“I saw six men kicking and punching the mother-in-law. My neighbor said, ‘Are you going to help?’ I said, ‘No, Six should be enough.’” – Les Dawson
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel
“A man only becomes wise when he begins to calculate the approximate depth of his ignorance.” - Gian Carlo Menotti
“If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.” – George Carlin
“All generalizations are false, including this one.” – Mark Twain
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” – Douglas Adams
“Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.” – John N. Mitchell
“What you perceive, your observations, feelings, interpretations, are all your truth. Your truth is important. Yet it is not The Truth.” – Linda Ellinor
“The unreal is more powerful than the real, because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because it’s only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on.” – Chuck
“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”― Franz Kafka
Johnny is a fighter pilot. He dives, barrel rolls, and swims among angels. Air screams past his windscreen at unknowable speeds while beams of sunlight flash through the clouds like the hand of God. The plane around him vanishes as every connection to reality seems to fade save for the stick in his hands. The roar of the engine disappears, quieting to a tiny vibration at the back of his head. He doesn’t need the steel or the glass – he is flying under his own power.
The screech of metal tears him from his waking dream as bullets rip through the checkered wings of his plane. Johnny’s head jerks around and spots his adversary twisting himself around the clouds, duplicating his every move. His shadow has caught up to him at last, blinking through the clouds like a ghost.
He jerks the stick upward, jumping toward the incalculable blue above. The plane heaves itself out of the white and shoots towards the heavens, violently shaking as the engine doubles its efforts to keep itself aloft.
The shadow lurks beneath him, matching his speed and grace. Another wave of bullets hiss their hate as they sail past him, two or three connecting with a precise staccato like some crude music.
The plane bucks as Johnny dives toward the ground… bucks, and then screams. Bullets tear into the plane’s belly, ripping through the fuel tank and spilling its blood into the heavens. Johnny twists the plane around and sees the dark ink hovering in midair, beautiful and weightless even as it falls.
The dashboard dials spin madly as bullets shred his wings again. He sees the white of the clouds through the ragged holes. He closes his eyes… and releases the stick. He feels himself relax, his breathing slowing as he reaches for the latch of the ejection seat. His hand closes about it, and he waits. The nose of the plane dips… and as it begins its first sickening spin back into the clouds, he pulls hard.
Johnny threw the toy plane at the ground and mouthed the word boom.
He stood looking at it for some time, reflecting on his brave final flight, even as he felt his mind return to reality. He felt his bare feet in the tall grass, and felt a gentle wind as a turntable scratched a tune from somewhere inside the house, made wordless by distance. At last he picked it up and held it in the air before him, studying its pleasing lines. The metal toy was heavy in his hands, its color the gunmetal gray of cold aluminum. It had black stripes and white stars on the wings. He turned the propeller on the plane’s nose absently. The science of flight would have escaped him, but at five-years-old, it was enough to know that it just worked – that this beautiful machine flew impossibly among the clouds.
Johnny turned on his bare feet and saw his mother coming across the grass toward him in her flowered summer dress, walking lightly in the midday sun. He looked at her and then at the ground. When he finally returned the look on her expectant face, he simply nodded.
The drive to town hall was silent. Johnny sat in the back seat of the family’s Chrysler and held the plane in his lap, his forehead pressed against the window. He watched homes march past, counted the telephone poles, and numbered the people who waved cheerfully at his mother. He watched the world turn.
Johnny fumbled with the door handle and jumped to the ground when the car came to a stop, and had his door closed before his mother had opened hers. He walked around the car to the driver’s side and waited, head bowed, for his mother to exit. Then, tucking the plane beneath an arm with one hand, and taking his mother’s hand in the other, they set off toward the doors of the hall. They were flung wide open with posters hanging above, printed in capital letters:
PHILADELPHIA SCRAP METAL DRIVE
GET INTO THE SCRAP!
SUPPORT THE TROOPS AND THE WAR EFFORT
GET CASH FOR YOUR TRASH!
“SOON WE WILL HAVE OUR STORM TROOPERS IN AMERICA!”
- ADOLPH HITLER
WHAT DO YOU SAY, AMERICA?
There was a small line of people that stretched out the door. They waited patiently for their turn, holding broken toasters, hubcaps, bent gardening tools, scrap paper, and anything else that would help turn the gears of war. Johnny didn’t notice that he was the only one who came carrying something that was not broken – something whose value could be measured beyond the raw materials that comprised it. But his mother did. The thought made her smile proudly as they took their place in line.
Soon enough he stepped across the threshold and left the bright sun outside. He blinked his eyes to ready himself for the interior and was greeted by a cluster of people approaching the series of collection bins standing nearby. Little old ladies smiled and bobbed from nearby, thanking the community for their selflessness, directing them to the appropriate receptacles.
