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Mike Mellish

The accident occurred about twenty minutes after midnight. The black Monte Carlo flew through a red light at a four-way intersection, t-boning Sterlís car, a blue station wagon, 1980ís domestic make with rust highlights. The Boss was on Sterlís radio, ďIím On FireĒ, a white bag of fine grain sugar sitting in the passenger seat. He was smiling. Things were finally going okay for him. John was speeding towards the light in the opposite direction of Sterl, riding in a brand new red Jetta, and he also went through the green light and went head-on into the collision. He ended up t-boning the Monte Carlo. It happened so fast, and besides being drunk, John was otherwise not his usual self. He couldnít react. He was the only one wearing a seatbelt, and it didnít do a thing for him. They found him crushed between his seat and his dashboard, his steering wheel fused permanently as a piece of his anatomy. They found three different blood types on Johnís hands and clothes.

A middle-aged Italian brunette was the only survivor of the accident. She was thrown clear of the wreck because of her position in the open-topped automobile, the black Monte Carlo. The other passenger in that car, a rising boxing star named Nigel Grimm, died on impact. Police found the woman huddled behind a bush in a yard near the wreckage, a single stream of blood running from her head and dripping from her chin, and her arms cradled at awkward angles. Her eyes were glazed but not with tears. She was confused, in shock, mumbling about things that just werenít there.

The officer that found the woman turned and yelled something to the medics that she couldnít understand. She cried out. Her ears werenít working right. She vomited. Some of it was red. After she vomited, her vision cleared a little and a voice came slowly into her head, gathering into recognizable sounds, things she understood. She reached for his hand. The officer ignored her reach. He spat on the ground and looked at the twisted wreckage in the middle of the intersection. For the surviving brunette, words began to match up with the movement of the officerís lips. Donít worry. None of this is your fault. Everything will be fine as long as youíre okay. Youíre just confused. Youíre in shock. I canít help you. I canít move you. Accidents happen. These things arenít uncommon. Youíll be referred to the proper medical services and police authorities in good time.

Rewind the clock six hours:

Jon liked his drives home. They always gave his mind the chance to unwind, his feet a chance to seek refuge from hard tile floors. He never really looked at the road while he drove. He had the turns and the stops all memorized through repetition. All the houses looked the same in the developments he had to drive through in order to get to mine. He came to a stop sign and his mind drifted. It was fall, but the colors werenít all that pretty, just crumbling browns or dried yellows drifting along black asphalt or gray lawns. The monotony of it all was nice, and he liked the design of the houses in his development. Squared off, sharp angles, similar coloration, like boxes of the same brand in an aisle of a supermarket. The sense of containment and safety was excellent. He pulled into his driveway with a resigned exhalation. The outside of his house looked the same as everyone elseís, except that he had installed a thick black marble door instead of the traditional white wooden doors usually tacked onto the homes in his development. The black marble door made his house look authoritative, looming, established. Dangerous almost. He liked it. He got out of his car and walked to his driveway to the front of his house, dry leaves crackling like static under his heels. He swung open the heavy marble door to his castle. He walked inside and kicked off his shoes, feeling the plush green wall to wall carpeting massage his aching feet as he went for the liquor cabinet. He got a glass of peppermint Schnapps and walked into his living room. Something in his basement gave a tired moan. The woodwork settling, the foundation of the house creaking in protest to the cold.

Sterl looked at his reflection in the mirror, his pupils already dilated, then looked down at his arm, watching the blood spiral in with the water and the drugs in his dropper. He felt his body tighten, then felt the numbness settle into his joints. There was a glorious sameness to this time of his nights that Sterl savored, something like kicking off your shoes after work and sitting down to your favorite drink and curling up under a blanket and watching your favorite TV show. From the cooker through the cotton into the dropper, tie down, shoot up. Clackclackclackclack. Chattering teeth. Didnít matter. Things were farther away. The volume was turned down. Dejŗ-vu slow-mo replays.

