I was sitting on the N Judah with my daughter, we were headed for the beach. She was three years old and I was forty. The Inner Sunset looked grim that time of day, with a rain cloud directly above, but I had told her what to expect of Ocean Beach, and she liked the rain. She was dressed in her ladybug raincoat with matching boots and umbrella and hat.

Any number of signal, service or guide dogs for the disabled are allowed to ride Muni Free and Unmuzzled. (29 USC Section 794, 42 USC Section 1231, CA C.C. §54.2)

‘Can you read that sign?’ I asked her.

‘No,’ she said.

‘Can you give it a shot?’

She looked at it for a while, then looked away, appearing to think about it. ‘Doggies!’ she shouted.

‘That’s right, it does say “dogs,” very good, but can you read the words in order?’

‘No daddy, look! Doggies!’

The City is a strange place and it always has been. Dogs started pouring in the doors of the train, all kinds of them, mutts, purebreds, fighting dogs. I lifted my daughter up on my lap. My daughter’s name is Harmony. I was raised in the City by my parents, they used to take me to Ocean Beach, to the zoo, to the Cliffhouse, to the Beach Chalet. I held onto her tight because some of the dogs were fighting dogs. I was scared but I didn’t show it. She didn’t seem scared. She was enjoying pointing at the dogs and talking to them. She wanted to squirm away from me to play with them but I held onto her tightly. The other passengers didn’t seem even to notice all the dogs.

There was a strange old man who got on, once all the dogs had stopped pouring in through the doors. He was bent over his walker. He had dark goggles and a soiled trenchcoat. The City is strange because it’s full of people like him. People who know the rules Any number of signal, service or guide dogs and exploit the rules. Who learn the rules inside and out just so they can take advantage of the systems constructed to promote general welfare. By the strange old man’s feet was the biggest of the dogs, a big black dog. I don’t know breeds.

Harmony’s mother would know, her family always kept dogs. Harmony’s mother worked too much, couldn’t take her daughter to the beach. She wanted me to take Harmony to more museums so that she could read the signs aloud. I never had a dog as a pet as a kid. We always had cats, because we didn’t have a yard.

‘Why are we stopping?’ Harmony asked me. ‘Is the train broken?’

‘No, sweetie, there’s probably just another train on the track ahead. We’ll be moving again soon.’

‘But daddy, the lights are out! That means the train’s broken!’

‘Shh, sweetie, just stay close, alright? It’ll be okay.’

She was saying more to me but I couldn’t hear her. For some reason there was just this god-awful metal screeching and scraping and crashing in my ears. I had told Harmony ‘Let’s close our eyes, okay?’ and I don’t know if she heard me but I closed my eyes for as long as I could and when I opened them up the train was on its side. I was lying with my arm sprawled out and there was blood coming from my mouth onto the smashed window. I grasped for Harmony but all I could get ahold of were the dogs, all those yelping and scrambling dogs, the ones that hadn’t been injured. I looked up, and there was the old man and the black dog. They were standing just like they had been, except now the train was on its side. The old man pushed the emergency exit open. He wasn’t holding his walker anymore. He was holding Harmony’s ladybug umbrella, using it to push the door open.

I shouted at him. He was trying to get out of the train, trying to lift his feeble body up and out. I propped myself up and pushed the snarling and scared dogs out of my way, pushed through the unbearable crush of dogs to get at him but he had just cleared the exit. The black dog was sitting on its haunches. It looked me in the eye and followed after its master.

The other dogs were trying to get out of the hatch too but I used all my strength now to push them aside. I stepped on their heads and lifted myself up to the air. We were in the tunnel. The train had crashed into another train ahead. I couldn’t see any other survivors. I saw the old man and the dog at the other end of the tunnel, walking out into the light. I ran to follow.

I ran out into the blinding light of the street and saw them entering a residential building. There was nobody on the street. There were no cars on the blindingly bright street. I looked up at the sky and it was bright but it was grey. It was about to rain. It started to rain as I ducked inside the building. It had started to pour. The dogs had followed me. They were barking now, barking in the rain, and lightning clapped down, struck one of them. The others descended upon its smoking carcass. They barked at me and a couple of the german ones pulled their ears back and started walking towards me. I ran, and they pursued.

I ran upstairs and heard them barking and snarling. I looked up to see the old man leaning over the staircase. He was a few floors up. He was still holding Harmony’s umbrella. I shouted again. I kept shouting until I made it to the level where I had seen him, and I hammered on the door and shouted for him to let me in. The dogs were closing in on me. I sank to the ground when they approached, put my hands over my face.

The door opened. I scrambled inside. The room was full of dust, and the only light was the intermittent flashing of the lightning storm outside. I saw the strange old man sitting on a chair. His chin was touching his chest. His trenchcoat was moving in ripples. His arm lifted jerkily and his gloved hand pointed across the room. That motion was all he could sustain, and rats started pouring out of his sleeve. He was made of rats, I could see that as his trenchcoat opened up. Rats feasting on an almost-clean skeleton. They started to move up to his face.

But I now looked at where his hand had been pointing. There was the black hound. Sitting. Waiting. I crawled to him. I put out my hand, bade him to spit out what was in his mouth. He did. A shred of ladybug fabric.

His mouth remained open.

‘Serve,’ he said, as the door behind him swung open. As the gate inside that door opened to accept me.

‘No,’ I said.

I was sitting on the N Judah with my daughter, we were headed for the beach. She was three years old and I was forty…

By Neil Ballard

No Two Are Alike

She’s the kind of woman most of us think we want – sparkling green eyes with a glint of blue; strawberry blonde hair flowing over her shoulders; tall and slender with smooth, easy curves and the kind of mouth you just want to plunge into.

Experienced too.  She’s actually thirty, but will tell you she’s twenty-three, even though she looks nineteen.  Of her five marriages, four have ended in divorce because of high expectations.  The fifth was, from all accounts, a suicide.  “A sad thing, him swinging there,” she always sighs when recalling how she found the body slowly turning at the end of a rope, dangling from a beam in the basement.  “It’s very sad because that rope was about the only thing he could ever get up in those days.”

Cocky and smart, that’s how she comes off. But she’s the first to tell you she hasn’t been wise.  None of her “exes” were rich or promising.  She’s the first to admit that when studying the contours of a man’s pants, it wasn’t the bulge of his wallet that caught her eye.

She now goes about her business differently.  There’s more preparation with the ads and internet postings, the cloned phones and beepers, not to mention the screening process she puts them through.  She makes sure they have cash and plenty of it.  She also makes sure they need to be discreet.

What she sells them is fantasy in an enticing proposition – the promise to dress and act a certain way with a description so stunning it bludgeons.  But out of context her words are meaningless, as vague as the blurred face of the nude model she cut from a magazine to represent her.  But when she knocks on the door, she knows he won’t be disappointed.

Its residences only, a three hour minimum, and she insists on certain vintages to set the mood. Identification is checked at the door, the cash is left between the two flutes and only she pours. There is never a lot of chit-chat: she knows all she needs to know about him from the background check and she’ll “coo” so much that he’ll be too dazzled to try to learn a thing about her.  Besides, she’ll lie.

Depending on the dosage, he may hit the floor before ever taking a step towards the bedroom.  Rohypnol works on men too – especially two or three tablets.  A loaded dose accelerates the effect.  After all, she likes to take her time.

 Her father was an entertainer too.  When she was a little girl, he would take her on the road. And when he wasn’t pimping her, she learned sleight of hand.  He may have been a third rate magician, but she could have been a star.

So he’ll be here now, each and every time – sometimes on his back, sometimes face down, and occasionally on his side.  As paralysis leads to coma, she’s finishing her sweep of the house for cash.  That’s when she spreads out the shower curtain and rolls him onto his back in the center.  Then she slowly pulls down his pants and shorts.  She likes the feel.  She may even fondle it for a few moments barehanded.  She thinks it cute and funny as it flops side to side and wonders what size it could have become.  Freckles, birthmarks, the pronouncement of veins – each one is designed differently.  That’s why they’re so special.  That’s why she collects them.

With her gloves and apron on, she kneels over it.  It always amuses her that she’s the one wearing rubber.  She pinches the tip of it with her left hand, holding it erect.  She takes her father’s old straight razor in her right hand – the same razor he used on the road to hold her down with when he was as lonely.

