Christmas Roof

(a shortstory) by Dan Patterson

“Hey.  Hey, you awake?”  Gerald Conner called to me from the hall.  It was before 5 o’clock on Monday and no, I was not.  Me and the blanket had a good thing going on and I was not about to ruin it. 

“Hey.  The heat’s off again.  Get up and help me bleed the line.  Hurry up, man.” 

I made a noise to get him to be quiet and opened my eyes in the dark bedroom.  A little light filtered in under the curtains and I could feel the cold sharp on my nose that my friend the blanket had kept off the rest of me.  Me and Gerald had shared the little house outside of town for nearly three years, rented from his uncle in Richmond.  We’d take care of all the maintenance, yard work, and so on for the old place and his uncle gave us a break on the rent.  It had all the comforts of home for two bachelors in their twenties, two bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs and we had put in another bath in the unfinished basement, but we hadn’t gotten around to getting heat down there yet.  Now there was no heat anywhere. 

“I’m gettin’ up” I said.  “How long has it been off?” I shouted.  I pulled on yesterday’s damp clothes from the chair and immediately wished I had better options. 

“Most of the night I guess.  I don’t know” he said and he sounded none too pleased.  That made two of us.  Gerald has a streak of high-and-mighty in him and he’s a finicky sort but we got along good anyway; I try my best to get along with everybody unless they push too hard.  He sings in the choir at his church and was always trying to get me to go.  I get it, I really do.  But everything isn’t for everybody, I told him, so we just left it at that. 

 
“Well let’s go see what we got” I said as I stepped into the hall.  Gerald was standing in the kitchen with the oven door open, element glowing orange in the dark room like some sort of a monster’s mouth. 
“I’m about to dang freeze” he chattered.  “I am about ready to build a fire in the middle of the bedroom.  Dang!” 

“Alright.  Come on and let’s see what’s going on” I said.  The thermostat read 50 degrees and that’s as low as it went; it had been cold all week, in the 20s at night.  “Grab us a flashlight and I’ll get some tools.” 

 
He went one way and I went the other, turned on the lights and went down to the furnace in the basement, Gerald a few steps behind. 
“Well we know it ain’t out of fuel, we just put 50 gallons in it week before last” he said.  And we had, and that had taken my stash of fun money for the next little bit, not that I had a whole bunch fun or money lately.   We fooled around and found the line plugged with some trash again, drained all that out, bled the line, put it back together and fired the furnace up.  After some gagging and coughing the old thing lit off and was running like a sewing machine in no time. 
“We’re gonna have to do something about that tank, probably drain it and blow the lines.  I don’t want to have to do this no more” I said with my nose dripping.  Gerald agreed.   
“But not this morning, we got to get to work” he said.  It was past 6 and now we’d have to hustle.  I worked as a technician for a cable company and Gerald was at a trucking terminal as a mechanic helper; we’d met in tech school a few years before and both got decent jobs right away, then shared this old house to save on expenses. 

 
I went in to get ready and heard Gerald already in the shower and decided it was too cold to chance using the basement bathroom, so I put some things together for lunch until he got out.  I guess he was too chilled to be in a hurry because he used enough hot water to scald a hog.  By the time I could get in the shower there was no more hot water and it was getting late, so I went on in to work after a quick cold water shave and sink wash up, and my hands still smelling like fuel oil.  And no breakfast. 

Monday started on the wrong foot and never recovered, so by quitting time I was past ready for an attitude adjustment, preferably served by a baby doll that would at least pretend to be glad to see me.   I pulled into the parking lot of “Cue Tease” in a misting December rain and stepped across the puddles to the door.  “No Cover Before 6!” the sign said and that was fine with me.  Some times this place would be a cool spot to hang out but other times, depending on who was working and who was in the place, it was a giant depressing crap hole that just made things worse.  I stepped inside and saw I was in luck; a friendly blonde I knew, Stacie, was bartending and there were only a few regulars inside. 
“Hey Charlie!  Long time.  You doin’ good, baby?”  I felt better already.  Stacie had waitressed at a diner across town where a bunch of us went when we were in tech school, so when I saw her again in here last year it was like seeing an old classmate.  She’d had a kid but they didn’t marry and for all I could tell they weren’t together, but she didn’t let on much either way.  After the baby she’d started working out and she didn’t mind showing off the results, so my dreary Monday got much brighter all of a sudden. 
“Hey.  Yeah it has been a while; how you been doin’ girl?”  And I stuck my hand out. 
“Oh come here” she said, and came around the side of the bar.  A warm hug from a pretty girl does more than anything to cheer a man’s spirits and I was now very well cheered.  She pulled away quickly and dashed back, elbows on the bar and she had to know I was not looking at her eyes. 
“What will you have?” 
“It is half past beer-thirty so something on tap and on special if you have it” I said. 
She took a chilled mug and put it under a tap “Special on Handyman’s Brew, I think you’ll like it” and filled the mug before I could say anything. 

“How come I don’t see you in here much any more?” she asked with a pouty face.  A real cute pouty face. 
“Oh.  Yeah, well.  Uh, I spent way too much time and money on myself having too much fun a little while back and it kind of caught up with me.  You know” I said and threw a look at a slender brunette practicing her pole moves in the mirrored wall on the stage. “So I try to stay out of trouble as much as I can now”.  The details weren’t pretty so I just let that one hang but I could feel my face get hot. 

 
I took a healthy swig of the beer and said “That hits the spot”, and took down about half of the rest without breathing.  Four guys were playing cutthroat on the table behind me and one of them caught her eye and held up an empty bottle.  She got some drinks for them then came over next to me and leaned one arm on the bar, and her already tight blouse got tighter.  The buttons held, but I was hoping.  We chatted a minute and I finished the beer.  There was a big glass jar on the bar with a few bills in it and a handwritten sign “Help a girl out.  Family in need!” so I asked about it. 
“That’s for my family, momma’s sister, my aunt Elaine.  She’s staying with momma while her house is getting painted but the people she got to do the work stole a bunch of stuff from her and never showed back up.  Then when we went in to check on it the roof had started leaking, so that has to be fixed before we can finish the painting.  So, you know, lots to do and one thing leads to another and it’s all just a big ol’ mess”.  She sounded stressed about it. 
“Well what does a good roofer tell you it will take to fix it?”  Me and Gerald had done some side jobs in the past and had been on a roof or two. 
“They all say not fix, but replace” and when she said that she wrinkled her face.  “And we don’t have the money to pay what they’re asking.  Before he died my Uncle Jack got the stuff together to put a new roof on, but he had started having heart trouble and couldn’t do it.  And that’s been ages ago.” 

She picked up the empty mug and filled it without me saying anything.  I looked at her and she said “Oh don’t worry about it, it’s on special anyway so I’ll do a two for one for an old friend”.  Mischievous smile with the tip of her tongue touching her upper lip.  I was further cheered. 

“So.” She said, drawing it out. “If you know someone who can do some work like that and maybe help us out?”  She looked at me like a kid waiting on her allowance. 

