Monthly Archives: August 2012

Goodbye, Moon

In lieu of continuing “The Milkman’s Eyes,” I’m sharing some poetry I’ve composed. “The Milkman’s Eyes” will conclude this week. Scout’s honor. In the meantime, poetry!

For Neil Armstrong

I need you to tell me, Neil
I need you to tell me
How a man can walk the heavens
And not despise the Earth

Look at this place, Neil
It is dark and cold and empty
Without even the hint of stars
And when I look up I see nothing
Nothing but a distant, fading promise

I am begging you, Neil
Teach me the secret
A lifetime is too long to wait
To touch the face of God again
It is too long by far


Knight-Errant

In lieu of continuing “The Milkman’s Eyes,” I’m sharing some poetry I’ve composed. “The Milkman’s Eyes” will conclude this week. Scout’s honor. In the meantime, poetry!

What unconquered land is this beneath my feet?
What steps have I trod
That led me to this place?

The shadows crawl
The night chatters
And I have never missed home
As I do now

I have climbed atop the bones of dead men
Men like me
And they whisper warnings
With every crack and every snap underfoot

But men like me do not turn around
And the dead are piled deep enough to prove it
My steel will protect me
Where theirs did not
My God will save me
Where theirs looked away
And my courage will hold
Where theirs shattered like glass

Every land is conquered in time
I tell myself
But my God, my God
Home has never seemed so far away


A Girl and Her Dog

In lieu of continuing “The Milkman’s Eyes,” I’m sharing some poetry I’ve composed. “The Milkman’s Eyes” will conclude this week. Scout’s honor. In the meantime, poetry!

For Michelle

If you will keep me safe
I will feed you
And if you will walk by my side
I will find us water to drink

Though fire rains from the sky
Though violent men haunt our every step
I will not leave you
Will not abandon you
If you do not abandon me

And when night falls
And we are huddled around dying embers
And your eyes are shut
And you are dreaming of a better world
A simpler world
I will keep you warm
And I will love you
And you don’t have to do anything at all


No Post, 8/24

Hey there, faithful readers. There will be no post for Friday 8/24 or Saturday 8/25. My creative energies, such as they are, at an all-time low this week, and I just don’t have it in me to sit down and compose. Hopefully Monday, but honestly, even that’s kind of a crapshoot.

But hey, since you don’t have to digest a new piece, why not take this time to go through the archives and catch up on some stuff you might have missed the first time around? ; )


No Post, 8/20-21

Hey all. There will be no post tonight, unfortunately. It’s been a profoundly long day, and I haven’t been able to produce anything of acceptable quality (nor have I put myself into a state where unacceptable quality work got posted regardless.) Check back in on Friday, for an extra-long installment (and possibly the conclusion) of “The Milkman’s Eyes!”


The Milkman’s Eyes, Pt. 2

Part two up before midnight! Woo!

In time, I almost became used to Robin’s eyes. Almost. Richard pulled me aside after the birth, leaving Robin in his mother’s arms, and began speaking to me not as a friend but as a physician. He spoke of heterochromia, of albinism, and as his speech wore on, my patience grew thin. “Richard,” I said as calmly as I could manage. “The child has dark hair. I may not have a doctorate, but I know what an albino is. And the child doesn’t have two differently colored eyes; he has eyes that change color with every moment!”

A trick of the light, perhaps,” Richard said. “Or… some children’s eyes will darken as they age.”

I shook my head. Richard frowned. “Well, what do you want me to tell you? Do you think they taught me about this at the university? Do you think I can say, ‘Eyes like vermin? Just put a cold compress on the baby’s neck and lay him on his side?’”

Well, what am I supposed to do?” I hissed. “What am I supposed to say to Jocelyne about our… about that thing?”

Richard was silent, his expression not one of defeat or anger or shame, but consideration. He was wracking his brain for some kind of answer to give me. Richard was nothing if not the man with all the answers. I stood there watching him, my arms crossed, my impatience writ plain across my face, when I could hear Joceleyne’s voice. The sound of her singing softly to the child in her arms came through the door like a cool breeze through the window on a summer’s day, and the anger left me. Richard turned me to and said, “Perhaps you shouldn’t say anything.”

Oh?”

She’s not blind. She saw those eyes, same as you, and she’s chosen to look past them.”

I snorted. “Is that a pun? Is this some kind of joke to you?”

Richard shook his head. “Your wife is waiting for you,” he said. “Your child is waiting for you. Stop wasting your time with me and go to them.”

I stared at Richard with a blank look on my face. I had no idea what to say to him. It was the stress more than anything, I think. The stress of the past nine months, the stress of the birth, the shock of seeing my son for the first time. I didn’t know how to react, and so I did the best that I could. I took a deep breath, exhaled, forced a smile on my face, and went back into the room.

* * *

In the short term, Richard was right. Jocelyne saw our son and accepted him as he was, and the onus was upon me to do the same. And to Robin’s credit, there was much to like about him. He seemed to always be of a happy disposition, crying and fussing little. Certainly he could wail like a banshee if he were hungry or in pain, but he rarely seemed to call out for attention unless there was something actively troubling. He was content to observe the world around him.

The boy grew quickly, and soon he was walking and talking and of an age for his schooling to begin in earnest. Although I made more than enough to afford a governess (indeed, I had hired a nurse to help raise Robin,) she wanted the boy to receive an education alongside other children. I was apprehensive about the situation, of course. What would the other children say when they saw him? How would he react to being teased, as it was certain he would be, what with the potential for incessant cruelty that lurks in every child?

