Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dusk

No one ever changes. As much as they try to explain away or justify the things they have done in the past, justify their actions, or erase their blemishes - a liar is a liar. A cheat is a cheat. A thief is a thief. No one ever changes. "What the fuck are you doing?" James jabbed my side. I felt a pang - an explosion of sharp pain in my ribs. "Fucking run, goddammit!" James grabbed my shoulders and shook me. His brown hair fell over his blue eyes; eyes which betrayed his generally cool demeanor. His eyes were filled with panic.. and terror. My feet were planted. I was frozen - I couldn't move. The controller, the signal or receptor, or whatever the fuck you call it, jumped to the back of my mind, in some corner, too scared to do anything but run - leaving me here, scared shitless, forced to watch. I really wish I wasn't such a pussy. Another shot rang off in the night. I then became acutely aware I may have pissed myself.


This was a good thing.

That meant I could feel my legs. That meant I could - ", you fucking RETARD! Move!" James was handling me, or attempting to, like an overstuffed duffle bag. I could hear the snap of sunglasses breaking apart, thin plastic and acrylic shards, in my jacket. I then realized I was standing in a dimly lit basement or garage. There was a door that flung open. An old man with fine white hair and jaundiced eyes centered on me. His wild eyes became keen, sharp, and batshit insane. He was aiming at me.

This was a bad thing.

Another shot cracked against the otherwise pleasant summer night. What felt like hundreds of cigarettes being put out in my leg must have been some type of bullet, or metal - for all I know, a fucking musket shot could have been put through my leg. I wasn't of sound mind to diagnose the damage. I let out an "aw shit," which sounded more like I had dropped something small and inconvenient, rather than being shot in the leg. I made a mental note to bring this up at a later date if my metal status was ever challenged.
And just like a sparkler going off, except at the nape of my neck, life began to rush through me again. It must have been easier to carry me when I was like a bag of bricks, because as soon as my legs turned to rubber, we both fell down.

The concrete was cold, and really fucking painful. My head made a hollow sound, I imagine a watermelon to make a similar one, against the ice cold, dingy floor. I felt a hand - my hand - holding my head. My melon.
James was already up, and was halfway through the window.
The old man was fumbling around in his underwear, tighy whities, trying to find the light switch so that he, I assume, may kill us better and with more accuracy. I rolled over, did a half push up, and limped myself against the wall, and through the window.

It was a beautiful summer night. Kids jumping rope at dusk, sparklers drawing names in the night sky, and two best friends becoming men together in their last summer of their youth. I began to think I was in shock, or had PTSD or something, because I began to realize this was some sort of Disney-channel-esque TV movie running through my mind. In actuality, it was two friends becoming criminals.

Cold sweat was plastered to my face, and my leg felt like.. well, like someone had shot my leg. Living in suburbia has it's benefits; attractive plot housing, less hustle and bustle than the city folk, and people who were too tired, too stupid, or too depressed to care about two boys running through their yards, dripping blood over their grass. The houses were mirror images of each other, different shades of white, off white, bone white, or shades of bluish white if you were adventurous. The mid-class financed cars sparkled like gems in the dwindling light. The cars which were pulling families into bankruptcy were garaged, and thus, could not play on the wiles of my imagination. The only differences really between the houses now were whether or not you have had blood on your lawn.

There was a dull metronome going off in my head; on every beat there was flash of hot, white light. My eyes began to burn, and my skin felt flushed, hot - burning. The sounds of the world returned to me. I did not feel alive. I felt very nearly dead. James was hunched over, hands on his knees, breathing deeply. I was in his backyard, leaning against his bone-white three bedroom, two bathroom house. Very slowly the weight of reality came back to me; I heard my heart beating, felt my pulse in my eyes.. but my skin.. my skin felt like it was on fire. It was some type of itchy fire which began to spread over my entire body. "Nice moves," James said, still hunched over. "What were you doing?" sounding genuinely interested rather than accusatory. "I-," the word was caught in my throat, like some truth I couldn't keep down. "I was scared. I guess I kind of shut down." I shrugged. We both knew I was a baby - there was never any doubt. "But I got shot," I said, and began to inspect the damage. James said nothing, but looked on and waited for the show to start. It hurt - badly. It's hard to truly understand what a person has gone through when they've been shot.  Peeling back my piss and blood soaked pant leg, I grimaced. I'd never been one much for sports, but I always liked having options; this might end any professional aspirations.

I winced as I pulled the jeans up over the wound.

Charlie, you're a giant pussy.

"You're fucking kidding me, right?" James laughed. "I think you'll make it." He said this with confidence. James made his way inside through the back door. There was a wound, certainly, but wound can sometimes conjure certain images; ones seen during times of war, or in a movie seen in high school like slaughterhouse. This was of the more mild variety. Charlie made his way up the blue porches steps, and inside. James was inside pulling out a small red medical kit. There was a small brown wooden table - enough to accommodate four or so people when it was not covered in mail, bills, and the other types of man-made indoor flora. "Bring that leg on over, Doogie is gonna take a look," James said, holding a tube of Neosporin.

