Poetry-Thing Thursday: Nothing So Cutting

Sweat Glistens.
You listen–
skin-to-skin–
to my lesson.

The heart beat is true,
but one of few,
yet to be felt,
‘tween thee and you

Sex clings to air,
fingers grip hair.
So sealed are your fates,
of impassioned despair.

Stuttered breathing.
Milk-white breasts,
heaving.
Hefted in-hand,
what devious seething.

Miles away,
‘tween millions of days,
none can deny,
the animal sway.

It could be wrong,
but long heard’s the song,
of those now regretful;
“don’t worry, just do it,”
and
“cause life isn’t long.”

But the sea’s in your eyes,
and though known to defy,
even shallow oaths,
should now make you comply,
for recall there’s nothing so cutting,
as the sound of “goodbye.”

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Short Story: Powers of Ten

He sat at the kitchen table, knowing exactly what was to happen. She sat too, only some idea buried beneath a hopeful fear. There’d be no denials. She’d try and try, he knew. Every step. But the truth was undeniable.

A picture was worth a thousand words? He had ten.

For each one, she’d have a new excuse, its complexity growing and tightening the noose until the tenth emerged. Then, the floor would give. The rope would tighten. She dangle, dead or gasping. Likely the latter. She’d assured it. No matter what, he had her this time. She couldn’t escape.

Quentin Pearson had suspected his wife of adultery long ago. He couldn’t pinpoint when, exactly, but ignorance had turned to suspicion. Before long, it became the hand that shook the P-I’s after handing over the signed check that hired him.

Suspicion became knowing. Cheryl had always been off with friends, spending long nights away. Sometimes she called, drunk; they couldn’t drive home. It hadn’t bothered him, she’d always been the social type. He wasn’t. Nor was he the type to complain much about her excursions, so far as he knew.

Only his unexpected clusterfuck avalanche could’ve led him to be sitting with Cheryl now. Full-color 8x10s printed from digital photos between them. She was fucked. He knew it. Somewhere, someone else wasn’t the one fucking for once. Maybe more, too.

After all, Steph hadn’t mentioned how long it’d been since she’d seen Cheryl, only that she’d wanted her to call. That was how Cheryl’s type of recluse imparted long distance pleas. Not one of ‘em could use a damned phone.

Or maybe not, judging by the first photo: Cheryl outside, half-in her car, phone to her ear, talking to someone.

She could use a phone, thus the issue was one of choice. Then again, the whole damned thing was. If she’d chosen to remain faithful, Quentin wouldn’t have hired the PI. If she’d chosen to admit her affairs, neither would’ve remained in such a farcical marriage. But too bad, huh?

Then again, if she’d chosen otherwise, he’d have never been able to confront her. Given his enjoyment, why spoil it?

She was already busy making excuses: she was leaving. Going to the store, to the mall, to see Stephanie. All obvious lies. Or maybe not. There was no way to know how the images were sequenced, only their eventual ends.

Quentin did his best not to see red. It was important to remain calm. Rage ruined the trap he’d lain. He needed her like a startled hare, ankle caught, and dangling. He was too intent, the slow build of panic too insatiable in her, to risk doing things any differently.

When the panic would become too much, he couldn’t say.

He laid the second image between them. Nothing suspicious; her, outside a building. Nondescript. Parking lot. Indifferent to any other. Though he couldn’t place it, she feigned familiarity. Enough said.

Image two, means to an end it was, established the next. Quentin placed the third photo directly beside the second: Wider angle, less zoom. A drugstore forty miles away. One on every corner, he said, why this one in particular?

She’d begin to chew the inside of her lip now, he knew it. Quentin couldn’t see it, subtle as it could be, but always there in her times of distress.

Photos four and five were benign, boring. Yet, imperceptibly important. Doubly so, given photo six. He laid all three out, over the previous three. They’d made their point, word-values expended.

Images four and five only revealed their secret after the emergence of the sixth. With them, Cheryl’s teeth would bite deep into her lip. Deeper. Quentin imagined she’d taste blood. He hoped she would. He wanted her to. Then, he wanted to upper cut her jaw. Make her taste it.

Instead, he let the images settle in. Their existence hovering overhead like a gray cloud of tension, shame. That same fear prey felt before being eaten. She’d was his now.

