Author Archives: Quipster

This Day to Honor: a poem

This Day to Honor                             

 

by Joel Howard

 

Enjoy

Youth

with taut days of

Flesh and Exuberance

shall pass but once

and then the senses

but dream in wavy-hazy

Recollection.

 

a psychic once

Prophesied

a shorting of days

to which I answered by way

of living each hour

as if I alone owned

such a thing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

poem: On the Precipice

On the Precipice                   by Joel Howard

 

Living where

worry wrestles with pain and

chaos rules the hours,

I mightily stretch myself tall, yet

my soul never quite touches earth

now nor never did,

with no belief in tales of wine and water

or bushes afire, I’ve no harbor

anywhere here

 

Better a children’s book of talking

trees and smiling meadows

flush with bunnies in flight for me,

parables never to stifle a dream

but to launch them far into orbits

beyond our given realms

 

Leave the tamping menace of guilt

of any kind or measure

in a corner dark and impenetrable,

let wishes periscope to the sky

and find counsel there among

countless stars and moons

 

All might then rejoice in the breadth

of fantastical creations

and bathe ooh and aah

in knowledge of a

river flush with yet dreamt joys.

 

 

short story: Straight Arrows

Straight Arrows

by Joel Howard

Patrick purposely steered his thoughts to those unrelated to his second job, yet the thrill of the kill was so strong that he couldn’t help but have his mind wander back to his moonlighting, the one thing that brought him joy. Being an assassin, it was thrilling, energizing beyond anything he could describe. The feeling of the knife as it sliced into the heart, or on occasion, when he went for an artery, it was ecstasy and sex and euphoria, and all kinds of good shit piled high and decadent like a hot fudge sundae.  There was a certain blood lust found in being a hunter, of being in complete charge, and he loved it. Such thoughts got him instantly hard, so he knew killing was some good shit, like a secret stash of primo porn.

Calling it his second job was accurate only in that it wasn’t what he showed to the world. His job of record was being a manager at a convenience store. That’s what he told people, and it was mostly true. He was actually an assistant manager, one with poor prospects of anything further up the ladder.

But who the hell wants to claim to be an assistant or otherwise, especially when your manager is a drip who collects vintage calculators and tapes a ‘word of the day’ on the employee bulletin board? A real vintage douche bag, that one is. God help me, he thought. And oh, all his bullshit advice about adjusting my attitude and being open to taking direction.

Fuck you, Mr. Manager, sir, but with all due respect, let me give you some direction. Patrick couldn’t count the number of times he’d wanted to say those exact words to the pimple-faced shit.

However, if the main criteria for a job’s ranking as first or second  –  or even third or fourth  –  is renumeration, then hands down it was the assassin gig that held title to being Patrick’s main job. And renumeration is not just pay, which was all cash and greatly appreciated, but the boost to Patrick’s sense of worth, of being a man and a good provider for his family. That should not, cannot, be discounted in this situation. And the blood lust aspect of it is more than worthy of mention here as well, the smell of what he thought of as rusty iron, like an old wheelbarrow left outside to the elements. Blood, he’d also discovered, had a texture unlike any other mere liquid, something he couldn’t quantify but, with its very touch, imbued him with a sense of righteous power and superiority.

In killing Patrick found purpose for his life, in essence using the person assassinated as fuel for his own existence. As the vampire needs blood for sustenance, Patrick was finding that he must do these killings or cease to be. This realization helped him to stop any real examination of the situation, not that there was much of that anyway. He certainly wasn’t one to spend much time on self-recrimination, such forays being fleeting and shallow.

“Patrick? Where are you?” The voice was high-pitched, carrying a sharpness of tone that hit the ears like winter’s first heavy pelting of sleet, snapping Patrick with whiplash insistence from his daydreaming. He often marveled at how Pam knew just when to lower the curtain on his enjoyment. She possessed an uncanny ability to quickly reel him back to the drudgery of his life, a yank of the marital leash of which he so wished to rid himself. Lately he’d thought of her as a bitter and malevolent vacuum set upon his life, sucking up any bits of fun.

“In here!”

“Where the hell d’ya think I am?”, he muttered to himself. “Trying to hide from you and the kids and the screaming and the commitments and the, oh fuck, the every-damn-thing. Yeah, that’s what I’m hiding from  –  every fucking thing in my life.”

Except the killing gig. Not that. Hell, never hiding from the assassination fun. A guys gotta have his own sweet niche. That last thought elicited a radiant smile. His cock twitched, twerked, seemingly giggling with glee. His soul was abuzz.

