Posted on: December 19th, 2010 Today’s Fish Is a Very Fine Fish

by Nancy Stebbins

Rob Barron delivers a lecture on fish. Yesterday he knew almost nothing about marine life, but facts now multiply in his mind and he experiences a passion strong enough to muscle its way upriver with spawning salmon. He envisions a series of lectures, each covering a different species.

“Today’s fish is a catfish.” Rob, who isn’t wearing pants, paces as he speaks, spanning the raised platform in five strides. Its newly-waxed floor squeaks under his bare feet. Fifteen years as a Spanish professor and he has finally discovered his true calling.

The students are accustomed to half-naked professors. They would think it gratuitous and impolite to point out the obvious. Besides, it never does any good. A joke occurs to Rob about a leprechaun and a flounder. As he delivers the punch line, he realizes it isn’t funny. A female student in the front row doubles over with snorting laughter.

Rob says, “Found in all sorts of freshwater environments, catfish are named for their–”

A man in the back raises his hand and shakes it so violently, Rob fears it will come loose and fly across the room. Rob calls on him, but the woman in the front row is still laughing and he can’t hear the man’s question. “What?”

The man shouts, “The weather, sir?”

Rob says, “Same as yesterday,” and picks up his lecture. “Catfish are named for their prominent barbels, which look like–”

A student in the front row, not bothering to raise his hand, says, “Barometric pressure, sir?”

Rob says, “Catfish have no scales. Catfish are bottom feeders.” He becomes aware that he is holding a live but cooperative catfish, so he lifts it high for the class to see. Other students begin bombarding him:

“Humidity, sir?”

“Visibility?”

The catfish yawns. Only now does Rob notice the flashing neon sign in the lecture hall that says “Meteorology.” He sidles off the stage, covering himself with the fish as best he can. “I’m truly sorry. Forgive me.” Being in the wrong classroom is far worse than forgetting one’s pants, which happens to professors every day.

***

The new semester will start soon. Despite all his years of teaching Spanish, Rob is having the dream again. It’s so real that after he wakes up, Rob can still feel the smooth skin of the fish. He can smell it on his hands. He consults sleep specialists, internists, acupuncturists, even chiropractors. They say nothing can be done.

His fiancée, Haley, teaches math. She tells Rob that she used to have anxiety dreams, too, until she learned to trust herself as an educator. “Everyone has them at some time or other. I’ll bet even your chairman has had them.”

Rob can’t imagine his sleepy buffoon of a chairman, who delegates everything except naps, suffering from any sort of anxiety.

“It’s all about self confidence,” Haley says.

***

The foreign language faculty gathers in the language lab to learn about the department’s new interactive audio program. On a table in the front of the room is a cardboard box full of headsets. The chairman instructs one of the new lecturers to distribute them.

Rob sits between Ada Martin and Gwen Jones. The two women lean forward to talk across him as they extract their headsets from the plastic wrapping. The noise sounds like static.

Ada says, “I hear the new program corrects a student’s pronunciation.”

“Thank heaven,” Greta says, “They won’t have to flounder anymore.”

“What did you say?” Rob asks her, but now Greta is talking into her microphone.

“Pez.”

“Pescado.”

“Tiburon.”

An unfamiliar language issues through Rob’s headset. He raises his hand for the chairman’s attention, and that’s when he notices: the chairman is naked and holding a trout.

***

Haley cocks one eyebrow. “You had the dream for your chairman? That’s pitiful, Rob.”

He smiles. They’ve just woken up from a Sunday afternoon nap, and are lying on their sides, facing each other. Classes will start tomorrow and the dream will disappear until the spring semester. He says, “You really used to have anxiety dreams?”

“Oh, it was awful.” She shakes her head. “I would hear the same joke over and over. It was never funny, but I couldn’t stop laughing.”

He says, “Did you hear the one about the minnow and the priest?”

She raises her hand. “Rainfall, sir?” she says. Her laughter is familiar.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 3 Comments »

Posted on: December 5th, 2010 The Ballerina & The Priest

by Tina L. Jens

The ex-ballerina and soon-to-be tonsured priest waited, order pads poised, to take the monster and angel’s orders.