When John finally felt the soft give of his brown leather couch under his dead legs, the cool burn of sweet peppermint Schnapps in his heart and his belly, and the monotone hum of the television, he almost wept in relief. Actually, to be totally honest, a few tears probably did escape the old Duct Penitentiary. He kicked his legs up on his shiny mahogany coffee table in front of his couch, his feet coming to rest next to the daily paper. He flicked the channels on the television. John stopped on a talk show, they were usually entertaining. The kids had been bouncing off the walls all day. Heíd been teaching for fourteen years and he still couldnít control them any better than he did on his first day, it was terrible. He offered them extra recess minutes, to bring in a snack for the next day, to take away recess, to give them extra free time, to let them have no homework, to give them extra writing assignments, to quit teaching. They all enthusiastically cheered in his face at the prospect of that last one. He sipped hard at the Schnapps, sniffling, staring at the flashing TV screen. A big fat black guy with an undeniably huge amount of THC floating around behind his bloodshot, slanted eyes told John that if crack was wrong, then dammit, he didnít want no right. The audience cheered for this. John sighed. He looked at the picture of his wife he kept next to a lamp on the stand by his couch, a beautiful full-blooded Italian woman, red hair, delicious curvature of the body, full lips, and wondered when heíd grow the balls to put it away. One kid, a dirty, rail thin, messy haired, crooked toothed, dandruff and monkey fungus encrusted little freak named Matt Coreamus, all the kids called him anus, told John that he was a retarded cock smuggler in front of the whole class. Matt said his big brother taught him that, and that his big brother would kick Johnís ass if he sent him to the principal. The worst thing wasnít the insults, the feeling like somebody ought to just hand me a diaper and a bib and a pacifier, John thought. The worst thing was that the kids fucked with me mercilessly every day, that I couldnít stop them and both they and I knew it. The worst thing is that Iím pretty much used to feeling like this, he whispered to himself.

Nigel Grimm liked the way his black satin robe felt on his body, smooth like he flowed in the ring. He liked the way his black gloves felt on his hands, like emotions, a natural extension of what was inside. He liked the hood on his robe, because it could keep secrets or reveal them. Loyalty. He didnít wear boots in the ring. He liked to feel the energy of the crowd vibrate off the mat underneath his feet. He felt like he could suck in their anger. It made him feel like a crazy-ass Jesus. What he did was something like walking on water.

John leaned forward and grabbed the remote off of the coffee table. He flipped the channels, settled on one at random, and picked up the newspaper. He found the newspaper at edge of his driveway that morning, leaves adhered to its clear plastic by way of cold morning dew. He ripped the tube of paper out of its slippery plastic skin and unfolded it to the front page. The headlines said they had found another kid beaten to death without a single fingerprint on his body. It was a shame. His parents only left him for twenty minutes to go get groceries. The boy was sitting in the living room playing videogames when they left, and when they returned, they found him dead. Beaten to death. Funny thing, this kid lived two houses down from John but he didnít hear anything. They had been finding these kids for months now, dozens of them, either beaten to death or close to it. The survivors donít remember what happened to them, only that they felt woozy like they were going to fall asleep before it happened. The way they found the kids was in a spiral around Johnís house, the first one far away, the last practically one next door. John appeared to somehow be at the center of these mysterious massacres. Hmph. They called the attacker the Bromville Bull, because his attacks were isolated to my home county of Bromville and the kids looked like they had been trampled by a bull when they were found. Iím sure if I had liked kids more, John thought, this would have been unsettling and I would have shuddered. He threw down the front page. The other sections were boring but informative. St. Matthewís Episcopal was sending kids to Swaziland to feed the starving masses. The high for tomorrow would be 48 degrees Fahrenheit. The Sixers won again, 87-69, they were on a tear, 14-3 for the season. John was proud of them. His glass of Schnapps was empty so he got up to go get the bottle. Concerning the collection of beaten children, he wondered who would be next.

