VIN 12- Women Are Killers (A Small Bit of Advice for Idiots)

A small bit of advice to idiots; Women are killers.

Think of the Lioness: a sleek, silent, and lethal predator that has evolved and adapted, honing itself into a perfect machine of hunting and rearing through the duality of huntress and mother, murderer and lover.

That result, compared to a male, whose role is largely to intimidate and maintain order, shows where real power lies.

Real power. The mental-kind– imagination-power.

Though this is not to say the males of the species are not also accomplished hunters, and thinkers, they lack the duality of the role nature has charged their females with. It is the Male’s mate, whom once he has frightened you into flight, closes for the kill. His mate who is lighter, stronger, faster, sleeker, and just as lethal– if not more, by virtue of motherhood. Her face is the last thing you see before your throat is gored.

Brutal. Visceral.

Now recognize she’s done infinitely more and worse to survive, to feed her cubs, Pride, and wards to ensure their total survival. She has likely seen death on equally as many faces.

Remember that fact.

Then recall this is ubiquitous to most females– mammals especially– and that predators most often prey upon the elderly, juvenile, weak, and wounded. Remember, most of all, this has been going on for millennia and has desensitized enough females to death to ensure their species’ survival.

Remember all of that next time you fuck with women or their rights; mated or not, you’re fucked.

Short Story: One Last Job

Tropical sun met azure blue and granulated beige along the island coast. It was one of the Caribbean islands, but he was no longer sure which. All that mattered was his presence there, beach-bumming beneath a frosty glass of something more fruity and liquored than an uptown gay bar on pride-day.

He’d been lost a week now, and figured civilization was due to rear its ugly head again. That was how vacations had always been, no matter where they were taken. Why would retirement be any different? A few days in a paradise, or a shit hole, depending on his mood at booking, then back to the grindstone of life, love, and the pursuit of flabbiness… or however that old adage went.

Americans, he’d never understood them. Being born one should’ve helped, but he was more a man of the world these days, without country, than anything specific really. Government work had a way of doing that. All the while, missing the irony.

He raised the drink to his lips and basked in the warm, tropical sun that gleamed across tanned limbs. He’d been sunburned the first few days he’d been on the island. It had since faded into the milieu of a tan, like so many bygone memories. Like them, he was glad to see it go. To take on the near-bronze of the islanders was to shed the moniker of main-lander and obscure himself all the more.

He’d never be an islander himself, but so few were these days. He didn’t mind. Didn’t have enough of the flexibility to his spine anymore anyhow. He’d just take on one of the million other adjectives expats like him got. What his would be, he wasn’t sure yet. It would come in time. That was just fine by him.

He settled back against the chaise lounge-chair, fruity drink resting on its arm. Left hand wrapped around it and cooled from slick condensation, it felt real, tangible. Not like the twenty years of government work, nor the bulk spent at a desk writing, re-writing, or redacting information in reports.

Sure, he’d taken in the sights, but mostly state-side and never long– and always during work hours. On those rare excursions, he’d do the job, do it well, then return for the paper-work. He’d only ever seen the world on his own time and dime. The other agents were on Uncle Sam’s. Not him. “The drag of a quiet life,” he’d always joked.

Now he had all the time in the world and all the dimes he’d ever need.

A shadow fell over his closed eyes. Some pompous bastard hoped to steal his sunlight. A near-silent rustle of polyester depressed his lungs in a sigh. There was only one type of creature around that had the gall to steal a man’s sun and don polyester rags on paradise’s beach; a US government worker. As far as he knew, he was the only one around. They’d found him for another, damned-fool reason.

“I’m retired. Go away.”

The shadow over his eyes remained in place, but he sensed its squirming. Great, a twitchy suit. They couldn’t even send a vet to bug me. He cleared his throat with an audible sternness, but the creature before him began to speak anyhow.

“Agent Frank Marshall?” A man’s voice asked.

“I said “go away.”

“Sir, I’m here to inform you your expertise is required state-side.”

Go. A. Way.

“Sir, I’ve been authorized to take you in, with force if necessary,” the kid said.

Marshall chewed on the corner of his mouth, pulled away his sunglasses and sat upright to view the kid in all his passive aggressive, be-ragged glory. “Listen when I say, boy, that you couldn’t if you tried. That being said, I’m comfortable where I am, and I’m not moving from this seat unless I have to piss. The resort staff will even bring me another drink if I wish.”

