Refinancing

Morgen Knight

He threw the Marlboro cigarette down before he turned up his street, stepping on its life like he would an insect. His stained tennis shoe twisted over it without thinking. Old habits and all. When his fingers held a cigarette again, it had that same natural feel, tilting at the same angle. David didn’t think about how comfortable it felt. How familiar. It was this naturalization that made it effective. It was like slipping into a familiar room, giving him a place to think.

In his left hand was today’s newspaper. He had walked all of the way down to Quiktrip to buy it. His route had not been a direct one. There were too many things to consider. Walking helped. Smoking helped even more. The nearly empty streets gave him all of the room in the world to do both. And thoughts this big needed a lot of space.

It was five in the morning. The fall air carried amber leaves across the rough asphalt. It sounded like the final labored breaths of an emphysema victim. To the east, the sun’s toiled tones fought to break through the thinly overcast sky. It was a losing battle.

He stopped in front of his blue Craftsman house. All of the windows were dark. His wife and son were asleep inside, he knew. David didn’t know what they dreamed. He hoped that they were happy thoughts. Simon always slept with the covers pulled over his head, but David had sat and watched Becky sleep beside him many nights over the last couple of months. He couldn’t sleep, and he couldn’t lay there and stare at the ceiling. He was afraid that if he did, that ceiling might start to lower, the same way that the walls could feel like they were closing in.

What David had seen on his wife’s face as she slept were deepening lines. Worry. Anger was laid there, too. He couldn’t avoid the sharp guilt those lines handed him. He knew he was to blame. She had never said that, no open accusation. But she didn’t have to. The way that she looked at him was enough. Every desultory sigh.

He stood there looking at his house, and he knew that he could drop this paper right here and keep on walking. Down the street, down the next. Wend his way out of this life and into another one. A man changing hats. He didn’t know if it was a natural thought, but he was disgusted by the glimmer of excitement he felt in the pit of his stomach for it. Shame.

David walked quietly into his house. He didn’t need the light to find his way to the kitchen, laying the paper on the table. The oven’s digital clock read a green 6:45. Becky would be getting up soon, her phone alarm sounding on. Her shift at the hospital started at eight-thirty. It would be twelve hours before he’d see her again. Maybe more. She was working every extra minute that she could. She had to. It was the only money coming into this house.

A house that they were always an inch away from losing. He thought, it might as well be a house of cards.

David had lost his job 6 months ago. Down-sizing, they had called it. Necessary layoffs needed to save the company, like cutting away necrotic tissue.

Daylight was rising. The fettered sun pushed an ashen cast across the firmament. David moved around the kitchen. He started the coffee that Becky had to have three cups of. He would usually take one. Half the pot was wasted, sitting on the heated pad until he could get around to dumping it down the sink. He took the half a loaf of bread from the bread box, and made two sandwiches for Simon’s lunch. An apple and a packet of string cheese. The boy was twelve. David was sure that he recognized that things were tense.

The boy’s lunch was put in a brown bag and set in the nearly empty fridge. By a glance, David could tell which necessities were gone and which were dwindling. He closed the door, took the pen from the magnetized clip on the fridge door, next to Simon’s report on the industrial revolution, and jotted a few things on the notepad.

Milk. Eggs. Bread. Chicken. Since having the rug pulled out from under him, David had been the one to focus on domestic issues. Before, he and Becky had split them, but now it was the only thing that he could do to contribute. All of the cleaning. Food. Whatever it was, he saw to it so that Becky could relax when she got home.

You might think that doing this provided a modicum of pride, but really it effaced it. He knew that he was doing all of this because it was the only thing he could do. He was keeping busy so that he wouldn’t have to look at his life and wonder when his grip on it had grown so loose.

David was thirty-eight. He could remember being young once. Remember the call of ambition. But life had a way of settling itself into place, doesn’t it?

He was sitting at the table when his wife came in. She was in her scrubs, dressed for work. She poured a cup of coffee, added two tablespoons of sugar and sat down. David had a pen in his hand. He was reading over the classified section by the luminal light dusting down from the obscured sky outside. When he saw something interesting in the paper, he circled it. There were only two so far. He wasn’t qualified for many of them.

He had been in college, back when he was young. That was where he had met his wife. But then he’d hurt his knee. When he couldn’t play football anymore, his scholarship evaporated. Becky had been understanding back then. The future was wide open. Every possibility still remained. Now that the future was here…

David looked at his wife. She was reading the front page. He didn’t know how a marriage grew stale, when the small cracks formed, or how the mold got into it, spreading. There was once a time when they were on fire. When he heard her voice, he use to hear laughter. The breed of laughter with joy in it, not sardonically veined. But he knew that those days had slipped painlessly away, like dying in your sleep.

“Any luck?” she asked, and everything that he wanted to say, what needed to be said, fluttered away like crows startled from a wire.

“It’s hard right now,” he said.

“Of course it is. I know.” She spoke with the cushion of steel.