Charlie sat in the basic wooden chair, leg propped up on the table. James was wearing a black band t-shirt, and was decently fit. He eyed the leg with as much concern as a real doctor might - his eyes scrutinizing, careful to observe the wound and its condition. "You might lose it, man." He said gravely. "But I'll do what I can." He applied a heavy coat of Neosporin, and put an elbow bandage over what looked to be a scrape of moderate depth. This is the type of wound you get when you are trying to impress a girl, not the wound that lands you in the ER. "We'll check on it in the morning, and we'll know whether or not you'll need a cane." Charlie considered this; and actually kind of liked the intrigue of the cane. "A gun shot is a gun shot. I shielded you from danger - I could have sacrificed my leg for your life. Remember that." Charlie said this with mock sincerity. He looked up, and his eyes met up with James. "I know. It was really fucking stupid - a bad idea. I know. I won't ask for you to do something like that again." This time his sincerity rang true, and in earnest. James didn't say anything, but turned off the light. They were both more than a little sick after what happened, and at the prospect of one of them ending up in the hospital, or dead. So they sat until James mom would come home and find them sitting in the dark, hiding from the sirens going off in the distance - no doubt called by the old man who had taken several shots at the boys. They sat alone in the darkening night, cold and sweating off their trip. All over some cheap sunglasses.



Chapter 1



“Hey Charlie,” I could see the fire in his eyes. He wasn’t the same Charlie anymore. That Charlie died. “Hand me a shovel. I don’t know how long it takes to dig a grave.”

The problem with being too cool to wear shorts is swamp ass. Swamp ass is not just a term for a sweaty ass – it’s a state of being, one which is described in a little book called Dante’s Inferno. Unfortunately both James and Charlie were too cool for shorts on this fine Thursday afternoon. The sun had peaked much earlier in the day, as it now hung low between the blinds of James room, which was as immaculate as Highschool boys rooms get. Charlie was in a fetal position on the floor, and was the first to rise. His eyes were still sore from sleep.  He felt like shit. Tired, run down, but his body needed no more sleep. It needed food and clean clothes. It needed out of this room which reeked of swamp ass. Charlie made his way to where James was sleeping. “Hey, dude. Wake up.” James cracked open an eyelid, which looked like it was having a tough time focusing on Charlie. “I need a ride home, dude.”  James grunted in acknowledgment, and turned over to lay on his back. His slowly opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling which was plastered with posters, not paying attention to any of the words or images, reflecting on what happened last night.

They weren’t bad kids, or even kids who had been in trouble before. They were quiet kids who were more or less ghosts at their school. They justify this by claiming this as their choice, rather than a fact of circumstance. Neither of them had stolen anything before, or even seen a gun in real life.  James breathed in deeply. The air was humid and warm. It also smelled.  James looked to a poster of the Who, and his eyes fell on Pete Townshend. “The kids are alright, huh?” he thought to himself. Getting shot at isn’t optimal, Pete. James looked over to Charlie who was performing some basic stretches. “Limbering up? Got another heist planned?” James asked. “Not just yet. Still working on that one.” Charlie said, stretching his arm across his chest. “So I was thinking… can’t they match your blood or something in some database?” James asked Charlie. Charlie was unfazed, shook his head and began his attempt to touch his toes. “You need to be in the system for them to find you. Unless someone saw us on our way back.. I don’t think they’d have any real leads. Besides... what about that nut with the gun? He must have been seventy or eighty. Cops are probably more interested in getting that psycho in a home. I bet he doesn’t even know what was stolen – there was a box full of ‘em, and we only took a handful.” Charlie motioned to James desk with a nod. There were five or six pairs of Ray Ban Wayfarer knockoffs. They were a little too exaggerated – more like x-ray specs than anything Tom Cruise would wear.

The two young men left the small, cookie cutter home at five minutes after six, on June 12th. Five days out of high school for summer break they both felt pretty damn amazing, even considering what happened the night before. The adrenaline rush of the terror filled heist had long since worn off, but the initial shock had yet to dissipate. Amber, red, yellow, and purple hues rendered by the early summer sun cast a garish tone down Umbra Street. The black Dodge Dart picked up most on the hue of purple – making it look cartoonish, like something a super villain or a pimp would drive.

James had purchased the Nova from a wrecking yard for close to nothing. What he had found out is that the car had a lot of deferred maintenance. Which means anything and everything could, and did, go wrong.  He had attempted to fix the issues himself, but found that without tools, and time, it was easier to work off a bill from the mechanics. He had an illusory glance at being his own ‘everything’, as his father had been, but realized it was pretty hard doing it all – besides, he made enough working part to cover it – no real living expenses; why not?

And he would be paying off the bill for three years. Restoration became easier to tack on while the engine was out, and sometimes cash can slip by too easily. But what he got, while not a showroom quality car, was just about the sweetest ride anyone had at the high school. Polished headers, cams, and an exhaust later, plus a coat of cosmic black paint, made the dodge dart... kind of cool.

“Buckle up, kids.” James said with a crooked smile. The driver’s door creaked; James liked it. Charlie zipped his hooded sweater at the glaring, technicolor sunset – one which refused for some reason to set on this day in June. Charlie began to whistle, decently, muh nuh muh nhu. The vinyl seats were warm – almost uncomfortably warm – James sank in a bit into his seat. Armor-All had been used, and quite recently. It was not only the obvious oil-slick glisten, but the aroma of the car could be nothing other than trim conditioner. Both boys rolled down their windows, and let their arms cool in the evening breeze.

“Charlie, I don’t think there’s any way someone will know it was us. I don’t know if you’re feeling guilty for what happened, but no one really got hurt, and I don’t think anyone is gonna get in trouble. This is just something stupid we did. Everyone does something stupid.” James wasn’t the most eloquent speaker, but he was earnest in all the right ways. He was intelligent, and people could pick up on this. “Are you trying to convince yourself?” Charlie said with a lazy partial smile. “I’m fine with it, I just can’t shake the feeling that we did something bad, that we’re in some trouble.” He laughed a bit to himself. “Like there’s some kind of police task force tracking us down, or “working”, - he added with the bunny eared gesture.”, the case.” James smiled a bit at this – but he too had no idea how police cases were actually covered, and whether or not a photo of them was up in some room somewhere, being picked a part by some analyst. “Wait, what do you mean taskforce?” James said, quizzically, glancing over to Charlie who had his eyes planted on the rears of some girls who happened to be walking down the street as the car rolled by. “I don’t know how that stuff works. I mean, I see it on TV, but who the hell knows how much of that stuff is made up?” James flipped the turn signal to go right. The clacking of the indicator matched the speed of the young girls walking down the street in the fading light. Pink pleated skirts swished in slow motion for both boys. “Nah, man… There’s nothing like that here. Budget cuts,” James said, grinning and pulling forward and taking the right. Neither of them spoke for a few minutes, the air was warm but at 40 miles an hour, in a car without A/C, it feels great to be alive.

