The Pleasant Folk pt. I

The arm in question was shriveled, blackened veins spread from a group of wounds near the elbow. The wounds themselves, five small crescent-shaped marks, glowed with a sickly purple light, pulsing gently with each heartbeat.

“Yup, that’s a real curse you got there” Joseph Jacob Bigelow IV sat up from the surgical magnifier that he had been hunched over and finally looked into Earl’s eyes. They were filled with fear, the kind of fear that unmakes a man. The kind of fear that takes someone from a buck hunting macho man to a whimpering sack faster than you can say ‘Ia Ia Ftagn.’ Joe turned off the lamp on his magnifier before getting up to walk over to the fridge and grab two beers. Earl finally looked at Joe when he popped the two cans open with his index fingers and offered one down to Earl. Joe stood beside Earl for a few moments sipping the beer in silence.

“What do I do Joe?” Earl was a big guy, shaped like a bull, about as smart as one too. quick to get into a fight, and just as quick to buy the guy a beer as soon as it was over. Joe looked him over, from his crew cut of peppered black hair, round head and massive shoulders, the beer gut, and camo pants completed the look of a backwoods idiot perfectly, just the kind of person Joe had come back home to save.

“Don’t get yourself too worked up now, Earl.” Joe could hear his own southern accent, it had been a constant sticking point to his classmates when he was in culinary school. But he had proven himself in the kitchen, a near-perfect palate, exceptional knife skills. His instructors thought he would end up at some Michelin star restaurant. Chef Jordan would be horrified to find him cooking in some greasy spoon in Sour Lake, Texas, Chef Mims would think that it’s wonderful, he was always a fan of cooking, no matter what or where it was. Joe was lanky, the type of chef you would look at and say, ‘never trust a skinny cook’. He ran one of his long thin hands through his sandy blond hair. “First thing first Earl, we gotta get over to the diner, I’ll get you something to help out with that there arm.”

“You can fix it?”

“Hell yeah I can fix it Earl, but, you gotta tell me everything that happened, and drink your beer, it’ll help with the pain.”

Joe had driven the two of them to the greasy spoon in his old truck, a Ford chassis with so many frankenstiened parts underneath the hood that no one could possibly tell what it had started life as. The diner itself had the classic look of a 1950’s establishment, and in fact had been around since the late 40’s, on the side of highway 105, proudly serving those who got lost and turned around on those east Texas back roads.

Earl sat in one of the many empty booths, this time at night, there was hardly any chance that anyone would come by the diner, hell, it wasn’t a huge issue during the day either. Joe had his share of regulars, locals who would come in between work shifts, or during their commutes into Beaumont, but by and large, he knew they would be largely undisturbed here.

Nancy, a woman who was old when the diner first opened moved through the aisle with a pot of coffee, Joe didn’t bother to ask if it was fresh, it was always fresh, Nancy had a preternatural gift for knowing what customers needed and wanted. It’s how she had held this job so many years. She also never asked any questions about the things that happened, the things that came into the diner, which Joe appreciated, even if he didn’t quite understand.

“Got yerself bit up there Earl.”

“Yes’m”

“Well, I’m sure Joe will fix you up just fine.” Nancy patted Earl’s good arm, and began moving back behind the counter, but not before sparing Earl’s bad arm a hairy eyeball. When she came around, she walked to the kitchen window and leaned against it. “That ain’t no bite Joe Jack.”

“No, Nancy, it ain’t.” He didn’t look up from the cutting board he was working on, chopping thistle, toadflax, and hydrangea as fine as he could before separating out half of each. He dumped half of the herbs into a foul-smelling liquid and dipped a cloth into that, the rest he mixed with chili peppers, salt, and a few other seasonings. He went to work with the movements of a surgeon, prepping potatoes, carrots and a nice meatloaf, coated in the seasoning he had created earlier. He tossed the vegetables into a small pressure cooker with some aromatics before pushing the meatloaf into an oven. With a timer set, he walked back out of the kitchen and sat heavily across from Earl. “Alright, man, you spill what happened, and where.”

Earl looked pained, but not because of his arm. Joe had seen the look plenty of times, usually from a dog that just shit on the carpet.

“Well I was out deer huntin’ you know it’s the season, and I just got this new rifle, so I wanted to bag a nice deer or two, get enough meat to last a bit, and then Ethel been askin’ for some hide to make a new jacket, so I thought I would take a quick trip up into the woods.”

“Pine Woods Estate, right?”

“Uh Yeah, Joe.”

