The Silence & The Howl (§.27)

CHAPTER 27


She found Harmon in his room, staring at a series of drawings affixed to the wall. In the center hung a meticulously detailed graphite illustration of a young dark-haired woman with handsome mediterranean features. Harmon’s eyes shimmered with strange intensity from where he sat in statuesque silence in the middle of the spartan room, on a stiff wooden chair, spine arched, hands upon a sketchbook and it on his knees.

He said nothing as the woman entered the room, the sound of charcoal upon paper filling up the aural void.

“Heya.”

Harmon waved briskly in the woman’s direction without looking at her, his eyes fixed on the drawing, his hands moving across the surface of the cheap faux-leather-bound sketchbook, tightly clutched in his pale, scar-worn arms.

“I’m not bothering you am I?”

“No. Just distracting me. But I could use a little distraction. Couldn’t sleep?”

“Nah. Drank too much coffee at the cafe probably. Stronger than what I’m used to here.”

“Its pretty potent. Andy back?”

“No. Still out with the boys I guess. Probably got blitzed and spent the night at Jake’s house. Something of a habit for him.”

“I see.”

“I wanted to thank you.”

“What for?”

“For suggesting the cafe, introducing us to your friend, taking us all out to eat and paying for the food. It was nice. Andy needed that.”

Harmon nodded, “No problem.”

She moved forwards, hands in the pockets of her cotton pajama bottoms.

“Whatcha drawing?”

Before she could position herself behind him to view the illustration, Harmon softly shut the sketchbook and turned in his chair.

“I never show my work before its finished.”

She rolled her eyes and then offered him a beer.

“Wanna watch a movie?”

“Sure.”

He took one last look at the portrait upon the center of the wall and rose methodically, placing his drawing upon the small and only table in his temporary domicile.

They moved to the living room, Harmon taking up the same spot in which he had sat when last he and Lyla were still talking, however infrequently. Marla sat down beside him, just where Lyla had when they’d watched Andy’s strange horror film. Harmon couldn’t remember how much time had elapsed since the four of them had watched the movie. All sense of temporal continuity had left his mind. Marla snatched up the remote from the battered wooden coffee table and snapped the ON switch. The news played. A young, smartly dressed woman with asiatic features stood upon a dock, close to the camera. Behind her stood a massive oil rig, rising from the industrial architecture surrounding like a massive alien starship, bright with flame.

“-were able to contain the fire. While initial reports speculated the blast might have been caused by a methane bubble in the drill column, Anton Schmidt, a spokesman for Synnefo Consortium Heavy Industries, dispelled the theory and told me, in a interview just a few minutes ago that the source of the explosion has been determined to have originated from a detention device planted near the drill column.”

A spray-tanned and whiskey-bloated man in a navy blue suit with a silken red tie appeared upon a secondary feed to the right of the female reporter.

“Are you saying this was an act of terrorism?”

“That what it looks like, Joe.”

“Astounding. Absolutely astounding. Alright. Thanks Ling.”

The woman nodded turned from the camera as a crowd of men moved swiftly past her, towards the blazing oil rig.

“Thanks Joe-”

The feed cut out.

“I’m Joe J. Turner. Up next-”

Marla changed the channel as Harmon ran his hands from thighs to knees, spine curving as he bent forth in reverie.

“I can’t stand the news.”

Harmon turned towards her with a quizzical expression, “Why’s that?”

“Its so fucking depressing.”

“Good news is no news.”

“Rather not have any in that case, everything is depressing enough as it is,” she took a swig of beer and flicked the channel again. A film in early color played. A hideous amphibian monster attacked a woman in a pink bikini on a mist-covered beach as a melodramatic score, slightly too jubilant for the content, roared from the speakers.

“What’s got you down?”

She sighed and went lax, he head lolling against the couch cushion, her eyes wandering about the ceiling.

“I dunno. Its not one thing. Andy’s depressed. Doesn’t know what he’s going to do. For money. For a career. He can’t even decide on a hobby. Whole area is filthy. Trash everywhere. Drug peddlers. I thought it would be nice to get away from the city… but its precisely the same. And, oh, I don’t know… I just thought I’d be doing something interesting at this point in my life. Something better.”

She took a swig of beer and looked to Harmon expectantly.

“There’s no use worrying about that.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“What do you mean?”

“You never seem worried about anything. Didn’t seem to care at all you got fired. And by telephone. Didn’t even have the good grace to tell you to your face.”

“There’s always another job that needs doing.”

She shook her head.

“How is it you always manage to stay so calm?”

Harmon thought hard upon the question before answering.

“I focus.”

“On what?”

“On my art. I had long considered drawing and writing a hobby. A pleasant diversion. I figured I’d be working construction for many years. Maybe I still will… but I’ve had time to reflect. To reconsider. Now I understand the importance of crystallizing my thoughts; of channeling my attention; of pairing away my delusions and examining my mistakes; of elaborating upon my fantasies that they may become realities.”

“What have you been fantasizing about lately?”

Harmon turned and fixed her with his gaze, his expression opaque. Harmon imagined Lyla weeping, on her knees before him, laying bare her transgressions and begging for forgiveness. Honest and unabsolved. Desperately seeking reconciliation.

“About what I’ll be doing once I leave.”

She reached out and touched his arm.

“I hope you don’t feel pressured to leave. We don’t mind having you around.”

“I appreciate that, Marla. But you two are building a life together, and with all the problems Andy’s been having… I just don’t want to get in between that.”

She smiled and ran her hand down his arm, rolling her head over the couch cushion towards him.

“You’re so sweet. Oh hey, I meant to ask – that drawing. In your room. That’s Lyla, isn’t it?”

At the mention of the name Harmon straightened and answered flatly.

“Yes.”

He took a swig of beer and focused his attentions to the screen and the cop-drama unfolding before him.

“I thought so. Its really nice.”

“Thanks.”

“Wish someone would draw me.”

“Would you like me to?”

She smiled broadly and leaned against him.

“No,” she craned her neck up towards his face, her hands drawing about the back of his neck, “Right now, I want you to kiss me.”

Before Marla could taste his lips, Harmon shoved her hands free and withdrew and rose. He stood a moment, starring at the wall and then glanced at the woman over his shoulder.

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Harmon, I’m sorry, I… just thought that-”

“I’m not disloyal.”

“I thought you and Lyla had broken up. I mean she never comes around and…”

“And what about Andy?”

“I wasn’t thinking. Harmon, wait, where are you going? Harmon, wait.”