“What are you going to tell your mom?” James asked. “My mom isn’t ever home until really late, so you can just say you spent the night at my house, or crashed on my couch or something. No verifiable way of knowing otherwise.” He added. “Well, if it comes up I’ll say something like that. For all I know she just thought I left somewhere early this morning.” Charlie wasn’t known for being an early riser, but then again his mother isn’t known for being a doting mother. She’s nice but not very involved – she’s a divorced single mother who is a rising star in the local realtor crowd and has less and less time to do the mom thing. “Just saying, if things go sour..”. Charlie nodded. “I wonder if that guy was crazy, though.” Charlie said, staring off into the distance, but focusing on some image in his mind. “Like, what if he was like some type of menace.” He scratched the slight stubble at the end of his chin. “It would fucking suck to be crazy. I don’t think most crazy people know they’re crazy. I think they believe the world has turned on them, or something, things just don’t make sense anymore.” Sincerity wasn’t Charlie’s strongest suit. “Like, people think about how normal people think crazy people are scary – imagine how scary it would be to have everything that you know flipped upside down, the laws of psychosis must be.. well, fucking crazy.” Then, ”Think of how scary it is to be a crazy person.” He sounded lost in the idea. James raised his eyebrows. “You been smoking?” He said, making a “puff puff” gesture with his hand. “You sneak a little smoky smoke back there?” said James, trying his hardest to imitate sincerity. Charlie shook his hand smiling. “You’re a dick, man. I’m being serious.” Laughing, he shook his head slowly. “I don’t know. I think its hard to really imagine what they could imagine, or perceive.. . I think there would be levels of insanity – like a low level insane person is Michael Jackson – insane enough to be entertaining, and then there is like an Emperor Palpatine insane. He killed billions of people,” James said. “I think he, the guy last night, was closer to an Elmer Fudd meets Michael Jackson.” He clarified. “When I’m old and insane, I want to be the old guy at the end of the hall, making crazy noises. I would then come out every once in a while and share nuggets of knowledge through my hazy dementia. That’s the charming type of crazy. I don’t want to be a real crazy person.” Charlie said, still staring at the place between his eyes and his minds eye. The street lights began to turn on, crackling in their white and yellow glow. Driving slowly through the neighborhoods, they dodged the daddy’s coming home from work; playing games of stop and go as the kids trampled over their games of hop scotch and chalk drawings. The last of the rays of sunlight turned a cold purple as before they, too, began die.

The Nova rolled along in the moments after dusk as all the doors began to shut along North Whipple. Mommies greeting daddies with kisses, kids on their phones talking about summer, white illuminated faces in front of computer screens, their Wii’s, that fat kids eating, the stoners getting stoned behind their houses, and the same kids falling in love all over again but with different people. And then there were the headlights which glowed like torchlight on the quiet street, like a guard making his rounds. The smell of warm cut grass filled Charlie’s eyes with tears; it wasn’t only pungent it was cloying. “So what are you up to tomorrow?” James asked Charlie. “I don’t know, James my good man, I don’t know.”



Chapter 2




“You know, Kafka thought he was a bug when he died. Thought he was a full on beetle.” James said, as the lights began to dim in the theater. He passed the small joint over to Charlie. James slid his red and blue 3D glasses over his eyes. Phantasm being played in 3D – they both had a thing for horror, sci-fi, some fantasy stuff – they were both nerds at heart. Charlie took too much; he began to cough harshly in the entirely empty room – save the two of them. Charlie took a quick drink of his soda, and tried to clear his throat. Charlie’s eyes were wet at the corners from coughing, but they were fixed to the screen.  During the summer, the theater had cheap movies – usually throwbacks – at a discount. Sometimes they’d have a Disney or Pixar movie playing, but often times it was goofy old reels like Caddy shack, or the Evil Dead. These movies were amazing to them while they were high. James turned to Charlie – his glasses were different. They were the sunglasses they had, in a moment of genius, stolen! “Those working?” James asked, he hadn’t seen any glasses like those used for movies like this. “It gives it a weird effect,” Charlie admitted, waving his hand in front of his face. “Some shiny, oil slick effect. Like polarized glasses looking through car tint.”. “Sweet.  Sounds awful,” James reposted, sipping his soda between his handfuls of popcorn.

