short fiction, women

No One Can Know

No One Can Know


She is stood in line, her right hand reaching inside her purse as she looks around. Her tongue darts from the right side of her mouth, like a snake tasting the air. It was nervous excitement, fueled by flashes of malevolent, chemical lights in her eyes like an aurora borealis.


The behaviour doesn’t sit with her appearance. She’s classic soccer mom. The ass of a woman who spent hard hours on equipment she would have ordered from a shopping channel. The clothes are copies of major labels, chosen with care to match her skin tone.


Sallow, right now and dark circles under the manic eyes and excitement. None of it fits, which attracted my interest.


People are my business. You can tell a lot by what stands out about them, but it is the ordinary details which have saved my ass more than once. It provides you with useful information. Whether someone is in a manic state.


Or if they’re carrying a gun on them.


It is in her purse. Judging by the material and how it sags, it is too much gun for her frame. She’s fit but kinetic energy will throw back whatever she aims and fires. A perfect shit storm of too much firepower and need, too little training.


The pair of guys with her draw my attention. An amateur would have focused on them first, but there is professionalism I can account for without too much effort. A shotgun sweeps across the store, and the Glock in the other guy’s hand shakes when he holds it up too long. They both shine with flop sweat, which is another problem. No masks mean people will remember their faces. They don’t realise it but once the initial burst of adrenaline ebbs, they will.


Ducking down behind the coffee aisle gives me a good view of her. The other two men fan out, securing the store.


The steak is still in the plastic. It should be on a grill, sizzling in salted garlic butter then chased down with a blunt before a good, easy sleep and then a meeting with the new boss in the morning. No, instead it is in the packaging as the woman’s eyes meet mine.


Yep. Terrified.


The smartest thing is to get the woman’s attention in a way which doesn’t frighten her. The fact she’s high out of her mind is a complication but not an imposition.


She sees me, but the hand doesn’t come out of the purse.


‘Miss. You look a little unnerved.’


Formality of speech shows authority. With the guys, it would get me shot but something younger in her reacts like a puppy paid attention.  


‘Those men are friends of yours?’


Her eyes welled up with tears as she nodded. To my left, a young Asian man hissed at me to shut the fuck up. One hard look from me and he was scurrying away down the aisles.


‘I partied with them. I left my husband with the kids. I don’t know what happened then.’


Up close, she carried the sour whiff of meth coming through her pores.


‘Do you want to be here right now?’


My directness did not faze her. Shouting or struggling with her would have meant attention and she was high, frightened and responded well to authority. Perfect way to avoid having to shoot her in front of these people.


She shook her head.


I told her which car was mine and gave her the keys. She turned to leave, but I put my hand on her shoulder and looked at the handbag. She reached into her bag. It was a good piece. L Framed Magnum, hand-tooled. She ducked down and slid out through the open doors.


The cylinder was full as one guy came back. Mr Shotgun.




I had to dip the end of the barrel to cock the hammer. On one knee, I looked down the front sight and let it dip onto the hollow of his throat. Black, tattooed flames licked at his chest as my finger squeezed on the trigger.


He folded in half, the impact taking out his throat as blood and cartilage splattered on the tower of kitchen rolls behind him. The shotgun fell from his hands as the air rang with the shot. I was moving towards him, dipping the barrel to cock the hammer again.


Someone was screaming and firing. Just another day at the office as I turned around and waited.


There was an amber puddle of cooking oil in the aisle. An amusing idea came as I held the gun up to bear.


‘Hey, asshole?’


He ran, firing wild, eyes bulging in their sockets as the bullets pinged around me. When the heel of his left foot hit the puddle, I fired and took him in the pelvis. The wet crack when it broke was almost music, but when he hit the tiled floor and wept like a baby, that was my cue to get out of there.


Took the steak too. Least they could do for my efforts as a concerned citizen.


She was in the passenger seat. I pointed the gun at her and said we were making other arrangements.


We got past the cops and were out on the road without so much as a nod from anyone.




It would make the next part easier.


I pop the trunk open and look down at her. She’s passed out and the bruise at her temple isn’t anything she can’t cover up with a little concealer. The gun didn’t have a serial number, tricked out with band aids and now in my collection. Tonight proved you couldn’t have too much gun.


She woke up by degrees.


‘No one can know.’ she said.


Three weeks since she had been home.  Lost to a febrile expression of repressed id. It had lost its appeal and now she was getting to go back and make amends.


Or try to.


‘Amnesia. Nothing complicated, which means it will be easier to stick to.’ I said.


She nods and swallows. Then smooths down the front of her dress. She smells sour up close, which is the meth coming out of her pores and the regret, perhaps. I offer my hand and she takes it, holds onto my fingers until the trembling travels down my forearm.


