The Exposition of Campus Talent

A link to a published article of mine when I wrote for the Rutgers-Camden Newspaper, The Gleaner.

http://gleaner.rutgers.edu/index.html%3Fp=7853.html

Dabbling at the Dobbs

A link to a published article of mine when I wrote for the Rutgers-Camden Newspaper, The Gleaner.

http://gleaner.rutgers.edu/index.html%3Fp=7927.html

Series I: Stand Off – Chapter 7: The Letter that Begins with Red.

Thomas arrived to Kristen’s apartment close to 1 am. He approached the door with an elegant poise close to the resemblance of an alley cat on its way home. Before he grabbed the front door knob, he stopped to think if the door had locked behind him as he left earlier. With a fierce grab of the knob, and a twist to go with it, he was soon relieved to find that the door was unlocked. Upon entering the Victorian, he noticed that the lights were off and darkness consumed the entirety of the home; except for the lamp on the inn table next to the couch, it was on. On that couch’s cushion was a pair of sweatpants folded articulately in the fashion of a square, and right next to it was a blanket folded in the same manner, and a pillow rested against the arm rest. He approached the couch and sat next to the folded sweatpants, smelling like cigarettes as he swiped his left hand through his hair. The stench reminded him too well of the reasons why he and Kristen decided to move to San Francisco, before they separated. It was because of George. A man that smoked a lot, about the only thing he considered as a stupid habit among greater decisions. He was smart and as a typical aspiring-lawyer, he always had his nose deep into books about law. Thomas met George before he met Kristen and for that Thomas was glad to have met George; however, if only Thomas knew at the time.

“I got the job!” Kristen ran into the small apartment with her bags and pocketbook still hoisted over her shoulder. The door didn’t even close by the time she was up the steps talking to Thomas who was lying in bed, half asleep.

“Hhmm . . . what, no way!” Thomas said as he was coming to. He rubbed his eyes, “that’s great babe; see, I told you that you would!” He slid off the bed and grabbed his sweatpants that were on the floor. As he slid them on and up to his waist, Kristen dropped her bags and hugged him.

“Bae,” Kristen said, “this means we can move to Fresco.” She retracted from him with her hands coming up and onto his cheeks. He stood there gently touching them.

“Fresco?” Thomas asked, “where’s that?” he brought her hands down where she grabbed him at the waist, just above the red “R” imprinted near the pocket of his sweatpants.

“What do you mean where is that,” Kristen smiled, “San Francisco.” She moved toward him with a kiss.

“Ahhh,” Thomas’s eyes widened, “Yeshh,” he said as she pecked him on the lips, “I remember now – So you’ll be working with George?” he asked her as she took her high heels and then her blazer off.

“I don’t know yet – could you go in there and pass me a hanger – he called me right after the interview and congratulated me.” She was holding her hand out to Thomas as he moved around the bed to open the closet for a hanger and when he grabbed it, he leaned over the bed to give it to her.  “I just know – thanks bae – that I am going to be working for GCConsulting and that my training and first day starts in two months, which gives us time to start looking for places and to get settled in,” the blazer was on the hanger and she handed it back to him.

“Ahhh, ok well, I think that’s great!” Thomas said as he hung the blazer back up in the closet, “But-a, What about uh, what about me . . . I mean I can find a job, I just don’t know if I’m ready to leave here.” He stared at the purple comforter on the bed, then looked up at Kristen.

“Don’t worry about that, you will find something; besides, there are better opportunities in a city like Fresco than here.” Kristen pushed her hair off the back of her neck and jutted her chin forward, coursing her fingers through the strands to straighten them out. “I can’t wait to show you were I grew up, by the SFU; ugh, so beautiful. We can look at Victorian Houses near the University District . . .” Her voice trailed off as Thomas stopped listening. His mind was on another matter; a matter he tried to deal with before she arrived home for her interview. He grabbed his arm where the bicep meets the forearm and pressed down.

“you’re right,” he said, “I’ll find something.”

Kristen was standing with her shirt off, but bra on, nodding, “I know you want to write bae, but you need to worry about how you’re going to take care of yourself.” She reached behind her to remove the bra.

“Yeah,” he said looking down.

“I’m serious; you’ll be 26 before you know it and then what?” Kristen shrugged her shoulders with her bra in her hand. “You need health insurance Tommie,” she said.

 

Thomas looked out through the window of the Victorian that was next to the front door. He stared at the moon and a daunting regret settled in; why he ever spoke into the receiver of his phone yesterday morning. He should have just hung up as soon as he heard Kristen’s voice and blocked that number too.

He then looked down at his pants leg and decided in that moment to change out of his jeans. After removing them from against his legs, he felt the relief of the dried vomit pull away from his shin and he sighed. He held the sweatpants out in front of him for them to unfold and as they did, he noticed in the right corner above the pocket was a red “R.”

