Lies and Half Truths

LAHT Presents: Saving Mars, Chapter One "Not Big On Protocol" by Cidney Swanson

As you know, I'm currently writing Lies and Half Truths season 2. Until it launches, we're bringing you some stories by other great writers. 

On this episode, I read an excerpt from Cidney Swanson’s Saving Mars. Swanson is an award winning YA Sci Fi and Fantasy writer. Check out her Blog. You can pick up Saving Mars and many other books by Swanson on the Amazon book store or on her website. 

Original music for this episode was provided by Josiah Martens.  He did an amazing job and we hope to collaborate quite a bit on future episodes. 

As always, Meg Weber produced this show, along with me. 

I'd love to hear your response to this episode. Did you like it? Did you hate it? We're you like, "meh?" What kinds of stories do you want to hear on future episodes? Email us at

Episode Preview: Saving Mars, By Cidney Swanson

This Friday, October 16th, the Lies and Half Truths Podcast is bringing you an excerpt from Cidney Swanson's Saving Mars, read by me (AP Weber) and scored by my good friend Josiah Martens. It's going to be great, so don't miss it.

LAHT Presents: Great American After Life, by Peter Hoffmeister and Mankind

Cover by Courtney Stubbert

Cover by Courtney Stubbert

On this episode, we’re bringing you a collaboration between Writer Peter Hoffmeister and an experimental, post-rock trio known as Mankind. This collaboration was spearheaded by Mankind drummer, graphic designer and fine-artist Courtney Stubbert. It’s his art you see on the cover above (and, incidentally on the Lies and Half Truths cover.) You can see more of his work at It was Courtney who introduced me to Peter Hoffmeister. Hoffeister’s work might be familiar to you through his novel, “Graphic The Valley,” which I reviewed on my blog when it came out. Or you might have read his memoir “The End of Boys,” or one of his other books or his Huffington Post articles, or his excellent blog. Or perhaps you saw the piece about him in Vice. In any case, he’s a great writer and one of the first people I’d ever met who actually had a book published. So, of course, when I decided to make a go at a writing career, I asked him to read some of my... stuff. And I’ll always be grateful to him for his honest.

For more on Peter Hoffmeister, here are some links:




For More on Courtney Stubbert visit his website here.

Mankind is: 

Guitars - John Hurd

Bass and Organ - James Madson

Drums / Programming - Courtney Stubbert

The Great American Afterlife was recorded/produced by Courtney Stubbert and mixed/mastered by Ashley Stubbert.



Episode 9: The Witch Of Hamilcar, TX, Part 4

Episode 9: The Witch Of Hamilcar, TX, Part 4

The stale air whizzed by, echoing off the narrow passage, invisible in the dark. Seconds before Roland hit the water, it seemed as though the passage opened up into a larger cavern.

He sank deep; his weightless body curled into a fetal ball, tumbling in slow-motion through the dark medium. A mass of soft tubercles pressed against his naked arm, then slid away like a spooked snake.

Roland opened his eyes wide to the black; his body uncurled and flailed. His foot struck a rocky surface and he pushed against it, kicked. He broke the water with an involuntary yelp, took in air, then tried to hold still, steady his breathing, to be as quiet as he could. He heard the tinkle of other bodies in the water.

Episode 7: The Witch Of Hamilcar, TX, Part 2

Roland dreamed of darkness. A thick, inky, pregnant black. It filled his throat and ears with silence and it ached with hunger.

The well, he thought. I'm in the well.

He jolted awake and found himself lying fetal style--muscles tight, spine tingling. He tried to relax.

Just a dream, he told himself, but he knew it wasn’t--he never merely dreamed anymore.

He heard his brother’s voice at his back.

“What did you see?”

Roland opened his eyes to a grey light.

“What did I see?” he said, darkly. To his brother, Roland’s dreams were just movies that played in his head--he would never understand what it was truly like, how thoroughly he inhabited the minds of other dreamers.

“Was it the well?”

Roland rolled over. “I was talking in my sleep again, wasn’t I.”

“No,” said his brother.

Roland sat up. “How did you know? What’s going on?”

Ben was sitting in the easy chair, dressed in the clothes he had been wearing the night before. He held his fingertips pressed together under his nose in his “thinking pose.”

“In a second. After you tell me what you saw.”

“Nothing!” Roland exclaimed in exasperation. “I saw nothing, Ben. I was inside it’s mind. Whatever is out there in the well that you are not talking about, I was inside its mind. Do you understand?”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Why did you take the flask last night?”

