A Vulgar Display of Power

Rain was pounding the windscreen hard. The wipers were going so fast, Jodie thought they were going to snap and fly off somewhere.  She hadn’t realized how drunk she actually was until she got into the car. The tequila shooters had been a bad idea. A real bad idea. Her pick-up was swerving recklessly between lanes on the road, some drivers sounding their frustration with their horn. Fortunately, the traffic was fairly light and there wasn’t a cop car in sight.

Her French husband, Jacques, had been continually harassing her when she was in the bar, bombarding her with text messages and phone calls. She’d ignored them for a couple of hours, but as the alcohol took hold, she figured she’d let him stew for long enough. I mean, what kind of douche bag tells Jodie what to do? She’s the type of girl that can do whatever the fuck she likes. She takes no orders from anyone, at least that’s what she told her best friend, Christine, as the two of them licked salt from their clenched fists.

‘Yeah, he actually told me that I need to clean up after Muffin. That’s a man’s job. I don’t want to clean up Muffin’s doo-doos. They stink!’ Jodie said, throwing her head back as the tequila nosedived into her willing mouth.

‘Like OMG Jodie.  Who does he think he is?’ Christine replied in her Californian airhead accent. ‘What a total dick.’

Jodie pictured Muffin; her pedigree Chihuahua and her pride and joy. She liked to dress him up in different clothes, sometimes to match what she was wearing. She smiled warmly as the bartender refilled their shot glasses. ‘Yeah, you’re right. He is a total dick. That’s why I’ve been screwing around on him.’

‘What? Ohh Emmm Geee. Who with?’ Christine asked her.

‘You know his friend Phil? The guy he works with?’

Christine nodded her head slowly, her jaw agape. Jodie smiled naughtily at her. ‘Yeah, him.’

‘Like, I’m so jealous. He’s such a hottie.’

‘I know, he has a body to absolutely die for. He puts Jacques to shame in the bedroom. We nearly got caught last week.’ Christine’s eyes widened as Jodie continued.

‘Jacques was meant to be staying late for some business meeting, so I called Phil and he came over. Then, later on when we were doing it for like, the fifth time, Phil heard the door opening downstairs. Thank God he heard it over all of my screaming,’ Jodie said, stifling a laugh. ‘It was Jacques. He came up to the bedroom and I was lying on the bed naked, and had to pretend I was doing it for him. Waiting for him to come home. Phil rolled out from under the bed and blew me a kiss while Jacques was standing there unaware.’

The girls continued drinking for a few hours. Jacques was still texting Jodie, in hope that she would come home and forgive him. After all, it was her 30th birthday.

A few hours passed. Jodie and Christine were well and truly drunk. They were sitting in a booth opposite the bar and were deciding on what song to put on the jukebox next, when Jodie received yet another text message.

I’m so sorry. Please come home. It’s your birthday and I’ve made a nice meal for you. Jac xoxo

‘Ugh. Jacques just text me again. I’m gonna have to go home; he’s made me a romantic meal for my birthday – woo-hooooo!’, Jodie said, sarcasm oozing from her words. Christine was so wasted she didn’t even argue, instead she sat on a stool, her short skirt not keeping much from the imagination, chatting to a cute guy working at the bar.

Jodie stumbled out to her car after saying her goodbyes, annoyed that Jacques had ruined her evening.

The rain started to calm as she neared the house. She stopped the pick-up truck at the momentous gates to their beautiful mansion, and clicked the button connected to her key chain. After they opened, she drove up and parked beside the garage.

She made her way inside the house, trying to get in from the drizzly rain, stumbling a few times in the process.

Something was different. The house was dark – very dark. Jodie felt the walls, searching for a light switch, but unable to find one. She staggered through the corridor, eventually making it to the dining room.

There were candles scattered all around the large table, the flames standing still and bright. Jodie noticed there was a large, silver display tray sitting peacefully behind the candles. The lid was still firmly on top of it, beautifully reflecting the candlelight around the entire room. A bottle of Cristal champagne sat beside the silver tray, hundreds of little droplets of condensation

‘Hello, my dear,’ whispered Jacques, walking from behind her. She jumped with fright and let out a little shriek.  He leant in and kissed her gently on the neck. He was carrying two plates, one in each hand. He placed them gently on the wonderfully decorated table, as he took his place.

‘Please, sit down’, he said to her, beckoning with his eyes. It smelled delicious, she thought, inhaling deeply into her nostrils. She did as she was told, for once, and sat down at the table.

Jacques had made her favourite meal; sautéed garlic potatoes, creamed cabbage, and venison with a red wine jus. The champagne opened with a pop, some of its contents leaking down the sides of the bottle. Jacques’ willing tongue licked up the expensive dregs.

He sat for a moment and watched his wife pick up the small slithers of venison with her fork and place them gently into her mouth.

The meat was mind blowing; Jodie’s eyes had closed with the pure ecstasy of the flavour. It was so juicy and tender, literally melting in her mouth.

The married couple didn’t exchange words throughout dinner. In her drunken state, Jodie quickly finished what was on her plate, stopping only a few times to gulp some of the Cristal champagne from her glass.  ‘I take it you enjoyed your meal?’ Jacques asked her, tilting his champagne glass slightly.

‘Yes. It was delicious’, she replied, wiping her mouth with the linen napkin. ‘That’s probably the only thing you’re good at; cooking.’ She grinned at him, her eyes fixated on his. He returned the smile, maintaining eye contact.

‘Where’s my little baby Muffin?’ Jodie asked him, breaking the awkward silence.

With this, Jacques let out a cackle. She glanced at him as he lowered his glass to the table. He grinned like a Cheshire cat, his perfect teeth glinting in the candlelight. ‘You tell me, my dear. How did he taste?’

‘WHAT?!’ Jodie shouted, quickly awakening from her drunken stupor. Jacques was now laughing uncontrollably. ‘I got you back, whore!’, he said unable to wipe the grin from his face. ‘Muffin?’ Jodie whispered, gradually realising what Jacques had told her. She glanced down at her empty plate. This is some kind of sick joke, she thought. It must be.

‘And now,’ Jacques said, standing from the table, ‘the pièce de résistance!’ He placed his hand on the silver tray.

Jodie leaned forward and saw her misshapen face in the reflection, feeling the alcohol turn against her. As she did so, Jacques swiftly lifted the lid, exposing Muffin’s boiled and hacked cadaver. The smell was what made the contents of Jodie’s stomach explode from her lipstick smudged lips. Vomit spilled over the table, little pieces of dinner floating around, dripping from the table onto her lap, spoiling her expensive skirt. When the heaving ceased, Jodie wiped tears from her eyes and picked up a piece of Muffin’s acid soaked flesh. ‘You bastard!’ she screamed, throwing it toward Jacques.

Only, he wasn’t there.

Where is he, she thought, turning her head around in confusion.