“Sir, I’m authorized to inform you that you have one more chance to comply before you are forced along.”

“Good luck, kid,” Marshall said, sinking back and slipping on his sunglasses to sip his drink.

The kid’s wrist flicked. Something bit Marshall’s neck. A moment later he was squinting against blurry eyes at a pink-feathered dart. The capsule in its center was an auto-injector, tip red from a lone drop of blood.

Probably one of Monty’s. Bastard.

He cast an upward look at the kid, “Damn.”

He went limp against the chair, fruity drink spilled off the arm of it. He woke to the obvious sounds of a dual-engine plane infecting his foggy head. He shook off the last of the drug, and blinked through semi-darkness to grasp his surroundings. The private jet took shape. It dissolved into bright light flooding his vision.

He blinked away water, rubbing a throbbing temple, “Could’a warned me first.”

The kid moved to sit before him. “Agent Marshall, I’m here to brief you.”

He rubbed his eyes “No shit.” He held a file-folder toward Marshall. “Just give me the cliff-notes, kid. I don’t care about your book report.”

The kid cleared his throat, clearly unhappy with his diminutive title. “You’re to enter the Royal Oakton Arms Hotel in Oakton, Ohio. There, you will retrieve a key for a fifth-floor room. Inside, you will find your equipment. You will then proceed to the roof to await the arrival of a certain, political figure, who will be taking residence in a hotel across the street. You must be ready to complete your mission as soon as your target arrives or–”

He rolled his eyes, “The agency will disavow, blah, blah, blah. Just give me the name, kid. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

Instead of speaking it, the kid opened the file-folder to the first page. Paper-clipped to a dossier and itinerary was a photo of a political figure. A big one. One with few rivals, in fact. The guy had made a name for himself in the media as a windbag. He had a big head and less bright ideas than a dead-light bulb. The former was good for Marshall, easier target. The latter was bad for everyone, making the former more important.

Still, Marshall winced at the image, surveyed the kid for any deception mistake. He found none. The kid was more stone-faced than he’d have thought him possible. Something in the kid’s face said this outcome was obvious to all involved. Straight up through the chain of command the little pissant clung to, decisions and agreements had been made: this one needed to be dealt with.

Marshall cleared his throat, resigned to his do his duty. “Alright. Fine.”

“One last job until retirement, sir. The agency has agreed never to contact you again provided you complete this mission,” he stated officially, unblinking.

My ass.

“Why would they want to?” Marshall said. The kid looked as if about to speak. He put his hand out, “That was rhetorical, kid. No-one’s gonna’ wanna’ touch this with a thirty foot cattle-prod. But I expect compensation, and a one way ticket back to my island.”

The kid nodded. The briefing ended; Marshall’s last, if Uncle Sam kept his promise. Of course, that was never a certainty in this day and age. Come to think of it, that was the reason the problem existed at all. The reason he was ever needed. Uncle Sam and promises were never quite what they seemed.

When the plane finally landed, the taxi took him to Oakton. Evidently, boredom remained a constant despite most believing it had been eradicated. When he found himself standing in his room, bag of gear on the bed, he remembered his first time offing someone for good ol’ Uncle Sam. That guy’d been a windbag too. But all of ‘em were. Difference was, the agency didn’t like the anti-war and peace talk he was spewing. This one was just a pain in the ass for all involved.

Marshall sneaked his way to the roof. Although the more he thought of it, the less he felt he had to. Hell, he’d probably be a national hero this time tomorrow. He arrived top-side, unpacked his gear, checked the wind, the time, and adjusted his scope to wait.

A few, short hours later, he found himself once more on a beach with a fruity drink. This one was even more colorful than the last, and sweeter. He liked it. The rest of the world was still reeling, or perhaps rejoicing was the better word. But Marshall didn’t think about it once, he merely deflated into his chair, doing his best to become as liquid as his drink. Maybe he’d get up, sooner or later, take a piss in the ocean. Or maybe he’d drift off, dreaming about the few melon-popping sessions between ungodly bouts of paper-work. So long as he remained island-bound, he couldn’t have cared less.

Short Story: Never Ends There

It’s funny the way things turn out. Not always in the laughing matter, obviously. Funny in that way people are afraid to call irony for fear of starting a “thing.” That happens a lot. Especially in this society. It probably started around the time this did too, come to think of it. Probably coincidence. Then again, I don’t believe in coincidence– or do I? I don’t know. Ask me next time the news is over.