The front door slammed shut and all was silence.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 22

§.22


Harmon pulled into the parking lot of the northeastern shopping center, its glassy, odd-angling facade shimmering with the solis like molten crystal. He squinted against the glare, put on his sunglasses, checked his wrist watch, exited the vehicle and headed for the pet food store. It loomed a story above every other building, its name, Erma’s Pet Emporium, stood out against the whitewashed and rain-stained walls, glowering from behind illuminated red plastic like the palled embers of an otherworldly fire.

Lyla was finishing her shift when Harmon strode up to her.

“How’ve you been, Bluebird?”

“H-Harmon…”

“Why haven’t you called?”

“Harmon, I’ve gotta close up here… can we talk later.”

“Can’t multitask?”

“Look… Harmon…”

“You’re making a very serious face.”

“I just need some time alone.”

“By ‘alone’ do you actually mean ‘alone,’ or just ‘away from me?'”

“Harmon, its not like that. Its hard to explain.”

She closed up the register and waved to her manager who waved back and then made for the exit, purse over her shoulder.

“Why I wish you would at least try.”

“I just need some time…”

“For what?”

Lyla paused in the middle of the parking lot and looked down at her shoes, unable to muster a cogent answer. Only one lone car moved against the stillness of that barren field. The wind twined her hair about her supple features like liquid night as her eyes narrowed with sadness and her hands went tight about her purse string.

“I can’t be with you anymore, Harmon.”

“Big difference between can’t and won’t.”

“You don’t understand.”

“You’re right about that. Suppose you won’t explain. Though, one thing I do understand is fidelity.”

“I don’t want to have these awful talks anymore.”

“When you didn’t return my calls I assumed as much. Though I never thought of our conversations as ‘awful.'”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. I meant… conversations about being together.”

“Do you love me?”

Her wide eyes betrayed considerable surprise. Shortly, they disclosed tears.

“I don’t know.”

Harmon nodded to himself, a confirmation of a long held suspicion. He turned and looked towards the setting sun and spoke flatly.

“I remember when you first told me you loved me. More clearly do I remember when you told me you always would. You know what that makes you?”

“What?”

“A liar.”

Lyla straightened, a new resolve hardening her round and delicate face.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Course you do.”

“Goodbye Harmon.”

“You really don’t care, do you?”

“Of course I care.”

Harmon turned full around, hands in his pockets and his eyes dire and incandescent with the stellar sphere’s light.

“Just not about loyalty.”

He could see that it was the last straw for her. She sniffed and wiped her eyes, opened the door of her rental and back out of the lot.

“That’s alright,” Harmon declared to the sky as Lyla’s car melded with the midday rush, “She’ll come to care. I’ll make certain of that.”

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 21

§.21


The blue sheen swept over Harmon’s pallid skin as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves and clicked on the login screen of Sprawls’ ConneXt account. Harmon still remembered the password from when Sprawls had once asked him to login into his social media via the former’s computer to update his followers on a music event in which he was to play after his phone had accidently been crushed.

Harmon typed in the words ‘Sixstringking’ and pressed ‘ENTER.’

Access granted.

His heart began to beat faster; the ensouled engine driven by the twin oils of gnawing fear and raucous elation.

“Should change your password more often, old friend.”

He scanned the screen; a jpeg of Sprawls, donned in a starchy dollar-store T-shirt, face adorned with a forced smile which Harmon assumed was supposed to be charming. The effect was merely awkward. The man was likely stoned when he took it. The man at the computer scrawled up to Richard’s most recent post, which read, “Sunday funday, niggas!” Harmon clicked ‘NEW POST’ on the upper right and began typing in the small, off-white square and hit ‘SEND’ and then closed Richard’s laptop and set it back on his small unadorned bed beside Richard’s plugged and charging smart phone, then he rose and withdrew the packet of China Town from his pocket, knelt and placed the synthetics beneath the bed, beside and under Richard’s dirty laundry.

Harmon straightened and cast a cautionary gaze around the room, backtracking, looking for fibers. When he found nothing he headed for the door, and paused on the upper landing, shower was still running. Abruptly, it stopped and Richard’s croaky, distinctive voice echoed out from below. He was drunkenly singing a R & B song Harmon didn’t recognize.

The intruder moved swiftly and soundlessly into his own room, thankful to find it unlocked and then pressed himself to the wall as Richard ascended the stairs, paused, and turned to the left, into his room, still singing to himself. Harmon could faintly hear his former roommate’s pacing. He waited until the pacing stopped before peeking out into the hallway, swiftly descending the carpeted stairs and slid out the living room window, shutting it gingerly and then vanishing off down the weather worn pavement.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 20

§.20


“Yo. Someone asking bout you at the front.”

Damion turned from the fat man with whom he was sharing a beer to the lanky, bejeweled man before him.

“And he is?”

“Don’t know. Never seen him before. Some white boy.”

“What about me is he asking?”

“Asking to speak to you.”

“Everyone wants a piece of the pie.”

“Not quite everyone,” Harmon declared, striding impassively beside the lanky man who reached swiftly for his gun. Before he could fully unholster the piece, Damion swiftly raised his hands in entreaty.

“Take it easy. Think our boy here is just lost. Ain’t that right?”

“No, Mr. Strake, not lost at all. Came to talk. If you’ve got a moment.”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“You don’t look afraid.”

Damion looked to his bodyguard with a raised brow. The lanky man shook his head and turned to Harmon derisively.

“Who the fuck you think you are?”

Harmon ignored the flustered guard, his eyes fixed on Strakes.

“I’d like to speak to Mr. Strake in private.”

“I’d like to be a millionaire.”

“With a mouth like that, I find your prospects doubtful.”

The lanky guard opened his mouth to repost the verbal jab but before he could speak, Damion interrupted, gesturing towards the door.

“Kelly, wait outside please.”

“Whatever.”

As Kelly and the fatman made their way out the door and sealed the pulsating electronica behind them, Harmon took a seat, upright, eyes level with his host, hands folded upon his lap.

“Thanks for calling off your dog.”

“You’re lucky I did. He bites.”

“I suggest a muzzle,” Harmon replied as he studied Damion’s face and then straightened once more, “You don’t remember me.”

“You don’t look familiar. What is it you want?”

“Does the name Sprawls ring any bells?”

“That ratfuck… yeah. He a friend of yours?”

“Used to be.”

“My condolences. Wait. I’ve seen you before.”

“Yes. We met – what was it – two years ago, at a music festival not far from here. You sold Sprawls something. Were secretive bout it.”

“Just some gas. You know how it is.”

“I don’t. That’s why I’m here.”

Damion rolled his eyes and leaned over the table, pushing a unopened can of beer toward his guest.

“Gas. Pot. Marijuana.”

“He buy other things from you?”

“Maybe. Why you asking? You buying?”

“Maybe. What other things does he buy?”

