Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Jinx: (The Room - Chapter 2)

By: Roger A Wilbanks

“Dude! She doesn’t come to another game. That’s five in a row!”

Arthur threw his helmet against the wall and stomped his way over everyone’s gear bags to his seat in the room. He began ripping his pads off as if he were pulling leeches off of someone he greatly disliked.

“I’m sorry if I’m being a dick here but FUCK! Every game you’ve brought her to we got stomped. I ain’t saying it’s her fault…”

“Good!” Reggie shot back. “You better not go there! My girlfriend isn’t a Jinx!”

“…I ain’t saying it’s Her fault cause YOU’RE the one that brought her to the game in the first place!”

“That’s out of line Arthur.” Glenn said.

Glenn was the Captain of the Hawks and the people in this room paid attention to him when he spoke.

“Shelly ain’t the one that couldn’t catch a pass tonight. Shelly didn’t miss three empty nets. And Shelly didn’t fall on her ass at center ice and give up a 3 on 0 rush. Lay off the girl and focus on getting your game back on track.”

“I wasn’t having those problems until SHE started coming to the games, Glenn, and you know it! I went from 2 solid points per game to a frikkin pylon-shaped douche bag when her face started popping up in the stands and so did a lot of other people here.” Arthur looked around the room for agreement and was met with quiet noncommittal silence.

“You’ve always been a douche bag, Arthur.” Reggie said. “You can’t blame My girlfriend for Our losing streak. That’s insane!”

“Look Reg, I know you are a solid goaltender. Hell, you kept us in that asskicking contest right up till the end tonite. Your game hasn’t dropped off at all since she started coming to watch us but everyone else’s in here has.” Arthur pleaded.

This time, no one spoke up to defend Shelly and this statement was greeted with the same noncommittal silence as before. Reggie looked to Glenn who simply shrugged and began untying his skates. The silence overpowered Reggie and the Big Picture came into focus for him.

“Ok. She won’t be at the next game. I’m not gonna blame her though. She’s not wearing a sweater for Fuck’s sake, you guys are.” Reggie sat down at his place on the bench and pulled off his chest protector. “I will make sure she is not here all the same. Any of you call her a Jinx again though and I’ll break my stick across your fucking teeth.”

He started violently undoing the straps holding his goalie pads on and added, “You better win or I’m kicking EVERYONE’S ass after!”

“That’s it. Discussion over. Billy, pass out the game beers.” Glenn said. “Nothing leaves this room boys. Shelly gets one sniff of this conversation or what was said here and after Reggie pounds you, you’ll have to deal with me.”

This was unnecessary. Every man in this room knew the sacred bond that protected free speech within its walls. Everyone was able to say anything he wanted in here no matter the subject or details and it would never be spoken again on the outside without his expressed consent. This bond was the glue that held 14 men of varying social degree together into a cohesive unit and it was unbreakable. The repercussions were too severe for any of them to even contemplate. Doctors, lawyers and bricklayers alike all nodded in agreement. The King had spoken and in this room at least, his decision was final.

The Hawks were an adult men’s hockey team playing in what they called a beer league. Each of the men paid hundreds of dollars each season to play ice hockey one night per week. To the outsiders who giggled about their obsession, this was a glorified fantasy league where grown men lived out their daydreams of NHL stardom, but to the men on the ice it was something far greater. These men lived for their sport. Ice hockey and the weekly game gave them a purpose in life. It gave them a reason for living. The bonds these men formed with their teammates transcended those they had with their family or coworkers.

It was as close to war as any of them would ever see, but each of them would tell you that they understood the misery felt by a squad covering themselves in a foxhole while enemy artillery pounded their position.

That happened three games ago in the 12-0 loss to the Vikings.

They all felt the elation of victory pulled from the jaws of defeat.

The last game before the losing streak ended with them scoring 3 unanswered goals in the final 5 minutes of regulation to force overtime and an eventual shootout win.

These men walked into battle every Tuesday night and it didn’t matter that no one died or that there was no end to the conflict. To them the battle was everything. They were gladiators with hockey sticks and ice skates instead of swords and shields. The Hawks were especially motivated by the fact they had won four consecutive league championships, never losing more than 5 games in a single 40 game season.

The current 5 game losing streak ate at their very cores.

Hockey players are superstitious people by their very nature, more so than any other athlete with the exception of the relief pitcher in baseball or the field goal kicker in football. Basketball players may have favorite shoes, but hockey players have lucky underwear and in some occasions, will only wash same articles of clothing when their luck takes a turn for the worse.

They tend to be quite obsessive about their individual game, often going to extremes of dedicated ritual to insure their peak performance in that night’s game. They react, often violently, to anything that disrupts their rhythm. They recognize dangers immediately and will not hesitate to take any action necessary to return their game back to its original state. Reggie’s new girlfriend Shelly started coming to watch him play over a month ago. She has watched a total of 5 games from the comfort of the stands and the results have all been the same. Dismal. The Hawks usual dominance was replaced by mediocrity as they went out of their way to find new ways to lose. Even the 7-2 lead they carried into the final period of tonight’s game wasn’t enough to stem the tide of darkness surrounding them. As the losses piled on, the guys had been searching for a reason why they were suddenly incapable of passing, shooting and skating with their normal skill level. They all agreed a dark cloud had settled over their bench and tonight, a face was put on the dark cloud, a face and a name.


Now this solemn group of men gathered in the eerie quiet of a usually boisterous locker room demanded her blood. Reggie was outnumbered and outvoted. He would have to ban Shelly from the game. Everyone in this room knew what that meant but it didn’t matter.

Reggie would take one for the team.

If his relationship survived this, it was meant to be. If Shelly understood, she was a gift from Heaven and worthy of praise as a true hockey girlfriend. As soon as a new win streak was started, she would be welcomed back. The odds of her starting another losing streak pretty much precluded a return however. Since this was Reggie’s team as much as it was any man’s, that spelled bad news for Shelly.

This was the commitment each man gave as his price of admission into this locker room. Every man in here was prepared to pay whatever price that was demanded of him for the good of the team. They even called it the Soul Tax in recognition of what it demanded. That attitude was a necessary ingredient for the success the Hawks had enjoyed lately and now it was Reggie’s turn to pay the tax for the team.

Anytime outsiders caught a glimpse of this side of hockey players, they tended to label the entire group as insane. “You don’t know the half of it, pal.” Was the unvoiced response that accompanied the shrug and chuckle.

“You want help?” Glenn asked.

It was a pointless offer of solidarity. Everyone knew Reggie had to handle this solo but that didn’t mean the boys weren’t behind him in spirit.

“No thanks. I got this. It ain’t going to be pretty though. I’ll catch up with you guys at the Goose later. I don’t want this to be a public show.”

The Goose was the bar and grill most of the players in the league visited after their games. The beer was cold and the food was hot. Its closeness to the rink meant that while the players all went home in different directions, they could all drive a mile together for a burger and a beer.

“I understand man and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“No need, but I do appreciate it. I just hope she takes it well. You all remember that story about the Moose Knuckle forward who banned his girlfriend from their games a while back? She cut up all four of his tires at their next game and smashed the window in every car in the lot that night.”

“You think Shelly’s got that in her?”

“Nah. She’ll cry a lot but no property damage. I hope.”

“Either way, good luck. She’s a sweet girl, but this is just the way it has to be.”


Reggie walked alone to the shower to plan his attack. No one joined him. His solitude now would be respected. When he returned and packed his gear, he walked out of the room without a word. None was needed. This was a dead man walking. The Hockey Gods demanded human sacrifice and Shelly was on the altar. Every man in the room knew this was the price they themselves might be called upon to pay some day.

Shelly was outside the rink when Reggie caught up with her. She was smoking a cigarette, something she only did when she was nervous. He kissed her on her cheek and walked to his Jeep to pack his gear for the drive home. When he returned, she was done with the cigarette. She looked at him expectantly, aware that by the look of defeat in his eyes something wasn’t right.

“The other girlfriends and wives won’t talk to me anymore.” She began. “They think I am to blame for you guys losing!”

“Yeah…about that..” Reggie started.

“Oh GOD! You think that too! I don’t believe this! Are all of you people Completely Insane? You treat this game like it’ it’s some kind of holy mission, like it’s life or death, when it’s just-a-fucking-game! I thought you were different, Reg. I thought you had a head on your shoulders that wasn't filled with pudding.”

“I don’t blame you Shelly. I know why we’ve been losing and none of it is your fault. You don’t score goals, you don’t play defense and you don’t let in goals from the red line. We do. But if these guys get it into their heads that something needs to change, nothing and no one’s going to stop them. You are right about that, though. When it comes to the game we are all insane. That’s the price we all pay to do what we do. We have all stared into the abyss for so long that we have become it.”

“So what now? Did your teammates send you outside to break up with me? Are you going to toss me over a cliff like some Vestal Virgin?”

“No. I’m not going to break up with you over hockey, are YOU insane? I just have to ask you to not come to the game next week. Hockey doesn’t control my entire life, just the 2 hours a week I spend here. That’s the only part these guys have any say over.”

“Sounds to me like you need to grow a pair, Reg. You mean to tell me that just because your team can’t skate well you are willing to put me on the chopping block? I’m not the reason you can’t win, THEY are! Yet I don’t see you telling them to play better. I don’t see you joining a new team that CAN win with me in the stands. If you go along with this you are as much to blame as they are. If you ban me from the game you might as well break up with me because if you don’t I’m going to dump your gutless ass right here and right now.”

“Come on now Shelly, be reasonable here. I’m not blaming you for anything. I know none of this is your fault. If anyone here is to blame it’s me for dragging you out to these games in the first place. I knew the risks involved when I did that but I invited you out anyway. It’s eaten me up every day since then that we haven’t won because deep down, I knew the guys would have this reaction. But the fact is they asked me to ask you to stay away, knowing full well what that meant and what your reaction would be.”

“So you’re going to be a good little boy and do just like you are told then?”

“Now that isn’t fair. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here and trying to do this as painlessly as possible.”