The monster was a humanitarian…in the way the ex-ballerina was a pescatarian and the pre-priest a meatatarian. The angel, one of God’s henchmen, ate dreams and sin. Neither the chicken quesadillas or the ham and cheese panini appealed.

The Bistro’s terrace overlooking Lake Michigan was the perfect place to watch the rise of the blood-red moon.

“Snookyookums,” the monster cooed, “you could have the creme puffs with fudge sauce. I’m sure it’s sinfully delicious.”

The angel caressed her fur. “Fuzzyuzzums, I’m more worried about you. Cows are fed human growth hormones…could you eat the corned beef?”

“I suppose the Bloody Mary…”

“Is a metaphor,” the ex-ballerina assured them.

The angel paid.

The priestlet — busy wondering if he was duty-bound to report the company the angel was keeping — gave them the wrong change.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 1 Comment »

Posted on: November 21st, 2010 Don’t Look

by H.L. Fullerton

Felk glided along the fourth ring of hell, making good time. He’d retrieve his family’s honor and return home before the dead could smell him.

The Anghelescus–acrobats all–prepared their sons well. Felk trained from birth for this moment: uncles tossing him blindfolded from platforms to land on fence posts; cousins trying to distract him with shrieks or thrown sneakers as he balanced atop wires, hung from rafters, skated circles on thin ice. He succeeded when other Anghelescus failed by always following the family motto: never look down. That was how you fell and abandoned honor.

Felk hand-walked the rim of five, rappelled six, easily ignoring the insidious lies. The damned had nothing on his cousins. He should thank them for their creativity, right after he handed grandfather the family honor. A chorus of fallen Anghelescus shouted, “Don’t look!” as he passed. He didn’t, but smiled at their applause.

Seven, slicked with blood, required a controlled skid. So close now, one ring left. Honor swelled towards him, almost in reach. Shining brightly, begging him for rescue.

He looked.

And, prideful, fell.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 2 Comments »

Posted on: November 7th, 2010 Rough Night

By Kate Marshall

The angel sat down next to Moira at the bar and touched a single finger to the sticky tabletop. “I’ve been out of the world too long,” he said. “I do not understand his jest.”

Tommy strangled the mic on stage, lurching in and out of his jokes with half-brayed laughter. He was the only one scraping up so much as a chuckle.

“You’re not missing anything,” Moira said. “He’s just not very good.”

The angel relaxed, nodded. He wore a black t-shirt with a logo too faded to read and a fake leather jacket with Frankenstein stitching mending one shoulder. Scars knotted the skin on the backs of his hands.

“He’s yours?” he asked.

“Guess so.” She’d been debating that very question. “You’re here for the open mic?”

He dug into his pocket and produced a crumpled half-sheet flier. TELL THE WORLD, it said, the block lettering cramped and off-center.

“What do you have to tell?” she asked.

“You’ll have to listen.”

He had a glum look about him. Too pretty for her taste, not like Tommy with his constant stubble and knobby nose. She could have stood handsome, but Tommy didn’t manage that either. The angel, though, had a Clark Kent jaw and blue eyes. Granted, those eyes were glowing like LEDs, but they had a charm to them.

“Where’d you get those scars?” she asked.

He lifted his hand as if examining them for the first time. “You’ll have to listen,” he said again, and then Tommy was stumbling through his last joke. She remembered to clap and cheer, and the angel slapped his palms together a couple times.

Tommy jogged through the audience, cheeks bright red and a shiny glaze of sweat on his brow. He mashed his lips against her and swept his tongue around her mouth a couple times. He tasted of rum. She was a tequila girl, herself. He’d have a couple more drinks before the night was out, here or at home. He always did, when it hadn’t gone well, and it never went well.

“Thanks for stickin’ around, babe,” he said. He flung his arm over her shoulder and squeezed her against his side. Her ear scraped a button. “I know you’ve got an early day. We can head out now.”