Cheryl breathed. There it was. A car approaching a nearby parking space, making an arc. Cheryl exiting. Slipping into the vehicle. The driver, male, leaned. Cheryl squirmed, her chair man-eating jam attempting to devour her from the genitals upward. Maybe it was, in some reality. Here, it was another’s hands.

Quentin tempered fury with satisfaction from the belly-full feeling of a soon-to-be fed predator. He’d always loved watching her twitch and spasm, usually atop him. Death would do now. If only in death of a lie. She wouldn’t bother fighting.

Cheryl knew little could be said or done, didn’t care.

Image eight: Cheryl. The man. Deep kissing. It took all of her strength and senses not to flee. It took all of his cowardice not to beat her to death.

Image nine: Mystery man’s car. A cheap motel charging hourly.

Image ten: death knell. Shot from outside, through a window. Difficult angle. Subject matter clear. Her, impassioned-back bent; mystery man’s face averted from behind, thrusting. Her in ecstasy. Happy. Dreaming. Wishing. Presently squirming. Quentin smug, tasting victory on the air.

“I hate you,” she said, quietly guilty. “And I’m leaving.”

His victory slipped from his grasp, replaced by sickening emptiness.

“You’ve terrorized me for years. Beat and belittled me. Sucked away what happiness I had. Smiled at my misery. I’d call you a monster, but nothing like you is known.”

He was eviscerated. Victory and life snatched away and his own arrogance rubbed into his face all at once. He couldn’t even muster the wrath she knew as his trademark.

She was never more alive. She rose to leave. Years ago, his sudden, surprising lack of anger might have led her to believe in him. Might have led her to hope he could change. She wasn’t a girl anymore, didn’t.

Cheryl drew tri-folded papers from her purse, set them on the table. “I expect you’ll sign these,sooner or later. I commenced divorce proceedings the day I learned you’d takenover a thousand dollars from our savings. I knew you were either using, or spying. I didn’t care which. Maybe one day, you’ll be human again– if you ever were.”

Neither of them knew it until long after, but her final words rang out into a disemboweling emptiness. “Goodbye, Quentin.”

She knew only the sound of the closing door. The lifting of a weight that comes from shedding that which has burdened one for far too long. Cheryl breathed and climbed into her car. From then on she lived free.

Short Story: Dead Men

It wasn’t possible. It just wasn’t. Not in a million years. Jake was dead. The trial was over. Martin was cleared of all suspicion. He’d done everything right. He’d passed all the detectors. His lawyer had made all the right arguments. Yet here he was, staring at what appeared to be a live image of Jake Cooper; recent adulterer and still-fresh corpse. The body hadn’t begun to decompose yet.

It had to be a tech trick, he knew. There was no explanation otherwise. He’d broken Jake’s neck himself. Felt the snap. He’d done it in just right, too. He’d had to. Otherwise, there would’ve been no doubts of reality.

As it was, he’d almost cooked his own goose leaving evidence suggesting he knew of the affair. The prosecution had a field day with that. Both Martin and his lawyer stood firm; he knew, but he’d still been deciding how to handle it. He was torn between disbelief and refusal to admit it to himself.

It worked. That was what mattered. The courts, the jury, the judge, his lawyer, everyone believed his version. They believed, per usual, he and Jake had been drinking heavily at his home; that he’d passed out on the couch; that Jake got up to piss; that inebriated as he was– and his BAC concluded– he fell, broke his neck against the bathroom sink; that he wasn’t found until Martin awoke around noon, hung-over and in a panic.

Everyone believed it. All of it. It was a masterful play. One for the ages. If he could only tell someone.

Courtney was still off somewhere, quietly mourning the asshole dicking her despite the five-year relationship with Martin. She was the type to want cake and eat it too. Or in this case, want cock and eat it too. He should’ve known years ago.

He found out in the most mundane way. It still angered him to think about it. He deserved better than looking at Courtney’s phone, being suddenly met with Jake slamming her from behind. Hell, they’d been friends twenty years. He wasn’t even snooping. He was looking for something from an old party. A picture of the two of them. If he’d wanted to snoop, he would have.

But then, there it was: her getting railed from behind. In front of a dirty mirror. Her face half-visible and Jake’s blotted out by the flash. All the same, Martin recognized the tattoos, had seen that filthy mirror often enough. He didn’t need to guess anything.

