Saturday, October 31, 2020


i was sitting at my usual table at joe’s.

an old woman came in.

ma jones, or ma smith, or ma barker, or ma whoever.

one of those mas, you know what i mean.

she sat down beside me.

hello, she said.

hello yourself, i said.

do you believe in magic? she asked me.


are you sure?

is there a rabbit involved? i asked her.

no, it’s not that kind of magic.

then i’m not interested.

actually i was not that interested even if it did involve a rabbit.

all right, then, she said, i won’t bother you any more. i thought you might be interested.

have a nice night, i said.

she got up and left.

actually it was a lousy night, cold and damp and windy.

i went back to just sitting at my table.

nobody else bothered me until joe closed up the place.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020


where are you going, justin?


oh? anywhere in particular?

no. just out.

well, let me know all about it when you get back.

maybe. if i feel like it.

x watched justin from the window as he disappeared down the road in the gathering dusk.

justin was a strange person.

x had rescued him from the scrap heap a few months before. he was the first man she had ever had.

he often went for walks alone. usually, though not always, at twilight or at night.

sometimes he told x stories about his excursions when he returned, sometimes not.

on many occasions justin witnessed a woman or a child being mistreated, and stepped in to protect them and to chastise, or even kill, the miscreants who were abusing them.

at other times justin admitted to being the aggressor himself, when he encountered persons whose looks he did not like, or who said something to offend him or who rubbed him the wrong way.

another common occurrence was for justin to be waylaid or kidnapped by a group of persons, or aliens from another galaxy or dimension, or creatures like zombies or yetis. these encounters always ended badly for the kidnappers.

women were often involved in these adventures.

a typical story had unfolded a few nights before.

justin had been walking along, minding his own business, something he usually preferred to do, unless he was really provoked.

a bus had pulled up beside him. it had some of the markings of an old school bus, but was obviously not being used for that purpose. it was painted black, and the interior was not lit.

the driver, a young woman with a pale face and long silky black hair, put her head out the window.

where are you headed? she asked justin.

my own way, justin told her.

i think you are going the same way as us, the young woman replied.

who is us? justin asked.

the legion of the damned, she replied.

i am my own legion of the damned, justin told her.

ha, ha. don’t you want to know where we are going?

all right, where are you going? besides the infernal regions.

listen, i am serious. but it is starting to rain, so why don’t you get in the bus and i will tell you all about it.

justin hesitated. he was still tired from his adventure of the previous night, but curiosity got the better of him and he agreed and went around to the door and got in the bus.

he slumped back in a seat just behind the driver. she started the bus up and proceeded down the road. raindrops spattered the windows.

justin could feel presences behind him in the bus, but did not turn around to try to look at them.

all right, he told the driver, what’s your sad story?

my name is carla. i am a prisoner of the dark lord.

everybody is a prisoner of some dark lord or other, justin replied. nothing to write home about there.

i see you are a philosopher, said the driver. you must be some kind of dark lord yourself.

not me, i am just a guy traveling from here to there and back again.

down a dark road, right?

sometimes it’s dark, sometimes it’s light. sometimes it rains, like now, sometimes it snows, sometimes the wind blows. the road is the road.

look here, my friend, stop speaking in riddles. do you want to be my champion or not?

sure, i will be your champion. i got nothing better to do.

thank you. when we get to the infernal regions i will tell you what you have to do.

that sounds like a good game.

the infernal regions was a little bar and casino on the outskirts of the mountains of hades.

the driver stopped the bus. the lights on the bus went on and justin saw that the bus was empty except for himself and the driver. the presences were gone.

looks like it’s just me and you, said justin.

and the dark lord, said the young woman. let’s go inside.

the little bar was empty except for a little man without a face sitting at a green felt table, rifflng through a deck of cards. this was the dark lord.

you want to play? the dark lord asked justin.

that is what i am here for.

here’s the deal. i have a deck of fifty-three cards here, numbered from one to fifty-three.

the dark lord fanned the deck of cards face up on the green felt table. they were covered with curious symbols and pictures but justin could see that they were indeed numbered from one to fifty-three.

the dark lord shuffled the deck, placed it in the center of the table.