“I want to hear this guy,” she said. The angel was up on the stage. He lifted the mic from its stand and held it cupped in both hands. His head bowed over it. Silence set its nails against Moira’s skin and scratched at the nape of her neck.

“Why? Who is he?” Tommy asked. She hushed him, and the angel spoke.

His first word flayed the skin from a woman’s bones, and the second sent crackling sheets of salt across the floor, like spreading frost. His voice rose, and a lily burst from the bartender’s mouth. Moira’s blood turned to resin, then boiled away, and a hornet’s nest built itself inside her skull. The stars plunged through the ceiling and drifted down to settle on shoulders and tangle on hair. Moira caught one on her tongue.

Tommy reached into her wrist and took out one of the small bones. He presented it to her; she took it like a morsel of food, then hooked her fingers behind his jaw and reshaped it. Clark Kent now. She swiped the stubble from him and planted briar seeds in its place. A thicket curled from his cheeks, and he laughed.

Then the angel stopped speaking, and they were sitting in a dingy bar with their hands white-knuckled, gripping each other. The angel stood, head still bowed, and the quiet piled up in drifts.

Then they roared. They leaped to their feet, they beat their hands raw against one another, screamed wordless adulation from hoarse throats. The angel slid the mic back in its cradle and stepped off the stage.

He sat on the stool beside Moira, not bothering to cross the distance between.

“That was amazing,” Moira said. “But I didn’t understand it.”

The angel sagged. “You’re not missing anything. I’m just not very good.” His voice thrummed with whale-song melancholy.

Moira covered his scar-crossed palm. “You like tequila?”

“On me,” Tommy said, with all the solemnity of a soldier. The angel blinked, nodded.

The three of them hunched their shoulders and hefted dusty glasses in well-worn ritual, and hardly noticed the film of salt still clinging to their fingertips.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 5 Comments »

Posted on: October 24th, 2010 Share Everything

by Sean Vivier

He stroked her arm and it brought stray thoughts like sparks. Nerves touched nerves. Where they met, messages passed as they would between nerves of the same organism. Skin on skin completed a circuit from his brain to hers and her brain to his. Touch became a bridge between their minds.

It had never happened with either of them until they met each other. Their first handshake at the political convention had dizzied them both. Kevin felt Sharon’s hunger. Sharon felt Kevin’s overstimulation and retreat from the crowd. In a heartbeat, they both knew to leave for food.

At the diner, their words only echoed the thoughts they shared by holding hands. The importance of intelligence, the need to help other people, the drive to work hard and the contempt for the centrality of money in people’s lives. The love came fast, for no couple had ever had a connection like the one they shared.

They went to her place without saying a word. As they kissed, they shared their beliefs and the arguments behind them. They were so alike, separated only by nuance. The hindbrain and the forebrain both lit with bright flashes of thought.

He took away her shirt, as the need to draw close became overwhelming. Lips touched nipples, and the sensitive nerves reached deeper. Dreams crossed the distance from one to the other. Kevin’s dream of a non-profit health insurance company. Sharon’s longing for a family she could raise without coercion, only loving guidance.

Their bodies needed to be as close as their minds. There was no stopping it. The gestalt of their minds had them both naked before either individual could make the decision. He moved inside of her, and both knew what the other wanted without any need for awkward tests or breathless words. And as they shared every inch of their bodies and their most sensitive places, their deepest secrets reached out to one another.

Kevin saw Sharon’s need to be defined by a man. Sharon saw a montage of Kevin’s many unfulfilling conquests overshadowed by his certainty that no woman could truly love him. Her abusive father. His contempt for the overweight. The fact that she’d only started to talk to him because of his biceps. The fact that her lips reminded him of Jen Miller’s from college, and that alone had first drawn him toward her.

Each mind recoiled. They had worked hard to keep the barriers of these thoughts from themselves, let alone others. They tried to pull away from each other, but the oldest biological need would not be denied, not in media res. Their bodies kept moving with one another with an instinct older than language or conscious thought, even as it bound together the darkest corners of their minds more and more.

