Tag Archives: short fiction

the only monster here is me

By Jeremy Maxwell

Audio recorded live during gutwrench. issue 7 release event.

The monster is laid out on the front steps like the end of the world, like the party was yesterday and here he is, Mephistopheles, askew against the bricks and forcing everyone to go around. It smells like sulfur and piss on the stoop, puke on his shirt and spilled beer soaking into his hair. He won’t know how he got here, but this is where he’ll find himself, if he ever wakes up. The morning is soggy and hot and the monster smells worse by the minute.

The little girl stands there looking down at him for a long time. The other kids are coming, she’s going to have to make a decision soon. She looks over her shoulder, hoping they’re still out of sight and knowing they won’t be for long. She bends down and wrinkles her nose.

She pokes the monster on the shoulder, one, two, three times, poke, poke, poke. “Mister,” she says. “Mister, wake up.” He doesn’t move or twitch but the dark spot on his pants becomes a patch, grows darker, starts to spread. The smell gets worse and she scrunches up her nose till it hurts. “Ah, jeez,” she says, and leans in all the way. She takes him by the shoulder and shakes, saying mister and shaking and shaking until he stirs.

His mouth falls open and he begins to groan. It is deep and low and wide, the sound of gravel kicked up on the road.

,” he says. The sound starts small and swells to fill the stoop, fighting the smell for the space. One eye pops open wide but the other is crusted over with sweat or sleep or beer and doesn’t budge. He lays there making the sound, staring out at her through one half-blind busted eye.

,” he says, and the eye swivels up to look her in the face.

“You,” the monster says.

“Mister, you got to get up,” the little girl says and lets go of his arm. “You got to get up right now.” She looks over her shoulder again and there they are, Tommy and Tina and the rest of them, trying to cross the street. “Mister, please get up,” she pleads, and behind his broken, leaking eye, the monster begins to move.

* * *

There used to be a bathroom here but all that’s left is a piece of shattered mirror on the wall and a hole in the floor where the toilet used to sit. The monster pisses into the hole with his pants pooled around his ankles while the little girl stands in the other room. Somewhere down there are flies and a few of them swarm up to investigate his pants, his feet, the puddles on the floor. He makes the sound again and kicks at the flies as he pulls up his pants.

“Mister, you got to learn some more words,” the little girl says as he stumbles through the doorway and staggers past. The counter is lined with liquor bottles in varying stages of emptiness and he turns them up one by one until he finds one several fingers deep and collapses into the only chair in the room. It is plastic and weak in the legs and flops over sideways, spilling the monster into the floor.

,” the monster roars, and the little girl shakes her head and glances back toward the door. She shouldn’t be here, she’ll catch a beating for sure if anyone finds out, from Tommy or Tina or maybe even her mom, it just depends who finds out first. You never go into the monster’s lair, they’ll say. It’s where he keeps his power. Even if she knows better, she knows it won’t do no good to argue. They’ll beat her up for sure if she does that. His other eye is open now and he watches her watch the exit. “Good,” he says, flopping over onto his back and clutching the bottle to his chest. “GTFO.”

“That doesn’t spell anything, mister,” the little girl says, “but at least you’re trying now.” She looks down at him and wrinkles her nose. “Don’t you got anymore pants?” He stares up at her through both bleary eyes and then scrunches up his face and laughs. It starts small and slow and like all else the monster does, swells to fill the room. She’s not sure why but she’s just a little girl so she laughs with him, the two of them roaring there together in the empty house.

They’re still laughing when the knock comes at the door.

* * *

The sound is tiny and she knows it’s Tina even if she can’t say how. She quits laughing and then he hears it too and the silence that follows is as loud as the laughter ever was. It presses in around them and the knock comes at the door again. The monster sits up and drinks from the bottle, throat working against nothing even after whatever he’s drinking is gone. The tiny knock returns and the monster throws the empty bottle at the door. He’s making the sound again and she wants to cower there in the room, she wants to run for the door but the bottle bursts against it and she backs toward the bathroom as glass sprays at them both.