The garage was Patrick’s mancave of sorts. His old Camry and his wife’s even older Dodge Caravan were banished from the space, it now being a workout room and crash pad for Patrick and his friends. If he had any friends. His dad didn’t figure into it, his being a man with the charisma of a sodden dishrag, and their past wasn’t any too good, nothing the Hallmark Channel would want, sorry bastard. And his father-in-law sure as hell didn’t count. Always smiling like a leering loon, that man. And chuckling like he had a couple of loose ball bearings in his throat. Insufferable ass.

Fuck, he thought again, why’d I marry my mother? Shrieking shrews, needy, yet in the end, when confronted, both compliant to a point of maddening frustration. Twenty-nine years old. Thirty lurking just around the corner. Two daughters, both rowdy, mostly undisciplined, not very attractive. Sweet Jesus, this family life shit could go on for another 50 or 60 years before finding freedom. And then what? Death. That’s what.

She forgot to knock, or maybe just blew it off, as she thought of it still being simply the door to the garage. It serving as the portal to her husband’s private sanctuary hadn’t yet cemented itself in her mind. This was a fact that left Patrick annoyed to the point of anger, her lack of respect gnawing at him as a jackal at a carcass.  Really, how many times had he told her to knock? No respect What. So. Ever.

Patrick took note of her droll smile, as if the whole concept of a garage serving any purpose other than a place to park cars or as a repository of life’s castoffs was amusing. He saw the upward tilt of her thin-set lips as merely one more example of disrespect, of her mocking his manhood, his rightful place as head of the household. She didn’t realize, or didn’t care, that it was there in the garage man-cave that Patrick felt he was slowly exchanging hostility for confidence and virility.

“Honey, are you almost done out here in the garage? The girls are ready to go to soccer and you know you promised to take them today.”

What he wanted to say but was, he loathed to admit, too chickenshit to get out: “Have you cleaned the snot from their noses and put moderately clean clothes on them? Huh? Have you at least made them presentable? And by the fucking way, I made that promise under the duress of your nag-nag-nag-nagging.”

He never said the things he most wanted to say. Rebellion for Patrick was to buy the name brand of a product rather than the cheaper store brand, something Pam found frivolous and maddening. For the moment though, he offered his smiling wife (God, just like her father!) a succinct, patronizing “yes, dear” and waited for her to leave before pushing out ten more reps on the bench press.

Patrick, you stupid ass, he mused, what are you doing with your sorry life?

He rose and stretched, grabbing a hand towel to wipe the sweat from his brow. With a gait of reluctant acquiescence, he made his way to the shower. Once he stepped inside and let the warm spray fall across his chest, he fell into self-recrimination, the thought of his life as one of urgent disquiet crowding his emotions. But in mere seconds, he’d rocketed above that quagmire, and as in his mind’s eye the water turned to blood, hot and pulsing, moving him to happiness. Proudful thoughts of his role as an unheralded warrior, of serving as a worthy assassin guarding America and her values, brought him some measure of peace, and even a bit of hope.

The text alerting him to a new job  –  or House Cleaning, as the killings were discretely called  –  came as he was pulling his wife’s mini-van into the driveway. He parked and hustled the giddy girls (they’d won their respective soccer matches, each by a last-minute score) in to dinner and, sequestering himself in the garage, scrolled quickly to the app on his phone. Upon opening it he was greeted by a blinking red cursor, a blood-tinged beacon of opportunity to Patrick’s way of thinking. Hovering over the cursor he learned what vehicle would be supplied for the assignment: white Ford Fiesta. Good, he mused, a non-descript car that wouldn’t cause a second look from a nosy neighbor or do-good cop, as ubiquitous as a merge sign on a highway ramp.

He hadn’t any idea how widely spread the program was, yet felt certain some cops were in on the whole killing game, as the assassinations he carried out always went to cold case status –  quickly. Surely, he reasoned, not all cops were keen on assassinating every queer in the city, but enough held key positions to make the plan work. Sure, he’d heard that even some cops are as gay as a fucking candelabra, but they had to be one out of every hundred or more. Still, he knew queers were liable to turn up anyway nowadays, likely having designs on some poor schmuck who hadn’t a clue as to how things were.

His original contact via the dark web had asked of Patrick’s ‘preference for elimination’. Beyond the homos, there were other categories offered as targets  –  homeless people and Muslims and the foreigner-born and some Patrick had forgotten. The death toll for these people had risen dramatically as well.  All of this carnage, the elimination of people “less than”, it all must dwell on the wink and a nod of those in positions of power. Patrick’s mood soared when he thought of such things.