He stepped up and took his place beside one of the collection bins. It was almost as tall as he was. He didn’t look at his mother but he felt her palm on his shoulder and it was all the reassurance he needed. His small arms hefted the plane aloft over his head one last time and held it suspended over the lip of the barrel. He expected it to be taken from him; he didn’t anticipate the letting go. The plane was warm from its time in the sun; Johhny felt his fingertips adhere to its smooth surface for just one brief, surprising beat too long and then it was tumbling nose-first and disappeared too quickly into the barrel, where it landed out of his sight with a small metallic clatter.
Johnny walked through the doors a fighter pilot, but he left a soldier. His face wore as close an approximation of nobility as a five-year-old could muster. The hand that had clutched the plane on the way in hung empty in his pocket. He stopped suddenly, looked up at the American flag hung proudly above him, and then at his mother.
She looked down, smiling her approval. She said nothing, letting her eyes speak instead. I’m proud of you, they seemed to say. But there was a sadness there, too, just behind her smiling eyes.
The science of flight may yet escape Johnny, but charity is not lost on him. He will rest tonight knowing that this daydream, one of the few things that was truly his to sacrifice, had been given in pursuit of a better world. Eventually he will question why men must fight and die. He may wonder, in time, why the world has begun to grow so cold and callous.
But not today.
For now he is a soldier, sacrificing what he can for the country he is yet too young to love, and too young by far to know how to question. And his toy plane – once a facsimile of an instrument of death, will become an actual one; bullet casings are hard to come by. Bombs require raw materials. Or maybe his miniature plane will become the full-size version, and keep Daddy safe in the skies.
As men march to war, children march toward childhood’s end. And one day Johnny might even wonder if there was ever any such thing as innocence; the Bible, after all, tells him that we all are born wretches, irredeemable but for the grace of God.
Childlike wonder is satisfied with evasions and half-answers to life’s messy questions. The mind of the adult comes to terms with the fact that no answers will ever be found, no matter how relentlessly they are sought.
For now, Johnny’s world is huge and bright. He can march past the propaganda and know that his was a job well done. The leering face of Uncle Sam on the posters tells him as much.
I have had to dramatically decrease the scope of my ambitions.
During my LEGO-strewn childhood, my mother was quick to tell me that I had what she called “good spatial awareness” and that I could, if I wanted to, pursue a career in architecture. I remember being surrounded by notebooks full of graph paper and pencils in constant need of sharpening, sketching out schematics for spaceships from Star Wars and some of my own design. But when when I took to the dull parallelisms and straight lines of homes of office buildings, my sketches became stilted and hollow and wholly uninspired.
And my dad reminded me gently that my less-than-impressive grades in mathematics were unbecoming of an architect. He didn’t do this to discourage me from my dreams; quite the opposite. But I have no doubt I caused him at least a flicker of disappointment; he himself is gifted with a knowledge of the absolutes of numbers and their function, having worked as an engineer and programmer for almost as long as I have been alive. He was never a terribly patient teacher but he was knowledgeable, and helped me limp through my math classes. I remember him buying me a set of very expensive student encyclopedias halfway through middle school, and he and I opened them together exactly once: to look up the procedure by which one might – by hand – find the square root of a given number. The method taught by my math teacher had been reproduced imperfectly in my notebook, and so my father and I set out to find an alternative method. We were successful, and I turned in the assignment and received a failing grade. My toad-like math teacher, Mr. Barton (who not even tenure could protect when he backhanded a student), suggested that I pay closer attention to his lessons in the future; alternative methods at reaching the same goal were not permitted. Imagine if all of life worked that way.
So any tiny, withered desire I had to perform well in mathematics got the remaining life crushed out of it and I decided to muddle through with only minimal effort. But while I floundered at math, I flourished in my studies of reading and writing. As early as second grade, teachers were commending me on my vivid and energetic writing voice. My family took a vacation to the Bahamas when I was about this age that I only vaguely remember now, but I do remember coming back and presenting my teacher with journal entries describing my family’s adventures. She thought they were works of fiction; my recollection of a coconut milk vendor trolling the beaches was too perfectly rendered to have been the product of memory, and didn’t have the tell-tale stiltedness of a child’s journal entry. She was the first to tell my mother that I had a possible future in writing.
The second was my fourth grade teacher. I don’t remember what singular thing I did to impress her, but whatever she said to my mom, it wasn’t soon after that Mom’s ambitions of my becoming an architect were replaced by dreams of being a Bestseller’s Mother. I think she’d probably already had the bumper sticker made up. And so after high school I went off to college to pursue a BA in writing. Hindsight tells me it was a fool’s errand on some level, but recent empirical data claims that liberal arts majors are in demand now more than ever. There’s evidence for both pronouncements. I suppose part of the problem is that it’s a career choice that doesn’t really have an endgame in mind; business students, in my experience, have at least an imperfect picture of what they’ll be doing after they graduate. “Writer,” on the other hand, is not a word fit for printing on a business card – it is not a word that instills confidence, however attractive it might be as a self-title.