The tiny knock goes away and the monster climbs to his feet. She does cower then, in the doorway of the decrepit toilet, the monster’s lair, the monster’s lair, where have you gone, oh what have you done you stupid little girl. She cowers there still when he snatches open the front door and lurches out onto the stoop. She can see past him and across the road where Tommy and Tina and the rest of them are gathered, but they aren’t all kids, there are policemen there too, looking and pointing at them from the other side of the road, the other side of the world.

“Tommy’s gonna kill me,” she wails and there in the dilapidated doorway the little girl begins to cry. The sound starts small and slow and swells like the monster’s to fill the room, bigger and bigger till there is nothing else. The monster turns on the stoop and leans hard back into the house as the policemen rush across the road.

“Look here, little girl,” the monster says, holding the doorframe with one hand and pointing at his crotch with the other. She knows better than to look but her eyes are wide with terror and there is nothing else to see. “Look,” he roars again, and she does, and there’s nothing there to see, he’s just pointing at his pants. He turns away from her and heaves himself off the stoop, pitches himself toward the crowd. He’s making the sound again but she can barely hear it for her own sound bouncing off the broken walls.

He throws himself at the first policeman and then ducks as the group of them tries to grab his arms, his hair, his soggy pants or puke-stained shirt. The monster dodges and jukes and his clumsiness might as well have belonged to somebody else because his eyes burn with a clarity the little girl has never seen, not in her own eyes or her mom’s or even Tommy’s or Tina’s when they are working her over. He stops there at the bottom of the steps and looks back at her, across the stoop and the empty room and the upturned plastic chair. She is still cowering and wailing in the doorway of the bathroom and the dark spot on her pants becomes a patch, grows darker, starts to spread.

The monster turns back to the nearest policeman and kicks him square in the nuts. It is full and strong and has the weight of a full-grown man behind it. The policeman crumples to the ground and the monster doesn’t dodge or juke, just lets the rest of them reach in and grasp, his pants, his hands, his throat. He just stares and laughs at the little girl as she cowers deep inside the doorway of the abandoned house. She stops crying then, runs forward to the stoop where the smell of sulfur fills the space. She wrinkles up her nose and laughs.

Facedown in the street the monster laughs with her, he laughs until they pick him up and throw him in the back of a car, cuffed at the hands and the waist and the feet. The little girl leans out onto the stoop as Tommy and Tina and the rest of them come running up the steps. She stops laughing and grabs onto the doorframe with both hands.

“What the fuck is wrong with you,” Tommy yells as he reaches for her arms, her throat, for anything. Her leg is already swinging back before he has time to stop, and when she connects with his nuts he goes flying, off the stoop, off the steps, into the street facedown and the sound he makes is so familiar, so full of outrage and despair, it’s not just the monster laughing, not even just the two of them, the monster and the little girl. It’s the policemen, it’s Tina and the rest of them, the whole world laughing at Tommy, laughing as he makes the sound.

any kind of home

By Jeremy Maxwell

They’ll tell you the Panhandle is part of Florida, any map or GPS will say the same, but anybody that lives around here knows it’s just more Alabama, and it’ll stay that way for the next fifty or sixty miles. It stretches out in either direction and it doesn’t much matter if you’re headed east or west, it’s all just loblolly pines and the slow creep of kudzu tearing everything down. Two-lane roads that lead god knows where and tattered billboards that haven’t been legible for years.

I drain the last of the beer from the can and toss it out the window, watch in the mirror as it sails neatly into the bed of the truck. You would think I’ve been doing this forever, because I have. I crack open another and take a long pull.

Pantera gives way to Behemoth and I hear the tires move across the paint, feel the truck begin to shake as it starts whipping through the grass. I snatch it back onto the asphalt and take another pull from the beer. By the time Behemoth is giving way to Hank III, I’m flicking my half-smoked cigarette into the wind and tossing the empty can behind it.

There is no destination; there’s nowhere out here anyone would want to go.

I’m standing beside the truck staring at my phone, smoking a joint and trying to figure out if I still have service. I haven’t decided one way or the other when it rings in my hand.