He just wanted to change out of his jeans and lie down on the couch, forget everything that transpired between him and Kristen and make sure that she was OK in the morning. If it was anything else that she told him in the car earlier this night, he would have left after his cigarette, catching the next bus back to San Jose. He slipped into those old sweatpants and rolled into the couch, crashing his head upon the pillow almost instantaneously falling sleep.

Daemon Sale

There were too many souls in all of hell’s circles, especially in the heart of the place where Malebolgia reigned. These souls that he condemned had proliferated to the point of maximum capacity and as to their rate of arrival; each circle became equally congested, particularly circle 28 of his inferno.

The damned souls from this circle endured a constant disembowelment by the proctoring daemon. As these souls continuously trotted one-by-one around a large splintered pylon, they awaited for the sword wielded by the proctor to disembowel them by vertically splitting their abdomen. First, it penetrated their skin where the neck met the bottom cleft, and then with one violent motion toward the ground by the proctor, the sword ended its incision at the base of their gut. As each passed, the sword was drawn away, which caused their entrails to flop out and land onto the scorched dirt-grimed ground. The succession was ceaseless, so as each stomach and intestines dragged from the lips of the freshly cut guts, the ones behind would inevitably trample over them, thus furthering the disembowelment until it was completed. There was slippage in each step upon the guts before them, but enough of these steps progressing forward caused the entrails to tear out entirely. By the time they passed the charred-skin daemon, totally disemboweled, they had endured the worst of it, only to have the process repeat with their stomachs healed and all their entrails intact. The horror would not stop along with their unrelenting fear of enduring the pain again and again.

Due to the overflow of these souls, Malebolgia issued all future sentences to be carried out in the world of the living, prior to the soul’s entry into hell. Taking this measure ensured reprieve from the influx and guaranteed a steadier acceptance rate. Portals were produced that were suitable and stable enough for the sentences commencement, and these portals were conjured through any and all reflective surfaces that induced vainglory in the offender; a type of vainglory that would drive the offender to deliberately cause schisms in the lives of those that they have influenced; a type of vainglory that had Christie trapped.

She barricaded herself in the maintenance room of the mall she frequented on the weekends, and it wasn’t until a few minutes ago that she regretted going to the mall this weekend. The sales hit big then, and she just had to take advantage of those sales because the weather began to call for looser clothing and shorter hair styles; the kind with less around the neck and shoulders. And that was the kind Marceline was about to give her, right before Christie bolted from the salon and down the long corridor in flight from the daemons. The instance kept repeating in her head:

 

“Hey Marceline, I’m gonna need something to go with this.” Christie raised a fashionable summer dress out of a large shopping bag with big-red-lettered print: Forever 21. The dress was a light blue and it was still on the hanger with the price-tag of the bar-code facing outward.

“Oooo, let me see!” Marceline reached for the dress, directing her head toward its tag and her eyes lit up. “Wow, payday I presume?”

“Actually, I just need a little pick-me-up from last night . . .” Christie dropped the dress back in the bag and walked toward the salon chair. “I had a rough week and had too many to drink with the girls.” Her heels clacked against the tile floor and as she stepped up into the chair, they ceased; yet her voice continued with the same piercing tone. “I just can’t get over that season finally of Grey’s Anatomy, ugh — and plus,” she held her bag up before placing it down against the swivel at the base of the chair, “Sales!”

Marceline took one step back, shifting her weight to the hip of the leg she drew away from the chair. She placed one hand on her chin, which reflected her thinking of what to do with Christie’s hair. Christie sat facing the mirror and looking at her, “I want something to bring in the season,” she said.

“Hmm, how about something short around the shoulders . . . and I’ll give your neck some breathing room.” Marceline stepped around Christie to grab the spray bottle, but Christie stopped her.

“Do you think that’s too much?” she asked, “I’ve never had shorter hair than this.” Christie turned her head slightly to capture herself in the mirror as a model would toward the lens of a camera. When she turned, her bangs shifted in front of her eyes and just before she moved the hair out of the way, the mirror warped, but she didn’t notice. The ripples dispersed as fast toward the edges as a Doppler wave would have on a radar screen.

“Well,” Marceline looked from the spray bottle to Christie in the mirror, “let me ask you this — are you seeing anyone?”

“No, not really . . . why?” Christie turned her head the other way to capture both angles. This time, her bangs flowed without blocking her vision.

“Because this hairstyle,” Marceline gave a wink to Christie in the mirror, “is what’s in right now. Plus, I’ve been rockin’ it myself – and – Justin loves it!” She lifted her free hand to the curled lower portion of her haircut. It hugged around her head almost perfectly, except that the back of her hair was shorter, revealing her neck, and the sides drew down toward her breasts at an obtuse angle. Her bangs bounced as she lightly pampered the ends of her hair with the heel of her palm.