Jacques allowed her to turn her beautiful face toward him, giving her enough time to see the hammer as it smashed into the side of her head, caving it in marvellously.

By Conor Mckee

In the Other Bedroom

The staircase winded up around the side of the old building, rusted metal steps rattling beneath them, taking them further up above the grungy alley below. In front of her the building owner pulled out a large, overloaded key chain and brought them to a stop in front of the wooden door.

The man reminded Sherri just a bit of her father. He had a similar blue-collar demeanor about him, the fingers he used to remove a padlock thick and callused from laboring in the shoe repair store below the apartment he opened up for her. He smiled and gestured for her to enter first, his teeth a bit yellowed from too many years smoking she suspected, just as his gut bulged a bit from just as many years drinking.

“Is that the only lock?” she asked, gesturing towards the padlock he’d pulled loose, only capable of being put in place if someone was already on the outside of the door.

He glanced down, frowned, and said, “No, just put it up when no one is renting. There’s a lock in the knob as well.”

She stepped into the furnished living room. The aged sofa and dining table looked old in a rather beaten down, dreary kind of way, lacking any sense of antique or elegance. The brown, shaggy carpet was frayed, nearly rubbed flat in certain places, the wooden floor beneath it all but visible. Water stains lined the once white walls, and up above the plaster slumped down.

The stove and refrigerator faired just a bit better than the living room, still marked with rust, but not overtaken by it. The entire kitchen consisted of a square corner of the living room.

“Bedroom is this way,” the owner said, gestured for her to follow. He turned on a light to a long, narrow hallway ending in two doors: one to the bathroom and one to the bedroom. The bathroom was all but a closet with a toilet, sink, and faucet built high up on the wall, a brown drain in the middle of the floor.

The bedroom matched the rest of the apartment, and Sherri was glad she didn’t suffer from any kind of claustrophobia, or else she figured she would’ve already run from the place.

The location was what brought her there, her new employer just up the street in the busy downtown district, so densely packed only the daring few bothered to drive down those streets. If she kept her current place uptown she had at least an hour and a half drive to get to work, if not longer, and as awful as the apartment looked, the promise of a five minute walk sounded too pleasant.

“I’ll take it,” she told him. The owner smiled, nodded, and led them back down the hall towards the living room.

Sherri paused halfway down it and tilted her head towards the patch of brighter white on the wall in the shape of a door. “What is this?” she asked.

The man stopped, glanced over. “Second bedroom, but I sealed it off. Use it for storage, and I’ve got a ladder in the main shop leading up to a hole I cut in the floor. Rarely ever use it these days, so you don’t have to worry about me stomping around.”

Sherri took a step closer to the patch, almost thought she heard the sound of movement on the other side, faint but clear, but when she turned to ask the owner he’d already continued on to the living room, had the contract in his hand. Sherri hurried up to him.

“Thought I heard something in there,” she said.

The man glanced up at her, then towards the hallway. “Shouldn’t be any mice. Place might not look the prettiest, but I keep things sanitary and spray when needed. I’ll have to check the storage. Like I said, been awhile since I’ve been in there. You need a pen?” He gestured towards her with the contract.

Had the man not resembled her father so much she might’ve let the apprehension overwhelm her. It wasn’t just the sounds, but the place itself, so old in an almost seedy kind of way, a dark, filthy alley her only view whenever she’d open the door.

But the owner’s smile seemed to reassure her. “I’ve got one,” she said. She took a pen out of her purse and signed on all the lines he told her to.

****

She had been afraid in the weeks before moving in that the noise of the city would be too much for her to take, but on her first night she understood how well the walls of that old building protected her. Stepping into the apartment seemed to seal her off from the rest of the world, for better or for worse. Though she appreciated the quiet when it came time to go to sleep for the night, in that first week she found herself staying out later and later to avoid too much time inside the apartment.

The new city acted as a convenient excuse to be out, offering her countless streets filled with something new to find. When she did force herself to return home she did her best to keep in touch with the friends and family she’d left behind to gain her new job. She had her laptop open, looking for any new details about her mother’s garden, when the scratching drew her eyes off the screen and towards the hallway.

She sat on the couch, sunken low, the springs ruined, eyes wide as she stared down the hallway. She’d heard light thumping during the day just once since moving, and assumed it was the owner checking out the storage area. She hadn’t seen him since, nor asked him about the mice.

She set the laptop down and walked towards the hallway and the patch of fresher paint marking the closed door. It wasn’t just scratching, she didn’t think, but more like rubbing, and the image popped into her head of a hand rubbing along the other side of the wall.

She pressed her own hand against the wall and the sound stopped. Leaning in closer, Sherri moved her ear towards the wall, blocking out all other sound, aware of the sound of her own heartbeat picking up in preparation.

Feet moved on the other side, shuffling along, the sound clear for just a few seconds before it ended and left her frozen.

Her own feet slid as silently as they could across the floor towards the front door. Not a single sound came from her until she had the front door open and stepped out into the balmy summer night. The stink of the trash from the alley below drifted up to her.

The owner had given her his number in case anything broke down, and she dialed it then, phone pressed firmly against her ear, her front door still open so she could see if anything happened. Cool air drifted out through the open door while the phone rang endlessly. Thoughts of hotels and the potential costs added themselves up in her mind, nearly convinced she would have to eat the costs when the voice cut off the ringing.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Shofner?”

“Sherri? It’s close to eleven. Something busted?”

“I heard a sound from the sealed bedroom. I heard something walking around in there.”

A pause on the other end as she heard what she assumed was the man sitting up in bed. “Walking around?”

“I’m positive.”

“Couldn’t have been a person. Room is sealed aside from the trapdoor, and nothing worth stealing in there. Hell, if a homeless man broke into the shop, I doubt he’d trap himself in an old, sealed bedroom for some sleep. Besides, I’ve got an alarm system on my store. I’d know if someone broke in. Look, I found some droppings on the floor in there; don’t know how old they are, so there might be some mice. I’ll stay on top of it and get an exterminator if I have to. Don’t you worry.”

His tone sounded so certain, so calm in the face of her paranoia, and standing on the outer landing with the sounds of the city drifting towards her, and the empty apartment in front, she let her fear diminish.

“Must’ve just been mice,” she said, slumped back against the railing, her right hand running through her hair. “I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Think nothing of it. I’ll look into the pest problem tomorrow. I’m going to get off and get some sleep. Might want to do the same yourself.”

“I will, thank you.”

She stepped back into the well-lit apartment and closed the door behind her. She stood motionless, listening for anything, but nothing stirred. Slowly she returned to the closed doorway, pressing her ear completely against the wall, but still couldn’t hear a thing, and after a minute of trying, gave up and returned to her computer. She shut the machine down.

“You do need sleep,” she told herself, and followed the suggestion.