‘Thanks for not -’ she said.

I raised my hand to silence her.

I did what needed doing.’


She looked at her small, neat  house. I realized it was a fine place to live and raise a family. It wasn’t something which crossed my mind too often, but it wasn’t alien. A place to put your flint to the tinder and make a spark.


Madeline had damn near burned her house down.


I stood there until she walked inside the house. The drive was soothing and gave me time to think. City limits were ahead, and there was time for an hour’s sleep before my meeting with the Dixie Mafia in the morning. Killing ambitious Serbians in return for large amounts of cash.


I had taken my exercise and it was like she said.


No one can know.


beauty, fiction, love, women

Raisin Debtor


Siobhan. With hair the colour and curl of  black carrot peelings dumped atop a soft, round face and emerald eyes. A smattering of freckles across her nose and a body made from scoops of flesh which tumbled and spill with each step she took.

Phil offered her the job.

I watched from my station, how he leaned over like a mantis to stare down her top. Phil had been cautious, but he still thought from between his legs. Siobhan had seized on it without making it obvious, wearing a cardigan and a good shirt underneath, suggesting her shape without drawing attention to it.

She was covering her bases, which drew my admiration. Then my attention.

When she left, she smiled and introduced herself.



Phil punched the air when she left and I wanted to join him.

My eyes itched from the Demerol but the sight of her, the eye contact raged through me, cutting through the junk that clung to my cells, scraped off by the right dose of the right drug. We all needed chemicals to function, but I needed more than most. I had access to a lot of drugs, being a doctor but had fucked things up.

The shaking hands were the drugs, I told myself.

Her first shift was uneventful on the surface. She played down her experience, asking questions to make other people feel special without being irritated.

Between us, we stoked an invisible fire, fed it with glances and surreptitious contact, touching at the hip or the back of the hand. I nursed an erection which could hammer nails, and when Phil came in, I fought a surge of primal jealousy.

A cigarette break framed our first kiss. Her suggestions became plans and beneath her fingers, I burned bright like the cigarettes smouldering to ash.

We laid in my bed, sheets pooled at our feet, wreathed with the perfume of frenetic, messy sex. She asked me about Phil, which raked nails down the lining of my stomach. It made me want to reach for a pill.

‘What have you heard?’ I said.

She gave a smile that chilled me.

‘Some stuff. Like Phil’s got things going on.’ she said.

Her coyness aimed for cute but it made me itch. I should have gone to her place but then she stroked down my thigh and I smoothed out..

He was the biggest drug dealer in Whitehall. The restaurant laundered money, gave him a name and address to give the IRS. Working for him had made it obvious. The restaurant was sacred ground and I risked getting fired for the pills. I made sure I functioned, cutting my dosage for my shifts to stay in his good graces.

‘I have an address.’ she said.

I raised an eyebrow and shook my head.

‘No, Siobhan, I can’t talk about this with you.’ I said.

She grazed my thigh with her nails.

‘We’re just talking, hun.’ she said.

A tremor came from deep within my gut. It was cousin to the need for pills, but it dressed better, whispering for a chance to wreak havoc with my life again.

The addiction to an easy way out.

This was my world, pinned to the flaws of others. Her magnetism pulling out a deeper set of flaws from within me.


Siobhan had it down to a rip and run. Anything smarter would have a lot of known unknowns, and she alluded to scams which were messier and less profitable. We would have to run afterwards but I told her we could run on what we took for a long time.

She smiled and asked how I knew what she was thinking.

I told her and she frowned.

‘What’s a raisin debtor?’ she said.

I frowned and asked her if she was serious.

She giggled and rolled her eyes.

‘There’s Cajun in my people. Plus it impresses people if you know a language.’ she said.

I chuckled and shook my head.

‘Not around here.’ I said.


The stash house was like a lesion next to an abscess, home to a large, chaotic family, mother, father substitute, a sister and her kids. I thought they were a family but Phil drew in flotsam and jetsam, made them useful to him.

It didn’t matter, she said.

They had kids. If you controlled them, you controlled everything.

I blanched, but she petted me, reassuring me it would not come to anything bad.

A drive to an outlet mall got us smart clothes. Three hours in a Denny’s parking lot got us a pair of guns, a 9mm with two magazines and a.38. I handed Kris a roll of notes and he counted them whilst licking his lips before winking at Siobhan and driving away. We went out and practiced with them, ended up so turned on we fucked over the hood of my car in shunting, clumsy thrusts, her wrists in my hands as she lifted her head and shouted my name.

We drove through Whitehall. Phil was away, dealing with a distributor in Canton and Lee, his second in command was drunk on the pussy of an eighteen-year-old stripper called Candice. There would never be a good time to do this, but there was time.