“Focus, Rolly. This is serious.”

“I keep telling you, you don’t know what it’s like.”

“But you’re sure there is some sort of entity in the well?”

Roland stabbed his brother with a cold look. “It’s a Daemon, Ben.”


“It’s very old and very powerful. It’s some sort of primal god, or daemon or old one or whatever the hell, Ben. It’s big.”

The brother’s said nothing for a moment. Roland pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his chin on them.

“What do we do?” he said.

“We have to stop it,” said Ben, as if it were simple.

Roland furrowed his brow. “Stop it from doing what?”

“You didn’t ask me how my date was.”

Roland looked at his brother for several seconds before replying in a dull voice, “how was your date?”

Ben crossed his legs, affecting an ironically casual tone. “It was very informative, Roland. Did you know that Reverend Wallis is insane? Also, that he is using his gift to control the people in this town? No surprise there. Oh yeah, and he’s serving that demon sleeping in the well.”

Roland squinted at his brother. “What are you talking about? How do you know all this?”

“Sarah told me,” Ben said. “You know how you’ve never ‘dream-walked’ into Dad’s head? Or mine? Don’t you find that strange, by the way? Well, it seems Sarah is immune to her father’s preaching in the same way that Dad and I are immune to your intrusions. It doesn’t control her. But pretty much everyone else in this town is his unreserved thrall.”

Roland exhaled slowly. “I was afraid of that.”

“Yeah, well it gets worse. It appears this thing in the well is demanding sacrifice or whatever. So Wallis has the town ready to drink the kool aid--so to speak.”

“It’s a daemon, Ben. Maybe it’s controlling him.”

“Or maybe he’s just plain crazy. I don’t care. He’s orchestrating a mass sacrifice to a demon god. That’s bad; we’re going to stop it.”

“Okay fine,” Roland said. “But what about--wait, is there even a witch?”

“I don’t know. Sarah says the story her dad told is true but, according to her, it’s mostly exaggeration.”

“So she doesn’t believe in the witch?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. But the important thing is what’s happening today. Wallis wants us out of town.”

“What do you mean?”

“The sacrifice is planned for tonight. This afternoon, the good shepherd is having a lottery at the church. The whole town is going to be there. It’s going to be like bingo night, but if you win, the prize is death.”

“So the witch hunt is a distraction?”

“I think so.”

“You think so?”

“Well, there could be a real witch out there. I don’t know.”

“Maybe we should call Dad.”

Ben looked startled by Roland’s suggestion. “What? No. Roland, we can handle this. We agreed that we were going to do this on our own now.”

Roland balled his fists, stared at them and squeezed them so hard he shook; his voice shook, too. “Together, Ben. We’re doing this together. That was the deal. But you just sent me into the mind of that... demon. Alone. That wasn’t the deal. The deal was ‘together.’”

When he looked up, he saw the expression he knew would be on his brother’s face; it was his father’s face, transposed.

“One night, man,” Ben said, in their father’s voice. “One fucking night you have to go to sleep without your sweet oblivion. If we were back home, the council would take that flask away from you for good. So stop being a fucking baby. There are much bigger things at stake here than your nightmares.”

The brothers looked at each other, wordless for a long moment. Finally, Ben threw his hands in the air.

“Alright,” He said. “I’m sorry. I push you, Roland, because I know you can handle it. Maybe you don’t believe in yourself, but I do. Just... try to trust me. We are in this together.”

Roland realized he had been holding his breath. He exhaled; there was nothing else to do.

“Okay. Okay. What--what do we do?”

Ben’s lips curled in a wry smile.

“We split up.”


The brothers stood in the graduating morning heat, each with a duffel bag on his shoulder. They watched Reverend Wallis pat the hood of his ‘78 Ford F-150 pickup.

“Hope you can handle a stick,” the old preacher said.

They went to the passenger side and threw the bags on the floor of the cab as Sarah came out of the house.

“I’m headed to Barb’s, Daddy. See how that new hip’s holding up for her.”

The preacher waved at his daughter over the hood.

“Alright, Darlin’. Tell her ‘hi’ for me.”

She set out down the road on foot. The preacher turned back to Ben and Roland.

“Talked to my mechanic friend this morning. Says he’ll bring his rig over later and pick up your car.”

Ben got behind the wheel of the truck. “Thank you, Reverend.”

“Good luck to you boys.”

Roland got in on the other side. “Good luck?” he muttered to his brother.

Ben gave him a look and fired up the engine.