you can cut the deck, the dark lord told justin. before you turn the top card over, you will guess whether it is higher or lower than twenty-seven. if you guess right, i will free the prisoner here. if you guess wrong, she is mine forever. agreed?

what if twenty-seven comes up? justin asked.

the universe disappears.

fair enough.

justin cut the deck in two, placed the former lower portion on top.

higher or lower, the dark lord asked.


the dark lord nodded, and.justin turned the top card over.

it was number twenty-three.

the young woman’s name was carla simmons, she was a first year student of clinical sociology at t——— g—————— community college in tulsa oklahoma. her family and friends were overjoyed when she was reunited with them.

that was just one of justin’s stories. he had a million more.

sometimes x wondered if the stories were true.

she was tempted to follow him when he went out.

but she did not really want to know.

10 10 10

Her voice echoed down the alley, bouncing off the buildings, loud in the crisp air. Once strident and accusatory, now pleading, bemoaning the hour, the situation, a bit more aggressive. Shutting the walk-up loft's battered door carefully behind him, he quickened his pace. She was holding her own. He wondered when she would contradict herself. As though it mattered.

"Ma'am. We're just saying there have been complaints."

A man's voice. It carried a warning. He was becoming annoyed. The three chevrons on his sleeve heaved and roiled, biceps flexing nervously, the blue cloth barely restraining them.  Behind where he stood two squads cars waited in the little parking space. Just beyond the altercation beginning to unfold, hidden from the view of passersby, lay a respite of sorts.  

Tucked into a notch between buildings, its few humble features remained relatively undisturbed, placed with care and an eye for design. Two worn but sturdy benches flanked a huge circular picnic table with seats attached, liberated from the back of the bar next door. During a somewhat drunken debauch of self-righteousness, it had been rolled away in broad daylight. There it stood at odd angles to three wooden planters with found weeds inside, strains of native prairie plants a thousand years old, seeds carried on a jet stream.

From a Shepard's hook in a corner hung a bird feeder and chimes, a place to store ladders and other implements on the opposite. Always at the ready, a cooking grill stood in the center. Neat and orderly as any English garden, a border of Perennials completed the scene. The tiny oasis belied the bleakness of the neighborhood's meager prospects. It was a sanctuary literally carved out of the asphalt.

  Humming and clicking as they cooled, the police cars squatted menacingly, paint schemes in black and white a stark contrast to the gold insignias like badges on each door. The constant babble of radioed dispatches emitted unintelligible commands to anyone more than a few feet distant. Adding to the cacophony, strobe lights flashing red and blue, every surface of worn Chicago brick bedazzled without mercy.

  She seemed oblivious to the danger despite this tension. "Or is she", he thought? He couldn't be sure even now. Implacably forceful or subtly benign, her moods could stymie him. At times it made him want to retreat. Walking out quietly, sometimes he did, or to go for a drive. He would jump on the trampoline with her other times. She could engage on an uncomfortably personal level, arguing every point impossible somehow, total strangers or her beloveds, until he forgot how it started. It didn't often matter, since both were adult children of alcoholics, or was it a peculiarity of the neighborhood?

Two more officers lingered in the shadows, chattering quietly like bored observers watching a ballgame.

"Why can't we enjoy our birthdays! It's just a little party!" Her speech slurred slightly. " It's 10-10-10!"

  As though explaining to the dullest of children, she enunciated with an emphasis of particular stridency, tangential or not, sibilants less distinct with each phrase.

"We can't even celebrate our birthdays?!" She repeated dates and numbers to anybody who might be listening.

Closer now, he inhaled and breathed out, slowed his walk, willing himself a compliant posture. Making sure to stay in the light, he held both hands open and in plain sight.

Nearing the end of his patience, the Sargeant's voice took on a darker tone.

"Ma'am, we've been called out twice. Next time, somebody's going down." He wasn't having any circular arguments. The warning had been directed at the both of them.

The husband directed his gaze at his wife only and smiled.

"What'cha doin', hon? Gettin' into a fight with the cops?" like berating a little girl, he continued, calmly yet each word with the slightest emphasis.

"I just took the dogs in now. We're all goin' in - right now."

Both promise and order, an offer of compliance to the Sargeant, feigned admonishment to his wife. Surely she knew how to respond? The situation had turned serious.

