Authors: Owen Laukkanen,David Siddall,CS DeWildt,Eric Beetner,Joseph Rubas,Liam Sweeny,Scott Adlerberg
Tommy walked through the maze of junk, opening each door and finding the same thing. Each room was stuffed with diapers and trash piles, flies buzzed and bred, roaches scrambled out of the reach of the light. Cats rested on top of the piles, taking a break from the mice nests they’d uncovered, watching Tommy with quiet interest. Tommy picked up a snow globe. Inside was a model of the Las Vegas strip. Tommy’s shaking hand woke the glittery snow.
“Got every fucking thing but what I need!” Tommy threw the globe at a gray tabby and missed. The glass shattered against the wall, spraying the room with glass and water and sin. The cats screeched, ran, tore open bags of trash with their claws.
“Jesus Christ,” Tommy said as the new odor filled the room. He backed out of the room and the old woman was waiting. “What the hell you living in here, lady? These all your fucking diapers?” She picked at her bleeding nose, staring at Tommy with no answer, with no sign that she’d even heard him. But then she spoke.
“Did you look in the garage, Clarence?”
Tommy forced the locked side entrance of the garage with a hard kick of the handle. He pushed the door open with his shoulder as stacks of unknown debris toppled behind it. The garage was as cluttered as the house, but less fetid. Cardboard boxes of clothes and magazines and household bric-a-brac rose from the floor, leaning under their own weight, uneven stacks that rose and fell like mountain peaks. Tommy moved through the range, seeking passes and climbing over the debris where he could. On the other side of the garage sat a large form draped in yellow sheets. Tommy removed a sheet, and then another, slowly revealing the true shape underneath. The white paint shone like a star, and the power it held within the universe of filth made Tommy squint. He pulled the remaining blankets and stood at the hood of a pristine Volkswagen, a hatchback model, at least twenty-five years old.
“Clarence! What are you doing! We’re not supposed to be out here. Dad said. If he sees you messing with the car, you’re going to get it!”
“Fuck that,” Tommy said. He opened the car door. The inside of the vehicle was pristine and the new car smell was thick. Tommy shook his head as he eyed the odometer, only seventeen miles on it. The fuel gauge read full. He checked the ignition for the keys, then the glove box, above the sun visor, under the floor mats. “Where’s the key?” he asked. The woman didn’t look at him at all as she played with a gray cat that had followed them into the garage. If he found the key, he could load up the safe and be gone as soon as the heat died down. No one had come poking around yet, but that’s assuming they’d already seen the security footage or talked to Manager Mitch. The police could be over the back wall any second or maybe never. Tommy grabbed a wooden handle and pulled hard. It wasn’t a shovel, wasn’t a tool at all, just an old croquet mallet.
“I got something for you, baby,” the woman said. “Come sit on my lap.”
“Shut the fuck up with that,” Tommy said as he tipped stacks of boxes. “You have a fucking shovel or what?”
“I got something.”
“Something for me. I know. If it ain’t a shovel or a combination to the safe or keys to this car, I don’t give a shit.”
And then he felt a tap on his neck, a lovely warmth, then the stench. Tommy put his hand to his neck as reflex, his fingers finding the steaming Pollock strewn across his neck. The woman laughed and held up her hands, opening and closing them, the smack of wet shit keeping the beat under the melody of rotten-toothed laughter.
“I got you!” she said. “I got you Clarence!”
Tommy wiped his hand on a dusty cardboard box and grabbed the mop handle. He watched her standing in front of the doorway, nearly a silhouette as the daylight flooded in behind her. Tommy seethed. “Now you fucking done it you old cunt.”
Tommy swung the mallet hard and caught the lady in the temple. She stumbled backward and fell over a short stack of bundled newspapers. She was silent and still. Tommy thought he might have killed her, but then she started to cry, long inhales of eye-clenched sorrow filling her lungs before she expelled it with a mighty shrieking howl. The noise took him aback and Tommy almost felt guilty, but then he got another whiff of the shit and it was all he could do not to give her a good kick in the ribs. “Knock it off with that shit,” Tommy said as a flash of silver stole his eye. There in the corner next to the door he’d come in was a shining aluminum snow shovel. He tossed the mallet aside.