“Well yeah.  I’ll ask around, but me and my roommate could maybe take a look at it after work one day, see what it needs, you know…”  I meant maybe we could maybe look at it and see if it was maybe something we could maybe do on the side.  Maybe.  But that’s not how she took it.  Not at all.  She came back around the bar and hooked her arm around my neck and said into my ear “Oh thank you thank you thank you.  Thank you SO MUCH!  That would be GREAT!” 

I was returning the hug and caught one of the pool players in the mirror looking at us with a hard stare.  We released each other and she was kissing close, but the pool player was still staring so I stepped back and said “Glad to help if we can.  Of course I need to talk to Gerald and see if he’ll go with me to look at it.  Jobs like that’ll take two or more you know, and I can’t swear we can even do it.” 

“Oh I know, but you’re so good with things like that.  I bet you could do it with your eyes closed.  It’s a really small place and she’s just not been able to keep up with it like she wanted.  This will mean so much to her.  And to my mom.”  She drew out ‘so much’ again for emphasis. 

“Well ok”, I thought.  Before I could say anything else she said “Give me your phone and I’ll put the address in under my name and number”.  Another killer smile and now I had the address and her number.  Sweet. 
“Don’t call though.  I don’t use the phone much, so text instead ok?” 
“Oh ok, sure” I said and looked at the address.  “Where is this?” 
She gave me the general directions.  It was in an old neighborhood once working class and family, now some vacant houses, lots of rentals, and high crime.  Things had gone the wrong direction for that part of town and this old lady probably had lived there all her grown-up life and the neighborhood just changed around her. 

 
“I’ll go by there on my way home.  Ok to look around?  Nobody will call the cops on me, right?”, and I was only half-kidding. 

“That’s the last thing anybody’ll want to happen around there” and she laughed.  “Good neighbors though, really sweet, and they won’t be any trouble.”  The DJ was making introductions and the entertainers were parading around the stage, all dressed up.  More smiles.  Me and my credit card knew way too much about smiles like that. 

“Oh gosh!  I’ve got to get the VIP room ready for the football game” she said and hurried away.  “Let me know what you think, ok?  As soon as you can.  And thanks again!”  She made a telephone with her fingers and a kissy face as she turned.  More cheer. 

Some Poindexter in a suit coat that didn’t fit, probably the manager-of-the-month, came over with the tab, thrashing his gum with his mouth open.  It was two beers full price.  It was time for me to go and I didn’t want to start anything, but I didn’t leave much tip either. 

It was a good twenty minutes across town to her aunt’s house and I parked by the curb in the dark.  Houses on either side were lived-in but tired with some cars parked in the yards and makeshift fences in the back.  One had an old couch on the front porch, and another had a pile of kitchen appliances in the back yard.  But the place across the street was all lit up with decorations and Christmas lights, a big cartoon snowman held a sign that read “Good Boys and Girls Live Here”.  It was a small mildewed brick house on a small lot just a little higher than the street, a short driveway to a clapboard garage, and some neglected rose bushes all along the side, all of it lit by a street light mounted on the garage gable.  There were a few shingles missing and there was a sag in the middle on the left side.  I got out and walked around the house for a quick look and stepped off the dimensions; flat yard and the eaves were an easy reach with a short extension ladder; we could get a truck right next to the house.  Cake job, really. 

The old garage door was stuck shut but I could squeeze through the side door.  My little flashlight was getting dim but some mice, or rats, or something squeaked and scattered out of sight.  Too cold for snakes, I hoped. 
Stacie’s Uncle Jack had four pallets of shingles in the back of the garage and they had been there for who knows how long.  But they were off the dirt floor and covered with a canvas tarp.  And if I was a snake I know right where I’d put up during in this weather, so I left the tarp alone and played the light along the bottoms of the pallets.  The bottom layers of the first rows were all bent from sitting so long, and some of the paper had been chewed off but nothing real bad.  I tried counting the bundles best I could then saw some rolls of tarpaper sitting on their ends.  Several buckets of roof tar were neatly placed beside them but I picked one up and shook it and it was solid as a rock. 

I went to the car and punched in Stacie’s number and it rang once before I remembered to text, so I disconnected and sent her a short message.  “Hey.  Looks like a simple job.  Found the old shingles. Will talk about it and let you know.  How much?” 

My phone pinged just as I sent the text, her number calling. 
“Hey” 
“Why did you call this number?”  A guy’s voice, aggravated. 
“What?  I was calling for Stacie about a doing a job.  Maybe I got a wrong number.  Sorry to bother you.”  But he didn’t hear that because he ended the call.  Some people, I guess. 
I put the car in gear and thought about going back to see if Stacie put her own number in my phone wrong, but the phone rang again from a number I didn’t recognize. 
“This is Charlie.” 
“Hey sweetie it’s Stacie.  Did you just call my phone?” 
“Yeah, by mistake.  But I just sent a text about the house.  Some dude called back all pissed and asked why I called.  I didn’t know you were seeing somebody.” 
“Oh no no no.  He’s not my boyfriend that’s just a guy that works here.  They make us put our phones up while we’re working and he must’ve heard it”.  The DJ was announcing drink specials for the game in the background.  “I’ve got to go, but let me know what you find out, ok?” 
I started to answer but she hung up. 

I talked about it with Gerald that night, gave him the little I knew about Stacie’s aunt, the house and whatnot.   

“Would be a good way, well might be a good way, to make a few extra bucks” I said not wanting to get over my head. 
“Yeah, but how many bucks and how much trouble?” 
“We need to go look at the place in the daylight, get on the roof, see exactly what we’re dealing with before we get into it”, I said.  “Besides, you’re always talking about doing good works and here at Christmas this might have been put here in front of me for a reason.  Right?” 
“Well.  Could be.  Could be.  In John it says ‘Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment’.  He was quiet for a minute or two with his eyes closed.  “We all ought to do more good.  Everybody.  We don’t none of us do enough of it, Christmas or not.  Let’s go look at it tomorrow; I’ll meet you there after work and we can see what we can do.  Alright?’  And got up and went to his bedroom. 

So we did that.  I borrowed a ladder from work and we got on the roof with flashlights, made measurements, looked it over real good, talked about what it would take, and came up with a few ideas.  We made a sketch of the roof and put the measurements on it, calculated all the materials and made a list.  From what we could tell Uncle Jack had bought enough of most everything.  I sent a text to Stacie with what we came up with and got back a “will talk to momma”.  Later she sent “grate thanks momma says thank” so we had a project in front of us. 
At work the next morning I talked to the boss and he said use the ladder as long as I needed it.  A buddy at work, Raymond, a lot older than me, overheard me and asked about it.   

“Doing some side work?” he said.   

“Well kinda I guess.  Got a little job to do for some family of a friend” I told him. 
“Good for you” he said and nodded.  “What sort of work?” 
“Putting a roof on a lady’s house.  She’s older and needs it done so they can get the inside painted.” 
“Is it leaking?” 
“Yeah, they say it is.  So we’ll get her a roof on at least”. 
“Good, good” he said.  “Whereabouts is it?” 