And the media played along as well, with sly hints  –  dog whistles  –  as to the possible dark skin and foreign extraction of those responsible, insidious little plugs that planted seeds of turmoil. Patrick marveled at so-called witnesses that alluded to culprits and motives that, in regards to his own killings, held no truth.

Patrick was an equal opportunity hater, for sure. So many undesirable groups of people, so little time to slaughter. But the queers most piqued his darkest desires. Just the thought of their death at his hand caused in him an erection, a solid slab of granite pulsing with bloodlust. Killing quieted the darkness within, even for a day or week, ably serving its purpose. Patrick saw no need to look elsewhere to resolve any issues he might have, as the role of assassin served him so well. Certainly, he knew there were other approaches to life’s problems, but none promised the fun of murder.

He dropped to the garage floor, quickly doing fifty push ups in a flurry of sweat, grunts, and pleasure.

His wife Pam had only once asked Patrick about the influx of funds, the bundles of cash appearing at their doorstep as if dropped by an angel. A blessing for sure, but one that naturally piqued her curiosity.

“Don’t worry about where it comes from, just be damned glad I’ve found a way to keep us afloat financially. Why must you question my successes? Be happy we’re almost caught up on all our overdue payments and leave it alone. Jesus, the house isn’t subject to being repossessed.” He’d claimed he was moonlighting as a security guard. With that he dismissed the topic with such finality as to banish it from further review. Her ideas about illegal arms and sex trafficking of minors  –  amongst other heinous possibilities  –  were to remain unvoiced, even though she’d never seen a guard’s uniform or known one to make much more than minimum wage.

After satisfying Pam’s curiosity, Patrick had returned to the garage, where he laid down on the bench press and tackled 15 heavy lifts. Finished, he lay still, musing momentarily on the ‘why’ of his hatred of gay people. Unlike some people he knew, there was nothing of pastors and pews, no bible beliefs, that spurred his feelings. Rather, his palpable loathing sprang from a dark past, one in which he saw hands that he sought as protection serving instead to upend his childhood with depravity. And as raging rainwaters can devour a mountainside, he thus lost his innocence in the elapsing of a second. From this deep well sprang Patrick’s darkest desires.

In his moonlighting, Patrick held a firm belief that he was doing right by society, as the men he killed were seducers, men who preyed on straight men and boys, confusing them before corrupting their bodies and souls. He could like a gay person, and certainly he had in the past been fond of gay acquaintances. But such fondness was just for that one person, who would stand then as an exception rather than a rule, thereby granting him the freedom to loathe and marginalize the rest of that community, particularly those whom he hunted. With such a rationalization, he could kill with no regret.

~

He looked the part of his prey: tight jeans and a revealing, snug polo shirt. He found the Fiesta parked where the app had indicated, and he smiled at its being white and nondescript. The license plates, as always, were stolen. He stepped a bit to one side so as to read the bumper sticker he spotted on the car’s rear: In God We Trust. He laughed, thinking that while that was all fine and well, knives and guns kept food on the table.

Availing himself once more of the app, he unlocked the car, finding the ignition key tucked in the door pocket as promised. So simple and easy it all was. The crowning detail was the gun in the glove compartment. They were always loaded and minus a serial number, ready for the work at hand, to be placed back in the compartment after use. Everything in its place.

It was comforting, though, knowing the gun was there if needed. But I’ll stick with my knife, he thought with unbridled glee. I can get right in the fucker’s face, savoring that moment when the final breath leaves him. That’s the best part. Take that, faggot.

Sometimes Patrick would take the time to handle the gun, caressing it as one would a kitten, purring and mewling over it in loving sympathies. He’d never owned guns, but found he was adept at their use and respectful of their intrinsic power, their being a sort of muscle that flexed in final judgement. Patrick and the gun, each providing cause to tread cautiously and respectfully, lest their full fury be unleashed upon anyone foolish enough to question their might.

“I’ll see you later, baby,” he said softly, gently placing the pistol back in the glove compartment. This process of cooing admiration lasted only a few minutes, but invariably an excited Patrick had to take several deep breaths to collect himself, and as usual was forced to adjust his cock, the painful erection too much to bear otherwise.