In hindsight, Martin was proud of himself; of his handling of things. Premeditated murder notwithstanding. He didn’t fly off the handle, and for all he knew, Courtney still wasn’t sure he’d seen the picture. The trial’s nonspecific terms, and his own lies, put the revelation on a discussion that had never taken place. The conversation said the adultery was formed of another, drunken circumstance. Courtney too, enjoyed getting shit-faced. And dicked too. The two collided.

She was just lucky he couldn’t bring himself to off her too.

Martin had killed Jake with his bare hands. Premeditated. No fit of passion. No irrational rage. Rather simple, measured vengeance. Intentional. Indifferent. Not cold. Not hot. It just was.

Just as it was that Jake now stared at Martin from the other side of a vid-call.

Tech. Pre-recorded.

But Jake didn’t know shit about computers. He worked janitorial. He wasn’t the brightest bulb. For that matter, neither was Martin. Nonetheless, he didn’t know shit about tech. He could barely program numbers into his cellphone– though apparently he knew how to coordinate taking a photo with dogging his best-friend’s girl.

The dead-stare in Jake’s face contained the slightest hint of amusement. It told of more to the state of things than a simple VOIP-call.

“SurprisedI’m back from the dead?” Jake asked suddenly. Martin vaguely noticed his own repulsion. “I seethe terror in your face. Don’t worry. My death’s our little secret… for now. I just wanted you to know why I did it. I figured the time would come, sooner or later, when you’d find out.”

Martin cast aside all doubts of a recorded message. It was clear by his implication. Jake managed to pre-record and program a vid-call. He wasn’t sure he’d ever known how to, but he was too focused now to care.

“Fact is, Mart, you’ve always been a cunt.” Martin reeled. “Can’t say I really cared for you most of the time, but brothers’re brothers, right? Can’t choose your family. Just happens. Something kept us friends all these years. Until…”

“Until you start railing Courtney, you fucking asshole,” Martin blurted.

There was a laugh. Too on-point and lag-free to be software. Or maybe not. Fucking eerie. It forced a shudder along Martin’s spine. Goosebumps rippled his limbs.

Jake was chuckling, “Yeah. Courtney.” A “hmm” trailed off into an obvious “mmm.” Martin grit his teeth. Jake ignored it, either in life or death, whichever was represented. “Fact is, Marty ol’ boy, you were a cunt. A royal one. You treated her in accordance with that mentality. You manipulated her with small nudges, quiet words. Everything an asshole does.

“And you drove her straight to me. And I let you. Because she deserved better. Hell, you didn’t even know how to fuck ‘er. Just spasmed on top’a her like a dying fish. Then you had the nerve to go and off me for giving her what she wanted. What she needed.”

Martin’s eyes doubled in size.

“Oh yeah, I know. Dead or not, I know.” He smiled, chuckled. “Funny thing is, Martin, I know a helluva lot more’n you do. A helluva lot more’n you think. For instance, I know how to wire an entire apartment for video and sound without making it look it. I know how to continuously offload that data to an encrypted, remote-server, to spool forever– or until the cameras are destroyed.

“I also know how to automate a botnet to search for relevant news keywords and program it to await specific phrases. For example, “Idiot fuckhead cleared of murder charges in killing of friend.” Then have it send the collected data… well, wherever I want. To an old girlfriend, say.”

Martin’s pulse began to race. He wanted to flee, knew it would do no good. Not yet. He had to know the rest. Had to know what else he was missing.

Jake smiled; a sinister smile. It told Martin more was coming than he wanted. “I know how and when to strike to get the best drop on people. I also happen to know there’s no conceivable way a dead man can be convicted of murder. Even if he were, I know he wouldn’t have two shits to give anyhow.”

The sinister smile tightened. Darkened corners emerged in Jake’s face that terrified Martin. He’d never seen such a monstrous creature before, especially not one in the guise of someone he knew so well.

“Most of all, Martin, I know if you mix a series of house-hold chemicals into a clay-like block and place it in the vicinity of a proper, electrical charge, it will level a building. A charge that, say, could easily be generated by the short in an overclocked computer chip.”

Martin was up, fleeing. Malevolent laughter followed him. He bridged half the distance to his door. Then, nothing– for dead men do nothing more.