Where was I? Oh. Irony. It’s ironic. Not because “ironic” is fun to say, but because it actually is ironic. How? It all began about the time people got hyper-sensitive. First it was people’s fuck-partners and tastes. The gays started it, or rather, the “L,” “G,” “B,” and “T” started it. They argued they’d been discriminated against. They weren’t wrong.

A few years back a young man was grabbed off the road inAlabama. He’d been walking home when his existence offended some would-be purity-crusader. A couple guys grabbed him, beat him to death, and lynched him in a tree. No, I’m not confusing it with the Civil Rights movement. It just seems that way.

It’s hate. People whom no longer realize what human means. They know we’re animals, but believe that’s excuse enough. “Nature’s way” and such, are the lines. Except there’s no species that murders, rapes, pillages, and tortures apart from Homosapiens.

The point is, it started with the “Gays,” “those folk.” They were rightfully pissed. Technically, they weren’t even allowed to die for their country. A soldier known to be a homosexual could be discharged and jailed. Draconian rules in a modern society. Makes sense, right?

They got angry. And motivated. And did their thing hoping to make things better. All good things, right? Right. No arguments there. Not there. Elsewhere’s a different story. Elsewhere, there’s nothing but arguments.

‘Cause it didn’t end there. It never ends there! It doesn’t end until after the horse is bludgeoned to death. After its flesh is a mushy pulp and dust for the day’s bread. Such is human existence– so far as we’ve seen anyhow.

It’s always expected once one person starts complaining, someone else’ll follow. Usually it’s a pattern that goes like this; a group or person has a legitimate grievance. They air said grievance. Another group jumps to support their side or the other. Someone on the opposing side then jumps up to match them. The four groups, screaming, arguing, or generally causing a sonic discordance easily confused for noise.

Meanwhile, one other group abstains entirely, flying to mars to hide under a rock there. One last group tries to listen calmly, hoping to pick through the madness for the grievance to evaluate it for an amiable solution. The madness goes on long enough for that group to suss it out. They shut everyone up and negotiate– which may or may not involve repeating the aforementioned.

In the end, everyone’s happy. In the end, everyone sits down again. The first, aggrieved group is satisfied. The second is too. The third and fourth still hate each other and are ready to be at one another’s throats, but sit down to support their sides. The fifth returns from beneath the Mars-rock. And the sixth implements the proposed and ratified solutions. Simple, human nature.

But it never ends there! As soon as the first group’s happy again, another isn’t. They weren’t before, but their grievance felt too personal. They feared airing it. Seeing the last aired grievance was just as personal, they air theirs.

In our narrative, that was “women.” Women were pissed that they’d been mistreated, underpaid, and over-sexualized. They wanted equality, an end to mistreatment. They weren’t alone, nor were they wrong. The shouting began again. All the groups jumped up, fled, and listened as usual. Their grievance was heard, and eventually, a solution was reached. Same as before, right? Right. All good. Nothing bad.

But Remember: it never ends there!

The next thing that happened? You guessed it, someone else got upset. That time, it was “blacks.” Their grievance was aired; they’d won their Civil Rights but whites weren’t holding up their end. They weren’t wrong either. Solutions were reached.

But itnever ends there! Other races started piling on. Everyone began screaming or fleeing or listening… You might see where this is going.

One thing invariably led to another until only some grievances were legitimate. Others were just ignorantanger. Everyone accepted that. But now it was okay to air that, add it to the discordance. The breakdown came when people stopped reacting and listening– and thus working to fix problems.

With everyone too busy presenting the latest incarnation of “woe is me,” the biggest blowhards stole the show. Just trying to listen cost more energy than people had left, including the calm listeners.

And because it never ends there, that mentality of everyone deserves everything and nobody should ever stuggle trickled into every facet of society. Aired grievances, combined with a helicopter-parent society, forced society into accommodating everyone. Then, no-one could say anything without it pissing someone off.

That was the end of it. Civility ended there. Political correctness ended there. Manners ended there. Everything ended there. But it never ends there!

This started then. Now I’m here. There’s little more to do than than drool down my chin in hopes of making sense of it all. The white coat’s binding, and not very warm, and you’d think all that padding would insulate the room. But nope.