“How’s Justin, and that whole thing?” Christie squeezed her face to indicate a sensitive topic as if she didn’t want to pry, but wanted to know.

“Oh, he’s doing ok . . . he left Wanda and the kids, but that’s really none of my business – are we going with short?” Marceline dropped her hand toward the spray bottle on the counter underneath the mirror.

“Yeah, that will be great,” Christie said, then glanced at her in the mirror, “So, you knew though, and you kept seeing him?” She brought her eyes on the spray bottle as Marceline began to spray her hair with it. The mist flowed over them causing her to squint and the mirror warped again.

“I told him it was me or them and well, let’s be honest,” Marceline stopped with the spraying  and glared at Christie in the mirror, “the sex between them couldn’t have been great – we saw each other more times a week than he was home for dinner.”

“Oh, wow – so who did he choose?” Christie asked.

“This bitch,” Marceline said. She used the spray bottle to point to herself then stepped forward, around Christie, and placed it on the counter where every hair product and cutlery was aligned for potential use. “We’re gonna have to deal with these split ends babe.”

Before stepping back behind Christie, she went to grab a pair of scissors and a comb out from the jar that was filled to the rim with barbicide. Just as she was about to grab them with her hand, the blue liquid reverberated and she retracted from it. “Oh, that was weird,” she said standing still next to Christie. The mirror warped for the third time.

“Oh my – did you see that?!” Christie froze in her chair staring at her confused expression in the mirror just as the ripples hit its edge and disappeared.

“The barbicide, it shook – is that what you mean?” Marceline said, moving away from the counter now looking at Christie in the mirror. She clasped her hands together as if she was contemplating her next move.

“Well, no – but, the mirror . . . it shook.” Christie’s expression faltered as a bulbous red orb appeared in the center of the mirror. It steadily grew into the size of a marble, and doubled its size as she and Marceline kept their eyes on it. The ripples returned, but this time they caused the mirror to shake and loosen from the wall. The red orb seemed beneath the surface of the mirror, and when it reached the size of a fist, the mirror cracked – the orb breached through the reflective surface, and then black sharp claws protruded from the orb followed by fiery-red hands. They were charred at the skin and exhumed from the orb gyrating close together like surveying-antennae. When the forearms surfaced into the salon, the two arms were still close together at the elbows, and still gyrating. It wasn’t until a dome of a head surfaced that the arms started to flail as if the daemon’s animation accelerated by taking its first breath outside of the orb, inhaling the fragrance of the prosecuted right before it. The head breached and quickly lifted to have its yellow eyes scan the foreign environment. It looked left, then right, and then at Marceline. The lips lifted to reveal pencil-like teeth, as red as its charred skin, and out of the gaping black-hole between them projected a shrilling scream that almost inoculated her and Christie.

The daemon reached for the edges of the mirror to provide balance for itself as it then projected its body out of the orb, over Christie – missing Marceline – and onto the floor, sliding on its hind legs as it had hooves for feet, while scratching the tile with its front claws without obtaining a stable grip. As the daemon jumped again, it landed on Marceline. Christie swiveled in the chair as Marceline grabbed it, but failed to hold on to it as the momentum from the daemon brought her to the ground. Christie just watched in horror as the daemon clawed at her face and gut, tearing the entrails out and tossing them any which way; some hit the Forever 21 bag, but as for the most of the guts; they colored the entire salon red. Christie slowly stood up and backed away with her hands over her mouth. Blood spewed from the disembowelment and onto her face, but she just kept quiet while still backing away, out of the salon.

Upon her exit, she witnessed the utter carnage as more daemons danced around the mall, tearing at the guts of those who had deserved it. She witnessed it in repetition, which stuck a heavier sense of fear and horror into her chest. She was flabbergasted at the sight of the pain and torture of each disembowelment; even more so at the moment when it was completed, just to have it done unto them again. It was ceaseless. She turned and ran down the corridor hoping for an exit from the mall, without looking back; but instead, she only came to the double-metal doors of the maintenance room. She opened them as fast as she shut them from the other side.

She pushed every item in that room – every item that her strength could bear – up against the double-metal doors, but not even the rusty metal desk that she gruelingly lumbered in front of those doors could block the screams and harsh caterwauls bellowing from those spawning creatures as well as their victims. The ripping of skin and gnawing of flesh reverberated off the walls of that corridor as if the corridor acted like a funnel focusing the noises of the carnage directly toward the maintenance room. They entered her ear canals and jarred her eardrums. It seemed to her that the room grew smaller as the cacophony just outside grew louder and with every sound came even more of an intense grip over her ears with her hands. Everything she saw flashed again and again in her mind with eyes closed. It was mostly the serrated flesh of Marceline’s face – where the daemon’s claws dug in and started to drag them from the base of her eye lids all the way down to the ridge of her jaw line – that kept her now sitting on the floor, with back bowed and head down, in the maintenance room.