Four years came and went. I became a writer, I guess. Or began the process of becoming one. I realized how much I didn’t know before I got to college. I learned the craft and perhaps more importantly, I learned about myself. I re-learned myself. I think it’s probably a cliché by now that young men and women go to college to found out who they are. This is absolutely, terribly true; I am a different person – a better person for the time I spent there; I made lasting friends and I unlearned certain truths about the world and about myself and I discovered confidence for probably the very first time in my life and as good as things were at the time, I learned the skills necessary to avoid total implosion when things inevitably got a little less great in the quickly approaching future.
Can these things be accomplished without going to college? I have no doubt that they can be. It’s a truth of our modern world that college students have more doors open to them than do people who didn’t go to college. But this is not to say that the latter are any less valuable as human beings. We are not our collections of skills.
I’ve been out of college for over a year now, and I know exactly two people from my circle of friends who have found a job related to their field of study. Several others have taken jobs best described as the very best of very limited options, and others have chosen to further their education and defer their entry into the real world.
Physics teaches us that potential energy refers to an object’s position relative to a reference point; an object’s potential energy changes according to its physical location. A book resting on the floor, for example, has a great deal less potential energy than does one placed high up on a table. I look around most days and think that, while my current situation isn’t ideal, I do at least have a moderate amount of stored potential.
My brother lives by a similar credo; he attended business classes at the local community college and teaches himself musical theory in his spare time. He’d rather be studying music at Berklee, but until then he’s working to maximize his own stored potential.
For right now, I’m working in an Amazon.com warehouse ten minutes from my house. It isn’t remotely what I expected to be doing a year after I graduated, but as I said before, I never did have a very solid plan. I was recently granted a conversion from a temp to a full-time Amazon associate, which brought with it a (very) modest raise, benefits, and a reasonably secure future with the company. In the couple of months since I started, I’ve managed to distinguish myself in ways that, viewed against the backdrop of the universe’s many galaxies and vast untamable wonders, mean precisely nothing. I have been frequently recognized for the speed and accuracy with which I move boxes from one part of the warehouse to another. My life over the last couple months has been defined by the wait between computer print-outs telling me that I’m meeting or exceeding Amazon’s expectations for productivity. I have a ream of these at home.These are my accomplishments. This is the place from which I cultivate my pride, and measure my ambition.
And maybe the worst of this is the fact that it wasn’t a gradual realization; it hasn’t been a process that I could watch and be aware of and have some measure of control over. No, it was quite sudden indeed. A little bit like an obese man waking up one morning and looking at himself in the mirror and realizing for the very first time that he hasn’t seen his penis in five years.
My ambition is that penis.
I am alone with my thoughts much of the time at work, so it’s easy to let the phrase So this is what my life is? enter my mind. But then I mentally kick my own ass and realize that the constituent parts of my life are so miraculously and completely perfect that I have to remind myself daily, when thoughts like these creep into my head, that I am one of the luckiest people on planet earth. I have a loving family and a roof over my head that I don’t have to share with strangers, running water, clothes to wear, food to eat, friends, a well-rounded skill set, and I’m reasonably attractive and male and white. There isn’t any single thing about my life that somebody, somewhere, wouldn’t murder to have for themselves.
I might be living for small pats on the back when I perform certain menial tasks well, but the truth is that they wouldn’t be thanking me for my quality work if even these stupid, mind-numbing tasks could be done well by just anyone. There is pride to be found here, even in distinguishing myself among other non-skilled workers; there is something worthy of ambition here. Because if I’ve learned anything at all in the last couple of years, it’s that no task is too small to bring the whole of my human essence to bear on it. Nothing is worth doing to anything less than the best of my ability. And reminding myself of this fact is what it takes to remember that what I am is not all that I ever have to be.
We used to drive up into the mountains every weekend to set off fireworks and M80s and look at the stars. We were maybe thirty strong, though only about half were ever there at once. We loaded cases of Coors and Busch into the backs of the trucks and drove deeper into the woods, out to this hunting cabin that Charlie’s family owned. We lit big campfires, small enough for us to control but big enough to push it. The crowd was always changing. You wouldn’t see somebody for a month or two, he’d have a girl or something, and then he’d show up one weekend at the cabin and all was forgiven and no questions asked.
For me and the guys I grew up with, heading up to the cabin started with Charlie’s oldest brother, who took us there when Charlie and me and all our friends were just sixteen. Then the middle brother and his buddies. We were always close to him, felt like he was as much our big brother as Charlie’s. He brought us up almost every weekend and when he headed out to Pittsburgh running after high-paying welding jobs and maybe a real degree, the cabin came to us.
We had all sorts. There were older guys, guys who were twenty-five, twenty-six, friends of Charlie’s oldest brother who still hung around the area and liked having a good time, and guys who hung with us while the middle brother was still around, and then guys from our high school class who we’d known since kindergarten and who hadn’t been school smart and who didn’t go to college. Some folks stopped showing up, but none of us went anywhere. The work was here. We had no reason to leave and no reason to stop going up to the cabin.