I’m forced to write with my toes. I’ve gotten good at doing things with my toes. I figure we’ll need that when we all return to the jungle. They won’t let me have my hands free anyway. I’m always scratching at myself and tearing my hair out. When I got here I looked like a cartoon cat run over by a lawnmower.

Funny thing. I saw a dead cat on the way in. Or maybe it was a possum. You can’t tell for sure from a moving car. All this insanity just makes me tired. It just never ends! Just like all that madness beyond the padding. Sometimes I really wish I was that possum…

Short Story: The Best in Us

The horizon was a war-zone post-loss. That the war had never touched it mattered less with each day it crumbled further into ruin. Despite that, it had a sort of serene beauty, as if a post-card to the ages warning of man’s follies. Charles Murray could almost see the block-lettered words of caution hanging mid-air. Murray’d been there when it all went to shit. He was a kid then. In some ways, still was. Such a designation didn’t feel particularly apt given all he’d seen and done. It was even less appropriate when considering all he might yet see or do. Even at only twenty, he’d seen war waged on such grand a scale it left the world in literal tatters.

Like the skyline, the land had been subjected to more bombs and bullets than man had a right to construct. Scenery was reformed into post-apocalyptic wasteland. Location made no difference: big cities, small towns, rural homesteads, anywhere one enemy could’ve pushed another to, struck from, or trained at, became as decimated as the next or last.

They’d called World War I the “Great War,” but even the mustard-gassed trenches hadn’t seen such depravity. Murray’d half-expected the world to implode, swallow what few remained. It hadn’t yet, and as Murray knew, the war had never even be waged here. Not the war that had been waged everywhere else, anyhow.

This one was a civil war, a conflict of internal forces that had taken up arms for one reason or another. When one side failed to compromise, the other took aim and fired. Who cared which one did what? This was the end result. Now, day in and day out, Murray was forced to comb the wreckage for scraps of living.

Presently, he was forced to dig through a mound of rubble. His sharpened stick scratched at the rubble and gravel as he fondly recalled a one-time discovery: a bunker of fallout-supplies. It was one of those things constructed at the height of the cold war, then re-purposed when bombs fell again. The people living there had died from a bad air filter before realizing their peril. He remembered breaking the main-seals, still untouched from the bombs, and his chem sniffer going mad from C-O toxicity.

The main room had been an old-style parlor of countless bookshelves and a television inlaid in one wall. They even had an old computer hooked up with multiple hard-drives and an isolated data-server routed in from a separate room. They’d been well-off before things went to hell. Too bad it didn’t keep them from being asphyxiated in their sleep.

Murray still saw them sometimes when he closed his eyes: in a room just off the main one. Two men in bed. Peaceful child mere paces away. Sometimes he wished he could’ve been that child– gone as peacefully as anyone could hope to in the piss-hole of a place the world had become. After raiding the food stores, and before leaving, he’d marked the family’s room with a white X; a new-world symbol of no entry. The X was used to warn of contamination in some way, to be avoided at all costs. Sometimes though, it was used only to keep the dead undisturbed.

Sweat dripped off his brow and face. He scraped out the last of the piled gravel. The doorway was another old place– not a bomb-shelter, but an old church cellar. The kind of place people ran to during tornadoes before basements were common-place. Judging from the collapsed building above it, Murray guessed there was no access from the inside. The place had been untouched since the National Guard laid down the sand and gravel to fortify it. With any luck, there’d still be canned goods inside. Otherwise, just more bodies… it was always more bodies.

The door’s reveal all but confirmed his suspicions of the separation above and below. A few, concrete steps led down into a short, right-angle pit, a full-size, steel door at its terminus. Murray caught his breath on the rocky steps, then heaved himself to his feet. He grasped the door knob, shouldered the door. It failed to open– wasn’t the first time, wouldn’t be the last. He gathered up his remaining strength, took a step back, then hurled himself at the door.

It failed to give.

Too much had been done, too much energy expended, not to complete the task. He repeated the act. The door burst in off its hinges. He landed atop it in a plume of dust. It glinted in the beam of external light now shining in. A shotgun cocked. His reflexes engaged. He flipped, swept his legs, toppled the armed figure. Before he could stop himself, he laid his weight laterally against the shotgun on the throat of a white-haired, bearded man.

“No! Stop!” A young woman shouted.

Murray’s eyes widened. The room sharpened. He’d expected bodies. It was always bodies. Men. Women. Children. It didn’t matter. It was only ever bodies.

“You’re killing him!”