“Hello, wife,” I say.

“Hello, husband,” she says, and I hit the joint and wait. “Are you at the show?” she asks.

“You know, I don’t think I’m gonna go.”

“Scared they won’t let you in?” she says, and I stand there, stupid. I flick the roach into the weeds and watch it burn; unbuckle my pants and piss on it, stagger back against the truck.

“Why the fuck wouldn’t they let me in,” I say, putting my pants back together and reaching through the window for another beer.

They’ve all rolled into the floorboard and I have to climb in up to my waist to get ahold of one. I pull myself out and walk around the back of the truck, open the tailgate and sit down.

“It hasn’t been two weeks since you blacked out and started doing snow angels on the floor in front of the merch table,” she says.

“I don’t remember doing that.”

“Well, they do,” she says, and I know she’s right.

I’m staring at the woods listening to her tell me it’s fine, to be careful and come on home when I see the cut. You could drive by a million times and never notice it there, even if you were looking for it. I tell my wife I love her and end the call and climb back in the truck, start it up and turn toward the ruts between the trees.

The road goes on forever, it even forks a couple of times and I’ve got no idea where I’m going, just picking left or right and hoping I don’t get stuck in the mud out here in the middle of fucking nowhere in the middle of the fucking woods. The truck is bouncing back and forth and the daylight’s fading and there’s only one more beer rolling around in the floorboard. I’ve just about decided to turn the whole thing around if I can find someplace to do that when the trees open up into a giant clearing of freshly mown grass. It happens fast and I hit the brakes at the treeline and sit there staring straight ahead and wondering what in the hell I’m doing out here. The Kills are singing loud and I turn them down and down and down until the sound is gone.

Out in front of me, seven single-wide trailers are set in a wide semicircle. They’re pushed back almost against the far edge of the trees with very little space between one and the next, enough for a clothesline and a couple of plastic chairs between each one. Some of the chairs have been turned over and there are no clothes hanging on the lines. A pair of jeans and what could be a sundress are strewn across the ground like everything was snatched down in a massive hurry and I get the feeling there were people out here moments ago.

“What the fuck is this, then,” I say, and I want to turn around and get the fuck out of here but there’s not enough room to do that without leaving the trees. Large vegetable gardens line both sides of the clearing. I’m getting visions of meth cooks and cartel weed trimmers and I reach under the seat for the pistol, set it on the center console.

I pull forward and I can see that all the windows are covered and the doors are closed and I know I should just go but now I can’t help myself and I keep moving toward the trailers. I stop a few yards short of the middle one and before I can get it in park the door snatches open and a woman comes storming down the steps with a shotgun. I’m out of the truck before I know what I’m doing and she’s got the thing leveled at my chest and I didn’t even pick up the pistol so I just stand there in the grass and put my hands above my head.

“Put your goddamn hands down,” she says. “Who did you come out here for?” I lower my arms and glance around and now there are bends in all the blinds but I still can’t see inside.

“I didn’t come out here for nobody,” I say, and she doesn’t say shit so I tell her I’m just trying to turn around. I’m drunk and stoned and I should’ve just gone to the goddamn show where the bouncers and bartenders all hate my fucking guts but nobody wants to shoot me.

She asks if I have a gun and I tell her in the truck and she asks what I’m really doing out here and I tell her, really, nothing. A young girl comes out of the trailer behind her with a walkie talkie in one hand and puts the other on the woman’s back. “Nobody knows who he is,” she says, “nobody’s ever seen him.”

“Jesus Christ, you stupid bastard,” the woman says and points the shotgun at the ground. “Well come on in and at least get some tomatoes.” She backs toward the steps without turning around and the girl disappears through the door and I don’t even like tomatoes but here I go inside.

When I ask what they’re doing out here, the woman glares at me as the girl piles vegetables into a paper sack. “Growing tomatoes,” she says, and takes the bag and shoves it against my chest. The place looks more like an office than any kind of home, and again I ask what’s going on.