“Ya know, that’s the kinda question that only really dumb niggers ask. You ain’t no dumb nigger are you?”

Damion assumed an aggressive posture, his bleary eyes narrowed and he leaned out even further over the table, his mouth crinkling into a grimace.

Harmon cracked the beer and raised it to take a sip, responding before he did so.

“Do I look like a dumb nigger to you?”

Damion smiled humorlessly and shook his head.

“I don’t know what you look like. You on some bullshit.”

“Still haven’t answered my question.”

Damion gave the man a wary look before continuing.

“China Town.”

“He buy a lot?”

“Woulda if he could afford to. Last I heard that broke ass nigger was scrubbing toilets.”

“He come lately?”

“No. Why the fuck are you so interested?”

“Will you be selling, or not?”

“Depends on if you’re paying.”

“Course. You accept checks?”

Damion paused, furrowing his brow before he spied Harmon’s mocking expression.

“Very funny. You know you fucking lucky Karst ain’t here.”

“Don’t know him.”

“You should, this is his building. He ain’t quite so accommodating as me. Month ago, some dude named Luke Rawel comes up in here, talking shit, bout how much TNT he got and whole buncha bullshit. We tell him he needs to leave. He decides not to and says if we didn’t do business he’d have to have a word with the cops. Karst, well, he calmly told him there was no need for that and that they should talk about it in his office in the basement. Don’t know what happened, but ain’t no one seen Rawel after that…”

“That a threat?”

“Fuck no. I’m just telling you like it is.”

“Your boss’ personal affairs don’t concern me.”

Harmon removed a thick clip of hundred dollar bills from his belt and waved it before the pill merchant enticingly.

“Bring me what Sprawls last bought. Whatever he paid, I’ll pay double.”

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 19

§.19


Harmon rang up sprawls at the break of dawn, knowing his former roommate would be up for work. In under four seconds, a croaky voice tersely answered.

“Yeah?”

“I’m stopping by to pick up my things.”

“What things?”

“Things I’d left there.”

“Oh. Those things.”

“Yeah. Just wanted to give you a heads up.”

“Ain’t here.”

“What ain’t where?”

“Your things. They ain’t here.”

“They grow legs?”

“I sold that shit, man.”

“You… sold my stuff?”

“Yeah.”

“All of it?”

“Most of it. Rest we threw ou-”

Harmon snapped the flip-phone shut. The undulations of his breath rising in rapidity. Rage subsumed the edges of the world as his fists tightened like fleshy stones, incisors grinding, eyes widening, muscles straining.

“Something up?”

Marla inquired from the corner, where she lounged upon the coach, slurping bottom shelf cereal, bed-headed and pajama’d, TV blaring rapid-fire political commentary: A fire. Elections. Immigrant rapist. Human trafficking. Racial radicals. Should racial slurs be criminalized? Father fined for misgendering son. Military tribunals. Sex scandal. Pedo priest. Revolution in the tropics. Killer droids close to home? Sometimes, the world can be a scary place, that’s why you need Lurch Gold. Mysterious man with white jacket linked to multiple slayings of local drug dealers…

“No.”

“Problem?”

“Richard.”

“Andy told me bout him. Sounds like an asshole.”

Harmon didn’t respond.

She was silent a moment and then cast her eyes to the milky bowl between her nicotine stained fingertips, as if expectant of a reply from its viscous, albescent depths.

“I had wanted Andy to take me out tonight, but he said he’d already made plans with one of his friends. Would you want to see a movie?”

Harmon starred out the window as he mulled over the question. A noisy crow flapped down from a telephone pole to the left of the tumbledown and began pecking at some roadkill. The creature’s beak scraped entrails across asphalt in a whirl of feathers the color of pitch.

“Harmon?”

“Sounds like fun.”

“If you don’t want to… its fine.”

“I said it sounds fun. What movie had you wanted to see?”

“I can’t remember the name. Its this political thriller dystopian type thing. You mighta seen it. Commercials for it, I mean. Bout this young group of survivors in a post apocalyptic wasteland…”

Her words faded into indeterminate babble. When she’d finished Harmon turned from the window.

“We can see that if you want.”

“You sure you’ll like it?”

“Don’t know. Haven’t seen it yet. Can tell you when I do. I’ve gotta go.”

“Where?”

“Out.”

As she opened her mouth and removed her eyes from the cereal bowl, Harmon left out of the house before a utterance could escape her lips and trekked across the yard, paused to watch the crow peel out the dead and bloated racoon’s heart and then seated himself within his car and drove off down the sunbaked band of black that cracked like the scales of an ancient snake.

*

Tomb of the Father: Chapter Three (Excerpt)

Author’s note: The following text is a short chapter excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Tomb Of The Father. This installment will be one of the last chapter excerpts released until the book is completed.