“No. You’re feeding me a load of horseshit and hoping I sprout flowers on top of my head. Look Reg, I’ll make this easy on you. I’ll leave now and never come back to this rink again. No matter what. I’ll even do you one better. I’ll lose your number. I suggest you do the same with mine. Don’t come calling me when you finally do win.”

Shelly turned to walk away and stopped to turn back.

“If you ever win again, that is.”

“Ooooooh man that was harsh!” Arthur said as he filled Reggie’s glass from the fresh pitcher. “She went there?”

“Yeah, well…what are you gonna do?” Reggie replied.

Shelly wasn’t the first casualty in the battle for the League Championship and she certainly would not be the last.

“Think she’s gone for good?” Glenn asked as he passed the Chips and Salsa Reggie’s way.

“Prolly. Nobody likes to be called a Jinx. She took it pretty bad.”

The table remained silent with the exception of minimal chitchat. In tone, it resembled a wake but in reality it was a display of solidarity for the sacrifice made by one of their own. Each man would fall on that sword in a similar manner for the betterment of the team and each of them knew this. This was democracy at its purest form. The majority had spoken and Reggie had followed the will of the group even though it cost him something dear. That didn’t make it any easier for him to accept the loss, but it did make it bearable.

“Alls I’m saying is we better not lose another frikkin game all season. Because if we do…”

That thought was left unspoken but every man knew that it was up to him to step up his individual game to insure that Reggie’s sacrifice was not in vain. He had just paid the Soul Tax for his teammates, and nothing short of their complete effort would be acceptable payment for that debt.
At this thought, every man at the table raised his glass unbidden and said, “To Shelly.”

Glenn added, “To Reggie.”

“To that goddamn trophy.” Reggie said.

“To that goddamn trophy.” Every man at the table replied.

The Birds: (The Room - Chapter 1)

The Birds

By: Roger A Wilbanks

“He won’t come out.”

“Why the hell not?” Glenn banged on the locked bathroom door.

BANG BANG BANG “Reggie! Get your ass out here and get dressed! It’s the first game of the frikkin season and it starts in ten minutes!”

Larry put his hand on his Captain’s shoulder. “He saw birds today.”

“Oh Holy Fuck! Birds? You’re kidding me! REGGIE! Get out here NOW!”

“He ain’t budging.” Larry said as he walked back to his spot on the dressing bench.

Glenn assessed the moment and refocused his plan of attack.

“How many birds, Reg?” he asked.

“Three.” was the bathroom door’s answer.

“Oh shit. That’s bad.” He said.

Every player in the Hawk’s locker room knew two very important things. The first was that ice hockey goalies are both highly superstitious and certifiably insane. The second was that Reggie, their goalie was abnormally afraid of birds. He had actually struck a bird with his CJ-5 while driving to a game many years ago. He not only lost that game by a larger than normal margin, but suffered a severe injury as well. Since that moment he was convinced that the sight of birds (especially dead ones) on a game day was an omen of the darkest portent. This thought so invaded his rational thought process that now, after the sight of three dead pigeons under the I-635 overpass, he now found himself barricaded in a stinky dressing room toilet, refusing to budge.

“We’re playing the Ice Brigade tonight, Reg. You hate those guys, remember?”

Silence spurred Glenn to try again. “Come on out man. Things will be different this time. I promise.”

“Not gonna happen, skipper. I step out on that ice tonight and I’m a dead man. One of them was fuckin LOOKING at me!”

“Look Reggie. We’ve done this for seven years now. We have won the last 4 championships in this stupid league. You saw birds then too, remember? Do you think any of the guys in here are going to let anything happen to you now?”

More silence.

“Want me to call Mort?” Larry asked. Mort was Larry’s twin brother and also a goalie. He and Reggie never saw eye to eye on anything, but he was handy if Reggie couldn’t play. Even if he wasn’t as talented as the goalie who was now locked in a bathroom stall, refusing to budge. He wasn’t called to play often, however. Reggie always played. Mort wasn’t as good a goalie as Reggie, but when you are dying of hunger, a Whopper’s just as tasty as Filet Mignon.

“Nah. He’ll come out. He’s a gamer. Right Reggie?” The only answer was the echo from the concrete walls. “Besides. I heard the Brigade’s bringing back Conner this season.” There was a slight rustle in the bathroom stall but the door remained locked.

“Conner? Holy Crap! Didn’t that guy score three goals against Reggie in that 18-skater shootout a few years back? They really could have used him last season. He was in jail, right? What was he in for anyway?”

“Assault, I think. Or a DUI. Not really sure, but he’s here tonight.” Attrition was the primary enemy of any beer league hockey team. These teams are a collection of like-minded men who’s love for hockey spurs them to spend thousands of dollars a year to compete against other like-minded men. Needless to say, not every team is able to maintain a consistent roster from one year to the next. New faces appear on each team, or in Conner’s case, re-appear. In the six games Conner faced Reggie over a two-year span, he scored 22 goals. Each goal was unassisted. To put it in the plainest of terms, Conner owned Reggie.

“FUCK! See what I mean? Fucking birds! Why do they always have to drop dead right in FRONT of me?”

“Reg, it’s not the bird’s fault that Conner’s back. He got paroled. This isn’t a bad thing though.” Every eye in the locker room now focused on Glenn to see how he would spin this development. Even the ones hidden behind a locked door.

“Think about it, man. He’s been in jail for a year. He’s bound to be rusty. This could be your chance to get even with him for all those goals!”

“Three birds, Skip! Not one. Not even two. THREE! Bam! Dead bird. Bam! Another dead bird. And just a foot farther, BAM! Another Freakin Dead Bird! Only thing different was THAT was the one that was looking at me! I could see it in its eyes man. It was warning me not to play. It was telling me it’s my time!”

“Bullshit.” The Captain answered.

“Excuse me?” Reggie said.

“I said Bullshit, Reggie. You’re not afraid of a fucking bird.”

“I never said I was afraid of the birds, Skip. I’m afraid of all the bad shit that happens to me when I see them.”

“Reggie, I’ve never seen you back down from a fight. I’ve never known you to get rattled.” The faces in the locker room were unconvinced. The voice behind the bathroom door was sounding pretty rattled right now. “Even that game where he scored 6 goals against you, you were STILL mad. You kept telling us to let him through.”

“And he kept scoring…”

“But you never blinked, man.

“Great. So in addition to being a sieve, I’m a glutton for punishment.”

“No, man. You’re missing the point. You’re a fighter. Do you honestly expect us to believe you’re going to go Chicken Shit on us just cause you saw a few dead birds?”

Heads began nodding in the room. The players liked this line of attack and motioned Glenn to push his advantage home.

“I’m not a…I’m a…Ah Fuck it Skip! I know I’m going to get hurt tonight. I FEEL it. Soon as that bird looked at me all I could see was an ambulance.”

“But the bird didn’t look at you, Reg. You looked at IT.”

Silent ‘golf claps’ made their way around the room. Everyone could tell that this was the speech that would save their goalie.

“Don’t you see the difference here? You didn’t run into those birds by accident. It was Destiny.”

Eyes rolled as the room felt their Captain was sawing on the wrong side of the branch that he stood on.

“How do you figure that, Skip?”

“When you see Conner, do you get scared?”

”Hell no. You know better.”

“Right, but does Conner see you? Or is he always looking just past you?”

“You mean into the net? Following the puck he just shot there?”

“You’re not helping, Arthur. You are the one doing the looking here, Reggie. That bird wasn’t looking at you. You were looking at IT. Just like when you look Conner in his eyes when he’s coming in on a breakaway against you. Do you blink then?”

“Not exactly…”

“That’s my point.” Arthur pointed to an imaginary watch. Glenn nodded. “You looked that bird down just like it was a breakaway. You don’t stick your head in the ice when Conner’s skating towards you. You’re not going to do it when a bird looks at you either.”

The unnecessary sound of a flushing toilet announced the end of the argument. After a brief rustle of noise, the lock clicked open and the door swung free. Reggie was back.

“If I get hurt, I’m gonna kick your ass, Skip.”

“I’ll guard you like you were my own baby, Reg.”



By: Roger A Wilbanks

I have been down here for two days. I think it has been two days, that is. Hard to tell time on a watch you can’t see anymore. It’s dark down here and cold. I shouldn’t be alive and I doubt anyone will find me before I die.

My legs are trapped under a large chunk of floor. They are crushed and I’m pretty sure I am going to lose them both. The pain is just a constant companion. The pain and the dark. I remember hearing stories of people who had survived long periods of time in the wilderness without food or water after suffering serious injuries, but how many of them were claustrophobic? How many were actually trapped in their own coffin, buried under eight stories of 1920’s art deco office?

My legs hurt bad and I don’t care about anything else. That is a good sign, I think, the pain. I hear the occasional bang and clatter overhead telling me that they are looking for us. There are others here. I can hear two girls crying, one above me and one to my right. One of the girls stopped crying a few hours ago. I think she’s gone now. There is a guy below me, trapped in a pocket like mine, only big enough for him to move around. I am sure it is a guy based on the movement he’s making and the fact he’s not crying. He’s making a lot of noise moving around. I think he’s trying to dig himself out. I hope to GOD he doesn’t shift anything that makes my pocket collapse. I would warn him but I have lost my voice. Damn my luck to get buried with a sinus infection. That’s the good thing about my legs hurting so bad. It takes away from the pain from my sinus infection.

I would bang on the debris if I could move my hands but they are pinned. I lost feeling in my right arm and have to shift my weight every hour or so to get a tingle back in my left one. The backlight on my watch wore out about an hour ago. Shifting my left arm a bit I could get it to turn on, but that’s gone now. I am in the dark. I am timeless. Were it not for the sound my neighbors are making, time would be standing perfectly still.

There was a shift in the ground just now. Is that asshole under me moving something or was that the searchers? Does that mean I am going to be saved? GOD I want to live! I have so much to live for God. Carol and I just got serious. She just got me a dog for crying out loud. Jesus, she must be beside herself now. Help her through this, God, please. Keep her safe until I get out of here and come back to her.

I think I am getting out of here. That is a good sign. That is assuming that Dumbshit under me stops moving things about. If you could hear me I would scream at you, pal. You need to stop or you will end up with a few tons of me on top of you. I am sure you don’t want that.