By Joseph J. Patchen










silent footprints
dressed in pain
hide in the street
cobble stones and brine
while horses that are
whipped by
haunches rigid
hide in the shadows.
she sees and holds her hands,
dreaming of hooves burning into her.
her desire pierces
electrified walls
as she licks the
straw men
in flames. writhing creatures neon comedians
wrapped around her for her to punish
she swims with them  now
in black puddle light-show boiling,
shot through with red and white
the glass cracking
the glass that houses them sheared
serving sliced memories of her loss.
now welcoming the maw of sleep
shot into the night and
crashing beneath the moon
what came before
just an embellishment
of the pagan desires tingling her tongue
split and sensitive offering up taste and pleasure.

By Peter Marra


Name’s Ted. Can I Help You With Your Baggage?

He’d wanted her since he first saw her, in the grocery store produce aisle, examining the cucumbers. The way she turned them over and over again in her hands, the way she held them, and when she snuck one up to her mouth and licked it, he knew he had to have her. 
 He knew she had a secret. He had one too.
He’d worked in this store for about a year now. Saw tons of these highbrow bitches in their silky braless getups looking at the produce, wishing their husbands fucked them with cocks that big – wishing their husbands fucked them at all — but she was different. She wasn’t searching for something she’d lost somewhere under the fluorescent lights. She wasn’t desperate for anything like those other rich loose cunts. She knew what she wanted, and he was gonna help her get it.
He watched her for a few weeks, always the same thing — five or six cucumbers, a few zucchini — and she always bought the biggest thickest ones. Week number four, he left a note pinned to one them for her: Salad Dressing is in aisle five. See anything you like, then call me. He left his cell phone number on the back of a coupon for free douche. While he was writing it, he thought about lifting up that silk dress, ripping her lace undies off, and shoving one of those cucumbers into her on the checkout counter while everyone watched.
He knew he was a lot younger than she was, hoped she didn’t care, and was worried whether or not his apartment was clean when she came up behind him. She whispered, “Creamy Italian,” into his ear as she grabbed a bottle off the shelf. She was already half way back down the aisle before he got the guts up to turn around. She wasn’t exactly Miss Right, but with that wiggle, she could be Miss Right Now. Her silk dress swished around her bare legs like a whisper in the wind, and he could smell her musk mixed with the perfume she’d sprayed in her panties that morning.
He didn’t think she would call, but she did, and his apartment was clean.
A little licorice flavored sterno and a bit of makeshift chemistry relaxed her bitchy mouth enough that a scream wasn’t even remotely possible. An hour in and she could hardly breathe, couldn’t even moan as he punished her for wanting what she wanted, but it didn’t matter. He loved her, and it would hurt so good once he was inside her. He liked hurting her. He knew she wanted to cry out, wanted to bite at him but couldn’t. All she could do was reach for him; try to scratch at him, her nails running jagged frantic lines in the sweaty night air around them. He liked it rough, and so did she. He could feel the end coming, the violence building. She kept it hidden from everyone, but he knew she wanted him to feel it: her intestines shot through with fear. She’d wanted this from the start. 
She was a Dirty Bitch! He yelled it couple of times, not loud enough to rise above the music playing on the stereo, but loud enough he could feel it burn in his lungs. She liked it — when he called her names. She said she felt her heart explode every time, said she felt her blood rushing faster inside her. No one could hear her say these things, but she did — say them — with her mouth and with her wide white eyes. Fucking tell me again! she begged through a breath that was so distant, he thought she had evaporated into herself. It didn’t matter what he said in reply. Never did. Not to her, not to any of them. He could tell them he hated them their privilege, loved them their stupidity and their selfishness, but the words didn’t matter. Just his voice alone made them tremble. He’d draw blood … from anywhere he could feel skin, even if it was his own. He’d make that sacrifice for her, show her what they could be together in infinite particles of faith.
There was this yearning he had once, as a child. They were both children, both virgins, but she, his first, she had it too: this glistening impenetrable oil slick of a yearning that had soaked through his soul. He’d thought then that it was just a silly youthful yearning. A yearning for entrails, perfumed baubles, and wealth. Like a little girl’s wish for a wedding dress. Just a lavender scented daydream, blushed gently across a boy’s dimpled cheeks. He had felt ashamed after the first. What a mess he’d made of her. 
Now he laughed at the memory, laughed at how indecisive he had been then. “Nasty fucking slut! Fucking cock whore!” He had to stop loving her, just like he’d have to stop loving this one now, but his words just made him all the more insane for her meat, which he had always craved from the first time he had seen her roaming the produce aisle, desperate for a life different than the one she had. Now that she was empty, he could crawl inside her; fill the botoxed void between her flesh and her bones. She said she never wanted him to pull out, but he liked to pull it out. All the way out, and tease the burnished flesh with it until they all begged for more. He stabbed back into her. Once. Twice. Her liver slipped out, slapped against the rotted floorboards. When she cried More, he slowed down a little, and then he struck her, the sudden painful stinging sensation sent her bucking against the table.
He smiled.
And she screamed …
A wet gurgling scream before she went limp and silent. She was getting cold. Everything was getting cold. He brought his hands down on her again, waiting for the fire to burn through his palms, as if he had poured lighter fluid on her and lit her the fuck up. He’d tossed that idea around a few times — they get so cold so fast — but he knew it would be completely impossible for him to endure. Besides, all those damn burn marks would never go away. He had such a gorgeous face, and women loved to kiss it. He’d never get any more dates like this if he looked like a leper. He tried once, ended up burning his pecker off. He didn’t mind so much though; it was small, an imperfection. Useless. They all have imperfections, and there was more than one way to satisfy the unsatisfied, so he put the flames out of his mind and resumed the cutting and thrusting. She was close to being ready for him, so close he wanted to get naked and slip into her right then, hoping she would swallow him up.
Not yet! Not yet, not yet, not yet …
He grabbed her hair and pulled hard, her head yanking back, her mouth hanging open in a silent shriek of orgasmic fury. He felt her violent lust for him outside and in, steel on bone, smashing deep into her soul. She had wanted him, couldn’t get enough of him, his lips on her mouth, his fingers around her throat, the cherry red glow of seduction glistening on her pubic hair in the streetlight coming through the window. She had wanted him to take her, take her so deep and so dark that she would never dream of another. She wanted to be his. “Fucking whore!” She was his. His knees went weak at the thought.
“This one’s a keeper,” squawked Esmeralda, the grey crested parrot, from off in a shadowed corner of the room. But was she? he asked in reply. She did have pretty eyes. Pretty Eyes, Pretty Eyes, Squawk! Not fake, like all the bits he’d cut out of her and tossed to the floor.
Maybe he would keep her. He stopped cutting and thrusting and tearing, held his hands in her hot flesh as deep as he could, touched her heart. It was still throbbing against her warm wet flesh. Yes. Maybe he would keep her.
She was his red-hot bitch, and she’d done everything — JUST — RIGHT —just like she’d said she would when she was pleading for her life.

By Cheryl Anne Gardner



There is a science to peeling meat from bone. Separating skin and limbs. Detaching unneeded organs and flesh. He has to be proficient. Calm. Collected. Most of all he needs quiet so he can concentrate. So he can function.

It’s not quiet yet. He can hear every noise, every scratch, every twitch of grasshopper leg. They fill his head, leaving nothing else. He breathes, tries to block it out. He sharpens his knife until it’s the only sound he hears. It’s near, the place he wants to be. He tests he blade with his index finger. It parts the skin. Not much more than a paper cut but it bleeds. He knows he’s ready. He knows he’s there. He can resist the urges now. To tear and rip and gnash. He can work.

The body on the slab is sus scrofa domesticus. Common domesticated pig. Nothing different or special about it. He’d purchased it from a butcher who was sure he wanted to cook it whole. Instead he uses it for practice. He’d washed it first, unsure of what horrible preservatives were used in it. Its eyes were closed, the skin exsanguinous. Pale white pink, its tongue poking out. He removes the head, hefting it in his hands. It’s heavy. Surprisingly heavy.