It is strange to think how protective I was of him at the time. I certainly see little reason to protect the boy now.

In any case, Jocelyne insisted and I relented. We moved from the countryside to the city, and Robin began attending Goodfellow Academy at the age of six. Looking back on it, I suppose that is where the troubles began.

Perhaps it paints me as a petulant man, but I take a certain satisfaction in having been correct in my assessment of the other children’s attitudes towards Robin. It matters little now, but as the years have worn on, I have come to relish the little pleasures I may take in such things.

The fact of the matter is that Robin was different from the other children at Goodfellow. They were the sons and daughters of old money, of families that had been wealthy for generations, for ages before they had ever come to this country, and we most certainly were not. By the grace of my father and through my own inventiveness, our wealth was comparable, but it didn’t matter. In their eyes, the mere facts of my ancestry made me of a lower class than them. Robin, for his part, never fully understood this. All that he knew was that some of the other children were nice to him, and some of them seemed set on making his life a living hell. Of these, Sydney Fairchilde was the worst.

I need not speak of the Fairchilde family, save to say that, yes, I am speaking of that particular Fairchilde family. The youngest of Franklin and Isabelle Fairchilde, Sydney took an instant disliking to Robin. He did not fear or mistrust Robin, as I would have expected him to upon seeing how otherworldly Robin’s eyes could make him look. Nor did he seem contempt to simply mock him for failing to have been born into a family that had been wealthy when Carnegie was still huddling together with his parents on a boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean. What the boy had, rather, was an unthinking antipathy towards Robin. He seemed motivated by nothing so much as hatred and malevolence. He tormented Robin both physically and verbally, and although my son was no weakling, he saw little that he could do; the Fairchilde boy was older and bigger, his family so important to the school that the faculty would do nothing to discipline or punish the child. And so it fell to me to teach my son how to defend himself. Too many days he had come home with bruises upon his body and blood upon his clothes. The day he came home with one of his eyes swollen shut, I pulled him aside and began his lessons.

I kept him home from Goodfellow for a week. I taught him to strike by having him punch pillows. I taught him to dodge blows, to read tells, to counter. And most damning of all, I taught him that there was no honor in a fight for survival. The Fairchild boy had proven himself a brute of the lowest order, rejecting society and all its covenants to terrorize someone smaller than him. He was behaving not as a human but as a rabid animal, and a rabid animal must be put down. I taught him the dirty tricks I had learned in my own life, and once his wounds had healed to no more than bruises and scabs, Robin returned to school.

Not even a week had passed before Robin returned home with a bloodied nose and a blackened eye. Jocelyne was, as ever, heartbroken to see him in such a state, but this was nothing like previous occurrences. To begin, one of the faculty of Goodfellow Academy, a dour elderly matron by the name of Mrs. Parker escorted him to our doorstep, her hand clenching the neck of his shirt as one would clench the collar of an unruly dog.

Secondly, behind the mask of bruises and blood that his face had become, the Robin was grinning.

“Your son is no longer welcome at Goodfellow Academy, sir!” Mrs. Parker began, not even greeting me or my wife. “I don’t know what you will do with him, nor do I care! Goodfellow Academy is no place for such violent, intemperate creatures!”

I snorted. “And what of Sydney Fairchilde, who has assaulted my son nigh daily for weeks now while you have done nothing about it, hm? Is our family’s name of so little weight? Is our money not as good as theirs?”

The old woman said nothing to this. She simply stared at me, as if I would wilt before her gaze as a child would. Of course, I would not. There’s respecting one’s elders and then there is capitulating to them, and did not become the man I am today by cowering in the face of every dirty look given to me.

“We have no place for such monsters at Goodfellow Academy,” she finally said once it became clear to her that I was going to hold her gaze. “And don’t be surprised if you hear from the Fairchilde’s about what your little beast did to their boy.”

The witch left without further lecturing us, and Jocelyne in turn gave Robin a speech on how he mustn’t resort to violence to solve his problems, and he must instead use words and reasoning or else he would be no better than his enemies. Robin played the part of the penitent well, staring at his feet, and muttering nothing but “Yes, Ma’ams” and “No, Ma’ams.” Exasperated, Jocelyne turned to me and said, “Well, he’s your son, too! Don’t you have anything to say to him?”

“Of course, I do,” I replied. “In fact, I have quite a bit to say to him. Give me some time alone with the boy, and we’ll sort this all out.” I looked down at my son and flashed him the most ominous look I could muster. A look of genuine fear seemed to wash across his face, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting into laughter and embracing him. “Yes, we’re going to have a very long talk.”

Satisfied that some kind of punishment was impending, Jocelyne left me to deal with Robin on my own. I waited until she had retreated to some other room in our house, and I led the boy outside into the yard. For one so young and inexperienced, he seemed to possess all the affectation of a man marching to the gallows to be executed. At last, I could keep up the charade no longer. I looked down at my son and grinned. In turn, he looked absolutely confused.

“So, you finally showed that damn Fairchilde boy what you were made of, hm?”

Slowly a smile spread across my son’s face, his strange eyes lighting up with joy. He nodded enthusiastically. “I fought him, Father. Just like you said.”

“Tell me how it happened.” We sat down in the grass, and my son leapt into action, telling his story with every flourish and embellishment he could imagine.