Lord Eadwulf’s castle lay an hours ride from the city of Hableale, ensconced in rolling woodlands that trammeled out and merged with the flat vastness of the moor circumferent. The outer keep was a massive thing, ringed first by moat and second by huge curtain walls, ancient and wrought of stones from a foreign land, their providence as unknown to the inhabitants of Haberale as their age. Trumpets sounded from somewhere within the hulking monolith as two figures entered on horseback, driving hard across the drawbridge, through the mighty barbican and deep into the well trammeled haven of the outer bailey. To the right, a storehouse before which was chained a massive hound of some breed beyond the rider’s collective reckoning and to the left, a length of stable-barns from which the shunted braying of great steeds emanated like mighty gusts of wind. Folk of every lower class there labored; stable-lads hefting thick clumps of hay and the refuse of the equines as maidens dressed in the elegant red robes of the Order of Marta watched from afar, reveling in the excitement of their voyeurism, giggling with mischievous delight, fantasizing about that which their fathers would prefer they not. Older men moved large sacks of grain and salted meats from the castle proper and placed them within the store house in well-ordered piles and then dusted their calloused hands and stood chatting idly as their eyes followed the crows who turned half-circles up in the thermals.
The sky roiled with the dark harbingers of sunder, a heavy, howling wind tearing off from the far mountains and soaring in and under the battlements to scatter the hay and seed and chill the bones of every present soul. The guards looked to the darkening horizon nervously and then latched the great gate behind the two riders and then lead their horses to the stables and there bound and calmed them.
Gunvald dismounted first and looked around in wonderment. The grand keep’s ambit was so verdant and so ancient that it seemed more of some other world, some higher plane than the dull and barren sprawl of the short-flung town. He moved from the outer stable-barns and started on his way towards the wide stone-slated path which wound up to the mouth of the donjon like a gigantic serpent comprised of cloud. Baldric quickly followed and together, with a retinue of two guardsmen, they entered the castle proper. Through double doors of oak and across wide floors, well-laid with lavish carpeting, and up and down steps they went until at last they entered the well-packed banquet hall to the sound of muted strumming.
A great feast was underway and much merriment could be heard rising every now and then over the raucous clatter of instrumentation. Eadwulf Charmian sat, as was his right, at the head of the polished long table upon a throne garland with cushioned silks, hands overflowing with the splendor of his kitchens; spiced wine and phasianid. He was surrounded on all sides other by the host of the house, the chamberlain, his marshal, knights and footmen aplenty; pantler and butler moving to and fro with dutiful reserve, carrying plates of cheese and meats and trays of fish and hearty loaves and great and shimmering samovars of wine.
As Gunvald and Baldric made their way to the table they paused and, respectfully, bowed to their noble host who rose with great animation, smiling broadly.
“Duteous gentlemen, we welcome thee unto our hearth. One face familiar, the other, less so.”
Baldric gestured with melodramatic flair to his compatriot and then spoke in booming undulations.
“May I present, Ye Lordship, Gunvald Wegferend of Haberale, loyal solider to The Crown and honorable hero of our thede. Twas he alone who survived the massacre at Rivenlore and paid back the damnable cur, that architect of our goodly men’s demise, two-fold!”
A light of recognition there entered into the lord’s puffy, dull and inebriated eyes.
“Not with silver and gold, I trust!”
“No, m’lord,” Gunvald replied with a faint smile, “With blood and steel.”
“Aye, a most handsome reply! Come, let me embrace thee, worthy comrade!”
With a sudden burst of energy, the lord bounded across the floor and threw his chubby, ineffectual arms about Gunvald and then kissed his bewildered guest full upon the cheek and released him, smiling widely, patting the warrior’s arms as might a beneficent uncle.
“Now come, let us wine and dine and make merry!”
With some hesitation, Gunvald nodded and joined his Lord at the resplendent banquet table. Eadwulf made no direction and so Gunvald took a seat beside a old and grizzled pikeman whose helmet sat upon his lap, o’erturned as if he might at any moment don it once more and spring fiercely to violent action.
He scoured all present heads and gave a muted sigh. His lady was not present.
Where hast my love flown?
As Lord Eadwulf bade his Marshal, a stocky man named Haiden, raise the samovars and fill the newcomers goblets. Gunvald gritted his teeth, exerting every ounce of his considerable willpower to restrain himself from inquiry. At last, it became too much to bare; he turned full about in his chair and addressed his gracious host curtly.
“I hear tell, thee’ve taken on new hands. A young woman, if thy yeomen tell it true.”
Eadwulf gave a libidinous smile and in that moment, were he any other man, Gunvald would have leapt from his seat and cleaved him in twain. But he wasn’t any other man; he was a duke and more importantly, he was of Torian blood; of a certainty, there was no greater crime than the murder of one’s own kind – Gunvald recalled that not even that most abominable deity, Dactyl, whose very name were as a curse upon both the living and the dead, ever drew the blood of another Origin.
“Aye,” responded the lord, a twinkle in the eye, “A darling girl. A commoner, but none more beautiful, I tell thee true. Leofflaed is her name. I must introduce thee once she quits her bath.”
“She’ll be joining us?”
“Indeed, this is a special night, dear countryman! Hath thy dull brain been so wrought with valorous contemplation that ye’ve forgotten the day?”
Baldric, who sat dutifully beside his cousin, leaned in, whispering, “Tis Winter’s Dance.”
Gunvald perked up instantly, raising his goblet and forcing a wan smile.
“Of course, of course, I’d nearly forgot, tis Winter’s Dance.”
“Aye, Fall holds ever diminishing sway, master of the seasons no longer – the whispering winds of The Rimn rattle the cottages of our dainty hamlet already like the breath of some great beast,” Haiden exclaimed, shuddering slightly.
This pronouncement of fell dismay seemed to rouse much discontent in the host, the lord most of all.
“What now, sir? Is my Grand Marshal – sovereign of both horse and man – afeared of a light Winter’s gale?”
A portly old man nearest the Marshal, crimson frocked and hairless, replied darkly, “Haiden speaks it true, m’lord. These winds which blow so ceaselessly, the odd fog that seems to hang omnipresent o’er the moors, what seems to follow one in the passing, and those accursed crows – everywhere, simply everywhere – tis a bad sign. An omen. Marta is warning us.”
“Hush now, Summoner Thane,” Exclaimed Eadwulf, squirming upon his garland throne with nervous agitation, “Afore thy doomsaying proves ruinous to the good mirth of the house.”
The old man leaned back in his chair and folded his hands about his chest, over the heart. Gunvald recalled that the superstitious, masked peasants he’d met upon the road had made the same gesture when he’d uttered the name of the Eyeless-all-seeing. Gunvald remembered being taught as a child that the earthly manifestations of Marta affix themselves to the heart. It was said that the heart was the source of all emotion and that, if sufficient appropriations of piety were made to the goddess, she would cleanse the ailing organ of all that troubled it. Due this attribution, some had taken to calling her, Our Lady Pure-Heart, others still, The Reaper of Woe, though Summoner’s of a more parochial variety looked down upon such name-giving – some to the point of declaring such monikers heresies – for in the purist’s eyes, it was the very summit of arrogance to denominate pet-names to an Origin of beautitude. What place, after all, did the finite have naming the infinite?
Thane opened his wrinkled maw to speak but a harsh glare from his lord caught it there in his throat and, quickly, he fell silent once more, nodding to himself rather sadly as might the father of some harumscarum lad who’d the mind to go frolicking about the moors at night. Haiden too said no more and seeing this a fresh smile broke out over Eadwulf’s rotund and rosy face. He reached forth with his beefy, bejeweled fingers and raised his glass for a slender serving wench who poured a fresh pint of wine.
“What do thee make of all their pronouncements, landsman Gunvald?”
Gunvald looked from Haiden to the holy man and then shook his head.
“I am a footsoldier, before that, farmer. Premonitions and omens are, I am afraid, well beyond my ken.”
Suddenly, a new voice intruded upon the feast, low and sonorous, mannered like some orator of yore.
“This once venerable council has fallen to superstition most deplorably. Here you sit, High Summoner and Grand Marhsal, in the keep of the most powerful lord in the north, quaking like unsuckled babes at the prospect of supernatural despotism. Our dreams can, in times of direst contest, follow us full from that queer parlor, sleep, and pass into the waking world, latched to the insides of our selfsame skulls like a gaggle of phantasmal parasites. There they spring loose upon our fertile imaginations all manner of signs and signals, every style of omen and fell proscription. But by what method do we discern whether it is some connective coil that lends itself to providence or merely our dream’s own alcahest? Answer that question and thee shall surely have seized upon the truth of it.”
All present heads turned left, to the grand stair that let out to the upper landing, to behold a young man, garland in the finest of silks, blue and white. Upon his shoulder nested a falcon, whose piercing black eyes scanned the crowd the same as its master’s own and his lapis blue and more striking still.
Eadwulf gestured to the well-spoken dandy, “Landsman Gunvald, may I introduce to you the honorable Baron, Czemis Avarr, Ironmonger and Falconer of Caer Avarr. Our barton’s Master of Game.
Gunvald nodded respectfully towards the beauteous man who bowed respectably, but with a slight smile playing up one side of his face, as if he were possessed of some knowledge about the members of that venerable gathering which, if divulged, would bring about considerable embarrassment. The falconer then advanced to the table, his footfalls so soft and feline he made almost no sound at all. When he stood before the only empty chair opposite the lord, Haiden sighed and gestured to the falcon.
“Master Avarr, surely you do not mean to bring that carrion-beast to our table?”
The falcon sqwaked as if in rebuke as Avarr smiled ever so faintly once more.
“Not at all, for see thee not, he’s no carrion-beast. My friend prefers his prey were lively. The struggle of the hunt well whets his appetite.”
The Grand Marshal furrowed his brows with deep puzzlement and some apprehension, unsure as to the significance of the young falconer’s words.
“Meaning that he will leave thy food unmolested, lest thou there hath eft or shrew a scuttling.”