He had washed his hands twice, making sure to obliterate the stain smoke left. It would be hell this morning if she picked it up. He had given up the habit years ago. While she was pregnant with Simon, in fact. That didn’t mean that he hadn’t sneaked one or two over the years. He’d almost fallen back in the habit two years ago, when his mother had died. What he didn’t do was let her know. Becky had never been overburdened with understanding.

And if there was ever a time when he needed that peace, that inhalable break, it was right now.

“There are a couple here that might work,” he said off-handedly, his wife sipping her coffee. How many applications had he filled out in the last three months? He had lost count.

A man is not a man unless he is striving for something. Holds a goal and moves toward it. The speed at which he moves depends on the type of man. That’s what David believed. Always towards something. He didn’t know when it would feel right to stop and take in a panoramic view of everything you’ve fought for, sigh and feel content. Career, family, those other, smaller, more defining and less definable goals. What he did know was that he was nowhere near there. To him, it seemed akin to death. He needed to be working. His family needed it. And everyday that went by cost him more of his pride. The comments and looks Becky gave. And how could he be a father, show Simon what a man was, if he wasn’t one himself? That was how he felt when the lights were out and all he had were his thoughts and the walls. But in words this felt more like…oxidation. He was slowly rusting.

That was why he had to do something. They barely had a hold on the mortgage. Both of their credit cards were filled to the tip with debt, the interest the only thing eating payments. David had already lost his truck. Becky used her car (thank God it was paid off), and he had borrowed his brother’s Ford.

This ship had leaks; it was sinking. What he had to do was drastic.

Becky left for work as Simon was coming in the kitchen to fix himself a bowl of cereal. She kissed her son on the cheek and left. With her went the pall of disappointment that she seemed to throw over David anymore. He didn’t know if they could be fixed or not. Every woman has an idea of what a man is and after that glass is cracked, it’s hard to look at a fractured image. He wished that he knew the words to say. But how do you tell a woman that you think you still love her? Isn’t that worse than saying you don’t love her at all?

“Any tests today?” David asked.

“No. Not unless it’s a pop quiz,” Simon said. He was shoveling the cereal into his mouth, slurping the milk noisily. He still enjoyed spending time with his father, which David figured he should be grateful for. That would be gone soon. Simon had no idea how fragile things were around him. He knew that David had no job, but his mother’s judgments hadn’t tainted the waters yet.

“Do you want me to walk you to the bus stop?” David always asked him this. When he was younger, Simon had loved it.

“I’m fine,” Simon said.

“Rain’s coming today. Don’t forget a jacket. Your lunch is already made.”

“Thanks.”

Simon hated taking his lunch to school, David knew, but it was cheaper until he could get him on the free-lunch program. That was Simon’s economic sacrifice. David hated it, too. Every brown sack was like an indictment. A kid shouldn’t have to suffer for the failing of his father. It didn’t work that way, obviously. Quite the opposite, in fact.

David read over the classified section, circling attractive listings in red pen, and listened to what Simon had to say. It wasn’t an endless gab. Sports—he’d discovered basketball—and music mostly.

How many men were sitting in dark rooms, doing the very same thing as him? But he doubted that many would do what he was going to do.

When Simon left, David made sure that his son had his coat on and his bag over his shoulder. The bus stop was at the end of the street. Visible through a small gap at the edge of the front window. He had hidden the pack of cigarettes when he’d come in with the paper earlier. They were in his hand now. He lit one, moving with a mindless knowing, watching. Even after the bus came and went, David stood there.

One cigarette. Two. He stood there until the first plumb drops of rain fell, and then he felt like he could wait no longer. It was time to be a man again. Re-grasp a portion of his dignity. That was all of the reasoning that he needed. His family was hurting, and there was something that he could do about it.

He went and got his gun. It wasn’t anything special—a 12 gauge. The barrel had been sawed off. He also grabbed the box of shells. They were in the garage closet, the only place that was truly his.

The barrel’s mouth looked wide. David had changed into a grey shirt and jeans. A light jacket. The shortened shotgun went inside a duffel bag he’d used to go to the gym on Monticello years ago.

He hadn’t drunk any coffee, but his pulse was pushing as though he’d drowned the entire pot. One last cigarette, and he stepped out the backdoor with his bag.

The rain wasn’t heavy, yet, hitting his hooded jacket. And then in the far distance, David began to hear thunder.

He had planned out his route a week ago. It would take him two blocks over, and by doubling back he could come to the white house at the end of his street from behind. David had been sure to stay away from that house in the last week. He didn’t want anyone vaguely remembering a guy walking around the neighborhood.

The white house was a drug house. He didn’t know who it belonged to, but two men in their mid-twenties stayed there. One was thin and one was stocky. After walking Simon to the bus, this was months ago, David had started to wonder, thinking. The men had been sitting on their porch, the house dilapidated the yard unkempt around them.

“What’s going on?” the thinner one had asked.