Murray was up. He cast the shotgun aside, stepped back in a hunched, defensive stance. His eyes flitted between the man, now propped on an elbow, and a young blonde with sapphire eyes. Murray took a step back, staggered by reality rushing in on him. The woman didn’t hesitate. She was instantly at the old man’s side, helping him up.

“Thank you,” she said backward at Murray. “Dad, are you alright?”

He grunted something Murray didn’t hear as she helped him to his feet. Murray took another half-step back. The old man approached, hand extended. “You look like hell, son. How long you been out there?”

Murray eased from his stance, his eyes on the man’s hand, “Since the beginning.”

The old man’s squinted, “That’d be, what, four years now?” Murray gave a small nod. “Well, that’s as long as we’ve been trapped here. If it weren’t for the hydroponics we rigged up from the well, we’d’ve been dead years ago. Guess we’re free now, with you to thank.”

Murray was hesitant, on-guard, “You have food?”

“As much as we can eat and more. All fresh vegetables,” the woman said.

“And shelter, here? Safety?”

“Mhmm,” the old man nodded.

“You can stay if you want,” the young woman added confidently.

They noticed Murray’s eyes begin to tear up.

The old man smiled, “C’mon, son, we’ll get ‘ya cleaned up, treat ‘ya to a meal. Hailey, show our guest to his room?”

She brightened with a nod, took a careful steps toward him before linking her arm in his. Moments later, they were standing before an open bedroom: a bed, dresser, night stand and filled bookcase were inside. Everything was pristine, a time-capsule of pre-war life only now unearthed. In a way, he guessed, it was– save the inexplicable women’s clothing peeking from a dresser drawer.

Hailey led him to the bed, sat him down, “We haven’t seen anyone in years.” She swept the room with a glance, “It’s not much, but you’re more than welcome to it.”

There was a momentary silence Murray had to break, “Wh-why?” Her brow furrowed. “Why do this for me?”

She shrugged, “I guess the world ending’s brought out the best in us.” He squinted at her; a sort of innocent naivete to her tone said she knew nothing of the world he’d come from. Paradoxically, her look said she knew its horrors all too well. She smiled, “Go ahead. Clean up. Lunch’ll be ready soon.”

Murray’s head swam: whatever he’d done to earn this, he must have forgotten. Then again, maybe the end of the world brought out the best in some people. Whatever the explanation, the fresh meat in his lunch was his biggest surprise.

Short Story: Schokolade Mit Liebe

A lone match struck in the darkness, flared to strength and cast an orb of dim light on an aged, graying face. It leaned into spark a cigarette off the sulfuric flame, extinguished it with a breath and a hint of a putrid stench. The darkness returned save a lone, glowing ember at the cigarette’s end.

A thick German accent sounded over a high, aristocratic voice, “You’ve no idea who I am, do you, Herr Butler?”

The man across the darkness swiveled his head, struggled against the binds that lashed his arms and legs to a metal chair. “What the hell’s going on?” He asked through panic-breaths. “Who are you? What do you want with me?”

The cigarette glowed brighter from a deep drag as a third man in the darkness struck Butler with a heavy fist. He yelped, almost toppled sideways from the force. He went silent. Tears welled in his eyes. The German gave a breathy exhale, enunciated each word as though chocolate meant to be savored, “You have stolen something very precious to me.”

“I-I don’t know what your t-talking about–”

He shouted over Butler, “Betrüger!

Another heavy blow flooded his mouth with blood and salty sweaty. He did topple this time. It was slow, or perhaps instant, but he felt himself hang on two legs for then tumble to his shoulder like some kind of stunned droid.

The German sighed defeat as he rubbed his forehead between his eyes, “Herr Roke, erhohen mein freund, bitte.”

A primal grunt stuttered with amusement. Then, with an effortless stoop, the monstrous creature lifted Butler and the chair, flipped them in mid-air to right them on the floor with a singular motion. Butler felt the beast’s presence span twice the size of a common brick-wall over the scent of a back-alley ashtray soaked in stale beer. Butler would have dry-heaved were he not too occupied by fear.

The German spoke graciously, “Danke, Herr Roke.” He leaned forward so that the cherry of his cigarette inflected a minor light across his Aryan features. “Now, Herr Butler, I say again; you have stolen something precious of mine and I would like it back.” His voice lowered venomously, “Where is die zeitsteuereinheit?”