Vibrations. Jackhammer or saw? That’s definitely above me… I know it! Dumbshit under me hears it too! He’s moving about more. STOP you moron! For the love of God keep still! Make some noise, bang on metal but don’t pull out the legs from under my table! The other crying girl is quiet now. I have no idea what happened to her. Wait! That crash! It came from her direction. Holy Jesus, that scream!

She…she’s gone. I know it. I only wonder if dumbshit’s moving about caused it or if the guys above us did.

They heard her! They’re moving their work away. They’re leaving me! Come on Dumbshit, make some noise! Banging. Good. Make it loud man and I’ll buy you dinner when we get out of here. Steak and chophouse, my treat. Just keep up the action and we’ll both get out of this alive. I can hear them getting closer. Come on man! Make the difference in both our lives. You will be a hero.

That sound, down below us. It sounds like creaking, groaning, twisting metal. It is coming from Dumbshit’s hole. He’s screaming now, but not in pain. That’s fear. He’s losing it. His hole is closing in on him. Hold on man…they’ll get us out of here. He has to keep up the noise though, that’s how they’ll find us.

More creaking. Their machinery must be too heavy for the pile. They’re leaving!


Come back guys. I would rather you crushed me trying to save me than just leave me here to die in the dark. Silence now. They know I am here, they HAVE to. Dumbshit’s banging got their attention, I know it. Now it is time to wait. Let them get the crane onto the top of this pile and start peeling it away like an onion layer. You’ll get to me if you do that boys, but you might want to hurry. I’m in pain.

I’m actually crying now. The tears have a bitter, salty taste but they won’t last long. I’m too dehydrated to maintain them. My legs won’t stop throbbing and I’m sure I will lose this arm.

God it is dark.

I hurt.

Must have dozed off there. No idea how long I was out. Wait…what is that? Light? A tiny speck of light right above me. They have started digging again with a vengeance. They must know I’m here. That’s what woke me up. Dumbshit under me is silent now. That’s useless to me, but for all I know, he’s dead now. I’m not. At least I don’t think I am. Could that ray of light I see be the afterlife? No way. I’m alive, I know it. I have to be. The beam above me moved just then. I can’t see it, but the dust just landed on my face. It’s caking the tears to my face. OW! Something just hit my head. I’m bleeding. I can feel the warmth trickle down my neck. No idea how bad it is…just let them patch me up when they dig me out of here. I’m coming home Carol, I believe that now. These guys are right on top of me and they are making progress. It’s only a matter of time before they get to me. Just have to wait a bit longer now. I can tell the debris on top of me is shifting. It’s moving. They’re getting closer every second. Any minute now one of these guys will peek down here and see me looking up at him. I’m going to try real hard to smile at him, I really will. It’s been three, maybe four days down here I think. That’s nothing. A Labor Day Holiday to the Gulf.

The Light!

It’s Blinding!

I can’t see now, it’s too bright. Am I dead?

(Salvage workers pulled Perry Harding from the collapsed rubble of the Wainwright Building in downtown San Francisco. He was given up for dead and spent eight days trapped beneath a mountain of twisted steel and broken concrete. The workers assumed he was a corpse until they noticed him smiling up at them. He was carefully removed from the building and taken to the nearest hospital. His legs were crushed beyond repair and amputated. His right arm suffered severe nerve damage and was permanently disabled. After three months of treatment and rehabilitation, he was released from the hospital and married Carol Deevers who never gave up on him. She had maintained a constant vigil at the collapse with the couple’s dog Zero and refused to believe him dead. Perry says hello and hopes you are well. )

Today is the First Day…

By Roger A Wilbanks

There was definitely something different about Brian Krewsloge when he walked into work today. The receptionist Janice picked up on it immediately. Brian spoke to her.

He never did that.

Most of the time the only acknowledgement she received was an indiscriminate hello. Any more than that usually required some sort of national holiday. It wasn’t that he was rude, he simply kept to himself. But today, he asked her how her day was going. He asked about her little boy and how his hockey team was doing. The conversation was kind and not forced in a way that was just counter to the way he usually did things. This was not the strange part however.

He smiled, too.

Brian had developed a reputation as a hard-ass. While he wasn’t necessarily mean spirited, he took the hard projects and got them to work. He ruffled a few feathers in the process because, while he was cordial to all whom he dealt, he was never nice. His was not a reputation for mincing words or accepting excuses.

Today he stopped seven people in the hallway and struck up conversations with them. This was all before lunchtime. Timmy in accounting put forth the idea that Brian finally got laid, as everyone in the office knew he had been single since his divorce 5 years ago. This theory was discredited when Brian’s mood remained the same three weeks after what had already been nicknamed the “Nice Day” day.

Brian just changed personalities for the better and no one could figure out why. He made the coffee everyday even though he never drank it. He helped coworkers move large file folders when he passed them in the hall. He even stayed late and helped Kenny the custodian empty the trashcans. He talked to him for an hour and soon learned that Kenny’s grandson was the star player on an inner city high school basketball team that made the playoffs for the first time in 20 seasons. On learning this, the following day he started a collection to help send Kenny and his family to the State Championship in Houston as well as organized a group from the office to go to the game as well. He cheered the loudest when Kenny’s grandson scored the winning basket in overtime.

Yes, there was definitely a change in Brian and everyone noticed it. He and Janice started dating and soon a different colored bouquet of roses began appearing daily on her desk for no reason. Mr Jennings noticed the extra effort around the office and Brian finally earned the promotion he had grumbled so long about being overlooked for.

People complained that the New Brian was simply a ruse designed to obtain that promotion and that soon you would begin to se the Old Brian begin to emerge. They were wrong. Brian attacked his new role in the company with the same fervor he did all things these days and soon the company began seeing records that stood for generations fall one by one. Sales, Production, Organization. Each department that was touched by Brian saw a rebirth and was filled with a new sense of purpose and energy.

Brian was everywhere.

He managed to do all this and still maintain his budding romance with Janice. He attended every one of her son’s hockey games and even got tossed from one when her son got clobbered and Brian had to be restrained from attacking the opposing team’s coach. It was no secret that Janice was QUITE pleased with the New Brian in the bedroom. Janice would tell anyone that asked that Brian attacked that aspect of his life with equal if not greater enthusiasm.

All in all, three months of exposure to the New Brian had a magical effect on those around him. People were helpful at work. They hung out together after work and went to each other’s houses to watch the Big Games. Morale was at an all time high when Brian did another thing he never did before.

He took a vacation.

He had taken time off work during the 12 years he had been with the company, but he always stayed home. He never went anywhere fun. This time that was going to change as Brian announced that he was taking 2 weeks off to see Europe. Janice was unable to go so she stayed home and provided everyone in the office with updates from the daily postcards Brian sent from the places he visited. He saw all the sites he always wanted to see and even took requests from his coworkers.

It soon became everyone’s vacation.

The postcards arrived every morning save one detailing his travels and everyone gathered around Janice’s desk as soon as the mail arrived to hear what he saw that day. When his 2 weeks were almost up, he extended his trip by another week so that he could visit Asia. No one objected. The postcards from China, Tibet and Japan amazed all who saw them. Janice had bought a large world map and began tacking the postcards to the countries they were sent from so that everyone could track Brian’s journey. When he finally returned he was thinner and a little more tired than he was when he left, but the spark was still there in his eyes. He told Janice that while the sites he saw were amazing beyond words, the food and travel conditions left a lot to be desired. Brian soon returned to work and regaled any who would listen with stories from his trip that wouldn’t fit on the postcards.

It really came as no surprise when less than a month later, he took another leave of absence from the company. He had decided to write a novel. He was a huge fan of detective stories and decided to try his hand at crafting one. Janice was sure he would be good at it since he was such a talented writer and had a sharp wit. Brian locked himself in his house for several weeks, checking in periodically with Janice with updates. She was concerned that he was neglecting his health and had still not regained the weight he had lost on his trip. In fact, as time progressed, he was actually thinner now than when he got back. Brian insisted he was doing all he could do to maintain his health and that was the end of it.

Six weeks and 450 pages later, Brian emerged from his study with a riveting tale of deception and discovery that amazed all who read it. He made everyone a bound copy of his novel, which he titled “Gather ye rosebuds” and sent it to a literary friend of his in New York who had connections. Two weeks later, Brian received a letter at work from this friend informing him that his novel had been bought by the third publisher he shopped it to for quite a large sum of money. Brian took this news in stride and catered a large Italian meal for the entire office to celebrate. The question was put to Brian at this party,

“Will you continue working or, now that you are a writer, devote yourself full-time to that?” Brian became quiet for the first time in months. An answer was not readily available.

“I’ll have to get back to you on that one,” he smiled.

Three days later Brian Krewsloge died in his sleep.

Janice was the first to discover his body. She came to his house when he hadn’t answered her repeated phone calls to see if anything was wrong. She immediately called 911 and talked to the police. Brian’s doctor arrived at his house almost the same time as the police and he pulled Janice aside to talk to her in private.

“Brian was diagnosed with inoperable cancer 5 months ago. I gave him the option of Chemotherapy and hospitalization that would have prolonged his life probably 6 more months but he told me something odd when I did. He said, ‘Doc, I’ve spent my entire life living for tomorrow. For that one more day. I have to go to work so that I still have a job tomorrow. I have to pay my mortgage so that I still have a house tomorrow. I have to buy groceries so that I can cook dinner tomorrow. I have never lived for today. I’m 43 years old and I can’t honestly say I have enjoyed one single day of my life. I am changing that today. If you tell me I only have 6 months to live, I will tell you I have 180 days to do all the things I have dreamed of doing. I am going to live each one of those days like it was my last.’ That is exactly what he did.
Oh yes, on his trip to Europe, he did stop and see a specialist friend of mine for a second opinion. He learned there that his condition had indeed worsened. He was then sent to China to see another specialist. The diagnosis was the same. He was dying and maybe had 3 weeks left. I was ordered to inform no one of this. Brian was never one to seek or accept pity. That would have killed him faster than the Cancer. He wanted to keep this secret from everyone, even you. He spoke of you often and quite fondly. He gave me this letter to give to you when he finally passed on.”