****

No sound or movement woke her just after three in the morning. She lifted herself up, eyes only half open, and saw the shining red numbers on the nightstand. The pillows welcomed her back, her eyes slipping closed again, but her bladder stopped the desired sleep from taking her away.

For a few minutes she sat with her eyes open, weighing whether she thought she would be able to ignore it, before finally deciding it would be best to just get it over with.

She didn’t bother with the lamp given how short the trip was. The bathroom light blinded her; eyes closed through the bulk of it until she had flushed and pulled herself back up. Only then did she let her eyes open a bit more, fixed on the ground, and saw the dirty footprint on the tiled floor.

For a second her mind didn’t react, too sluggish with sleep to grasp what she stared at, the information clawing its way into her consciousness. Her breath hitched when she understood what she stared at, half of another footprint visible at the edge of the open door leading to the carpeted hallway.

Sherri left the bathroom light on as she stepped out into the hallway to stare at the doorway torn open halfway down the hall. It had happened from the inside, the plaster covering the floor, bits of it still hanging loose, no light visible from within the opening the destruction had created.

All sounds ceased, not even her own breathing or heartbeat heard as she listened. From deep within that other room she could faintly her something, but the sound was too silent to distinguish what.

She slipped as silently as she could into her bedroom and pulled on a pair of pants and a shirt. She’d left her phone in the living room, thinking nothing of it at the time, and now she had no choice but to walk down the hallway to get out of the apartment. She didn’t even have her keys to potentially use as a makeshift weapon.

The light was still on in the bathroom, the only light, and Sherri left it on, but didn’t turn on the hallway light, not wanting to alert the intruder any more than she already had. Stopped outside her bedroom she listened again, but could still only hear that same, faint sound. Her mind offered her too many possibilities, too many things that could go wrong as she stared into the darkness, at the long stretch of black leading to the living room.

She worked up all the courage she had and ran. She resisted the urge to close her eyes as she hurried down the hallway, towards the exposed, open doorway, almost seeing a shape dart out from the darkness to grab hold of her. Nothing did, no attacker to stop her from reaching the front door and grabbing at the knob.

Her entire body thrust against the door, shoved it inward, but it resisted, held against her push and left her trapped inside. Panic crawled up her throat, squirmed in her stomach, and pricked the hairs on the back of her neck. She turned the knob and shoved as hard as she could. Something metal rattled on the other side, kept her from getting out, and she saw in her mind the padlock the owner had given to her.

Her cell phone and laptop had vanished from the coffee table. She let her eyes sweep across the dark living room, searching, but they were gone, taken by the same person who had sealed her in.

A terrible urge to scream almost erupted from her. No cries for help would matter, and that knowledge kept them at bay, left her body numb and her fingers trembling.

She turned on the lamp beside her. Alerting whoever lurked in the other bedroom didn’t seem to matter anymore. In the kitchen she grabbed an edged steak knife, the closet thing to a weapon she had in the place.

Though she loathed the thought of walking into that bedroom, she hated even more the tension of waiting, the sense of helplessness it filled her with.

The hallway light brightened the apartment even more, emphasized the darkness in the open doorway littered with the remains of the wall. She stepped up to the threshold and stared in at the bare, aged room on the other end, the walls brick, and a form hunched low on the floor.

Nothing lunged at her as she stepped over the debris into the bedroom, her knife up. A nude, emaciated man sat against the wall, his legs pulled up, arms wrapped around them, face buried in the knees. He had long hair, probably once blonde, but now brown with dirt, the hair draped over the knees. Thin cuts and bruises covered the bulk of the body, and the man rocked gently back and forth, a soft almost sobbing coming from him as he moved.

No part of Sherri could grasp what she witnessed, her knife still raised, but less certain about using it, trying to understand what had happened.

She had to struggle to get any words to form in her dry mouth, forced to swallow twice before she could utter anything. “Hello?” she said, and at the sound of her voice the man’s rocking stopped.

His head lifted up, hair parting to let her see his face, the eyes he locked on her so bloodshot they appeared almost entirely red. He lifted his face further up from his knees, and Sherri saw the bottom half. His jaw and tongue were gone, nothing below his nose but ragged, scarred tissue dipping into his neck. She jolted back at the sight, the knife firmly back up as the man pulled himself from the floor.

The warped flesh around where the jaw had been stretched further down, like a cut twisting through his chest, and where his heart was she saw a much deeper wound.

Something rattled in the living room, drew Sherri’s attention, and as soon as she looked away the emaciated man charged towards her.

He uttered a low, wailing cry as he moved, a string of red-tinged saliva flowing from the hole where his mouth had once been. He crashed into her, his dirty fingers groping for her face, trying to reach into her mouth, and she tasted the foul skin just briefly as she jerked her head back.

The knife raked across his exposed stomach and he jerked back from the pain, gave her a chance to squirm out from under him. When he lunged against she thrust the tip of the blade into his right palm, splashed his blood on the dusty wood flooring.

His hands tried to latch onto her legs as she pulled herself up and ran for the door. She managed to jerk her legs free, but her feet caught against a larger chunk of plaster, sent her face first into the floor, dazed her momentarily. Before she could begin to rise she saw the man lunge for her again, this time crawling on top of her, deformed face leaning in closer to hers. She could hear the sickening sound of air sucking in and out of the hole in the throat.

She brought the knife back up, swung it towards him, but he grabbed her wrist before she could cut into him. He wrenched the blade from her hand and pulled himself up. Closer to the hallway, Sherri had a better view of the deformed man, aware he was older than she’d first thought, deep wrinkles around his eyes, and she saw as well he was crying as he stared down at her.

Before she could move he lifted the knife to his own throat and tore through the skin, moaning loudly as he twisted it. He stumbled back from her onto the floor, the knife slipping from his hand, but his fist tightened, brought up the blade again, and dug it into himself.

Sherri pulled herself up and watched the red gush out of the body, stream across the floor, the body jerking with spasms, but before it slumped dead she saw the man’s hand move towards the blood running from him. He smeared his fingers through the red, forming disjointed letters, his hand slowing with each one, struggling to finish the message, and going limp before the final word could be written, but Sherri recognized the Thank You he had been attempting to say.

The door in the living room thumped open. She fell to her knees to grab the knife out of the dead man’s fingers.

She turned, trapped in the bedroom, and watched the owner’s face appear from the hallway, still so much like her father, adding some additional perversion to the grin he gave her.

“Don’t come near me,” she screamed.

He winced noticeably at her words, left eye twitching. “I hate a raised voice,” he said. “Voice like that should be earned, not taken for granted.” He spoke in a low tone, the grin more in his eyes than his mouth.

“You kept him here?” she said, disbelieving, the confidence in the man’s face taking away her own.