He'd been in a similar situation years earlier and only a few blocks away. Like this one, it started with the neighbors and a noise complaint raising someone's ire.  Subsequently, a radio turned too loud set off a chain of events uncommon to a local noise ordinance. With the right set of personality traits any situation can escalate from the ridiculous to sublime. Involving police contact, in an instant a right horror show.

The complainant was known to the police department as a serial caller to 911 who placed grievances against the officers responding if she felt slighted or deemed "enforcement" was lacking.
The lady of that house where the call was made on became belligerent enough to be put under arrest. A guest, practically a stranger, inexplicably jumped up and assaulted one officer.

Calls went out for back up. Stuck in a no man's land, the husband went to ground when an officer stuck his fingers in his eyes from behind. Eerily calm, he complimented the effectiveness of the hold. This earned him curses, boots and a tasing he didn't even feel, so involved was he in the wonder of police tactics.

Sixteen officers responded to the call in all, a few were acquaintances from the tavern they'd both frequent. A vehement argument broke out with the first officers on the scene. Fisticuffs broke out in the middle of the street. None of this appeared on the record. A witness later quipped the scene resembled sharks at a kill.

What had set off this misfortune? The husband told his wife to get in the house. His voice attracted the attention of an angry Lieutenant on scene. He then gave chase to the wife who managed to elude him. She locked the screen door behind her and then taunted him through the screen as he commanded her to come out. The husband eluded three tackles before his capture.

Many years later, they both understood the other's most subtle gestures. As if on cue, respond she did.

Abruptly turning on her heel, she marched off in the opposite direction. Her arms and elbows apace with her gait, it appeared as though to make a last stand in the garden cul de sac. For the briefest of moments he looked after her not sure what to do.

Well aware that pursuit of this one could lead in many unexpected directions, he remained still. Quietly, he observed her gamine walk, so compelling and graceful, a rare species in retreat, the insides of her long wrists exposed and turned slightly askew.

For whatever odd reason, the strains of a familiar love song came to him. Maybe a chord from a car stereo passing on Highway 61 set it off. This conjured up a picture, a gathering of people your Mother wouldn't approve of, its melody lilting, an old standard Norteno style, lyrics evoking casual friendships become intense affairs and grown more entwined than bargained for. An odd exhilaration overcame him then, reckless and inviting, shivering up his spine. He exhaled quickly, like stifling an errant laugh during a sermon in church. His humor was doubtlessly irreverent, however.

At that moment she, too, was overcome. Her voice was always one that carried. Nor did it go unnoticed this time. an obscene insult hung precariously in the crisp, night air, taunting as an errant curve ball. And in that instant the situation changed. Authority had been breached. Egos were at stake. A determination had to be made. This ball was about to be smacked out of the park.

Throughout the shift the young cop riding shotgun beside the Sargeant remained quiet and motionless. Therefore he was unnoticed. Slumped in the car seat as he was, he was able to observe without being seen, a tactic he'd learned during two tours in Afghanistan and the Mid East. He'd also learned the art of ambush, training extensively in assault tactics, before transfer to a Police unit attached to JSOC. A stranger in a strange land, he'd guarded and arrested foreigners and friendlies alike; even stood patrol over some peculiarly questionable fields of native crops.

Mostly, his duties were apprehensions involving rapid, fully armed actions against unknown targets. The bulk were turkey walks, fully equipped squadrons against one or two unarmed suspects, actions Blackwater and other unnamed mercenary units wouldn't or couldn't handle.

On his discharge he'd locked in a police department job within just a few weeks. This was his 6th actual duty night out, and he was bored to death. Like the sound of a starter's gun, his demeanor burst from quiet watcher to angry agitation.

"What did you say, Ma'am?!" No response. "Wait a minute - come back here!"

The last order barked with command. He'd had enough posh talk - any patience he'd learned on this job had suddenly regressed to tactical training and muscle memory.

Barely able to wrest control, the weary Sargeant looked ready to stand down and let the excited rookie run with it. But, in his haste, the newbie had locked himself in the car. He hadn't learned to be a good Jump Out Boy yet, tackling unassuming pedestrians with a leap out of a moving SUV from behind tinted windows. Robbed of this exhilaration, he cursed his inattention and fumbled with the handle.