After Matt called John a retarded cock smuggler, he brought him out into the hall to discipline him in private. Matt just grinned at him defiantly, knowing that by getting John one on one with him he had somehow already triumphed over him; John knew it too. He wanted to rip off his belt and give the kid the beating that he rightly deserved and that his parents already should have. Instead, he began to plead with him in a begging whisper to just be good, that heíd give him special treatment, to just please not use colorful language in front of the class, when John heard the steady gaining click of hard plastic on hard tiles. Sandra Willimus, 4th grade and special education assistant, Case Western University, Virgo, five-foot-three, thirty-four years old, size seven pump, favorite food pizza, favorite music classic rock, favorite TV show Golden Girls, turned the corner of the hallway and started towards us. She passed by John and Matt in the hall, her sweet smell trailing her, her body moving with dangerous purpose and poise, her brown hawk eyes throwing John a sharp, disapproving glance that made him feel small in every sense of the word. The look said that he couldnít handle something very basic about himself.

Favorite hobby: water-skiing.

Favorite seat in the cafeteria: far away from John.

The steady click-clack, click-clack of high heels tapping tiles and Matt Ďthe anusí Coreamusís shit-eating grin faded slowly into a grimacing Sandra Willimus, stripped naked and sweating on top of her desk, writhing underneath John, her educated, roving hands making him squeal with desire, her tongue choking off his moans, her high heels on and her dull-colored ankle-length floral printed dress collecting chalk dust on the floor. Her eyes were no longer piss and vinegar. They had become tear-lined begging brown puppy dog eyes that needed only a good old wholesome hate-fuck to gain self-realization. Her whole class watched them wide eyed as they moved together, her glasses tossed to the side of her desk, their shattered lenses grinding the exposed flesh under Johnís elbow, his teeth gritted in an animal growl. John sipped his liquor, letting his rear end settle into the ass groove he had been working on daily for past three years, hearing the television advise him not to miss all the shocking excitement on Front Seats to Government Sanctioned Executions 3, tonight at eight, seven central and mountain. He sent Matt to the principalís office despite all standing threats on his life.

God, Sandra Willimus. Those fucking legs.

Sometimes you just need to close your eyes and let yourself be whatever it is you need to be.

Nigel was backstage, but barely, and he could hear the muffled booing of his opponent from behind the closed entry to the arena that the fuckiní advertisement people made him stand behind before he came into the ring. Advertisers, promoters, agents. Everything was a fuckiní drama with these people. Ah well. The real money was in the States, and you could put up with anything for a while if the money was good enough. He danced around in the dark, his hood over his head, hearing the bass line of the rap song he had chosen for his big entrance thumping over the noise of the crowd, a primal jungle beat, a soundtrack for a murder.

The door flew open and he heard his name boom over the speakers, over the rap music, and he threw his gloves up in the air. Lights flashed in his eyes, crushing the backstage darkness, but the hood on his robe kept the most intrusive flares and glares from hitting his retinas. The crowd exploded and then even that explosion built on itself and soared above the music and the announcer. Applause rising like vengeful spirits from the dead. Nigel Grimm. He gritted his teeth and hit his head with a barrage of his own punches before he hit his chest twice with one gloved fist and did a back flip over the ropes and into the ring. He stuck it. The crowd went nuts. Nigel raised his hands to the sky. The fucking Reaper, fuckiní-A right. He climbed up on the ropes of the ring, screaming and pistoning his arms at the audience. He felt like the Jesus-tiger, and he was breathing fire, and every muscle in his body was ready to fucking explode. The crowd was going completely insane. The noise from the crowd was making that special electricity that night, that special energy, and all that energy that the Reaper loved so much was pumping into him, right through the soles of his feet, traveling up his legs, pumping in his heart, boiling his blood, making him stronger by the second. Things far away were beginning to dull and blur, but that only sharpened the six inches in front of his face. Thatís just what he wanted. He heard the first bell, and that meant he had to go meet the fuckiní ref and make nice with the walking dead at the other end of the ring.

The ref went through the motions. Checking gloves for weight and all that shit. Nigel decided to converse a bit with the chap he was about to fight.

"They were fuckiní booiní ya, champ. The crowd was." Nigel stared at his opponent, some heavyset black guy, and smiled. "Yíknow, I goa me a right nasty habit aí killiní fuckas in the ring, pussy."