Janice took the one page letter and began to read it as the doctor went to speak with the police officers. Tears flowed down her face as she read the final words of the man she had grown to love. In the letter, he thanked her for the love she had shown him and apologized for not talking to her much sooner. He asked her to forgive him for keeping this secret but he wanted his final days filled with joy. He asked her not to grieve for him but to take his cue and live each day as if it were her last. He said that this had brought him indescribable happiness. He asked her to relay these wishes to any and all that asked. He wanted this to be his legacy. He also informed her that she was the beneficiary of his estate. All he had was now hers. He hoped the money from the novel would provide security for her and her son whom Brian had also grown to love.

His funeral plans had already been made and his only request was that people not mourn him; rather they should celebrate what his life became. This would not be the case, however. Everyone that had grown to know this new life-loving Brian Krewsloge shed tears by the bucket on learning of his passing. His momentarily bright spark had illuminated the lives of all that he had contacted.

His funeral was standing room only. Even people whom he met in pubs across Europe attended the service. Janice stood to give his eulogy.

“Live today with the knowledge that you are going to die.” She said.

“Brian has that one small thing to ask of each of you. Smile at the person in line with you at the convenience store. Hold the door for someone and say ‘Thank You’ when someone does it for you. Give a dollar to a homeless man. Go see a silly movie. Stop at a park and enjoy the sound of laughing children. Pet a stranger’s dog. Do these things and you will make the world a better place. We are all going to die. Each and every one of us. The only thing we can honorably do is earn these last remaining days on this planet by making the lives of those around us better.”

She was greeted with a respectful silence. As the friends and family filtered past her though, they all assured her that they would do just that. They would all follow the example so briefly but brightly displayed by their departed friend. Janice did all that she could to maintain the memory, including giving birth to a 7 pound 5 ounce baby boy 7 months after Brian’s death. She gave the boy the gift of Brian’s full name and spent every day of the rest of her life trying to live up to it.

The end

The Waiting Room - Halloween Story 2009

By Roger A Wilbanks

“About time you showed. He’s almost here.”

“I was busy, sorry. Have I missed it?”

“No. They’re still in the prep area. He’s got plenty of time. Sort of.”

“Shame, this one. He was such a nice guy. Never gave nobody no trouble. Just did his time and kept his mouth shut.”

“Yeah, but what are you gonna do? The chair don’t care if you’re a nice guy. It only hates you for being alive.”

“Well THAT’S about to change in a minute, right? Where are they?”

“They are walking him in now, see? There goes the light.”

“Only a matter of time now, boys. Any last minute calls from the Governor?”

Cold laughter erupted from the pale yellow room. “I guess not. Sucks to be him.”

“Come on now. Show a little respect. That’s a dead man walking this way.”

“What’s it matter to me? I done my time. I paid my due. Now that some sucker is getting the golden road I’m supposed to throw rose petals at his feet? Screw that shit and screw him!”

“He didn’t do it though. You know that!”

“So the fuck what? How many people taken that last sit didn’t do it? More than anyone’ll ever care to admit and YOU know that of all people!”

“Still…an innocent man is about to die. You can at least show some sliver of compassion. There they are. Look sharp boys.”

“And Girl.”

“Sorry Doris. ‘And Girl’ There they go. Strapping him in, shaving his head. He looks scared.”

“Don’t see why. We all gotta die sometime. He’s just getting a jump on the competition.”

“Would you PLEASE show some respect??? If you can’t show compassion then show some silence!”

“You two knock it off. Padre’s giving him the Last Rites now.”

”Look at him. Still saying he’s innocent. How cute. The chair don’t care, pal. A real man would know that and stop whining about how fair life isn’t.”

“Wonder what he got for his last meal?”

“Steak. They always get steak.”

“Yeah. That and Ice Cream. One hell of a dinner if you ask me. That shit’s good if you can live long enough to keep it down. Instead, these dumb bastards just shit it all over themselves when Hank fires up old Sparky there. Me? I would have picked broccoli.”

“Shittin yourself’s the least of the toll you pay to ride that lightning.”

”Knock it off, they’re about to hit it.”

“Look at those witnesses. Cheering like idiots. Crazy bunch of cocksuckers. Wonder if any of them care that he’s innocent? His family’s watching for cryingoutloud.”

“Oh NOW you care. You are a hypocrite man. Always have been.”

“Look. I don’t give two shits in a snowstorm if he did it or didn’t do it. Not a lot I can do about that from here IS there? But those people over there…THEY bear the responsibility for his death. They are the ones that wanted…no, Demanded an eye for an eye. They are the ones that ignored the evidence. They are the ones with his blood and charred flesh on their hands. Me? I’m just a witness in the waiting room same as you.”

“You made your point, now shut up. They are about to throw the switch.”

“Funny how the lights still dim when they do that. Everyone knows they run on a separate breaker.”

“That’s for effect. Gives the witnesses a basis for comparison. Some way to gauge the amount of power flowing through him.”



“OK, it’s over. Let’s go get him.”

“Where…. where am I?”

“Relax there buddy. You have moved on.”

“Who are you people?”

“We are the ones that have gone before you.”

“Every one of us here has ridden Sparky for the last time. We all come back here when the next person rides the lightning and welcome him…or her…to the other side.”

“But I didn’t do it though. I’m innocent!”

“No man, you’re dead. Guilty or innocent don’t mean shit over on this side. Not yet anyway.”

“But the real killer…”

“Will ride his own lightning some day. I guarantee you that.”

“And trust me pal, it’ll be infinitely worse for him than it was for you. You innocent guys got it pretty good over here. It’s us slobs that actually done the crimes that get shafted.”

“I shit myself…”

“Should have gotten the beef stew and broccoli man. Make them clean THAT up. Rookies, when you guys gonna learn?”

“What’s next for me?”

“Next? That’s a good one. What do you WANT to do man? You got all the options now.”

“Will I ever get to see my family again?”

“Oh yes, when they move on. Till then, think of this as a well-earned vacation. All we gotta do is come back when the State decides to fry another poor sucker (no offence) and help him out.”

“Yeah…we’re the welcoming committee. Ain’t no parade for you though, just us.”

“But I didn’t do it though. I didn’t want to die. I had so much to do…”

“Quit your whining, boy! You got to accept the fact that you are dead and move on now or you will end up just like those poor bastards over there. They NEVER leave. They have to stay here because they can’t accept the fact that they are dead. Living folk call them ghosts. Me? I call em suckers. You gonna be a sucker, boy? Go get your chains fitted right now then and we’ll see you when we see you. Otherwise get a grip on your situation, accept the reality and move on with the rest of us.”

“That’s harsh man.”

“But necessary. This jackass here’s got it made but he can’t see that till he accepts it. He’s fucked if he doesn’t and you all know that.”

“He’s right. Just accept your state and we’ll help you. But we can’t do anything for you till you do.”


“THAT a boy! What else?”

“I’m innocent…and it doesn’t matter? That’s what you got for me? Just take my pride and let go of everything else? And let those pieces of SHIT get AWAY WITH IT???”

“Whoa man…that’s a dangerous place you’re dancing in. You can’t come unglued now. This is a very precarious time for you. You HAVE to make the right decision here. You gotta let go and move on. The alternative is too bad to mention.”

“I let go and they get AWAY WITH IT!!!”

“No they don’t. Not ultimately. Trust me on this.”

“I don’t care! I want them to pay NOW for killing me.”

“He’s already lost man. Let him go and let’s get going.”

“No he’s not. Not just yet. Listen closely to me here. You are literally standing at that fork in the road. Walk away with us now and you continue on the right path. All options are open to you, you control your destiny. If you decide to take the other path and stay here filled with hate and revenge, your destiny will control you. You will NEVER leave. EVER. Do you understand me? EVER! You have heard of Hell, right? Well this place will become yours innocent or not. This place won’t care. The more the merrier as far as it’s concerned only it won’t be merry for you. That’s your alternative. I can’t tell you what’s on the other side of that door. It’s different for everyone but you are gonna like it. All you have to do is take all that hate, take all that revenge and leave them here in this room. We all did, well most of us. The ones that didn’t…well you can see them over there. You want to join them, that’s your choice. It always is your choice, always has been.”

“Who makes them pay? Who balances the scales?”

“You just gotta have Faith, bro.”

“Faith? I prayed every Goddamn day when I was on Death Row! What good did it ever do me?”

“If you gotta ask, you may not ever know.”

“Moment of truth pal. We’re leaving and that door’s gonna close on you forever when we do. Got that? Forever.”

“Faith, huh? Trust some room full of spooks that everything is going to be all right and just walk out that door and leave all this anger and hate behind? Move on?”

“That’s it in a nutshell.”

“Pretty much.”


Silence gripped the room for some time…

“Ok. Lead the way. Can I look at my family one last time?”

“Why not? You’ll see them soon enough though. Time ain’t normal over here.”


He looked at his family full of pain and sorrow and turned away.
“Ok pal…that’s enough. We have to go now. You coming?”

“Yeah…might as well.”

“That a boy! You’ll like it here. I promise.”

The end

The Promise

By Roger Wilbanks

After soiling himself for the third time in two hours, Kenneth buzzed once more to summon the nurse. Thomas and Carlos joked among themselves about the awkwardness of the situation but Kenneth was bedridden, thus limiting his opportunities for any kind of bathroom breaks. Thomas reminded all of the time Kenneth wet his pants during a hike at summer cap. Carlos reminded him that he was only 8 years old at the time and was thus offered amnesty on that particular incident.

The three of them were closer than brothers and shared a bond and love that you can not have with someone just because you are related to them. Theirs was brotherhood by choice rather than fate and now that one of them was in a hospital, more machine than man the bond was stronger than ever.