“French Hills on the East side.  Older neighborhood off Centennial Parkway.” 
“Oh yeah.  Yeah.  Cassion and Verdun and Liberty streets are in there. I know about right where that is.  Well, let me know if you need any tools or anything”, and we went on about our day. 

 
I got to the house just after work and started spreading two big tarps next to the house and used a roofer’s shovel to pry some shingles loose and give us a place to start the tear off.  The old house had three layers of roofing from where it had been replaced over the years.  The old stuff was so brittle it just broke apart when I scooped the tool underneath and I made real good progress.  Gerald came by and not much later we had one of the tarps piled with old junk off the roof.  About an hour into it our muscles were complaining and it was supper time so we tacked the other tarp over the bare place and left the tools in the old garage. 

   
All the next day I had second thoughts about getting us into this.  All it would take is one screw up and this thing could get out of hand fast.  I had talked Gerald into helping and he seemed good with it now, but if he decided to bail out I was on my own.  The power and water to the old place had been turned off so we would have to work without and I had not counted on that problem.  And the weather, and the materials, and I hadn’t even called about a truck yet, and who knows what else could trip us up.  Busy all day at work but I left a service call that took just a minute and instead of going back to the shop went by the house on Marne. 

   
“What in the hell?” I thought.  “Just what in the hell!” I said.  The tarp on the roof was there but the one that had all the scrap we took off was missing.  The tools were still there, all the materials were too but I couldn’t make sense out of it.  I had to call Gerald to let him know what I found, and I told him.  I was probably too excited. 
“Calm down man!  If somebody took the tarp but they also took the trash.  They can have the blame tarp if they got rid of that junk for us.  Dumb butt.” 
I had to admit he was right.  “Well.  Yeah, but still.  Ok.  I’m going to go ahead and get started.” 
“I can be there in a little while.” 

I put the tarp from the roof on the ground next to the house and it wasn’t thirty minutes later that a diesel pickup with a trailer hooked to it squeaked to a stop.  Two boys about 10 and 12 got out of the back and then Raymond stepped out. 
“Hey man.  What are you doing out here?” 
The he got the tarp out of the bed and I saw what had happened. 
“I took a half-day off and thought me and my boys’d come see how you were getting along.” 
“Hey boys.”  They did head nods.  “Well I guess we’re getting a decent start on it but it looks like some kind hearted soul made off with the old junk we took off yesterday.” 
“Yeah well I was sorta out this way taking care of some other stuff and we picked it up for you.” 
“Aw man you didn’t have to do that.  Thank you!” 
“Yeah.  Yeah, no problem at all.  Glad to help.  You boys get them rakes out and clean up this old yard.  Rake it in a pile and put it on the trailer.” 
“Yes sir.”  They said and went right at it.  Raymond pulled the truck around and backed the trailer next to the house, then spread the tarp on the bed.  He got an old mattock out of the truck and climbed on the roof without saying anything else. 

 
I worked one side and he worked the other, but he went back where I had been and yanked the old nails up.  Gerald pulled up, all smiles, and said hello to everybody like he’d known them a long time.  I introduced Raymond and Gerald started piling the old shingles on the trailer, the boys started quarrelling, the younger one not wanting to be bossed around. 
“Hey!  You boys get to work, now, and I mean it” Raymond said.   And they did. 

We had about a quarter of one side of the roof off, nails and all then Raymond got down and unhitched the trailer.  “We got to get back.  I’ll leave the trailer and you let me know when it’s full and I’ll run it over to the landfill.” 
I was on the ground by then.  “Here, let me get you some cash for that and all your trouble.  That was a big help, man.  How much was it?”  I had my wallet out and he was waving it away. 
“Naw, naw now you don’t owe me nothin’, we’re glad to help ain’t we boys?” 
“Yes sir” they said.  “I’ll see you at the shop in the mornin’” and he drove off. 

I didn’t get to see Raymond at the shop, the boss sent me on calls before I left the house and I was all over the place all day.  In the back of my mind I was really looking forward to getting back on that old house.  By the time I got off work Gerald was already there with two other guys and they had more of the old roof off.   One of the guys Gerald brought had made a simple rack to work from and that made the going much easier.  There wasn’t room for me and the yard was picked clean; the rose bushes had been trimmed down by somebody and there was a new layer of clean mulch in the beds.  About then a trio of loud-piped Harleys blasts into the yard, and it maybe 40 degrees outside, right up to where I was standing.  The bike in back had an American flag about the size of a bedsheet and they all shut down at once.  MIA POW patches on their jackets, red sweatshirts underneath.  Big dude with a grey pony tail gets off the lead bike wearing club colors and a do-rag, looked pissed, black semi-auto on his left hip cross-draw. He steps up to me and sticks his hand out, big smile, “Hey I’m CL, you must be Charlie.  Some of us heard about all this and we come out to help” and before I could say anything he yelled at the guys on the roof.  “Hey!  Y’all come on down and get a break, we got you.”  The other two strode over and scooted up the ladder while CL looked the job over, and I just stood there in my shoes. 

 
“Gerald.  Man.  I mean.  Dang man.  What’s going on?” 
“I don’t really know.  I only know the one guy from work and that’s a dude from his neighborhood” gesturing at the two sitting on the trailer.  They looked beat. 
“Where in the world are we going to get the cash to pay these guys?  I mean, look, there’s Raymond and his two boys yesterday, and these two guys, and then these bikers show up!  And I haven’t heard the first word back from the chick that is supposed to be paying us in the first place.  Dadblame it!” 

Gerald didn’t say anything but he had the same thought, I could tell.  I went on working and worrying. 

 
It got too dark to work so we all started moving toward getting things straightened up.  The three bikers were in a huddle, one on his phone.  I stood next to them and called to the two guys Gerald knew. 
“Hey I really appreciate all the help from everybody.  Really.  But look, I can’t pay anybody anything, boys, and I’m sorry as I can be.” 

“No man, no.  No worries.  You’re helping somebody and we’re just helping you.  No worries.”  CL and his biker friends smiled, everybody nodded and I felt like a turd on a birthday cake. 
Gerald was walking to his car and I stopped him. 
“Man this has me feeling bad.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“All these guys pitching in, everybody coming by like this.  I don’t know, man, I just don’t know.  It ain’t right.  It just ain’t.” 
“Aw quit worrying about it” he said.  “It’ll be alright.”  That didn’t help.  It wouldn’t be alright. 
I sat in my car and stewed about it.  No, there was no other option.  Only one way out of this. 
I thumb-typed to Stacie, “We will get the roof on.  You buy supplies if need.  No pay to me” and sent it.  I felt like a fever had broke. 

I called Gerald to talk it over. 
“Hey man, I just don’t feel right taking money for that roof job if all those boys are helping for nothing.  I messaged Stacie and told her not to pay me but I didn’t say anything about you.” 