Butler was lost; he knew no German, let alone whatever the hell a Zeiten-heimer was,“I d-don’t know what you’re talking about?”

The man mumbled German at the ceiling with defeat that apexed into a clearer phrase, “Herr Roke?”

A heavy thud thumped the back of Butler’s head, meant to jarr his thoughts. He was pretty sure he felt marbles roll around in his brain when the world started to spin. His head fell forward in a daze. Another German mumble, almost cheerfully annoyed, and the cherry flared up, gave way to a bright flood-light on the wall to the left. It blinded Butler as his head rose again. There was nothing but the light– and darkness on either side of it– as loafers shuffled over concrete.

A metal clinking began somewhere in the room’s depths. Given the pungent smoke’s ailing waft, Butler guessed the German had displaced himself. A moment later, the metal sounds gave way to the scuff of loafers that approached through the shadows.

The German was merely an average-sized silhouette with something small in its hand. Identification of the object was impossible through the watery spinning of Butler’s vision. While his eyes welled wet, his mouth dried. The German leaned toward his neck, protuberance in-hand over the reek of a recent, expensive cologne bath. He injected something into Butler’s neck. Heat crept through him, small and insidious, as if his internal thermostat had been jacked all the way up. He felt his brow grow wetter, mouth drier, his t-shirt cold around his armpits.

“Now, Herr Butler,” the German said as he turned back for his seat. He sank into it with the satisfied groan of an old man, “Nature is a beautiful thing, is it not? It has lived longer than anything in the universe– it is the universe, in fact– and especially on Earth, it is a wonderfully complex and varied organism.”

Butler felt his tongue fatten. Sweat flowed like a leaky garden hose. He wanted to cry harder, but wasn’t sure how to. He didn’t know what the German wanted, nor why he seemed to so presently hell-bent on his ecology lecture. All he knew was small, throbbing waves of heat turning to molten lava with each second.

“As with all great organisms,” the German was saying. “Nature has found a way to take something simple, and build off it, as a foundation if you will.” He made a small, refined gesture. “I have just injected you with Formic Acid, Herr Butler. In moments your innards will feel as if they have been held to the core of the Earth.”

Butler already felt that, couldn’t imagine it getting any worse– in fact, he didn’t want to try, “B-but, I’m j-just an average guy. I d-don’t know about your Zeitenheimer.”

The German sighed, “Herr Roke, have you ever known a man to survive the Formic Acid?”

“Nein, Herr Schmidt,” Roke said with a bestial rasp.

“Believe him, if not me, Herr Butler,” Schmidt said.

The acid increased its toll; Butler trembled, shook more with each breath, “B-but I s-s-swear, I d-don’t kn-know anything.”

The German seemed disappointed rather than angry, “Perhaps, then, your wife will tell us.”

Wife? What wife?I don’t have a wife.

“W-wife? Wh-what wife?” Butler asked. “I d-don’t h-have a wife.”

“Herr Buttler, we know all about you, you need not lie; you are Roger Butler, your wife is Penny, und we know where she is,” the German warned casually “If you do not tell us what we want to know, we may have to escalate our interrogation.”

“B-but I-I’ve n-never b-been married!” Butler shouted through the pain.

“Herr Schmidt!” A new voice said from across the room.

“Ja? Excuse me for a moment,” he said politely as he passed the flood-light for a door behind Butler. There was a hushed whisper, then Schmidt’s voice, “Und you’re certain?” Another hurried whisper, then, “Very well.”

Schmidt passed through the floodlight again for the opposite end of the room. There was a shuffle of loafers, another sound of rifled metal, and Schmidt reappeared to inject something else into Butler’s neck.

Schmidt stepped back as Butler felt the pain lessen, “Herr Butler, I must apologize, you are… uh, the wrong man.” He nodded at Roke behind him. A grunt sounded before massive, meaty hands tugged at the knots that bound Butler to the chair. “Please accept my sincerest apologies.”

Roke pulled the last of the binds free, yanked Butler up. Schmidt maneuvered him toward the door, “It would be best if we parted ways– perhaps better if you spoke of this to no-one.”

In the daze of pain, drugs, and the acid’s antagonist, Butler hardly comprehended his surroundings as he was ushered into the hall. When his mind focused again, he was turned ’round, facing Schmidt from the far-side of a doorway, and half-blind from the bright hall-way around him.

“Guten Abend, Herr Butler, pray we do not meet again,” Schmidt said.