We knocked and when the woman answered the door, her face turned bovine with boredom and simple carbohydrates, Siobhan pushed the gun against her forehead and shouted in French, forcing her backwards as my heart leapt into my throat.

My eyes met with the little boy on the couch, his thin, pale legs smeared with something I hoped was chocolate and his eyes shining with an expectation which ran a knife down my cheek. His oversized t-shirt hung from his shoulders and I saw a livid bruise on his neck.

Siobhan pointed the gun at the boy and asked where the shit was.

The woman juddered, flat breasts swinging underneath her olive vest, raising arms scarred with jagged tattoos and keloid scars.

‘Don’t hurt my boy.’ she said.

Siobhan kept her face still and pulled the hammer back on the revolver.

‘Then get the shit.’ she said.

I swallowed, wished I had taken something before we started out.

‘Hey, you don’t have to do that.’ I said.

She raised her eyebrows and pouted.

‘Shut up and stick to the plan.’ she said.

The sound of the shotgun filled the room, a rolling front of noise as the front of Siobhan’s shirt exploded into stained rags. She collapsed against the door, banging her head against the doorknob before her head fell forward. Every breath tasted of gunpowder and blood.

The known unknowns had fucked everything.

Ten years old and holding a shotgun, butt against the wall and angled upwards, her eyes cold and hard like marbles in the sockets. She wore a neon green bikini, tattooed with bruises across her chest and stomach, and the woman stood beside her, lips pulled back over her teeth as she cackled and ruffled the girl’s hair, sticking up in blunt tufts from her scalp..

‘Good girl.’

I turned and ran. The little boy on the couch, smiled, proud of his family as he gave a small, fragile wave.

Someone was screaming as I bolted to the car. I think it was me.

I got behind the wheel, tried not to vomit all over myself in panic, remembered cracking jokes whilst I touched the distended liver of a congressional candidate and threw some dirt on my fear. There was less than half a tank of gas, but Phil was away and Lee would be slow.

Siobhan had burned bright in her ambition and part of me wondered when, not if, she would have fucked me, but with each mile out of Whitehall, the wound in my heart grew massive like the world.

It was a pain there was no pill for.

beauty, love, short fiction, women

A Soldier, His Country

The windows were rolled up as the AC fed on my nervous perspiration and our mingled breath. He had put on thick rubber dishwashing gloves, which made me smile, but he pointed out that latex tears and these would be better for the work he was going to do. When he touched me, the heat of him still reached through it.

The shotgun laid across the back seat. A pump action with a pistol grip coated in black rubber to support a firm grip. He had taken it apart, cleaned and checked every action before loading it himself. There was a canvas bandolier with additional shells tucked into canvas loops like sleeping babies. It would be the next thing he laid his rough, clever hands upon.

‘I want you to stay in the car, baby girl. Like we agreed. You handle the plants and the distribution, I take care of the public relations.’

The exoticism of how his accent moved around phrases and nicknames we had never ceased to thrill me. Despite what was happening tonight, his charm still held and made me shift in my seat with a dangerous urgency. I nodded, feeling sparks of cold excitement rising in my veins.

We were like any other business, creating and maintaining a brand. My degree in botany had not panned out as I hoped, but after a few months of low-end retail jobs and chasing funding, I wandered into the green church and found my true north. Blending strains and testing the indica and sativa balances had me working at it like a junkie getting a fix and soon I found myself amidst a growing industry.

Growth is pain sometimes. I was not a person predisposed to violence, my interest was in the quality of my product and the money that enabled me to do more of it.

He had been stood behind me in a coffee shop, reading a paperback of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves when the guy who had been hitting me with a brute, blind succession of pleas started to take my polite indifference personally. Before the guy could lay a hand on me, he stepped forward and swung the closed paperback, spine first into the bridge of his nose and pushed him out of the door with no more emotion than he would shooing a spider away. When he returned, he went to the back of his queue and he did not meet my eyes.

He was a long way from home, I learned He carried himself with a sense of place, that he may be alone but not always lonely. Much of my dating had been fraught with bullshit and self-deception but his amused stoicism proved refreshing and his capacity for action thrilled me with its perfect, symphonic elegance.

He did not flinch when I told him about the business.

Nor when I asked him if he wanted to get involved.

Squeak had been a good courier. He rode his custom Italian racing bike everywhere, unafraid of looking faintly ridiculous in lycra because it meant no one stopped him from his work. When he delivered to the diseased knot of tweakers, they decided not to pay him and one of them, known as Spit, caved his skull in with a baseball bat. He had a kilo on him plus the rest of the cash from his run. No one told me formally, but the action warranted a response.

Another invoice to be chased up for payment.