“If you talk to her or whatever tell her I said the same thing.  It don’t change anything.  I bought my guys lunch today and they were happy with that.  Shoot man, if we keep up this pace we’ll be through in a day or two anyway.”  He didn’t seem as let down as I was about the money, but he was more that way than I was.  I could’ve used the extra money, but the deal was done.  Another message to tell Stacie Gerald agreed, too and she sent back “!!?? r you sure?  thanksyou.” 

It was a while before I got out there the next day, and two of the three bikers were there and the trailer was piled with the old junk.  One of the guys was looking at something on the roof and frowning.  “This ain’t good and I was afraid we’d find it” he told me from on the roof.  “Water has run down in a crack and gathered ‘till it rotted this whole section out”, waving at a big area.  While I thought it over CL said “I got one of mine coming.”  Gerald and his two came in so we all worked on the other side and about a half-hour later the third biker came in leading a one ton truck that had seen better days.  It had a big generator mounted in the bed and when the old guy limped out of the cab CL said “That’s his dad” pointing to the biker.  The two of them laid out a set of cables hooked to several outdoor power outlets and a stand with some work lights.  They talked to the others about running the generator and then got it started.  The biker got back on the Harley and the old guy limped over and hiked a leg over the seat, whacked the biker’s helmet, and off they roared. 

An old lady from next door had been watching us the whole time, I’d bet we were probably more interesting than TV.  Well, she came over walking very slowly taking small careful steps, rocking back and forth, with two big grocery bags one on each arm and all bundled up in her good coat.  When Gerald saw her coming he jogged over and met her.  He took the bags on one arm and her on the other and they came over to the driveway where we all were. 
“I come to bring y’all some food” she said.  “I seen all y’all out here working on my friend Ellie’s house and I wanted to do what I could do for you.”  Her glasses were down on the end of her nose and she would look through them if she was talking to you and over them if not.  We put a piece of plywood on two sawhorses from the truck and set the bags down.  Sandwiches neatly wrapped in paper towels, pimento cheese and baloney, and they looked better than a roasted turkey this far past lunchtime.  Everybody came over and the second biker, I never did get his name, hushed everybody while he talked to the neighbor for a minute.  One of the guys said he was starving and went for a sandwich but he was stopped short. 

 
“Hold it here, now.  First we want to all thank Miz Horton for her kindness, making this fine food for us.”  He put his arm around her as he spoke and she leaned into him like he was her grandson.  He kept his arm tight around her, tall skinny white boy biker and a short black women easily his grandmother’s age.  “And she tells me Miz Ellie is one of her closest friends and looks forward to having her back close by.”   “Honey”, he said looking at her, “we’ll do our part to get her back as soon as we can.”  She strained up and kissed him on the cheek and tried to hug him back. 

 
“We’re going to give thanks, now.  Bow your heads.”  And he made the sort of prayer a biker would, straight talk and to the point, no frills and no nonsense.  Miz Horton raised her arms and swayed back and forth, speaking quietly all the time he said the blessing.  We all made a point to speak to Miz Horton and thank her personally, and tell her how good those sandwiches were.  She talked with us a few minutes then she said she was “’bout wore out”, so Gerald and the biker walked Miz Horton back to her house and got her inside and settled. 

Somebody came up with two power saws and we went to work on the rotten wood.  A sheet of plywood and three 2 x 4s appeared and me and CL cut everything and got all that ready to put in, but before we finished someone from up the street brought over an air compressor and a nail gun, he said his dad used to work with Jake at the plant.  Man, we fired that compressor up and went to town.  While we tore the rest of the old roof off and fixed a few more rotten places they turned on the work lights and it was bright enough to play football.  We didn’t find a stopping place ‘til way late and we had new roofing on about half of the house. 

That went on for another few days, after work and into the night.  Raymond took two more loads to the landfill that week and would leave his boys to help.  One of the bikers and the nail-gun neighbor took the garage doors down and put them back in operation; we moved all the shingles out next to the house and that neighbor, J’Malle I learned, cleaned the garage out and swept the dirt floor clean.  We’d work along, people coming and going as they could, generator going, lights bright on the yard.  Miz Horton next door made some more visits and we got some lawn chairs for everybody to sit in. 

 
We were finished by Friday afternoon.  I felt like I’d graduated from high school again.  Everybody from around the house came by and gathered around and talked in the cold air while we got all our tools and things out of the way, there was a pot of Russian Tea, the biker’s dad saw Miz Horton and found out “they went to different schools together” and knew some of the same people, and they talked about the old times late into that darkening afternoon.  J’Malle wore a Santa cap and brought his two little kids over wearing elf pajamas under their coats, and one of the string of blinking lights from across the street found their way over to decorate Raymond’s trailer. 

 
After a while things settled down and everybody went back to what they’d been doing. Stacie and her mom got her Aunt Ellie got moved back in and I went by to see them while they were all there a month or so later.  The gum chewing dude, ‘he’s not my boyfriend’, was there and Stacie was draped all over him.  He had a toothpick stuck in his mouth and didn’t say the first word to anybody.  That’s the last I saw of any of them. 

 
In the spring, when daffodils were blooming, breezes were warm and after a hard wet winter it seemed like every day was soft, easy, and hopeful, I drove back to have a look at all we had done at Christmas; I had the windows down thinking about it on the drive over and it all seemed like it had been in a different life. 

 
The sign in the yard read For Sale and a layer of straw was spread over where the garage had been.  Every single stick of the roof we’d put on was in the back of a big dump truck in the driveway, it’s ten tires making deep channels in the spot where we all ate pimento cheese and baloney.  And four or five guys were bustling around in and out of the house.  Something had happened but I wasn’t sure what.  Maybe somebody had bought it to renovate and resell, who knows?  I didn’t hang around to ask questions.  Besides, it didn’t change anything. 

Update on fiction and poetry submission guidelines

To further distinguish our site from other literary ventures, Logos will no longer be accepting works of prose and verse that have been previously published, whether online, in print, or both, and, from now on, will only accept original, unpublished manuscripts of prose and verse. Excerpts from a novella, novel or poetry collection slated to be published, however, may still be accepted.

Fiction Circular 11/28/20

A weekly dissemination of independent writing from around the web by Kaiter Enless.


From Boondock Ramblings: The Farmer’s Daughter, Chapter 34 by Lisa R. Howler.

“Cecily looked Molly up and down again, slower this time, her cheeks sucked in slightly. ‘Oh. Well, okay. That’s different. You usually date tall, leggy blonds.'”


From Caliath: Muri Veteres by João-Maria.

“-icy this marriage, this enlightened fatherland of tombs-“


From Colin McQueen: Dramatis Personae by Colin McQueen.

“His face, which in his prime had looked lived-in, now looked as if someone had died there.”


From Friday Flash Fiction: Saturday Stories 11/28/20 (a collection of shorts) by F.F.F.

“Before going to bed each night, five-year-old Sarah Ball would listen to her father read the book she’d long ago memorized, hug him afterwards with all her might, and, as he kissed her forehead and left the room, crawl under her covers and wind back her magic clock twenty-four hours. Tomorrow would be the exact same thing, and she feared she would tire of the routine–but then she thought about what would happen the following day, how her father would be gunned down in the line of duty during a random traffic stop. No. She’d keep using the clock.”