The plagiarized papers that got him his degree and his cushy job. The men that she took home to feel better about herself. The poison he’d slipped into his grandmother’s fluids so she wouldn’t suffer any more. The dog she’d give small invisible cuts whenever her father hurt her, only to cuddle and whisper her love after. The boy he’d bullied because he was the one kid weaker than him. The girl whose reputation she’d destroyed just to see if she could. His secret fear that if he didn’t make enough money, it meant he wasn’t a worthwhile person. Her life as an escort to pay for college. His first time with an ugly woman he didn’t even like, just to get it done. Her need to work so hard because she feared she was ugly and could never get ahead otherwise.

They couldn’t look each other in the eyes when they came to climax. Their bodies rejoiced at the tension unleashed, even as they shivered.

They slept that night on opposite extremes of the bed.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 1 Comment »

Posted on: September 25th, 2010 Keshav 2015

By Garrett Ashley

Keshav gurgles. VRUUU.

“Come Christmas we will get you a real dog,” says Rajesh. “The kind with four hairy legs and a tail that really wags. We will name him SHATTERING SOUL just like your grandfather.”

Yamu frowns. She likes her new pet just fine. Even if he is covered with rust and city grime. Even if he has five metal legs on each side and tall thin eyes that see in every direction. “But what about Keshav? Where will he go?”

“Back where you found it,” says Rajesh. His forehead wrinkles when he is anxious. And arguing with little girls exhausts him. He is a wrinkled, tired old man. “How many were there?”

“Not many,” says Yamu. She crosses her fingers when her father isn’t looking. “He has creaky joints; I want to take care of him.”

“You cannot even care for yourself,” says Rajesh. He picks Keshav up. Fleshy cold beneath the machine’s overcooked belly. Grunt. “And too heavy for my daughter.”

Keshav tried to break free. Its ten kicking legs reminded Rajesh of a freshly speared crab. No no no no, cries Yamu. Where are you taking him?

“You’ll see,” he says.

He locks his daughter inside. He can hear her inside the house kicking and screaming. A child trying to break free. She is not ready, he thinks. But he starts the car anyway. He drives towards the scrap plant but the streets are backed up like always. There are a million people just on Siddipet Road alone. When the car is completely stopped Keshav moves across the torn leather passenger seat and crawls up the window to look out. Its iron claws peck at the glass and annoys Rajesh.

“Get down,” he says. First kindly and then in anger. “People will see me with you.”

Keshav cries. It is more of a steady buzz but Rajesh recognizes machine jargon better than some humans. He sees out the passenger window an elderly man selling young pugs. He goes to the man and asks which is the best with young children.

“None,” says the vendor. “But they are all good with old men.”

He pays the vendor and returns to the car with the smallest pug. “I will call you Sophia,” he says. Keshav squeaks. Rajesh winces. “What?” he says. “I think Sophia is a good name. What kind of name is Keshav? Not a robot name. A real animal needs a real name. Who named you?”

Keshav used eight legs to spell YAMV in the air.

“Stupid girl,” says Rajesh. His forehead wrinkles.

At home Yamu plays with her hair and draws pictures of her dead mother. She dreams that her father will not cry himself to sleep at night. She is sorry for all of the kicking. And purple is not a good color for hair. But that is the only crayon she has. The skies are purple. The trees and the dust and the clouds. Soon Yamu will be sick of the color.

After school ends she wants to be an astronaut. But Rajesh says she will never grow that old. That young children only go to the moon before they die. Rajesh says she will never die. That he will not let her as long as he is alive.

Yamu loves her father but she isn’t sure about what love really is. Or if her love really matters. She wonders if the old man would be any different if she didn’t hug or kiss him before going to bed. If she was just an object of his mourning curiosity. One day she will ask Rajesh before running away.

A knock at the door. Her father is home. He lets himself in and picks up his daughter. “You are heavy,” he says. He looks down into his shirt pocket. Sophia peeks out at the little girl and makes her scream.

“What is that?”

“A present for me,” says Rajesh.