As was his custom, he eyed his face in the rear-view mirror. Pleased with what he saw, he exited the car, locked it, and stepped to the sidewalk. He’d previously driven the almost three miles from where he’d retrieved the car, finding a small spot along a crowded street in which to maneuver the Ford. He then began the two-block walk to his destination, and what he hoped would be the blood thrill of a deadly, even exotic, night – and the ensuing payment for a job well done.

Whoa there, big fella, he chuckled, again adjusting his erection to a more comfortable –  and obvious  –  position. You’ll get to the fun soon enough. Oh my, yes, fun it’ll be, my friend.

As he walked at a leisurely pace, he whistled a tune, Red Sails, a favorite of his grandfather, before using the time alone to reflect upon the joy he’d found in his assignments. The photos he took for proof of a completed kill were originally just that – an integral part of the job. As a lawyer provides a legal brief and a doctor gives a diagnosis, an assassin is required to provide evidence of a project completed as promised. After every kill, the photos went to an email address, one that changed with each assignment. Then, within twenty-four hours, and as if by sorcery, the plain manila envelope would appear at the side door of Patrick and Pam’s house, tucked inside the screen by a person always unseen  –   $5,000 cash. Just payment for a just mission, Patrick thought.

He seized on the heady flight of the moment to relive his last assignment, the utter joy it brought to his life. Tony, tall and dark and brooding. Tony who chose him over all the other men in the bar that night. Upon Glen’s blood and last breathe it rocketed red within Patrick’s mind. That Patrick was able to so easily nab Tony when other men were ogling him with overt desire imbued Patrick with a sense of, if not belonging, then at least appreciation, reinforcing his confused and fragile take on reality.

It was Tony’s death which provided the biggest thrill so far. Patrick found himself deeply immersed in the project. It was the first time he’d ever ejaculated without touching himself, and it was a knee-bending, mind-flooding orgasm he’d been unable to forget. Propelled by a language of deep emotional release, it was the first stab ripping Tony’s heart that cemented his connection to that particular man. The gasp emitted by his beautiful prey’s body, Tony’s lips holding the word “why” before back-forth-up-down the knife seemed self-propelled, eviscerating Tony’s existence. And in the eyes of that man he saw as he fell silent to an irretrievable abyss, causing Patrick’s own heart to lurch in ecstasy. It was at that moment when their eyes were mere inches apart, and the smile on Patrick’s face was set to be the last image the man saw before succumbing to Patrick’s power, that Patrick felt invincible. The manic highs of that evening started the tradition of leaving the job with a memento beyond mere photographs. In Tony’s case, it was his driver’s license, a token whose edges were as defined as his recollections of that evening.

Afterward, just touching the license, or even having it on his person, would imbue Patrick with the power of a conquering hero. Often the minute details of the evening would come back in a rush of heady glory, cascading in rapturous detail, causing his cock to stand harder than he’d ever known, a granite obelisk of decency and rightfulness. Harking back to Tony’s pleading eyes and gasps of “why? why?” would ring a sweet melody in his ears, as did Patrick’s answer to Tony, hissed in a mix of anger and triumph.

“Because you are filthy.”

After his first kill, the thrill was so great that in his unchecked euphoria he deleted the beautiful murder images from his phone as soon as he got his payment. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that he regretted not having the pictures available. To relive the thrill, he realized, was its own reward, as satisfying as a cold beer on a hot day. He thought of the photos as a bonus for a job well done, a perk like free parking or casual Fridays’ at the office.  Sure as hell better than a ‘Word of the Day” posted on the employee bulletin board.

~

His venue that evening was Lucky’s, a gay bar he’d been to just twice, the last time being almost five months back. He rotated his appearance at the various clubs, mindful that the metropolis of over ten million people provided many killing fields while also aiding him in keeping as low a profile as possible. As a good hunter, he strived to remain camouflaged, his face unseen or at least unfamiliar.

Noise cascaded a greeting to Patrick upon his opening the bar’s door, swallowing him as much as the crowd itself. The thump-thump of music and the revelry of testosterone commanded his attention. Such a foreign place these bars were for him, even after having stalked seven men in Lucky’s or bars just like it. Each was a kaleidoscope of smells and noises and even sights (though he found many of the men to be interchangeable) that assaulted his emotions and his sense of right versus wrong. Tonight, for the first time, Patrick had a niggling sense of comfort in the bar, almost a feeling of belonging, a long-held breath finally set free. He assuaged any repellant feelings by reminding himself that yes, he belonged there in a gay bar, but merely as a man on a specified mission, a righteous hunter. His job was here. In his mind, he saw a listing of the job’s requirements, at the top, a heading: Killing the Fags.