They pulled onto the main road headed out of town. Roland opened the bags. Inside were the “tools of their trade,” meager as they were. The main thing their father taught them was to have some means of making fire as quickly as possible. To this end the boys carried a Zippo lighter, replacement flints and wick, a small bottle of lighter fluid, several roadside flares and a box of wooden matches. They kept all these items in one bag--the wisdom of which they often debated. Ben always made Roland carry the fire bag--which was also a subject of debate between the brothers. Ben would argue that his bag was heavier; he carried the guns after all. But now the plan was to split up; Roland pondered how to divide the items.

“What do you want in yours?” he said.

“You take the .38. There are some extra rounds in there, too.”

Roland spread open his brother’s bag, reached in and drew out the revolver. In search of a box of 9mm ammunition, he rummaged through the other items: the sawed-off, single-shot, breech-loaded 12 gauge shotgun, a box of shells, a tire iron and a six-inch stiletto his father had given Ben for his eleventh birthday. In one corner of the bag he found the brown medicine flask, partially wrapped in a grease-stained terry cloth rag. He shook his head, but he didn’t want another fight so he left it and found the bullets.


Outside town, Ben pulled onto the shoulder. He took a second to look in his bag before getting out. Roland slid over to the driver’s seat.

“You know where you’re going?” Ben said through the open window.

“Yeah,” said Roland. “But, hey. Where do I meet up with you?”

“Just come back to the house.”

“Won't that look suspicious if I arrive without you?”

“Nah. Just say you dropped me off in town or something.”

“And what do I say happened out there?”

“Tell the truth.”

“And if there actually is a witch?”

“Tell the truth.”


Roland drove for almost twenty minutes, mowing down brittle stalks of grass protruding from cracks in the weathered asphalt; the house appeared from around a bend sitting atop a small hill crest. The truck rattled and shook as Roland climbed the drive. He studied the house, looming ever larger against his approach.

General disrepair lent a strange geometry to the structure, unnaturally hiding and revealing portions of the house. The porch sagged. A screen door hung on one hinge. Layers of dust had turned the window panes a translucent hazel color. The same dust coating the windows also transformed the house into a perfidious brown. To one side, a grove of almond trees defied the orderly manner in which they were planted. Brush and star thistle had long ago overtaken any other cultivated plants in the yard.

Roland parked the truck a few yards from the front porch. He set the brake and squinted at the windows. By the look of it, this house was not occupied, yet it seemed the building itself peered out at him.

He examined the periphery. The almond orchard was on the left; a black oak curled and towered to the right. A gust of hot, summer wind swept the hilltop; something whipped around in the breeze on the other side of the oak, a dirty-gray blur.

There’s nothing here, he told himself and turned the key.

He backed up in a dusty “J” and glanced one more time at the object wavering on the other side of the oak tree; at the bottom of the drive, it dawned on him what it could be. His chest clenched at the realization. He stopped the truck and sat, thinking.

“Goddamn it,” he said aloud, and sat a minute longer.

He cursed again then turned the truck around to climb back up the drive. His hand went to the duffel bag on the seat, drew out the .38 and set it on his lap.

He parked in front of the oak and got out, pistol leveled at his waist. Embedded in the bark on the other side of the tree was a rusty nail, but the object that had hung there was missing. He turned in a circle searching the brush.

“Damn it,” he hissed.

There had been an animal pelt hanging from the tree--of that he was sure. Most likely a wolf, he reasoned. But where was it now?

Roland looked up at the house. It glared back at him.

The screen door. Was it in a different position than it had been? He wiped his brow with the back of his hand and cursed.

The thought occurred to him that he could just light the house on fire and walk away. He took mental inventory of what was in his bag--not enough to ensure the whole place would burn. And what if it did burn? With this wind, the whole countryside could go up. Besides, his brother would ask questions. Ben would want details; Roland needed to be certain.

He retrieved the bag from the truck cab.

The wind came up, hot and dry, making his eyes itch. He gripped the gun, shouldered the duffle bag, took a breath, stuffed down the hesitation swimming in his gut, and stepped onto the porch.

The doorknob felt warm and brittle. It turned with a rusty squeak and the door creaked inward.

Roland waited several seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dim, brown ink of the house’s interior. Some curtains appeared out of the haze to his right and in two steps he tore them open. Sunlight streamed in--the fool’s antidote to fear, his father always called it.

A shaft of light fell upon the wood floor, but darkened the shadows in the house’s recesses. Roland tried a light switch. Nothing. He struck a flare and held it aloft.