There wasn’t a logic to it. We came from all over the valley. Leck Kill guys, Dornsife guys, Greenbrier guys, Red Cross guys. Nobody knew where the lines were, but everybody knew there was a difference. Not in the lay of the land, since you could get from one end of Red Cross to the other end of Dornsife and pass through everything in between in ten minutes, but in the people you knew when you were growing up. The borders were hard to see, but when you were a little kid, you knew who the Dornsife boys were, the Leck Kill boys. By the time we got to high school we were all the same, one big group, but back then those pockets of guys were the guys you shot BB with and the guys you tore up the fields on your four-wheeler with. The gangs just got bigger as you got older, they came together. We spread across the length of the valley. We were everywhere, and the cabin was ours.
Then this girl showed up and fucked the whole thing over. We’d been out of school four years, maybe five and one weekend Charlie just stopped coming.
Charlie and I rode up together sometimes and I waited for him until about seven at night, when the sky started to get dark, and then I climbed into the truck and headed for the hills. I kicked on the high school football game until I lost signal for the trees. Though it was his place, Charlie didn’t run the show, so that weekend we all just showed up and made do without him and we didn’t think nothing of it.
Then he wasn’t at the next weekend and the next. He missed a solid month. It felt like the whole world went to hell all at once. I got cut back to part-time at the body shop, the high school boys went on a four-game losing streak and the pipes at the cabin burst with the first freeze. Then like a goddamn saint, the next weekend Charlie shows up early morning Saturday, hand in hand with this blonde.
It couldn’t have been earlier than nine o’clock in the morning that Saturday. We were all standing around the ashes of the fire from the night before, trying to breathe life back into it. We had our knives out, shaving pieces of bark off of dried out branches, while a few guys were snapping up twigs and piling them up near the coals. Mac was on his hands and knees, blowing on the embers. We had smoke and we could hear crackling but we didn’t have flames yet. Charlie came strolling over with this girl like nothing ever changed. He had his red flannel on, the one with all the holes in it and all grease stains that we hung up out in the porch when we went inside because it stunk up the cabin, and his steel-toe boots. He had a dip of tobacco in his lip and an empty beer bottle in his right hand that he spit the juice into.
Charlie got to the fire and Mac blew on the twigs and all of a sudden it blazed up real fast. We knew it was coincidence, but not missing an opportunity, we clapped him on the back and thanked him for showing up and said we didn’t know what to do without him.
“You missed me?” Charlie said, pretending to get all doe-eyed. He wiped them like he was trying out for a role as John Wayne’s kid sidekick. Jerry hit him in the arm.
Charlie introduced his girl as Theresa Mae. She wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t a whole lot to look at, either. Blonde hair tied back, small hands, brown eyes. Just a real plain country girl. But goddamn, she was dumb as a brick. None of us were professors, but we knew a way of life and we knew how to think. As my old man always put it, “I’m not a very well-educated man, but I can tell my head from my ass.” I don’t know that Theresa Mae could say the same. The first thing she did was point to the smokehouse and ask if it were an outhouse. And maybe it looked like one. But one of the guys walked over to it and opened up the door and showed her the hooks where we hung the meat and where we stoked the fire and she still didn’t get it. She said, “But where do you go to the bathroom in here?” I looked at Charlie but he was watching her and didn’t catch my eye.
Jerry said, “We don’t have running water. That’s a luxury.”
We pissed the rest of the day away, throwing knives at the big oak, playing poker and euchre, wandering into the woods to grab more wood and splitting it down real fine, and throwing our cigarettes into the fire. Lou had brought his beagle Jack Daniels up again and we threw sticks into the creek and watched Jack Daniels bound after them. We were living. There was nobody to answer to back home and nothing serious that had to be done. You could mow the lawn on Sunday night when we got back from the cabin, before you crawled into bed for work the next morning. Theresa Mae hung all over Charlie all day, staying out of the way, though she didn’t redeem herself, either. I was sitting around playing cards with Lou and Tony and Charlie, a hand of hold ‘em. Theresa Mae sat next to Charlie with her arms around him and her head nuzzled against his side. All of us brought girls up to the cabin now and again, but this girl, Charlie paid her extra attention. Usually a girl turned into one of the guys. She smoked, she drank, she cussed, and whoever brought her up didn’t treat her special until it was time to go to bed, when they’d wander away from the firelight and off into the woods or into the bunkroom early or out to the trucks and they’d drive away for a little while. Charlie treated Theresa Mae different. He had his arm around her the whole time and kept leaning down and kissing her forehead. It slowed the game down.
Eventually, though, she lifted her head and said, “Charlie showed me where you all grew up.”
I shuffled the cards and dealt after Lou and Charlie laid out the blinds.
“Charlie took me to his house, too,” she said. I didn’t look up from the cards. Jack Daniels chewed on a stick underneath the table. “Do you eat all of that corn?”