Carlos began the story about the night they all snuck out of the dorm their freshman year in college. Thomas choked down his reaction as the story began.
That was the night one of them almost died and it still held major significance, especially considering their circumstances. Granted it was a funny was only funny to the three of them because they all made it out alive. Thomas was the one who almost drew the short straw that day and it was Kenneth’s quick thinking that avoided disaster. Thomas owed Kenneth his life that day but Kenneth never mentioned it again except for taking his part in its ritual retelling.
A few subdued yeahs and an occasional Ain’t that the truth were all he would utter. His love for his friend superceded any desire for personal glory as the hero he became that day. That was only one of the reasons Thomas was present in this dimly lit room watching his best friend slowly wither. His body was assaulted by disease on a constant basis. The humming of the machines was there as a permanent reminder of how fragile his current state was. It was this thought more than the retelling of the story that caught Thomas off-guard. He broke. As tears and denial raced out of him, Carlos comforted him. Kenneth, who was happy and smiling moments before grew angry at this. He reminded Thomas of the promise he made. That was enough to draw Thomas back and allow the gathering to continue on its path.

Carol’s absence was ignored. She and Kenneth had drifted too far apart for any rope to reclaim and this was accepted. After all, she hadn’t made the promise, the three of them had. They made it many years ago, huddled under a rickety carport, sheltered from the fierce rain on that cold night they all agree would have been better if they had just stayed in and watched tv. That was forty years, seven children and twelve grandchildren ago, but it was still help sacred this day as when it was made. None would leave the other alone, ever. Even as Kenneth closed his eyes for the final time ever, this bond remained unbroken.

“Thanks guys….” He said as he finally passed on.

The promise had been kept.


A short story by: Roger A Wilbanks

Jane really just wanted a hot cup of tea. It would take her mind off the bastard. They usually don’t let you have hot drinks in the Nuthouse because there is too much risk the loonies will burn themselves and their families will use that as an excuse to release some cold-blooded lawyer on them. Who needs that kind of hassle? Let them have cool chocolate and be done with that problem. She always settled for soda. That was safe. She kept telling herself it wasn’t her fault she was locked up in there, but the persistent memories that managed to beat their way through the blue pill haze said otherwise.

“You burned the house,” they said.

“You killed the dog,” they said.

“You painted him blue while he was sleeping,” they said.

They were right, of course, but he deserved everything that happened to him. Whenever she doubted this, she remembered the beatings, the infidelities and all the empty, broken promises that changes would happen. Promises made, it seemed, with the intent of adding another level of hurt into her life.

Well, enough of that shit, she thought. Enough hiding in the corner and waiting for the other shoe to drop. So what if she DID burn the house down? That was equal retribution for all the cigarettes he put out on her for not having dinner ready.

So what if she DID kill the dog? He only got the dog because he knew she would be afraid of it and his constant provocations with it only added to her terror. THAT killing had been a pleasure.

As far as the paint was concerned, she thought that being blue for a day or two was no more than an eye for an eye when compared to how he made her feel while they were married.

She smiled as she set the kettle on to boil.

Dick fumbled in the dark for the key to his front door. “Why is it always the talkers that show up at the end of the day?” he said aloud. It was as if there was some group of dedicated time-wasters that watched him and waited for him to be in a hurry. They would then throw themselves at him like a squadron of annoying crazed kamikazes. “One of these days I’m gonna call it quits and just shoot off to the Bahamas like Tom Cruise in that bartender movie. What was it called? Happy Hour?”

When he located his key, Dick’s outlook immediately improved. The Tivo caught Sportscenter for him that evening allowing him to catch up on his wagers for the night and he would call Harry in the morning to collect. He was sure he wouldn’t have to settle up this time. That’s what you did when you lost which he did too often these days. “Damn bad timing to land on a burn streak,” he thought, but his luck would turn soon. His freak show heiress of a wife was a prime example of that. All the years he put up with her shit had returned enormous dividends to his fledgling law practice. Her connections put him on the map in a way that the HARVARD that adorned his diploma did. A diploma she paid for too, he thought. “Thanks, baby.’ He said as he thought of her, safely locked up in that Nuthouse.

He checked his fingernails for the presence of blue paint and saw none. It took him three weeks to get that shit off, but the emotional stain lingered far longer.

Dick opened the door to his two-story brownstone. It set him back a few thousand a month, but it was in the historic district and the expense was a necessary one if he hoped to maintain the allure of the hot-shot attorney he thought himself to be. Just like the guys on TV, he thought. Those guys never had to sit through talkers unless there was money at the other end of the table. Real money, not the kind they said they had, but your credit checks proved false. He clicked the key chain and the apartment erupted in light. A little quid-pro-quo an engineer client hooked him up with recently. It was a little buggy, however and the kitchen lights remained off. The air was a little warm in the foyer. That damn Marissa left the door open upstairs. One of these days he was going to have Central Heat and Air installed but he tolerated the remote controlled window units for now. He would remember to leave Marissa a nasty letter in the morning, but settled for a simple click of the remote to bring the room back to a chilly 65 degrees. Dick liked it cold.

He grabbed the remote and powered up his 52-inch plasma for the scores. Boston by 5 was the line, but he knew Martinez was off today. Back spasms a friend told him. He heard it from the trainer himself. It was as close to a sure thing as there was. All he needed was Chris Berman to say those magic words “Boston Loses” and his day would be complete.


“In local news, the raging grassfires south of the City threaten the patients at Memorial Hospital.”

“What the hell?” he said. “Where the hell is my Sportscenter?”

Dick checked the Tivo unit’s programming and it was still set as he had left it with one exception. The channel had been changed from ESPN to Channel 8. “Must have done that last night.” He thought. “Oh well, they will have the sports on in a bit, I’ll just fast forward…”

Dick flipped through the sped-up 6pm newscast. City Council blah blah. Dam funding blah blah. Olympic turmoil blah blah. Breaking News…

He stopped the Tivo.

“This just in. In a daring escape, inmates from the city’s Mental Health Hospital Dangerous Inmate Wing fought their way to freedom this afternoon. In the past few hours, most have been located and captured or killed.” The room started to get warm again. That damn door is still open, he thought. He started towards the stairs but froze when a whistle from the kitchen sounded. A kettle whistle.

“I’m imagining things now.” He thought, “She didn’t escape. She’s not with the dangerous ones. She’s in the Country Club. They are kept in separate areas.” Dick glanced back at the TV and saw the Sports logo. He knew he was getting worked up for nothing. “Ghosts. They only exist in the movies.”

But the kettle whistle was getting louder and he was positive that the AC unit was off altogether. The room was becoming unbearable. He looked at the window unit and saw that the reading said it was 85 degrees in the room. He took the remote and aimed it at the unit. He pressed the button and nothing happened.

The kettle sounded like it was ready to explode like an unattended boiler.

Anxious moments are the subconscious’ playground, he reminded himself. Marissa left the kettle on and forgot about it. She hasn’t been gone that long. She just set it on the stove and forgot it. She would be fired. Dick had already lost one house to a fire caused by a crazy bitch. He would NOT lose another. There was a simple explanation for the remote’s failure. Dead batteries. He would replace them and return to his cold comfortable existence. The Boston score would be up soon and as far as that door upstairs was concerned, he would just shut the damn thing and get back to his evening plan.

He started up the staircase and noticed that the door to his room was definitely open. That was not all however. The lights were on as well. Marissa left them on, obviously. That was the last straw. She was gone tomorrow. Dick even thought about alerting INS to her status as an illegal alien, but realized that would cause more trouble for him and decided against it. It wasn’t that he was afraid of the heat it would cause. He was a lawyer and, he thought, a damn good one. “You ought to be a lesbian.” He often said to the opposing council. “Because you don’t fuck with dick.”

His doorway was clear. There were no dead bodies. His bed was empty and contained no decapitated horse. There was no blue stain on his bed and all was left exactly as he had left it that morning, except… Was that water running in the bathroom? Impossible, he thought, Marissa was not that bold. Was she still here? Maybe Dick’s not so subtle advances had succeeded in wooing his Dominican Import. Somehow he doubted that was the case. His instincts growled like a feral beast backed into a corner. The hair on his neck and arms raised itself on its own accord. Sweat began to form across his brow. The animal side of his brain was bombarding him with fight or flight impulses as he approached the bathroom door. The light was on in the bathroom and the door was ajar. He knew what he would see in there, and the image scared him. The crazy bitch was in the tub, probably covered in blood. That would be a nice touch. It was that or a toaster in her hands, ready to drop it into the water so that he could witness her cook like a cheap lobster. He was prepared for the worst. He was prepared for a fight. He opened the door and got neither. There was nothing out of the ordinary, just a filling tub at the perfect temperature for a bath.

Marissa had done this for him. She would be fired. She would also be deported. She would be killed if he could locate someone to do the deed. He turned back to the bedroom, half expecting to come face to face with a knife-wielding psychopath. He saw nothing. Dick shut the water, closed the door and walked downstairs. The kettle was still whistling. Sports had been replaced with a Breaking News Update. All of the escaped inmates had been accounted for. The city was safe again. Dick collapsed into his Lazy Boy with a sigh and turned off the Tivo. He turned Sportscenter on and decided to just wait for the ticker to crawl across the bottom of the screen. He went to the kitchen to deal with the errant kettle and that was when he saw the note.

Thank you for the cup of tea, it was delightful. I left the kettle on for you, but you ARE low on milk, though.
Love Jane.”

“P.S. The escape today had nothing to do with me, but I thought you would enjoy it more than your stupid sports show. You would be amazed at how easy it is to come and go here in the hospital. All it takes is a little harmless flirting and a few well placed sexual favors and I can come and go as I please. You would think the guards here are above such temptations but it appears not to be the case. Hope you enjoyed the bath darling, I will be seeing you soon. I promise.

With that, Dick finally fainted.

The end

SEVEN STRIKES – Harold Lakewood’s Story

By: Roger A Wilbanks

Baseball is really a very symmetrical game when you get down to it. Nine players, nine innings. Three strikes, three outs. It’s balanced and that’s what I always liked about it. I’ve loved baseball as long as I can remember. I still have the Dodgers hat my old man got me when he took me to Ebetts Field to see that Negro Jackie Robinson. I was wearing it that day, come to think of it. Well, when you look at me in terms of baseball, I should have been out 2 innings ago. I have been struck by lightning seven times, and none of them finished me off.