With the pistol in one hand and the flare in other, Roland paced the perimeter of the room, pulling down the thick, velvet curtains so that they piled on the floor against the wall. When sunlight filled the room, he found himself in a large living space. He took note of the fireplace and the staircase leading to the second floor. There was also a doorway to the kitchen and beyond that the sun room at the back of the house. The wood floors echoed each exploratory step.

In the sunroom, he caught the first hint of magic. Hazy, amber light shone through the dusty glass. Clay pots sat on the ground in neat rows. Herbs. He rubbed a peppermint leaf; it could be used in purification spells and sleeping potions. Roland had tried many of the other herbs, as well, to ward off his nightmares. Only the oblivion tonic worked and it’s contents he could not attest to--a problem he would have to solve one day if he intended to never return to his father’s aegis.

His father.


Roland remembered winding through narrow alleys in some ancient New England neighborhood; his father leading the way. An old wooden door and down some stairs to a cellar. There, they found a man--whiskery with frazzled, gray hair. He sat bent over a bunsen burner, bifocals upon his nose. The man looked up at them, father and son, and stood with an abrupt, clumsy motion.

“I have it here,” his voice croaked, as if from disuse. “It was very dear, Mr Carter. Very dear, indeed.”

Roland’s father snatched the glass from the old man as soon as he produced it.

“More dear than your degenerate life, sorcerer?”

The old man held up his hands, eyes wide like he expected a blow.

“All I meant is--is it will only take a drop. Just a drop. No payment necessary. Just want you to know how--how potent this is. It goes far beyond what you required of me. Far beyond.”

Roland’s father nodded, then turned toward the door.

“Are we--are we done, then, sir?” said the old man.

“As long as you live and practice your art, we will never be done,” said Roland’s father.

Then, with a severe look at the old man, he added, “This better work.”

“It will. It will. Very dear. Very potent, indeed.”

Outside, in the ancient alley, his father thrust the glass into Roland’s hand and gripped him by the shoulder.

“Because you are a coward,” he said. “Never tell anyone the gift has manifested in you. I’d rather see our line of hunters die with me than disgrace the family name with your failure.”


Roland shook the memory off like a slap, then turned back toward the interior of the house.

In the the kitchen, he found a door had escaped his notice. Over it hung elderberries and mistletoe. He pushed it open. Stairs leading down into darkness.

He found an oil lamp at the bottom of the stairs, lit it and carried it with him.

He felt around the basement’s perimeter. Dry, cool stone walls. The tingle and crack of spiderweb. The ring of his lamplight met the wooden leg of a piece of furniture. A workbench, like what a carpenter might use.

Roland set the lamp on the surface of the bench. It was cluttered, but no cobwebs here, no dust. Something reflected lamplight back at him. He picked it up. A bar of silver. One ounce. Several more lay in a pile. Another lay atop a stack of papers. Roland picked up the papers and held them to the light to reveal black-ink handwriting. He looked over his shoulder and began leafing through the letters.

The first letter was addressed merely to “My Dear.” The signature at the bottom read “Warmly, Emma Kezie-Goody.” The next letter was the same. And the next--an ongoing correspondence. The fourth letter was different. The handwriting. And it was addressed to “My Love.” He flipped the page over and found the signature, “B.S.C.”

Roland squinted at the signature, then flipped back to the front. That handwriting. Each word like a leaning shanty. So familiar. He looked back at the signature. It couldn’t be. “Benjamin Solomon Carter.”  He looked over his shoulder again and stuffed the letters in his pocket. What did it mean?

He turned and walked toward the center of the room. His feet scuffed chalk lines on the stone floor. He held the lamp up to cast a broader ring of light. Concentric geometric shapes narrowed in on the center of the room; at the middle, he found the cask.

The cask was about the size and shape of a wine barrel, similarly made from wood staves bound by what appeared to be iron rings. Roland knelt beside it and ran his fingers along the woodgrains. There were at least three types of wood here. One was definitely oak. One ash. He thought the third might be Hawthorn wood--at least that would make the most sense under the circumstances. Roland knew what would come next: the silver bars would be melted down and poured into runic grooves carved on the panels.

It’s for the thing in the well, Roland realized.

With magic, it doesn’t matter how big a thing is; the entire population of Manhattan could fit in this wood cask, if the spell were constructed correctly. It would be a dear spell, indeed--this one, too. With an ancient one, a small god, the witch would have to know the monster’s true name. But it would be possible to capture the beast.

Roland studied the vessel for a little while longer. What would the witch do with an imprisoned god? And what did his brother know about all this? Who was he corresponding with? Sarah? It had to be Sarah. Was Sarah the witch? Had she sacrificed an infant in some dark ritual like Reverend Wallis said? What was Ben’s role in all this?