David, interrupted, had stopped. He’d approached the men, happy to delay going home. They were smoking weed. David knew the smell from high school—parking lots and football games. He had never been big into it but he had been known to smoke a little here and again. When the thin man had handed the joint over, David had taken it. Why the hell not? The two were idiots. He later found out that the police had served warrants on the house at least twice. SWAT and vans and all the hustle. But then, they had listened to his sad story, nodded consolingly, and helped take the pain away on a cloud of smoke.

“And if you want more of that, I can make ya a deal,” the man has said when he’d finally left.

David had thought nothing of it until the tide had started washing against his sand castle-life. It was a small idea that had grown. Why did he, a good man, have to suffer? These men were like cancer to neighborhoods. They brought trouble and criminals to their doors. Sure, everyone around here worked hard and fought for a lead, but did that make them disposable? It wasn’t like they only toked a bit of weed. The men had offered him meth, coke and mollies, as well.

One rationalization split into two, until he was convinced it wasn’t the wrong thing to do. Fact was it was the right thing. Damn near a community service. The only thing that he had to do was look at his family to know that it should be done.

He sat in the back yard, feeling cold, hidden by a couple of sickly shrubs. His socks were getting wet. The ground was mudding beneath him. He could hear the thunderstorm moving in.

There probably wasn’t even anyone home, he thought. He had started walking by the house weeks ago, at different hours, taking note of cars and activity. It was unpredictable, but the one semi-constant was the dearth of movement in the morning. The thunder was moving closer. A sheet of bright light held the gloomy clouds and then thunder followed it. The deep, crackling kind.

Rain fell like tears down David’s face as he watched the sky. Is a man his actions or simply the result of them? He couldn’t answer that question. His hand grabbed the bag as he stood, scurrying toward the house hunched over like a soldier storming a beach.

Dave stood under the deck, beside the grill. He tried the basement door, and it opened. His hands were shaking when they pulled the shotgun from the bag. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the reality of this, so he didn’t try to. It was easier to move dreamlike.

The basement was half-finished and filled with random storage. Boxes of blenders, an exercise bike, a couch holding a pile of clothes. He had to high-step his way over to the steps. There was a smell like wet animal coming from somewhere. David had been a pretty good football player. He still had the look of an ex-athlete. College hadn’t been hard for him, but after he had gotten hurt, he couldn’t pay for it. Now he was standing at a closed door at the top of dark stairs, listening to a storm above, a shotgun in his hands.

The door opened to a filthy kitchen. The sink and counter were avalanched with dirty plates, pans, and utensils. Hardened food crusted them. The place smelled like a trash can.

David pushed himself against the wall. He could hear something in the front room. His feet took small steps, eyes wide. He peeked around the corner, pulled his head back, then peeked again. The thin man was asleep on the couch. An open bag of nacho chips were on the scuffed hardwood. David didn’t see anyone else. That was good.

He crept into the room, conscious of his weight on the wood floor. A bad squeak and who knows. The hood was pulled tight over his face and tied so that only his eyes and nose were exposed. Not enough to know a stranger by, he guessed. He hadn’t thought to grab a ski mask. His hands were bare.

Judging what was the center of the room, David stopped, leveling the gun on the sleeping man. He felt like he was floating.

“Hey. Hey,” David said, starting at a whisper and growing. He wasn’t going to get too close to the man. “Hey, fucker, get up!” he yelled. The man stirred, starry-eyed. Looked around. When he saw David, he didn’t really see him. When the man standing in the middle of the room with the gun registered, he yelled out, sitting up quickly—all alert. He moved so swiftly that it almost startled David into shooting him.

“What the hell, man!”

“Move and I’ll kill you.” It was a lie. “Where’s the money? Quickly!” David yelled.

“What money, man?”

“The fucking money!” Guys like this didn’t use saving accounts. No stocks or bonds. The thunder was on the lightning’s heels, now. He could feel the rumble in his legs. Long, breaking cracks that exploded at the end.

“Man, there is—”

The back bedroom door swung open. The bigger of the two men ran out. There was a pistol in his hand. Bright flashes dotted the tip, and David realized that it wasn’t thunder that he heard. Something grazed the side of his head.

He tried to shoot back—swing the gun over and fire. Unfortunately, the order got reversed. The shotgun kicked in his hands, and that quickly, the man on the couch lost his face. Blood splattered against the back wall, a storm of it hitting the front window. But David wasn’t looking at that, yet. He was running toward the kitchen, pumping the shotgun, firing.

The shotgun only had five shells. He had alternated between slugs and pellets. Spinning into the kitchen, he dug into the jacket pockets, pulling out more ammunition, extra shells falling to the dirty tile and rolling. He slammed them into the gun, cocking it. The inside of the hood was moist with his hurried breath. He had never been shot at before. Hell, he’d never shot anyone before.

He didn’t think about running down the steps and out the back until he saw the second man sprawled out on the ground, red pooling around him. Pellets pocked the wall. He inched over, gun ready, noticing the body. Two men dead, and he hadn’t seen either shot.