“He came up to me just like he always does with this mean look on his face, and he says, ‘What’s wrong, runt? Did your mommy keep you home because you were too scared to go to school?’ and then I say, ‘No, my father kept me home so he could teach me how to fight you,’ and he just laughs and he goes, ‘Oh, yeah?’ and I say, ‘Yeah!’ and then he turns to his friends and he goes, ‘Watch this.’ And then he winds up to throw a big punch, just like he always does, but I saw it coming this time, Father! I saw it coming, and I stepped to the side, and he threw himself off balance, and then I pushed him! He fell face-first into the dirt!”

I laughed. “Good, good. Even Fairchildes need a face-full of dirt every now and then. Everyone does. Keeps them humble.”

Robin nodded, grinning. “And then he got up, and oh, he was mad! He swung at me, and he hit me, but only once, and then he couldn’t hit me again! He chased me, and he started to get tired, and then I hit him right in the face!”

I smiled. “Good job, son. I’m proud of you for standing up to him.”

Robin grinned all the wider. “And he got this really surprised look on his face. He just stood there, looking stupid, like a stupid stupid pig, and I hit him again, right in the nose. He put up his hands to block, like you showed me, so I hit him in the stomach.”

The smile started to fade from my face. “Well,” I said, uncertain how to proceed. “I bet he’ll think twice before he does that again, hm?”

Robin grinned and nodded. “I kept hitting him and hitting him. I hit him right between his legs, and he just collapsed to the ground, and then I was just kicking him, kicking him in the ribs and the face! Oh, you should have seen him, Father! His face was just a bloody, bloody mess! He was crying, and sniffling, and calling out for his mother and for the teachers, and I just stood over him laughing!”

The horror was writ plain across my face. In retrospect, this should have been my biggest warning. Not the story my son was telling me, but his lack of reaction to my own disgust and outrage. There was no uncertainty on his face, no fear. Nothing but that interminable pride. “My God, boy!” I said. “Why?”

Only then did Robin’s pride wavered. Confusion took up its place upon his face. “Why what, Father?”

“Why would you do such a thing?”

His expression become one of absolute neutrality. He looked up at me with his inhuman eyes, and he spoke calmly, plainly, simply.

“Because I could.”


The Milkman’s Eyes, Pt. 1

The Milkman’s Eyes begins with a short post tonight! Expect a much longer update on Friday/Saturday!

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted a son. A child I could raise as my father raised me, one I could instruct in the beauty and the meanness of the world. One who could go forth and live a better life than I, whom I would look at and know that the world is a better place for my contribution to it.

Do you understand me? I wanted a son. I wanted one! I am not some rake who cares only for his own pleasure, who learns that he is to be father and begins feverishly looking for an escape from his responsibilities! I have never been that man! Even now, even at this late and final hour, I am not that man!

You cannot imagine the joy we felt when Jocelyne and I learned that she was pregnant. We had been trying for so long, and as she approached the middle of her twenties, I began to worry for the future of my line, for my dreams of fatherhood. And I could tell that Jocelyne was struggling with this unhappy fact as well. As the years went by, more of our peers were having children and those who had had children early found themselves with families of growing boys and girls. Invariably conversation would drift towards topics of schooling and play and what the future held, and Jocelyne and I could only sit there in silence, alienated by our failures. When she came to me that first morning, her blonde hair illuminated by the sun filtering through our parlor window, her green eyes wet with tears, and a trembling smile on her lips, I knew that our prayers had been answered.

Do you hear me? I truly believed that our prayers had been answered. Prayers! My God, what a fool I was!

I held my sweet Jocelyne in my arms and we laughed and wept. She told me that she had missed her time of the month by over a week, that she had not even realized it until that very morning. It was not unheard of, we knew, for a woman’s cycle to be late for whatever reason, but still I hoped against hope that we would finally be granted our wish. A short while later she began experience morning sickness, and we rejoiced.

We tried to keep an air of decorum, to keep our expectations reasonable. We knew, after all, that heartbreak could come at any time, but we were so happy that the next few months seemed to pass in a blur and in no time at all, the hour of the delivery was upon us. Jocelyne wanted to deliver the child in our own home, and so I had my friend Richard Carlyle, a respected local doctor, oversee things. Richard is possessed of something of a ribald sense of humor, and much to Jocelyne’s chagrin (and my mild embarrassment,) he was making jokes for much of the proceedings. In a most unladylike moment, my sweet Jocelyne announced that if Richard didn’t stop making jokes about how she was glowing and the beauty of nature, she would deliver the baby her damn self and choke him with the afterbirth. Richard laughed, but he did stop his incessant jokes.

At Richard’s insistence, I left the room. It was not fitting for a man to see all of the miracle of childbirth, he said. It could ruin marriages, he said (a comment which Jocelyne saw fit to punch him for.) And so I waited outside, pacing nervously. A dark cloud settled over my heart and in my mind’s eye, I could see Richard coming out of the room, a devastated look on his face. I could hear the wail of my beautiful wife. It will be a stillbirth, I thought. The child will be deformed. A thousand nightmares flooded my mind, and then I heard a baby’s cry rend the air, and I rushed into the room.

The look of love and adoration on Jocelyne’s face as she looked at the child bundled in her arms warmed my heart. I made to move to her side, but then I saw the expression on Richard’s face. I had expected smug satisfaction, perhaps a bit of pride, or maybe even a bit of happiness for me and for Jocelyne. I had no word for the expression I saw there. He seemed to be confused, or perhaps a bit worried, but struggling to bury it beneath his usual irreverent demeanor. He turned to me and said, “It’s a boy.” He frowned, added softly, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a milkman with eyes like that.”