From New Pop Lit: Just Another Silly Love Song by Nick Gallup (whose Mysterious Case of the Sticky Drawer was previously featured in our fiction round-up).

“The number of my single friends was dwindling. One by one, they were taking marriage vows. Once they were married, I became convinced they were plotting to persuade those of us who had not yet taken the leap to join them. I never knew if it was because they wanted us to share their joy or their misery.”


From Odd Fiction: Dragon Jail by Evan Witmer.

“The ceramics are flame retardant so none of the dragons can burn him by shooting their breath between the bars of their cell.”


From Snowy Fictions: Paused by Madeleine Rose Jones.

“Time is continuous, and a working clock never stops ticking. It never pauses, not for anyone. Except for me.”


From Terror House Magazine: As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us by Dawn DeBraal.

“Her training did not prepare her for a faceless, broken woman lying in a ditch.”


From Times & Tides of a Beachwriter: Flat Earth Society by Tidalscribe.

“How could there be life on a ball of earth… people? They would surely fall off.”

Memento of the Eight Recaliations

“Move on and shrug,” the shab chorus cries,

an invective more fitting for goldfish or flies.

“In nullity, bliss,” insidious creed,

useful as planting of clay-barren seed.

Coring of soma, a sapping of will,

Her vacated husk, sin-mired, now trills.

How much bland trilling have I myself done?

How much waste-buzzing, so flippant out-spun?

Too much for too long, yet no stain shall pass,

through lascivious chasms engloaming the glass.

Forgo all murk-droning, polish the pane,

that in Her reflection, eight guilts may there reign.

And never this fervor shall ever relent,

’til The Traitor in sorrow, reflected, repents.

It matters not should the last rubied bead of mine fall,

for not even death shall this arraignment forestall.

Thrum

No longer is all in sole limerick clad,

old mundi’s paean now slow waxes mad.

Blind is the waltz of the steep chiral climb,

of shale and basalt, of blood, bone and time.

New instruments sound a brash cannonade.

Affrettando! Affrettando!

Valiant red arias as yet to be made.

Marshal alto steles, staccato lathes,

‘gainst dissonant choristers’ relucent wastes,

by obdurate notes is the dark langour braced,

overture by which new spheres shall be spaced.

Mellifluous reaping that the players may sow:

Finite string over illimitable bow.

Kryos: Chapter 16

Previous chapter

Ryard Vancing adjusted his high collared coat against the chill northern wind which swept through the narrow rightward walkway of the market district, intensifying its feverish clangor, and side-eyed the woman Syzr had assigned to accompany him. He’d missed her name during their hasty introduction and attempted to surreptitiously acquire it from her gleaming monochromatic armor. His gaze alighted upon the left side of her breastplate. No name tag. He looked next to the woman’s left pauldron, observing only Kryos’ distinctive sigil, black against the metallic-polymer carapace. He grimaced and cursed internally, annoyed by the informational dearth, embarrassed by the momentary mental lapse.

“Why’d they removed the name tags from your uniforms?”

The woman’s voice crackled mechanically through her facemask as a group of vendees passed slowly by, peering at the contents of the hastily assembled market stalls, “Its Sirin, Sir. Elyse Sirin.”

“I wasn’t-“

“Names can be a health hazard.” She lowered her voice and leaned slightly toward Vancing. “See how they leer.”

Vancing looked to the vendees passing along the passage before them, their eyes narrow, brows furrowed, mouths disdainfully curled, their garb cheap but garishly worn. One of the men, a lean, mangy souther with boisterous facial tattoos, rammed his shoulder into the CAV-keep’s own, knocking Vancing off balance.

“Watch it,” the souther shouted with a half-suppressed grin, prompting laughter from his rambunctious confederates.

“You’re the one who ran into him,” Sirin declared flatly, looking to the interloper fixedly.

The souther whirled upon the woman, face contorting with malice. “What’d you say?”

“You ran into him. You should apologize.”

“That so, bootlicker?”

“You should pay more attention to where you’re going.”

“You should pay more attention who you’re talking to,” the man took a firm step toward Sirin, “Bootlicker.”

“Its alright,” Vancing replied with mild trepidation. “No harm done.”

“Wasn’t talking to you, company man,” the souther spat warmly without taking his eyes off of Sirin, still inches from her face.

“You people think you’re special. Think you run this town. Well. You don’t. Not anymore.”

“City.”

“What?”

“Its a city. Not a town.”

The man spat suddenly, coating Sirin’s helm in effluvia. Ryard flinched, expecting tragedy. Sirin said nothing. Unmoved. The souther’s companions ceased their laughter and tensed.

“What? Nothing? Nothing? That’s what I thought. Bitch.” The man puffed out his chest, chin titled upward, eyes wide, jerking his upper body threateningly toward the woman. She observed the man silently as spittle slid down her helm. As Ryard moved to intervene, a member of the branded upstart’s party nudged him in warning, staring around with concern. “Ey, les git, man.” The tattooed man grimaced, realizing his antics had aroused the displeasure of the surrounding shoppers and vendors, some of whom were armed and, in degrees subtle to overt, made the fact plain for all.

“I’ll be back for you, bitch. I’ll be back for you.” The man made a rude gesture with his tongue and left off with his friends.

Ryard sighed, turned to the woman and handed her one of the antiseptic wipes he kept in his inner jacket pocket to clean up after machinery maintenance runs. She took the synthetic cloth and cleaned the spit off her helm methodically.

“Charming guy.”

“The facial tattoo marks him a Red Reaver.” She declared, disposing the cloth in a nearby metal waste bin which stood between an automatic food crafter seller and a hand-made jewellery stand officiated by a young girl whose hair was decorated with feathers.

“Guessing that’s not a comic book fan club.”

She nodded focusing her attention to the affin module mounted into her left gauntlet, checking the images of the hooligans captured by her helm’s monitors. “Local gang. Souther upstarts, mostly. Suspected by the security commission of three homicides on rival gang members over turf disputes in as many months.”

Ryard raised his brow and spread his hands. “Why’s nothing been done?”

“With the continual influx of migrants the security commission has been overwhelmed. Doesn’t have the manpower to investigate. If they did, its doubtful they’d find the will to sustain an investigation into a protected class, regardless of the damage being done for fear of sparking further insurrection. Its one of the reasons why district locals started stocking weapons. Legal and otherwise.”

“Perhaps you should change into something else,” Ryard gestured to the woman’s white armor.

“Is that an order, Sir?”

“A suggestion.”

“I’d prefer not to sneak around like a common criminal in my own district.”

“You live here?”

“Used to. I was born here.”

“I thought all KSRU personnel were sourced from the deep colonies.”

“Used to be. Syzr changed the recruitment policy after the agency transitioned from special operations to general policing. A move intended to win more trust with the local communities.”

“Doesn’t seem to have worked out.”

“Not as well as he’d hoped. That’s why you’re here, Sir.”

“Right.”