“How far north Earl?” Joe knew the answer, he knew because it was the only reason Earl had come back looking like a beaten dog that did wrong, instead of trying together a posse. But Joe wanted him to say it, to admit that he did wrong and that he knew he did wrong.

“I went past the creek.” There were a lot of creeks and ditches in Sour Lake, even more in Pine Wood, but Joe knew what creek he meant. There was only one creek it could be. There weren’t a lot of rules out there in the woods, you tried not to be a huge dick and things tended to work out all right.

“You went past the creek, which you know better than to do, and then you did something to piss off the Pleasant Folk.” Joe heard Nancy stop suddenly, the diner was dead quiet as if just saying the name of those things that lived deep in the pine forests of East Texas was enough to bring them about. “What did you do Earl?”

“Nothin’ I promise Joe Jack, I promise I didn’t do anything to no one out there, I was just deer huntin’” Earl was almost desperate, pleading, grabbing at Joe’s hand begging for him to understand. After a few moments, Joe pulled his hand back. “Alright Earl, listen, I’m gonna fix you up, and I’m going to fix this, but you’re gonna owe me, and you’re gonna owe the Pleasant Folk, and that ain’t ever pleasant.”

Joe stood up and grabbed the cloth he had been soaking, handing it over to Nancy. “Bandage up that arm for me.” He pulled the meatloaf out of the oven and began plating the food, not that anyone in Sour Lake could appreciate the presentation, but he would be damned if he served a sloppy plate to anyone, even Earl.

A few minutes later Nancy watched wearily as Joe prepped for his own trip into the woods, a leather apron went over his work shirt, he wore jeans and hiking boots to protect his feet. He stood there sharpening a cleaver with an old whetstone, silent other than the consistent sound of blade on stone.

“I can feel you staring holes in my head, Nancy” He finally said, quietly enough that Earl, eating his dinner in the main room of the diner couldn’t hear.

“This is some foolishness boy, you don’t think them Pleasant Folk like you no more than him, do you?”

“Nah” Joe smiled, crooked ever since he and his dad had gotten into a fist fight so many years ago, his jaw had never been set right, in order to avoid awkward questions from child protective services. “But I think they would be more willin’ to talk at me than Earl, waving his gun around.”

“You ain’t takin’ a gun?” He wouldn’t have thought anything could surprise Nancy.

“Of course I’m taking a gun, I ain’t stupid, I just ain’t gonna wave it around, ‘less I need to.” Joe pushed the cleaver into his apron before turning around to grab his shotgun from beside the door, along with a few extra shells and slugs, just in case. “It’ll be fine Nancy, trust me, I ain’t exactly new to this part.” Nancy pursed her lips together but said nothing as she headed back out to check on Earl.

Lesson for the Damned

Anthony stared in the mirror, his eyes, red-rimmed and bloodshot, stung and ached. Each time he closed them it was harder to reopen them. Not only because of the crippling exhaustion but because he didn’t want to look at this world anymore. Every day a new school shooting or dead black man. Every week more news of war. Every minute a new tweet that seemed to come straight from hell.

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Her Hands

She stared down at her hands. They had done this. They had carved through the competition to achieve her dreams. Her eyes glazed over, contemplating whether or not they were truly hers, or if they had now taken on a life and personality of their own. No red tape or doubt could hold them back. They knew what they wanted and they took it, heedless of the shy and conserved woman she used to be. Her attention snapped back into the present as she heard a door open and close somewhere else on the floor. Her lips curled back, baring teeth that had seen more darkness than light through years of shy smiles and hidden scowls. Now they shone in the dim illumination of the exit sign, glinting in eager anticipation. These were not someone else’s hands and teeth. They were hers. And their work wasn’t done just yet.

En Amarillo, Conclusion

Joshua loaded up in the truck with a small group of younger peckerwoods, the plan was pretty straightforward, the Faceless were operating in Pico-Union, a bad neighborhood on the best of days, and with MS-13, the Faceless and Desert Rats about to be active, there was no way any cops would show face tonight. Joshua checked his gun for the fifth time since starting the drive. It was going to be bloody, between the three gangs, the streets would become flooded with the blood, piss, and shit of violence and hate. It would be easier for the Rats, if it was brown, kill it. If it were white, don’t. With more than one Latino gang stalking the streets in his city, they would have to think twice about one another, while he and his clique could blast indiscriminately.