As the credits rolled, and the lights slowly turned back on to illuminate the dingy theater. “It’s only one thirty – you hungry?”, James said. Charlie looked over, in a haze, and nodded. They slowly made their way to the Exit sign which was no longer lit, and opened the cool metal door. It was blindingly bright for a moment; James and Charles eyes adjusted to daylight again. James immediately began searching for his aviators, while Charlie just let his head float in a clouded confusion. “This is messed up, dude.” Charlie was scanning the bright horizon; his tone was filled with disbelief.  James looked over to Charlie, raising an eyebrow and chuckling “Hey we didn’t smoke that much,” he smiled. “The lenses are nuts,” Charlie said as he took off the glasses, and covered his eyes with a free hand. Squinting, he began to inspect the sunglasses. No identifying brand, stamp, logo, or design.  “Check this out,” Charlie offered the glasses to James. James smirked and cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah? “, and took the sun glasses. They felt ordinary, if not a bit cheap, but perhaps a step up from the sunglasses you pick up at a gas station – though not by much.  James put them on. He began to look around the back of the movie theater; dirty broken seats lined the back wall, and trash cans which reeked of sickly sweet soda. Cement extended another twenty or thirty feet back before it broke up into pieces of grass covered concrete and debris. What James saw was beautiful in the way desktop wallpapers are beautiful; entertaining and brief. He performed the same hand-waving motion in front of his face; the colors ribboned off the tips of his fingers. The geometric patterns that were expelled from the sides of broken concrete were different hues of red, green, purple, green... “This is Gay-O-vision dude,” James said as he let out an awkward laugh. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” He chided. “And you my friend are such a beautiful pale blue.” He added with a flick of the wrist and a slight lisp. “Yeah, ha-ha.  I’m just saying it’s crazy… You don’t think it’s weird? I’ve just never seen anything like it.” Charlie said, slightly annoyed that James was not taking his interest seriously. “Nah, it’s weird I guess, but didn’t you get toys like that when you were a kid?” James opted. “Cracker Jacks, stuff like that?” James said trying to jog Charlie’s memory. “Little happy toy stuff, yeah,” Charlie responded “But nothing like that before – that’s trippy, makes my stomach a little uneasy.” James saw this a bit; the way the colors moved, like some type of Liberace vision, made the put of his stomach uneasy as well. The lenses had a way of distorting the taller buildings slightly – the buildings aside the theater appeared to leer at him. “Yeah, I get that…” James trailed off, spinning as he took in a three hundred and sixty degree glance. “Perhaps there was more to this?” James thought.” Or maybe I’m just super high”. He smiled to himself. “I don’t know man,” he said as he slipped them off and replaced them with his aviators “they seem kinda neat.” James handed the glasses back to Charlie, and turned around to get his bearings; “what was good to eat around here?” He racked his brain. Charlie slipped them back on, relieved to get some cover from the midday sun. “What do you feel like?” opined James. “Burritos, man. Burritos sound awesome right now.” Charlie answered.

Charlie and James would generally drive around in James car, but Charlie had suggested they walk downtown today. He was a chubby kid growing up, He got mono and hit his growth spurt at the same time – when he got better, he never gained the weight back. The nurse had told him that his body may have adjusted to burn many more calories. Charlie didn’t want to take any chances – he didn’t want to be “Chubby Charlie” anymore. A walk would do them good.  He wasn’t what someone would call skin and bones, but more of a skinny-fat. He had just begun to work out though, “the girls will be all over me this fall,” he thought to himself. “Just need to start working our more,” he eyed himself in his blue jeans, black t-shirt, and his wayfarers, and flexed. Charlie was large framed by default; he had an oval, friendly, face. He wore a dark gray hoodie, and blue jeans – even in this heat.  James happened to be tall and thin. James had an angular face, and wore his hair sheared short, and was currently wearing a San Francisco Giants cap. Neither of them would stand out in a crowd. Neither of them are particularly attractive, though Charlie had once been told that he, in a certain light at a supermarket in San Francisco, looked like Marlon Brando as he started to get fat. Charlie took this as a compliment.



Chapter 3



Downtown felt emptier than it should have for just past noon. It was like walking around in someone’s house when they aren’t home, seeing them with their guard down - their cards revealed. There was an old used bookstore to their right; framed in rust colored bricks was a window which revealed endless aisles of books. James remembered it better than Charlie, but they both had nostalgic moments in the midst of trying to place the last time Charlie read a book, and recalled it was probably from this store. A tall wooden rabbit wearing green overalls held a sign near the door which read “Open” in fancy, Tolkien strokes. They could both smell the stale, used book air – like some type of librarian incense. “Let’s stop in for a second,” Charlie optioned.

The bookstore was built longer than it was wide. Its wooden floors were old, but did not yet give off moans or creaks. The front of the store was illuminated by the front window, while the back of the store had flame-tipped bulbs every five or ten feet which gave off a warm golden light. There was no one at the counter – but James remembered that often times the place was pretty empty, even the employees wandered off sometimes. Charlie walked by rows of books on photography; hard bound books with pictures of Boston, Pyramids, and Ballerinas printed on front lined the walls. And then he was standing ten or so feet deep in Star Wars and Star Trek books. Tall ladders rose near ceiling height; Charlie wasn’t a fan of heights – no book that inconvenient to get to is worth the effort. James was thumbing through the children’s books. He liked to remember the books he read when he was a kid; prince elephants and sleeping moons, apple juice and bed times. There were a lot of books he didn’t recognize, many he thought sounded awful. “Where’s baby’s belly button?” He thought to himself in a mocking tone. “We didn’t need any book to find our bellybutton when I was growing up,” he thought to himself. “We had stories about kids running off with monsters, becoming their child-king.” He was fond of this notion. And then his eyes fell on it. Everyone poops. He nodded subconsciously.

Charlie’s wallet made the Velcro noise that only Velcro can make. Yes, that one. Eight card holders, two of them filled – and the second occupant was a recent addition. The woman, who was miraculously at the counter now, was graying at the temples. Her hair was dirty blond, and it fell to her shoulders. Charlie held out his debit card, waiting for the woman to take it. “You got the swiper, hun,” the older lady said from behind her tethered glasses. Charlie looked down – almost in cartoonish surprise, and raised his hand as if to say you got me! Charlie swiped his card. The register made considerable noise as it opened, and the change drawer compacted against the drawer. The woman handed Charlie his receipt, and added “Have a good day,” sounding partially distracted. Charlie lead the two man procession out of the store, and back into the humid head of downtown.