David stood there, not thinking, watching the blood slowly spread like madness. Standing here wasn’t doing anything; he began to search. First through the kitchen, sweeping cabinets empty and knocking on wood. The fridge. He scoured the living room, avoiding the dead men and their blood. He had come here expecting what he’d come for to be hidden. That was no problem. He had a nose for that sort of thing. More than once, he’d thought that he should have been a cop. Strange, considering the situation.

There were only two bedrooms in the house. One of them was like the basement—crowded with the miscellaneous junk. The other was set up into a kind of work shop. Flasks and piping and a chemical smell. A large Meth lab was set up on the table centering the room. There were plenty of drugs in a bowl and in bags. A cell phone. David looked through everything than began to knock on walls and stomp on floorboards. He was moving on pure adrenaline. Sweating. He wasn’t moving slowly or carefully. Kicking, knocking, throwing indiscriminately what was in his way. There had to be something here.

And there it was. He found it in the bathroom. The cabinet under the sink had a false bottom. There was money in zip-lock bags and a handgun. David left the gun, grabbing the wrapped cash. Every bill was a measure of his pride returned. What is a man without that? The thunder was no longer overhead, but the rain was falling hard. This gave him room to breathe. The house. Feeding his family. Animals fight and kill for survival, was he so different? It didn’t feel like it. He hadn’t felt this good in a while. No longer powerless. He knew that this couldn’t fix all of his problems, but you worry about the fire in the kitchen before the flood in the basement. There wasn’t nearly enough money to fill up his bag–it would take at least a million to do that—but David couldn’t stop his smile. It was thrown back at him by the broken mirror above the sink

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Factual Horror #5 Lead

Morgen Knight

If you want something in life, you have to go for it and get it. It is up to you. Nothing is ever ever going to be given to you. And anything in life worth having takes hard fucking work. Dedication.
Do you know it and trust it and want it and need it and bleed it and live it? If not, how could you make it?
See the life you want. Know that it is in your hands. Be the leader. Lead.

The Last Text Message from Molly Summers

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Morgen Knight

– Jess, Some1 N the house
– Where R U
– Closet. Call 911 I hear them. I’m scared
– B quiet I’m calling.
– qpd6hk
-Molly?
Molly
Molly?
Hello Molly?

Factual Horror #4 Self-doubt

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Morgen Knight

I imagine everyone has self-doubt. Especially people trying to do art. But victory comes to the unreluctant. Why would you choose to feel that way when you can choose to be confidant? When you can just as easily feel happy? Why feel anything you don’t want to for a prolonged time? To continue to feel a certain way, you have to choose to.
Belief is such a simple thing. It is no harder than a statement. Feelings are nothing real. Feelings are not evidence of a single real thing. Tell me one thing feeling proves. Please?
All emotions are secondary. They are never the thing, but caused by the thing. Choose to feel different. It is not easy, it’s like being a guard to your own mind, choosing what goes in and out. But once you’ve trained yourself, it becomes your nature.

Factual Horror #3 Real Love

Morgen Knight

Love is a strange thing. I was reading about the Greek words for love. They have four words, each one focusing on specific types of relationships. And the greatest kind is always the unconditional love. Agápe. I thought about that, and…like…if love is not unconditional, can it be love at all? I mean, you can love someone and not be able to have them in your life. Love doesn’t mean you absorb all abuse. But if love is not unconditional, what is it? Doesn’t is become something of a pay check? If you do this and that, behave this way, live this way, be this person, I love you. If you do not measure up to what I expect, I do not? Is that love?

First Dawn

 

 Morgen Knight

            He hadn’t seen her running, but he saw her fall. It was his periphery that caught it.  Hemmingford was sitting behind the wheel of his parked car, watching the entrance of the Rlotic hotel. There was a bulky camera on the seat behind him. He had already gotten the photographs that he wanted, now he was waiting for the ones that would remove any wiggle room once the accusations began. Hand had went in the hotel with a busy woman that was not his wife. The two had had their arms around each other in more than a friendly way. And there had been a familiarity about the way the two had touched. A comfort only made by experience. He believed that those photos would say everything that had to be said, but pictures of the two exiting…that said it louder.

When she fell, it was from the rooftop of the building beside the hotel, into the alley between the two. Hemmingford hadn’t known that it was a woman when he saw the form drop. From this angle, he didn’t have a complete line of sight down the alley. His first thought was that someone had tossed a bag from the room above. Maybe it was simply trash, but that seemed like a strange way to discard it. He leaned close to the squared windshield, looking up. How far had it fallen? It couldn’t have been from too far up, unless the discarder didn’t care if it broke. Could be booze, he though. There were a number of speakeasies within five blocks of here. He didn’t see any police or federalists raiding the Rlotic, but he didn’t know what was going on inside, did he?