“When I was fourteen they took us to a farm. My teacher, a well meaning blond of indeterminate years, decided we all needed to learn about how our food was grown. We looked at the corn and the chickens. We looked at the cows chewing placidly in the pasture. We looked at the milking barn, where a few of the boys giggled and asked to see the girl’s udders. Around the corner from that we came upon a pig strung up, dripping blood. It’s how they drained the bodies there. It was slit over the throat and stomach, its pink belly exposed. Cut open so we could see the insides. Some of the girls screamed. These high screeching noises, like birds when they attack. I stood for along time watching the pig bleed. Listening to the girls shriek.”

The girl he’s speaking to would shriek if she could. If she wasn’t bound with duct tape over her mouth, hands, and feet. Her mascara has cracked, circling her eyes like a raccoon mask. It drips down over her cheeks and the silver covering her mouth.

He pauses, as though remembering, the knife held high in his hand.

“The teacher. She got fired I think. We didn’t see her the next day. She claimed she didn’t know about the slaughter but really, how do you think we get pork chops and ham and bacon? You have to kill some things to enjoy others,” he said.

The girl isn’t a common pig. She’s special. He hopes she appreciates that.

He slices into the belly, the part already partially opened. He takes the intestines out, holds them in his hands like a bracelet or a necklace. They’re a rosary of waxen flesh. Fat bulges, almost bursting out of the skin holding it. She tries to inch back from him but there is only the wall behind her.

“You have to be careful with these. One wrong cut and it makes such a mess. No one wants shit in their food,” he says harshly.

She starts to cry again, though she knows this is futile.

“Shh shh,” he says, putting his gloved finger to his mouth. “I shouldn’t speak like that. You’re special, aren’t you? Can’t talk like that around a lady. My momma wouldn’t like it. Women are different. They’re better. Have to treat them with respect.”

He pats her awkwardly on the head. She tries to move through the wall. When he goes back to the pig he starts to speak again.

“My father was a butcher. I’m going to learn his trade. It makes me feel closer to him. He’s gone. My mother too. Although her death was strange. They called it auto-erotic asphyxiation. Such an odd way to die. Hung, by her own garters. Down here. Near where you are. The beam is strong. I’ve tested all the beams and the one above you is strong,” he says.

He cuts the skin off next, carefully removing what he can. It was a point of pride that it was mostly in one piece. He’s getting better. He cuts the pig into two, carefully measuring along the backbone. He separates the pig into parts; according to the chart he’s been given. The feet. The hock. The shoulder. They fall into the cooler near his feet with meaty thunks. He cuts the ribs and rump. Ham and loin.

All the while she watches. Not the man or the pig. The knife. She tries to curl herself into a ball. If she’s small, he won’t notice. If she’s small, he won’t see.

She knew his face. She’d met him at a party once. Her friend Kelsey begged her to go. Some minor celebrity from a reality television show was going to be there. Jerry or Terry. He’d worn red shorts and no shirt, showing off his fish pale chest. Kelsey had been all over him, practically drooling on his hairless flesh.

Tina had given up after a half hour of watching Kelsey coo and bat her eyes, finding a quiet corner to drink beer out of her plastic cup. A few college boys tried to hit on her, breathing their rank beer soaked breath in her face. She’d been called bootiful once. Smexy another time. It wasn’t her idea of a great night. Now and again she’d think I should go. I should go home and leave her. Tina had the car and she was reasonably sure she wasn’t drunk. She’d stared at the keys and tried to talk herself into leaving.

Kelsey was okay. She’d had drunk hookups before. Tina needed her sleep anyway. There was that job interview tomorrow. She wanted to look refreshed not like some hung-over co-ed. She was smart; she wanted them to see that.

When he approached her she’d had her keys in her hands and was about to get up. He was a little too old for the crowd. He had a pleasant face though. She thought of it as a librarian’s face. Or a kindergarten teacher’s. Trustworthy, is what it was. His skin crinkled around his clear blue eyes, as though he were accustomed to laughter. His head was too round for his body. She thought of Charlie Brown and smiled.

“Hi there,” he’d said. “I’m Mike. I see you’re enjoying the party as much as I am. He’d held out his hand and she’d shaken it, surprised at the roughness of his grip. He hadn’t looked like a laborer, she’d thought.

“I came with a friend,” she’d said, nodding towards Kelsey who was licking lime juice off of Terry or Jerry’s chest.

“Me too,” he’d said, pointing at a small man in neon pink shorts grinding his way through the male dancers.

They’d spoken for a few minutes about books and movies. Things they might have in common. It was nice, she’d thought at the time.

Kelsey ended up puking all over Terry or Jerry’s fine unclothed chest and Tina had to bring her home. She’d given him her phone number but he’d never called.

He’d watched her. Of course he’d watched her. Before and after the party. He’d felt a connection. He knew she did too.

She’d gotten the job at the office with the slate gray doors. They worked her hard, poor girl. She came home late so many nights. He wanted to save her. She would be different. This time it would work. The perfect girl. The perfect time.

He had to wait until that horrible slag of a roommate was out. Wait until the girl came home late. She was opening the door when he came up behind her.

“Hello,” he’d said.

She turned and saw it was him. She smiled before she realized she should be afraid. He put his hand over her mouth. She tried to scream, scratching at his face with her nails. He held her until she stopped struggling and put her into the trunk of the car.

When she woke up he was butchering the pig. She couldn’t move much or speak.

Now he is quiet, the discarded parts of the pig are all that remains of it. He kneels in front of her.

“I’m going to untie you now. I know you’ll be good. You can be good can’t you?” She nods frantically. He releases her arms and legs. Starts to tear the tape from her mouth. She lunges for the butcher knife he’d set down on the slab. He curses, tearing at the back of her shirt to stop her.

“You were supposed to be good! You were supposed to be good!” he squeals, sounding like the pig he’s just butchered. She grabs the handle and hits him in the face once. His blood sprays over her face. She hits him again as he goes down, clutching his face.

Tina girl makes it to the door while the man groans on the floor. She opens it, her hands bloody, shaking. She screams. A hulk of a man stands on the other side, holding his baseball bat in one hand and sucking on the thumb of the other. Something is wrong with his face. It bulges where it shouldn’t. His mouth is red and swollen, like a bee stung him there. He’s taller and bigger than her, almost breaking the seams of the blue jean overalls he wears. He takes his thumb out of his mouth and looks at her. Her knees tremble, she can barely stand. Somehow she does though. Somehow she stands and looks right back at him.

“No!” he shouts, pushing her back. She falls falls falls, landing at the foot of the stairs.

She wakes. He holds the knife they’d fought over. The knife she’d used to cut his face. His face still bleeds from where she cut him. She’s glad. It’s clean now, gleaming at her with a metallic wink. She watches her reflection come closer and closer. She’s not afraid yet. Not until he starts to cut into her middle. Not until she feels her blood gush hot wet down her thighs, She can’t feel anything then. She can’t feel anything at all.

By Jasmine Templet

The Art of Man

To the uninitiated, this large round box in front of me looks like any other normal hat box, circa 1960’s or maybe late 1950’s – somewhere in that era. It’s basically pink with black trim and its size is actually broader than most.  In gold leaf, across its lid, in the finest example of calligraphy I have ever seen, is the name, sans quotes, “McAullie’s”.

Each day I see a lot of vintage items; mostly crap – but some collectible, and others highly valuable.  My state initiated concurrent community service sentences with the “Thrift Shoppes of America” is not only helping clear my record of some gross misunderstandings, but this experience has also touched in me a desire for a new trade – that of ‘treasure agent’. I’ve traded in toys, rare books, some apparel – vintage and contemporary – on the internet.  I recognize this box as coming from a stylish, upscale Boston clothier that went bust during the disco era.  Today, their hats, gloves, scarves, purses and hose sell like gold to vintage clothing collectors and wanna-be fashionistas.

Why this box alone, empty, in this condition could easily fetch $600.00.  A true find. By working the backroom, and this by far is the most advantageous aspect of this job, there are any number of places – nooks, crannies, out of the way corners, gaps between sorting counters, niches, crevices – where one can hide things until one’s shift is over.  Everyone does it to some manner and degree: some as pickers for dealers who regularly frequent this establishment, others for their own collections and some for their own pockets.