“What did you get?” James asked as they cleared the brick overhang in front of the book store. “Just some random books thought looked cool; there’s some Animorphs, and some books on karate and Krav-Maga, stuff like that.” A smile broke out over James face. “Did you just say Krav-Maga and Animorphs in the same sentence? That might be the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of.” James joked. “So do you plan on reading them concurrently? Perhaps pick up on not only the ability to “Animorph”, but also how learn to become a lethal killing machine in the process?” Charlie let a smug smile cross his face. “Trust me – this book looks legit. It teaches you how to be an efficient fighting machine.” He smiled. “Someday this,” he tapped the book, Learning Krav-Maga through Living Krav-Maga, by Dennis Woodcock, “will come in handy. When things turn sour, you’ll say ‘I’m real fucking glad Charlie knows his shit, or else we’d be in some shit right now’” Charlie said with an air of knowing. “Trust me.”

James and Charlie walked toward the Mexican restaurant. Red and green alternating lines ran across the bottom of the window. The interior was brightly lit; several other people – a couple teenagers, and an older couple – were inside eating. Charlie pushed the door open – unfortunately, there was no air conditioning inside, just a couple of ceiling fans which spun far too slowly to move any real air. It smelled delicious, though. Temporarily sidetracked with books, he now realized how hungry he was. His eyes shot to the white board menu, though he knew what he’d order. Every time he came here, he thought perhaps he’d try something new. And every time he ordered the same thing. “One Super Burrito, Carne Asada.” He said uncertainly. This is what he always ordered. “And a small horchata,” he added as the man at the register rang him up. The man at the register looked slightly annoyed. This was also part of the ritual. “I’ll have a chicken burrito, and a coke.” James said as he eyed the soft drinks in the old slightly filthy cooler. The long necked coke bottles, the thin ones from Mexico, tasted better, James thought.

Charlie sat with his elbows pressed against the old brown table, munching on his burrito, which was partially peeled. James took a sip out of Charlies horchata and then started on his burrito. It was mostly quiet, aside from the quiet chatter of the kids across the room, and the sizzling of some type of meat. “You know, they could be serving us anything right now – I’d have no idea.” James said. “I bet that happens all of the time. Like I bet every once in a while a whole cow falls into one of those industrial grinders,” He shook his head in disapproval. “It’s like, what the hell do you do now? I don’t think old henry over there is gonna dig through that mush over there and sort it out.” Charlie stopped eating for a second. “You’re ruining this for me, you know that right?” Charlie said, washing down with another sip of his horchata. “It’s not my fault they grind up little baby chicks into a pink frozen yogurt slurry. Blame America.” James seethed. “What the hell are you going on about?” Charlie laughed, and then peeled more of the aluminum foil off the burrito. “I saw it online man, they have these farms where they put these chickens down these tubes, and make them into mcnugget puree. Feathers and all, I’ve seen the videos – it’s called machine separated chicken. Look it up.”

The burritos were mostly finished. The coke was gone, and the horchata was near the end of its rope. What was left was too thick, too sweet, and too warm now for either James or Charlie to finish. “So what color am I,” James asked, and motioned toward the wayfarers with his head. Charlie enjoyed having an upper hand on James. It wasn’t out of spite, or born from any ill will – just that Charlie often played second fiddle to James. “I don’t know man, I don’t have the best eye for color,” he considered James. “You have this swirl around you, like… what the hell are those things called?” He paused, and let a sly crooked smile extend across his face. “Fractals, man.” Charlie was obviously happy with himself. He was never one for math, and constantly fought with he teachers on why fractals and other oddball concepts were important. Well, they were right, he thought to himself. “Like a hazy blue… misty... fractal thing..” Charlie trailed off.  “That helps,” James said with a smirk. He extended his hand. “Let me see them real quick.” Charlie relented. “Alright, dick. I never said I was Dan Brown, alright?” Charlie said, handing the glasses to James. “No, no – really, it painted a beautiful picture,” James laughed. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to go see if this place has a mirror.”

James walked past the teens at their table, filling up on free chips and salsa. They can’t be any more than fourteen, maybe even thirteen, he thought. Moppy haircuts, grungy clothes full of hulls – these weren’t the poor or downtrodden – this was middle school. James smiled inwardly. Just beyond their table was the hall which lead to the bathroom he surmised, noting the festive sign which read Baño; James didn’t know much Spanish, but he knew a few sentences – “Buenos diás” echoed his suave Mexican doppelganger. Good Day. “Cómo se lo dice en Inglés?” How do you say that in English? If his regular voice was a Honda Civic, this would be an Aston Martin, which ran exclusively on fine bourbon. And lastly “Donde esta el baño?”. Where is the bathroom? Right here, he thought again in his best rico suave voice.