 

 

Series I: Stand Off – Chapter 6: Samurai Flower

 

From that memory relayed to the reason why he brought his phone to that camp-out. He never regretted it – he was expecting her to text him – but lying to his hometown friends about it always brought him to dwell on certain things, and those certain things he was sure Kristen would save him from, not bring him closer to them. There were times when he missed Ashley, Kurt and Darren more so than her.

“Come on, follow me.” She said with her hand extended up to him. She used her other hand to guide herself along the railing, down the bar’s steps.

“Where are we going?” Thomas asked. He was reaching for her hand while struggling to put on his jacket. It was black with a firm collar that he always had trouble keeping down.

“My place, it’s just around the corner. You can check out my new couch – well, it’s new to me,” she said with a laugh, “I bought it at the Goodwill the other day.”

She made it down those steps with her high heels like a pro, as if walking a tight rope was something she knew how to do sober; not a stammer in her step. Thomas watched her legs for the most part, due to the angst that was surging through his nerves. George’s words kept repeating in his head: she really likes you.

“What about George and his friend, uhh . . . what’s her name?” Thomas looked back with his hand folded as a fist and only his thumb sticking out, throwing the whole thing over his shoulder as if he was an umpire striking out a home-plate runner.

Kristen backtracked to Thomas and grabbed his reaching hand as the other was still over his shoulder. “Would you just come on,” She said with a playful tone, “you gotta see this couch, there are samurais on it.”

“Oh, then I gotta see this thing!” Thomas forced his sense-of-humor out to submerge his nervousness, “uhhh, will there be penetrating involved?”

Kristen turned around and stopped, then just laughed. “You’re cute,” she said.

Thomas hesitated and quickly thought to himself why he had said that, “uh, you know . . .” he began, “because of the swords and samurais on the couch.”

Kristen led on, “I know you goon,” she said.

They arrived at her apartment without Thomas having any recollection of his getting there except walking through a parking lot and crossing a street toward a sidewalk where row homes were tightly against each other with their stoops spilling onto this sidewalk. There were allies between some of them as others seemed to have shared walls. These allies were all brimstone red, which differed from the buildings’ facades: some were an off-color white and others a lighter red due to their time overly exposed to the sun. There were a few that had colors that only could be described as a mixture of two or more from the rainbow. All of these row homes appeared to have been built from colonial brick but none were dilapidated, yet they seemed ill-kept, never power washed, and chips in the brick were easily noticed. Each of their stoops varied in step-height and width as well as color and shape, and the rails rose to no exception.

“Here we are,” she said as she had her key at the ready to open the door. It swung with a creaky whoosh and she stepped in first with him following her, “and here’s the couch.” She took her shoes and jacket off and sat down on it with a little bounce that was expected from a used couch; its springs had lost their spunk.

“Wow,” Thomas said, trying to sound amazed.

He moved closer to it, walking into the one room that had a ceiling high enough to jump and still not having the ability to touch the popcorn plaster where only one ceiling fan hung. . . rotating. That one room connected to the kitchen, which led to a window facing a 6 foot wooden fence, splintered from the sun. He looked at it with his peripherals passing the dark kitchen’s fixtures and all of the appliances that seemed to be on top of one another. Bars covered that window (the only window besides the brown-paper-covered front window) as it was a neighborhood for such a measure.

“Ah – shoes,” Kristen pointed to Thomas’ feet as he passed the coffee table, heading toward the couch.

“Oh, sorry,” he said as he walked back to the door to kick them off.

“Come,” Kristen patted the cushion next to her, “sit. Tell me what you think.”

Thomas walked over to the couch and prepared to sit down by whipping his arms out as if he was trying on a new leather jacket, and brought himself lower until his ass met the cushion. He embraced every change in his movement toward the couch as if he was assessing each change for better or worse. Finally, when his back made contact with the couch’s he turned to Kristen and said, “This is a nice couch, I agree.”

“Take your jacket off,” she said, “get the full effect.” Kristen shifted herself toward him by moving her legs up to the cushion she was sitting on and folded them underneath her. She then moved closer to him and went for the jacket. Thomas didn’t hesitate to take it off. He spun in the direction opposite of her to make the process easier, and as it came off him and as she threw it onto the coffee table, he shifted closer to her by raising one leg toward the back of the couch, onto its cushion. They both comfortably faced each other, then she turned and laid her head on his lap. She drew her phone out of her pocket and looked up at him.

“So, what’s your number?” She asked.

 

She was so full of spunk then (unlike that couch), always the first one to text him and immediately respond to him after he would devise a well-crafted response to further the conversation in a flirtatious way. It was the couch with the samurais riding horse-back with their katanas raised high above their heads, as if rushing to decapitate a foot-soldier unmatched against such a brutal well-trained force that he always reverted back to whenever he thought about Kristen.