“His time has passed.” He moved towards her, ignored the knife she had raised. She lunged forward, aimed for his chest, but he grabbed her hand before she could hope to get him, crushed down on the fingers so hard the knife fell from them, clattered on the floor at her feet.

She screamed in pain, her back pressed against the wall, and before the cry could even end his hand was somehow already grabbing hold of her mouth, the owner’s body too fast, jerking forward, mouth grinning wide again.

Behind him the lights clicked off, left the two in total darkness, yet Sherri could swear she saw some faint glow, letting her barely see the outline of the owner’s face as something came over it. In the darkness she couldn’t say if the face truly changed, if it warped into something else, something other than human, because she understood she wanted to believe he wasn’t human, to believe no person could do his as his fingers crawled further into her and held her mouth opened wide.

“No screams,” he said.

She offered him the only act of defiance she knew and screamed as loud as she could into the darkness as his hand jerked downward, and took her jaw with it.

By Philip M. Roberts

http://www.philipmroberts.com

Me, You . . . and They

I drink the sound of you
Begging
In the darkness.
Begging for what I’ve given,
And for what you’ve taken
From me,
And I pray now
For the silence
To overtake
Your blackened heart.

You didn’t know that’s what I was writing on that piece of parchment stained with your blood. Things have been a blur lately, all emotions, anger, and don’t touch me because I’ll scream. It wasn’t the first piece of parchment I’d burned and buried under the light of the full moon, but it would be the last. The last words I would never speak to you.

“You clumsy fucking worthless piece of shit!” was not the only peevish and pedantic phrase you used to scream into my face after a long night of booze and pills and dangling your cock at every skanky twat working the freeway. Your dinner was cold. You didn’t like the way I vacuumed the carpet or cooked your special meat. I had forgotten to record your favorite program, or maybe I’d simply bought the wrong kind of beer.You liked to call it an intervention, when you humbled me with your fist. Said it would make me a better lady, wife, and someday — mother. Said the discipline would save my soul from the voodoo spirits that had borne me out of some trailer trash womb, but it wasn’t, and it wouldn’t. It was simply your way of justifying the use of all the angry words you had become addicted to.

I didn’t have to listen, though.

I had this place I liked to hide whenever you got in one of your moods and decided to kick start a marital uprising. I liked to go there when it was dark and snow covered. I prayed there, sobbed there, and bled there. In the dirt on the floor, I would scratch things down in inches of minutia and then straightaway cross them out. I would leave pieces  of myself in the corners — dissected thoughts and bits of hair and fingernails mixed with mud and saliva. I’ve piled up the worry stones over the years, on the stoop and up in the eves. I’d even wrote and re-wrote your obituary and passed the judgements I wasn’t entitled to pass, but nothing ever happened. Nothing good, anyway. Just dark, and cold, and quiet. Maybe it was like they said, when the  shadows came to me hollow-eyed in the misty dawn. Maybe I wasn’t soulful enough, hungry enough, wilful enough … to leave the memories well enough alone, but I wouldn’t stop trying. Praying of them. Begging mercy of them.

I took your hair and fingernails while you slept. Scraped your semen from my bloody bludgeoned cunt when you finally said you’d had enough. I’d even collected your fallen eyelashes when I pretended I loved you and kissed you softly, and your spit when, in anger, it hit my face. I stood in the circle, called the watchtowers, and drew down the moon a thousand times since we took our vows. Since then I vowed to put you in your grave. I thought I might try arsenic and old lace. It grew wild and beautiful in the abandoned field behind our house. That’s when they first came to me, when I was barefoot, gathering weeds in the wood. They said they wanted the meat, but I didn’t know what they meant by that. Just the meat — no hair, no bone, no gristle. Only meat. So I made offerings: rats, chickens, even your dog. Gutted it with my bare hands in the mid-day sun, but I got nothing in return, except a beating — from you.

Until now.

I went to the shed, you see. Even though you told me not to, ever. I found your “things” and wondered how many you’d tortured before me. I couldn’t remember you ever being this quiet when I put the claw hammer in your skull. Couldn’t remember you being this heavy when you lay on top of me, or that your skin was this tough. I was clumsy, like you always said, hacking away at you until the sun was set and the crickets had started chirping in the field. I lit a candle with my bloodied hands and just stared at your meat in the flickering light. You looked different to me then. I could finally see a softness in your glistening sinews.

They came for you that night, finally. After all the years and all my tears, they came, clicking and clawing their way out of the shadows to gnaw upon your rotted meat. They were hungry and waiting … for me.

I would never starve them like you did.

By Cheryl Anne Gardner

Ponder That Pedicure

You’ve seen the adverts for the fish that eat feet; they only gnaw the skin, just a layer or two.  Just enough to give a person feet that look as if they’d never been walked on.  I’d like feet like that, I would, especially with it being sandal season and my heels having cracks you could wedge a coin in.  But the idea of fish consuming me, tasting me, wriggling against my skin… it gives me the shivers.

“They are sterile, madam.  No diseases.  And all our clients ever feel is the smallest of tickles, nothing more.  They have such tiny mouths, just a few flakes is a mouthful.  All they would eat is the dead layer on top.  One treatment is enough for most clients, but those with more stubborn calluses may benefit from another visit.”

The manager had tried to persuade me of his salon’s safety, but I had to pay attention to the prickles behind my knees and the cool breath of fear on the back of my neck.  We agreed on the seaweed soak instead, with him performing the final pedicure afterwards.  He’d stay late as a favour to such a long standing client.

It was warm to start with, wonderfully so.

He pottered about the place, checking windows and re-stocking cupboards, closing the blinds to keep out the night.  Drowsing in the chair, I thought about my To Do list for the party I was catering this weekend.  ‘Veggie Tables’ was providing meat-free cuisine for a wedding reception and although I knew the forty head meal was ready and waiting for me to heat and serve up tomorrow, I liked to run through the logistics in free moments, just to ease my mind.  Cheesecakes and jellies were already in the fridge, I used seaweed extract to make them set.  Sitting in a soporific slouch, I knew how they felt.

The lights were on low, and the seat was so comfortable I felt almost as though I was drifting away.  My body was going to sleep, my mind drowsing, and all I could hear was the boiler gurgling upstairs.  The heating must have been on full blast because I was getting hotter and hotter, and starting to feel sticky with sweat.  Or something.

I tried to rouse myself, stir out of the chair, open my eyes and my mouth, call to the manager to cool things down.

But I couldn’t.

With enormous effort I managed to stick my tongue just a tiny bit between my lips.  Ugh, something tasted salty, foul… and slightly familiar.  Something from the kitchen, maybe.  Something I’d worked with a lot.

My right eye opened, just a crack, but all I could see was brown.  My nose felt funny, and soon every breath I took was filtered through fuzz.

As it moved within, I heard someone at my shoulder, tormenting me as my ears filled with new growth.

“If you’d stuck with the fish, there would be no revenge.”