The woman continued to sob. “You aren’t supposed to hit, Clarence,” she said quietly. “You aren’t supposed to hit. I’m telling Daddy.”
Tommy scoffed as he left the garage. “Daddy’s dead. Shot himself in the head so he wouldn’t have to look at you.” The woman moaned again, a sound as wretched as the foul mess she’d pulled from her diaper.
Inside the house, Tommy put the shovel to work, plowing through the trash, clearing out the area around the safe. Clothes, old food, diapers, garbage, Tommy put the shovel to it all and tore through the trash and debris. He wrestled some brittle old end tables from a stubborn pile and tossed them across the room with a splintering crack. In less than five minutes there was a (relatively) clean path from the safe to the door. He tried pulling the safe again and with only minor struggle managed to inch it away from the wall. It wheeled easily along the gritty, cat piss stained floors.
“Fuck yeah, bitch!” Tommy whooped. He called to the old lady who’d made it back to the doorway. “Where’s the keys to the car?”
“I won’t tell. I never tell on you, Clarence. But that isn’t true what you said. Is it?”
“What? Shut up. Just tell me where the keys are.” Tommy looked at her as she stared blankly and Tommy put his hands up to shake and strangle her from across the room. “Daddy’s keys? Where they at?”
At that question she smiled. “In the basement.”
“Basement? I been all over this bitch. You ain’t got no basement.”
The woman continued to smile. She pointed to Tommy, and then past him. Tommy looked and spotted the old wooden china hutch against the wall. The glass front was smashed and the back panel was punched out. And then he saw it, the partially obscured door.
Tommy yanked the hutch from the wall and let it fall among the rest of the garbage. The door handle was a jagged faux crystal thing, black. Tommy pulled open the door and looked into the dark stairwell. His hand found the switch on the wall and a single, dangling yellow bulb lit up the basement below. The key was there, at the bottom, hanging from a metal hook anchored to the concrete foundation. It reflected the yellow light and showed Tommy visions of diamonds and lesser stones, credit cards and cash. In his mind he was already driving the safe across the state line.
“The fuck lady? What happened to the stairs?”
He felt her hands on him, surprisingly strong. And then he was flying, for just a moment. He fell down through the stairwell and broke on the hard concrete foundation. There was a hot snap in his leg, and pain, and warm piss in his pants, and then nothing, and then the pain again as his twitching muscles and crushed vertebrae interfered with the signal. He groaned and strained to look at himself. He pulled the athletic short up on his right leg. The snapped femur was pressing against the skin and threatening to puncture. “Fuck!” he screamed. Tommy looked around the best he could, laid out on the cement. He reached for the key hung behind him, unsure of what he’d do with it, yet obeying the need to touch it. It was out of his reach and Tommy screamed in pain and frustration as he tried to move toward it. He slammed his fist on the concrete, tried to sit up and screamed again through gritted teeth.
“I told you Clarence. I told you what would happen if you laid a hand on me. Didn’t I Clarence? I don’t care what you do. I don’t care what you tell Daddy.”
She was backlit, standing above him at the basement door. He couldn’t see her scabbed nose, or her psoriasis, or her shit-stained slippers, only saw her black soul, fringed with fiery light. Her shadow extended from her feet, warping and stretching as it crept over Tommy.
“I’m not Clarence!” Tommy yelled to the silhouette above. He reached for her. “I’m just a guy. I’m not Clarence.” She didn’t say another word. She stepped back from the open stairwell and lifted her nightgown and pulled off her diaper. She tossed it down and it landed close to Tommy, slopping a spray of shit across his cheek. Tommy wondered how long it would take to be completely buried. How long it would take someone to find him. Above him the glowing angel shut the door. In the last of the retreating light he saw the many shining lights in the darkness. He heard the whining, weak growl of the cats. He felt their tongues on his legs and then he didn’t. Felt their teeth. And didn’t. Tommy grabbed a cat and broke its neck. Another cat came and he did the same as it fought and clawed at his arms in the dark. Tommy Skaggs killed cats for hours in the dark, killed cats until his arms burned, until he couldn’t lift them anymore. Until he couldn’t break another neck to save his life.