“Excuse me, sir . . .” said the Indian behind the cash register with a look of confusion plastered on his face, “. . . sir, that will be $8.50.”

It was the red and velvet tunic the cashier was wearing that reminded him of the couch; a design that reflected (for an odd reason) the Japanese culture, and it was the assertiveness in his voice that revived Thomas from that samurai-couch induced catalepsy. He searched for his wallet by digging into his right pocket, then into his left and finding it there. He fumbled it to the counter before grabbing it again, firmly this time, and snatched a ten dollar bill out of its sleeve as fast as he went to fold it back up to slide it back into his left pocket. The exchange went the course of three distinct movements after that: the cashier grabbed the ten; Thomas grabbed the cigarettes off the counter; and Thomas leaving without the change, but with a pack of matches that were available in a small box next to the single outdated-looking cash register. The cashier did not argue about the last movement, nor did Thomas make a gesture to correct what appeared to be a forgetful mistake of losing a dollar fifty. The door chimed its bell as it was opened by his leaving the convenient store, finalizing the exchange.

He gave the pack a six-six-six smacking, one for each side, before removing the clear plastic packaging and tossing it – along with the paper platinum covering the neatly aligned cigarettes – into a trashcan just by the door of the store. After taking one out from the pack and bringing it to his face, he discarded the rest. Before he allowed his lips to gently clasp around the sole cigarette, he licked them, then placed it where it hung from his mouth. The matches were in the hand that he claimed to be less dominant and it wasn’t until after he acquired the taste of the cigarette’s butt in his mouth that he began to strike a match against its red phosphorous striker. The match lit with a flare and the scent dispersed on to his fingers and into his nostrils. After the initial inhale to light the head of the cigarette, the scent went from pure burnt phosphorous to carcinogenic toxins and tobacco. No. 27’s always reminded him of the taste of pancakes and maple syrup.

The vomit on his jeans was fully hardened by now and he could no longer feel it against his leg (for the most part, it was dried on that too). He glanced at his watch and it read close to midnight. A time he always found himself wide awake during and unable to sleep, but as the smoke from the No. 27 left his lungs, he started to feel a bit hazy such as the cloud of that smoke plumbing up in the night sky, toward the moon. He took a deep breath and studied that moon until a surge of an old feeling erupted in his chest, and it wasn’t from the No. 27, but from the nights he found himself missing Kristen — he wanted to get back her, and this time he could, so he did.

Series I: Stand Off – Chapter 5: Darkness Leads

Thomas embraced the cool midnight air as he gently closed the door on his way out. He stepped forward after closing the door and raised his head with taking a deep breath. He glared at the moon taking each breath in. Its gleaming light illuminated the dark sky along with the thin dispersing clouds and as he scanned the dark expanse, he remembered the last time he went camping. It was the kind of sky he was under when he went with his three friends back in South Jersey. Of course, the light pollution forbade the pleasure for him to marvel at the stars where he knew they rested in constellations among light-years away, but the night along with the moon’s glimmer still felt the same as it did in the middle of the Pine Barrens with those friends. It was the weekend after he received Kristen’s number that week when they first met.

“Hey guys, wait up!” Darren yelled through the cigarette hanging from his mouth. He was flicking the lighter at its tip and as the flint sparked, the cigarette trembled.

Ashley and Kurt were ahead of them on the trail, kicking the dirt underneath their shoes and catching the nearest tree trunk for support against the rugged terrain.

“Hey!” Thomas called to them as he stood in between Darren and Ashley and Kurt.

“Yeah man, we are just scoping ahead.” Kurt yelled back. Ashley was laughing and slapping his shoulder. He handed her a joint and she took it without hesitating to inhale it.

Thomas walked toward Darren and raised his hand to his shoulder. “Are you alright man?” he asked, “you know, I told them not to bring it.” He tilted his head and then looked back ahead of the trail toward Ashley and Kurt.

“It’s fine,” Darren muttered through the cigarette, “I just have to get used to it.” He finally lit the thing and the smoke danced in front of his face until it dissipated among the piney canopies.

Thomas looked at the ground and caught a spider scurry over and underneath the leaves. “No man,” he said. He brought his eyes up again to see that Ashley and Kurt were walking toward them, still laughing.

“Guys, why did you bring weed?” Thomas asked as he walked to meet them half way. They kept moving forward, passing Thomas. He walked back toward his friends until they all were close enough together.

“So, why?” he asked again.

Kurt looked at Ashley and she looked back at him nudging her elbow into his arm. Well,” Kurt seemed troubled trying to speak, “what’s wrong with a little weed man?” He lifted his hand to the back of his neck.

“Yeah Darren – besides, no one is out here.” Ashley said. She had her hand clasping her elbow of the arm that extended down with the joint between her fingers.

Thomas looked at the joint then at Darren. “Should I tell them or you,” he said.