He did not hesitate, even offering to go it alone in the prosaic, gruff way that he did with everything. In a phone call, he got their names and the places they hung out and an hour later, he had gotten the shotgun from a storage locker he had rented in a friend’s name. I insisted on going with him, and still had the piece of paper with the address written on it, turning it over in my hands until the ink had blurred to mush. My mouth tasted of coppery excitement and amidst the churn of my fears, swam a visceral excitement that had made me urgent and unbearably aroused.

He checked the time and kissed me again. His lips were warm and soft, and I leaned into the kiss, shutting my eyes like it might be the last time. When he drew back, his eyes gleamed with the twisting lust and determination that burned beneath his exterior.

‘Park at the next block, keep the engine running?’ I said.

He smiled and winked at me.

‘The piece in the glove compartment. If things go south, what do you do?’

His voice had altered, gained a metallic clarity that made my breath quicken in my lungs.

‘Aim low, squeeze the trigger until it’s empty. Toss the gun.’

My thighs ached from where I had been squeezing them, enjoying the hum of sensation building in my stomach.

He kissed me on the forehead.

‘I won’t be long, love.’

He got the gun from the back, strapped the bandolier on and then took off his spectacles, passed them to me and smiled before he set off, striding with a slow, deliberate strength as he brought the shotgun to bear.

I drove to the next block and waited. My heart thumped in my chest and I looked out through the windshield. The seconds ticked past, fat and slow with dread until my phone rang.

‘You can come in.’

I had not heard the shotgun go off. I was pinned to my seat with fear and confusion, struggling for the right thing to say against the tumult of fears that whispered a million possible fates.

‘Is it safe?’ I said.

‘Always, baby.’

I drove back and took the gun from the glove compartment, checking the load before I walked into the trailer park. The door was open and I caught the greasy, garbage taste of too many people living in one space, the fog of cigarettes and the sour wheat of cheap alcohol. He stepped into the doorway, larger than God, with the shotgun aimed away from him. He nodded to me without smiling and on instinct, I took the gun out and held it by my side.

The carpet stuck to the soles of my shoes and I grimaced as I went in. The shotgun was aimed down the length of the trailer, and at the back, on a couch as broken as a prison snitch, sat Spit. Five feet eight, the kind of skinny that comes from a diet of whatever he could cop to, all his clothes stained and worn to a uniform skin of despair that hung from him. His hair was shaved up at the sides and back, with a single greasy lock of purple hair that hung over his forehead. His face was crowded with piercings, some of them fringed with halos of infected tissue.

His eyes widened, but, but he controlled the expression and turned it into a sneer.

‘You that fruity fucker’s widow or something?’ he said.

What came to me was my lack of fear in this place. If anything, I was offended that Squeak had died at the hands of this man. I looked over my shoulder at my lover, who gave a slow nod. My heart was full, with a hard, robust love for him in that moment. He was not a man for words in love, but actions and intentions. Our silence, much like the rest said all that we ever needed it to.

He was a soldier.

I was his country.

I raised the gun and turned to look at Spit. His sneer fell apart before the force of my will.

‘No, I’m his employer.’

For a.22, it was loud in the trailer. I aimed low but the kick of the gun pinged the bullet between his overly plucked eyebrows, snapping his head backwards. His legs kicked out and he died as he had lived, subject to the perpetual indifference of the universe.

The product was there, and most of the cash. We would find the others, and after they had found Spit, they would be keen to settle the matter.

We left the trailer, got back into the car and drove home in silence.

I had always read that funerals made people horny, but that night, I would have been able to add murder to the list.

comics, short fiction, women

Thought Balloon.



Theresa saw the sign held up by a single push pin on the notice board. It was a single sheet of A4 paper, typed with care and containing the least possible amount of information. It was a notice that knew its own appeal and power over the students who stopped to read it, drawn in by need.



Theresa needed cash. She had given blood twice in the last month, signing in under a different name and suffering the tinny, empty hangover of deprivation, shovelling multi-vitamins and drinking orange juice to enable her to make it through classes and assignments until she recovered.

College was not the grand escape she had been led to believe. These doubts haunted her, but she would think of returning home, slinking across the threshold to the mockery of her family, an eternity of shifts at the IHOP, having a baby in lieu of anything else to do with her time and that would motivate her to keep going.

Hunger was her steady guy but it was a bipolar relationship. Hunger motivates a great many decisions, and history showed that Theresa Thomas was like a great many other college students, chained down with debt and starting to wonder if a college education was the great escape society told her it was, or simply a better mousetrap to snap her fragile neck with.

She went over to the science department building, thinking of what a little cash injection would do for her situation, and all that the email said was required was to sit in a high backed chair with an IV in her arm, and the worst that might happen was either a vague sense of discomforting penetration or a mild elevation of mood. Which was how she had characterised her sex life anyway, so she entered the building with a muted but steadfast enthusiasm.