My chest laboured, lungs filling, solidifying.

“Plants give us the very air we breathe; they like it when we eat the animals.”

My hair shifted as the seaweed spread across my scalp, creeping through my careful curls,

“Better that than eating them…”

setting my poor body, gone to jelly in the chair.

By Gill Hoffs

Virgin Autopsy

You make me feel alive;
brand new
when you speak to me of death
it makes my blood sing when you tell me
that I would make the most beautiful corpse on earth

put me on the slab
fold my arms across my chest
pull out the scalpels and the knives
it’s time to dress this doll
all the way to the fucking nines

it’s the only way I know how
to tell you I love you

bruise me, abuse me
because I care
hit me
slit me
because I’m there

slice the skin and fold it back
expose my bones
display my veins
reveal the beauty within

kiss my brain
caress my heart
stroke my diaphragm

I’m yours for life any way you slice me

peel back the sinew and the flesh
bare the secrets deep inside,
unfold the silent mystery–
the sentiments I never spoke,
brought to life
revealed
by my virgin autopsy

By Cynthia Ruth Lewis

Sucker

She didn’t do it for money. She did it for blood.

They always said she had a mouth on her.  Back when it happened, just a few years before, when she was in the bar and somebody took her home, when she didn’t feel well, all that rum in her, maybe too much, she kept saying no, no more, that’s enough, stop, I don’t feel well, but he kept on with it, kept touching her, rubbing, prodding, urging, fingers craving, hands pushing, mouth angered and progressively abusive, forcing, pinning down, she didn’t want it, he said she did, it was he said, he said, she couldn’t say anything, she was muted by his lust.

But was that a long time ago? It seemed a century, but it also seemed like yesterday, like just last night.

She started practicing soon after. Started going here, there, all over. One then another then another and then yet another. It was easy at first, she was a natural. But she knew she needed to get better, she needed to get herself in the best shape, her mouth, that is. The mouth was the thing, the suck of the mouth. She always had a mouth, they said. Well now they were going to get the fullness of it.

She kept practicing. She got better at it. Like the one who fisted her hair and yanked her off, who screamed at her that she was hurting him, that he didn’t like to be bitten, just sucked. And then her face, that mouth of hers, blood on her lips, her tongue. His blood. That was it, he said, you’re a fucking crazy bitch.

Well, she was a crazy bitch. She wanted to get crazier. She kept practicing, kept up with the suck.

Another one and another. More, so many more. She invited them over, told them she was lonely, told them she just needed some company, needed them to be there. They had liquor in them, they would come, they would come for sure. They came, they kept coming, she kept practicing, they kept telling her to stop, she was sucking too hard, fuck, just stop, it hurts, oh fuck! But it was fine because there were more, word must have gotten around, some of them heard about her, she had a reputation, they kept coming, some of them curious, some of them not believing the hype. “Man that girl can suck cock!” Yeah, yeah. Girls suck cock all the time, why was she any different. She was different. But no one mentioned the blood. She kept having them over, they kept coming.

And some of them were repeats. Some of them liked it. It hurt like hell, they said to their dudes who asked how it went, but somehow it was hot.

She was getting better. She was making progress with the suck.

*

Was it years ago? Yes, years. She should have pressed charges. She let it go, just wanted him gone, he left but he was still here, still right here. Where was he now?

She put out an ad. It was short, sweet, attractive. Just like her.

SWF, 25, loves to suck.

 

Days passed but the nights were filled with more, just not HIM. It was good, she kept herself in shape, that mouth of hers. But she was growing bored, she wanted more than this, wanted more of that blood. The ones who came over limited her, stopped her before she went too far with it, before things got out of hand, so to speak. A few did go farther, not realizing that she not only bit blood but sucked it too. They just thought she was a blood biter. So. She succeeded. She liked the taste of cum, her cunt fucking loved it, but cum was easy. Blood was hard to get. She finally started sucking it out of them too, she was getting stronger. And cum mixed with blood made the cum taste even better. They grinned and laughed and moaned as they watched, not minding seeing their blood on her mouth as she looked up at them, her eyes wanting to see him, not any of them.

She got a response, it came suddenly. She clicked the mouse. She responded. One came over, it wasn’t him. Another, then another. She would do this. She would do this until he came. She would do it.

Two months, nothing, but everything. Her mouth was ultra. The freaks started showing up, wanting it, she gave it, she took it. A few of them passed out, she sucked too much out of them. They never came back once they revived and left. Others, and more of them, her mouth was ready, so fucking ready for HIM. Where the fuck was he?

Well, here he was. It took another month for him to show.

The door opening to him, her smile telling him all had been forgiven, him stepping inside, she closing the door, locking it. Feeling how ready her mouth was. It was on fire.

“You saw the ad.”

He nodded, he never had been one to say much. He just fucked, came, and left. But not tonight. Tonight would be different.

“Drink?” He liked it before shit started. She got him some whiskey, but not too much, just a taste. “Fuck,” he said, that remembered grin of his making her sick of him already, “that’s it?” And her nodding, her sweetly given smile, that forgiven-you smile of hers, that mouth. He threw back the sip and kissed her. Yes, a good one, he was good at that, but she knew he knew he was good at a lot of things. That tongue of his, thrusting, poking, licking inside her dutiful mouth. And she accepting it, for now.

Sure, she got excited, she was human wasn’t she, her pussy got wet as fuck, of course it did, she was a girl who liked it, a girl who liked everything about it, and more. She wanted it, sure she did, she wanted it, even from him, even now, even after all these years.

She had just been 19, then.

But now it was different, now she was more mature, she had passed through a dark tunnel, one he had created, and now she was on the other side, she was practiced, eager and ready, yes, for him.

He seemed stronger, rougher, but that was fine, she liked that too, she felt her cunt get tighter, wetter, it was only natural. She could handle it, just wait. Just let him fist her hair, spank her ass, ram his cock in her cunt, all that again, all of it, and when he pulled out he fishhooked her mouth, that fucking mouth of hers, she was ready for what he wanted to give her. She felt her throbbing swollen cunt where he had been, her juices running down her legs, inside her thighs, sure she was excited, but she had his thick cock in front of her now, and his fists were tight with her hair in them. It all came back, it was similar to before, and here he was again, that cock, that same cock, right in front of her, jutting up and ready for that mouth of hers. Well, then. Give it to me, fucker.

She licked the head, teasing him like she was supposed to do, grabbing his ball sac and lapping, licking, tasting…not yet sucking. She wanted him, yes, of course she wanted him, but he wasn’t just a cock, he was HIM, and she had him right here. She opened her mouth, he was bigger than most, she opened wide, took him, felt his hands fisting her down on it, forcing it deeper, she tasted herself, tasted her own excitement but that was nothing, she knew what she wanted, and she was going to get all of it.

She sucked him easily at first, felt him get incrementally bigger. And then she started.