The husband still hadn't moved. He lingered as though in deep contemplation, eyeing his wife's retreat, seemingly unaware of the forces gathering around him. Actually, struck by the incongruity and happenstance, he marveled at the chain of events that had led to that point in time, its escalation and Absurdity.

In his position to "agree" with the new recruit and stand down would be the safest course. He felt the aggravation in his voice and the menace below its surface. His funds were low and bail for two would be impossible on short notice. The country was still in a Recession. The multi-billion dollar industry of fraud carried on unabated. He lived by his wits and his craft, breadwinner an anachronism, building a name for himself in the Black Economy at worst.

Who would want to spend the weekend in jail anyway? You could get roughed up in the process - he'd heard the stories of the trip up the isolated jailhouse elevator. The memory inherent in unchecked authority washed over him like an icy blackness. Sighing inaudibly, he gathered himself as the young cop flung open the door. He turned, with a smile, and then spoke.

"Ahhh, she's just had too much to drink is all." 

Mockingly penitent, delivered like some country bumpkin. He scuffed the toe of his boot along the pavement, for emphasis, which placed him squarely to block the squad car's door.

Short of leering, his grin widened, a little over the top but for a lack of concern in his eye. The display distracted the young cop. He hadn't trained quite this way. He'd certainly never been confronted so.

The husband's body language reverted to a cat taking pleasure in teasing a mouse.

" ... gee, officer - guess I better get control of my bitch."

each in turn,
the crickets all go silent -
Autumn's voice


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

the strange ones

but i have never spoken to gentlemen before. i don’t know what to say to them.

it’s easy. you just have to say, “you’re a strange man,” and they will agree with you and start talking about themselves, and you just sit there and listen. that is all there is to it.


sometimes you have to prod them just a little. when you say “you’re a strange man,” they will say something like “do you really think so?” or “i know” and then you just say “what makes you so strange?” and then they are off to the races. have you got that? do you think you can handle it?

i - i think so.

good. be here at five o’clock and you can start.


you’re a strange man.

really? what’s so strange about me?

um - what makes you so strange?

strange? who said i was strange? you said i was strange, i didn’t say i was strange. what are you talking about?

i - i - i just thought there was something strange about you, that’s all. i didn’t mean anything by it, honest.

if you didn’t mean anything by it, why did you say it? what do you take me for? what is this shit? danielle!

yes, george.

where did you get this little bitch? she just insulted me, insulted me most grievously.

i am sorry, george, i am sure she did not mean to. she’s new.

new! i don’t care if she just came out of the box. you should have assembled her better. get her out of my sight and bring me a real woman who knows how to talk to a man.

of course, george. i will have marilyn come over. and there will be no charge, tonight’s visit will be free.

i should fucking hope so. it’s already ruined, it better be free.


what about me?

oh, these things happen sometime. take a break, about ten minutes, then come back and try again.

all right.


you’re a strange man.

no, i ‘m not.

you’re not?

no, i’m the most normal guy in the world. my friends give me the business about it. normal nolan they call me. normal nolan.

oh. um - what makes you so normal?

i don’t have to answer that question. i don’t think i like your attitude, little girl. you don’t seem to have a lot of rev in your engine. danielle!


hello, sir.

hello yourself.

i wonder if you could help me.

help you? me help you? how?

well, i’m new at this and i don’t seem to be doing too well, so if you just wouldn’t complain about me…

what? what the fuck is this? did somebody put you up to this? is this some kind of candid camera bullshit? did eddie miller put you up to this? danielle! danielle!


i am sorry, honey, but i think you better call it a night.

can i go home?

no, wait here. we - ah - have someone who wants to talk to you.

all right..


ms harrison?


i’m inspector jeff waters, and this is deputy inspector charlene curtis. we have a warrant here for your arrest on suspicion of being a witch. please come along peacefully.

yes, don’t give us any trouble and we won’t even handcuff you. but rest assured we mean business.


the new girl didn’t work out?

no, she did not.

any warning signs?