I was playing manhunt with the kids from the neighborhood when it happened the first time. Manhunt was what us Bay Ridge kids called hide and go seek. We couldn’t call it hide and go seek cause that’s what the shitkickers called it. Ours had to be edgy and city so we called it manhunt.

There I was, hiding in the world’s greatest spot on top of the water tower on top of my apartments. It was a doosey of a spot and I had to do some hard work getting to it. I found a way through the fence around it and didn’t tell nobody for weeks. I was saving it for a day like this. I was determined to be the first kid on the block to get past the 5-hour hunt.

We started timing ourselves when Jimmy McClure got a watch for his birthday. Jimmy was a fat kid and couldn’t run unless there was dinner at the end of the trip. That made him our official timekeeper.

From the top of my tower I could see the whole block and most of the alleys. I watched all of the fellas looking for me in all the wrong places and it was all I could do not to laugh and give myself away. I heard Jimmy call out the fourth hour and I knew I was home free.

Till the clouds rolled in, that is.

You would have thought they were soldiers marching into town the way they just came in like that, but one second it’s daylight, the next it’s night. It was as dark out as if it were nighttime, but it was only 3 in the afternoon. Out of nowhere came this bright white light I won’t ever forget. It flashed behind me so sharp and so bright it cast a shadow of me onto the building across the alley. That’s how the guys found me.

All of a sudden, there I am standing on the tower and everyone’s just looking up at me when it hit me. It felt like I just got punched, only all over. Next thing I know I’m laying on the roof and my clothes are burning. The bolt hit me on the left shoulder ad made my whole body go numb. The fellas clowned on me later saying it looked like I was shot out of one of them cannons at the circus but they weren’t laughing then.

Carrey White was the first one on the roof to find me. He was the older kid that always called everyone “Cuz” whether they were related or not. Folks said it was on account he didn’t know who his father was and he was just being polite…just in case, you know? He threw me over his shoulder after he put out the fire on my shirt and hauled me down to the stoop like some goddamn fireman.

Some jackass threw cold water in my face and they took me to my ma. The doc showed up at my apartment about an hour later and looked me over. “Struck by lightning, you say?” he said, “Looks like he was shot if you ask me, but he’ll live. He’ll lose the nail on that hand but otherwise he’s fit as a fiddle.” And like that, I survived being struck by lightning.

I went through a whole world war and a half before it happened again. I just got outta Korea when I decided to go back to school and make something out of myself. I was going to go to school in Nebraska to study geology. I was waiting at a bus stop in Omaha when one of them Great Plains Gully Washers hit. Seventeen grown men huddled under a piece of tin three feet by five hoping to stay dry. I got under it last so it was my ass that got to hang out.

That’s where it hit me.

Square on the ass.

The guys there said my hair shot out like it was al trying to get off my head in every direction possible and I flew forward like some big foot just kicked me. I lost all the hair on my ass and balls from that one but still managed to stay alive.

The next year I was mowing the grass in front of the house I was renting while at school. Not a cloud in the fucking sky. Except for one, that is. It was a small cloud but it moved pretty fast. I saw it, I know it saw me because I saw it take a left turn and start flying right towards me. I swear by all the saints and martyrs it was following me. It zeroed in on me, standing bare-ass exposed in the middle of a yard with this big hunk of metal in my hands.


That one burned my right arm and I lost two more nails.

Two years later, I was done with school and the constant struggle of telling anyone who would listen that the cloud was after me. I wound up in Dallas working for the park department. I was a glorified trash man, picking up after the brats in the park, but people left me alone and I got to take it pretty much easy. I had taken the advice of an Indian fella I met in Omaha and carried around a pitcher of water anytime I was outside. Everyone thought this was funny, but since I worked outside I could pass it off as my water break. The docs wanted to have me committed and spend the rest of my life in a cold yellow room. I tried to explain to them that I wasn’t crazy. Someone upstairs must just be wicked pissed at me and wants to take me out. The more they miss, the madder they get. They wouldn’t listen though, no one would. I was taking the trash out of a downtown park on another clear, cloudless day when out of nowhere ZAP I got stung.

I just sat there on the street like a dead body looking up at the sky and I swear I saw the cloud that hit me smile. The docs backed off of me a bit after that. You get hit 4 times and something strange happens to the people around you. They start distancing themselves from you; like they’re scared one might miss and hit them instead. Newspapers all over the states wrote stories about me and I was on all 3 TV stations.

I was famous and hated every second of it.

Every time I tried to explain what was happening, people would just laugh and ask me why I couldn’t just be happy I was such a lucky person. LUCK? I would ask. I'd been struck by lightning four times more than the average American. I left town after a year and no shit…while I was driving my Chevy back to Brooklyn, I got zapped again. That one blasted me out of my car and fried off all my hair. Everyone I knew started treating me like I was a walking dead man. There were benefits though. I never bought another drink at Clancy’s bar when I ended up back in Brooklyn. I was a draw, he’d say. People would pop in just to look at me and if they were brave enough, try to shake my hand and see if they got shocked. Some jerk from a comic book company thought it was a brilliant idea to ask me if I wanted to be in my own comic book.

It cost me my last $300 to fix Clancy’s window after I sailed the bum through it.

I rented a boat and took it out onto the ocean to have it out once and for all with God. He’d been trying to kill me for the better part of 30 years and I was pretty sick of it. So picture me out there on a boat a half mile from land screaming like a banshee on a cloudy day that I ain’t gonna take it no more when out of nowhere ZZZT. I got blown overboard and fished out by the captain who called me the craziest sonofabitch he ever laid eyes on.

I moved to Arizona after that where it almost never rains and tried to make my peace with God but I guess he had one more up his sleeve. I saw him coming though and this time, there were witnesses. They told the cops after I got zapped that all they saw was this 60 year old man running and screaming “Not again!” and they looked up and saw this cloud the size of a schoolhouse following him when ZAP they saw this same 60 year old man fly 10 feet into the air and land on his ass. I broke my hip that time which turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Rose was a nurse at the hospital where they put me and I fell in love with her instantly. She fell for me too. We were like two silly butt teenagers, sick with love. We’ve been together 10 years and I ain’t been hit one time since.

Not by lightning that is.

Rose told me this morning she was leaving me for another man, a doctor at her hospital. She was sorry but that was the way it was. There wasn’t any use crying over spilled milk, I should just be an adult about it. We fought when we were together and sure there were times when things weren’t sunny and clear, but we loved each other. At least I thought we did.


Guess I got hit one more time, and this one hurts the most.

Well…if you’re reading this, then that means you found me. Sorry about the mess but the 12-gauge was all I could find. Just do me two favors. First, don’t tell Rose how much she hurt me. And last, when you're wheeling me outside, just do me a solid one and look up to see if there’s a cloud the size of a schoolhouse closing in on me. If there is, I'd get the hell out of the way and I hope that you're wearin' rubber gloves.

Based on the true story of Roy Sullivan, a man struck seven times by lightning before taking his own life at the age of 71 in 1983 over an unrequited love.

Ride the Titan – A Short Story

By: Roger A Wilbanks


To the untrained eye, a man on a mission often appears insane. His manner and demeanor have the outer appearance of chaos regardless of what's going on within him. He is the sea at tempest regardless of how calm his waters are below the surface. I am that man right now.

I pull into the parking lot of Six Flags over Texas with the intention of riding the largest roller coaster I have ever laid eyes on, the Titan. I am going to pay my $50 admission fee and walk straight to the line all by myself and get onto the one thing in this world I fear. Ok, fear may be too strong a word. I dislike it. That is a much more fitting way of putting it. I always maintained that there was little in this world I truly feared, chalking that attitude up to an early acceptance of death in my youth. It is amazing how liberating it is once you realize that saving your own life is all in vain.

The Titan did intimidate me, however. It's sheer vertical rise and similar vertical fall were the largest I had ever seen. I am no roller coaster buff. I am well aware that there are bands of traveling gypsies that do nothing more than tour the world seeking out the newest and biggest thrill rides. I am not one of them. My desire to get in the seat of this behemoth didn't stem from an adrenaline addiction. I have to do this for the sake of my soul.

I visited this park over a year ago with my then girlfriend and her little brother. We rode every ride there was in the park twice, except for the Titan, that is. My dislike for the rollercoaster was there based on the fact I had seen it break once on it's maiden run. It doesn't matter that its record since then has been spotless; I saw her break down right out of the chute. This was the image I carried in my mind every time I saw the damnable thing and on that night my girl tried everything in her power to get me to ride it. Threats, seduction, bribery and insults were all ineffective. You name it, she tried it and all of it was in vain. I was immovable as the mountain and am pretty sure my inflexibility on this issue was what contributed to the eventual failure of that particular relationship. None of this mattered to me at the time though. The Titan had drawn first blood.

I drive past the park daily now and see it looming in the distance, daring me to scale it and belittling me for my reluctance. It doesn’t matter to The Titan what reason I throw at it for my reluctance, The Titan only cares about the What, not the Why. Every time I pass the park it calls me a coward. A lot of people will tell you if you ask them that attributing human qualities to clearly inanimate objects is a certain sign of madness. I can't argue with that. This calling it does to me is real at least to me, and it is responsible for the fact that I am pulling into this crowded parking lot today, fully prepared to spend $50 to stand in line and ride a roller coaster. Shit, if I were on the outside looking in at myself objectively, I would put as much physical distance between me and the clearly insane person before me as possible. I have the benefit of understanding in this case, however, and beg the indulgence of all who cross my insanity and me today.


After parking my Jeep almost a mile from the front gate, I begin the walk towards my doom. It leers at me from this distance.

"I will only get larger from here on out." It tells me.

"Fine." I reply. I have already thrown my gauntlet down on this one. There is no turning back now. My mind tangents off into a comparison with how Frodo must have felt on approaching Mount Doom but I have no ring to leave behind. I have only the ghost of cowardice past to exorcise. Ok, cowardice may not be the right way of putting what on the surface was a personal decision. I am no coward and being accused of such is anathema to me but the fact that I didn't get on the ride and it bothers me to this day is enough for me to act now. So I walk on, each step drawing closer to this lumbering giant before me, safe in the knowledge that this too shall pass.