There’s no surveillance system in this place: that was dismantled and pawned by an ex-employee three years ago.  There’s no inventory since most of the people who work here can’t count or spell.  And above all, it takes just too much time and effort.  The bottom-line is the management here is hopelessly transient and lax.

This branch of the chain is nestled comfortably in an extremely poor and crime ridden neighborhood, so the corporate brass can’t even conceive that anything of any real value could ever come through this collection center.

Yeah, right.

The box is heavy: well-balanced – but heavy, like it contains a World War I military helmet, instead of a feathery hat. Since no one’s around, or even cares, I undue the satin straps and peek into my trove.

There’s a rock-hard column of sorts swathed in bubble wrap covering gauze surrounded by Styrofoam peanuts to prevent any breakage or movement.   I’m thinking Japanese bronze or jade statuary; maybe a fine porcelain vase or antique glass — but as I continue to unwrap I find this is not so.  In all my days —sober, drunk, drug-induced, and of course, all depending upon my biorhythmic chart – I can honestly say I never saw a real, severed human head – until today. Swimming in formaldehyde she looks all of nineteen, a brunette with striking features.

She’s a real looker with the most piercing green eyes and inviting pouty mouth; a real a baby-faced stunner.

 Ingenious, but clearly someone made a big mistake…

And this is exactly what he told me hours later when I was leaving work for home with my treasure stashed in my gym bag.  He was beside himself, nervous and frustrated; a simple looking portly man about fifty, five foot five with short cropped, graying brown hair, wire rim glasses and a sparse unkept facial growth.   His clothes are neat but rather uninspiring, just like the man himself. 

So he tells me he donated the wrong box.

I tell him he shouldn’t worry because I’m the only one who viewed its contents and I certainly wasn’t dropping a dime on anyone.  In fact, I planned on keeping the head as sort of a 3-D pin-up for my living room entertainment center. 

No, I don’t have a wife or girlfriend, and yes, I do live alone.

Relieved he says, “I’ll make it up to you.  Return my medical specimen.  Keep the hat box and as an added reward you can even take your pick of fifteen pieces of women’s intimate apparel and accessories from my collection.”  

I’m intrigued and readily accept. 

We walk. Not being a judgmental person, I could care less how he came into his stuff.  In fact, I‘m the kind of guy whose creed is to never impose my biases and preconceived prejudices on another. 

We progress right to his walk-up, some eight blocks south. And what a fine, grayish brown three floor brick walk-up it is.  I venture to guess 1910 but he politely corrects me to say this row of sixteen was erected in 1881. 

It’s a quiet neighborhood, even though many of the natives are sitting on stoops and milling around.   These denizens appear to be older than the 19th century architecture itself.

It figures that on a warm day that we’re climbing to the inevitable top floor.  My new friend begins explaining: “This apartment actually belonged to my parents. And it was my father’s parents’ before them.  I’m fortunate that a glorious little thing called rent control coupled with the ease in filling out a certificate of demise allows me to retain my family home and house my vast collection of “Femininalia”.  

My guess is he’s unmarried and unattached as well.

Oh what a spacious and well-appointed design marvel opens up before me.  As I cross the threshold, I’m stepping back in time to the height of the Victorian era.   Everything in sight –all of the furniture, fixtures, glass, china, all of the rugs, doilies, antimacassars and rows upon rows of books and periodicals – is authentically from that era.

As I take my host’s tour from the foyer through the living room and down the hall, I’m more and more impressed with the architecture – the carved moldings, the frescoed ceilings, the marbled fireplaces and crystal chandeliers – until we enter the first bedroom.  All four walls are hidden behind barrister cases, lined up perfectly from floor to ceiling, even blocking the windows – wherever they may be.  And each and every case is packed with jars – the same cylinder jars as the one from the hat box.  Moving closer, I make out heads, hands, feet, patches of flesh with tattoos – some ornate and some simply cute.  None of the faces I can see have the slightest wrinkle; most are strikingly pretty in some way or innocently angelic.  In all, I’d say the sum of these parts would make up about forty young women.

I feel the color draining from my body, but I can’t turn to face him.  I’m so mesmerized by the tantalizing museum in front of me.  

Scratchy, crackling noises start; must be from that old victrola in the living room.  He’s left me alone and I didn’t notice.  The music ratchets up, ‘You’ve got the cutest little baby face…’ 

“I’ve used their bones to make birdhouses.  Those are in the next room.  And in the next room after that, I’ve created some couture fashions out of their skins – and a few lampshades too.”

Again, I’m not one prone to making judgments – but now I’m having some difficulty.

“Let me offer you a brandy.  Don’t worry,” he chuckles, “it is store bought and not a bodily fluid.”

With that, I blindly reach back, still staring forward.  It was then he brought the hatchet down across and through my wrist, severing my hand.  And as I lay on the linoleum floor – yes linoleum in a Victorian – bleeding I could vaguely make out his form standing over me, screaming “I have a disease!  I have a disease!  I have a disease!” as he smashes my skull in. 

By Joseph J. Patchen

The Mistress’ Sucking Pit

“Oh dear God / It is midnight in the labyrinth”

– Dani Filth

Day 1: Counselor suggests that college is stressful for everyone and keeping a daily journal might help my anxieties. Don’t know what to write.

Day 21: Didn’t finish my lab, so I decided just not to go to class. Not sure if that was a good idea. I think my roommate stole my chocolate ice cream from the minifridge.

Day 36: Awoke completely nude. Strange, as I always feel awkward sleeping right across from my roommate and make sure to sleep in a t-shirt and gym shorts. He probably saw my boxers on the ground at the foot of the bed. Had the feeling of a nightmare, but no memories.

Day 40: Awoke to my roommate saying, “Dude, are you okay?” I saw that there was a pool of blood soaked into my pillow, already turning brown. I responded, “My tongue hurts, must have accidentally bit it in my sleep.” Morning wood more prominent than usual, which felt embarrassing. Feeling of nightmare upon rising has been consistent. Difficult to shake, even while waking.

Day 41: Felt apprehension about sleeping and stayed on the computer all night, nodding off around five am and having to wake and go to a day of classes. Fell asleep during economics lecture and had the most amazing sex dream. My memory of it is fragmented though, more a memory of feelings than events. It felt like something was wrong, like it wasn’t the appropriate time for sexual activity (which makes sense, as I was in class), but I wanted it really bad anyway. I started awake upon orgasm, hoping I hadn’t made any noises and that any wetness in my dark jeans would go unnoticed.

Day 42: Passed out uncontrollably after dinner previous night. Sex dream continued, but twisted. Again, remember only in fragments of feeling. There was a woman with long, flowing blond hair. My hand was sucked into the pit between her legs even though I was resisting. I remember pain. Awoke to little scratches on my hand as though I’d stuck it into the thorns of a brier. How could that be? Freaking out. Not sure what to do.

Day 43: Crashed on the floor in Chester and Mike’s room last night. Dreamt vividly. I was in massive city, New York or something, but I was the only one there. Everything was painted a sickly green color. I was trying to get somewhere, but it was like I was navigating a maze, reaching dead ends and moving in elaborate circles. A whisper started to beckon me, a beautiful female’s voice serenading me. Abruptly awoken to the smell of coffee. Chester illegally keeps a Keurig machine in his room and decided to wake me up by shoving a cup of hazelnut coffee in my face.

Day 44: Continued to stay in Chester and Mike’s room. Fragmentary dream, I remember fellatio. When I awoke, the two guys were staring down at me with looks of horror on their faces. I realized I was on top of the blankets, nude, with dried semen crusted on my stomach. Couldn’t find my clothes and Chester let me borrow his. I confided in them the nightmares that had been tormenting me. Mike told me I needed to see a shrink. Said he’d learned about “this” in Psychology 101. Freud. Dreams. I needed to be psychoanalyzed. Didn’t know how I could go about seeing a shrink.

Day 45: Went out with everyone and got drunk. Memories hazy. Went back to room with girl from the bar. The sex was amazing until I looked down and realized there was blood. “Are you on your period?” I asked her. She looked down and shrieked, “No!” I withdrew from her and found the condom in shreds.