The door shut. Butler stared at it a moment longer than he ought’ve, his mind ablaze with questions. They’d obviously had the wrong man, he’d known that from the start, but what convinced them? He suddenly recognized a gift horse’s mouth and bolted in terror. The exit signs along the bright hallways led him into a city’s back-alley in late afternoon. He kept running, faster than any software engineer could or should, all the way through town to his apartment, and inside a closet at its rear. He cowered there in fear, terrified into sleep atop his hugged knees.

He was awoken by heavy knocks on the door that pestered him incessantly. He crept from the closet, hugged the walls along the bedroom, inched out, then sprinted to the door’s peephole. A delivery-man stood on the other side with flowers and chocolates.

He cracked open the door, “Y-yes?”

“Delivery for R. Butler,” the man said casually.

“Wh-what is it? Who’s it from?”

“Cards in the flowers, sir, I just deliver ’em.” Butler hesitated, inched the door open enough for the delivery to slide through. The man passed through a tablet with a stylus, “Sign, please.”

Butler’s shaky hand scrawled a signature, passed it back. A moment later the door shut, the delivery on the kitchen table. Butler lifted the card that read, “Sorry about the torture. Schokolade mit Liebe, H.S.

Butler’s eyes rolled back into his head as he passed out.

Short Story: A Tragedy

I hurt. Everyday. They tell me that it’s “normal,” a part of disease. They say the aches and pains that incise my kidneys, steal air from my lungs, are expected, routine. The seizures that grip me, take control of my body away, and leave me feeling more exhausted than I could if I’d run for leagues more than miles. But supposedly, they’re “in line” with a prognosis.

Bullshit. None of this is normal, or routine, except that I’m dying. That’s what we do. We die. But I’m dying the most terrible kind of death, the kind where no-one can do a damned thing about it or even figure out why. I’ve spent months in and out of hospitals, chained to beds by I-Vs, Heart monitors, and catheters.

Do you know the pain or humiliation of a torn catheter? Or even what one is? It’s a tube they shove into your urethra. You know, that thing you piss with? I haven’t gone to the bathroom in almost a year. And don’t get me started on sponge baths.

You know that joke that guys like to tell; “Nurse, I’m ready for my sponge bath?” Well it’s all in good fun, until you wake up in the middle of the night, covered from ass to neck in shit from a year’s worth of liquid diets and hospital food, and have to have one. It’s not funny then. Or the other three-hundred odd times, with a different nurse every two nights.

But you know what’s worse? Even worse than the drugs that make you puke, or the humiliation of being on-display for med-staff 25 hours a day, or constant, nagging pains that cut and stab at you day and night, cause you to scream, cry, or rage through the morphine? You know what’s worse? Having a perfectly able body whither away before you– your perfectly able body.

When I first entered the hospital, before the misdiagnoses of metastasized carcinomas, leukemias, and a half-dozen other, terrifying cancers, I was two-hundred pounds of tonka-tough American muscle. I worked eighty-hour weeks as a welder, union-born and bred. I bled excellence and I sweat green. I had a half-mil house, a stunning wife, and two teenaged kids that’d managed not to fuck up their lives with dope or booze. I was living the American dream.

But like that great philosopher Carlin once said, they call it that ’cause you gotta’ be asleep to believe it. Christ what a wake-up call I got.

Have you ever seen a man, so big, strong, tough, that the only person you can think to compare him to’s a guy like Schwarzenegger? Well that was me. I may not’ve had the chiseled jaw, or that lady-killing Austrian accent, but I damn near had the rest. I was him. He was me. But that first episode? None of that meant jack-shit.

You know what they say about the bigger they are? Well, when I fell, I almost took a whole damned gas plant with. No bullshit. Working with an open flame, spot welding in a natural gas refinery carries its own set’a risks, but no-one ever expects to suddenly find themselves out of control of their body, seizing on the ground next to a flailing torch that’s half-cutting through a hot gas line. The only thing that saved me was the fact that I’d managed to cut the damn gas line to the torch in my state.

A plume of fire was roasting the air that was barely making it into my lungs, but the torch wasn’t strong enough to breach the full gas line ’cause of it. And thank fuck for those reinforced tanks. If it weren’t for their double-insulated walls, that gas would’ve exploded, caused a chain-reaction and taken the whole plant down with it. Of course, it would’ve spared me the agony that came next, but even with it, I can’t imagine having all that death on my shoulders. Even dead. Foreman said something later about 2,000 guys on-site, and I was the only one sick that day. Fuck, that would’a been a catastrophe.