i didn’t see any. she was a little thin, but i thought she would be all right. but some people just don’t have what it takes to get along in the world.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

the sad ones

by wiggy jones, "the little hippie boy"

for me it’s the sad ones

it’s the birds born without wings
the birds with broken wings
the birds who never learn to fly after a thousand lessons

it’s tha cats who never catch birds
the cats who never see a bird to catch
the cats who look at birds through glass windows all their lives and are never let out

it’s the dogs who never run free
the monkey who can’t climb a tree
the chimp born in the zoo who never finds his own banana

it’s bob smith
whose mother won’t let him have a dog
so he runs away from home at age nine
and gets run over by a truck three blocks away
and spends sixty five years in a wheelchair

it’s ted brown
who goes out for little league at age eight
and the first ball thrown to him hits him in the face breaking his nose
and he has a broken nose forever
and he leaves home at age eighteen
and a lady in spartanburg sourh carolina catches him taking a piss in her backyard at four in the morning
and he is convicted of indecent exposure
and has to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life

it’s maria willis
whose mother won’t let her have friends
for no reason that the mother ever explains
but who probably wouldn’t have any friends anyway
because she is just that kind of person who doesn’t have friends
and she spends her life in love with dolly parton and celine dion
and fills scrapbooks with pictures of them that she cuts out of newspapers and magazines

it’s nancy gray
who is kidnapped by her stepfather at age seven
and is convicted of murder when she accompanies him when he shoots and kills a pregnant woman in a liquor store holdup outside amarillo texas
and who takes remedial courses in prison for twenty years
but never really learns to read or write
so she never realizes her dream of sending letters to newspapers explaining the injustice of her case

it’s the millions of bobs and teds and marias and nancys in thousands of times and places and cultures all over the world forever

it’s all the dinosaurs and pterodactyls and giant sloths wiped out by meteors

it’s all the neanderthals who were never born because the humans took over europe
all the gorillas who were never born because the humans took over africa
all the tigers who were never born because the humans took over asia
all the bears who were never born because the humans took over north america

it’s all the cows who end up in cheeseburgers
all the hens who end up as chicken mcnuggets
all the pigs who end up in breakfast sandwiches

it’s everybody who waits for a bus that never comes
the drivers of the buses that get lost in the bermuda triangle

it’s the spacemen who never fly
the aliens who never land
the people whose stories are never believed no matter how many they tell

it’s the little girl who dies of cancer three days before christmas
so her story does not make the news as it would have if she died on christmas eve

it’s all the clouds that never burst
all the suns that never set
all the waves that never reach the shore
all the sand that never feels a raindrop

Thursday, October 8, 2020

climate change

by nick nelson

josh brown, ken smith, and larry williams worked fin the a———— department of the z———— company. they usually took their coffee breaks at the same time, in the little company cafeteria.

they usually did not have much to say to each other.

one day a young woman from the company newsletter published a profile of ken in a series called “know your fellow employees”. in the interview ken expressed concern about the effects of climate change, calling it the “gravest threat to humanity in the history of the world.”

josh got on ken’s case about it several times in the cafeteria.

“i never knew you were a scientist , man. what’s a great scientist like you doing working with slobs like us in the a————— department?”

“hey, did you win that nobel peace prize for science yet? you should bring it in some time, show it to us. don’t be bashful. we’d like to see it.”

this went on for several months. ken would usually ignore josh, and keep playing mah jong tiles on his phone.

one day larry, who was reading the sports page, looked up and said to josh, “can you just give it a rest? i’m sick of listening to it. you’ve made your point, dumb as it is.”

“hey, i still have a right to express my opinion. dweebs like you guys haven’t taken the country completely over - yet.”

these harsh words were overheard by some other employees in the corridor outside the cafeteria. they were the closest thing to a fight in the company building in forty years.

the z———— company restructured and josh, ken, and larry, who had all worked for it for twenty years, were given modest severance packages. none were able to find other jobs.

josh bought a camper, and stocked it with guns and other “military hardware”. he travels around the country, hoping to rescue chlldren from pedophile rings, and to assist people, especially young women, falsely accused of crimes by the agents of the deep state.

ken looked forward to a peaceful retirement, gardening and watching reruns of his favorite shows, such as cheers and friends. but he developed early dementia and is not able to fully enjoy these activities.

larry and his wife moved to florida, where they keep in constant touch with their three children and seven grandchildren through social media, sending them many pictures of alligators, including some they take themselves.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

also known as mister 44

by bofa xesjum

the scene: a darkened room. two persons are seated in front of a fireplace. the fire is low. a few sparks and ashes float in the air.