The duo walked in silence for some time through the busy souk, assailed at regular intervals by tricket hockers, used clothing salesmen, scrap merchants and children asking for donations for “the local church.” Sirin shooed them away, explaining to Vancing that there were no churches in the entire district. Shortly, the pair stopped at a stall in the end of the north-western-most edge of the bazaar where a mechanically magnified voice echoed from the piazza beyond. Only snippets of the speech were audible. Ryard caught “Plantation of doubt,” and, “We true sons and daughters of Aecer.” Sirin ignored the distant orator and turned to the kindly old man behind the stall, who smiled and inclined his balding head in greeting.

“Ms. Sirin. Back so soon. And with company. What’s your name, son?”

“Ryard. Pleased to meet you, Sir.”

“Ry… I know that name. Are you-“

“Any fresh eels, Cab?”

“Oh, my dear, we just ran out.”

“Drat.”

“Don’t fret!” The fishmonger smiled and bent, with considerable effort, underneath his wide, hand welded table, withdrawing a culinary cryo-cube, which he set upon the tabletop and patted proudly. “Still have one box of jellied eels. Colony’s finest. Saved um jus for you.”

Ryard arched his brow as the woman exclaimed with pleasure and bent to the large black box before opening up her credit application and hastily swiping her wrist bound module over the old man’s processor.

Ryard folded his arms and jerked his head towards the oratory, “Whose giving the speech?”

“Kriezer Sonderon. Running for the Chancellorship in the upcoming election. Moonshot. But I gotta respect his dedication. He’s been giving speeches all across the sector for months now. Always in person. Always on time. Been getting impressive crowds of late.”

“He still drawing venom from the press?” Sirin inquired as Cab took the culinary cube and placed it on a hound-sized courier drone which rattled and crawled dutifully towards the customers.

“Sure, sure,” the old man rubbed his jaw, “But he’s popular round here. Not often the big whigs speak directly to the public, specially not here. Chancellor certainly doesn’t. Vis Corp’s headlines play well with the cognoscenti. Less so with the man-in-the-street.”

“I see. Well, we’ve got to be going. Thanks for the eels, Cab. I owe you one.”

“Any time.”

The pair moved off from the market lane, the fishmonger’s transport drone following close behind, clicking over the well-shod and wind-polished pavement. Ryard searched the southern edge of the tightly packed throng which had assembled in the spacious plaza beyond the souk. At the center of the mass a small man, unimpressively dressed, spoke from a pedestal ringed by large men with dark body armor, stunners at the ready.

“-no longer will we hang our heads in shame, no longer will we bow before alien masses, no longer will we sit idly by while the Consortium strips us of our birthright. Our guests jeer. Clearly, they disagree. They disagree because they’ve gotten just as fat and complacent as us, the only difference is that we, brothers and sisters, have at least gotten fat and complacent from our own work. From our own blood and sacrifice. It was aecerites that built this city. Not federats. Not southers. Not these others whose origins are opaque even to themselves. Yet they demand access to the full fruit of our labor as a impetuous child would demand sweets from his mother. And like children, they throw tantrums when they do not get what they want. What, I ask you, do our demanding guests themselves build? Certainly they do not build stable societies, otherwise they’d have no reason to pour into ours.”

The southers present jeered and booed, some shouting obscenities, others shaking their fists and chanting in unison, all drowned out by the thunderous cheers of the surrounding and far more populous aecerite multitude.

“That him? Sonderon?” Ryard inquired, gesturing toward the stern-faced man upon the podium at the center of the plaza. Sirin nodded, her hand moving to rest gingerly on the cutter sheathed upon her hip as a fight broke out between several dissenting southers and Sonderon’s supporters.

“Stay close, Sir.”

“I will. Hey. Its her. Fawnell. There.”

The officer followed the CAV-keep’s gesticulation and discerned, amidst the increasingly raucous crowd, a well-dressed middle aged woman in conversation with a man whose back was to them who wore a ragged chartreuse coat.

“What would you like to do, Sir?”

“Not an opportune time. Too much commotion. And I don’t want to roll up on her with you. Might intimidate her. No, I need to reach her alone. Let’s wait. We can try and talk to her after this circus wraps up.”

“And if she leaves before Sonderon finishes?”

“We’ll follow her.”

Ryard continued to observe Fawnell as the fight between the souther hecklers and Sonderon’s security agents intensified as members of the crowd joined in. Ryard cursed as his view of Fawnell was suddenly blocked by the swelling violent mass. Bodies began to press against him as the jostling throng increasingly vocalized its discordant fervor. Ryard jerked as a firm hand alighted upon his shoulder, he turned, expecting Sirin, but was greeted by the man with the chartreuse coat’s smiling face. Sirin whirled, drawing her cutter, lowering it just as swiftly as Ryard held up his hand for peace.

“Mr. Rehdon. What are you doing here?”

“Just passing by. And please, call me Illander.”

Ryard looked over Illander’s left shoulder to behold Fawnell nervously glancing back and forth at the melee.

Illander removed his hand from the CAV-keep’s shoulder as one of the protestors was brought down by a stun-shot from Sonderon’s guards and lay upon the groan screaming in pain. The crowd cleared away from the guards momentarily, as they spread out in a wide circle around the orator’s makeshift podium.

“This powder-keg is primed to blow, Mr. Vancing. Best leave before it does.”

“Have you eaten, Mr. Rehdon?”

“Not yet.”

Vancing looked to the courier drone which carried, upon his back, Sirin’s well-stocked culinary cube and then returned his attention to the green coated man.

“Do you like eels?”

Kryos: Chapter 15

Previous chapter

A cry of animal pain echoed throughout the outer dormitory hall aboard the Progenitor as two boys, one large and muscular, one raw-boned and small, tussled, falling to the floor with grunts of exertion as a rotund youth watched with mounting trepidation from a distance. The pudgy boy cried for the combatants to stop, time and time again, growing more agitated with every subsequent protestation. Shortly, a figure emerged from the high, arched portal at the end of the corridor and quietly advanced upon the trio. The objector’s expression subsided to dumb and totalizing terror as the entrant’s voice, calm and commanding, echoed throughout the vastness of the cavity.

“It only takes one cuckoo to ruin a nest.”

The three boys froze, the larger one looking over his shoulder to behold a pale man of middling height, garbed in flowing vestments, obsidian and auric-trimmed, his hair short and neatly back-swept upon his pate, dark as his garb. His face, masklike and keen.

“Do you know this bird, Damin?”

The large youth’s mouth parted, lips quivering. “No, Mr. Kryos.”

The young man that had taken a pummeling rolled to his side with labored breath, grimaced and glared at his foe. Eidos looked to the youth on the ground placidly and gestured to the doughy, terror-stricken boy by the door with a tenebrous, sharkskin gloved hand.

“Help him up.”

The rotund boy’s eyes widened and, momentarily, he jostled forward and hefted the battered youth, Graf, from the ground. The beaten boy fixed his shirt and wiped blood from his lip, wobbling defiantly on unsteady legs.