The people who gave the briefing had the shiny, superficial charm of low-end motivational speakers, their appearances and voices pitched at too high an energy level for a group of college students on a Sunday morning. Harry had a halo of light blonde hair, dazzling white teeth and pink, cherubic cheeks. His suit cost more than Theresa’s tuition and he spoke in the patrician tones of inherited wealth and indifference. His title was Vice President of Trials and Innovations, which Theresa took to be middle management, and not important enough to be allowed to spend their weekends on any amount of leisure time.

His partner, Gail, wore a tailored business, accentuating her marathon-hardened legs but otherwise sealing her in up to her throat. She had a gristly, overly tanned countenance and smiled as though levity caused her physical pain. She allowed Harry to give the briefing whilst typing carefully into a tablet without looking up. Theresa thought that the pairing reminded her of a divorced parent spending court mandated time with a child they weren’t sure was actually theirs.

‘So, this is an exciting time for Braiston Pharmaceuticals, where we’ve reached human testing with a product that we are sure will bring relief to the millions of Americans who suffer from long term anxiety related disorders.’

He clapped his hands together.

‘You’re all being ably compensated for your time here but in truth, you’re helping people. You embody the pioneer spirit that has made this country great.’

Theresa looked over at Nina, who had detected the scent of Republican and was sat there, fighting the internal conflict of need versus ideology by shifting in her seat. Looking around, Theresa saw that the small group of four people had the restlessness that she had known as the awkward wait for weed with a dealer you didn’t like, but felt obligated to have a conversation with before you picked up your shit and went home.

Save us the spiel, stick us and give us the money, motherfucker, Theresa thought.

Theresa zoned out, thinking about how after this, she could saunter over to Four Panel Grid and collect the comics she had on her pull list. She had always let her geek flag fly and had done so for long enough to foster a healthy resentment for the latter day surge in pop culture enthusiasm that had infected society. Theresa was ambivalent about most aspects of her hobby, she liked going to conventions in costume and understood how some women used it to build careers based on being titillating and crying victim at the same time yet she also thought that Obama should have passed as a federal law that anyone who said without irony that Spider Man was their favourite DC character should die by lethal injection. She would also volunteer that her ideal superpower would be telepathy, followed by telekinesis. Then invisibility, although she would want to figure out how she would be able to see if her eyes were unable to collect

She was excited about the next volume of Deadly Class and although it had been plagued by artist delays, she had an issue of Karnak waiting for her to pick up.

These reveries occupied her whilst physically, she signed release forms and was led to the high backed chair. She came to herself only when the first sharp pinch of the needle was inserted into her vein. The nurse looked at her with bright green eyes and auburn hair, smiling with a maternal ambivalence as she asked her if she was okay. Theresa shrugged and that made the nurse grin with recognition.

‘I had to do shit like this when I was at college. It’ll make for good stories later on, I promise.’

Theresa smiled back, relieved that someone was treating her like she was real, rather than a prop in someone else’s scheme. The nurse patted her on the forearm and stood up with a wince for her efforts before moving on to do the same for Nina.

Theresa had read Firestarter by Stephen King at a formative age plus a solid library of ‘experiments gone wrong’ mythology to unnerve her. She experienced nothing beyond a faint boredom and discomfort. She left the building with a white envelope and she managed to wait until she was on her way to the comic store before she checked it. It was the happiest she had been in a while, and she immediately experienced a small burst of shame for it, but on cue, her stomach burbled with hunger pangs and she got over it.

She fell asleep with the greasy remains of a Philly Cheese steak floating on a lake of Vanilla Coke in her stomach and her comics already back in their mylar bags and cardboard backing.


Her room mate Judy woke her just after seven, which wasn’t unusual as Judy had that perky efficiency which made her an ideal room mate but potentially an awful girlfriend.

What made Theresa bite back a cry of terror was what floated above Judy’s head.

A thought balloon. The dimensions of a dirigible with a stiff triangle pointing to the crown of Judy’s blue dreadlocked hair. The words were in upper case, flickering into being as Theresa’s eyes adjusted to the morning light.


Theresa shuddered as she pushed back the duvet.

‘I never asked you, you know?’

Judy winced.

‘Hey, all I said was good morning. What’s up with you?’


Theresa had never experienced a florid degree of insanity, tangentially or otherwise. There had been a girl on campus who had moved from vegan activism through to believing that she could talk to animals and there were rumours she was caught naked in the riding stables ten miles down the road but otherwise she held the same awareness of functional anxiety, depression and suicide as performance.

The words kept twisting as Theresa tried not to stare in appalled awe at Judy’s thought patterns laid bare before her. She got out of bed with an appalled haste, running to the bathroom and looking in the mirror, telling herself that this was all a bad dream. She stared at herself, feeling a directed pressure building in her temples, like the mental equivalent of holding back the urge to pee.