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The Door

There are always two of us, handler and obstructer. They never send just one, and they never send more than two. We arrived late, we almost always do. The family is downstairs, huddled in fear. They almost always are when things are going well. When they’re going bad … well, best not to dwell on the things that can go wrong. I watched the handler out of the corner of my eye as he lied to the family. Nothing malicious, just the sorts of things you had to tell the average citizen to keep them sane and nonviolent. After a moment, I saw that look in the mother’s eyes. She was buying whatever the handler was saying. Her face moved from afraid and panicked to just afraid. He was very good at his job, it’s funny. I’m considered the essential one, but what I do, anyone with a strong enough mind can do, my handler, on the other hand, was skilled. He nodded to me, and I pushed myself off the wall I was leaning on to head up the stairs.

The stairs led to a long hallway lined with doors. Each one would lead to a bedroom or bathroom. But one of them, tonight, would lead to another place. My eyes, colorless and white as my hair scanned the hallway. It was unlikely that anything had come through a doorway yet, given that we and the family downstairs were still alive. I saw the carpet outside the bathroom was wet, a strange mushroom-like growth was beginning to creep out of the room, growing, sporing and spreading even as I watched. I gestured to the floor so my handler knew where I was going. It was important that he watch me, but also that he not see what was happening. Each step was purposeful carrying me closer to the offending doorway, my mouth moved silently forming the words to my own personal meditations. The doorway to the bathroom itself was not the doorway, my heart was clenched, each labored beat struggling to push blood and oxygen through my body. I realized I was holding my breath. I glanced at my handler once and nodded, before taking a long breath and stepping into the bathroom.

The walls were coated in the alien fungi, strange chitin covered things scurried across the floor evading my feet as I moved beyond the threshold. At the back of my mind, I could hear the screaming of the insects and vegetation. A steady pulse, like the horrified chant of panic-stricken worshipers. But this room wasn’t the other place. Instead, the medicine cabinet acted as a portal. I moved quickly, ignoring everything else and blocked the small rectangle of reality and unreality with my body. Through the hole in our sanity, I could see a forest of fleshy trees, swarming with spine covered things that hissed and spat. Something huge moved through the tees, which bent, broken and wailed in anguish at it’s passing. But, due to me blocking the way, it ignored the portal, it passed harmlessly, never realizing our world was within reach.

I don’t know how long I stood there, time is meaningless in those moments, and each second I gaze out into the abyss, refusing it a chance to cast it’s gaze on us feels like centuries are being leeched from my body. The torment feels unending. But it does end, eventually, I find myself staring at bottles of aspirin and old soap. It’s over. I nod to the handler who entered when I stopped sobbing. He would call in the team.

En Amarillo Part II

Joshua walked through the streets of Fontana, proudly displaying his tattoos from under the tight white t-shirt and suspenders. He didn’t bother to hide his bald scalp with a hat or bandana either, to do so would be to hide who and what he was, and he had no shame in either. He was proud to be a white man fighting for white families in the streets of America. Those streets were quiet at the moment, and until he was ready to make his move, Josh wanted them to stay that way. He didn’t hide or keep to the shadows, but he kept to back streets that he knew there wouldn’t be as many cops patrolling.

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Streetlight

He waits under the bright light on the side of the street. Dark houses line the block, but no cars are visible. Not parked curbside, or in the driveways of the foreboding homes. His Lyft was supposed to be here minutes ago, and now his phone was dead. The darkness between each lamppost seems impenetrable; something hides between those circles of light. It is hungry.

He suppresses a shudder as he thinks his eyes catch movement. Strange, he thinks, how irrational you can become in the darkness, when silence is the only companion, allowing your imagination to fill the space where life usually happens. But he can’t shake the sensation that there is a shark circling the spotlight of safety he is standing in. Waiting for him to step out of the light and into its waiting maw. It is hungry, after all.

He sees the oncoming headlights and pink light of his Lyft approaching and feels silly for the fear that had welled up inside him so easily when faced with the dark. As it passed a streetlight, the Lyft logo turns off. At the next, the headlights vanish into the shadows. It was still hungry.

En Amarillo Part I

Just a small warning, this story contains plenty of violence and racism.

Joshua reached out and crushed the life out of the roach crawling along the windowsill, listening to the way the crunching sound rang so clear and loudly to his chemically boosted senses. He examined the white and black entrails on his fingers, the way the ichor didn’t run down his hands like blood should. Finally wiping his hand off on his jeans, he became aware that someone was talking to him. One of his favorite side effects of the meth was his ability to focus so intensely on what he wanted to focus on when he wanted to, drowning out the unpleasant side effects of life. Joshua didn’t look immediately at the source of noise, he knew who it was and what it was about. Instead, he let his eyes linger on the smoke coming from his cigarette and how dull the cherry looked through the washed out lights of their trailer home.

Continue reading “En Amarillo Part I”