why do you act as if everything is my fault?

i don’t like this salad. and this mannequin is impossible to dress properly.

throw the undressed mannequin into the fire, if you please. and give the salad to the pig.

but then i shall be hungry, and have nothing to do. and i do not care for the tone of your voice.

and i do not care at all for yours!

i need something to do! and i need some meaning in my life!

you have had a hundred years to find meaning in your life.

yes, and i could have had a hundred more if it were not for you!

please don’t shout.

i will shout if i please!

why do you not make yourself useful and stir the fire?

what was that? i thought i heard someone at the door?

who would be at the door? we are alone in this poorly heated cabin in the middle of the howling wilderness.

no, we are on the fourth floor of a semi-deserted rooming house on the outskirts of the decrepit city of st john, the former capital of the empire.

the door opens, and a third person enters.

who are you?

i live on the floor below you, and i wish to protest the unholy racket you are making with your interminable arguing.

there is no floor below us, we are in a lonely cabin in the middle of the desolate howling wilderness. the unholy racket you refer to is only the sound of the wind.

that mannequin, it reminds me of someone i used to know.

i was just about to throw it into the fire, you may have it if you like.

thank you, that is very kind of you. does it have a name?

my name is maria elena, sir, thank you so much for rescuing me from the clutches of these monsters.

monsters! that is a nice way to talk after we have kept you safe and warm all these years.

yes, if you thought you were being mistreated why dd you not speak up? you had no lack of opportunity. also, you might have lent a hand in cutting down the trees and building the cabin.

there is no cabin, we are all on the forty-fourth floor of a high rise in memphis, the largest city in the galactic capital.

would you like a drink before you go?

thank you, that is very kind of you.

you see how kind and hospitable we can be. do not listen to this wretched creature’s lies. we have some sherry, would you like that?

that would suit me very well.

darling, they mean to poison you. do not drink the sherry!

it would be impolite not to.

of course, i remember you now! the mysterious gentleman known as… garo!… and also as mister 44.

our tale ends here. the cabin is gone, as are the rooming house on the outskirts of the city, the high rise, the galactic capital, and the empire itself.

but the wind still howls.


Saturday, October 3, 2020


by nick nelson

once upon a time there was a little girl named ada who liked dragons and stole cigarettes from her mothers purse. one day when her mother forgot her purse when she went to work ada took a whole pack of cigarettes and ran away from home.

she did not get far before two police detectives picked her up. after telling her a few jokes and stealing the cigarettes away from her, they left her by the side of a bleak highway as darkness began to fall.

a couple of hawks were circling overhead. they were soon joined by a bat. ada preferred human company, so she closed her eyes and wished real hard that the three creatures would change into humans.

when she opened her eyes, she was in fact confronted with three human beings, or at least with three creatures displaying the outward form of human beings.

two of them looked like mildly angry gentlemen in shabby frock coats, with bristling mustaches. the third looked like an old hermit, who lived behind a rock in the desert. this individual carried a stout stick, and had a heavy-looking pack slung on his back.

who are you? ada asked the strange trio.

you summoned us, answered the hermit. we ask you, who are you?

i am a bad little girl, said ada, who has run away from home.

if ada hoped to strike a spark of interest or sympathy with this declaration, she was disappointed.

that is not very informative or interesting, said the hermit. did you want anything from us?

um - can i ask you some questions?

of course. but i assume you know the rules. you only get three questions.

i know, ada assured him.

and you know that they are only questions, not wishes, we can answer the questions, but not grant any wishes.

i understand.

very well, then. what are the three questions? try not to make them too convoluted or long-winded.

where am i? ada asked.

here, the sage replied.

ada pointed down the road. where will i go if i go that way?


ada turned around and pointed in the opposite direction. and if i go that way?

back where you started.

but where was that?

that is a fourth question, the hermit replied with a sneer. and with that he and his two companions, neither of whom had spoken the whole time, vanished.

(the reader may have guessed that the two gentlemen in frock coats were the philosophers friedrich nietzsche and arthur schopenhauer. the “hermit” may been st jerome, or saint anthony of the desert.)

that was not very useful, ada muttered, with a sigh.

do you think ada could have asked better questions?

what three questions might you have asked?