I stared at him in silence for a moment before pushing him out of the way and rushing to my wife’s side. She looked up at me, her tired face beaming with pride. My son was wrapped in a blanket, his eyes shut, his breathing regular. A shock of dark hair rested atop his head, and for all the world, he seemed to be healthy and normal. I wept softly and kissed my wife.

Open your eyes and say hi to daddy, Robin,” she said, and my son did so. I blinked, uncomprehending, then angry, then anxious, and finally simply bewildered. Nestled in my wife’s arms, my son looked up at me with eyes as iridescent and multicolored as an insect’s.


The Newspaper Man, Pt. 7

Evening came. Dante painted signs. He went online looking for information about more protests, for articles and opinion pieces. A few journalists praised the non-violent demonstration they had participated in last night, calling the tunnel of silence the Chancellor had been made to walk through a chilling condemnation of how out of touch the administration of the university was with its students. Dante smiled. It seemed like he’d been smiling ever since he’d spoken with the Chancellor.

“Alright, it’s eating me up,” Dympna said. Dante turned to look at her, eyebrows raised expectantly.

“Hm?”

“What in the Hell did you and the Chancellor talk about for so long?”

“The demonstration, obviously.”

Dympna snorted. “Obviously. Come on, don’t be an ass.”

“You saw that look she gave us, right? When she was walking past the three of us and she looked like all of a sudden she’d seen a ghost or something?”

“Yeah.”

“So I asked her what she saw.”

“ And? What’d she see?”

Dante hesitated. He’d have to choose his words very carefully. If Dympna pushed him, he’d have no choice but to reveal his visions to her. Or worse, she might dismiss his thoughts as the rantings of some effete would-be intellectual. “She saw,” Dante began. He ran his tongue over his lips. Smiled. “She saw the spirit of the times, cold and dispassionate and faceless. She saw the zeitgeist looking down in judgment on her and everyone like her, every cop beating a student, every suit walking past someone holding a sign that says, ‘Homeless and hungry, please help.’” Dante’s smile became a grin. “In her own words, she saw ‘the end of things. The end of them.’”

“And that’s got you so happy? That’s what’s had you smiling all day?”

Dante nodded. “It’s like I said earlier. I knew I should be feeling something, but I didn’t know what. Well, now I do.” He smiled. “I feel… right. Like I’m doing the right thing. For a while, I lost that. I had a taste of it, and then I didn’t know what to think. But we’re doing the right thing, Dympna. We’re standing up for what’s right, and we’re winning.”

Dympna was silent. She studied Dante carefully, her face betraying no sign of any emotion but a cold detached curiosity.

She leaned in and hugged him. “It’s good to have you back,” she said. “I’m glad.”

Dante stood there, his arms hanging at his side. Slowly, he brought them up and returned the hug. “Me too,” he said.

“You’re still a scumbag,” she said with a smile.

Dante smiled back. “Well, of course.”

The door opened. The two of them turned to find Tweak standing in the doorway, a smirk on his face and a messenger bag slung across his shoulder. “If this is what it looks like, I just want you both to know that I’m not paying for another room.”

“It’s not,” Dympna said.

“Where have you been, man?” Dante asked.

“I went to go see Simon again, then I went to go see Frank. Nothing big.” Tweak walked past his two friends and examined the signs they had been working on. “Word on the street is there’s another demonstration planned on campus tomorrow. Supposed to be big.” He turned to face them. “It’s nice to see you guys getting ready.”

Dante blinked. “Oh. We didn’t know.”

Tweak shrugged. “Now you do.”

“So what’s the deal?” Dympna asked. “Another silent protest?”

Tweak shook his head. “Think loud. Bring your gas masks. Just in case.”

“You really think the police are going to bust out the pepper spray again? It’s turned into such a mess, I can’t see them risking the backlash.”

Tweak frowned. “If they feel cornered, they will. They don’t care. All they think is they’ve got the armor, the weapons, and the badge, and anything they do is justified.” He picked up one of the signs, turned it over in his hands. “You should put these on sticks or something. Makes it easier to keep one hand free.”

“Free for what?” Dante asked.

“Free for whatever.”

“Are you okay? You seem a little more intense than usual.”

Tweak took a deep breath. “I’m fine,” he said. He smiled, his eyes decidedly unhappy despite the expression on his face. “All things considered, I’m fine. Now, who wants to go get some dinner?”

* * *

That evening, Dympna was the first to go to sleep. Tweak and Dante were outside, Dante spraypainting signs and Tweak smoking a cigarette. The two men were silent for some time until finally Dante asked, “Do you believe in omens?”

Tweak turned to look at him, his eyebrows arched in confusion. “What?”

“I found a newspaper last night after the Chancellor drove off. Made me think of that guy we saw in the photos. And then Dympna and I ran into her earlier today. I talked to her.”

Tweak took a long pull from his cigarette. “What’d the bitch have to say for herself?” His voice seethed with hatred.

Dante stared at his friend in silence, deciding whether or not to continue. “In a nutshell, she’s scared. We’re doing good, man. We’re doing good.”

Another pull from the cigarette. “That so?”

Dante shrugged. “That’s the way I see it.”

Tweak was silent. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his cigarettes, lit another one. “The way I see it, they drew first blood. They hit us, and we didn’t hit them back.”