Nigelís opponent stared somewhere into the horizon past Nigelís gaze. Nigel smiled back at him with a perfect row of sparkling white teeth. The ref told Nigel to stop flapping his jaw. The crowd had started chanting, Reaper, Reaper, Reaper. "Only one guy has lived since I been in the states, and heís all fucked up. He canít talk. His brainís just fuckiní mush. He canít fuckiní think anymore, pussy. How much they pay you to come in here against me, huh? I tell ya right quickly that it wanint enough."

The ref shot Nigel a glance. "Shut up Nigel. We want a clean fight, no blows below the belt, you stop when the bell sounds, no late cheap shots--"

Nigel turned to the ref, jumped at him and watched him flinch backwards. The Reaper laughed loudly. "Whatever mate. I can kill this pussy clean enough. He not even goan probably feel a goddam thing."

Nigel turned from the ref and his opponent and threw his hands up to the crowd. They went positively berserk. Seconds later the first bell rang, indicating the first round. A minute and fourteen seconds later, with thirty-some punches thrown, most of them Nigelís, The Reaper dropped his opponent into a coma.

It was getting darker out, windier. From a window John could see the leaves of trees floating to the ground like loverís clothes or ashes from an explosion. Soon they would shed in darkness while John sat in his house, drunk and alone, only able to stare into the black glass of his window and stick his tongue out at the sour-faced, sad-eyed, pudgy little man with brown, thick-framed spectacles he would see looking back at him in the reflected light of television commercials bouncing off of the windowglass. A reflection of a reflection and on and on it went. No wonder my kids just stare at me during class like one of the boring animals at the zoo, he thought, a goat or a garden snake.

On television, there was a boxing match that was getting particularly violent. John found he had trouble watching it and flipped channels.

The night wore on, sounds and senses dulling, falling into the static, a building anti-crescendo hiding in the shadows between John, his bottle, the newspaper, the television, and the memories that ran through in his head, some of them made up.

A low groan shivered up from the basement. Creaking old pipes, the crisp fall air giving them a pinch of winterís quickly advancing sting. An old oil heating unit, a cob-webbed monolith, foreign, iron and cold. John told himself all of these things. A clank and a stir from the darkness below. I will not go down there tonight, or ever again, he told himself. He would let the noise die on its own, let things simply decay into dust then sweep them up with a broom and a pan, nice and neat.

Sterl yanked the bungee from around his arm and put his cooker back somewhere by the sink. He watched his favorite vein fade from a furious purple rope back into his arm, nothing more than a sick brownish worm with an angry pink needle-hole for a mouth. He hastily pulled his sleeve back down over his arm and wrapped his cooker carefully in a black piece of cloth. He put his cotton balls in a zip lock bag with the other ones he had saved. Never know when you might need a fix in a pinch. He shook his head. If he had a dime for every pallid, gaunt faced, skin and bones hardcore junkie he had caught crumpled up behind a dumpster or huddled in some dimestore bathroom downtown sucking on yellow stained cotton balls, he could retire early. He giggled to himself, his smile slowly peeling back across his teeth, thinking that at least he would always have enough money for his next fix. His jaw went slack. Dealing with the dead long enough to put himself into his own early grave he thought, and laughter coughed from his vocal chords and slid all over the walls and then squirmed its way slowly back into his own eardrums. He began to slide down the wall. Slowly. On the way down, he found enough energy to stop himself and toss all of his works in his ex-fiancťeís jewelry case, which was on the shelf next to his sink. Right where they belong, he thought. He put the bag of soaked cotton balls into his front pants pocket. He was drooling but didnít notice. The jewelry case was big enough to fit all his stuff into, the ex loved jewelry of all sorts, but mostly rings and big hoop earrings because she thought they made her look younger. He looked at what was left of his bag as he tossed it back into the jewelry case too. Enough to keep him straight for a while. He continued to slide down the wall smiling, allowing his joints to unhinge, feeling the slow ripple of cold from the wall hit his bare back as it pulled up his shirt and exposed his skin to freezing gray tiles. Geez, he though, what a fuckiní boost. The shit was good when he got it, it was probably only cut three or four times by the dealer, and even though it probably wasnít even pure then, it was still some great shit. He could cut what he had left with some milk and fine sugar, maybe even grind up some codeine for effect, and get rid of the bags he had and double his dough. Then he could just get people to sell for him as he slowly weaned himself off of the shit and found more and more upper class connections. When he got those connections he would cut up some pure shit real nice and give people twenty-five percent cuts to sell it. He felt his whole being tingle with hope. I could deal, he thought, Iíve been in the game long enough, and I could retire early, close those basement doors forever.