He scanned the room as he made his way along the far wall, the outer perimeter offering the best vantage point for locating a suitable victim, like a deer blind helps the hunter bring down his prey. He’d over his time as a Lacer become much more comfortable in such bars as Lucky’s, yet he remained alert at all times, following his own established protocol for the task at hand. His face he kept mostly obscured in the dark recesses of the bar. With purpose he sought a loner, someone not of a crowd; less people to remember the man who may or may not have left with the man who later turned up dead. Finally, he’d chosen an alias. His name for the evening: Vic.

As was his custom, Patrick made his way to an area of the bar that appeared to have the shortest queue. He always started the evening with a tonic and lime, the appearance of what looked like a cocktail in his hand as much a prop as the tight clothing and his ogling eyes. Once he’d been served, he returned quickly to the darkness of the back wall, this time near the men’s room. Seeing someone teetering on his feet and getting them alone was the ideal situation, one that held the greatest promise of success. If he could be in and out in under an hour, then he could make it an early evening.

A blonde man, weaving as if he was careening down a mountain road, immediately captured Patrick’s attention. While he’d hardly had time to start nursing on his tonic, Patrick felt happy at the prospect of it being an early night, yet he also sensed with such brightness a small pain of loss, as if he’d be missing out on some unidentifiable something if the evening were to be cut short. The latter thought depressed him momentarily, robbing him of the vision of his being a conquering hero and reminding him of the drudgery of his other existence. Being out among life, even with queers, at least made for a diversion, transporting him for a short time from the realization his other life had devolved into a place mired in frustration, one where a sense of inadequacy kept him from being his best.

Blondie was now just a few feet from Patrick, almost to the men’s room door. Patrick often stood near the restrooms, using it as a prime location in which to evaluate potential prey. One second of their eyes’ meeting, followed by a fast smile, and Patrick knew he’d made the crucial inroad to possible conversation. The man reached out to the door just as it suddenly sprang open from the other side. He stumbled into the men’s room, and likely would have gone down to the floor but for the man exiting catching his arm and steadying him.

After he disappeared behind the closed door, Patrick chuckled aloud, and added softly. “Stupid faggot. But I think you’ll be my faggot for tonight. All mine.”

~

Upon exiting the restroom, Blondie seemed refreshed, and his steps suggested he’d regained some stability. As he glanced up, Patrick immediately coughed down into his hand while keeping his eyes aimed steadily at Blondie. It worked exactly as Patrick predicted; just for a second their eyes locked. That moment was all that was needed.

“I guess you saw that stumble earlier,” Blondie said. He’d cast his head slightly downward, sending his words directly to the floor where they were mostly swallowed by the club’s raucous beat.

“Yeah, but who hasn’t done the same thing, right? Least ways you didn’t fall flat, huh?”

Yeah, well, there is at least that.” Blondie offered his hand to Patrick. “I’m Glen.”

“Victor. Or just Vic. Nice to meet you.”  As always, the pseudonym fell with practiced ease from his lips. He’d been Troy and Marty and Mike before, along with other names, each chosen in advance. He’d then repeat them to himself over and over in his mind so as to be familiar with them.

Maybe, he thought, I shoulda been an actor, evoking a smile that served to further seduce Glen. Yes, everything is clicking right into place.

Glen’s hand was management smooth, his days no doubt spent shuffling papers or ordering people about. The man didn’t stock shelves and clean coolers at a convenience store, mused Patrick. It was off-putting to him, yet Glen’s smile and his deep blue eyes made for a warm presence, leading Patrick to be forgiving of something so simple, going so far as to silently chastise himself for such feeble bigotry.

“I’m new here. I mean, in every way, like the whole, well, gay life. I found myself drinking three stiff drinks in short order. Stupid, right?”

“I don’t much come around here myself.” Patrick offered as an answer, keeping his focus on Glen’s eyes rather than tuning into his prey’s words.

“And I’ve just moved to town,” Glen continued, as much unfazed as he was unaware of Patrick’s not hearing him. “Plus, I’ve only been going to these kinds of bars for a few months. Back in Denver I went out like four times, maybe five, total.

Glenn fumbled with his words as one does a recalcitrant zipper. “Okay, like seven or eight times. Still, it’s all new to me, like I said.”

Patrick’s attention then snapped into line, his confidence soaring at learning Glen was new to the area. An unfamiliar face meant the locals likely hadn’t any connection to him; an animal separated from his herd. And new to being out as gay, well, that, Patrick thought, is just gravy on the turkey.