Keshav walks through the door behind him. “And if I let you keep Keshav you have to change his name first.”

Yamu loves her father. She thinks she truly does. She kisses his icy cheeks and smiles.

“And you have to tighten his bolts and varnish his shell and oil his joints immediately. If you don’t do these things often he might break.”

“We’ll change together every day,” says Yamu. She calls Keshav into her room and they play until nightfall. Rajesh takes Sophia into his and does the same.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 3 Comments »

Posted on: September 12th, 2010 A Whispering Voice

by Elizabeth Creith

Goldilocks stalks the forest walks in ragged socks, regretting the courage that made her so bold as to pillage the cottage of porridge, too hot or too cold. Now she wanders alone the Grimm landscape of story, weary and sorry. Her tattered dress hangs on wasted flesh, her spirit trapped buzzing in marrow-hollow bones.

That spice that so enchanted her tongue, was it cinnamon, ginger, allspice? No spice, that flavour, but a spell like a mace. Whose bed has she slept in, to rise so changed?

Now that no-spice is all she craves, her hunger raves, her gluttonous appetite cannot be salved by poisoned apples or stepson stew.

Autumn winds rise cold, leaves fall, red and gold. Forest falls away behind, before her feet the road unrolls, a king’s road, flagstoned, clicking on her foot-bones. Thymey banks on either side, purple flowers long dried, bees fled, sleep under snow instead.

The road winds lower, a bridge passes over. She hears a hoarse whispering; is it a troll?

“Ah, Goldilocks, there thou gangest! If thy mother knew thy fate….”

That hoarse whispering, a horse whispering, the skull nailed to the bricks below the bridge. When winds wind under, a whistling whispering voice calls out.

“Come near, child, come listen. On you I smell the spell once worked on me as well; we cannot die, you and I. I am Falada; my princess has left me alone. She bound me as her witness here, then gained her throne, forgot these bones. No burial for us, my dear; we will diminish, year by year, until we are nothing but a voice, a whisper, a moan in the air; unless we bare ourselves of our bones, we must bear our immortality as whistles for the wind. Alas, I am nailed to mine.”

“Bare ourselves of our bones? I am hardly more than bare bone already, rags of dress on shreds of flesh.”

“You must bare yourself three times – flesh from clothes, bones from flesh, soul from bones. Unharnessed, unfleshed, but nailed to these stones, sheltered, preserved, I cannot shed my bones.” Falada ground his teeth. “No freedom for me. But you can be free.”

Goldilocks shook her tatters of dress to shreds in the road, her flesh and her bones to shards on the stones. A voice on the air, she chuckled and said,

“Wise Falada, thanks. I will visit you again.”

Now she whirls through the world, stalks where she will, walks in the dark, in forest and park, a whispering voice that might be in your head. A flickering flash at the edge of your eye, a sigh, a grinding of bones into bread, a creak in the floors, a breath behind doors.

Who’s sleeping under your bed?

Posted on: August 29th, 2010 Princess

By Jeremy C. Shipp

Melody tells me that we need to talk. But of course she’s already talking, so what she really means is that she needs to talk harder.

“Well?” she says.

I nod, like the bobble-headed caricature I’ve become, and I ask her please may I use the bathroom. For emphasis, I point to my crotch.

And in turn, she points to her wrist.

What she means is that I can go, but I’d better not spend more than fifteen minutes avoiding her. In the bathroom, an hour can fly by in a minute. Sometimes, I sit on the toilet, drinking a glass of water while I’m pissing. I pretend the water is flowing through me, and I pretend I’m more of a river than a desert.

After I turn away from Melody, I consider running away, all the way to heaven. But I’m a coward, after all, so I only make it partway there.

In the attic, the Princess makes me promise after promise.

“I’m a virgin and a whore,” she says.

“I’ll give you a night you’ll never forget,” she says.

“I’ll always keep you smiling,” she says.

She leads me over to my father’s mirror. And instead of seeing myself, I see her Kingdom.

“I love you,” she says.

And in turn, I say, “I love you, too.”