It was the men that made him get out of the car, grabbing his overcoat. Two of them got out of a car that pulled up to the alley; the car swung around the block then idled at the alley’s entrance. Hemmingford would have forgotten all about the alley and the dark shape if it wasn’t for that. He would have sat here, gotten Jimmy’s pictures for him, and went home–he did have to work tomorrow. But Hemmingford was naturally curious. In another time, he believed that he would have been an explorer. But in this life, all that continents were accounted for and the mountains all had footsteps tracked across them. That’s why he was a cop. A detective at the fifth. That’s why he didn’t mind moonlighting for Jimmy now and then, taking a case or two a month. It was his curiosity.  The jungles all had names, but people were still uncharted. Especially in times like these.

Hemmingford held a hand out as he jogged across the street, to the front of the hotel. Two sharply dressed bellhops stood inside the front doors. Hemmingford turned right, stepping off the U-drive up to the doors, onto the sidewalk. Out of his pocket he pulled a pack of Lucky cigarettes and matches. He lit the cigarette then waved the match out, dropping it as he approached the alley. The idling car that had stopped in front of the alley had two men in it. One was watching the alley, the other was watching the street–the front of the car was pulled out a little, white-walled tires turned out. The traffic passed by close, the bug headlights inches from the front of the car. A couple passing drivers hit their squeaking horns. He could hear Cab Calloway on their radio.

The man watching the alley switched to eyeing him as he approached.  Hemmingford blew out a plume of smoke, swiveling his head as he passed the alley. As soon as he saw the man, Hemmingford knew what he was going to do. Two men were down the alley, flanking a curled-up form. One of them had a pistol in his hand, the other had what looked like a short pool cue. Hemmingford could see the passenger of the car watching him. He looked forward, like he was walking on, took the cigarette from his mouth and flicked it ahead in a high arch. As the hot cherry tip sailed down to the pavement, struck the peppered in hot embers, Hemmingford pulled the pistol from the shoulder holster at his side. He was good with guns. He had been a young man in the War to End All Wars.

Barely aiming, he shot twice at the man with the gun. Both shots hit him, spinning him down to the ground. It was too dark to make out features, but he heard the man’s agony in his cry. The car door behind Hemmingford opened, but he was already spinning. His rock-fist smashed into the rising man’s jaw, knocking him back into the car. The window beside him exploded with the first shot from the second man in the alley. He’d pulled his pistol.

Hemmingford ducked, scrambling for the corner of the hotel to cover him. Two more bullets smashed into the car, trailing him like hammer blows. The driver spooked, swerved into the street, clipping a passing car. High-pitched horns screamed out. At the corner, he took a shot at the running man. The bullet missed, ricocheting off of the brick building with a spark and tiny crumble of mortar.

A crowd began to gather at the alley as Hemmingford ran down to the body. The pistol was in his hand, but his attention was at his feet. The woman–a woman? She was curled into a fetal position. Her short black hair was covering her face. There was blood on the concrete and her clothes. Is she what had fallen? He looked up, scanning the light and dark windows of the hotel rooms above him. There was no way to tell which window was hers. He couldn’t see any broken glass above or scattered around her. She was the only thing besides him and the man he’d shot in this alley.

Bending down, he holstered the pistol, then brushed the side of her face.  Looking at her unconscious face laying on the drab concrete, he swallowed. She was so beautiful that his chest hurt, but he couldn’t look away. Her skin was tanned. She had a pointy chin and poetic lips. Long dark lashes fringed her closed eyes. “Shit,” he said. At least she was breathing. He looked back at the crowd filling the end of the alley. The unmistakable wail of sirens was distant but growing. When he turned back, her eyes were open. They were a shade of green that he had never seen before, and his mind instinctively associated it with a subtle taste, like he had just bitten into a sweet apple.  She wasn’t from around here. There were plenty of young women in the city, now. Jobs pulled them here. Manufacturing was down, but there were still a few plants open. They were small town girls, mostly. Farm girls.

She turned her head at him. “Help me.”

“Don’t move. People are coming.”

“No. Please get me out of here. They’re coming.” A commotion behind them made Hemmingford turn. Men were pushing through the crowd. He caught a glimpse of a shotgun. “Now,” she said forcefully.

Hemmingford heard every reason that he shouldn’t, but his arms scooped her up.  She was light; her arm wrapped around his neck; her face nestled against his chest. They were in the middle of the alley. He ran for the other end, leaving the body of the man he’d shot behind. Whatever this was, he could feel the panic. His back was exposed. As the back street neared, he couldn’t believe that they would make it. And they didn’t.  Five feet from escape, shotguns opened up behind him. His mind tried to count the guns, but the sound was one slurry of thunder. His left shoulder was hit, spinning him a little on the axis of his right foot, and then he was hustling down the back street. There was a maze of alleys.

“Hide,” she whispered. “There are many of them.”