Dante frowned. Tweak looked at him, shrugged, looked away. The night was silent.

* * *

By the time Dante, Dympna, and Tweak arrived back on campus the next day, there was a crowd of police gathered around the protestors. Unlike the ones that had been at the administration building, these officers were in full riot gear with heavy armor and gas masks of their own. Tweak smiled bitterly as he, Dante, and Dympna got close enough to see gathered police forces. “Looks like they’re expecting some action.” Tweak had his messenger bag at his side, his gas mask atop his head. Dante and Dympna had their gas masks equally accessible, but they carried only the signs they had made, signs they had affixed with wooden rods to serve as handles, per Tweak’s suggestion.

“Why?”

“For the same reason we have the gas masks. Because if shit goes down, you don’t want to be caught helpless while some asshole kicks your ribs in.” Tweak surveyed the area like a general surveying a battlefield, and he pointed at the police, arranged in neat orderly lines like soldiers. “You see those guys behind the first row of cops? The ones without shields?” Tweak asked.

“Yeah.”

“Snatch squads. The shields aren’t just for protection. They’re a moving wall. The shield cops use them to pin people against anything solid, cars and walls and trees and shit. Once you’re helpless, the snatch squad moves in, clubs you good, and arrests your ass.” He snorted. “Watch out for them unless you want to find yourself with a knee in your back and your hands ziptied at the wrist.”

Dante looked at his friend uncertainly. “Why do you know this?”

Tweak turned to look at Dante, his face blank. “Frank told me.” A smile slowly crept across his face and Dante watched as his friend’s hand came to rest against the messenger bag at his side. “Why not know this?”

Dante had nothing to say to this. “Fair enough,” he muttered as he looked away.

It was there.

The newspaper man stood off to the side of the crowd, a mere twenty feet away from the nearest protestor. It was motionless. Not even the pages of the newspaper it held rustled in the gentle breeze of the fall day.

Dante frowned. The newspaper man looked so much different seeing it in person. It was preternaturally thin, as if there were little underneath the suit by bones. The suit itself was simply black, but with a luster that spoke of expensive construction.

Dante looked at the gathered crowd. The students were wearing everything from black bloc attire to everyday clothing. Those who had come from the surrounding neighborhoods were dressed similarly. The police were dressed in their armor. And there stood the newspaper man, so unlike everyone else.

But the newspaper man was there. It had always been there. In the city. On the campus. In the streets of Europe, of Asia. Dante had seen photos of this figure in every country of the world where the people stood up to the forces of oppression. If it wasn’t a symbol of the everyman, of the world that watched petty dictators and passed a cold judgment on them, Dante couldn’t even begin to guess what it was.

He nodded to the figure, and to his shock, the figure folded the newspaper and tucked it under one arm.

Its face was featureless, its skin the color of polished marble. It had no eyes, no ears, no mouth, no features at all. Other than the one brief motion, the newspaper man was as still as he had ever been.

Dante nudged Tweak with his elbow. “Man. Man, look. Do you see that?”

“Yeah,” Tweak said. “I see it.”

Dante looked at his friend and saw that he wasn’t looking at the motionless figure off to the side, but instead at the beginnings of a fight breaking out between an officer and a protestor who had gotten too close. An officer with a shield was keeping the protestor at bay, but one of the officers Tweak had pointed out as part of the snatch squad was loosing his baton. The protestor, a thin boy in a plain white t-shirt and faded jeans didn’t seem to notice the second officer at all.

Dante shivered. Something told him to turn around, and he looked over his shoulder to find that the newspaper man was much closer now, on the very edge of the crowd, and it was grinning. Where before its face had been smooth and featureless, now Dante could see lips pulled back in a snarl, a mouth full of sharp and irregular teeth.

Tweak shouted into Dante’s ears. “This is for Simon, you cocksuckers!” He threw something, something that caught the light and glinted like a shattered mirror. There was the sound of glass breaking, the soft thump of fire catching, and screams. In an instant, everyone was screaming.

Dante dropped to a knee, trying to get out of the view of the police who would be reacting at any moment. He looked for Dympna and couldn’t find her. Above him, Tweak threw another bomb, shouted another curse. There was the sound of a gun being fired, and a metal canister slid by Dante. Someone screamed, “Gas! Gas! Gas!”

Dante pushed himself to his feet, tried to run, but the crowd pushed and pulled in all directions. Police rushed in to subdue the more violent in the crowd, and even as they did so, more of the protestors picked up rocks and makeshift clubs, armed themselves with whatever they could. Dympna and Tweak were lost in the crowd, but Dante’s eyes found the newspaper man once more.

As the chaos mounted, the newspaper man’s grin spread wider, revealing still more teeth nestled unevenly in gums the color of an infected wound. This spirit, this person, this thing was no symbol. It was alive. It hungered, it hungered, it hungered for anything, for anyone.

All around screams and shouts rang out, curses and wails of pain. The air was turning thick with smoke from the weapons they were all using against each other.

“We’re going to kill each other,” he said softly. “This is it. This is the end of us.”

Dante’s vision began to blur. Tears ran from his eyes. There was no other choice. He saw no other choice. He pulled down the gas mask and broke the sign he had spent so long making off of its pole. He tightened his grip, holding it like he would hold a baseball bat, and he waited for the tear gas, the fire bombs, the fists, the clubs, waited for the chaos and the violence to devour him.

The end! Be here on Monday (or Tuesday, most likely) for the next story, “The Milkman’s Eyes!”