I stopped mid-deal. “What?”
“The big field in front of Charlie’s house.”
The field was feed corn. It was cheaper and was meant for animals to eat, not people. Charlie’s family, like most of us, had acres and acres of property and nothing to do with it, so they leased it out to the Wehry farm, who planted feed corn to feed their pigs and cattle. The Wehry’s farmed tens of thousands of acres, which was a big deal around home. Everyone with extra property leased it to the Wehry’s. It was an easy was to pick up an extra buck.
“Yeah,” Lou said. I finished the deal and he looked at his cards. “You should see them boys when it’s time to harvest. You go to Charlie’s house October to April, you eat corn. Corn on the cob, off the cob, corn bread, soups, whatever.”
Tony laughed. “His mama’s incredible at making corn dinners stay new for six months,” he said.
Theresa Mae nodded. “Oh.”
I rolled my eyes as we started betting. Theresa Mae stood up and kissed Charlie on the cheek.
“I’m going inside for a minute,” she said. “Little girl’s room.” She walked away. Charlie watched her.
“Jesus H. Christ,” I said. “Where the hell did you get her?”
“She’s not from around here,” Charlie said.
“No kidding,” Tony said. “I’m surprised she didn’t go over to the smokehouse instead of inside. Who fucking told her we had running water?”
Jack Daniels moaned. Lou reached under the table and scratched his ears. “Well, she’s all right to keep around for a short while. I guess.”
“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “I’ve never felt like this about a girl before.”
We didn’t want to ask what that meant.
It was one of those October nights that when it got dark, it got cold. We pulled on our Carhardts. Built the fire up big and got to the end of a slat of firewood, which we busted up and threw on too, screws and all. Then we all just sat around and drank more beer and told the war stories, not because they needed to be told, but because remembering them made them feel not so far away. Pumped up with beer and pride we felt like we could still suit up in our football uniforms and rally late in the fourth to score fourteen unanswered points and take the conference title, or pull on our graduation gowns with nothing underneath and leave the back of the gown undone so our asses were showing as we walked across the auditorium stage to get our diplomas.
Theresa Mae wore Charlie’s jacket. She was tiny and she swam in the thing. She sat on his lap near the fire while he nursed a Coors. He was just there in his flannel but didn’t complain. I kept my eye on them from across the flames. Lou and Jack Daniels sat next to me. Mac pulled up a lawn chair on my other side and handed me a Busch. I cracked it and drank deeply, letting the alcohol slide down my throat.
“You think it’s for real?” Lou asked. “You think he’s in love with her?”
“Christ,” I said, “I hope not, for his sake. She just don’t know this place.”
“His business,” Mac said. He cracked open a Coors and drank. “Good for him, I guess.”
“He said he feels different though,” I said. “He gonna get married? He just met her.”
“My parents dated senior year of high school, January,” Mac said, “got married in August of that year, and they’ve been happy for the past thirty-five years. It happens, man. Accept it.”
“Eh.” Lou reached down and scratched Jack Daniels’s ears. The beagle groaned and his tail wagged. “I think Jack Daniels is all a man really needs.”
I laughed. “I’ll drink to that.”
Charlie and Theresa Mae were engaged within a little over two months. He proposed to her at Christmas. They didn’t get married for more than a year after that, because they wanted to get things together. Buy a house, figure things out. I don’t know what it was. For about a year between when they got engaged and when they got married, we all kept going up to the cabin on weekends but Charlie was never the same. They only came up on Saturday morning, while all of us were still hung over or asleep, and left Saturday night. Once in a blue moon, they came up for the whole weekend, but Charlie didn’t drink as much, didn’t smoke as much, and he quit chewing tobacco all together. One day he showed up chomping on nicotine gum instead.
And then they just stopped coming. Charlie and Theresa Mae bought a house in Greenbrier and moved in together. That was when we cut back. In the months before their marriage, the old crew got together every couple of weeks at the cabin. We knew we were allowed to use it, that wasn’t the issue, but it didn’t feel right. He didn’t have to be there. Nobody specific ever had to be there. But it was his place and when he stopped showing up and it seemed like he wasn’t coming back, we stopped going, too. We quit altogether the weekend before they got married. Didn’t even throw a bachelor party for him. Our whole lives before Theresa Mae had been a bachelor party, and the party had kept going while he’d been engaged. Why would we throw him one just before his wedding?
In the first year they were married, the gang went up twice, once for the opening of bear season, once for the opening of deer season. The next year we went up for deer. The next we didn’t go up at all. We saw Charlie around but it wasn’t like we used to. Last we heard, he had a kid. A son. I guess him and Theresa Mae and his son used the cabin for camping trips and vacation. I don’t know. Fuck him.
Louie Land is a recent graduate from Susquehanna University. His work has also appeared in the The Susquehanna Review.