John shifted in his seat uncomfortably, and whispered Ďstop ití to himself. His hands started to tremble. The back of his head and roof of his mouth began to itch. He grabbed for the remote and flicked channels as fast as he could to make it feel like he was still steady handed. He thought about his lesson plan for tomorrow, adverbs, they end in Ėly, show them some long division, read a section from Sarah Plain and Tall.

A guttural slurp rose up from underneath. Pipes under the bathroom, clogged with old hair and shit. He wiped a hand over his face and his palm came away slicked with cool sweat. He loosened his tie, his belt, hit the bottle and settled into the couch again, turning up the volume on the television.

Creak. Groan. Oaaagghhh.

"Shut up!" John screamed, jumping up from the couch. He looked at the floor. "Shut up down there!" He was shaking. He sat back down. On television, a good-looking sixteen-year-old kid on a skateboard popped a piece of light blue gum in his mouth and his skin turned blue and his breath turned to icicles. Johnís muscles constricted his bones in sick fury. He started chugging on the bottle, trying to incapacitate himself before my actions caught up with my emotions. He wondered, how can I fucking live like this? A gurgled sigh replied from the basement. He clenched his eyes shut, pretending not to feel the slick of cool sweat surfacing on his face. He was becoming, changing. He could feel it rising inside, shimmering just below the surface of his skin.

Clink. Auugghhn. Rattle.

"Shut up! Shut the fuck up or I swear to sweet Jesus I will come down there!"

Johnís emotions beat around against the inside of his skin like a nightmare rodeo clown bouncing maniacally on a rocket-powered pogo stick. He sucked down as much liquor as he could without vomiting, tossed the bottle on the floor. The pit inside of John burned as if filled by an ancient fire. He was still seated, and his mind was set that he would not make the descent that night, hopefully never again.


As always, The Reaper left the arena in a daze. Flickering and flashing lights, loud noises stretched out into painful animal groans and banshee squeals. Trouble remembering where he was for a second, why he was there. Assistance from his trainers, he didnít know their names. Fat men in suits screaming in anger or joy, their pretty young women seated next to them, passive, uninterested. A little lightheaded, too much input.

The next thing he remembered for sure was being under a hot running stream of water, naked, seated, his head in his hands, the water running down his skull, blurring his vision. Shower, crying. After he finally got showered and dressed in his locker room in the basement of the ring, Nigel wanted to get home and get drunk as soon as he could and maybe grab a hooker or a groupie bitch before he left the arena parking lot. He got dressed without the aid of mirrors. He had a nasty habit of shattering them. On his way to his car, the few members of the media that still dared to approach him swarmed him. He only had to cold clock one of the miserable crotch-nibbling bastards that night. The Reaper was not afraid of jail, and The Reaper never used bodyguards, never would. Before he had started throwing fists, the fucking camera people and the newspaper people wouldnít leave him alone. They thought who he was in the ring was an act, that people were taking falls, so he usually would hit a few of them, break some jaws, and ask them if that felt like an act. They usually said no. On this particular night, after Nigel had gone all bull in a china shop on some fucking wank camera person, the media dissipated from around him like so many flies from a disturbed corpse. Oohhh, The Reaperís just an actor. Oohhh. His momma abandoned him, he must hit women. Heís just crazy. Heís pumped full of steroids that would make a horseís heart explode. The Reaperíd kill anyone. Heís just a big faker/killer. Everythingís a big fucking production with these people, and thatís why Nigel tried to knock them all out.