Kryos looked from face to face. His own visage, statuesque in surveyance. Xanthous eyes alighting on Damin.

“Explain your flapping, little bird.”

Damin gestured to Graf, face contorted with ill-constrained rage, “He said… he insulted my family. Sir.”

“What did he say?”

“Said southers were were lower than apes.”

“Does beating him disprove the assertion?”

The boy said nothing as Kryos stepped forth, leaning toward Damin’s recoiling face.

“Why are you here?”

“Because of my father.”

“And why is he here?”

“Because… he works for you.”

“Do you?”

“No.”

“And so you earn no keep. And if you are party to another such outburst, neither shall he. Do you understand me, little bird?”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“It would pain me to clip your wings before you learn to use them.”

The boy said nothing more and cast his eyes to his shoes. Kryos straightened and looked to Graf.

“Return to your quarters. And boy.”

Graf paused and turned to Kryos expectantly as blood trickled down his chin.

“Be more mindful of your manners.”

The boy nodded solemnly and shortly all three began moving off.

“Not you, Duncan. You stay.”

The pudgy youth held-up reluctantly, looking over his shoulder to the pale, pitch-gilt man behind him.

“Walk with me.”

Graf and Damin departed through the portal at the end of the high hall as Duncan moved to stand beside the speaker. Kryos began strolling slowly down the high, vaulted hall, away from the dormitory, Duncan following apprehensively. For a moment all was silence, save the duo’s rhythmic footfalls upon the stainless lacquered floor. A few service drones rolled from distant alcoves to clean up the blood. The boy looked from side to side. The high albescent walls were thick with white statuary, the artifacts shaped in the likeness of men and women of varying ages, all garbed in the standardized sy-chitin of the deep colonies, poised in grave and august variations.

After half a minute of quiet, Kryos spoke.

“Why didn’t you intervene? Break up the fight?”

Duncan shrugged, struggling to put his past emotions into words.

“A man overcharged with violent instincts is as given to vitiation as a man bereft of such impulses.”

Kryos turned to the nearest statue and strode up to it, hands behind his back, his heliodoric eyes widening.

“Do you know this man?”

The boy observed the statue before which Kryos stood for a long moment. The artwork depicted a middle-aged man decked in old-gen KSRU armor, with fine, chiseled features, short hair and a long scar across the left side of his face, gazing stolidly into the distance. The young man shook his head in response to the query, short, auburn locks falling over his left eye.

“His name was Valen Drossian. One of the first of the KSRU. And one of the finest. Nine years ago, when Aestival began their bloody bombing campaign against our topside facilities, I charged him with tracking the malcontents down. Fifteen citizens died before he tracked the leader, Moreno Carduus, to her lair, a formerly abandon warehouse in the exclusion zone. Once he and his men were at the entrance, primed for entry, one of Carduus’ confederates hijacked their affinity modules and informed them that six citizens were currently being held at the facility and if they did not retreat immediately from the district, all of the hostages would be killed. One for every minute of inaction that passed. Video proof was then provided for the claim. So Valen had two choices: Storm the building and risk the slaughter of the hostages; or retreat, allow the insurgents to flee and hope the prisoners were treated mercifully.”

“Which did he choose?”

“The latter. At Valen’s command, they left the area and let Aestival escape. Consequently, every hostage was executed. Three men, two women and a little girl, seven years of age. Their heads were severed and placed at the base of the newly built KSRU tower, looking up at Valen’s office.”

The lad’s face crinkled as he once more grasped clumsily for words. Finding none. Kryos reached his left hand to the statue and caressed its smooth, alabaster cheek.

“Valen died three weeks later in a bombing of my company’s topside headquarters. The charge laid by a plant from Aestival. Thereafter I commissioned this monumental in his honor. That his deeds not be forgotten. A work which was to inspire the rest which you see within this hall. Every man, no matter how virtuous, has his fault. Valen’s was believing in a world which did not and could not exist.”

“Why are you telling me all this, Sir?”

Kryos let his hand fall from the statue and turned to the boy.

“Because you are a Valen in the making.”

The duo’s exchange was interrupted by harried footfalls and labored breath, followed by a well-groomed and elderly man in sy-chitin, who jogged forth and paused some twenty feet from the pair, caught his breath and then strode quickly to Kryos’ side.

“What is it, Gabel?”

“Sir. Over Secretary Gild requests an audience. He gave no details save that the request relates to a matter of utmost importance.”

“He called himself?”

“Aye, Sir.”

“He’d not have called personally without the assent of the Chancellor. Likely concerning the Syzr affair. Tell him I shall conference within the hour, lest that proves inconvenient for him.”

“Very well, Sir.”

The clerk bowed curtly and departed down the hall, whereafter the boy, his face lined with perplexity, stared at the statue.

“What was the world he believed in?”

“One without strife. He failed to appreciate life’s fulcrum.” Kryos clasped his hands behind his back and looked toward the vault, as if discerning a shuttered form. “War existed long before we did.”

Next chapter

Kryos: Chapter 14

Previous chapter

“Do you think I’ve governed well?” Agna Richter queried, well-lotioned hands tightly clasped before her waist, fingers writhing with agitation as she gazed out the spotless window of the cluttered highrise office, beyond which shimmering Kryos Industries aircrafts drifted along the thermals above the sleek and jagged towers of Central, their comparatively thin forms casting colossal transient shadows; aphotic blades, slow-cleaving the towering brightness.

Ermin Gild paused midway to removing an errant eyelash from his left suit sleeve, right brow arching at the Chancellor’s query; pale mouth crinkling with displeasure and mild apprehension.

“I trust you’re not blaming yourself for the recent perturbations.”

“Spare me the HR obfuscations. I’m not one of your clients.”

“Very well.”

“You didn’t answer.”

“Yes, of course.”

He removed the detritus from his sleeve and straightened his collar, brows crinkling.

“I used to think so,” the woman replied with restrained exasperation, turning slowly from the window, gray-auburn hair glimmering with pane-transmuted luminance, “Now, I’m not so sure. The city has changed. Its nearly unrecognizable from when I first took office.”

“Change is the only constant.”

“You say these things often. Things that belong on postcards. It is the rate which concerns me.”

“A rate we’ve helped bolster. You were the one who signed the Markov Plan.”

“Something to be proud of. Or so I was told at the time.”

Gild gestured to one of the massive aeroplatforms drifting slowly beyond the window, “I remember the old com towers back before Kryos took over the sky. That was, what, twenty five years ago?”

“Yes.”

“My mother believed the towers were giving her cancer, now she thinks the sky-cells are spying on her.”

The Chancellor laughed dryly.

“Why?”

Gild shrugged.

“On balance, negative emotions prevail. Apprehension. Anxiety. Suspicion. Fear. We’d not have survived long as a species were we capable only of merriment and serendipity.”