Day 47: Was walking to class and decided to cut through the grass rather than take the roundabout path. Slipped in some mud and realized I was being sucked into some sort of pit. I shouted as I tried to free myself. I was sucked deeper and deeper until I landed on the sidewalk of the abandoned city. Wind howled in place of silence. As I took a step forward, all the buildings fell around me, but actually I was falling or flying. Awoke sitting in class, uncertain of how I got there. When the professor announced the fifteen minute break, a girl with long, blond hair dropped a folded piece of paper on my desk and stared at me with haunting green eyes as she passed on her way out the door. I unfolded the note and in red ink was scrawled, “Why resist?” I jumped up, shoving desks out of my way as I ran after her, but in the hall I couldn’t find her, and she never returned to class.

Day 48: Awoke in a small pool of blood. Had dreamt vividly of cunnilingus. At first was enjoyable, but then she started to force me in too deep. I thought her hands were pushing on the back of my head, but I realized they weren’t – I imagined they held a deathgrip on her own breasts as she writhed in ecstasy. As I was sucked in deeper still, there were two immediate problems causing me to panic: the first, it was suddenly impossible to breathe – it was as if I was sinking into a bog head-first and had just taken in a deep breath of mud; the second, sharp pain attacking my tongue and other parts of my face. I pushed on the back of her thighs with both hands, attempting to free myself. Her moans turned to groans of disappointment as her legs wrapped around me. It seemed hopeless, but suddenly I was awake. Mike and Chester were standing in the doorway, mouths and eyes agape.

Day 48 (continued): Was sitting in economics lecture, unable to pay attention, when twenty minutes into the class, the blond girl from yesterday strode into the lecture hall. She stood in front of the guy sitting next to me and wordlessly, he grabbed his books, got up, and moved to another seat. As she sat down, she gave me a wide smile with her pouty lips and leaned over close enough to put her hand on my leg. Felt scared and horny at the same time. She removed her hand and opened a notebook on her desk. When the professor announced the break, she slowly placed a folded-up paper note on my crotch. “I’ll see you tonight,” she said entirely in her throat. She flicked her mass of hair behind her as she sauntered out of the room. I watched her leave before unfolding the note. In browning ink she had written, “S.E.F.T. Room 15. Midnight.” It’s eleven thirty now and I’m going to see her. Can’t decide if it’s because I need to know what’s happening to me or because she’s the sexiest woman I’ve ever seen.

By Joseph Patrick Pascale


Winner of March Madness: Detention by TM Simmler

She is scantily dressed in a torn nightie, barefooted, with dirty cuts lining her legs, sweaty and breathless, her short blond hair spiked with little perches, with a gasping cut on her left arm and on the fabric blood that might be her own, as every so often she presses her hand against the stain, her face twists in pain. But she doesn’t stop running, over stones cutting her feet, amidst branches whipping her bare arms. She almost lost her equilibrium twice, but managed to keep running and stumbling through the forest, searching for a road, for help. Again and again she twists her head backwards, although she knows better – she should watch the path, be alert not to step into a trap or strain her ankles or, heaven beware, break her foot in some coppice, but she cannot help it, with panic and fear rushing through her, adrenaline flooding the synapses, not much room is left for rational thought. So she keeps looking back while running and of course it is her undoing. When she turns her eyes back to the path, all she sees is the lumbering seven foot hulk in a scarecrow costume and she screams, but no one can hear her and besides, her cry is cut short by the Scarecrow Man, grapping her by the throat and lifting her up like a flesh doll without bones, until she looks him straight into the eyes, eyes so dark, rigid and blank they might be marbles, she sees his pockmarks and the harelip that parted even the soft bone wall between the nostrils. The Scarecrow Man bends her head backwards and she sees the sky; grey, without sun and birds, who shun this part of the woods. He pulls his carving knife from the holster and with a single smooth floating motion cuts the girl’s throat before releasing her from his grip. Her fall stops halfway and she defies gravity.

Andrew Harris put the remote control on the teacher’s desk, went over to the TV, switched it off and took “Scarecrow Man 2 – Gut Harvest” out of the DVD player, turned and faced the four students.

“Well,” he started, chuckling a bit, “methinks this is not going to make the BAFTAs. Anyway, we are not here to discuss the cinematic merit – or lack thereof – of this wee ditty, aren’t we?” Harris placed himself on the edge of his desk. “We will talk about responsibility, effects and cause. Let me start with a quote please. ‘Media violence has affected children’s mindsets negatively to certain extent and it is a problem. We all know that children are more vulnerable towards all kind of information from various sources. Additional to that, they like to imitate what they see, hear and so on. Therefore, I am of the opinion that media violence can desensitize them to violence.’ Interesting. But first I’d like to ask you, what was wrong in the scene we just watched … Gilbert?” The others shifted in their seats, anxious and afraid, quietly moaning through their gags, trying to wriggle themselves out of their tightly knotted bonds. Jolted, Tom Gilbert straightened himself, waited until Harris removed the ball-gag, his complexion paling and muttered: “I would say that … maybe …the perpetrator should be wearing a mask?” “A mask?” Harris asked perplexed. “Why, Gilbert, would he feel the need to hide his countenance? They are way out in the middle of nowhere, where the cells make no calls, and he is intent on slicing and dicing her into tiny lumps. Would you agree that Mister Scarecrow Man quite possibly gives a flying tinker’s toss about weather or not his victim comes to see his ugly hide?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Besides, we are not going to discuss some minor lapse of a probably drug-riddled screenwriter. We are looking at a glaring, devastating, and most moronic and insulting mistake. Mr. Gilbert, imagine Scarecrow Man donning a paper bag over his head. He’s masked now. He’s Tesco Man. Now what grave mistake is bag-boy culpable of?”

“I don’t know.” Gilbert started to whimper; tears fell from his eyes, ran over his chubby cheeks and dripped on his school tie. From the back of the classroom came a sound of snipping fingers.

“I know it, Mr. Harris” mumbled the voice. Harris turned round.

“Mr. Hunter, please – nobody likes a smart-ass. Give Mr. Gilbert the chance to answer. Gilbert?”

“He was scuffling twenty feet behind her and then, all of a sudden, he stood before her and…”
“Nonsense. This we call suspension of disbelief. A tried and true tradition only some fuddy-duddy nitpicker would dwell upon. I still do not care for minor script errors.” Andrew Harris shook his head, looking sad. His haggard face seemed even deeper lined, his prominent cheekbones now protruded so far, they could cut paper.

“Sorry. Really sorry. But I’m afraid you’ve just failed.”

“No, Mr. Harris, please. Just give me two minutes. I mean, I am sure…”

“Quiet down and listen to Mr. Hunter. If you’d be so kind to enlighten us?” Harris went to the back row and loosened Hunter’s gag.

Frank Hunter straightened up and proclaimed: “The murder scene was all wrong. A true psychopath would never indulge in such sloppy ways of killing. Dragging the knife once from left to right like slicing apple pie?”

“Very good, Mr. Hunter. You’re an opportunist and a wonk, but you are correct. If there is truth to the quote I read to you earlier, this scene teaches our youngsters that they can effectively slay another human by simply sashaying a blade from ear to ear. Now, here is an extra question for you to make amends for the one you’ve botched up. What kind of people do you think annoy me the most, Mr. Gilbert?”

Sobbing vehemently, Gilbert stuttered: “I don’t know, Mr. Harris. Maybe the stupid kind?”

Harris shook his head. “Wrong again. The breathing kind.”

He stepped behind Gilbert, gripped his front, bent back his head, produced a shiny Spider Bowie Knife from one of his boots and sawed through Gilbert’s throat, so forceful, the severed Adam’s apple was clearly visible through the frayed wound. Gilbert thrashed violently. Shifting stools screeched over linoleum, subdued cries of repulsion and fear rose. Only Hunter stared transfixed.

“You see, that is the only way to cut a throat. In the movies there it is always one fucking clean cut and the victim looks surprised and dies the next second, whereas Mr. Gilbert, who has been killed in a correct and precise manner, will go on gasping and gaping like a goldfish that had been kicked in the balls for about three minutes. Then he should be choked on his own blood. Questions?”

An excited torrent of undistinguishable consonants led Harris to a blond, athletic build young man. Harris looked at the piece of paper he had tucked to the boys chest and read.