“Look, I’ve got a dozen ladies out here hiding from assholes just like you,” she says, “and you’ve got them all scared half to death. Couple of bad decisions and you end up married to some prick with shitstains halfway up his back from twenty years of wiping his ass in the wrong direction. Creeping through the woods that way,” she says, shaking her head. “Got them all scared to death. Now please,” she says, “take these and go.”

She follows me out and watches as I climb in the truck and stow the pistol, open the last beer and set out for home. When my wife asks what I’m doing with tomatoes, I set the sack on the counter and pull her close, saying, I love you, I’m right here. I love you. I’m here.

The Temp

By Jack Walsh

The nervous one called Aaron couldn’t dance for shit. It was like watching a giraffe with a broken knee and an inflamed nutsack trying to do burpees. Not that the calf had ever seen that before. Or that burpees had even been developed as an exercise yet. One day, men who would come into work from the gymnasium and bend their knees and say to coworkers, “Oof. Leg day,” would also mention burpees a lot. Somehow, the calf just knew this. Knew it all. How the sunrise looked from the top of any and every mountain. Knew the truth about Stonehenge. Knew the decimal places of Pi. All of them. He knew everything all at once.

Which made pinning things down to a specific time kind of tricky. Just a little earlier (Was it today? Yesterday? A thousand years ago?) the calf had known nothing. To say he existed in a void implies awareness of it. He wasn’t aware. He wasn’t anything. But then, just like that, here he was. Golden. Gleaming in the firelight. The people cavorting around him. Naked. Chanting. Dancing. Worshipping. He wished he could offer an appreciative moo. The people seemed to maybe expect it.

The calf breathed in deeply. Smoky. Some sort of seasoning. Was that sage? He thought about it for a second. It was sage. It smelled delicious. Not that he could eat it. He couldn’t open his mouth. Didn’t even have a stomach, let alone the four of most cows. But somehow he was sated. Slaughtering a bull. Presenting burnt offerings. This pleased him. The smoke. The beef. And, sure, that part did seem a little contradictory and wrong, given his bovine form. But, what were wrong and right to the divine? Heh. Divine. Bovine. He suppressed a chuckle. He hoped Aaron had shaped his face to look stern. Amusement wouldn’t really inspire awe or reverence in his people.

“Up,” they had said to Aaron. “Make us gods, which shall go before us.”

Aaron had sighed. His brother had a mountain god, a god of plenty and protection and nature-warping miracles. But also of fire, and locusts, and vengeance. On balance, Moses’ god didn’t seem like one you would want to forsake. But, faith and reason and loyalty and patience weren’t an easy mix for the people. They’d said, “As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.”

Aaron’s brother had led the people through seas, deserts and mountains. He’d faced down the Pharaoh. The whole kingdom, really. He’d stood stoic in the face of plague. Of blood-soaked horror. But, Aaron’s backbone was not as stiff.

“Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters,” he’d said, improvising as he went. “Bring them unto me.” The calf knew Aaron had felt uneasy about the whole thing. The melting of the gold. The shaping of his body. The making of a god. But then the wine started to flow. Given how Aaron was dancing now, he had gotten over it, at least for the rest of the night.

The drippings from the meat sizzled on the fire and gave off a savory smell. Umami? Was that what you called umami? The calf knew that one day, insufferable know-it-all foodies would use this to describe some flavor, but he couldn’t figure out what they would mean by it. Umami. He said it to himself again. It sounded funny. Heh. Ooo-mah-mi.

The calf took another deep breath. Not so much for the smell this time, but as a savoring of the moment. Just look at them all. They were ecstatic. Blissful.

They couldn’t know that a little later, Aaron’s brother would come down off the mountain and see all this and throw a shit-fit. He would scream and smash stone.

And the calf knew what would come next. Moses would pull him down. Grind him to dust. Mix the dust with water and make the people drink it. Godhood reduced to Ovaltine. Not as any sort of drink-your-vitamins-and-minerals gesture, but as penance. And even then, Moses would still have a few thousand of them killed. His god would demand it.

It would happen. Tonight? Years later? Sometime. But, for now, the calf just wanted to watch the moron dance some more.