Darren just looked at Thomas then reached for the joint with one hand while taking the cigarette out of his mouth with his other hand. “Let me have a hit,” he said.

“Tell us what?” Ashley asked as she handed him the joint. Darren pierced his eyes into Thomas’ before he conjured the words to answer Ashley.

“Nothing,” Darren said, “I just have a drug test in a few weeks for a job, but I’ll be good.”

“Then what’s the problem,” Kurt said, “smoke up man!”

“Whatever.” Thomas said. He lifted his hands to his head and stretched his back as Darren took a drag.

“Take a hit man, Kurt said to Thomas, “You’ll feel – he cracked a smile – nature-fied!” He extended his arms out and moved them like frequency waves.

“Nah, I’m good,” he said, looking into the trees.

“Whao, check that eagle out!” Ashley pointed at a soaring bird that was extending its claws to perch itself on a branch just up and beyond where they were standing.

Thomas looked up and noticed that it wasn’t an eagle, but a hawk. He alone also noticed a nest closer to the trunk of the tree at which it was moving toward.

“Come on let’s go, we are almost to the campsite,” he said.

They continued to walk into the sun’s glow as it was on the brink of its dusk. Thomas led with Darren close behind, and Ashley and Kurt covering the rear a few feet from Darren. Intervals of exhaled smoke trailed them as they hiked for three more miles into South Jersey’s wildlife of the Pine Barrens. The trees were stacked so close together in nothing but mucky shallow marsh and the spacing in between them only revealed more trees as they appeared in the backdrop. As the night settled in, the trail was the only thing capable of seeing passed them and with the disappearing of the sun came the looming light of the moon, casting a glow that highlighted the silhouette of the trail and the shimmer of the marshes surrounding it.

“Hey did any of you bring a flashlight?” Thomas asked. He kept his head on the path and was attentive to the ground on which he was stepping.

A voice came from behind him, “nah.” Thomas discerned it to be Kurt.

“Ashley?” Thomas followed up with asking.

“I was counting on Kurt to bring one, I was supposed to bring the lighter,” she said. Thomas looked back and saw her flicking that lighter to keep it burning for the little light that she needed.

“That’s not going to help Ash,” Thomas said as he turned around. Darren started to pass him.

“No light Tom?” he said as he took the lead on the trail.

“I forgot ok?” Thomas said, following the light of Darren’s cigarette. He grabbed him by the arm, and as he stopped, Darren looked at Thomas. “We should stop here, find a clearing and settle by a fire, and sleep. We’ll head out in the morning.”

Darren jerked his arm out from Thomas’ grasp of it. “Yeah . . . hear that Kurt and Ashley?”

They weren’t far off from the lead Thomas and Darren had on them and they caught up momentarily through the thicket of the night, bumping into Thomas. “Yeah, I can’t see jack,” Kurt said while finding his balance in the darkness.

“Please,” Ashley insisted, “I’ll roll another once the fire is started.” She walked to the closest tree and leaned against it and started to flick her lighter again for some light.

“Alright, I am going to see if there is a clearing passed these trees.” Thomas brushed against Ashley only to pass her to move into the woods.

“Hey, easy there cowboy,” she said as she shoved herself off the tree trunk.

“Relax, it’s only me.” Thomas said. Darren flicked his lighter to his face and as the small flame formed, he moved it toward Ashley.

“Nah,” he said, “these woods are alive.” he let out an evil laugh that had Kurt kick the dirt around his feet in an attempt to shake the fear off.

“Shut up man, you’re freakin’ me out. . . no damn flashlight, how are we gonna find fire wood without a flashlight?” Kurt said.

“That’s a good point Thomas.” Darren said as he moved the lighter to his face.

“I have an idea,” Thomas reached down to the ground. They watched him as best as they could in the dark, then Darren followed him to the ground crouching with the lighter still on in his hand.

“I’m trying to find a stick.” He said to Darren and the others.

“Ahh, a torch! Nice,” Kurt said. He moved closer to Darren and the lighter.

“Two’s better than one,” Ashley said as she moved toward the ground while flicking her lighter, until she truck the flint to catch the gas.

“How about that one,” Kurt said as he pointed to the first stick he saw.

“Nah, it’s too thin,” Thomas said, “I need something that I can wrap my shirt around.”

Darren stood back up and looked off into the darkness. “I guess it’s worthless to say that we should have brought our phones, huh?” he said.

Thomas stood back up and faced Darren. “Well this whole trip lost its worth when those two brought weed,” he pointed to Kurt and Ashley, “and you smoking it, come on man!” Thomas said with his teeth grinding in between breaths.

“Wait,” Kurt stood up, “what are you guys talking about,” he said scratching his head.

“Yeah,” Ashley chimed in still searching for a stick with her lighter, “I thought we were going natural with this trip; no technology, just good times.”