The local paper did an interview with me not long after. They’d heard about the incident, wanted to try and drum up some of their own brand of fear mongering. They sent some hot-shot reporter girl over to try and make a fuss about the safety regulations. Christ, she could’a been my daughter. Fresh outta’ college and making those squinty, suspicious eyes at me. She sat me down to ask “hard” questions, but was stunned when all I gave her was the real truth. She batted her lashes a few times too. I guess she hoped I’d cave, screw the union and the gas company over.

I didn’t. There wasn’t anything to say. It wasn’t the job. It was me. They say accidents don’t really happen, but no one can predict just dropping to the floor and frothing at the mouth. As far’s I know, not much of that interview made it into the paper beyond a few of my own words. Guess they didn’t quite get the reaction they were hoping for.

That was when the Union began its own investigation. I talked to the rep that was in charge of the whole thing. He said it was a “formality” thing. Bullshit again. The gas company wanted to make sure they couldn’t blame me, sue my pants off, and take my benefits away. The Union rep eventually made sure to note there was nothing at fault on my end, beyond my obvious ailment. Legally, they couldn’t touch me for that.

What did it matter though? Through all that, I went from one doctor’s office to the next, every other night in the ER for seizures, chest-pains, near-on strokes. I guess something just wasn’t quite wired right in my brain. Maybe ol’ Pop’s genes were finally hittin’ their stride, givin’ me some of his late-life ills. I don’t know. But then again, neither does anyone else.

The first time I noticed the weight loss, I was being weighed at a specialist’s office. I was down to one-ninety, skin sagging and muscle half-eaten away already. He was one of the many specialists, I might add. In the end, he was about as useless as the rest of ’em, but only the first of the neuro-specialists I’ve had the great displeasure of meeting. That was the first time I heard about MRIs and EEGs. If only I’d known what fun those couple of words would end up being. Turns out, when you’ve got twenty year old ink in your arms from shitty, basement tattoos as a teenager, some of them might turn out to have metal in them.

The first time I had an MRI, it damn near ripped the skin off my arm. To their credit, everyone in the hospital freaked. They treated me good about it. They’re always nice like that– like they want to get you better, but really you know all they care about’s what the rest of us care about; putting your time in to clock out so you can go bang your spouse and fall asleep with a beer afterward. I can’t blame them for that though. That’s the human condition. That, and I’m pretty sure it wrecked the machine. Not many men can lay claim to causing a million dollars of damage in under thirty seconds.

After that, I spent three-months between the main bullshit and having to get my earliest tattoos removed and skin grafted on. You know where they took that skin from? My ass. That’s right. So now, not only was I bandaged on my arms, seizing three to four times a day, in and out of the ER and Doctor’s offices every other day and night, now I was walking around with a gimp because my ass hurt. Talk about shit or get off the pot. Hell, I couldn’t even sit on one.

At least I can look back on that and laugh. The rest ? All I can do’s shake my head.

That American dream I was talking about? It took a while– well, not really– but it unraveled into the nightmare we all knew it could really be. Almost as soon as things took a turn for the worst, I found out each of my kids were gettin’ into trouble– Son was boozing it up, and my Daughter was smokin’ pot on school grounds.

I guess I can’t blame ’em. They’re just kids and they don’t know better. Don’t have the “tools” to handle the kind of fuckery old dad’s health’s put ’em through. My wife on the other hand… The less said the better, but from what I understand, she’d fit right in with some of the army-wives that marry off just before their husbands’ deployments.

Whatever. Water under the bridge I guess. We’re all destined to do two things alone in this life anyhow; shit, and die. Well, I’ll have the latter covered anyway, even if I’m covered in the former when it happens. Maybe then, at least, I’ll be a good joke; he was such a shit he went out covered in it.

Ah hell, who knows, maybe medical science will finally reach a point that it can diagnose me. I doubt it. They say they don’t know what’s wrong with me. That all this breathless agony and withering muscle-tone’s in line with a prognosis and they’ve just gotta’ find the right one, treat it. I guess all they need’s a name. Something to call it, you know? Something hepatic, or encephalitic, or something with one of those -itis suffixes. I don’t know about them, but I call it life, and it’s a tragedy. A god damned tragedy.