Colin is an avalanche of a guy; easily excited, smothering, and fluffy. His boxy frame nearly splinters that of the door as he barrels into Brad’s living room, sweaty and out of breath. “Guys!”
Seemingly unphased by the loud intrusion, Brad keeps his eyes fixed on the television, his hands wrapped around a black PsyCore controller. On the couch next to him is David, who is four years younger than the others, only fifteen, and not yet jaded by Colin’s cumbersome presence. He greets Colin with cheerful naivety and turns back to the task at hand.
They are on a mission: escape from the Capitol Building with the antidote after slaying the horde of infected, flesh-eating senators in their way. They’ve already failed three times and Brad is desperate for this victory. Right now, nothing could be more important, especially not Colin.
Noting their lack of interest, Colin decides that it’s time to get serious. He needs to get their undivided attention, so he chooses his next words very carefully. “Dude.”
Brad still wears an expression of utterly no shits given. He pauses the game and runs a hand through his short, dark, unwashed hair. “Yes?”
“I’ve found something special and you’re going to love it. Know what it is? I’ll give each of you one guess.”
“Is it,” he pauses thoughtfully, “the courtesy to announce yourself, like with a phone call or even the doorbell, instead of busting into my home like a task force?”
“Nope,” Colin says, ignoring his sarcasm. “That’s not it.”
“Really? ‘Cause, I thought for sure it had to be that.”
“Dave? Take a guess.”
David sits his controller down and taps his chin, smiling. His eyes roll, as if he is watching the answer glide down toward him on a delicious, sweet and sour gummy candy rainbow. “Is it weed?”
“Ah!” he exclaims, a big grin smeared across his face. He digs a quarter-ounce bag out of his pocket and gets down on one knee, holding it up reverently. “Only the best weed you two schlubs will ever smoke in the whole of your lives! It’s so good, it might even kill you.”
Brad scoffs. “Shut up, man. Your stuff’s the worst. You’re like some kind of big, sweaty, bunk weed magnet.” He goes back to slaughtering the ravenous, undead lawmakers.
Colin wears a look of hurt, but quickly shakes it off. “Let this batch speak for itself, then.” He takes a pipe from his other pocket and packs it. “Here,” he says, offering it to Brad.
“I don’t want any. Besides, we just smoked.”
With an exasperated sigh, Colin turns to David. “Do you turn down free ganj’ like this pussy lightweight?”
“I’ll smoke it,” he volunteers. David takes the pipe and fires it up, taking a deep draw and holding it in. Within seconds, he enters into a core-shattering coughing fit that lands him on the floor and lasts several minutes. “Oh, wow,” he squeaks, breathless. “Ouch.”
Brad stares wide-eyed at Colin. “Jesus! For a second I thought it might actually kill him.”
“The guy who sold it to me said it would probably do that.”
“Do what? Kill us?”
“No, of course not. Hurt like hell, I mean.”
“That tasted really weird,” David rasps, using the coffee table as support to hoist himself back onto the couch.
“Wait, Colin, have you even tried this stuff out yet?”
“No, I just got it. I wanted to share it with you guys first.”
“What the fuck, man? What are we, your guinea pigs?”
“You’re too paranoid, dude,” he said, waving him off. He turns toward David. “Hey, space cadet, how do you feel?”
David’s head wobbles and his eyelids are fluttering. He speaks slowly, but clearly. “I feel like I just got my butt kicked by a gang of neckless skinheads.” He pauses to let out a leftover cough, and then begins laughing loudly. “Like if that were the best feeling in the world!”
“Hand it over!” Colin exclaims, shooting Brad a snide look utterly without effect. He takes his own monstrous hit, but quickly finds himself incapable of both holding it in as well as holding himself up. Hacking and sputtering, he crumples to the floor with a great thud. Slapping the floor with his palm, he coughs even harder, drooling into the carpet. “Damn!”
Brad regards his display with disgust, as if Colin had feigned it for effect. “Get up, asshole. Quit slobbering on my floor. Where was it you got this, again?”
David, now looking heavily sedated, is already smearing his words together. “Brad, I am so hungry. Do you mind if I have something to munch on?”
Brad gives him a curt nod in approval and watches him trip and stumble through the swinging kitchen door. With a look of growing concern, he turns back to the gasping heap of dingus trying to right himself. “Well?”
“Just some guy I met. What’s the big deal?”
He flares up. “The stuff smells like oregano and laundry detergent! Something’s wrong with it. I think you got sold some tampered bullshit again and I don’t appreciate you coming around with whatever garbage highs you get duped into buying. Remember that fake weed you used to get? That crap made us feel like zombies. We couldn’t think, couldn’t talk, couldn’t do anything but sit and wait for it to pass. It felt like a chemical lobotomy.”
David reemerges from the kitchen with his arms stacked full. He trips over the metal strip in the doorway and falls, scattering the food all over the living room floor.
“See?” Brad continues. “David’s brain is now a bowl of soup. Who knows what the hell you guys just put inside yourselves.”