What I mean is that I don’t love who she is, but I love who she isn’t.

“Are you ready?” she says.

I nod, and she takes me by the hand, squeezing me a little too hard. I pretend that I don’t notice.

And I jump.

The moment I pass through the mirror, I see the future I’m throwing away. I see a therapist in a Charlie Brown sweater. I see Melody holding my hand after we make love. I see my son with his arms around me at the hospital, and he’s comforting me, even though he’s the one dying. I see Melody smiling for the first time since the funeral. I see millions of mundane miracles.

And after all this, I change my mind, of course. But it’s too late now. This is a one way mirror.

In the Kingdom, the Princess makes good on her promises.

She gives me her virginity, the way she gave her virginity to thousands before me. Of course, by now she’s oozing with mystical STDs, so within minutes of our climax, my penis transmogrifies into a moldy pink potato and falls off.

Later, the Princess finishes me off by tattooing an everlasting smirk on my face.

In the Kingdom, a year feels like a century.

Sometimes, I stand on the stage, juggling my memories while I’m grinning my stupid red grin. I pretend that the voices are laughing with me, and I pretend I’m more of a clown than a joke.

I laugh so hard it hurts.

Posted on: August 15th, 2010 Invisible

by Lisa Martens

The men had on suits, and she couldn’t tell who had a nice body or not. She was a beautiful girl, except for slightly dented nipples, but she never took her top off during these group meetings.

She spread her legs and at that point became absolutely invisible, and the men put their camera phones down and their dicks away, and began to talk amongst themselves the way men talk when they don’t think there’s a woman around. They noticed a faint smell coming from her general direction, and deduced the location the way astronomers guess where two neutron stars are combusting to form bursts of gamma rays.

“Well, the rays travel from this point to that point,” say the astronomers. “So there must be a system of dead binary stars somewhere up . . . here. Or maybe there are aliens having an intergalactic battle. Either way.”

Such was the smell, a thing of guessing, but hardly of interest, and it could really be anything – old sushi, lesbian remnants, anything.

She stood up and became suddenly self-conscious, and took out her makeup mirror to try to look at herself down there. She’d convinced herself, when she was fifteen and saw her best friend naked in the shower, that there was something horribly wrong with her skin down there. She asked her mother to see a dermatologist, and he’d guaranteed that there wasn’t anything wrong with her, that women came in all sorts of colors and some lips were longer or darker than others, and he gave her a pamphlet and her mother had whined that it’d been a waste of a co-pay.

“You should have just showed me. I’ve got dark lips too, hon.”

She shrugged away the memory and took a cigarette out of her purse. First she tried to smoke with style, and pout her lips as she took a drag, and closed her eyes like she was receiving oral sex, and kept one leg bent and another straight for that model-leaning-against-a-wall look, and then relaxed when she remembered that no one was paying attention to her.

“Now I can smoke the way I normally do,” she said to herself. But she didn’t know exactly how that was. What was her natural way of smoking? She’d spent too much time calculating to know her own mannerisms. That’d actually been the whole point of smoking to begin with – to lose weight, to look sexy.

The men didn’t have erections anymore. They had quit their act of cat-calling and jeering and shouting different commands.

“Suck it!”

“No, take two at once!”

“No, no, take it in the ass!”

“One in the pussy and one in the ass, and suck it!”

They’d given each other high fives. They had to top one another, and suggest crazier and crazier things, because men were supposed to like the craziest absolute kinkiest sex possible. Kinky sex turned into sado-masochism turned into rape turned into strangulation and rape turned into rib-cracking machines and black trash bags and chains and being fucked with knives and dead dead dead.

“I’m glad she went away, you know, I thought things were going to get out of hand, and I wasn’t too keen on fucking her. I got a wife and all . . . and I wouldn’t want to give her a disease from some skank.”

Then the men started pulling out their wallets and comparing babies and saying how their sons were the strongest babies ever and their daughters were naturally dainty and how weird it was that nature just knew these things, and it quickly turned into another type of competition, a my baby is more stereotypical contest.