Hemmingford, a name passed down the family line, nodded. There were doors, boarded-up windows and trash. He could smell it as they passed behind a Hungarian restaurant. Three cats were rummaging through a stack of metal trashcans. He stopped at a green door with a board nailed across it. “Stand, if you can,” he said. He put her down, and she leaned against the building like she were intoxicated. With both hands, he pulled, putting his foot on the door. Yank, yank, nothing. “We–”

She reached over and lightly tugged on the board. It snapped in two.

“Okay,” Hemmingford said, tossing the broken pieces into the alley, then pulling open the door. She walked to him, leaning, and together they stepped into the dark. The door swung close behind them. He didn’t know where they were going. When they came across a staircase, they went up. Down a small hallway, they entered an old office.  There was an empty desk, a pin-up on the wall, and a window that looked out on the busy street out front. He stood by the window; she sat on the desk. “Who are they?  Gangsters? Did you steal from the mob?”

“Come here. You’re hurt.”

Hemmingford walked away from his view of the street. He looked at her, searching for injuries, but there were none. “What’s going on?” he asked, turning as she instructed him to with her hands. She pulled his overcoat off of him. There was blood on his clothes. A few shotgun pellets were sleeping in his shoulder.

“They are hunters. They wish to kill me,” she said. “Take off your shirt.”

He laid the holster on the desk beside him, but in easy reach. The shirt unbuttoned easily, but he moaned as he slipped the shirt off, his shoulder searing with every minute movement. “How bad is it?”

“Not bad,” she said, her breath hitting his back. It made him shiver. Her hands held his shoulders as her rough tongue ran over his wounds. Her mouth covered them as her hands encircled him, grabbing his chest, lightly scratching across his nipple, waking it.

“What are you?” Hemmingford asked, eyes closed.

She kissed the top of his shoulder, moving in front of him. His throat.  “Something different,” she said breathlessly, and then her lips were on his. Their mouths opened.

Hemmingford tasted something sweet in her mouth with a hint of metal. His tongue ran cautiously over her teeth, feeling the two sharp points. His heart beat hard and rapid. She matched its intensity. These details were small things, though. He was swept up in the way his flesh tingled where she touched him and how the endless depth of this kiss drew him into her. She unbuckled his belt, his pants, and dropped them.  Hemmingford’s hands pulled up her dress, her slip, and found her panties. They fell, and she stepped out of them for him and she pushed him onto the desk, climbing onto him.  When she guided him into her, her mouth pressed hard against him.

His pain was gone. His hands gripped her lower back as she rocked on top of him.  Her mouth moved to his wounded shoulder, sucking on the wounds. He felt another set of pinches, and then heat undulated down his spine. Nothing in life had felt this way before.  Every nerve and fiber felt engaged. He pulled her hard body against his. Her breasts cushioned against his chest while they slid back and forth smoothly timed. Their mouths were pressed together as he felt it rushing on him. His hands squeezed her back; the muscles in his legs tightened. His back felt like it was burning while her motion became more vigorous. Her lips were on his shoulder when her own came, meeting his sudden breaths. The tone of her voice sank into his bones, lighting him from the inside out.

When his body stilled, every muscle relaxed at once. It was like every tension had been sucked away. He was as light as air. She was still moving on top of him. Slight little motions that made everything below tingle with a painful pleasure. She was smiling, he saw. The littlest dribble of his blood ran down her angled chin. Then her head collapsed onto his bare chest, her hot exhales running across the thin thatch of curled hair between his muscles.

“My name is Hemmingford Rose,” he said.

“I am Rossum,” she said. Her voice was silky. She made him sit up again while she inspected his wounds. “We can tend this later,” she said, grabbing his overcoat. She tore it into a few long ribbons and wrapped the wound a few times, tying it beneath his arm. “There is metal in you.”

“Thank you.” He moved his arm, testing it. The pain was bearable.

“You helped me. You don’t–” Rossum stood stiffly, her beautiful eyes wide.  “We have been found.”

Hemmingford moved to the window. There were two cars out front; six men climbed out. He lost them at the bottom of the window, but it was definitely this building they had entered. All of them had long coats on, hiding their guns. His pistol was in the holster on the floor, where it had fallen in the commotion. His eyes met her. “I’ll have some questions later.” After the unbuttoned shirt, he slipped the holster on, watching the door. “Stay here.” He went to the door, gun in hand. They were coming up the stairs, he could hear. At the end of the short hall, he leaned back against the wall he was facing.  “I’m a cop!” Hemmingford yelled. The movement stopped. “What are you after?”

A few whispers too faint to make out came down the hall like scurrying rat scratches, then: “The woman is a monster. Whatever she told you is a lie.”

“You boys go ahead and leave.”

“I’m a priest. We can’t leave until we put this evil down. Don’t you fear God, son?”

“Those shotguns come with scriptures engraved down the barrels?”

There was a pause. “God’s work can be dirty.”

At least the man made it sound regrettable, Hemmingford thought. There was more whispering, and he got the feeling that they were preparing to make a move.  “She’s a woman,” he called out.