Slipping from the bar unnoticed, they initially stood in silence near the curb, the awkwardness wrapped as a tight cocoon around each of them. This was as much a part of Patrick’s plan as his tight-fitting clothes, and was followed by conversation inconsequential in meaning but vital in closing the deal that Patrick had carefully cultivated. Patrick suggested he follow Glen to his place  –  temporary housing provided by his new employer  –  before Glen could propose Patrick’s place as a better choice.

Patrick eyed Glen. Up and down his gaze traveled. Reel the fucker in, right? “You were the best-looking man in there, Glen. I mean it, hands down the best-looking.”

Glen blushed, looking to the pavement in his second moment of embarrassment in under one hour.

“Hey, Glen, look at me. Yeah, there. Now smile!” Patrick snapped a picture of Glen, catching him just as his face came up even with Patrick. The result was a rather stunning photo of a man who was naturally photogenic. Patrick’s gaze lingered on the screen before turning it toward Glen. It had occurred to Patrick that a photo as he now stood would be the perfect souvenir to complement the death photo. A sort of before and after set, much like those weight-loss ads one sees, only Patrick’s comparison would show a loss of blood – and then life. And seeing Glen’s square jaw, his dimples, the searing blue of his liquid eyes, Patrick was glad they would be forever immortalized in these final photos of his life.

Glen looked momentarily perturbed, yet he couldn’t help melt as Patrick, his smile so well-steeped in faux sincerity, seemed so genuinely enamored with him. “But why’d you take that?”

“Don’t worry! Wouldn’t want that beautiful face to get wrinkles. I won’t post it online anywhere. I just want a memento, something to remind myself of how handsome you are, a way to be sure I wasn’t imagining this whole evening.” With those words Glen appeared both placated and flattered, which worked in tandem to send Patrick’s confidence further skyward. His first evening back on the hunt in several weeks could not have been going any better. It served as reassurance that he still had what it took to go on the prowl. Yet he also sensed a shift, a change in his position as being just a player in a deadly production and more of a participant in an alternate life. Was this, he wondered, more than just theater? Glen was acting as a segue in an experience that for Patrick seemed suddenly almost uncontrollable, as if the managing of his emotions had been violently torn from his sense of comfort and control.

“You’re too flattering, Vic.” As Glen spoke, it was Patrick who reached out to take Glen’s hand, a gesture as gentle as it was casual, even natural. The softness of Glen’s palm and fingers suddenly seemed far from repulsive, and Patrick let his fingers slightly curl to the shape of Glen’s hand. The evening, Patrick felt, mired as it was in an oddly intense sensuality, was nevertheless heading in the right direction, his prey tumbling into the lust-fueled web of his own demise.

When they reached Glen’s small apartment, he reminded Patrick of the place’s role as a temporary shelter, devoid of personal pieces and mostly utilitarian. He was keen on telling Patrick he’d already made an offer on a home in an older, eclectic part of town, and that it would be a different experience than what now awaited Patrick’s eyes. Patrick had never before even thought of there ever being a second meeting with one of his victims. A person only visits a corpse in the confines of a funeral home.

Once inside, it was Glen who greedily pushed himself against Patrick, forcing the latter against the wall. He willed his body to become one with this man he’d known not even two hours. Patrick did not rebuff Glen’s move, allowing his tongue to dance with Glen’s. Each could not ignore the hardness of the other, so rigid and ready were they both.

Glen was able to maneuver Patrick to the bedroom, the latter’s resistance having dissipated to a point of inconsequence. They were soon on the bed, their clothes flying in frenzied arcs across the room and onto the floor, creating a hopscotch pattern of cotton and lust across the neutrality of the beige carpet.

~

The unmistakable smell of blood greeted the two officers who first entered the apartment on a “wellness check” on behalf of a local company. Their employee had not shown up for work and was unreachable, which probably meant nothing much as mostly happened in such instances. But upon opening the door, the two men were greeted with the scent of blood-letting, of outrageous violence done to man. The younger cop coughed into his arm, while the older one set his face in a stern pose of duty. It was to him that fell the task of assessing and securing, and he was a man of no nonsense in such situations.

Well shit, he thought, we’ll not be going off duty anytime soon. He’d planned on dinner out with his girlfriend, one of three he was then juggling. With a heavy sigh, he accepted the reality that he’d simply have to juggle a little higher, a little faster.