Avarr smiled his ghosting, barely discernable smile and straightened, extending the arm upon which his falcon nested as he whistled a command, whereupon the majestic beast flew full up to the rafters and then back down to perch upon the lower railing of the staircase like a dutiful guardian. The avian surveyed them intently as its master took his seat opposite Eadwulf, removing a small, silver cigarette tin from some inner fold of his jacket. All the while he moved, Gunvald’s eyes followed him, transfixed to the supple elegance of the singular man as he slid a machine-packed cigarette between his blood-red lips and lit it with a golden lighter. Languid and masterful were his movements, so much so that even the mundane action of his tobacco consumption seemed to eat up the energy of the room, to refocus and refine it. After a few long, languid drags upon his opium laced cigarette he leaned back upon the unadorned and old wooden chair at table’s end as if it were a throne more resplendent than Eadwulf’s own. The gesture seemed to say that it were now permissible for the party to continue, that his entrance had garnered sufficient appraisal. It seemed, to the veteran, that any man or woman who had no foreknowledge of the rightful placing of the household would have assumed this guady, white-haired falconer the rightful master of the keep.
“Thou must be Sir Gunvald, tis an honor to make thy acquaintance, loyal kinsman.”
Avarr extended a supple, white-gloved hand to the soldier who took it with some hesitation and shook it firmly. The falconer was far stronger than he looked.
“The honor is not thine alone, Baron Avarr, thy reputation precedes thee. Six years of fighting the grey folk and yet I never once encountered thee or thy men. Yet there were stories aplenty. Not a month went by where there was not talk amongst the war camp of thy valor. I wish we could have, if but once, shared the field.”
“We never had the chance to fight, side by side, as I never fought at the front. Fering – before his passing – stationed my regiment in the north-eastern forests near the base of the World Spine; despite my protestations, he believed, correctly, as it turned out, that my prowess as a huntsman would prove useful against the remnants of the Grey Folk who had deserted their war combine and who operated from that festering wood as brigands of a most savage disposition. Their operation had severely hampered our supply-lines and without supplies thy lot in the front would have crumbled, not from the foes to the north, but from the pangs of hunger and thirst. As thee well knows, the Grey Folk were not seasoned in open warfare, they’d have been crushed like insects under the hooves for a boar had they confronted the Torian Legions, army to army, on some open plain, as is our custom, for those weapons from my forge are scarce rivaled, even in Sage. Rather, they preferred the confounding architecture of their grand forests – subterfuge and skullduggery from behind bark and vine – arrows in the dark, knives in the back in twisting avenues where grapeshot is ill advised. Thou mayest recall the furor their tactics caused, we Torians had grown complacent in our ways and were outraged, foolishly, senselessly, when a tribe decided that rules and warfare mixed as water and oil. So our gracious Lord sent me to confront them at their selfsame game and thanks to the valor of my own men and, if it is not too bold to say, my own slow-flowering plans, I was able to best them most decisively.”
“As humble as ever, Baron.” Marshal Haiden sneered. Gunvald sensed bad-blood between the two and wondered at its origins. It seemed to Gunvald that there was some mote of jealousy in Haiden’s tone, buried firmly beneath his facade of civility. A venom particular to a man once scorned and unrecognized. A strange thing indeed, for the Grand Marshal was, in the hierarchy of the court, second in importance only to Eadwulf and the Arch-Summoner himself. What, Gunvald wondered, could he possibly be jealous of? What could a countryside ironmonger of minor nobility possess that the chief of The Lord’s army could not?
At length, Avarr turned to the Marshal and poured himself a glass of wine and lit himself another cigarette before speaking.
“I’ve been called many things in my life, Grand Marshal: ‘whore-monger,’ ‘addict,’ ‘pretentious,’ ‘tree killer,’ but never, ‘humble.’ At this point, such an allegation would sting worse than all the others. What is ‘humility’ but the perpetual pretense of inferiority? Nothing else. The humble man is he who says, ‘Ignore my prowess! It is meaningless! Praise only my boundless insignificance!’ When indeed, in reality, the feigning of his impotence and insignificance is the very thing which he hopes is praised; a substitute for true virtue. To be called humble is to be called a liar.”
The members of the house gave several terse, nervous laughs, unsure if Avarr’s comments were meant as jest or lecture or some queer combination of the two and when he laughed with them their mirth turned in earnest. Haiden merely grimaced and returned to his goblet, clearly displeased but not so sufficiently as to ruin his Lord’s graceful gathering.
Eadwulf leaned over his mutton, goblet in hand, remnants of fowl clinging to his girthful and graying beard, “Is Leofflaed coming shortly? Or is she still mucking about with her perfume and spice?”
The baron leaned back in his chair, smoking idly and looking off to where his feathery comrade fluttered about the rafters as if in silent rapport. At length, he spoke without turning.
“She dresses as we speak. I expect her any-”
Suddenly a shrill, impetuous voice boomed out from the upper landing.
“So I see that all have begun without me!”
Gunvald followed the voice from whence it came and turned his gaze to the grand stair whereupon a young woman stood, pout-lipped and grim-eyed, hands at her waist. Gunvald was shocked and elated. Elated at the sight of his beloved, shocked at how much she had changed in the space of seven years. Gone was the radiant smile of youthful innocence, in it’s stead, a cold, disdainful frown. Gone were the sun-faded and form-fitting lineaments of the village, replaced now by garish vestments of the keep, silk and sapphires, silver and gold. Gone was her agile frame and the supple movements which the soldier remembered so fondly from his youth, replaced now by an ungainly girth. None would have called her fat but the burgeoning plumpness of castle-excess was unmistakable.
“Thou hath no right to look so put-out, Leofflaed, one cannot expect all the world to run along the lines of thy clock,” Avarr replied flatly from below.
She surveyed the falconer with slowly softening vexation, then the party. Gunvald was surprised the Lord did not reprimand the baron for his chastisement. At length, she sighed and descended the stair, taking a seat beside Lord Eadwulf. As one of the serving girls pulled out a seat for Leofflaed, Eadwulf smiled and gestured towards her, his mouth half-filled with meats.
“Radiant, my dear, most radiant!”
Her only reply was a half-hearted smile, as transitory as the light glinting off her eyes.
The Lord motioned for the serving girls to fill her cup and move the food down to Leofflaed’s end of the table, as the silk-robed woman looked over the faces of every present soul. She seemed wholly disinterested in the affair, hands folded about her waist, lips stuck in what seemed to be a perpetual pout. Though she had gained weight and her countenance wore grim, she was still quite beautiful, the luster of fertile youth not yet wholly faded by time. What stirred Gunvald’s passions more than all her fading beauty was the memories of those fairer days wherein she and he had twined about the steps of the old temple, bounding here and there over moss and lichen, bracken and fern; how they had played hide and seek in the forests beyond Castle Avarr just before the moorland; how they embraced in times of woe and how they had kissed underneath the white bone of the moon by the statue at the edge of town whereupon he’d stumbled across the curious, one-eyed beggar. He remembered how they’d made love the day before he’d left for war, how she’d moaned and later cried and how they had pledged themselves to one another as the sun had risen red as the blood of all the men he had ever slain, as if portending all the masterful savagery he had done and all that he was still to do. Crushing sadness and unignorable agitation swam within the body of the swordsman, moving within his bosom and up from bosom to throat and from throat to mouth, bursting free of that fleshy cage like a lantern shattered in a barn of hay.
“Ne’er did I dare to believe that I would behold that face again; not in wildest dream-wanderings.”
Leofflaed turned to the upstart instantly, one brow going up with mild shock, the other down in confusion. Eyes met there for some indeterminable sphere’s turning, brown to green, green to brown forest to earth, plateau to vine. The shock swiftly dissipated into perplexed consternation.
“And thou art?”
Gunvald’s heart stilled a moment, then a pain, eerie and ethereal, slithered throughout the totality of the soma, palling the mind with direst imaginings. The soldier parted his lips to speak but no sound there escaped; he merely looked on, stunned to speechlessness. Fists balled like stones at his side, trembling with agitation. How, he thought, could she not remember?
Avarr turned to the woman and gestured to the soldier with his half-burned cigarette.
“Lady Leofflaed, may I introduce thee to Gunvald Wegerferend. It were he that slew Grim-Claw, Chief of the Gray Hordes of the North. Impressive, no?”
Leofflaed’s eyes grew wide, her body tense and still, her breath catching in her throat until a muted gasp escaped therefrom.
“Please… excuse me. I’m not… feeling well.”
Eadwulf lowered his goblet, furrowing his disorderly brows.
“What’s this now, have ye taken too much port afore the meal?”
“No, my dearest,” she turned full away from the still-standing soldier as she addressed her liege, as if she might wither away beneath his gaze, “I… do not not know what has come over me, some allergy perhaps, a fever of the seasons.”
Her facade fooled none but a few of the serving maids who cloistered round their ward, one of them fanning the lady with an empty soup dish, all the better to dispel whatever had befallen her. None spoke and, at length, the Lord intoned softly and somberly, “Well, get ye gone then. Off to bed. Off.”
The Lady left without another word as an uneasy pall settled over the feast. After the last footfalls of the Lady and her entourage had vanished up the well-varnished steps of the keep, The Baron rose and took Gunvald by the arm.
“Join me for a smoke upon the terrace.”
“But… the feast…”
Gunvald glanced over his shoulder and found Eadwulf’s beady eyes affixed to his own, sullenly regarding them with growing suspicion from beneath craggy brows and matted locks.
“I and our kindly guest wish to ply our senses to the crisp night air, by your leave.”
The Lord looked on a moment, his suspicion melting away almost instantly into a look of sadness then bewilderment, then comprehension. He nodded, “Ah, yes, yes, of course. Give him the goodly tour of it!”
“So I shall, my lord. So I shall.”
The two men, the baron and the landsman, left off out of the great hall to the whispering of the inner court, the distance rendering the sounds unintelligable.