“Mr Fletcher. You want to ask something?” Fletcher coughed so many words into the sock Harris had stuffed between his teeth, his face was all puffy. “Please, calm down.” He removed the sock.

“What the fuck are you doing? You’re the janitor, for fuck’s sake. Where’s Mr. Rattigan?”

“I am a teacher.” Harris cried, his upper lip twitching. He was starting to sweat. “I teach… Social Studies… I just… had to change… schools. Short tenures. Had to move. Often. Until all I could do to start at a school was donning a damned janitor uniform and mop floors and wipe your shit and puke and scratch your fucking gums…..” He closed his eyes, breathed slowly, and regained his composure.

“To get back to what you were saying, Fletcher,” Harris went to the small basin, took a piece of soap, forced Fletcher’s jaw open, shoved it in and sealed the mouth with the sock.

“Foul words make foul minds. And Mr. Rattigan is inhibited. That’s how I came to supervise your detention.”

Harris stepped over Gilbert’s corpse, opened the cupboard and Rattigan fell out. A mop had been rammed down his throat with such force, that only a tiny piece of the holder was visible and with the mop-head covering his features, Rattigan looked as if he had been attacked by the face-hugger.

“I will now remove the gag, Mr. Fletcher. If you scream, you can very well guess, how unlucky this would turn out for you.” Harris took out the sock and the soap and Fletcher puked over his uniform.

“Why are you doing this?” he sobbed.

“Like I said -I am a teacher, though you could say I’m a freelancer now. Still – education is my calling. And since some minor inconveniences like fuss about the use of corporal punishment and vanishing pupils keep me from passing my knowledge onto the youngsters, I teach them mores! Look at you, you lot here, having it all. All the wisdom of the world available, the greatest writings just one mouse-click away and you are able to download the words of the Bard and the Donne’s poems, but all you indulge in is filth, porn and sharing clips of funny laughing cats and happy slapping. Education is a gift and you spit on it. You are lazy, you have no morals, and you know no decency, because a pupil, who does know decency, will not end up in detention, for God’s sake!” Harris’ voice broke. He gulped.

“Now. Attention, class. A film.”

He put another DVD into the recorder. “It’s taken from a home-grown micro-budget film called ‘My Sisters Need Slicing’.”

The clip was short. All you could see was a hooded figure with black gloves sticking a butcher’s knife into the belly of a nude brunette. She squeaked, fell down, she died. Harris switched off, cleared his throat. “Would you please step forward, Mr. Fletcher?”

“I can’t.” he muttered.

“I’m not really asking. Step forward.”

“I can’t, you fucking arsehole psycho prick nailed me to my chair!”

Harris giggled. “I completely forgot about that. But you were a very unruly rascal, Fletcher. Look at Mr. Hunter. All I had to do with him was super-gluing his trousers to his place.”

“That’s because little Norman Bates over there probably enjoys the show. He’s just as sick a fuck as you.” Spittle flew from Fletcher’s mouth.

“Keep your seat, then.” Harris stood next to him, gripped the part of a twelve inch nail that protruded from Fletcher’s thigh and jerked hard, like he trying to put him into fourth gear.

“And watch your bleeding language!” He rummaged through his briefcase, produced a replica of the knife they’ve just seen in the clip and stabbed Fletcher in the stomach. Twice.

Fletcher’s eyes bulged, reddish foamy saliva bubbles formed at the corner of his mouth and he threw his torso back and forth. Harris looked at the other two pupils. The Taplow boy was crying uncontrollably, Hunter watched the murder of his classmate with almost clinical curiosity. He stabbed Fletcher three times more, pierced a kidney, punctured the spleen and scraped bone, which led to a scream of anguish, so deafening, he put the sock back in.

Fletcher breathed as if hyperventilating. Harris seemed to lose it and went into a stabbing frenzy. Blood squirted into his face, dripped from his hair, hit the walls.

Exhausted, Harris sat down. Fletcher was still alive. Barely so, his face waxen, with freckles of blood, eyes turned inward, but he was breathing.

“Mr. Fletcher has just been stabbed forty-one times with a solid knife from Germany’s finest manufacturer. And yet he is not gone. And yet … sod it. Well, he is dead now. But he lasted quite some time, huh?”

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Why? Why us, Mr. Harris?” Taplow muffled.

“Luck. It’s all about luck. ” Harris said. “Let me tell you something about luck. It’s because of luck you are born on this wonderful island and not into some third world pesthole, where you’d right now be sewing shoes for sixteen hours each day for a laugh. Do you acknowledge your luck, gentlemen? Do you wish, you’d acknowledged it more right now? Here’s a nice example of luck –  say, you’ve missed the tube to King’s Cross by two minutes and it’s exactly this tube a whacked out Muslim has chosen to blow himself to smithereens on the off-chance of banging a cartload of virgins. Phew. Lucky you. Or – you’ve missed the tube and now you are late for school again and sent to detention while everyone else is home and dry, and now you’re holed in with me. The secret of life is luck. Good luck and bad luck. There is no pattern, no secret meaning or purpose. Our brains make that up. Even in the worst muddle, in the most random conglomerations, our brain makes us see patterns. Little doggies in the clouds. It’s bogus. A fraud. And that’s the lesson for today, boys. I’m tired.”

Harris got up and went to Taplow. “Taplow, me lad. No questions for you, no film clips.” He wiped some tears from the boy’s face.

“Maybe, just briefly, a movie title? And then off you go? Having your lesson learned? Coming back tomorrow, all attentive and prepared and with a clean tie and a crease in your trousers like a good boy?”

Taplow nodded hesitantly, a sparkle of hope in his eyes. Harris fumbled through his briefcase.

“Here’s the title: ‘The Browning Version’.” 

He put the Browning on the bridge of Taplow’s nose and pulled the trigger. Gray lumps of brain streaked down the chalk-board.

“I don’t think you would.” He went over to Hunter.

“So, Mr. Hunter. Just the two of us, now.”

“Wait. Please wait.”
Harris sighed. “I’m dog-tired. I’ve got a nagging headache and pyrosis and my digestion isn’t humouring me, either. So what is it? Any last words you feel compelled to speak? Some whining, begging and jabbering?”

“No. That would hardly be of any use, would it? It’s just that I hid something. When you frisked us, I managed to stash this away.” He pulled a mobile out of his trouser pocket.

“Well, if you hid it between your buttocks, I sure missed it. I’m no perv. But neither can I hear the cavalry approaching nor some copper’s voice creaking through a megaphone. The parking lot looks like it should be on a Friday afternoon – deserted. So what are you trying to tell me?”

“I’ve filmed it. All of it. Even the stabbing of David and that took place in quite an impossible angle. See for yourself.” He handed Harris the phone. “You’ve got to press…”

“I know how an iPhone works.”

And there it all was, in glorious High Definition – Gilbert, getting his throat sliced, the vicious slashing of Fletcher, the snuffing of John Taplow. The only thing not to be seen was Andrew Harris’ face.

“We could sell it.” Hunter chimed in.

“Sell it?” Harris was somehow bemused. The kid had balls. He was bat-shit crazy, sure, but he had balls.

“Mr. Harris – Snuff movies are like the holy grail of urban legends. Fuck the spider in the palm or the man with the hook. Good for a laugh. But snuff? You’ll probably not remember, with you downloading the renaissance poets or offing kids and stuff , but some years ago there was one  big bleeding ruckus, because Charlie Sheen, the actor, you know – he watched that Japanese movie, like  “Guinea Pig”, right, and with all the drugs and booze and having his dick sucked, vroom, his brain shoots off into spheres where no brain has been before and he calls the FBI, like, and they get all excited and the press has a field day, The Sun puts the story straight over the page three titties and all of a sudden everybody and his retarded bro is screaming “Ban The Filthy Snuff Films!” and of course it’s not real, I mean – this movie comes with a commentary track and a Making Off and shit. But the thing is, dude, I mean, Mr. Harris – the next weeks and months that fucking movie sold like an eighteen year old nun on a hooker auction. With something like a third generation bootleg you could make a down payment for your flat and then party in there till Armageddon, mate. Now, what you think the real deal would make, huh?”

Harris said nothing.