“Don’t be fooled. There is more strength there than you think.”

He smirked, thinking about the ease she’d broken the board with. He should have brought those pieces in. That was probably how they had found them, he guessed.

“Has she bitten you?” another man called out. His voice was new.

“You can’t have her,” Hemmingford yelled.

“Then we have to take her,” the new man yelled.

Hemmingford spun, exposing himself marginally, and fired into the flashlights.  Two quick shots, and then he rolled back around the corner, and backed down the hall.  One man was screaming that he was bleeding. The priest said that Jake was dead. And then the end of the hall exploded in gunfire. The plaster wall crumbled, and the corner was shaved clean. He stood at the doorway down the hall, watching the moving lights.  Rossum was in the room, near the window. “There is more of them than you and me.  And I’m almost out of bullets,” he said. When the first face poked down the hall, Hemmingford shot. The bullet hit the wall, exploding plaster in a large puff. A second after, he stepped fully in the room, shutting the door; gunfire began tearing up the hallway. “Not much–”

Rossum busted the window. The glass fell to the sidewalk below. “Come,” she instructed.

“It’s kind of high, isn’t it?” he asked, already deciding that jumping was his only chance. She lifted him like a bride would be lifted and leaped out. Her landing was soft, and then his feet were hitting the ground. The sound of gunfire was muffled above. Cars passed them on the main street. He was impressed. “Take the car,” he said, running over to it. The men had come in two cars. She was in as he pulled his door open.

“Stop!”

Half out of the window, a man was aiming a tommy gun at him. “ Shit,” Hemmingford muttered. The car started. This was going to be close. He shot without aiming, drawing and driving at the same time.  His bullet struck a foot to the left of the window. It was enough to make the gunner duck his head, lending Hemmingford precious seconds. “Get down!” he screamed, slamming his foot down on the accelerator.  The car jerked forward, slamming his door, pulling onto the sidewalk. From above, automatic fire opened up. The roof popped the rapid impacts. The car jostled off the sidewalk, caroming off of a passing car. At the intersection, Hemmingford squealed left. “We’re good.”

Rossum was scrunched down in her seat. She straightened up, looked up at the holes in the roof behind them, then looked back. The rear backseat was torn with holes, stuffing hung out. “We are not yet clear,” she said. To punctuate, machine gun fire burst through the rear window. The sound of metal smacking the back of the car made Hemmingford duck.

“Not good,” he said. Through the mirror, he saw the man hanging out of the window behind them. The second car was two lengths back. The mouth of the tommy gun opened, and Hemmingford’s mirror crumbled. The car wasn’t going to be able to take much more of this. He took the next turn, barely tapping the breaks. The street was full of cars. A long trail of lead slashed across the car that Hemmingford had been behind. The driver jerked, his blood spitting up onto the window. The trailing car turned behind Hemmingford. Rossum was turned around in her seat, hands on top, watching behind them with a petulant glare. “The man is reloading a round clip.”

Hemmingford sharply turned around the next two cars and bounced up onto the sidewalk to keep from hitting a third. Gun fire from the street followed them. The shops and people Hemmingford passed were hailed in a destructive like of lead. Windows burst. Bricks cracked. People ducked, screaming, or fell bloody as Hemmingford sped by. He swerved into the street at the first opening. The gunfire had covered the street.  People were hiding as he drove by. Heads poked out from behind cars and through shop windows. Vender’s carts stood unattended. “I don’t know how much farther we have to go. Another clip and this car might crumple on us.” There wasn’t much left of the back of the car as it was.

“Turn here. Head east,” Rossum said.

He took the turn. You could see that the panic hadn’t passed to this street. At once, people were visible. He turned where Rossum pointed again. Then again. Their trailers were behind them, bumping the car. Rossum had her torso out of the window, looking up at the night sky. When she pulled herself in, she grabbed the wheel.  Hemmingford hit the brakes as the car turned, fishtailing. Their trailers hit them, jostling the car, snapping the rear tire. The car was facing a deep alley. There were trashcans packed on either side. A steel fire escape was connected to the building at the back.

“Go,” she said sternly.

The car didn’t have much left in it, but it limped to the back of the alley. He went for his door, but she gabbed him by the shoulder. Her grip was iron, and he suspected that there was much more strength there than she was using. “What is it?” he asked. The other car was pulling behind them, victorious. Their headlights came brightly through the mottled rear.

“Wait.”

“They want to kill you. Me, now, too. And I’m out of bullets.” He looked behind them, cowering beside the torn seat back. “I could try something while you jump up the fire escape. I got a feeling that you can make it.”

Rossum smiled and it was the most frighteningly beautiful thing that he’d ever seen. “No need.”

They came from the sky, falling like rain falls, only nothing so natural, Hemmingford supposed. There were three of them, all men. They had on suits but no ties.  Long hair. One wore black gloves. The first fell onto the roof of the car behind them as the doors opened. The roof bubbled in. The men swung their ready guns up, and the other two dropped down behind the men.