“I also said no drugs, and you brought drugs.” Thomas said, still searching for a sturdy stick.

“Hey, weed’s not a drug man,” Kurt said, throwing his long blond hair back and out of his face.

“He’s got a point,” Darren said.

Thomas shook his head and paused to wipe the fatigue from his eyes. Then, a ding noise came from his pocket.

Darren’s lighter went out, but his eyes still fell upon Thomas. “But you brought your phone, uh?” he said.

Thomas kept looking at the moon with his mind on that time and off of the throw up on his leg and shoe. He reached into his back pocket and drew his wallet to find that he had just enough cash for a trip down to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes. The cement steps felt harder than usual as he joggled down each one with his soles clapping against them, and upon hitting the sidewalk, his arm swung out with the rest of his momentum where the clapping form his soles hitting the cement turned into short thumps.

Series I – Stand Off: Chapter 4 – Pulling Thorns

Tom reached for the keys near Kristen’s collapsed legs. They were sprawled out in a neat row with each one overlapping a portion of the other, like a revealed hand of cards. The key-chain was at the other end of the key-ring; as if it was trying to escape the bind it had with the keys. All were sharing this ring like a disproportional solar system, where all the planets were the keys, and the key-chain was the sun. And all seemed to be striving to hide from this sun. When he grabbed them, they all collapsed into his hand.

Tom rose with his other hand extended toward Kristen and offered it to help her up as soon as he arrived at his feet. She ignored it and instead reached for the doorknob.

“Here,” she brought her hand that wasn’t on the doorknob toward the keys in his, “you don’t know which key it is.”

“You’re right, I don’t,” he said.

Her eyes were transfixed to the welcome mat as she gently moved to grab the keys. There was a pause before Thomas dropped them into her opened hand and another pause after they fell into her palm. She slowly turned away from him and toward the front door’s keyhole with little movement from anything else besides her waist and feet. Her movement did not gradually mature either as she shifted through the keys. Thomas watched her and noticed that she was just flipping them over each other with no attention to which one she was looking for, so he made an effort to interfere.

“Here let me,” he said.

Thomas extended his hand to grab them, but she found the front door key when he began to move his arm in her direction. His arm didn’t stop but followed hers as she brought the key to the door; however, it did stop when she slid it right into the door’s lock. The noise it made, the clunk as the dead bolt disengaged from the strike plate right after she twisted the key had brought his arm back to his side. When she stepped through the threshold along with the door in her wake, her heel struck the wooden floor with a clack, which caused him to remain silent. Her heels continued to clack against the floor as loud as the first as she walked further into the living room – the room where she left the front door agape for him to enter – and toward the kitchen. They hit the wooden floor with intervals that were consistently apart and he followed them into the house.

“Shut the door,” she said as she threw her purse on the couch continuing into the kitchen.

Thomas didn’t say anything as he was doing so with a steady motion, following the door until it met the threshold and his palm on the door’s edge met the inside rosewood frame. When he turned around to face the kitchen, he saw that the fridge was open.

“This is a nice place,” he said trying to refrain from looking at the hanging pictures on the walls.

Thomas’ attention away from the walls was sustained by focusing on Kristen. She didn’t answer as she was skimming the refrigerator door’s contents while leaning back on one foot and supporting her head by the chin with her hand. He couldn’t see but deduced that her arm was resting on the other as it may have been tucked into her abdomen for her to appear in the way that he saw her, behind the fridge door. He walked past the couch that was across from the television on an oak washed cabinet and continued into the dining room with a table set for four.

“So, your mother still makes pottery in her spare time?”

“What?” Kristen didn’t look up.

“These plates and bowls.” Thomas moved his hand over the dining table as if a wand was in his hand, swirling it around.

“Yeah,” she said. She paused a moment as if something in the fridge caught her attention, “she sent me a set last Hanukah,” she continued.

“It looks nice,” he brought his hand down and stared at the set for another moment, watching the dust particles float and fall onto each piece – one settling next to the other before it.

“Do you want anything to drink?” She asked.

“I am OK, thanks though.” Thomas took his jacket off and draped it over one of the dining room chairs while still staring at the table’s display.

The sound of her heels against the kitchen tile stole his attention from the pottery and onto the opened refrigerator door. Kristen had a bottle of wine and was walking to place it onto the small rounded kitchen table across the fridge. It was pressed up against the only window that overlooked the backyard.

As she walked toward the table, Thomas walked toward the opened door of the refrigerator. It rested against the kitchen’s wall that was shared as the dining room’s wall from the other side and it only took him a few extra steps before he was right above the door. His approaching the door caused her to turn around after placing the bottle on the table. He was about to shut it.

“Hold on,” she said.