“My boy was thrashing and hitting and, I swear, trying to punch the doctor. I’m thinking he’s gonna be a boxer when he grows up.”

“Mine was kicking like all holy hell. Good thing my wife had a C-section, or she’d still be feeling it. Soccer player, I bet.”

“My baby girl cried and cried, even when my wife held her, and finally the doctor said that sometimes a male presence helps, because the baby feels more safe and secure and protected, and sure enough, the instant I held her, she got quiet . . . .”

And their stories continued in this way and got more and more ridiculous, like astronomers theorizing that a sudden flash of gamma rays killed the dinosaurs like the flash of a camera encapsulating the human race in ice.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 5 Comments »

Posted on: August 1st, 2010 A Woman Made of Gold

 
by Uri Grey

I knew a woman made of gold, not metaphorically but literally. At first glance she looked rather plain; a lanky creature with long limbs and a horsy walk, hiding its splendor inside a boyish frame. The gold didn’t become her. If I hadn’t known she was made of gold I would have thought she suffered from jaundice. She never ate normal food but only minerals: lead, iron, zinc. She ate with such an unpleasant grinding sound. Her favorite delicacy was copper, though her parents could rarely afford it.

By her age, most of our women were already married and occupied with tending to scores of squealing babies and piglets, too busy living the lives of the poor to realize their poverty. She remained unmarried though. She scared men. Some feared she would devour their meager savings when hard times came by, others sought a warm bosom to rest their heads on, not a cold ironing plate; and still others speculated about the nature of their future offspring, and shuddered.

They were poor and weary people who didn’t have the fortitude to make experiments with their lives. They needed wives, not statues or trophies. All they saw was dirt and all they could aspire to was more dirt. But not me; I had imagination, I had ambition, I had will. In her timid metal eyes I saw reflected gold, wealth and power. Some men marry into money, why not skip the middleman and marry the money?

Winning her heart was easy. I had no competition for that prize. I went about it lazily and meticulously, like a spider weaving his web, like a Judas gaining confidence, like a runner racing alone for the gold. So I married her. The ceremony was modest, the parents looked relieved, the guests looked suspicious and the golden bride looked jovial, probably the only person in the village happy about the whole affair.

And so my domestic life began with a woman whom I had married to exploit but didn’t yet know how. If I cut her, what would she bleed? Did she have a heart of gold? If I boiled her until all the tissues dissolved, would I find nuggets at the bottom of the pot? Every night I would stare at her glittering skin. It was plain and unblemished and yet I could read in it a lifetime of hedonistic pleasures away from this pathetic village.

She was a simple creature. Much like a brick of gold, unless moved to action, she would just lounge somewhere in a conservative pose and stare at nothing. This made it easier to view her as an object, easier to locate a man in the city, an alchemist, who claimed to be able to separate anything into its basic components. Easier to convince her to travel with me to see an expert who would check her unique physique, just in case. I prepared an elaborate lie but in truth all this explaining was unnecessary. I could as well have just said, “Get up. Follow me.” and achieved the same effect. Not a person; a thing… an expensive thing.

I was so excited by the alchemist’s discovery that I didn’t wait for spring to journey to the city, but left at the height of winter, the passion in my heart warming me against the blizzard and the frost. We joined a merchant caravan that made its way through the mountains. Our guide was a bitter old adventurer who kept grumbling about wasting his life looking for gold in those barren mountains. I thought he was a fool; gold is not earned through hard work; a broken back is the only reward for this. Gold is earned through guile, cunning, desire.

Wasted life or not, in the end he certainly got our gold. One night he disappeared with a good deal of our supplies, leaving us stranded in a nigh impenetrable terrain with no hope of rescue and rations that would last a week at best. Soon we started throwing hungry glances at each other – merchants are not the sort of people used to denying their desires. They are the sort of people used to feasting on their fellow men, sometimes literarily and sometimes metaphorically. And here is the funny thing – in those frozen mountains, gold is worth less than nothing but flesh, even human flesh, is everything.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 4 Comments »