“FUCK!” he shouted. She felt those fists tighten, but he didn’t pull her off. She bit harder, sucked harder. Her mouth, that mouth of hers was ready, it was at the apex. She was going to make him her ultimate trophy. Harder, she turned it up, got her mouth in higher gear, her tongue engaged under him, her teeth gripping tighter. Soon, his blood, and that ignited her. “FUCKING BITCH!” She felt his hands, yes he was trying to get her off him but she sucked harder, she thought of her mother’s vacuum, when she put the palm of her hand on the end of the hose, such a strong suck that was, it was a powerful machine. That mouth of hers was just like it now, all that practice paid off.

“FUCKING STOP!” She scratched his ass, sucked him harder, and yes his blood, not from her biting, it was coming out of him now, it just made her suck harder, her mouth craved it, she sucked it out, sucked it straight out of his dick, and what a dick he was, such a motherfucking dick, he deserved this, she was just a teenager then, what did she know, she thought he loved her then, no he never said it but his face seemed to, that fucking face of his, that fucking cock of his in her vacuum-suck of a mouth, his blood oozing into it, his fists fighting at her head, sure he was strong but the pain she gave him weakened him, and she kept swallowing as it came out, came into her, the taste of it making her suck faster, harder, the intensity of his hands subsiding. She was sucking blood out of his cock, out of his body. She wanted to suck blood out of his fucking evil soul. Well, she did, in the end. He fell to his knees, his hands fell to his sides, his cock still hard in her mouth, that mouth of hers still sucking as he fell on his back, her teeth biting into him like pincers so she didn’t let it slip out. She sucked and sucked and swallowed and swallowed, breathing through her nose, hungry for more, hungry for his fucking death. She kept sucking kept swallowing, looked over his pubic hair, saw that his eyes were closed, saw his hairy gut moving up and down, kept sucking swallowing, her stomach full of his blood. She felt dizzy, felt full, but kept it up, kept sucking the fucking life out of him until his pig gut stopped moving. She felt his cock go limp in her mouth. She looked at his gut again. It was most definitely still. He was certainly dead. A person has to have some blood in them to stay alive. She sucked more out of him than he needed inside him. He was her involuntary blood donor, and now he was dead.

She released his cock and looked at it. It looked like a dead one-eyed animal that had been attacked by some vicious beast. Her bite marks looked lovely.

It was over.

She had waited for this for what, four months? Five? It felt like a century.

So much cock, so much cum. But never enough blood.

By Jeff Callico

How Much?

She placed the polish brush against her nail for the 4th coat. The black color was beginning to get thick but she kept painting her fingers obsessively. The nails were naturally long and slightly curved, she was often complimented on them. The door shook again, raging on the other side. The hinges rained loose plaster flakes onto the faded white and black bathroom tile while she just sat on the sink in her garters.

“Leila! Open the fucking door baby!'”

You beast, she thought and smiled, finishing another coat. Break it down great ape. Break it down for me. She knew he would. Blowing on the fresh lacquer, she looked up coyly at the shivering door, her nipples hardening, making her cunt tighten slightly.

You look like Ava Gardner, Cosi told her when she was twelve. Leila was filthy, but when she smiled she did look like Ava. That’s where the lace garters and corsets came from. Probably why she started her burlesque career at fourteen. Why her and Cosi left Minnesota and squatted on the Sunset Strip. Those hinges won’t hold.

“Remember,” Cosi said. “We will make it. You’re Ava and I’m Bettie.” The knife had gone into the handsome man, and they stood over him in surprise then.

“What have we done Cosi?”

“We survived Leila, take everything out of his pockets.”

“The knife!” Cosi licked the blood off the blade. “We’re keeping it”

That was 6 years ago, no one noticed murders in Los Angeles, not murders by burlesque dancers mistaken for old Hollywood pin-ups. Cosi and Leila, their act was raunchier the more they killed, and the more killing they did the richer they got. They bought, furs and silks, outfitted themselves in lovely see through costumes that showed curvy young womanhood. Cosi and Leila worshipped each other on stage as they delicately ripped the fabric of their show gowns. Men went wild for a tantalizing moment alone with them. Strippers were obscene and tasteless, yet somehow so much tamer compared to the performance the carnal duo proposed. When they took the stage, there wasn’t a soft dick in the house.

“What if we bring blood into the act?” Cosi asked.

“You mean like pour it all over each other?”

“Paige would’ve done something like that.”

“Not Ava though.”

“Sweetheart,” Cosi would cuddle up next to Leila’s breast and coo. “You’re not Ava, you’re her bastard, satanic, blood thirsty child.”

Leila had pushed her away. “Am not”, she huffed, arms crossed, suddenly confused as to what it was they were really doing every night at the cabaret, and then in the alleys afterwards.

She developed a taste for cheap sex, Leila had. She liked men to make her an offer of money before she let them take her body. Then, right as they were about to cum, she’d knife their belly, a deep stick through the soft middle flesh that made them collapse.  Just the way Cosi had that first night they discovered their predatory nature.  She would feel their insides the way they felt hers, this made her smile, as she often dug her nails in through the wound. Then, as they were dying, she’d ask them, in a cozy, smug tone, “How much am I worth now?” Ha you’re whole life, she thought, every rotten cent you’d ever make and every woman you’d ever dream of fucking.

Cosi thought this was funny, she was more ruthless with her killing. She poured two gin fizzes for her and her man before taking them down a deviant lover’s lane, slipping him a tetrodotoxin, for making “zombies” she said. They’d think they were about to get their dick sucked when the poison started kicking in. Totally paralyzed and yet completely aware of everything, she would dismember their manhood, and show them the scraps. They often didn’t die of blood loss, Cosi said, but suffered massive asphyxiation from the panic she caused, like frightening a rabbit to death. Cosi, was imaginative. And they were a team, obviously, the gruesome twosome of whorish gruesome inclination.  However, Leila left Cosi, when she woke up next to her dead lover.

Luke was nothing special, but Leila did not want him dead. He was a sharp lover and he never asked questions. Cosi was  jealous of anyone standing between her and her crimson companion, but Cosi never killed out of the night scene, never off the safety of sadistic LA. One night Leila went to bed with Luke, in a vicious embrace, ripping the satin tapestries from the walls and causing her to moan as many of her murder victims had during their final moments of ecstasy. It exhausted her to the point of delirium. She woke up in a sticky pool, to Luke’s cut throat and his cock shoved down his
own throat. Ironic, he had once said, she was the only one who could really swallow his whole dick, turns out he was the other one.