“Would you calm down? He’s just stoned! And the dealer was totally solid, I swear. He had a huge amount, pounds and pounds of it, tried getting me to buy bulk and sell it myself. All I had was ten bucks, though.”
“Ten bucks for a quarter? You moron, how many red flags do you need? There’s no way that was a clean deal!”
“Sure it was. He wanted me to have enough to share with others, that’s all. Create some buzz, bring in business. If you knew anything about marketing, you’d understand.” Colin crawls over toward David, seemingly to help clean up the mess, but really just to eat the food where it lay, which is exactly how David had elected to handle the situation. He reaches for a chocolate pretzel, but David quickly slaps his hand away and snatches it up before stuffing it greedily into his already full mouth.
“You worry too much, Brad,” Colin says, briefly rubbing the back of his hand. “How’s a pothead so uptight?” He picks up two oatmeal raisin cookies and crams them both in at the same time, spraying crumbs as he chews and speaks. “Holy crap, I’m starving over here!”
Brad notices while Colin is scavenging, David has already eaten nearly all of the snacks he had brought with him, and right up off of the carpet. “What are you guys, vacuum cleaners? Why are you eating off of the floor?”
David chuckles loudly, ejecting more wet food particles. “I’m pretty high, bro.” He sits up straight and lets Colin fish the crumbs out of the carpet in front of him, the ones that have just flown from his mouth. “And I’m still hungry. Do you mind?”
Colin joins David in staring Brad down, wide-eyed, but before he even has time to reply, they are already up and shambling quickly into the kitchen.
Dumbfounded and angry, Brad yells, “Get your own damn food! You can’t come over and raid my house just because you got the munchies!”
No answer, only the sounds of bags being torn, cardboard ripped, cans pulled open, and plastic bottles hollowed and crushed. After a few moments, Brad is now sufficiently enraged to get up from the couch and storm through the kitchen door.
What he sees he can hardly believe.
The refrigerator and cabinet doors hang open, most of their contents pulled out and scattered around the room. Scraps of vegetables, meat, cheese lay on the counter tops and the floor. David holds an opened can of beef stew in each hand and downs them both, back to back, like they were shots of Captain Montag. Colin is finishing off a carton of raw eggs, shells included, and moves on to a bag of frozen corn, which he pours empty into his mouth in half a minute.
Brad is not yet able to think; the logic center of Brad’s brain had been notified of the situation, but the best it could do was recommend he take a long shower and hope things work out for the best. The fear center then asserted that this proves the logic center’s growing inability to lead, and that when a big problem comes along it usually responds by taking a prompt holiday. The logic center of Brad’s brain then responded to this accusation with outrage and fervor by taking a prompt holiday.
After emptying the bag of corn, Colin kneels and picks up a cereal box, already discarded by David, and eats the dust from the bottom. David is moved on to a loaf of bread and is stuffing slice after slice into his mouth, his hand following each one to the back of his throat to push it down.
Brad is still speechless, mortified. He never expected to see anything like this in his life. He knew that they’d really smoked the wrong stuff this time. By now his friends have eaten everything he has, all in just a few short minutes, and their abdomens are now enormously, horribly swollen. As if nothing strange were going on, they simply turn toward him and smile. They don’t seem to be feeling any pain from it, nor have any awareness of their condition whatsoever.
The numbers 9-1-1 finally make their way to the surface of Brad’s mind.
“Um,” David starts, trying to swallow a straggling slice. “Sorry about the mess.” He pauses to glance at Colin. “Is there any more food here? I’m still pretty hungry.”
Brad stammers, unable to form words. ‘How could they eat everything so fast?’ he thinks. ‘Two week’s worth of groceries, just gone.’ His heart is jackhammering the inside of his ribcage, but his blood runs cold.
“I can’t even feel it in there,” Colin says. “It’s like I haven’t eaten in days.” His eyes bug out briefly as he looks to Brad. “Is there any more?”
“Maybe in the basement?” David asks, his eyes are as round as globes.
“I, I, uh,” he stutters. “Um, why don’t you two sit tight, maybe give the cupboards another look and I’ll go check for you.” He pauses for a moment. “Just stay here and I’ll take care of it.” He leaves the room, closing the kitchen door behind him.
“Hey, check that little one above the fridge,” David says. “You’re taller. Other than that, I think we’ve covered everything already.” He kneels down slowly, hindered by his new gargantuan gut, and starts using his hands to scoop up the layer of scraps and debris off of the linoleum floor before cramming them away.
“It’s empty.” Colin joins him in cleaning up the mess, but opting to eliminate the middle man and use his own mouth as a scoop instead.
Once every morsel is scraped and licked from the floor, the two notice that Brad has been gone for too long.
“It’s been, like, an hour,” David says, pausing in doubt. “I think.”
“It sure feels that way, but it’s only been a minute or two, dude.”