Tomb of the Father: Chapter Two (Excerpt)

Author’s note: The following text is a short chapter excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Tomb Of The Father. More chapter excerpts will be released in the coming weeks.


Gunvald woke in the dark and buried the brigand upon the northern hill opposite the shepherd’s encampment and departed from the old vaquero wordlessly, before his waking, as the halcyon sphere drifted up across the high, jagged peaks of the far mountain. He made his way over the thin, reedy grass from the northern hill and from there to the stony outcropping where he’d slept as the sheep bawled and yapped like insane children and then passed down between the precarious tors into the lowlands which were spotted here and there with small tufts of shrubbery and strange boulders incised with markings from some people that had since passed from the world’s collective remembrance. The man stopped as if the stones had rooted him to shade and slowly reached out to touch the curious monolith before him, gingerly running his dry and cloth-wrapped hands across the smooth-hewn crevices of the mighty artifact. He closed his eyes and inhaled and exhaled deeply until his breathing became as rhythmic as a drumbeat and he felt as if his hands and those that had wrought the arcane inscriptions were one and the same. Past called to future. Dead to living. As if the stone were whispering to him, tales of forgotten times and well-lived lives and those less well lived and what their folly entailed for the ignorant persisting. It was a peculiar feeling, one that the weary traveler struggled to rationalize but felt powerfully all the same. At length, he opened his eyes and slowly withdrew his hand from the stone and retreated a pace and looked over the monolith entire, from tip to base and judged the breadth and width; some eight feet high, some seven feet wide. The weight of the thing the gods only knew.
When he’d taken in the stone in all its facets he turned full from it and made his way out through the bracken and quitch and past other stones, both larger and smaller than the first, and all similarly marked by ancient hands, the symbols there incised beyond the travelers reckoning. Here and there a recognizable representation, half-masked in abstraction: a man, a woman, a wolf, a bear, a fish, a snail, a tree. The symbol most oft represented was the wolf, over and over again it was inscribed, with near mechanical precision and a primal beauty that he’d scarcely witnessed in even the most technically proficient of paintings. He could almost hear its call.
Beyond the rune-stones the ground flattened out with astounding brevity, the bracken and quitch giving way to queer lichen and strange vines with small purple shoots and thick, raw swatches of muddy-clay, filled all with fetid water that buzzed with insects of every shape and size. The further out the man cast his gaze the larger the water-filled depressions grew until they merged unto a singularity, one vast marshen heap of rain-catch and sod and sand and silt. Bogland.
He recalled the old man’s words, “The first false step means death, to man or beast.”
Suddenly, there came a raucous calling, an intonation, nearby and strangely human. The traveler whirled, spotting, some forty yards out into the mire, a huge male ram, only his forelegs, chest, neck and horn-crowned head clear above the bog-hold. The creature struggled a moment, flailing its powerful legs against the silt and sand-water and then, quite suddenly, it vanished, sucked down at last; even the tips of its horns sinking below the grim surface of that plane of death.
Gunvald watched the unhappy affair with a mixture equal parts despair and fascination. It seemed too sudden to be real, the way the earth could so swiftly devour such a beast. Such a thing to the traveler’s mind was as fantastical as copper turning to gold or water to diamond. The bog had not been there when last he’d traversed the moor seven years ago. It seemed a whole panoply of lifetimes compressed into the scattered crystalline fragments of his memories and dreams.
He recalled the long march beside his kinsmen. How high their banners flew, the colors of all the clan houses of Tor; after decades of internecine violence, united at last against a common foe, the gray-men of the Hinterlands, those they called, Rimners. How young and wild and full of lofty opinions they had been…
As Gunvald looked out across the moor his opinions flew at considerably lower altitude.