CS DeWildt is a liar. He wants to hurt you. His work includes the novella
Candy and Cigarettes
his collection of short stories and flash. Please visit at
By David Siddall
APO WAS GIVING IT
large, boasting of how he’d robbed the Off-Licence and flaunting his new-found wealth in front of those he nominally called friends. He cracked another tin of Carling and waved it in Ricky’s face until it frothed from the opening and he had to slurp quickly lest any be lost.
“’S’easy,” he said. “Walked in, pulled out the shooter,” he made his free hand into the shape of a gun, “and said, ‘give us the money darling or this thing’s liable to go off.’”
He took another swig and wiped his nose free of the white residue that clung to his nostrils like anaemic snot.
“Yeah, easy street.”
He put his hand into his back pocket and the held up a wad of cash.
Capo had scored big, then purchased three cases of lager and five grams of coke from a dealer he knew in the Inglenook. He threw what was left from Bargain Booze’s till across the coffee table.
“You really said that?”
Tricia’s eyes were wide in admiration as she sipped from a can delicately poised in her fat fingers. She was sprawled on a leather sofa that had more patches on its arms than an ex-smoker craving nicotine in what Capo laughingly called his ‘pad’. The flat was as squalid as himself—the bed hadn’t been changed in months and the sink was piled with dirty dishes. But to Capo, it was home.
He looked at Tricia’s tits bulging beneath her white tank top and grabbed his crotch.
“Yeah. Just like this thing’s liable to go off.”
She put a hand to her mouth and laughed like a hyena giving birth.
Sitting opposite, Ricky stifled a yawn. He had drunk six cans and the effects from the two lines of coke were wearing off. He wanted to sleep. Last night his old man had been going on and on at him—‘no job, no money, a lazy fucking layabout’—so much that he had stormed out and roamed the streets till the early hours. All he wanted was to close his eyes. But he needed to stay sharp, for he knew all about Capo’s little tricks.
He smiled falsely and looked across the room; Trish on the sofa and Capo on its arm, worming his way in next to her and laughing like they shared some joke he wasn’t privy to. He and Trish had an understanding. That’s what he thought, and while it would never be a meeting of minds, he’d settle for a corruption of bodies that went far beyond his limited experience of women and owed more to an expansive imagination than was a given fact. He was just waiting for the right time to make his move.
He watched Tricia toss back hair that fell in a rivulet of black tresses and flutter long, false lashes in a semaphore display of availability. And from where he sat, he could see up her skirt. It barely covered her arse anyway, but every so often he got a flash of white knickers. Ricky swallowed. That tantalising glimpse sent his brain into feverish overdrive.
He lifted his can, finished what was left, and crushed it in his fist. “A gun,” he said and nodded sagely. “That’s the way to go. ’Course, when I was in the game, we had to use whatever came to hand.” And he smiled a sabre-toothed grin he thought would impress the girl. “Sometimes, naked steel is enough to make ’em wet their pants.”
Ricky had done nothing more than nick beer from the offie and piss in public. But with Trish enraptured by Capo’s daring deeds, he felt the need to say something to promote his worth.
“Is right lad, is right.” Capo rose from his perch and made a fist. “Give ’em fear and you can do anything.” Pulling a plastic baggy from his pocket, he split the knot with his teeth and poured the white powder on the glass table next to Ricky. Cutting it into three thin lines with the craft blade set there for just such a purpose, he rolled a £20 note into a thin tube and snorted the first line. He was showing off and loving it. “Go ’head,” he said, and nudged Ricky with his elbow. “Have one on me.”
Ricky bent forward. He had already taken more than enough but was damned if he was going to refuse. Not with Tricia looking on. He wound the twenty into a tighter roll, and bending over the table, snorted it through his right nostril. The powder hit the back of his throat. He grunted, sniffed three or four times and flicked his nose before closing his eyes and settling back in his chair. Even more than the first and second, this hit the mark. It was like standing on a shore and having the salt sea spray wash over him. His momentary lethargy evaporated as wave after wave of energy swept through him. Ricky’s vision cleared to a point where anything was possible.