The Newspaper Man, Pt. 6

Bam! Actually posted before the deadline! Go me!

Tweak was up and showered the next morning before either Dante or Dympna had stirred from their beds. Dante woke up, rolled over, and saw his friend about to leave.

“What’s going on, man?”

“Got some shit I need to take care of. I’ll be back in a couple hours. You guys do whatever. Relax. Go exploring. Get back together in an extremely ill-advised fashion.” Tweak grinned and left. Dante stared at the door in silence for a few moments before turning away and falling back asleep.

* * *

“Wake up. I’m bored.”

Dympna was sitting on the edge of Dante’s bed, poking him in the ribs through the thin comforter of his bed.

Oh, God. Fuck off.” She just laughed.

Come on, shithead! I’m bored!”

Go read a book.” Dante pulled the covers over his head. Dympna pulled them off of him, and he groaned in mock agony.

Come on! It’s almost noon! Let’s go get lunch! I’ll even treat!”

Dante scowled at her. “Aren’t you supposed to hate me or something?”

Dympna simply smiled. “If I liked you, don’t you think I’d let you sleep in?” Dante muttered under his breath and pushed himself out of bed. Dympna threw his jeans and a shirt at him. “That’s the spirit! Come on!”

A short while later, Dante found himself walking down the street grumbling at the sun and the surprising warmth of the fall day, Dympna a few steps ahead of him and cheerful. “What’s got you in such a good mood anyway?” he asked.

I’m sorry, were you not there last night for our stirring stand against the forces of oppression and tyranny?”

Dante shrugged.

“Well, maybe you should have been paying closer attention.” She smiled. “Think about how many people must have seen us last night. There were news crews there. There were people recording everything on their phones and cameras. And we didn’t have to burn anything, we didn’t have to break anything. All we had to do was stand there and stare in silent judgment.” She shrugged. “Not that burning and breaking stuff isn’t fun, but maybe this is a war we can win without having to fire a shot.”

Dante snorted. “This is a war now?”

“It’s always been a war. Weren’t you paying attention?” Dante opened his mouth to respond, but Dympna pointed at a cafe. “Let’s try that place. It’s got a good crowd.”

“Sure. Why not?”

They placed their orders and sat down at a table outside, making small talk until Dympna noticed a woman sitting alone, her features obscured by dark sunglasses and a scarf tied around her hair. “Hey, check out the 1950s starlet,” she said.

Dante turned in his seat and examined the woman, trying to guess at her features. “I think that’s the Chancellor,” he said softly.

Dympna squinted, examined the woman more closely. “Oh, yeah. Huh. What do you think she’s doing here?”

“A woman’s got to eat.”

“But what’s with the outfit?”

“She probably doesn’t want to be bothered after what’s happened this week. Although you’d think she’d either work from home or eat in her office or something.” Dante was silent for a moment. He watched as she picked half-heartedly at a salad. “I’m going to go talk to her,” he said with an air of determination.

“What? Why?”

“I need to talk to her.”

Dympna smirked. “Going to rub that scared little look she gave us in her face?”

“Something like that,” Dante said softly. He stood up from his chair and walked over to her table.

She looked up from her meal as Dante approached, frowned when he sat down at her table. They stared at each other for a moment, Dante trying to keep his expression neutral, she with a decidedly sour look on her face.

“Can I help you?” she said.

“Yeah, hi. I’m one of the guys that was wearing a gas mask last night.” He held his hand out. She did not shake it.

“What do you want?”

Dante took a deep breath, leaned back in his seat. Opened his mouth to speak, shut it again. “I don’t really know how to say this,” he finally began. “You saw it last night didn’t you? That thing.That man. With the suit and the newspaper.”

The corner of the woman’s mouth twitched. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said before looking down and poking at her salad again.

“Have you seen him before last night? Have you seen him on campus?”

“I said I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Dante frowned. “I saw that look on your face. You looked goddamn terrified, and I don’t think it was because you saw a couple of people in gas masks.”

She slammed her fork against the table and looked Dante in the eyes. Even behind the glasses she was wearing, the anger was writ plain across her face. “And you think I was scared of some asshole in a suit? Is that it?”

“Yeah, I do. Because that thing scares me, too.”

The Chancellor took a deep breath and leaned back in her seat, crossed her arms. “Is that so?”

Dante nodded. “I was at the march a few days ago, and there were pictures of him there. I have friends that should have seen him, but didn’t. I’ve seen pictures of him at other demonstrations and protests. Is it the same guy? I don’t know. I can’t prove it. Hell, I haven’t even seen his face. But what are the fucking odds of someone different showing up to each of these things dressed and acting the same way.”

The Chancellor sat in silence for a few moments. “Are you kidding me?” she finally said. “How many of these things have you been to? You people love to dress up in your little outfits. Solidarity and all that, right?”

“You don’t believe that,” Dante said. “You’re just telling yourself that so you don’t have to think about it. I know; I was doing the same thing.”

“Is that so?”

Dante leaned forward across the table and put his hand over hers. “Look, I need to know that I’m not alone. I need to know that you saw it too. I’ve seen things before, okay? Things that weren’t there, and I mean figuratively and literally. I need to know that you saw it. And maybe you need to know that you’re not alone, too. Maybe you need to know that you’re not losing your mind either. So, tell me. Did you see it, or didn’t you?”

The Chancellor said nothing. She looked down at the table, sniffed. She nodded her head.