*

Finding no passage through the peat, Gunvald opted to travel round it by the southernmost way. The trek lasted two days and brought him past all manner of rummy shrubs and bone piles and dying trees that looked more akin to the macabre props of a phantasmal play. Beyond the surmounted wetlands lay a quiet vale through which ran a babbling brook, girded on all sides by dry forest and vine, the ground verdant-lush and teeming with all manner of skittering things, both foul and fair. He sat by the snaking divet and withdrew a wood cup from his travel satchel and dipped it in the water and drank deeply, the liquid sweet and cool to his parched and desirous throat. Then he watched the solar plumes play across the waves as a small school of fish nudged up to the surface, their huge, lidless eyes gazing upon the sun-scorned figure as if appetent of conversation. Gunvald withdrew the last of his stock, a dry half-loaf of bread and broke it into small pieces, eating some and then throwing the rest to the fishes who gobbled at the flotsam and then nervously retreated, wary of Man’s latent, yet ever present, perfidy.
Moments later, the sound of creaking wood could be heard all throughout the vale, followed swiftly by a muted cascade of footfalls. The sound followed the wake of an old cart, rope-dragged by four men, filthy, disheveled and dressed all in furs. Their faces covered by cloth half-masks, securing the nose and mouth from nature’s multitudinous ravishments. Gunvald rose to observe the strange and solemn congregation, eyes widening with horror as he beheld their vessel’s grisly cargo.
Bodies.
Some fifteen in number, human and decaying under the harsh auspice of the sun, male and female alike, from babe to crone, covered in all manner of hideous rashes and boils, their skin ashen-red and peeling like the hide of some overripe fruit. Whatever disease it was that had snatched from them the breath of life seemed, for the moment, to have no hold upon the cart-pullers who paused momentarily, all turning to the man by the river.
One of their number addressed Gunvald sharply, as if in reprimand for some past transgression.
“What easy fool is this?”
“No fool, sir, but a soldier.”
“Those that here make passage well warrant the epithet. Canst thou not see our sorry wares?”
“Tis a pitiable sight. Whereby didst the sorry lot meet Dactyl’s scythe?”
Upon the utterance of that most singular name the men collectively gasped, the former speaker, a short man, bow-backed, balding and scar-faced, muttered a muted prayer and then gestured towards Gunvald as if casting some devious vermin from his presence.
“Sound not that unutterable traducement!”
“I meant no offense. Superstition has surely deranged thy temperament.”
“Enough, heretic, we darest not tarry, lest thee, with thy calumnious tongue, conjure some new evil to surpass the one that now burdens our aching backs!”
The other workers nodded as if there was great wisdom in the bald man’s words and then they adjusted their masks and ropes and muttered another prayer and bent once more to their toil and moved out across the rutted and grassy way, vanishing at last beneath the cavernous canopy of the wood, swallowed whole by the shadows therein.
Gunvald watched them go and decided to follow the cart-men at a distance, for their path and his were, for the time being, one and the same.
Gunvald rose and gave chase, passing through the thick and tangled forest of oak and ash and fir and gave silent thanks for the thick moss-bed beneath that masked the clattering of his bulky, armored frame. Over moss and stone and leaves, dead and alive, he walked, keeping himself well hidden and well apart from the odd foursome and their rickety old cart. After a couple hundred feet the forest opened up, the trees and shrubbery now growing more sparsely, the grass fading from green to yellow-green to a dull orange-yellow. Dying. The cart-pullers took a sharp right and passed fully beyond the forest unto a thin, dirt road that stretched out to the gray northwestern hill-lands like the great and ossified tendril of some mighty leviathan. The road ran down a slight decline in the hummock-ridden surface of the world and then diverged, one track splitting off to a small city to the south and the other branching to a butte over which rose the pass to the low, south-eastern mountains. Gunvald waited until the men had disappeared beyond the curvature of the earth and then took the lonely path towards the town stopping by a small, wooden sign, hastily constructed, which read:

Ħaberale

The sign was adorned with a large off-white arrow, comprised of some woodland dye, which pointed towards the clearly present outline of the town in the short-off distance, half obscured by small tussles of old trees which poked above a field of withering wheat and the ruins of some primeval fort that lay beyond, its towers brimming with black wings and hissing beaks. Before the man had fully risen from his observation of the sign, the sound of thundering hooves rose up from somewhere nearby, plumes of dust whirling from the immediate northern road. Shortly, a fearsome cavalcade stood before the weary and cautious wayfarer, five in number and all armed and armored in strict uniformity. Knights or sell-swords or something worse. Gunvald knew instantly they were not of the town, by both their expensive attire and peculiar breed of destrier, he fancied them denizens of Caer Tor, a kingdom someways off and rarely concerned with its outlying provinces. The leader of the group and the eldest, a man of middling height and some fifty years, at length addressed the armored wayfarer.
“Hail, traveler. A moment to query?”
Gunvald nodded in wordless acquiescence, though he knew that it was not a question proper.
“I am Cyneweard, second-commander of Tor. Word of brigand-raids have reached our gracious Lord, Cenhelm, and by his leave we make way to Haberale to rope the misbegotten scoundrels.”
“If that is thy venture then ye’ev headed the way awrong. Thy foe lies beyond the northern forest, past the bogland in the high moors.”
“Thou hast seen them?”
“Three nights past I was assailed upon the moor by three fiends, peasants, it seemed.”
“Three thou sayst?”
“Now two.”
The knight took the measure of the soldier before him, discerning flecks of crusted blood about his boots and nodded solemnly.
“I thank thee kindly. Might I inquire as to thy business, traveler?”
“My business is my own.”
“Suit thyself. One word of parting, kinsman, take heed in Haberale, the town is much changed. For the worse I am afeared. With thanks, we take our leave.”
Without another word the knights straightened in their leather saddles and flicked the reigns of their war-beasts and clattered off down the road toward the moor. When they had gone all was silent save for the heavy breath of the western wind that sent the traveler’s long, wavy locks aflutter. He brushed his mane from out his eyes and adjusted his scabbard-belt and wondered at the knight’s words. Haberale had always been a sleepy, little idyll, the only heed one had need to take was of how uneventful it was likely to be so as to better remedy the doldrums. He thought of the bandits and the dead men in the cart and the living ones pulling it and the strange masks on their faces, all deep, emerald green.
Times had changed indeed.
Gunvald left off down the way and crossed through the fading wheat and the hard clay ground and made camp in the ruins of some old fort as darkness closed about him in minacious plume.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 18

§.18


The last time he saw her with clouded eyes was in front of Andy’s house. She had come over to return a sewing machine she’d borrowed for a school project. Harmon had only to meet her gaze to know she felt nothing for him. They exchanged no words. He had been waiting for something to change. For her to admit what she had done and apologize. To ask for forgiveness and swear never to betray him. To at least acknowledge the truth of the past.

She did nothing of the kind; pretending as if nothing, whatsoever, had occurred.

Do you take me for a fool, Bluebird?

His gaze hardened behind the silent question. He wished one of them perished before they’d drifted apart; in such a eventuality their love would have been immortalized; forever untainted by duplicity and betrayal.

I never lied to you.

Never betrayed you.

Never cast you aside like so much refuse. Without justification. Without explanation. Without concern.

And yet you have done as much to me. Why should I hold myself apart from your selfsame standard when doing so only puts me at a disadvantage? Why should I act like I am above my impulses? I am no more above such sordid emotions than you. Than anyone.

You were mine. Now you give your heart away as if on a whim. The actions of a vulgar whore.

You are mine and mine alone.

And mine alone you shall remain.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 17

§.17


They descended the stairs as thunder ranged beyond the ambit of the creaking tumbledown. Lyla wanted to watch a movie. Inquiries concerning the cinematic acumen of all present were made, with Andy judged most-knowledgeable, they settled into the massive, tattered and musty couch as their host plopped in a old VHS titled ‘Fractured Mirror.’ The story revolved around a down-on-his luck writer, well past his prime, whose wife had cheated on him with his publicist. The film charted his slow and painful mental deterioration and eventual self-reformation through murderer. Purity through violence.

As the writer bludgeoned his former lover to death with a shovel, Bluebird recoil and buried her head in Harmon’s chest.

“Too much for you?”

“Its my head. You know how sensitive I am with this kind of stuff.”

Lyla was prone to headaches and enjoyed playing up the fact. Harmon had long-induced she thought it cute and quirky. It proved, more often than not, merely affected and annoying.

He said nothing.

“Damn.” Muttered Marla, here eyes wide, fixed to the screen.

Andy chortled and downed some of his beer. After the murder scene the protagonist looked directly into the camera as an eerie cue played. Cut to black. Credits.

“Whadidya think?” Andy inquired, lighting up a cigarette.

“I thought it was really good.” Marla affirmed with a smile, stroking Andy’s arm and squeaking a, “You’ve such good taste in movies, babe.”

Andy smiled and turned to his others guests expectantly.

“Well whats the verdict?”

“I didn’t really care for it. I didn’t think it was going to be so violent.”

Andy rolled his eyes then looked to Harmon whose faraway eyes were fixed upon a small insect on the ceiling.

“She got what she deserved.”

“But they were in love!” Lyla protested.

“‘Were’ is the operative word.”

She looked up into his face and was greeted only with impassivity and resolve. She slowly shifted off of him and asked Andy if he would mind sparing one of his tall boys. He happily obliged and shortly the two trekked off to acquired some beers from the old, magenta fridge, leaving Marla and Harmon to their own devices.

Marla played with her softly jangling bracelets a moment an then leaned towards Harmon inquisitively.

“How long you two been together?”

“Since high school.”

“Oh! That’s wonderful. I didn’t take relationships seriously then.”

“Few do.”

“Yeah. Hey, I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier. Was having a bad day.”

“Its no trouble at all.”

She smiled, “Were you serious?”

“About?”

“About the movie. I mean, you think she deserved what she got?”

“Yes.”

“Yeah. I don’t disagree. I used to date this guy named Tanner. Hot, wealthy – comparatively speaking – nice car. Seemed perfect.”

“But there was a snag.”

“Yeah.”

“He cheated on you.”

“Yup. He said he was sorry. That he was drunk, that he didn’t know what he was doing. He was a terrible liar. But even still I forgave him. Not two months later he’d left his phone lying on the counter of my kitchen – it rings and I check the messages. Some bitch asking what she should wear for him tonight.”

She shook her head and took a swig of beer and tapped out her half smoked menthol in the peach can Andy used as a makeshift ashtray.

“That’s unfortunate. What’d you do?”

“I told him to explain. I was ready to forgive him again. If he was honest.”

“Given you’re here, with Andy, I’m assuming he wasn’t.”

“Nope. Told me – get this – she was a ‘business associate’ and that’s why she was asking him what to wear. I told him business associates don’t tend to refer to each other as ‘babe’ and ‘darling’ – he didn’t have anything to say to that so I told him to leave. And that was that.”

“But now you’ve met Andy.”

“But now I’ve met Andy.”

She smiled widely and leaned back in her chair and took a puff of her cigarette. Shortly thereafter, Andy and Lyla returned from the kitchen bearing a six pack and a bag of off-brand nachos. They watched another film about a evil AI in a far-flung future where everyone used floppy disks and then decided to hit the sack. Andy implored Lyla to stay the night and then headed upstairs with Marla. When they were completely out of earshot, Lyla turned to Harmon dourly.

“Did you mean what you said?”

“Bout?”

“Bout her ‘getting what she deserves.’

“Yeah.”

“How can you say that?”

“Can say it because I believe it.”

*