When I finally reach the line, I stop to catch my breath under the cooling breeze of the mist sprayers. I am sweating from the walk and the anxiety that is building within me. I take my place behind a family of 7, the children of which are all Titan fans. They are fully prepared to make the Titan their first conquest of the day. I think I'll grab a hot dog and take a lap around the park to allow then through well ahead of me. The father has already looked at me, a single, sweaty 36-year-old man all alone in line at an amusement park and marked me as a potential sex offender. I can't say I blame him. Granted it's hot today - Granted I just walked over a mile, I'm still sweating way more than a normal man and I'm sure the look in my eyes as I stand in the shadow of the Titan is one that anyone would find unsettling. I'll let them get ahead of me, FAR ahead of me and attack my mountain at my own pace. I make my way to the ticket booth and hand the teenaged girl in the glass box my Visa card.

"Just one." I say.

She cranes her neck to see behind me and upon verifying that I am indeed by myself shrugs to herself and internally accuses me of God knows what as she processes my request. This would normally offend me but the Titan is right over my shoulder, glaring at me. I have more important matters on my mind. The septuplet ahead of me breaks left after the gate, making a beeline to the Titan as I stop for a moment to regard it. The father shepherds his flock away from me as I turn around and head for that hot dog.

Something about amusement parks has always puzzled me. People spend insane amounts of money to stand in line the majority of the time they're in one. Granted the other 10 percent is what they're there for, I have always maintained that you get what you pay for. When you spend $100 at a park and only $10 of that goes to the actual rides you came for just strikes me as excessive. So here I am, spending money to stand in line to spend more money.

The irony of this fact does not escape me as I take my place in line behind a group of young girls, though I doubt it bothers them in the same way it does me. These girls are battling indecision, another thing that has always puzzled me. I am here now, standing line to get a hot dog. When I get to the counter, I know exactly what I am going to get. It is the people in this world that walk around in a daze, standing in lines they have no business standing in, who are completely unprepared to place their order when they finally get to the counter that truly annoy me. There is a part of me that takes tremendous offense at people like this, which is convinced that it is they who make this world a crappier place for the rest of us.

I finish my hot dog as soon as they hand it to me and start my lap around the park. It is filled almost to capacity today. The kids are all out of school and the parents have taken the day off to get in some quality family fun time. I am truly out of place here today. I am seeking absolution not thrills. I see couples all around me in various stages of relationships. They are easy to spot to a single guy like myself. There goes the brand new couple. You can tell it might even be their first date. His every attention is focused on her and he is painfully nervous. For her part, she is equally awkward trying to gauge both his interest and his intentions. I despise first dates, but accept their part in the greater scheme.

That saying, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step." Comes to mind as I watch this young couple. The cynic in me gives them 3 months before they hate each other and flame each other's Facebook pages.

Another couple bumps past me on their way to a ride. These two have gotten past that awkward first stage and are in the getting to know you phase. That was always my favorite part of dating. She asks him if he likes Jazz. He says he loves Jazz. It doesn't matter if he's lying; the two of them have just shared a connection. You want these people to do well. It reaffirms your belief that there is somebody for everybody. I secretly hope for their sake that he really DOES love Jazz. That will make things so much simpler for the two of them.

I turn again towards the Titan and I ponder. What would have happened if I HAD ridden it that night? I doubt something as cut and dried as that one decision would have saved that relationship. At the most it would have just delayed the inevitable. One grand gesture can sometimes save a failed campaign. If a single soldier sallies forth and captures a machine gun nest it COULD allow the tide of a battle to turn, unless every soldier buys into the cause, that victory doesn't really matter in the end. Failure is assured. That was where our particular relationship was and no Sgt York that could save this war from being lost no matter how heroic his actions. Still, I was left with a gaping hole. It was not in my heart though; it was my soul that was left carved out. The only way to fill that gaping hole was now on the opposite side of the park from me.


As I approach the line for the Titan, I refuse to look up. They knew what they were doing when they designed this ride. Every step you take from a certain point has you in the shadow of this massive steel dragon, ever under its watchful glare. I refuse to meet its stare as I take up my place in line. I would not give it the satisfaction of knowing how much it intimidated me. Yes, I admit it. I was intimidated by a rollercoaster. Not a whole lot of honor in that statement, but there it is nonetheless. Being this close to it, I could feel it's oppressive weight. To me at this point, the Titan was the big angry drunk in the bar that refused to take his eyes off of my girl and me. Eventually I would have to say something but this would be done on my own time and at a ground of my choosing. So for now, I was content to know he was there boring a hole into the back of my skull.

I was joined in the line by a group of people skipping work to play in the park. I envy them. Here stood I, St George sent to slay my Dragon while there stand before me Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Co., out to play pirates for the day. Before me in line is the same couple from earlier, sharing their first date. She is nervous but he’s ridden it before.

"It’s really only scary in the beginning. It gets a lot easier after that." He said.

I laugh at the irony of his statement and he mistakes this for something else. He positions himself between his sweetie and me and regards me with an "I got my eyes on you, buddy." stare. I want to explain myself, to let him know I had decent enough intentions here, but what would be the point? I'd never see them again so I accept this defeat in stride.

Besides, he was right.

I AM an asshole.

I’m just not being one at THIS particular moment.

The group behind me, the pirates, have an odd number of members. This all but assures that I will sit with one of them on the ride. No way in Hell the park people would have let me ride in a car alone. The pirates seem to sense this too and for some reason one of them engages me in conversation. Ignoring my overly sweating, anxiety-eyed wreck of a self, this girl asks me if I had ever ridden the Titan before.

"No, this will be my first time," I say, adding, "finally."

"Yeah, me too." She says. "I was in line to ride it last year when I chickened out. These friends of mine," she motioned behind her, "are here to make sure I get on it this time."

"You have good friends." I said , nodding in their direction. "I chickened out before even getting in line last time. At least you did that much."

I have no idea why I told a total stranger this, but it had the desired effect. She became much more at ease and this in turn relaxed me. I had a Samwise for my Mount Doom.

"I was trying to go out with her on that trip." A guy she was with added. "After that though, I told her I couldn't date a chicken and ended up going out with her sister instead."

She giggled and said, “You can't even hold the door open for yourself, let alone for my sister . How would you ever get the impression I would go out with YOU?"

After dismissing her friend she faced me again.

"I was here with my girl last time. We've since parted company but she wanted to ride the Titan and I refused. " I said. "So now I'm here alone just to get on this beast, ride it and shut that part of myself up that still thinks I'm a coward."

"You're here alone?" he said. "Just to ride ONE ride? Man, you're Nuts! I like that though!" I ignore him.

"My name is Clarice." My fellow dragon slayer tells me.

"Nice to meet you Clarice, my name is Brian."

The line begins to move. I keep my attention focused on Clarice, not daring to look over my shoulder when she says, "Why are you doing that?"

"Doing what?" I said

"Making me look at that thing. That's mean." I apologize and we swap spots. "Much better. As long as I don't have to look at that thing, I feel better about riding it."

I agree completely, while over her shoulder I could see the Titan smile and mock my chivalry. The sign said we had one hour to wait from this point so Clarice and I fill the time by killing time. The others she had come with were polite enough to leave us alone in our misery. The line inched forward, each step magnified the towering menace that leered at me over Clarice's shoulder. My neck grew stiff from craning it upwards.

"Just stop looking at it, ok?" Clarice asks. "Keep me distracted or I'll chicken out again."

"Don't worry, Clarice. You’re not gonna chicken out this time. You're not alone anymore. I'm here with you." I say. "Roosevelt said 'The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself' and he was dead on right with that. We aren't going to die on that rollercoaster. We're going to inch slowly to the top, just like in life, and when we reach it, gravity will take a hold and the real ride begins.”

I didn’t know where this speech was coming from but I rolled with it because it seemed to be working. “You're scared of the anticipation here, not the actual ride. Don't lose sight of that."

"Well said, good man!" he said. "Only I gave her that same garbage last time and it didn't help. She'll get to the end of the line and bok bok bok just like last time. Watch."

"No offense pal, but I can really see why you have a hard time getting people to go out with you. Look at me Clarice. Of all the people in this park right now, I want to be here the least." I say. "I came here today to get this monkey off my back, but he's here right now and his weight is almost crushing me.
I want nothing more at this very moment than to be in my Jeep driving back to Dallas with the Titan in my rearview mirror, but you know what? It'll still be here even after I leave and every time I drive by I will remember this day as one of failure. I'm not big on regret. I think if you have your heart set on something, the only person you owe anything to is yourself in seeing that you get it. I know that feeling of failure every time I pass this place will be infinitely worse than the few seconds of anxiety I suffer through as it clanks its way up to the top. I am going to do this and you are going to do it with me. You’ve got to slay this dragon just the same as I do. We can do it if we attack it together. Between the two of us, we can find the motivation to stay on this line until we come out the other side."

When I finish my speech, she looks in my eyes for a very long time. Perhaps she was looking for the telltale smirk that would indicate I was completely full of shit, I don't know. All I know is she said "Ok." And we really didn't speak until we got to the end of the line and board one of the Titan’s many cars. "Grab my hand when we get in and don't you DARE let go…no matter what." She whispers. We get into an empty car and the attendant checks our harnesses, making sure we were secure inside the car.

"Here we go." I say

Clarice grabs my hand. "Don't let go." She says.

"What's your favorite movie?" I ask.

"Huh? The Princess Bride…why?" she says.

"What's your favorite line?" I ask as the cars all lurch forward.

Her grip on my hand tightens.

"As you wish. That always seemed so romantic to me, like a total giving of oneself to someone else."

She squeezes my hand tighter.
"I'm scared." She says.

I ignore this. "I always liked 'You seem like a decent fellow, I hate to have to kill you.' 'You seem like a decent fellow, I hate to have to die.' Myself. That showed the amount of respect that two men facing death can have for one another."

We inch our way to the halfway point of the tremendous rise. We are almost vertical now. It feels like we were in a rocket preparing for take off. The ground is so far below us it looks like a child's plaything. The vice like grip on my hand indicates the enormous amount of stress Clarice is under. I become oblivious to myself and the anxiety that is almost overpowering me.