“Let’s face it. This calling of yours, freelance educating, bringing down the wrath of Hermes – you can hardly combine it with a nine-to-five, can you?  Travelling expenses, a place to stay and you sure don’t want to be a janitor the rest of your life, huh? But with me filming your lectures and selling them, we’d out-fuck the Duke of Winchester money-wise. And, yeah, well, get your message across, whatever. So? What do you say? Deal, Mr. Harris, mate?”

“Money always is a bit tight, that’s for sure. But how do you think we should distribute this … special product, young man?”

“My uncle Francis. When he was twelve, he started with the Krays. Then he was known as The Manchurian Malady. He knows people God doesn’t know about.”

Harris cocked his head. This was one astonishing kid.

“You truly are an interesting young man. Though not the most popular pupil, I suppose. Now – if, and that’s written with two capitals, if this works out, I’d pay you twenty-five per cent in the first year.”

“Twenty-five? You’re shitting me?”

“You’re an apprentice. What do you expect? It’s that or The Browning Version.”

“Twenty-five is mighty fine, sir.”

“I’ll keep the phone. Let’s go.”

Hunter ripped himself free from the chair he’d been glued to.

“One thing, Mr. Harris.”

“What is it now, Hunter?”

“We’ve got to stop and buy me some new trousers first. Think I can get an advance?”

By TM Simmler


Runner Up for March Madness: Mister Bryson by Mike Joyce

Jerry had a hard time believing the images still in his mind. The bright morning light chased them away until they were just fragments, routed and running through his brain as he lay under the tightly tucked covers of his nursing home bed. The night. Last night, in the dark. His roommate Will’s wrinkled and droopy cheeks, reflecting the fluorescent light from the open-door, twitching in the darkness. The crumpled white socks on the bed. The needle-nose pliers, digging deep under the white flaky skin, tearing out the big toenail and tugging on the whole leg. The socks pulled back on in a blotting, staining trail of red, pointing to the crime like an arrow.

            What kind of outfit was this? The mold in the shower stalls and the microwaved food was bad enough, but psychotic nursing staff was a different level altogether. Propping himself on the steel pole attached to the oxygen stand, Jerry strapped the rubber mask on his face and scuffled his way past the still sleeping Will out into the hall, the squeaky wheels of the stand echoing down the hall with his footsteps. His father never would have put up with this.

            “Good morning, Mister Bryson.”

            “Oh is it, is it a good morning?” Jerry said, facetiously looking to his sides in surprise as if waiting for an imaginary audience to answer.

            The bored eyes of the bubble-gum chewing clerk looked up at him, then down at the bright flashing colors on her phone.

            He pulled down the mask for added emphasis, “…because in my world, Casey, in my world ‘good mornings’ don’t involve your friend’s toenails getting ripped out.”

            She stopped chewing and picked up the phone, still bored eyes now looking at Jerry’s own. She pressed a single button and began speaking to the voice on the other end in a lilting, disbelieving voice.

            Think Jerry, think! Who could have done this? He was just slightly younger than the majority of patients at Swaying Oaks; due almost as much to his poor memory as his frequent, recurring bouts of emphysema. A silhouette lurked in his mind. Insubstantial, puffy, like it was wearing a too big jacket. Maybe a dress. Jerry’s eyes tightened black as he thought harder. The face, could he see the face? No. Maybe. A smile? Yes, a lipstick smile on a white face. White on white and surrounded by black. The face was eyeless and noseless, shaped like an isosceles pointing towards the ceiling. No, no Jerry that’s not right. How can a face be shaped like a triangle?

            Two women in business clothes, one the manager of Swaying Oaks and the other the acting supervisor, made their way to Jerry.

            “Gerald, what is going on here?” God, how he hated that name. So did his father. His father had always wanted a girl to baby, he had trusted them more.

            A curt conversation followed the trio back down the hall amid Jerry’s squeaking and scuffling and the two women’s clacking feet and popping eyes. Will was still knocked out. It turned out that he had been given heavy doses of a sedative. Jerry’s description was unhelpful, but they assured him the culprit would be caught soon. Sure, Jerry thought. These broads had a vested interest in making sure nobody got caught, in making sure no one knew this ever happened. That’s OK. He was up to the challenge of giving them the proof they needed.


            The next morning Jerry was startled awake. Sato, the Japanese nurse, had been staring at him in the sunrise. She was unflinching, remote. Suddenly a glued on smile leapt to her face. She tidied up his bedstand and then was on her away. Neither spoke a word. Her lips were red. Things started to click into place. Sato’s hair was black and fell down on her forehead in such a way that it created a triangle. In fact, Jerry thought, the only other nurse with black hair was Guadalupe, and her skin certainly wasn’t white. Even in his panicked state, Jerry thought of how beautiful and long her hair was. How much he wished he’d had hair like that.

            He reached over to the freshly organized bedstand, and opened the drawer to pull out his notebook where he kept his ephemeral thoughts. There, on top of the notebook, was a pair of pliers and two big toenails. Small. Almost feminine. But then, Will always did have a woman’s feet. Even the toenails were smooth and translucent. This settled it. Sato staring at him while he slept, the red lipstick and matching hair, her fooling around with the bedstand right before he found the evidence. Was she trying to frame him? Maybe drug him like she did Will? He pocketed the pliers.

            Sato was following him, he was sure of it. Earlier in the day she had approached him in the lunchroom, after lurking along the wall. She asked to refill his pills, since his usual nurse was out sick. He told her to go ahead. Lure her into a false sense of security. He wasn’t going to be taking any medication until this thing was resolved anyway. Now, she conveniently was giving one of the patients a walk along the river, just as he himself was going for a walk. How transparent. These Japs could get crazy, Jerry thought; if there was one thing he learned from his pop’s experiences in the Pacific is was that. That’s OK; you’ve got to be crazy right back. He could do crazy. Pops had taught him crazy. With a smirk, he pulled out the pliers and knelt down by a boulder placed there by some landscaper. He started sharpening the needlenose’s dull point, making sure Sato could see. She did.

            An hour passed, his sharpening now was done more out of principle than anything, the pliers as sharp as they’d ever get. The inactivity said volumes. Surely, Sato would have reported his behavior to the cinnamon breath of Casey the clerk if she hadn’t planted them herself in his drawer. The sun beat down and he started to close his eyes. Suddenly it was night; there was that eyeless woman again, black hair and red lips and white skin—running, smiling like a lunatic. By the riverside, by the bronze statue of an oak tree, she reached down and dug a hole, placing a steel key into the dirt. Waking up, he made his way frantically towards the statue. The oxygen stand he carted rattled recklessly on the brick path as he hurried along. Dropping to his knees he dug, dug all over until his fingers gripped metal.


            Jerry wasn’t sure what it all meant. Why he’d had the vision. He’d never especially believed in a God until that moment. People were living longer only to die slower, and nursing homes like Swaying Oaks were the kind of places people went to do it. Maybe, near the end of his life, he had finally found some sort of salvation. He thought of his father, jumpy and fidgety until his early death. Scars on his legs and scars inside his head from being a POW. He hoped his father had found it, too.

            Carrying the tank in his arms to avoid the squeaky cart, never before in his seventy years of life had he felt more like his father. He was sure he knew which room the key opened. The old coal room, locked-off with caution tape. It was the only likely place Sato could hide anything, far away in the closed wing. His hands shook in the dark as he stuck the key in. It turned. He flicked the light on.

            There, on top of a large metal cabinet in the cramped room, was a wig. A black wig of shoulder-length hair. Stepping closer, Jerry examined it with big eyes. Was this—was this skin? Human skin?  He pulled open the door—it was silent, recently greased. A gust of formaldehyde blew past him like a liberated animal. Inside the cabinet were strings. Strings hanging down from the top of the cabinet, drilled into the top with screws, looking like dozens of sinews and tendons. Jerry paused for a moment; maybe they were sinews and tendons. Attached at the end of each and rattling like bamboo windchimes were pieces, pieces of humans. Toes, fingers, four ears, and a single nose.