As they neared the closed door of the apartment’s sole bedroom, the odor intensified, wafting in insistent waves of impending horror. As the senior officer opened the door, his nose twitched in a final act of futile defiance. A scene of brutality greeted them, forcing the rookie cop to turn back as his stomach heaved in distress. His partner took it all in: a naked man on the bed, the deep crimson of his blood soaking the bed linens to a point of saturation. Blood painted its story across the four walls. Looking up, he saw dark stains there as well, noting that not even the ceiling fan was spared the grotesque mark of death. Blood was the theme of the room, as if dabbled about by a decorator intent on tying the room’s elements together by the rich red of death in a chaotic theme of murder.

Multiple stab wounds were evident even at a distance, creating an abstract drawing of unspoken anger and seething hatred, a connect-the-dots diagram of destruction. The older cop radioed for a detective and crime scene technicians, describing the scene in clipped words that managed to convey the atrocity in bullet point efficiency.  Then, having retrieved his partner, they walked back to the bright pleasantries of the sun-soaked day.

~

Had it only been a few hours since he’d rocketed to a sexual high unlike anything he’d ever before experienced? Hell, a high like nothing he’d ever dreamt possible, that’s more to the heart of it. But once on the careening downside of such euphoria, when he landed in his own peculiar reality, Patrick found himself mired in a place so foreboding as to frighten him to his very core. This pendulum, having swung so far and tall in one direction, must  –  minus some intervention at man’s hand  –  then swing violently in reverse, demanding its due and attaining emotional elevations of an opposite nature. So dark was his existence in those few moments, that escape had seemed too fantastical a hope. He stood at such moments as a series of highly combustible nesting dolls, one hidden inside the next, each one the possible accelerant that would send man and emotions skyward.

Glancing down, he saw the caked blood, his and Glen’s, congealing as one rich palette. To the right, in the passenger seat, lay the knife. It too gave evidence of his recent handiwork. The Fiesta now sat behind a row of rundown shops, a strip mall of a low caste. To his left stood a dumpster, the lid yawning in a rightward tilt of nonchalance. He’d no memory of driving from Glen’s apartment, yet he could vividly see the bloodletting that had occurred there.

It was at the apartment where his knife had arced in a half circle, up and down, over and over, that he’d realized that at some recent point he’d ejaculated. Whether it occurred as he first plunged the blade into Glen, or seconds earlier when the handsome blond had wrapped his hand around his erection, he could not be certain. Such a distinction, in his mind, would not matter. He had had an orgasm, and it should never have happened, wouldn’t have happened, he knew, except for a faggot like Glenn plying such sickness, seeking to pervert good men like Patrick. All of it, the rage and the frenzied plunges of the knife, during those bloody seconds became like skiing on the steepest mogul, everything rocketing past in a lascivious blur of panic and desperation, anger and righteousness.

When the knife, slick with destruction, slipped, the resulting cut on Patrick’s hand was deep and to the bone. His blood then poured to mingle with that of Glenn’s, seemingly turning the pools an impossibly deep shade of red. Rather than retreat, the physical pain served as a catalyst to his wrath, stoking his voracious appetite for revenge of past wrongs.

From not being recognized as of higher intellect than most everyone else, to harms of a physical and emotional variety, he was awash in pain, finding release via the mutilation of flesh that lay below him.

How could so many memories come back at once, all in the seconds he spent butchering the beautiful man lying beneath him? Surely, they should all pile upon each other, only one visible at any given moment. Yet it seemed to Patrick they were all running upon parallel paths, emotional synapses like streaks of simultaneous lightning. It served to keep the memories in the moment with extreme clarity.

Never before  –  certainly not at his job with the convenience store  –  had he been in such a position to prove his worth as a man. In his role as an assassin, his latent talents were brought to the surface. He was an artist with death as his medium, splattering blood across a blank canvas. True, only the police and coroner would bear witness to these talents, yet he could think of no other persons more qualified to rate his work. It all served to give confidence and a deep sense of superiority to a man who’d always known he was better. He had always scoffed at others, laughed at their stupidity, and now he knew he was indeed above them on the ladder of evolution. Plus, he had purpose, and he thrilled at the thought of a new assignment landing on his phone at any time.

He’d found his calling, rejoicing at the realization that Life’s elixir resided on the honed edge of his hunting knife. The brutal efficiency of blood-letting had brought to the surface his latent proficiencies.