James walked into the large bathroom. The floor was a speckled off-white linoleum, and the walls were fake-stucco. Three mirrors, one with a broken edge on the bottom right hand side, hung on the wall. There were three stalls, and two urinals. Mens rooms always reaked of 409, artificial lemon scent, and piss. James ran the cold water for a moment, he didn’t have much of an option as the hot water stem was missing. The water was surprisingly cold, but it felt great on such a hot day. He washed his hands, and slipped on the glasses. As the lenses dropped over his eyes the swirling myriad of colors came alive. James had never paid much attention previously to just how alive everything looked – the way everything began to flow, like Van Gogh’s Starry Night, or Edvard Munchs the Scream – the world took on a painted Technicolor guise. Charlie had been right – there we aqua marine fractal-like flames which licked off James figure like the steam off a hot cup of coffee in the cold. And the longer James took in the colors, the impressionist vision which flowed like some endless river, he began to wonder “just what the fuck is going on?” he half mouthed, or attempted to. The colors he thought were becoming more vibrant. And then a soft, clammy voice broke the psychellic trance. “Nice shades. It’s a good look for you.” A man of maybe 40 spoke up, with a hollow toothy smile. His hair parted to one side, and he wore faded blue jeans and a heather-gray sweater. He had chubby hands, which he rubbed together furiously in the sink next to James. He didn’t notice much of this, however. He was paying attention to the pink tentacles. Pink tentacles, writhing away from something fettered, something foul, threatening to rip themselves off of whatever they belonged to, or were held captive by. The tentacles were purely, James believed, part of whatever optical illusion or effect the cheasey sunglasses caused, but they never-theless made him feel physically ill. He saw pink, but felt – yes, felt, black. It felt dark, and oily – slick, alien, greedy – like his chubby little hands. The man paused for a moment and smiled. James thought he looked looked hungry, like the wolf from the three little pigs cartoon. His perfect little white Chiclet teeth in that moment took on the shape of teeth which were filed down on either end to a point, fitting together in a cruel smile. James felt his burrito work its way up his throat as his stomach dipped.



Chapter 4



“I don’t know if an axe is the best choice,” Charlie said authoritatively. “I think it’s the top rated way to burn calories, which means its going to be a bitch to keep on swinging it,” His eyes narrowed as they scanned the room and his eyes fell upon Star Wars figurines, and exactly what he’d hoped he would find. “We need a Katana.” Charlie stepped through the piles of anime, dirty clothes, and video games. He placed his hands on the cloth bound hilt, lifting it off of its ceremonial stand. Charlie gripped the handle, knuckles wrapped, and holding the sword perpendicular to the floor. “Let’s go.”
###

“Did a man try and to-“, Charlie began. “Shut the fuck up,” James said, in a quiet an urgent tone. James face was stony. His jaws were clenched, the tendons on his neck taught, “Jesus Christ,” Charlie thought to himself,” He’s about to piss himself scared. “Look at that guy,” James said through a locked jaw. James took of the glasses in a one-two motion. He had wild, crazy, high on meth or scared-for -life crazy. They pleaded with Charlie to just slip on the fucking glasses, will you Charlie? I would beg if I could beg Charlie, but I can’t, so will you just wear the fucking glasses Charlie?” And Charlie slipped on the glasses. Just walking past the small nook that the Taqueria was set in, a short, chubby man in a gray sweatshirt and blue jeans came to a crossroads; he stood looking left, then right, as if two voices called him in opposite directions. There was visible anguish on his face, confusion. He shook off something, like the way a person is hit by a cold chill, smiled, and decided to take a left. Charlies stomach began to turn sour as he began to realize the immaterial space all around this man began to take shape, the colors and lines filling in, just beginning to conceive the endless writhing tentacles which stemmed off the man like “a putrescence,” Charlie thought. “, or like that pig-pen kid from Charlie Brown.” “What the fu-“ Charlie began and then stopped. He may have subconsciously known James would know no more than he did. He may have just forgot to finish what came after fu because what happened mid-sentence would change Charlie Butler, and James Halloway’s life forever.
###
Little Paul Miller was eleven years old. He was fair skinned, had light freckles, and chestnut colored eyes. He was gangly for an eleven year old. Paul was a green belt in Karate, had a sweet snake, and had never kissed a girl. He collected fantasy books, and drew fantasy pictures, and thought of fantasy worlds; worlds where he was a warrior, and where he negotiated peace between the Elves and the Goblins. Paul liked to go bowling, too. His uncle knew this, and he just happened to be the best uncle in the world. Hell, not many uncles pick up a niece or nephew from school to play hooky at the bowling alley. Phil was different, though; Phil did. And that’s just what he did today.

It was 7:00pm as Phil Kinney walked into his apartment. He was thirty five, had no wife, no girlfriend, no kids. He saw the message machine flashing from across the room. The only people who ever gave him a call on anything but his cell were his mom, who passed away a couple years ago, and his sister – Sandy. She’d been having a rough time with being separated from her husband, that fucking loser, he thought to himself. Never liked Jeff, never liked the way he was always drinking, or the way he talked to Sandy.  Phil walked over to the machine, and pressed the play button.

Wayne Cooper taught the sixth grade. He had been teaching the sixth grade for fifteen years. He had always wanted second, or perhaps third grade, something about students so young, so malleable, that got Wayne electrified to teach. But sixth grade would do – still young enough to learn, old enough to do what they’re told without too much fuss, but not old enough to question the little bits of misinformation he accidentally let go from time to time. “Being a hundred percent right all the time is hard, he thought as he sat alone in the slightly stuffy portable classroom unit,”.  “Hell,” he thought, “sixty nine percent is technically passing.” He smiled outwardly, amused with himself for such facile wit. His plump, greedy hands flipped the math assignment over. “Too bad you got a sixty,” his inner voice trailed off as he searched for the name, and attempted to decipher the scrawl. “Mr. Miller,” it piped up again, satisfied. He wriggled his mustache slightly, and like an old sailor senses the coming storm, the bell rang for lunch. The kids, who had been mostly silent during their video about the melting of the ice caps, started to pack up their things and place them into their desk-cubbies. Wayne hated to see just ability go to waste. "Sure, he was no Craig Brenner, or Cody Nelson, but he had so much potential” Wayne thought.  As much as he hated the idea of ruining Paul's lunch, he felt he had to do it – it came down to this. . “Paul, can you wait a moment?” Wayne let his thin glasses drop beneath his eyes for a moment. As the rest of the kids left the classroom, Paul stood at Mr. Coopers desk with his eyes down. Wayne turned on the flicked on the lights, but left the shades down. "Don't worry Paul," Wayne said. "It's nothing bad."
###
“You fucking disgusting perve-“. The sound went off like a firecracker. Like a pop gun. It was a small firearm. As the bullet pierced Phil Kinney's eye, and entered his brain, the words stopped short of his mouth at nearly the moment Charlie forgot to speak. Phils body went limp, like someone had just flicked the off switch for Phil, and he fell to the ground without so much of a whimper. As he impacted the cobbled sidewalk, it sounded like a bag of potatos being dropped. A second shot rang off, and Paul Miller fell on top of his uncle, bleeding from a hole beneath his hand as he clutched his throat. Wayne Cooper sneered. “I fucking hate you,” His eyes were beady, black, piercing. “You fucking snitch.” Wayne began to sob as he fumbled over the word snitch. He put the gun into his mouth. He said something indistinguishable, began to squeal like someone who was having a tooth pulled, and squeezed the trigger.