Dante held her hand, squeezed it gently. She squeezed back. “Do you know what it is?” he asked.

“The end of things,” she said, her voice about to break. “It’s the end of us.”

Dante walked back to the table where his own sandwich sat half-eaten and Dympna sat annoyed. “Well. That took a little while,” she said, but Dante paid her no mind. There was a faint smile on his face, and she watched as it turned into a smirk and finally a full grin. “Huh,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you smile like that. What the hell did you two talk about for so long?”

Dante chuckled. “We’ve got our own guardian angel, Dympna,” he said. “We’re winning.”


The Newspaper Man, Pt. 5

Late again. At this point, it’s probably better to think of my update schedule less as Monday and Friday and more as Tuesday and Saturday.

 

Dante spent the ride to the university silent in the back seat of Tweak’s car, his misgivings pressing down on him, choking him like some malevolent cloud. In the front, Tweak and Dympna chattered excitedly. Dante caught only small fragments of their conversation: how was she, how was he, I’m sorry to hear what happened, thank you, what are you going to do, I know a guy. They talked about glass bottles and cinder blocks and gas masks and fire and signs and oil and Dante did not hear them, his mind returning again and again to thoughts of the newspaper man, of that silent eerie figure who had been at the demonstration in the city, the protest at the university.

Something about the newspaper man unsettled Dante in a way that Tweak didn’t seem to appreciate. And of course, there was no point in even bringing it up to Dympna. She wouldn’t understand, and after the mess that had followed their break-up (delusional, she had called him,) the chance of inviting further scorn was all the more unpleasant. So he sat and he played with his phone, looking through photos and videos of the two incidents and trying to find more evidence of the newspaper man. There were plenty of photos taken at the university, but they were all taken at the same location, and the newspaper man did not move from the spot Dante had first noticed him in.

He was everywhere in the photos taken in the city. A blurry figure in the background, standing in the window of a store or an office building, walking along the street. In every photo with an impassioned, angry face, he was there, his dark suit, his silver watch, and that newspaper obscuring his features like a veil.

Hey, what are you doing back there so quiet?” Tweak said. Dympna turned in her seat to face him.

He’s playing games on his phone.”

I’m not playing with my phone, I’m looking at pictures.”

He’s social networking.”

Pictures of the protests!”

Why don’t you help us plan for the future instead of living in the past?”

Dante sighed and put his phone back in his pocket. “What’s up?”

What’s a good way to incapacitate a riot cop from a distance?”

Dante said nothing. Tweak and Dympna were both silent. She stared into Dante’s eyes,

awaited his response. “Throw a rock?”

No good. They’re armored, and even if they weren’t, they’ve got shields that could

deflect it.elen

“Molotov?”

“Jesus, man! We don’t want to kill anyone!”

Dante shrugged. “I’m out of ideas.”

The car was silent. Dympna turned around in her seat again. “Hey, have you seen the pictures from other countries’ protests?”

“No.”

“Did you ever see that one I was telling you about back at the party? The car getting rushed by the angry students?”

“The couple going to the opera or whatever? No.”

“I’ll send it to you,” Dympna said. She smiled. “I think you’d find it neat. Or funny. Something.”

Dante smiled back, weakly. The smile fled from his face as soon as she turned back around in her seat, and when Dympna and Tweak resumed their conversation, Dante stared quietly out of the window.

* * *

Tweak’s guy lived alone in a small beige house in the suburbs. Tweak walked up to his front door and rang the doorbell twice in rapid succession, paused for a moment, and rang it three more times. Behind the heavy wooden door, Dante could hear the sound of someone walking around, pausing before the door, and undoing a series of chains and locks. The door swung open and an aging but still muscular man dressed simply in a white t-shirt and old khaki pants stood there, his head scanning the street from left to right. Content that there was no one watching, he looked at Tweak and smiled. “How are you doing, Joseph?”

“Been better, been worse. Fred, these are my friends Dante and Dympna.”

“My pleasure,” Fred said, shaking each of their hands in turn. He turned to Tweak, his face expressionless, and asked, “Are they–”

“I wouldn’t have brought them if they weren’t.”

Fred smiled. “Alright, then. A friend of Joseph’s is a friend of mine. Come inside, come inside!” Fred turned and waved for the trio to follow. Dante noticed that he walked with a rather pronounced limp in his left leg.

The old man led them into the living room, gestured for them to sit on the sofa. He himself sat on an old and beaten recliner. Dante looked around. There was a TV, a collection of movies, and little else. “What can I do for you today?” he asked Tweak.

“We need gas masks and filters.”

“Warsaw or NATO?”

“Doesn’t matter so long as they’re functional.” Tweak considered for a moment. “Something you can part with. We’ll be buying them off you, if that’s okay.”

Fred snickered. “What are you getting up to that you need gas masks?”

“Did you see what they did at the university, pepper spraying the hell out of those students?”

Fred frowned, nodded. “Bad business, that. Chicago all over again.”

“I had a… a friend that was there. Wound up in the hospital. I know there’s going to be more demonstrations now, and I want to be there in honor of him,” Tweak said. “And I don’t want some cop pepper spraying the shit out of me for no good reason, either. At least, if one tries, I want to be able to do something about it.”

“We’re not too partial to crowd control agents, either,” Dympna said.

Fred looked over the three of them. He sat back in his chair, took a deep breath, folded his hands in his lap. “You three kids aiming to do something stupid?”