            On the shelf underneath, there was a face. The face looked familiar. The hair looked familiar. Cathy. Cathy, with black hair. Cathy, who had disappeared and was last seen by the river. Cathy, whose death went down in the newspaper as a suicide, body unfound. Two wrinkled circles—a woman’s breasts—were fashioned to bra straps with clear plastic sewing line. The nipples looked like hunting arrowpoints. Beneath the face and arranged in a perfect line were toenails and fingernails. Forty of them, at least. It wasn’t just Cathy. Translucent, feminine, elegant. On the underside, little pieces of putty were stuck. Red lipstick and a pair of clip-on earrings rested next to them along with a billowy, folded dress. Jerry had seen enough. He unscrewed the lightbulb, pulled out the pliers, took off the oxygen mask; his father never needed one of those. He sat down and waited for Sato to come to the scene of the crime.


            Sato clutched a camera in her hand, inching down the hall to the coal room. The door was unlocked. She hit the light. Nothing happened. Tense, she used the back of the camera’s dull electric glow to navigate. She saw a cabinet, and hit the button on the camera. Programmed to shoot 10 photos in quick succession, the room lit up with the flashes. So did Jerry. Completely naked, except for a black wig, flesh mask, and a woman’s breasts strapped across his chest.

            “You dirty Jap! Thought I was your bitch!”

            Sato ran. He pounded after her.

            “You lost the war as soon as you started it!”

Grabbing her shoulder he plunged the pliers into her back—the dead fingernails that had been stuck to his own living ones with putty scattered across the floor.

            “Treat me like an animal, treat Jerry Beth Bryson like a dirty bitch dog, HUH?!”

            Sato’s screams rang through the halls, eclipsed only by Jerry’s laughs. The earrings kept snagging on the dried, leathery skin on his face. He stabbed again. He grabbed her hair and pulled, smashing her head against the tile. She had such beautiful, feminine hair.

By Mike Joyce

2nd Place for March Madness: Easy Cum, Easy Go By Gill Hoffs






Wankers.  This place is full of ‘em.  Big ones, little ones, fat ones, thin ones.  Losers, arseholes, then… the ones lucky enough to be a bit like me.

The tall, athletic, clever ones, who earn the big bucks.  ‘Big bucks for hand fucks’, as I think of it.

“A new life for your wife!” is one of the tag lines on the pamphlet pile by the door.  “Room in your womb?  Then let a new life bloom!” says a ridiculously hopeful poster on the wall.

New lives?  Fuck that.  This place, this planet, is too crowded already.

I’m here for my sample.  I’m here to ‘help’.  I’m here to redress the balance.


There’s a pile of crusty-paged porn and a tatty pot plant in the cubicle, along with a beige leatherette chair still damp from the detergent the receptionist wipes door handles and sticky surfaces with between donors, and a half empty bottle of ‘Hot Stiff!’ lube.  The place stinks of cinnamon, presumably from the previous wanker’s liberal usage of lube, and I know I won’t be having that sprinkled on my coffee at the café tonight unless I want to puke it back up immediately.  I take the test tube from my trouser pocket, still warm from the lab, and uncork it.  The old lady at the front desk gave me a clear plastic cup with a barcode sticker on it when I passed her my forms.  My crème-de-la-crème sludges in.  My beauties.  My babies.  My murdering jizz.

Over and done with in half a minute, or less. 

So now, I have time to kill.  And noises to make.  Just in case.

A hairy Mary squints at me from the cover of a jazz mag on the table, and despite my best intentions, I get a semi.  Unbuttoning the fly, I’m glad I did without my undies.  I hate it when the waistband cramps my balls.  Out flops my friend for some fun…

I do without the lube, grasping the beast with both hands and throttling it till it spits a surge of spunk all over the table.  Wiping the worst of the stringy white mess away with a tissue, I hide the shiny smear with the pile of porn, feeling the well-used paper crinkle and crunch under my skin, and resist the urge to suck my fingers.

Then I tuck myself back in, spent and softening, pick up the tub, and leave.

I hand it to the receptionist, wink at her, and murmur:

“I was thinking of you, honey…”

Her expression doesn’t change.  I doubt she heard me over her constant sucking of detachable teeth and what smells like mint humbugs.

Strolling out into the winter dusk, I grin at a passing bus.  I meant what I said when I deposited my seed at the sperm bank.  But I wasn’t just thinking of her, oh no.  I was thinking of the human race.


Dicks and twats, the lot of them.  I don’t mean what they have between their legs; I mean them.  How I hate them, how I love it when they crash and burn.  There’s nothing sweeter to me than funeral flowers, withered tributes of white supermarket roses at a cyclist’s crash site, or the fuel fire stink of a pile-up on the motorway.  A brick tossed casually from a bridge can have such happy results.

Except for the bloodied faecal stench of a fuck-up at work.  Now, that is a treat.  Blood clots, placenta, piss and shit, and if I’m lucky, the sounds of a family in mourning.  If I’m really lucky, no sound at all, except the biiiiiiiip of a flatline and the obstetrician’s sigh.  I’m glad of the masks we have to wear.  They’re great for hiding my smiles.

Take this one right here.  Small.  Blonde.  Plump.  Fertile.  Weeks past her due date, so she’s here for a ‘sweep’.  I’ve checked her notes – ‘such a conscientious midwife’, I’ve heard the doctors remark – and see she’s not one of mine.  The father’s medical history’s all there, and there’s nothing about IVF, or rape.  Infection it is, then.

I murmur reassurances as she lies on the bed, legs akimbo.  Her thighs are smooth without even a hint of stubble, waxed maybe the day before yesterday, and her pussy’s framed with a golden triangle of fuzz.  It’s like it’s pointing the way, signing ‘insert the nasty shit here’.  I pull on gloves taken from the box I wiped bacteria in yesterday, and pull the wrists up tight with a snap.  Smile, and dive in.

“This might be a bit uncomfortable, let me know if anything feels strange…”

When I tear my eyes away from her juicy wetness, her pussy tight around my fingers – man is she gonna tear when the little bastard pushes its way out! – I wink at her, and strive to keep my breathing normal.  She smells so damn good; I want to inhale her, all of her.

Crooking my finger, the neck of her cervix tight and hot through the glove, I swivel and ‘sweep’ as if checking a door frame for dust.  Her breath shudders and her vaginal walls feel like they might break my finger.  I withdraw and snap my gloves off and into the bin, leaving her to wash her hands as the nurse hands her a wad of paper towel and eases white maternity knickers up her legs.

She might get a fever tonight.  She might get it tomorrow.

She’ll develop something soon. 

I hope I’m on shift to ‘help’.


I check the obituaries with my phone, then the memorial pages online.  “Gone too soon…”  “Born asleep…”  No, you stupid cunts, dead DEAD DEAD!

Still, it’s a good start to the evening.  I recognise some of the surnames from hospital notes – amazing how people just assume that if a glove comes from a box it must be sterile – and some of the faces from hanging around the clinics.  Recipients of my ‘spermy special’, I hope.

All that time in the lab, all the missed dates and pizzas, and misshapen mice, seem worthwhile now.

I can picture and near enough taste the gore.  My imagination’s not the best, but I’ve been on shift when the odd one’s come in before now.

Getting comfy on the sofa, I slip my hand round my cock and remember…


She was part of my first batch, several cities ago.  Jennifer?  Inez?  Sofia?  Margaret?  Something, it doesn’t matter.  In she came, screaming, four months gone.  Well, everything gone.  She just didn’t know it yet. 

Writhing around in her own bloodied mess, clots sliding off the rubber gurney, splatting on the floor, squishing under our feet, making us slip, she clutched her abdomen as more, more, more gushed from between her legs.  Black and purple and stinking.  The deep dark red of a Bad Baby.

It didn’t want to be born.  It just wanted her pain.  It’s easy to engineer them to crave adrenalin and endorphins if you know how.

I made the right noises, soothed her appropriately, paged for a doctor, and thought of the tinkering in the lab, the engineering and messed up mouse models that went into this – this murder proceeding before our eyes.

The doctor came at a run, sorted drips and fluids and bloods, but she might as well have thrown the bags on the floor and stamped on them.  That’s where the O-neg ended up.

All too soon, the stupid woman was still.  I damn near came in my pants with pride.  Later, when I sucked the blood and shit and amniotic fluid from my uniform, I did.

Thinking of it now, I do again.

Right into a petri dish.

There you are, my beauties.

Back to the lab again…

By Gill Hoffs