But James and Charlie didn’t know what had happened; not fully, not really... but they felt what happened – the crushing burden the child must have felt, the shame and the torment, the feeling of being violated, but with no external reference for why they felt the way they did. They felt the hatred, and the dark desire, the pulsating desire - oh god did they feel it. They felt the sorrow of Phil Kinney, how he must have felt consoling his sister, the way he felt when he looked into Paul’s eyes, how vacant they were – how he wanted to kill, literally kill, find the teacher who had done this and kill him – they knew nothing of this, but they felt it – all of it all at once. There was nothing which could explain their feelings, or how badly the both of them wanted to finish off the assailant, how – or why – they wanted to grab his gun and release whatever was left of the clip into him, but even that would not be enough goddammit. They knew something bad had happened, that something terrible had happened – and it must be, this empathy, related to the glasses. They did not know this, but they both felt this. They felt sick, and in unison, they released their lunch across the old wooden table just as the cries of the first witnesses of the carnage became audible through the thin glass of the Taqueria. A frumpy woman approached the small dying boy and began to shout for help as she processed what was going on. One of the cooks at the Taqueria cautiously stepped from behind the grill, walked forward, and began to trot toward the dying people outside, a cellphone in his hand calling 911. He saw that the boy was still alive; he looked as though a fish out of water, gulping madly for air, but instead of gills Paul Miller had gaping hole which bloomed red-black in the midday sun. The cook picked the kid up in his arms, his blood a watercolor crimson against his greasy apron. He applied pressure to the kids neck; the area needed to start clotting. Alex, the line cook, had been a Mexican EMS in Mexico City for a time, before coming to California. “Hey buddy, keep still for me, okay?” He said in his best wounded animal voice. The kid tried to talk, but just made a sputtering noise. “Don’t worry about saying anything right now, okay? You need to not move for me kid,” Alex said calmly “Help is on the way. We got an ambulance on the way, and they’re gonna help you.”


###


He didn’t say you guys. Or you and your uncle. Or the pedophile. Paul looked over to his left without moving his head. His throat felt like it had been pressed against a white hot coal. He swore if he had any breath left to try, he would be able to blow steam. He saw his uncle and bits of his head collapsed next to a cast iron planter that lined the streets downtown. He saw Mr. Cooper laying down about five feet away from his uncle, his white running shoes pointed up like two pickets in a fence. Paul Miller died a little more inside than he already had when he realized his uncle had died. There was so little of Paul Miller left, it was surprising his little body still hung on in spite of the wound to his neck.


###


Alex heard faint sirens in the distance rapidly approaching, and his heart jumped a little bit, and ached a little less at the slight prospect this kid might make it. By now a small crowd had gathered around the pile of crumpled bodies, some consciously, others unconsciously, trying to piece together the story of what happened. A fire truck hurled around the corner, horns blaring like an angry locomotive, followed closely by a small white ambulance.

The cook unfastened his apron as he entered the restaurant, folding the crimson stained cloth upon itself, and tossing it into a dirty apron hamper on his way to back of the kitchens sink. He began to scrub the congealed mess off of his arms. Alex used the scrub absent mindedly, wishing he had another shirt to change into – or a shower to jump into. He knew he’d have to sit through at least a couple detectives before he could go home and shower, and get the poor kids blood off him. Alex dried his hands, and went back out to the front of the Taqueria where he could see police now arrive, before they had a chance to cordon off the area. He let Alejandro, the owner he wouldn’t be back tonight, not that Alex thought he would. He walked by an old couple who looked as though they were still confused as to what happened, as if both of their vision had failed them, as they could only make out ambiguous silhouettes from their vantage. To Alex’s left, he saw two teenagers with handfuls of napkins cleaning up what looked spilled burrito. He heard the growing commotion outside, and thought how much like birds looking down at a carcass from their telephone lines people could be sometimes.