“Still, we should check on him. I’m really hungry.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Colin stopped to put on his biggest, proudest snaggletooth grin. “Some good weed, right?”
David laughs loudly. “Incredible! We should smoke some more once we’re done eating.”
They both struggle to their feet and trudge through the doorway with great momentum. However, the ‘through’ part doesn’t go as planned, being that the door is locked and apparently barricaded on the other side. Their distended masses bounce off of each other and fall to the floor. The house frame quakes from the impact.
“Why would he lock the door on us?” David asks, propping himself up on his elbows.
“I don’t know, but I think I tore something inside me.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Actually, no. I definitely felt a tear though, and then all this stuff shifted over to my one side.” Still on his back, Colin lifts his shirt to see most of his bulbous abdomen turning dark purple. “Whoa. Now, that’s a goddamned bruise, bro!”
David squints at it thoughtfully for a moment. “Dude, I can, like, see what you ate. It’s right there under the skin.” He pauses, considering one of the shapes before pointing a finger at it. “You said there was no turkey left. I see a whole drumstick in there.”
“Sorry, man. If it helps at all, it was pretty damn tasty!” Colin laughs, coughing up a soft chunk of something onto his chest. Without a second’s hesitation, he puts it back in. His brow furrows while he chews. “Oops. That wasn’t food.” He shrugs his shoulders and swallows it.
David doesn’t hear him anymore. His attention is fixed on the turkey leg. It’s still whole, just sitting there under Colin’s skin. The whole thing, perfect, right there. Right under a layer of thin, very thin, easy thin skin.
David licks his lips.
Brad stands on his front lawn, frantically trying to describe his emergency to the 911 dispatcher. “They just ate everything, in only a few minutes! Don’t you understand? I’m not just bitching about it, I think they’re in serious danger. They can’t stop. Their stomachs are huge, like they’re pregnant but bigger. What? No! This is a real goddamned emergency! I’m not even that stoned! Look, send an ambulance, not the police! What don’t you under— ”
A terrible scream comes from inside the house. Brad hangs up the phone and runs back inside. Once at the kitchen, he kicks the chairicade over and releases the deadbolt before opening the door. And before he can even consciously consider what he sees, he gags and vomits.
Colin lay flat on his back, not moving. His gut is split wide open, exposing entrails as well as his last, gluttonous, undigested meal. David is bent over him, alternating between fistfuls and just throwing his whole face in, tearing chunks out with his teeth. The blood glistens on the floor, on his hands, on his face.
Brad can’t move, can’t breathe. He vomits some more. As he looks up again, David throws his whole weight on top of him. Forced onto his back, Brad tries to block him with his forearm, but David quickly seizes it and bites down hard, pulling away with a large chunk of flesh. The pain is searing hot, blinding. Blood pours from the wound. Brad’s mouth opens as if to scream, but no sound escapes. His body is in shock and won’t release the air from his lungs.
Smiling while he chews, David shakes his head and says, “Sorry, man, but these munchies are killing me.” He chuckles heartily, spraying Brad’s face with his own blood. “Never been so hungry in my life!”
Brad finally exhales, letting out a throat-tearing scream. It gets cut short when David closes his teeth on Brad’s throat and tears it out.
The Investigator – a normal man as ordinary as any other – arrives in Town. He has been assigned to look into a string of suicides that have occurred at the Enterprise. But his train is delayed, the weather gets worse, and the Investigator is becoming impatient. As he grows more tired, cold, and confused, he can’t help shake the feeling that he is being watched. This story plays with the more surreal points of human existence in a way that would make Kafka proud.
Introducing a verse novel, one that explores what it means to be a high school student living in suburban LA in 1965. In an age where our young minds are trying to find voice, here they will find echoes of the same. Not only does Purple Daze explore the universal themes of teen life, love, sex, and friendship, but it touches on race, riot, and war too—highly relevant to today’s ever-shifting and turbulent culture.
A reimagined beginning for the Dark Knight, Earth One explores the boy before the bat. Young Bruce’s thirst for vengeance transforms him into something fierce, and no one can stop him. The timing for this graphic novel is perfect, especially for when you’re waiting in line for The Dark Knight Rises, coming out on July 20th.
Lucy, daughter of a former president, has been nothing if not perfect about upholding the family’s image…until now. Escaping from her own wedding on the back of a beat-up motorcycle with an obscene man is the one thing she could do to upset that. Lucy finds herself physically and mentally in unknown territory as she tries to figure out her own life as well as her new love’s. Can she learn to distance herself from her upbringing? And how does one get to know a man who reveals nothing about himself and only paints an ugly picture on the surface?
After detective Michael Bennett sends a Mexican crime lord to jail, he decides it’s time for a relaxing escape to an old family cabin. But the town he remembers and the town in which he arrives now are far from similar, and what’s worse: steel bars aren’t holding back his recent prisoner’s wrath back in NYC. Can Michael keep his family safe in one town while fighting to protect New York from an uprising?
Switch to our mobile site