As to his immediate task, Patrick again plunged the knife into Glenn’s flesh, realizing that his skills had left the man’s torso thoroughly soaked in blood, a tidal basin in red. His senses inundated with death, more memories tumbled forward, even as he willed them to cease, causing his mind to reel further, tumbling backward with the ease of a seasoned gymnast. At that moment, as the red-dripped blade continued its arcing purpose, his thoughts froze in those years in his youth where hell visited him often.

It was his father’s boss that proved to be the cause of immense pain for Patrick. Once his mother had abandoned them, suddenly this large-eyed man of a thousand hands, the person who held sway over his father’s job, appeared in their home. And his interest was Patrick. In moments of clarity, when brutal honesty ruled his senses, he knew it was that man who served as the original catalyst for his hatred, the purveyor of guilt and its ensuing rage. Yet, as an adult, he’d shied away from too close an analysis of the situation, fearful that such an undertaking might lead him to some less thrilling means of dealing with the past. Besides, the very thought of seeing a therapist repulsed him. Instead, he relied on those years of abuse, of those hands forcing themselves on his body, of having a tongue forced deep into his young mouth, to serve as the lustful fuel that sent him out on his nights of murderous joy.

The next plunge of the knife severed Glen’s left ear, the force flinging it back where it landed on Patrick’s shoulder before quickly falling to the pools of red that surrounded Patrick’s life. In Glen’s death, he’d not yet managed to traverse the years into his past to where the hungry dragon lived and taunted, leaving him unfulfilled.

Sitting there in the Fiesta, he saw his reflection in the rearview mirror. Instead of admiring his handsome features, the deep blue of his eyes, he saw that dragon, mouth open, luring him to crawl upon the jagged red of its fangs. His home resided there. It was then, with the practiced ease of one who’s slain so many devils, that he retrieved the knife next to him and plunged it deep into the side of his neck.

~

Pam hadn’t worried at Patrick’s overnight absence. For several days previous she had been able to sleep through the night, awaken mostly refreshed in the morning, and other than a brief spate of concern, go about her normal routine without the pervasive sense of overwhelming sadness and dread. The kids kept her busy for sure, so worrying had become a luxury rather than a certainty, nevertheless, not working herself into frenzied knots of worry over Patrick’s recent oddities and changes was a milestone. In this she felt a sense of pride, of hope.

With uncommon energy she hustled the girls out through the side door, only to come across a familiar site: an unmarked envelope. Upon picking it up, she realized there were actually two separate envelopes, each identical down to the single strip of strapping tape that securely sealed their flaps. Beyond recognizing the color and size, the heft signaled to Pam that each held an identical sum of money. She quickly peeked into each one, counting out fifty, one-hundred dollar bills in each.

“Mom, come on! We’ll be late!” The girls were already securely buckled in the van’s middle seat, an eagerness to get out into the day etched upon their faces.

“Yes, yes, coming.”

As Pam climbed behind the steering wheel, she tucked the two envelops and the sense of freedom they conveyed into her purse.

~

Two days had passed since Pam had retrieved ten thousand dollars from the side door of her home, and having eventually become frantic at Patrick’s long absence, a shopkeeper had exited the rear door of his business to place two trash bags in the dumpster that served the small strip mall. Near the bin he took note of a small white car, parked awkwardly in the high grass. Curious as to why a car would be left in such a place for two days, he walked toward it. His nerves tightened as his imagination raced to the pages of one of the dark who-done-its he devoured one after another, his mind creating images his becoming embroiled in some horrendous crime. And upon seeing red splotches on the driver’s window, he faltered, realizing such musings may be coming to reality. Going just two steps further, he was able to peer just into the driver’s door. What he saw there sent running him back inside where he’d left his cell phone.

A body, a gun, and death greeted the lone officer who first arrived upon this scene. It looked to be just another suicide. There was, however, the driver’s license found in the passenger seat to be considered. Peering through the window, he saw it didn’t belong to the dead man, the responding officer called it in as well. Glen Edward Hansen was a name not yet hitting the airwaves, his bloody remains still sequestered alone in a small apartment decorated in redness. The photo on the license depicted a square-jawed blond with a cleft chin, blue eyes, and a beaming smile. A handsome man with confidence and aspirations, perhaps even privilege, that was the man the cop saw there.

Finally, a cell phone caught the officer’s eye as it peered at him from the passenger floorboard. Later, a detective would retrieve it, and in doing so the screen refreshed itself, life amongst the death of the car’s interior. A single sentence greeted his eyes.

“So many devils.”