerve to ask out in high school. My dream girl stepping back into the picture, seemingly no older than the last time I saw her.
She said to me, “Hey you stupid motherfucker, don’t go in there.” I glanced at the alley. The look on my face compelled her to say, “Yeah. You don’t want to go in there.”
I opened my mouth to speak. Instead of explaining with words I demonstrated my reasoning by spewing brown and red onto the nearby wall and ground. She jumped back, but made no sound of disgust.
Examining the puddle, mostly liquid, I remarked, “That red. I really hope I was having Daiquiris.”
“It looks like blood,” she said.
“It does.” Straightening up, and feeling immensely better I apologized. She waved the whole thing off.
“Not the first time I’ve seen a tourist pop. It happens.”
I said, “But still.”
“But nothing.” She handed me a few sticks of gum.
I thanked her then asked, “Why shouldn’t I’ve… done that in the alley?”
She shook her head, “Fucking tourists.” Pointing to a piece of graffiti, a massive sinister crow, she said, “Crows.” It meant nothing to me, and she must've caught that because she added, “Gang. Local gang.”
“Oh,” I nodded, “Territory and such.”
“Yeah,” she smiled, though I suspect her eyes would‘ve belied the expression. I noticed the dental floss stitching holding her jeans together, the heavy boots too big for her feet, and the homemade t-shirt for something called Y Creations. The fact she kept calling me a tourist made me realize she was a local. As such, she might know a way out of town.
“Well, I owe you one,” I said, “However, would you mind if I asked you a question?”
She shrugged, tried to slide a step away without appearing to move on purpose, “Two favors are better than one.”
“It’s nothing weird. I’m just wondering if there’s a bus or train out of town.”
Her shoulders dropped a bit. Feeling more relaxed she said, “No problem. There’s a train every three days…”
I gritted my teeth.
“…and a bus every evening.”
I felt myself lift off my feet. For a second I thought maybe I could simply fly out of Beecher’s Hollow. Soar over the wasteland.
“Where’s the bus station?” I asked.
She smirked, “Never seen a tourist in a hurry to leave.”
Worried she might deduce I was avoiding something, and worried even more so she might try to cash in on it -- I would… I have -- I lied, “Running low on cash.”
“Still, a new excuse to me.” She folded her arms across her chest. For a flash I recalled my mother disbelieving my insistence I hadn’t been drinking. Our debate devolving from wit to volume matches. I’d learned a long time ago honesty doesn’t always mean punishment or danger.
Keeping in mind this girl had saved me from the Crows’ alley, I said, “I was told not to ever come here, and somehow I’m in the one place I shouldn’t be.”
“Who told you never to come here?” she asked.
“I don’t know. They sent me a box with my buddy’s ashes in it, and a note saying never to come.”
She nodded, “Sounds like a Kelly thing.”
“Irish crime lords. Just be happy they felt like barbequing. Sometimes they send the head. I even knew a guy who got his friend‘s dick and balls.”
This was turning out to be a lovely part of the world.
She said, “Look, if the Kelly’s don’t want you here then I don’t want to be seen talking to you. No offense.”
I shrugged, “None taken.” It made sense to me. She had to live here after all. I was, with any luck, just passing through.
She chewed her lower lip a second, “The bus station is over on Leland Ave. Other side of town. I heard it’s set up out of sight so no one thinks about leaving too often, but I dunno. That could just be an urban legend.”
Either way, I said, “Just aim me in the general direction. I’ll find it on my own.”
She turned to point. Across the street a pair of men who looked like shaved gorillas jammed into three piece suits were glaring at us. A dim recollection of a miraculous poker victory crossed my mind, and I realized I’d beaten someone out of a seemingly sure win thanks to the river. The two started to cross the street. I felt certain it must've been them, and now they had their chance for revenge. The gorillas marched without concern for cars. I suspected cars were more likely to get wrecked hitting these beasts than vice versa.
The girl swore, “Motherfucker.” She knew well enough to put two and two together. Even if these brutes didn’t belong to the Kelly’s they meant trouble.
“Sorry,” I said, unsure what to say or do otherwise.
An odd expression flitted across her face, “You’re sorry?” Then she smirked, “Follow me!”
Before I knew what, she grabbed me by the shirt front and in the blink of an eye the two of us charged down the Crows’ Alley. I barely chanced to notice the moment we ran, the two gorillas crossing the road charged as well. The girl began cawing, sounding like a real crow. Caws called down from the rooftops lining the alley. I caught glimpses of shadows moving high above us. I’m almost sure I heard the flutter of wings. Glancing over my shoulder I saw the gorillas gaining ground.
Knowing I couldn’t keep running at the pace we were -- hung over or not I am not much of a runner. Thud-thwack, followed by a kind of zip alongside a scream. The girl slowed. I looked back. One of the beasts chasing us had vanished. The other scanned the roof line. He looked frightened.
The girl patted me on the shoulder, “Check this out.”
A shadow jumped from the roof. It fell to the alley below landing right on top of our brute pursuer. Weight and momentum combined to make whatever descended a wrecking ball. However, even as the gorilla’s face slammed into the pavement, the shadow snapped on a line causing the two to sail back into the sky, and over the rooftop. Gone in a flash.
“That’s how the Crow’s get ya,” she said and laughed.
We were safe for the time being, but I felt compelled to ask, "Who are you?"
She said, "Yvonne. Yvonne Munnin."