Trapped in the bathroom Leila was ready for the brute to come at her, maybe tear her to pieces, she figured after what Cosi and she had done that was the least she deserved. He didn’t know any of that, however, no he didn’t know anything. He was just the thug she’d been letting beat the shit out of her to keep Cosi at bay, and maybe get a little of what she thought she deserved. Now the big gorilla was working his way through the door and she was gonna let him kill her this time. In this instance the door caved and the burly barbarian barreled into the bathroom, blood hungry from snorting lines of blow off her tits all fucking night. She was ready for this. Though, the next thing Leila knew she was on his back with her nylons double wrapped around his throat. Killer instinct taking hold. He suffocated within seconds and she was on top of yet another body. Her shoulders released and she let a breath out softly. Then, a coquettish voice jumped at her from the ripped hinges.

“How much are you worth now?”

By Emily Smith-Miller

Premenstrual Terror

“When you walk about, and you’ve got one in, do you get a little thrill?”

I look at him, handsome, cheeky, wife at home so not really of concern to him or me.

“No, you don’t feel it.  Certainly not if you’ve put it in right.”

“Oh.”  He seems a little disappointed.  I decide to flirt a little, what the hell.

“Would be pretty cool if it did.”

He squints up at me from the desk by the window, the one with the half decent view.  The one we all want, but this new guy, a month in the door, somehow has.

“We’ll see.”

 

The month passes and he’s there with a grin, noticing spots poxing my chin as if a gremlin’s sprayed me with a tiny AK47 from the chocolate bar I’m lifting to my mouth.

“I’ve been looking in the shops.”

“And?”

“That shit’s expensive!”

I nod, grumpy and wishing it wasn’t so obvious that the curse was upon me once again.  Fucking moon, fucking menstruation.  Fucking men.

“Your point?”

He smiles, sly, eyes glinting with mischief.

“I think I can help you out with that…”

I snort.

“What, sponsor a sanitary pad?  Treat me to a tampon?  Piss off.”

He leans closer, and despite myself I want to pull his perfect earlobe into my mouth and never let it go.

“Better.  I can get you something so you never have to pay for protection again.  Period.”

He sniggers at his little joke, and I’m intrigued.

“I’m not fiddling about with one of them moon cups, I’m clumsy, I’d spill it, trust me.”

“No, trust me.  I can sort this out.  My brother’s good with this kinda thing.”

“What kinda thing?”

He taps his nose, and I notice his nails are clean but just slightly too long.

“You’ll see…”

 

I thought his brother worked in the quarantine section of the zoo.  Maybe he did, maybe he was just an inventor on the side.  I never thought to ask.  Not till later.  I wasn’t thinking about the cons when he brought me the pro.

“Stick this baby in?  Sliiiide it in like it was your favourite…” he looked at me and I blushed “…toy.  And you’ll never need another of them fiddly paper bullets.”

“Really?  How?”

He folded my fingers round the small metal sheath lying heavy in my hand.

“It’s kinda like a washing machine.  You just need to know it works, not how it does it.”

“Eh?”

Again with the nose tap, and I’m hypnotised by the creamy crescent of nail like a child’s tooth on his fingertip.

“Trust me.”

“Don’t I need to take it out and replace it?  Wash it or something?”

“Nah.  Just let it do its thing while you do yours.  But you’re gonna have to let it settle in.  And no sex.”

“No sex?!”

He smiles and I can hear him breathe, feel its heat on my skin.

“You won’t want to with this.”

I raise an eyebrow.  He opens his mouth and I pre-empt him, “I know, I know, ‘trust me’”.

 

In the ladies, I look it over like I wanted to at my desk but couldn’t.  Similar to a blunt steel syringe, quite like an applicator tampon, but there’s no string dangling like a dead rat’s tail, and it has an unusual weight to it.

I can feel the surge of the crimson flood, and I hate the pads, the tampons, the care I have to take in getting the angle right for insertion, the fear of a leak, the pain when I yank the string for removal and catch a pube too.  Fuck it.

I stick it in, as far as it will go, push the plunger and feel a warmth spread through me as if I’m drunk and vibing it up, as high as the speed setting will go.  Ohhh, it’s good.  I walk out the cubicle as if half asleep, wash my hands with plenty of soap, stick the empty steel in the bin under plenty of paper, then wink at myself in the mirror.  Looking good, kid, and feeling fine.  Pretty damn fine.

 

I don’t question it, would you if you were always coming, and never going?  Would you?  Course not.

Not till I have cause to months later.

It’s after the office party, well after.  The pretty girls are done photocopying their bottoms, the boss has gone home with a hard-on to his long suffering wife, and me and a few of the guys are off to the pub for a follow up.

Then I’m in the beer garden, lighting a fag, still in that good good mood of great, effortless continuous sex.  And he gets me from behind.

Nobody knows I’m here.

They’ll think I’m in the ladies, or on the dance floor, or at the bar.  His hand splits my lip on my teeth with the strength of sick silence, his other one tugs my skirt up and his zip down.  Since the silver syringe, I’ve done away with knickers, never wear them.  Never need to.  I wish I had that flimsy barrier now.  I struggle and squirm, hating him, terrified, that BASTARD, and he prods me with his thing, stabs it in-

and shrieks with pain.  Tries to pull away.  Now he’s the one twisting and squirming, battling to be free.  There’s a horrible, hideous tearing sound and he falls to the ground with a squealing scream.  It reminds me of the pigs my daddy used to butcher on the farm, before mum left and I chose to go.

I clamp my hand to my groin and feel wet warmth there, where I haven’t for months.  Then as I whimper, and he groans far away on the floor, flopping in the pooling blood, I feel it pulling away.

What?

What the fuck?

What the fuck was it and where the fuck’s it going?

Someone throws the door open and light falls over my attacker.  He’s twitching with shock now, pale, anonymous; I’ve never seen him before in my life.  But I’m sure he used to have a penis.

There’s just a horrible meaty mess amongst the hair now, and the bouncers rush to help him, taking care not to stand in the wet red surrounding him, ignoring me in the shadows by the wall.

I stick my fingers in, glad I kept my nails short.  They feel the stub of him, feel the warm strength of my vaginal vault, then… holy shit.

No way.

I pull my fingers out, quick, hold them up to my face.

The bouncers are calling for an ambulance now, looking about for his penis.

I step into the light, and all I see are my fingertips.

And the teeny, tiny bite marks my pet made, nibbling me within.

Before it knew it was just me, just mummy.

And carried on with its welcome feast.

By Gill Hoffs

Hey Shitbag, What’s My Destiny?

You hit a nerve, made my hands shake when you grazed those painted nails across my arm. The way you shook your ass at me and that peek-a-boo on the sly when you bent over and let me get a good look at ya cunt from behind.

You made me make a sacrifice,

For you,

Not me.