The sound of her heels clacking against the tile intensified as she walked to the door until they abruptly stopped when she grabbed a store-branded water bottle from one of the shelves. She ferociously untwisted its cap and brought the opened nozzle to her lips followed by a satisfying noise as she drank. Right after the first gulp, she waved her free hand laterally, indicating to Thomas to shut the door. Her eyes widened after a few passes of her hand and it only took a few more for him to understand what she meant by the gesture. He raised an eyebrow and with a smile, gently pushed the door with his index finger and as the door met the frame of the fridge, rattles from every glass bottle and jar in the shelves of the door synchronized to one shaping sound. The simultaneous rattling ceased almost instantaneously when the sound of her throat gulping the water down ended, when she finished the bottle.

She crushed the plastic-bottle after drawing it away from her mouth and tossed it into the recycling bin next to the back door. The sound of the empty trash bag’s sides grazing it as it made its way to bottom of the bin echoed after it landed.

“Hey, uh . . . Kristen,” Thomas moved toward her as she grabbed a wine glass from the cupboard.

“Tom, I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.

“Then why am I here?” Thomas snapped, but with little effort to sound frustrated.

“I just don’t want to be alone,” she moved the glass from the cupboard above to the counter below. Thomas moved to lean on the fridge door, putting his hands into his pockets.

“What about George, where is he?” he asked.

Kristen placed both of her hands on the edge of the counter shoulder-width apart and leaned forward until she was just above the empty wine glass.

“He’s,” she let out a faint sigh, “he’s at his parents for the weekend.”

“Does he know what happened to you, about the . . .”

“No,” she interrupted.

“When did it happen?” Thomas pushed himself off of the fridge with his hands still in his pockets, “did you tell him?!”

Kristen turned her head toward him while still leaning over the empty glass.

“Hey Tom,” her voice started to pitch, “you’re not the police, or my mother you know – OK – I just need someone here. That’s all.” Thomas peered down to the floor.

“Please,” she said as she turned her head toward him, “no more questions.” Her eyes pierced into his as he brought his head back up to look at her.

“Listen,” he said, “I don’t mean to pry, but uh . . .”

“What Thomas,” She snapped.

“I, I want to do something about it,” he said as his frustration subsided into a grave concern.

“There’s nothing that can be done!”

She snatched the glass off of the counter and stormed toward the wine bottle she placed on the table across the kitchen. Her heels crashed against the tile that created a jarring noise in Thomas’ eardrums. The noise coerced him to follow her with one of his hands out of the pocket and in her direction. She grabbed the bottle to lift it and pour its contents into the glass.

“Who was he Kristen, can you at least tell me who?”

“UGH!” Kristen poured the wine to the brim of the glass, “even if I tell you – what happened, who it was – what are you going to do about it?!” She raised the glass to her mouth without spilling its contents and catapulted half of it down her esophagus. Thomas watched her swig until she lowered the glass to her hip and leaned against the lip of the table. She held the glass with  poised elegance as she locked her eyes with his while she continued to speak.

“What will it prove to you anyway? – That I am still that fucking whore you wanted to marry so many years ago?!” Her face didn’t express any vile disdain; she just shrugged her left shoulder up toward her head accompanied with a spontaneous frown.

Thomas’ hand fell against his thigh and his posture sagged a bit toward her along with his jaw slightly dropping.

“I never called you that – ever.”

Her eyes fell to the floor and it seemed to Thomas that she was about to cry. Her face held a gloom and it grew darker and darker as her head began to follow the path of her eyes down to the floor. Under the pale illumination of the kitchen’s light and with the rotation of its blades, Thomas took it upon himself to embrace her, but just before he was about to engage, she directed her head up toward him. She wasn’t crying.

“Well, I am not telling George,” she swigged the last of the wine that was in her glass and then firmly placed that glass next to the bottle without turning around.

A silence followed her remark until it was broken by a sound of a ping from the clock on the stove. It was midnight. Kristen looked at the time while Thomas kept his eyes on her with a tendered gaze.

“Why are you cheating Kristen?” he asked.

Kristen whipped her head back at him and glared.

“Get the fuck out,” she yelled, “just get out.”

She brought her hand toward his face, but didn’t touch him and he didn’t wince. He just kept that gaze upon her and listened.

“If you are going to keep asking questions about it – I am not going to answer I – I just want to forget!” Her glare started to rattle and her teeth started to clench, “UGH, I should have never called you!” Her suspended hand clenched as well, into a fist and she brought that fist down swiftly through the air. She turned and slammed her hands on the lip of the table and peered up at her reflection in the window. His reflection was right behind hers.

“Hey,” Thomas moved a bit closer, “hey I’ll stop, OK?” He said.

Her eyes met his in the reflection of the window.

“How about I just go for a walk and when I come back,” he shrugged his shoulders, “I’ll just stay down here and you can go upstairs and sleep or something.”

She tilted her head down toward the windowsill for a minute seemingly in catatonia.

“What about your pants,” she said. When she looked back up, Thomas was opening the front door.