“I suppose. But. Its not just the buildings. Or the sky-cells. Its the people. I don’t recognize them anymore. My neighbors are foreigners. Their customs are alien. There was a time when I could simply look at a passerby and know their origin. The city. Or elsewhere. I could discern their district by their accent. Their dress. Their gestures. To do as much now I have to query an affinity module. To know one’s origin is to know one’s mind. I find myself wondering: Are they no longer of Aecer, or is it I that have been passed by? Am I out of step? Isolated? Antiquated? I don’t think I am. I suppose that’s how it always goes. The advance of age brings with it golden idylls. But to believe in their verity is foolish. The past is afforded its inordinate luster by the vitality of youthful ignorance,” She wearily removed the brow-bound affin transmitter previously used to give her hastily cobbled speech to the public, and handed it to her confederate. Gild took the device wordlessly, his eyes fixed upon the woman in keen scrutiny; the lines of her face in stark relief by the scant-filtered light. She appeared to have aged ten years in the space of five. Gild returned the transmitter to the desk inlay where the Chancellor was want to keep it and put his hands in his pocket.

“People think times change rapidly once they pass middle age because they’ve half a lifetime of knowledge to refer to. That’s why most people tend to become increasingly recalcitrant in their attitudes the older they get. Having more, they realize more fully why they have it, and all that went into its production, and so understand how easily it could be taken away,” Gild responded matter-of-factly, eyeing up the food crafter on his superior’s desk, “Consequently, solutions become scarcer, as a fixation upon preservation – the fear of change – divert creative energies from reformation.”

The Chancellor smiled sadly.

“That’s a very polite way of calling me a fossil.”

Gild withdrew a piece of candy from the crafter and popped it in his mouth, closing his eyes momentarily as he savored the algorithmically calibrated chemicals.

“Not a fossil. A holy relic.”

“I didn’t say you could have those.”

Gild stopped mid-mastication, “What do you want me to do, put it back?”

“No.”

He pushed the chocolate morsel to one side of his mouth, tapping his foot.

“With all due respect, Chancellor, you need to focus.”

“I do. That answers my question.”

“What question?”

“Nevermind.”

Gild was silent a moment and finished off the candy with a muffled crunch before speaking in measured, forceful tones.

“Did you see the Kleiner interview?”

“Yes. I’d meant to ask for your advice.”

“Well, you must act. The sooner the better.”

The woman ran her hands across her forearms. Mouth creasing.

“What would you recommend?”

“Not another speech. At least not on the topic. Have something arranged to take the public’s mind off of the incident and off of you,” he moved the wrapper theatrically across the table, away from the crafter, “Placate the populace. Draw the energy out of the rabble. Shift everything to externalities. Talk about the Federation. Talk about the global economy. Foreign relations. Sporting events. Keep the messaging positive, but not too positive, otherwise it’ll read as fraudulent. Anything you like that is distant from the volatile matters of the moment. Just don’t talk about Kryos, or you’ll be dragged into talking about Syzr and the Security Commission and why they haven’t moved on him, and what you’re doing about it and how that ties into the unrest. Et cetera. Doesn’t matter how you answer. You’re the figurehead, you get scapegoated. Or rather, we.”

She nodded solemnly and twined her fingers together.

“What do you think of the Colonel?”

“I don’t know much about the man. His record prior to The Rollout is light on details. I hear he’s quite fanatical. One of those until death types. A well-trained hound.”

“A well-trained hound is unlikely to bite without the consent of its master.”

“Yes.”

“In light of this, Vis Corp’s narrative strikes me as improbable.”

“Of course it is. But its plausible, given ignorance of the subject. And plausibly presented. Far as the public is concerned, that’s all that matters.”

“When is it we stopped being ‘the public?'”

“The day you were sworn into office.”

“If we want to move Syzr we have to talk to Kryos.”

“I can speak to him.”

“Five years ago you tried to have him removed from the board.”

“Yes. I’m not entirely sure that was wise.”

“He’ll not have forgotten.”

“Of course not. He never forgets anything. But he’s not the type of man to hold a grudge. At least, I don’t think he is. Even after all these years I haven’t figured him out. If you want to send someone else, I’ve no objection.”

“Do you still want it?”

“What?”

“Don’t be coy. His seat. On the board.”

“I don’t know,” He looked out the window to where smoke roiled like a great phantasmal centipede, thinking on his superior’s words and wondering as to its origin, “So many things I thought were wings five years ago now seem as shackles.”

Next chapter

The End Of The World As Ben Knows It

by John Grey

The kids are shooting BB guns at a tin cans on a fence again. 
The old man is jumping up and down in his parlor, rattling the furniture. 
The woman’s tears are so heavy in her eyes that they bend her over, 
until it’s her greasy hair that’s mopping the floor, and her own 
body liquids that fill the bucket. Ben is praying urgently to God, 
throwing up his arms until they almost touch the ceiling. 
The storm is rising. Bullets firing, old man jumping, woman weeping… 
it’s all pail of it. The end of the world would always be an 
accumulation of small, annoying things. And this was them. 
Besides which, the toaster isn’t working. 
 

Meanwhile, the Antichrist is delivering mail to the neighborhood. 
Or he drives by in a milk truck. And look, it’s the four horsemen 
of the apocalypse… Shell, Walgreens, Home Depot, Burger King. 
Who doesn’t float up with the angels will bum in the coming hell. 
But then the kids run out of shot. The old man’s medicine kicks in. 
The woman’s phone rings. A short conversation ensues. She’s 
calm now. goes about her business. Ben thanks God for intervening. 
It’s not the end of the world after all. Just a preview. But the 
toaster still won’t toast and he can’t afford to buy a new one. 
But he’s sure the apocalypse can’t involve just him. This has to 
be an electrical problem that needs fixing. He must remember to call a priest.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Soundings East, Dalhousie Review and Connecticut River Review. His latest book, “Leaves On Pages,” is available through Amazon.

In The Argument Stakes

by John Grey

The air is hot as the taste of chili 

and then chilly as its name. 

I am about to give way 

and yet my argument is strong. 

But the woman has nothing to do with strength. 

She is at the other end of the room, 

her eyes watery, 

her mouth fallen. 

I have to learn  

to use my facts 

without force. 

What another needs to know 

is not sacrosanct.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Soundings East, Dalhousie Review and Connecticut River Review. His latest book, “Leaves On Pages,” is available through Amazon.

Her Children

by John Grey

Two girls, one boy, 

they shuffled down the stairs, 

crept like kittens into the parlor. 

In the company of her brood, 

I was afflicted with a shyness, 

that comes to the fumbling surface 

when one who has lived the years 

is in the presence of those who haven’t.  

My size suddenly overwhelmed me. 

In a room of children, 

I felt elephantine. 

I wished that she would stop what she was doing, 

come to my rescue, 

introduce the three  

like the King of Siam did 

his children to Anna, 

put names to faces 

then immediately dismiss them. 

It was, of course, 

a meeting from both sides. 

With me in the room, 

they surely felt like strangers  

in their own house. 

No false intimacy on their part. 

Their solemn, wide-opened eyes 

found no face,  

just years of my self-consciousness.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Soundings East, Dalhousie Review and Connecticut River Review. His latest book, “Leaves On Pages,” is available through Amazon.