"Look at me." I say.

She opens her eyes and turns to face me as we approach the top. "What?" she asks.
We are inches from the crest. In an instant the first car will begin to cross the point of no return and we will hurl our way into adrenaline overload.

"Do you like Jazz?" I ask.

"I love Jazz," she answers.

Then she and I scream like our lives depended on it as the Titan hurtles us forward.

The end

Pretty Boy Floyd Redmond

By Roger A Wilbanks

I pushed play on the micro cassette recorder. “So you knew the man on the back of the headstone, this, ‘Pretty Boy Floyd Redmond?” I asked. I pointed to the slab of stone in the photograph I held.

“Yeh, I knew the fella but he weren’t no pretty boy, I kin swear to that! That fella was ugly as homemade sin. He had a face that woulda got him arrested in any county.”

The old man before me was so far past drunk he gave it an entirely new level of adjective. His eyes were the color of pale oranges and his face was as red as a Christmas bow. He was a chain-smoking blister on humanity’s heel, but he had the story I was after.

“What is the story behind that headstone?” When renovations to the county courthouse last July unearthed a hidden room sealed for decades, the headstone made headlines because of a poem painted on it’s backside detailing the life and death of a man called ‘Pretty Boy Floyd Redmond’ The headstone bore on it’s front side an inscription detailing it as the grave marker for a one Julius Warfield 1907 – 1932. I traveled from New York to Bangor, Maine looking for the story behind this poem. My investigation around town eventually led me to a bar called the Anchor’s Rest where I was introduced to the wobbly gentleman slurring his speech before me, Mr Red Taggart. For the fee of a few pints of stout, Red promised me the story behind the hastily scribbled poem. It was a good un too, he said.

“But it ain’t that simple, nope. Telling you bout that poem would be just the icing on the cake. You need to hear the full thing. That sack of crap was the worst human being alive I know. I was there. I saw the man with my own two eyes. Worst human being I ever had the misfortune to meet.” He drew long on his cigarette, coughing it back up in a fit when he had his fill. “That poem was too good for him, I tell ya. We shoulda just burned his scrawny ass and been done with him. What he done.”

“And what did Mr Redmond do, exactly?”

“Well like the poem says, he blow into town all ‘I got this and I got that’. We local boys just laughed at him good-natured on account of he was just so plain ugly. Jim Wherrit give him the name ‘Pretty Boy’ on a joke and it just stuck. But that sumbitch liked it! Thought it was a mighty fine compliment. Can ya believe that? Ugly mug like his and being called pretty as a joke, only he don’t get the joke. He thinks we mean it! Told you he was stupid, didn’t I? Couldn’t read a lick. Had this stamp he says he got made in Atlanta with his name on it. Only it left off the ‘Pretty Boy’ part. He’d stamp his name and just scratch a PB in front of it and think he was all that. Always smiling, too. Told ya he was stupid, right?” He trailed off as he looked at his almost empty glass of stout and I motioned to the waitress to bring me another. “Thank ya sir.” He wheezed.

“So, he was stupid?” I led.

“Yeah. Dumb as a sack of hammers. That didn’t stop him from trying to run things here tho. This was during prohibition, mind ye. We was getting our hooch from across in Canada and brewing our own beer in the cellar of this very tavern! Cops stayed offa us on account of we never sold it to outsiders, just ourselves. Anyways, this Floyd thinks he’s gonna just breeze into town and run things, on accounta he been to New York City and he says he seen how it was supposed to be like. Well, we get ahold of him one night and pounded him until he didn’t wanna run things no more.” He cackled. “End of story. We thought at least. See, there was seven of us. Me. Tom. Jim. Julius over there and Walter, Sonny and Monty. Monty’s pa owned the tavern and we was all strapping youths full of piss and vinegar. We was the security. When some fancy Dan comes waltzing into town trying to run things, especially one as stupid as this fella, well…we was the education committee. We took that creep into the alley one night and pretty near broke every bone in his scrawny body that we could get our hands on. Doc Presley took him in for free cause the creep was broke. Julius took his wallet when we pounded him and got three hundred dollars outta it. That was a lotta money back then, and we split up between us. So the Doc takes him in and puts him into one of these rope contraptions that holds him all up in the air.” His mimicry of the practice of traction was almost funny. “He looked like some buck all trussed up and ready to be cleaned and gutted. Looked funny cause he was so scrawny. Well, he doesn’t stay this way long. The creep healed up real fast. Guess it musta been his creepiness.”

“God does like the misfits,” I said.

He paused to consider this statement and continued. “So he hightails it outta town just as soon as he can walk and we don’t see no more of him for a few weeks. Next month rolled around and the creep comes back to town all serious. Doesn’t talk to no one. He goes to the tavern, this here tavern and sits there all day plain as all get out. Acting like he owns the place. Well Jimmy, Julius and me are sitting here playing darts. He comes in all struttin like a peacock and sees us. He tells Deloras, the bartender, he wants a beer then he looks over at us and says ‘Do or die.’ Like they is some kinda magic words or something. Anyway, he drinks his beer and walks out like nothing ever happened. Scrawny creep comes in every afternoon, when he knows the cops were watching, and does the same thing. Orders a beer like he owns the joint and looks at one of us and says ‘Do or die’ and walks out. We can’t do nothing to him cause the sheriff is watching out for him. We got off with a warning for hurting him before so we had to be careful.” He stopped talking for a moment to down the beer that had just arrived in one gulp, took another long drag from his cigarette that again fought its way back out like an escaping prisoner of war and continued. “We had to wait for the right time to have a little ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting with the creep. We thought the time was right when the cops got a call and had to leave. He walked out fast then without saying his ‘Do or die’ crap and we followed him. He ducked into an alley and we went in there after him only to come face to face with a gun. That’s when he plugs Julius right between the eyes. Drops him dead on the spot. Then he says ‘Do or die’ again and starts firing some more. He misses us on account of him being so stupid and took off running like a little punk up towards Bull Hill. I went and got the others while Jimmy took care of Julius. We tore after him then and we was gonna give the little creep a reckoning. We followed him up to Bull Hill but he was already on the top and he had a lot more guns. We had a rifle and a few gats so we returned fire. I tell ya, that was one helluva fight. One helluva fight we had that day.” He trailed off as he looked at the now empty glass before him. Again, I motioned for the waitress to bring us another pint and when a replacement magically appeared, my guest took it in his hands and began to drink but stopped short.

“We didn’t kill him.” He said.

“Pardon me?”

“I said we didn’t kill him. Not in that fight. We run out of ammo and so did he. We both went clack clack at the same time. That chicken shit took off running again and we followed him. Don’t get me wrong, we woulda killed him if we could have but he got hit by that grocery store truck. Right over there.” He pointed across the street. “Smashed right into him and knocked him a good thirty or so feet. He landed just out of reach of the bar door here. That’s why we said he was stocking shelves in hell now.”

“Just so I am clear on this,” I began, “You beat up a man seven on one. You put that man in the hospital with multiple broken bones. When this man comes back to town to get revenge, you chase him to his death after engaging in a firefight with him that you admit would have ended in his death if you had better aim. You tell me all this and then you say, no…you insist that you didn’t kill him?”

“Ayuh. That truck done him in. Beat us to it.”

“Ok, I see what you mean. But why the poem? Whose idea was that?”

“Mine.” The old man beamed. “I wrote it on Julius’ gravestone after we buried him. Then we dug up that creep from the pauper’s graveyard and reburied him under Julius so he’s always be on top of him. Some kids trashed the graveyard in ’57 and the headstone got messed up. It was evidence and I guess it just kinda got lost till they started doing all that work on the courthouse this summer. That’s funny.” He said.

“What is that?”

“Funny the stone just up and reappears now that I am the only one left. I outlived all them guys and you see how I smoke and drink.”

“That does seem ironic, I admit. I have to confess I have been following the story of Pretty Boy Floyd Redmond for a very long time though, sir. I found it funny that he had the nickname however. I never knew that. He was always Floyd Redmond as far as I knew. Pretty Boy Floyd…that is funny.” I began to laugh.

“But it was a joke! He was ugly as a bear and stupid as one too! He just didn’t get the joke!”

I could not control myself. I laughed like I had just heard the funniest joke in the world. I had been tracking down the life of Floyd Redmond, former minor league pitcher turned small time mob enforcer from Des Moines for decades. The trail always ran cold when he left for a trip up north from New York in 1931, leaving a wife and newborn son Cory Redmond behind. Cory Redmond relocated to New England to escape the shadow of his father’s small-time yet dark past and began a family of his own. His son moved back to New York to make a name for himself as a writer and was soon enjoying a career as a crime novelist until he read a newspaper column detailing a mysterious headstone that turned up in Bangor. He rushed up the coast to investigate. My laughter continued as I rolled up the sleeve of my polo shirt to reveal the tattoo on my shoulder of my family crest with my Father’s Motto on it and the gasp that escaped Red Taggart’s throat seemed almost solid.

“What? What is that?” he choked.

“This is my family crest. ‘Do or die’ has been the Redmond family motto for over 500 years.”

The fear that crept over the specter of a man before me was all consuming. His eyes darted across the street to look for a policeman that wasn’t there. I met his gaze with soft eyes and said only this.

“Don’t worry Mr Taggart. I am not here for revenge. By all previous accounts the man you knew, my grandfather, was indeed a worthless human being. He abandoned my grandmother when times were at their hardest. I have been trying to track down the details of his life after he left my grandmother for most of mine. My father was very tight lipped about him you see and I didn’t have much to go on but the name. I know now that he didn’t abandon my grandmother, because he died here, in this place. As I sit before you, the man responsible for his death, I have to admit I am mixed up a little, however. There is a small part of me that wants to burn you down right where you stand. That part of me wants to inflict 80 years of pain on you for depriving me of my grandfather. That part of me doesn’t win the argument though. The part that wants to thank you for giving me this gift wins. You have shown me that we have been wrong about Floyd Redmond all this time and for that, sir, I would like nothing more than to thank you.”

It was with that that I stood up and left. It was with no small dose of satisfaction that I stuck him with the tab.