“What…?”

“They are my family,” she said, as the men screamed. Gunfire soared wildly into the night sky while the men holding the guns had their throats torn out. Blood sprayed all over the men. The one still in the car behind them screamed, trapped, as they came in for him when he didn’t come out. It didn’t last a minute, but Hemmingford saw it all in slow-motion. When it was done, the gunmen were all bloody crumples, and the three blood-covered creatures stood looking his way.

“Okay,” he said, facing forward. He watched her walk around the front of the car, coming to his door. After two deep breaths, he stepped out. The men behind him were gone. Corpses laid still on the concrete. “Rossum,” he said, grabbing her with his left arm. His shoulder screamed.

She walked very close to him, closed her eyes, and inhaled while she moved her face up and over. Their lips brushed, her eyes opened. “It is near dawn. I must go. But I will find you, Hemmingford Rose. You saved me.” With a girlish laugh, she was gone.

He walked down the alley, the night streaming against the bare swath of chest, his unbuttoned shirt revealed, and carefully stepped around the dead men. He could hear sirens clearly from the surrounding streets. What he’d wanted to say was that they had saved each other. Was he more excited or scared by her promise to find him? He put a delicate hand on his throbbing shoulder. Cars passed by the end of the alley. To the east, still and hour down, dawn was coming.

Quarter Dreams

                                                                                           

By:

Morgen Knight

 

“Heads, we get married; tails, we break up.”

Barbra glanced at the quarter in his left hand and then looked at the pistol in his right. “Quit this,” she said as if this were already a tired game. She remembered tossing quarters into fountains, trying to bribe a dream.

“Quit this?” he growled, amazed. “I catch you sneakin off, an you want me to quit? You got some sack, lady.” He ran a wrist over his wild hair. Eyes jumpy.

Barbra looked at the poorly stuffed bags on the filthy sheet. They were damning evidence. But he was supposed to be gone for another two hours. More than enough. No words, no note, an empty closet telling all the story that needed to be told.

She turned toward the grim-covered window, but Simon stepped in front of her. He was smiling, but it wasn’t his amused smile. “Are you gonna move?” she asked.

“Oh! I’m the jerk?” He touched the end of the pistol to his chest; his other hand was a fist. “You’re leavin me,” he snarled through clenched teeth, pushing the end of the pistol against her brow, “an I gotta be friendly? You’ve gotta confused mind, Barbi.”

Oh, he knew how she hated him calling her that, but she bit down; if she lost it, he really would.

“You don’t leave me.” He steadied himself with a deep breath. “You don’t getta do that.” He used the pistol like an accusing finger. “Besides, what’s a reason?” He shrugged, almost comically.

The drugs. The filth. The cockroaches and emptiness. The violence. What she said was: “I need a new life.”

“What makes this one so bad for you?” Simon sounded almost charming, the Simon she’d fallen in love with. If not love, maybe a twisted sort of co-dependent reliance. Tail-spinning children of broken homes.

“You’re holdin a gun to my head,” she said flatly.

Smile gone, his face reddened. “SHUT YOUR MOUTH!”

Barbra flinched, hands trembling. She was strong enough for this. She’d been strong enough to know she couldn’t keep living this life. She’d been strong enough to put her legs in those stirrups after she’d realized what was growing in her and the doom that brought. She was strong enough to start over, even if it was only for a quarter dream, so she had to be strong enough to see the end.

“I thought I loved you,” he said.

“Maybe you did.” She paused. “Simon.” He looked at her with a miserable hope, the anger flickering uncertain. “Flip the coin.”

“Huh?”

“Flip you coin. Heads, I walk; tails, we break up.”

He smirked. “That ain’t no game. How do I win?”

“It’s the only game I’ll play.”

He thought for a moment, his face making a complicated expression. “Okay,” he finally said, nodding, the nod growing vigorous, jaw clenched. When he looked at her, it was with all the malice of the wounded. “What’s that song about breakin up bein hard to do?” he laughed, cocking the pistol. “I guess maybe we’ll see.”

“I guess,” she mumbled.

“You sure you wanna play?”

“Flip the god damn coin so we can be done.” It was the first angry flare she’d let out in this twenty minute abhorrence.

This time Simon flinched. His mad smile slowly washed back in like a tide full of plane wreckage. “Okay, Barbi doll, we’ll flip.” He readied the coin on his thumb. “Flip for keeps, like we said as kids.”

Barbra looked at the round coin. There was something about its shape that felt significant—karma; connectivity; repetition, maybe? She watched Simon toss the quarter into the air and thought about how some people only dream of being different.

The quarter bounced once, twice. It was like she already knew what it’d give her, she just had to see it. Just had to wait for it to quit spinning.

And then it did, his foot stomping down on it.

“I think I really loved you,” Simon pouted; it was the last thing she ever heard him say.

Sometimes quarter dreams are what we have to hold on to.

He lifted his foot.