Starlight Peppermint

By Grant Jerkins

I remember the first time I saw you. I was in my car—drive-thru banking—to get a check cashed. And even though I was on the far outside lane, you looked across all five traffic aisles and made eye contact with me. Yes, the security camera captured my image, and I’m sure it was on a monitor right there next to you, but you crossed time and space, to meet my eyes with yours. And when my money arrived through the pneumatic tube, I found you’d slipped a piece of candy into the envelope.

Starlight peppermint.

I wondered if you did that on purpose. If you were sending me a message.

I remember, too, later that August, it was hot and humid. The air conditioner in my car didn’t work—and I’ll never forget this—I was making a withdrawal. You greeted me by name. And when the clear plastic canister came through the tube, I grabbed it and held it in my lap while I twisted open the top. It was the oddest sensation. Icy vapor from inside the air-conditioned bank, flowed out of the canister and pooled into my lap. I lifted the container to my face, and the cold dry air spilled from it, brushing my lips and nose. I could smell you. Your perfume. It was like standing next to you. It was like you sent the essence of yourself through time and space, just to get to me. I was so affected that I couldn’t even speak. I replaced the canister and sped away. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.

Driving home, I wondered if you did that on purpose. If you sent that little bit of you, to me, on purpose.

Two days later, I was back with a deposit. I drove around the bank first, scouting it out, so I would know which lane was yours. This time I had a plan. I was so nervous, I couldn’t bring myself to speak or look at you. I wanted to appear distracted, so I turned up the radio and snapped my fingers and bobbed my head and waited for you to send me the receipt for my deposit. And when the transport canister slid down the tube and landed, I grabbed it and drove off. I kept the canister and drove away.

I had your air. Your perfumed essence, trapped in the plastic cylinder. Like a genie in a bottle. I had you.

I figured this must be a common-enough occurrence in drive-thru banking. People accidentally taking the tube container. I even searched online for the words bank drove off with canister, and there were over twelve million results. It happens all the time. Most likely by distracted people listening to the radio.

That night, I put you in my bed. The canister you. I laid you in the clean sheets while I took a shower. I wanted to be fresh. And then I fixed us two glasses of wine, to reduce anxiety, so we could be ourselves with each other.

I opened you. Consumed you. It was heaven. I know you felt it too.

The next day, I went inside the bank, and I asked for you by name—for Laurie. Because of course I’ve seen your gold-plastic name tag. The inside-teller (Roberta) told me you were busy and that she would be happy to help me, but I stood off to the side and waited for you. When you finally came out and saw me, you had this funny look on your face, almost like you didn’t recognize me. I smiled at you—sheepish, embarrassed, guilty. And I held up the canister. I said I was sorry. Understanding broke across your face, and you grinned and cocked your head to the side and asked me if I did it on purpose. Ha-ha. Then you laughed some more and said don’t worry, it happens all the time. It felt like you were reading my mind. Like you were sending me a message. Then I watched you open the canister. It was just a reflex on your part. Like maybe you were a little bit nervous and didn’t know what to do with your hands. I watched your fingers slip inside, and I thought about the residue from last night that was in there, coating the circular walls, and how my essence was on your fingers now, and how later, you might put your fingers to your lips and part of me would be inside of you.

In a rushing breath, I told you how good of a job you were doing at the bank, and how courteous and professional you always were to me, and how you made me feel like my business was truly appreciated, and that I wanted to tell your manager what an asset you are to the bank, but I was late for an appointment and if you would just give me your business card, I could call the manager later and tell him exactly who I was complimenting.

So you gave me your card.

Laurie Ciresi.
Customer Service Specialist.

Ciresi is not a common name. Not common at all. You were easy to track down. But you knew that would be the case, didn’t you?

Many nights, I watch from the stand of weeping willows behind your house. Sometimes with binoculars, and sometimes I just go right up and look in. You should really cut those hedges. They are a security risk. Or get your husband to do it. I don’t think he’s right for you. You two almost never sleep together. That says a lot.

Now that the weather is getting crisp, sometimes you open your windows to let in the evening air. When I get up close, I can smell your essence seeping out. It reminds me of how we first met, at your work, and how you sent me the air you breathe through the pneumatic tube. How I wondered if you did that on purpose. Ha-ha. It makes me smile now. How I brought the canister home, and then brought it back to you with a little bit of me left inside. Molecules of me. And now here I am, waiting for you, out under the stars. Starlight, remember? I wonder how many billions of years our atoms have swirled around the universe, only to arrive here, tonight, to be at this moment, bathed in starlight.

Time and space converge like the cards of a shuffled deck, and here we are.

What happens next?

I notice that you forgot to close your bedroom window all the way tonight. I can’t help but wonder if you did that on purpose.

If you are sending me a message.

I surely do wonder.

Something happened.

This is late. We know it’s late. We would offer apologies or excuses, if that was what we assumed our readers wanted for our first issue, but our readers don’t exist yet since we haven’t had a first issue yet. We at Gutwrench would offer our apologies to our writers, but they seem to know that this was delayed because of horrific reasons involving poison, disability and tennis balls. And our writers are just decent people.

So we’re doing this now, rolling out stories throughout the week.

First up, we’ve got a story from Atlanta drag legend Diamond Lil, told live and onstage at Carapace a few years ago.

Next, we have our first fiction piece, a very creepy bit of original horror by the great Grant Jerkins, the author of A Very Simple Crime and Abnormal Man.

For our third act, we’re giving you a gay love story with a twist from Cory D. Byrom, originally written for Write Club Atlanta.

Finally, we have a lovely essay from Sheronda Gipson, reflecting on those calls that come in the middle of the night that can only mean bad news.

Launch dates and deadlines.

Though the birthing process is often a bit difficult and horrifying, it looks as though we tentatively will be able to present you with some new content this summer.

June 1, in particular, would be a good day to expect something from us.

If you are a writer seeking a home for your short story, contact us by May 1 for inclusion in our first batch of stories.

Fresh blood on the wall.

Every life has a little bit of horror in it. It’s something that maybe only the most morbid of us like to discuss, but it’s there for everyone. If you prick us, we all bleed. And we’ve all been pricked one time or another, and we’ve all spilled a little blood.

Once I attended a panel of thriller writers in this white marble room at the Decatur Book Festival. I found out the room – now used for weddings and other happy events – was once the main courtroom for all of Dekalb County. When we stood there, the room was 95 years old, no longer the home of any trials or screaming, passion or fighting. Its colors are all cold, but I’ve never been in that room without sweating. It lacks air conditioning. It’s formal. It’s all worn. It’s uncomfortable, haunted.

courthouse

To me, it is one of the creepiest rooms in the area.

So there I was with writers like Amanda Kyle Williams and Peter Farris, and I asked them to consider the history of the room, the murderers it likely saw, the dark stories it contained within its white walls. Then I asked them to describe the room the way they would in a thriller. Farris spoke up and called the room an abbatoir.

Grant Jerkins was also in the room, and he told me that he liked my question. He agreed the room’s history gave it a haunted feel. It called out for fresh blood on the wall, he said.

So, to commence Gutwrench Journal’s beginning, we invite you to look at the photos of that very courtroom and spill some fictional blood.

For our first official story prompt and call-to-action, write a story – any kind of narrative you want – with at least one scene in that marble room.

Again, remember that this room has housed many kinds of events throughout its history, so that gives you free range to write whatever kind of narrative you want. Maybe it’s a love story, maybe it’s a ballad, maybe it’s a dark tale of crime.

When you’re done, send us your completed, final draft to editor@gutwrenchjournal.com, and we’ll consider including it on the site or in our first issue.

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