I hated the thought of your smile and your fake pouty lips, but I loved the commune of your flesh, shared and tattered. You gave it a bad rap. Your life, you said. It was just porno and tap water, malted milk balls and restless cocks. You called yourself Destiny, and I wondered why someone like you would work in a chicken house like this. Maybe you was mad at your daddy. Hope I didn’t look like him, so I sat at the back of the bar, in the dark, contemplating your full lips and how they would look severed from your face and mounted on my throbbing cock. You said you could see the future in that little deck of cards you carried around in your purse, said it with a “Hey Mister,” when you asked me if I wanted to know mine. “Ten bucks,” you said, and I replied, “Divine.”

You thought I was talking about you, but I wasn’t. I asked what you did for a living while I flipped the tassel on your boob, and you said you liked to fuck. “With a crystal ball?” I asked, and you laughed at me. You didn’t want to know what I did, what my passion was. You said it was all in the cards, and that death with his rusted out scythe and his emerald green eyes was just a beginning. I nodded and fingered the razor in my pocket, cause I supposed it was true. Well, you believed it, along with the moon and the stars and the voodoo priestess who told you “you” had a gift. You didn’t want to know about all the naughty things little girls like you shouldn’t know about. You didn’t want to know about my fascination with skin.

I am a sculptor.

What’s inside you is weak,

And I can fix it —

With plaster.

I want to fuck you with a chisel. Scrape the ligaments from your bones. What I do is a labor of love. I bring things back to life, but you didn’t even really want to know me beyond the free drinks and the bits of coin I dropped in your tip jar. You thought you were a hipster, a girl gone wild, but you’re really just a fucking parsley smokin’ bigot, getting back at her rich drunk daddy. Your bust will look nice mounted next to the saw palmetto by the shed. I’ll use pencil erasers to keep your nipples hard, yet supple. That’s what I was thinking while you giggled and practiced your “witchcraft” as you liked to call it. You went on and on about sinkholes and bedbugs and why it’s so important to wash the fucking sheets. What if I default on my lottery payment? Will I get sued for all those vile accusations I made about the frigid bitch of a mayor? or Was I letting failure bloom when I spread my seed to the hookers on the next street corner? “Fuck no,” I replied. “This is a small town, honey, and there ain’t no jobs in a dust-storm famine funeral parlor. I got clients. Not a lot of huntin’ to do around here,you see, so I might be easy money, but this strip ain’t the only game in town.” You smiled again, said I was hokey and quaint. Wanted to know whether I wanted to smoke a joint and get a lap dance or not. Now, I don’t know nothin’ bout your big city ways with your tattoos and pierced clits and all that greasy black eye makeup. I just skin em and stuff em; well, you don’t really stuff em, not like a scarecrow with sawdust and hay.

I do like your sky blue innocent eyes, though.

I think I’ll keep them for myself.

By Cheryl Anne Gardner

WARNING: May Cause Serious Harm, Deafness, and Decapitation

Nobody tells you the real reason you shouldn’t poke around in your ears; I bet they don’t even know.  Actually, I know they don’t.  Now.

It was an ear infection that did it.  I blame the swimming pool.  Whenever I venture into its stinking blue heat, I find myself diverted from lane swimming and smooth strokes of front crawl into avoiding the peachy plasters, succulent scabs, pubic hair and skin flakes texturing the water with infection.

Whatever the reason, I bought a box of cotton buds, tiny white dumbbells of deafness, from the chemist next to the takeaway down the road.  ‘Warning: do not insert into ear canal – may cause serious harm or deafness’.  My Uncle Jim always said the only thing you should put in your ear was your elbow.  Yoga, stretching, even the near dislocation of my shoulders never helped me attain that impossible goal.  Salt water, that’s what he’d recommend.  Cures anything.  Broken heart?  Have a cry.  Sore throat?  Gargle with it.  Sunburn?  Bathe in it.  But water in my ears got me into this mess, no chance I’m adding to the worrying wetness, none.

Now, with the itching threatening to scour my sanity and pale liquid trickling like piss from my ears, reminding me of my one dalliance with alternative sex and Golden Showers, I was doing something I’d promised my mother I’d never do.

I was going to clean my ears out.

Oh, the relief.

The twirling of bud after bud, turned soggy and yellow, piling like little paper bones in a heap on the bathroom floor.

Just one more.  Just this one.

But I had to go deeper; I couldn’t not.

Chunks of brown and red, stiff and rank, almost hairy round the edges.  Could I make candles?  Should I?  No…

This must be another old deposit, I held the fuzzy end in frantic fingers and pushed, trying to hook it free, shove it out, clear the infection.  I should have stopped.  I know that now.

I heard a ‘click’, felt the obstruction shift, and suddenly my head was full of noise.  Pulling the cotton bud out, nothing came with it.  But the voices, oh, the voices stayed.

Did you know there was a switch in your head?

That if you work hard enough, dig deep, push and pull and itch and squirm, you can flick it, too?

I don’t recommend it.  People sometimes wish they had the ability to read the minds of others, in a nice, clean, pick-and-choose way.  It’s nothing like that, nothing at all.  The films about it?  They bear as much resemblance to the reality as celebrity sex tapes do to Friday night fingers in the shower.  My flatmate was considering which of her teachers she’d most like to fuck and how; I had no idea her breath stank from eating Mr Overbaum’s shit.  Stan at the shop below was wondering if his mum would mind him using her microwave to explode wasps on the lowest setting.  It made them last longer before they blew.  And that nice old lady, the one from down the road who waved at passersby and gave babies shiny new pennies – she was the worst of the lot.  Helping Hitler, looking out for non-blonds.  I’d dash the coins from her evil old hands next time I saw her.  She wiped them in her knickers first.

It was all too much.  I tried it for an hour, and it was just overwhelming.  Nothing useful, nothing sexy, nothing I wanted or needed to know.  Just a constant torrent of other people’s nasty little ramblings and wonderings, inane shopping lists and to do files, whining and whining and scuzzing through my head. 

No point running to the doctors for help, they’d have me on happy pills in the time it takes to swaddle a near adult in a straitjacket.  Who believes in telepathy?  Not even me.  Perhaps if I flicked the switch back… yeah, that should do it.  Then stick the rest of the packet in the bin.  Done, never to fuck up with again.

It was hard work moving it the first time, but my mum’s due over any minute and there’s no way I’m hearing what she gets up to with my dad.  No way.  In, dig, move, move…

Oh shit – too far – it’s gone over the other way – normality must be the middle setting.  I’m surprised at how much it hurts when my face hits the floor, how cool the summer air feels on the wet base of my neck.  My lip’s split on my teeth, but it hardly matters now.  A tear seeps onto my cheek.

As the oxygen fades I can hear them at my door; just footsteps, no voices.  My body crumples over to the side, hitting the sink with its empty hands, and someone in the hallway asks if I’m alright.  But there’s nothing the chemist can do for me now.

Re-label the boxes, you bastards.

They should read ‘Warning: do not insert into ear canal, may cause serious harm, deafness, or decapitation’.

But seriously, who knew?

By Gill Hoffs