“No, Sir,” Tweak said. “Just planning ahead.” He grinned. “You wouldn’t go to the beach without sunblock, would you? Well, you don’t go to a protest without a gas mask.”

Fred chuckled. “Alright, kid. Fair enough. Standard warning: I don’t know you, you don’t know me, you didn’t get anything from me, and if anything ever gets traced back to me, I’m going to play the doddering old man and say you stole them.”

Tweak smiled. “I know the drill.”

Fred leaned forward in his seat, returned Tweak’s smile. “You sure you’re not planning anything stupid?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Good,” he said. “But then, a little civil disobedience never hurt anyone.”

* * *

The crowd gathered outside of the university’s administration building was at least two-hundred strong by Dante’s best guess. They were arranged in two neat lines framing the path from the front door of the building to the Chancellor’s car. The crowd was largely students, but there were enough members of the community and outsiders like Dante, Tweak, and Dympna that there was a sense of universal outrage permeating the atmosphere. Very few seemed to have gas masks resting atop their head like the three of them did, though there was no shortage of strangers coming up to them and saying what a good idea it was and how they would have to get some for themselves.

“We’re sure she’s going to come out of that door?” Dante whispered to Tweak. “What if there’s another exit?”

“She’ll come this way. She’ll have cops escorting her for her safety she’s got to go to her car at some point. And besides that, she’s got to face the crowd sooner or later. It wouldn’t do for a university official to look to look frightened or weak, would it?”

Dante grunted. Dympna threw her elbow into his side. “Did you look at those pictures I sent you?”

He had. The three of them were sharing a single motel room with Tweak on the floor and Dante and Dympna each in their own bed. When he’d been in the shower, she had sent the photos, and when she was showering, he’d looked at them. Tweak had gone to visit Simon in the hospital immediately after seeing Fred.

She’d picked the most stylish photos. Lone protestors waving flags and throwing rocks. A wall of fire erupting in front of retreating police. Couples holding each other as chaos reigned all around them. An older woman staring down a squad of riot police armed with shields and batons.

And in every last one of them that had shown active conflict, not just a protestor throwing rocks at some unseen enemy or wall of police guarding a location but actual physical struggle between people, he had seen the newspaper man.

“Yeah. Yeah, I looked at them.”

“What’d you think?”

Dante licked his lips. She stared at him, waited patiently for a response. “I don’t know how to feel about it,” he finally said.

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

He chose his words carefully. “I look at those, and it’s like I’m seeing some kind of a symbol, but I don’t know what it represents. If that makes sense. It’s like… like art that you just don’t understand. You know that there’s something there that’s speaking to you on an instinctive, primeval level, but you can’t put a name to it.”

Dympna rolled her eyes, shook her head. “God, you and your art.”

Dante frowned. “I’m not trying to say that it’s art, alright? I know better than to bring that up with you. I’m just saying, I know I should be feeling something, but I don’t know what, and it’s leaving me a little uncertain, alright?”

“You’re impossible, you know that? What happened to being in the city and feeling like anything was possible?”

Before Dante could respond, Tweak hissed, “Will you two shut the fuck up? She’s coming, and the whole point of this is to give her a wall of silent, staring faces. Let her stew in her guilt.” He thought about this for a second. “In fact, put on your masks.” He pulled his down, and seeing no reason not to, Dante and Dympna did the same.

To the Chancellor’s credit, she presented a strong, unafraid face. She was flanked on either side by two police officers, but none of them walked ahead of her. The heads of the crowd turned to watch her as she went by, and to their credit, they were able to maintain their silent decorum.

The only members of the crowd that she turned to look at were Dante, Tweak, and Dympna, and perhaps only then because they were in gas masks. As she walked by, it seemed to Dante that she would not have paid them more than a moment’s notice, but instead she did a double-take. She looked away, looked back with wide eyes and gave a slight gasp. She walked a bit faster then, and before long, they could no longer see her.

“What the hell was that?” Dympna whispered.

“Guess she wasn’t expecting to see a couple of badasses in gas mask, huh?” Tweak said with a chuckle.

“I don’t think she was looking at us,” Dante said.

Tweak turned to him. “What?”

Dante pulled off the gas mask, pushed it up so it rested atop his head. “She saw us, and then she looked away, and then she looked back. I could see her eyes. When she looked back, it looked like she was looking past me.”

“So what was behind you?” Dympna said, pulling off her own mask.

“I don’t know.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Tweak said. “It’s about sending a message, and that scared little look on her face tells me message received.”

Dante shrugged. “If you say so.”

A few minutes later, the word came back that the Chancellor had reached her car and driven off. Some of the crowd dispersed, some of them milled about, and a few approached the trio and asked them about the masks and where they had come from. While Tweak and Dympna answered questions and laughed and joked with the others, Dante excused himself and began walking away from the group. There was nothing behind them but trees, a bench and a single lamp post some fifty feet away. There was certainly nothing that would merit a gasp. Perhaps Tweak was right. Perhaps the Chancellor simply hadn’t been expecting to see three masked figures as she walked down the lines of the gathered crowd.

Dante sat on the bench, took a deep breath. He leaned back and looked at the people were still lingering, some young, some old. He smiled. It was a pleasant fall night, and from a distance, the crowd seemed less like a group of the outraged assembled for a common purpose and more like a group of friends holding an impromptu gathering. It was almost reassuring.

He looked around the campus. His eyes wandering lazily from one building to the next, when he saw it. There on the ground next to the bench, the thick grey pages of a newspaper folded into a neat bundle.


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