Which was when the mirror shattered and fell from the wall in a burst of small shards like she had swung a sledgehammer at it. She sliced the heel of her left foot open as she darted backwards to avoid it, hand clamped over her mouth to keep from screaming. Judy called to her through the closed door and Theresa stood there, believing only in the solidity of the door at her back and the deeply realised belief that things were going really really wrong for her.


Judy relished the opportunity to fuel her passive aggressive resentment by playing reluctant caregiver, bandaging Theresa’s foot and sweeping up the glass. Theresa watched her train of thought travel from the station of:


It stopped at:


Then as she bandaged Theresa’s foot.


Theresa limped out, kissed Judy on the cheek which warranted:


The relief of escaping that lasted for the time to took to get outside.

Theresa had gone to a writer’s panel at a convention once, and a pudgy young man dressed as Walter White in the yellow hazmat suit had asked the taciturn Englishman what was the thing artists hated most from him. He had given a deep chuckle. winked at the wiry artist to his left and told him.

‘Scenes with too much going on. It takes me thirty poxy seconds to write THE CROWD CHANTS but it takes him a week to draw and letter the bloody thing.’

There was a sea of thought balloons, each one writhing and dancing with the dance of subconscious thought made visible. Theresa did not imagine what her own would look like. Nina stood a few feet away, her hands pressed against her cheeks as tears streamed down.

Theresa made it over to her and pulled her into a tight, desperate hug.

‘It’s okay. This is just our secret origin, Nina, that’s all.’

Nina cried harder and Theresa remembered how she had laughed in shrill mockery when Tom Hanks blustered the need ‘to get me to a library’. The irony of what she said next did not escape her.

‘We need to get to the comic shop.’

 It was after that, that things got really strange.

ambition, creative writing, fiction, short fiction, short stories, Uncategorized, women, writing

Just Like A Pill


Pooh, Tate’s cousin sat in the oversized chair lighting cooking matches and dropping them into the glass of beer. He glared at Tate and I sat on the couch, tried to look small. He kept the roll of notes turning in his hand, flexing his fingers as he fought the nerves, chemical and real that whipped through him.

Dogs barking in another part of the house. A rotten monastery to a god made of chemicals. If we made the deal, then we would be high priests in the church. Tate would be talking it up, but I knew the chemistry.

‘So, it’s not even illegal.’

Pooh pretended to be dumb but he had left school with a masters in business studies, decided that there was money to be made in the game now. He liked to play gangster, and out here, he could. It was supposed to be a good place, but you could do bad things here and get away with it.

Make good things, too.

Tate nodded, the adam’s apple in his throat bobbing in a mechanical loop as he reached slowly into his leather jacket. It had been one of the first things that made me ache for him, that and the shy little smile that he gave me when no one was looking. There was something terrible about the effect he had on me. I understood it, the uptakes and inhibitors, how my entire world would be descended upon by imaginary storms of experience, created by my neurology and chemistry. To know it was one thing, but to experience it was quite another.

I worked with the printer, from blueprints that I drew up myself. I got the inks from the lab, and I wrote everything down then put it up, had a swarm of people from Alaska to Zimbabwe working out the kinks and sharing it until we almost got religious with it. Pia perfected MDMA and sent the blueprints to MAPS. We were helping people.

Out here though, Tate and I needed money. The patreon was doing okay, but we gave as much as we got, most of it on inks when I needed more quantities than I could steal. We told people we were buying a house which was true.

Bisbee was a long way, away. Some nights, when I couldn’t sleep, I would go downstairs, look out the window and whisper it to the night. Tate would come over and we would quietly fuck on the couch then we would talk about the simple life we would have. Keeping chickens, fresh eggs every morning and sitting on our own porch. Practicing to get old while we were young enough to enjoy it. The technology came to us, and we did what poor, bright people did with it.

We were making the best of it.

‘An’ I’m buying, what, a blueprint.’

He spoke through his nose, thought it made him sound like B-Real but he’d been part of the debate club, you know. It was embarrassing but he had started to get a little too into the cartoon. So. I decided to move things along as Tate clearly had not grasped the urgency of this. I loved him, but come on, you know?

‘If you give us money, then we give you the blueprint, and in addition, we give you money to buy the inks that you need-‘

Tate pointed to me and nodded enthusiastically.

‘So then you cut us in for what you make off it.’

Pooh sneered and blinked heavily, whatever he was doing clearly had started to kill off things that you didn’t really want dead.

I should have gone to college. This town though, hell when you’re smart and it’s a wasteland to cross to get to college now. Strange thing was, people were disappearing, taking their 3DPs with them, able to print off whatever they needed. Tools, food, and if you were careful, solar panels. America was going from being a place to a dream again. We really didn’t need one another, anymore.