He walked out to his parking spot. It was marked by two criss-crossed sickles painted onto the blacktop. He looked at his car and the few women gathered around it, their expressions for the most part drugged but hopeful. The usual groupie sluts, he thought, and went get into his car, but at the last second one of the bitches caught his eye. She looked fuckiní middle age to him, big old titties though, a redhead Italian bitch. Sheíd do alright. That shade of lipstick on her big old lips would look well enough smeared around the base of my dick, plus, she got a pair of arms for me to cry in, he thought, and thatís enough. Italian bitches always make you feel at home. He let her in the passenger side of his black convertible Monte Carlo. He didnít say a word to her, nor her to him. The Reaper smiled big as he gunned his engine and the pretty middle aged slut bit her bottom lip in a drunken attempt at seduction, and he peeled out of the parking lot, laughing, leaving the rest of the nameless faces to be nameless faces.

Farther down the road, once she got comfortable, the middle aged Italian groupie proceeded in trying to shove her hands down the front of The Reaperís pants.

"Whoa bitch, watch those fuckiní rings. Youíll skin me alive."

Sterl was sitting on the bathroom floor, listening to the sound of water drip from the leaky faucet in his shower. He smiled. It was just so good. He would go to the grocery store to go get some sugar and go fill out a prescription for a few codeine pills from his buddy Walt at the pharmacy (no questions, just friendly smiles and service, one of the perks of being in the medical business), but first Sterl wanted to make sure he had closed the basement door. He often got so excited for his fix that he forgot to close up shop down below. Sometimes he would just charge up the stairs when he was finished re-composing bodies, his hands shaking. Lately he couldnít finish working at all. About an hour or two before he was really done working, he would just start groaning because his stomach hurt so bad. Sometimes he would grind his teeth and sometimes his lips and asshole would pucker up like he wanted a smooch at both ends. Families had been complaining about the quality of reconstruction lately but what the fuck did they know about the price of beans? Sterl got up off the floor, everything moving like he was a merman, breathing and moving under the weight of the ocean. Nice though. Warm waters. Sterl had no sooner turned the corner of his bathroom door than the curling tendrils of the smell from his basement wafted up, infecting him, sinking into his carpet and walls. Dammit, he thought, he had left the door open. He grabbed it and began to swing it shut when the image of a little boy, beaten to death, his skin a fishy blueish-white, his face half-corrected, his jaw hanging slack, flashed in Sterlís mind. The Bromville Bull. Sterl shuddered, but not because of the boy, he was used to that. He saw the spilled and spoiled leftovers of every homicidal urge this town had to offer him, and that was a lot of leftovers, so it wasnít this new guy on the loose either. He was nothing new or special. It was just cold in his house, and the wind was blowing outside, and the fucking junk hadnít settled into his body all the way yet. The hot and cold flashes would stop, and when they did, heíd forget all about gaping mouths and their swollen lolling tongues. Tomorrow he would just wire the poor kidís jaw shut forever. Sterl wandered back to his bathroom, lost in thought and imagery. He forgot to close the basement door.

The television was going in and out of focus, the sound fading into white noise, and Johnís limbs were going numb. His teeth hurt. His teeth hurt because he was clenching them so hard.