Charlie followed James out toward the benches near the center of downtown without saying a word. Great trees covered the benches, creating a canopy around the small well-kept park. Beams of warm sunlight still broke through the leafy foliage somewhere high above casting miniature spotlights across their skin and clothes. The streets surrounding them were desolate; those who had been downtown surrounded the bodies which were now entombed in yellow tape. “That was fucked up,” Charlie said in disbelief and awe. “What the fuck was that, you know? I feel like one of those columbine kids or something.” He finished and grew quiet. “Who does that to a kid?” Charlie piped up out of nowhere. James could hear Charlie trying to come to terms with what just happened out loud between explitives. James still felt sick, whatever he felt in the Taqueria had a lasting effect – the terrible feelings, the hatred and the pain – they stuck around like a stomach ache. It was such an intense feeling, like all of his senses were confused, and he could see and feel their emotions. “Like a synesthetic! Someone who sees words”, but not quite, James realized. He could already feel those residual emotions receding, like “water drying in the hot sun against my skin”, James muttered. He didn’t know why he said it, but it fit. He felt as if the words were not his own, but could not place the owner. “Huh?” Charlie asked James, unsure if he heard him correctly. “Uh, nothing,” James shook his head slightly, realizing how weird that must have sounded. “Nothing, just talking to myself,” James raised his eyes to be level with Charlie’s. ”You saw it, right?” James waived his hand around, making wave like motions around his body. Charlie looked at him incredulously and nodded. “Uh, yeah? “ He squinted , and began to sound unsure of what he was saying. “That dude was a fucking monster, and he fucking killed a kid and his dad…”He had intended to say this fatly, but sounded lost. Charlie’s eyes widened. “Oh shit, I… just imagined all of that. I’ve gone crazy,” He said hollowly. “No, I saw it too – you’re not nuts – I saw it too” He finished with the same I’ve gone fucking crazy-tone Charlie utilized moments before, but whereas Charlie was comforted his friend had seen the black/pink abomination as he affectionately named it, James was disturbed deeply.  “No fucking way, “James thought. He looked toward the grizzly scene, and saw that two white sheets had been draped over two of the bodies; the boy and his father. James could recall the position of their crumpled forms from inside the Taqueria. The EMT’s were loading the shooter, McTentacles, into the ambulance. The old woman who had witnessed the scene first hand was speaking with two officers’ at least they’d know the person who they were rushing to the hospital might not be worth the time and energy to mend, that is if he made it to the hospital, James thought grimly, but felt justified in this dark reverie; they had both seen the way he looked with the glasses on, and they had felt – if but for a moment – the bitterness and fear of the situation. They felt the defensive rage which pulsated from the father, and the insatiable lust emanating from the pedophile. James didn’t have any way of knowing that the shooter had sexually assaulted the little boy, but he felt this was right, and he felt this was true. James felt a little ridiculous, nervous, like a child verifying there isn’t a monster under his bed. “That guy, he did some bad stuff, right?” James asked. Charlie didn’t respond right away, but James figured he was thinking about what was just said. “Like creepy weird stuff, with the kid.” James finished awkwardly; it felt wrong to talk about it after what just happened. “Yeah, I guess so,” Charlie said in agreement. The sirens from the ambulance set off, startling both of the boys a little. The ambulance backed up, and turned around, heading toward the nearest hospital. As the ambulance passed by the small park where James and Charlie were standing, James couldn’t help but imagine it being a black hearse.



Interlude





Warren Zevons’ Werewolves of London was playing on the tinny AM radio as a pale faced man drove an unlit ambulance down a northern California highway. The rest of the lanes were sparsely occupied, but a red haired girl of about 12, watching the orbs of light that hung alongside the highway row bright and dim then fade away caught a glimpse of the ghastly ambulance moving like a shark among the minnows. She rubbed her bleary eyes, but still it remained. “Mom?”  She said in a small but audible voice. “That ambulance doesn’t have any lights on.”  “Honey, that just means there isn’t anyone hurt right now. It’s a good thing sweetie.” Her mother said in her tired but cheerful chirp. “No, mom, it doesn’t have any lights, not even the front ones.” She replied, annoyed. Her mother glanced to her right and saw that her daughter was indeed right. The ambulance did not move with elegance, it moved with like a thing lurching from the dark. A beat up truck began to switch lanes – into the lane occupied by the unseen ambulance. Its driver, an elderly fellow with an MGD hat framing his jowled head, glanced to his left, and realizing that the lane wasn’t empty he swerved to the right and simultaneously laid into the horn. Lights flicked on in the unlit ambulance. The sirens went on, then off, and then on again. The ambulance turned its headlights on, and sped off northward.

“You dumb fucking idiot. I knew you weren’t straight to drive. You’re still all fucked up, aren’t you?” A pale young man with floppy hair in EMT scrubs stood at the door into the front cabin of the ambulance. He had dark rings under his eyes, and sounded pissed. The driver let out a howl along with the track, and turned his eyes away from the road and to the young paramedic. His mouth was stained a glossy black. “I fuckin’ love this song,” He said, unhearing or uncaring, and cut dangerously through two cars. “We have to keep a low profile, you know what that means? Or else we’re going to get caught. If we get caught, we’re dead.”  The driver scoffed. “Maybe you man, not me. Not me. It’s not on the rounds,” He gripped the steering wheel tighter, the vinyl creaking beneath. The younger paramedic looked down, really seeing the driver and grimaced. “You look terrible,” He said disgusted. “You’re not a stunner either, take a look in the mirror – oh wait,” The driver laughed, scratched at what was left of his eyebrow – he was losing his hair in clumps. “I think it’s the blood, but I can’t stop man,” He laughed, then turned, tone and eyes deadly serious. “I love the way it makes me feel. It’s a little uncomfortable, sure, but no pain no gain – right?” He turned his attention back to the road. He was right. It did make him feel  good. Powerful. It also made him feel terrible. He supposed it made him feel like someone OD’ing – because that’s what they were doing – but not on drugs. Their drug was blood. They were vampires. Some blood to take away the hunger, a bit more to keep you straight – too much, and this happened, he guessed. You lose your hair, and you go a little crazy, and it feels like your being torn apart from the inside – but it makes you feel so good. “I’m getting’ sick of this monkey suit shit,” The driver said in a low voice. “You ever thought about settling down?” The clock on the center console read 2:20am, and there was a car insurance commercial playing over the radio. “What are you talking about?” The young man said, hesitantly. “You ever hear of San Guillermo?” said the driver, as his eyes caught one of the green signs that were dotted alongside the highway. The young man was silent. “Exactly.”

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