Pooh clicked his fingers, gestured towards himself and clapped his hands.

‘I have to try it first, yo.’

I took out the bottle, we found a bunch of them when we cleaned out my mom’s private bathroom after she’d gone. We had put out testers, had our protected twitter feed blow up with requests, and not all of them spam. It was God in pill form, and if he started putting it out, he would be rich and, hopefully so would we.

I tossed it to him, he popped the lid off and poured it out. One 8mg pill would introduce him to the experience I had been created.

We sat there, looking around the room and beginning to smile in a lazy, easy way. It didn’t take long. He stared into space, breathing hard as he orgasmed in his underwear, young and perfect, all the systems waking up and turning your body into an aerial for the signal of the universe.

We called it L’Esprit De’scalier.

He asked someone to get him water. That was all, though until he drank it down in a single gulp and passed the glass back, even said thank you.

‘How much do you have?’


I handed over the cash, held in my Hello Kitty backpack and Pooh took it from me, opening it up and starting to count it. Tate grinned at me, with shiny teeth and eyes that darted around the room like the thoughts in his head had started to riot inside the prison of his skull.

‘It’s all there, Pooh.’

I shot a Tate a look of pure ‘shut the fuck up.’ but Pooh sat there, lost to the storm of chemical enlightenment. Pooh nodded and put the backpack down at his feet. No one spoke, and outside, we heard the faint wail of sirens and the pop of gunfire. I wanted to be away from here, so badly that I could taste it. We had done it, no need to stay and shoot the shit anymore. Pooh had taken the Pepsi challenge, and liked the taste.

‘So, we’re good?’ I said.

I spoke slowly, to hide the fear in my voice. Pooh grimaced and put his palm against the temple. Tate asked him if he was okay and he shook his head. When he looked up, there were tears streaming down his face and his lips were pulled back over his teeth, a predator suddenly afflicted with the worst handicap that a street hustler couldn’t abide.


Tate asked him if he was okay. I went to get to my feet but my legs didn’t work, my endocrinology going into panic mode. Pooh made his hand into a fist and punched himself hard in the temple, openly sobbing now. Tate reached for his cousin and tried to comfort him.

Pooh had gone into the third stage, and kept punching himself in the temple, over and over, pushing Tate away with the other hand.

‘I’ve been bad.’ Punch.

‘I’ve been bad.’ Punch.

I said Tate’s name but he ignored me.

Pooh wasn’t one to spend any amount of time alone. He ran the business along the lines of a frathouse and his brothers would be back soon. I knew how they’d react to this, and it wouldn’t be good for either of us.

I stood up, and watched them both. I started to reach for Tate, to pull him away, knowing that Pooh was stuck into this psychoactive loop for another hour or so. Or until he’d punched himself into a coma. Neither of which were options that you wanted to discuss with a concerned group of white trash with guns.

‘Come on, man. We can’t be here.’

He looked over his shoulder and hissed at me.

‘Fuck, girl, he’s my cousin. I can’t just leave him.’

What I loved about chemistry was the logic to it. The study of action and reaction, all available and yet open to mystery. I took a step from myself and appraised the situation with the same care that I typed in code to the printer.

I put my hand on his shoulder but he shoved me away. In his efforts to comfort Pooh, the backpack was kicked in front of my feet. I looked at it, worked out that it was enough to get me out of town. 

I picked it up and Tate didn’t even look back at me. Pooh was wailing now, a baby without a nipple to feed on and I heard the thump of amplified bass coming down the street. Three Six Mafia or something, and it disturbed me that I still picked up on things like that.

Outside, the night air was thick and I darted across the overgrown lawn, in the opposite direction as the car, trusting to the broken street lighting to render me indistinct.

When I heard the shouts, I picked up my pace.

When I heard the scream, I started to run.

creative writing, flash fiction, Ogden, Uncategorized, writing

The Irascible Nature of Scorpions (Ogden)

They combed the area in the dark, a generator  was found and set up, it’s guttural purr and the thick, greasy stink of diesel adding to the choir of anxieties that afflicted the lawmen of Ogden.

One of their own, found in the front seat of his patrol vehicle, throat slit and uniform dark and wet with his own blood. The unconscious local man who was laid out like an apostrophe a few feet away, the back of his head bruised and his eyes twitching with disorientation as the responding deputy stood over him, his throat closed with shock.
Later, Gregory repeated that he called it all in before touching anything at the scene. Sat in front of the detective who had been called into play like a feint in a game of chess.
Willing away the weight of the letter that he had retrieved with tweezers from inside Eddie’s jacket. The weight that seethed like a secret until he was home.