Nobody just decides one day to become an embalmer. Nobody thinks itís a really neat job or that the hours are fun and no one takes the job for safetyís sake because they figure theyíll never run out of customers. It was numbers in med-school that decided whether you got to work on the living or the dead. Sterl had given up the numbers for a girl. His job was like that of a plastic surgeon, except, as Sterl always thought, embalmers had to have actual talent. The cosmetic surgery he did was on skin that had been burned or ripped or soaked in water until it would slip off the bones of the deceased like gravy-soaked meat. Asphyxiations, brawls, car wrecks, decapitations, erectile dysfunction leading to suicide by forty-four caliber handgun. There was more than one for every letter of the alphabet. Sterl had seen them, listed them. Surgeons got to work on nice neat skin, on bones that havenít been shattered or forced through the skin by a green stick in the femur or sternum. Sterl felt he was part technician, part artist. The artistry part of the job was not bad. If you could do something to numb the nightmares it could almost be fun, a challenge, something you could set to music. No, the worst wasnít seeing the people or having to touch them. You could get over that. The worst was the fucking smell. The smells sink into your skin, no matter what kind of gloves you wear or what kind of deodorized masks you buy or what kind of soap you scrub all over yourself. Other people couldnít smell it, Sterl had asked around, but you can, no matter how much you shower and scrub. Sterl used to think the smell was death, but now he knew it was something worse. To call the smell Ďdeathí would be a corny generalization. Itís something dark and lonely and hopeless. Something nameless.

After his ex left him to go out looking for her youth, to sow her wild oats, (as she has so eloquently coined the phrase on the night he caught her drunk as hell, letting some 23-year-old Navy Seal buff their living room floor with her ass) that was when he began to think it was him generating that smell. He still, deep down, didnít know where the stink came from or what it was. The smell must have come while she was still with him, and he only noticed it after she was gone. She had always worn this perfume, and her skin had a very clean smell, and he always tried to be as close as he could to her after he emerged from the basement. His lids were starting to feel really heavy. Her lids had looked like rose petals, he thought, dark and purple and satin and underneath me. Iíll go to the store, he said out loud, but just to get the fine grain sugar. I have milk. Iíll get the codeine tomorrow. Hahahaha, he laughed, fucking bitch would love me now, Iíve lost a lot of weight. Iíve gotten really skinny. Just the sugar tonight. No further than just the store tonight.

In this day and age, John thought to himself, adoption is an easy process for an elementary school teacher whose wife left him for a stand up comic named Dick Healey when she found out her present beau was indeed impotent. He could hear his empty bottle rolling on the floor beneath his feet. Flashes, subliminal, deep reds, off hues, stretched sounds, the moaning, the hopelessness. The emptiness inside. You can go legally in the US, foreign, or you can go underground to the black market. She had left John because she said the other one made her feel young again, and that, to her, was priority number one. John grabbed his head and squeezed on his temples. Adoption was an easy process, but for him it was not an option. When she left there was nothing to do but accept destiny and just fill up his life with whatever was left over. The bottle rolling, the TV flashing, the dark and the wind outside and the cold and the pain beneath. His teeth hurt so bad, from grinding them.

John had to go. He jumped up from the couch, tightened his belt, scrabbled around for his keys. His head was hot. He checked the locks on all of his doors and windows twice. His fingernails were digging into the palms of his hands, but that was okay, he wouldnít lose anything on his way out to the car.

Sterl grabbed his car keys, so pumped up and excited to start selling that he felt like he was going to cry. Thoughts of heroin had left the basement door open, leaving the smell from down there free to saturate the walls of the upstairs, but it wouldnít matter once he was sitting on enough money to score a kilo of pure, cut it right, and get some connections uptown, where the real loot was at, the high class users. He wouldnít use his own stash either. He could ween himself off this shit. After that, he could just retire to a place far, far away from Bromville, far away from the sickness there. Sterl stopped for a minute before he opened his front door. I could get shot doing this, get fucking ripped off, he thought. So many ways to die, though. AIDS, blood clots in the brain, cramp up in the pool then youíre drowning, thereís two in one. Ebola virus. Fetal alcohol syndrome. Millions of ways it could happen, Sterl thought as he stood in front of his open front door, his hands at his sides, his head lolling slowly from side to side on his neck, his chin dripping tears, his keys in hand, ready to face the night. Millions of ways, Sterl thought, but Iím a fucking survivor.


Mike Mellish is currently a student at Allegheny College in western PA. He only recently began looking into publishing his work, and has published one work of short fiction, Exhale in The Writer's Choice, a poem entitled ďFor My FatherĒ in Golem Magazine and Tail in Trunk in 3am Magazine. He is 21 years old and spends his down time reading, running, playing lacrosse, and lifting weights.

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