The snap of the lighter as he burned it. The struggle to make the phone call from a burner phone before racking up a fat line, trading his guilt and shame for one larger problem. Turner spoke in terse, calcified grunts like he was forcing up something from the pit of his stomach. The spaces between words, and in those silences, the whine of how fucked up this had gotten. Gregory was brought and paid for, sure but it didn’t mean that he was a cold gun. He got off the phone as soon as he could, took out the battery and the SIM card, put them in separate locations in his one room apartment.

That first cold hard snort, a wave crashing against, crashing over the pilings of his anxieties for a moment. Chemical clarity that made every nerve dance like a believer on Judgement Day. He walked around his apartment, clapping his hands and strutting to the music of his blood, talking himself up into something approaching courage.

Gregory was not stupid but he was weak. Between those two polarities, he had managed to keep his own corruption in check. He was conscientious in his work, arrogant and heavy handed but that seemed to get him into the panties of any number of women. That appeal lasted long enough to ensure that they would spit at the mention of his name afterwards but he had once read about a scorpion and a frog, a story that he didn’t understand until one evening, at a town fayre, jittery and excitable, he had cornered Harlan and asked him to explain it.

Harlan had given him a soft smile and lifted his eyes up in recollection.

“It is certain that no animal in the creation seems endued with such an irascible nature…I have seen them attempt to sting a stick when put near them; and attack a mouse or a frog, when those animals were far from offering any injury.”

Gregory had sniffed, enjoying the burn at the back of his throat and asked him what he meant.  Harlan had patted him on the shoulder, which made Gregory flinch like he had been scalded.

‘The scorpion cannot help it’s nature. Even though it knows that it would drown if it stung the frog, it couldn’t help itself.  That reference comes from a book by Oliver Goldsmith, published in the eighteenth century, but there are variations of it right back to Persian mythology.’

Gregory nodded like he understood and had a wealth of insights ready to break through until Harlan pointed out that his nose was bleeding and Gregory ran to grab a napkin from the catering table.

Pacing his apartment, Gregory kept returning to that quotation, trying to make sense of it, and the fable in turn. Morning, was a long time in coming, and he had time to think. Nothing but time to think.

When he stopped to look into the smeared mirror that was rested against the kitchen worktop, he saw that he had been crying. That his nose was bleeding and if he had been wearing his sidearm, he would have pulled a gun in reflex.

It had stopped being fun a long time ago, but any number of things had stopped being fun. When he could not bear the wounded look in the eyes of the women he seduced, the kids who alternately mocked and feared him.

When Gregory could not figure out if he was the frog or the scorpion and how he feared the answer.

How he feared the answer.

( for previous entries. Please leave comments, speculations, threats and love letters so I feel like people are actually reading this)

book reviews, books, creative writing, politics, war, writing

The Cartel by Don Winslow

25182454The war on drugs, will when there’s some measure of distance from it, will go down in history as one of the greatest travesties in civilisation.
At the moment,  there are blogs reporting it in real time.  Journalists and civilian activists are being slaughtered and displayed as warnings against further resistance.
Mexico has a rich and vibrant heritage both culturally and artistically but the drug war has reduced it to a slaughterhouse.

It would be glib to offer solutions and Don Winslow is not writing a treatise or a policy document.  The Cartel harkens to the tradition of the novel as a way to stare the horror in the eye and come away unharmed.  It will unnerve, disturb and sicken in places but I knew that going in.

Remember that fairy stories once held horrors and to sanitize or censor is in itself a measure that cripples rather than protects.

What The Cartel does, alongside the previous novel The Power of the dog is show you the drug war in terms of the cost in lives and communities.
What it does to the combatants and how effectively it’s become a constant spasm of violence and reprisals whilst the supply,  distribution and purity of the product grows higher.

It’s a fantastic book. If any of the above admonitions haven’t put you off then I will talk about why you should read it.
The plotting is tight,  logical and follows things through to conclusions sourced in the desires and abilities of the characters.  Even as the book descends into operatic levels of violence,  to the point where you are almost numb with it, Winslow shows us the defiance and the humanity of these people.  Even the most vicious drug lords have loves and affections that resonate with you yet it is the ordinary people who draw your attention and affection. Armed only with defiance and shame,  their lives touched mine.

I was moved by this book to tears.   Winslow has a humanity that welded to carbon tight prose gives it all a relentless guttural poetry.  He sets up and pays off with the skill and unerring focus of an experienced and capable writer.

The gloves are never on in this fight but you’ll be unable to look away from the worst of it because it’s genuinely that good.  It’s troubling in the best tradition of both the social literature and the crime novel.  It makes the Godfather look like a nursing home trip to the bingo hall.
Brilliant.  Go read it and feel that golden righteous fury of someone with a point to make but who knows how much more effective it is when you tell a great story.