He needed to get back to town, to confront his brother, Sarah, Reverend Wallis. They all had secrets.

Next: The Witch Of Hamilcar, TX, Part Three 07.03.15

Photo by Brenton Salo

Photo by Brenton Salo

Episode 6: The Witch Of Hamilcar, TX, Part 1

When two boys in a beat-up, old Subaru station wagon sputtered into town, the people of Hamilcar, Texas squinted at them from sidewalks and storefronts and more than one man spat on the ground. But when the vehicle turned down Armadillo, toward the church and Reverend Wallis’ house, suspicions were abated somewhat. The young men left their car idling in the Reverend’s drive and got out.

The old preacher opened the door and stared over his bifocals at them standing there on his porch. Their clothes were wrinkled and smeared here and there with black grease. One stood almost a head taller than the other, but they were otherwise so similar in aspect there was no mistake that they were brothers.

The old man made no expression and spoke in a low voice.

“You’re daddy send you?”

The taller of the two brother’s shook his head.

The Preacher studied them and gave several pensive nods before opening the screen.

“You boys look like you been through a thing or two.”

He gestured at the idling car.

“Why don’t you turn that beast off and come inside?”

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it started again,” said the older boy.

“Well, you’re welcome to stay awhile. Park her over by the garage and we’ll take a look under the hood tonight when it cools off some.”

He offered his hand to the older boy.

“You’re Ben, if memory serves.”

Ben held up his oil stained hands.

“I’m not trying to be rude. I just don’t want to get engine oil on you.”

“Oh,” said Reverend Wallis, “I think you’ll find I ain’t afraid to get my hands dirty.”


Photo by Brenton Salo

Photo by Brenton Salo

Inside, they sipped iced tea at the kitchen table and looked out the sliding glass door across a dry field to the white church building on the other side. The church was a simple structure with a steeple and rows of red stained glass. A cemetery lay behind the church and an adobe brick well beyond that.

Ben remembered the well. He had teased his brother Roland for being too scared to look down into its darkness. They had been children then.

The preacher cleared his throat, paused with the glass at his lips.

“How’s your father been?” he said, and took a sip as though the question didn’t matter at all.

Ben sat circling the rim of his glass with his fingertip.

“He doesn’t know we’re here.”

“That right?”

The younger boy straightened up in his seat.

“We’d like to keep it that way,” he said. “At least for a little while.”

The preacher gave another series of pensive nods. He looked the younger boy over.

"Roland, right? I remember you being a sweet little boy. Not like the Carolingian hero you were named after. Now don't take that the wrong way. Remember, the Lord passed over David to build his temple because he was a man of violence. That was David’s calling--violence. But it's better to be a man of peace. I think you know that. Is that why you’re here? Looking for a little peace?"

Ben reached out and took hold of the old man’s forearm; his grip tighter than what would be polite.

“That’s enough, Reverend. We can’t let you go on like that and I think you know why.”

The preacher’s eyes flamed with the indignation of an old man but the passion of a young one.

Roland looked back and forth between his brother and the preacher.

“We mean you no disrespect,” he said.

The old man’s muscles tightened beneath Ben’s hand.

“Boy--,” he began to say, his voice like rusted iron.

A girl appeared from the den, with damp hair and smelling of lavender.

“You know they’re right, Daddy,” she said.

She was a slight creature, but of an age with the boys. Pretty. The tension in the preacher’s arm gave way at the sight of her.

“You boys remember my daughter, Sarah, don’t you?”

“Of course they do,” Sarah said, her smile radiant and disarming and traced with mischief. “As I recall, Rolly and I used to play together out there in the yard, and you, Benjamen, were a bit of a bully.”

She gave him a good-natured glare.

Ben grinned back at her and took her hand in greeting. “Well, that certainly sounds like me.”

In turn, Roland took her hand. “I remember you.”

“Are y’all staying the night?” Sarah asked.

The preacher stood.

“I’m not sure that would be a good idea anymore.”

“Nonsense, Daddy. You know they meant no harm.”

“She’s right, sir,” said Ben. “Roland and I have a great deal of respect for you. We would not have come here otherwise. We had no intention of imposing on you like this, but you may be the only person who understands the situation we’re in.”

The old man scowled.

“I see,” he said. “Then we’ll talk more on that later. Sarah. Please, help the boys settle in.”

He left the three youths standing in the kitchen. Sarah smiled her mischievous smile.

“Well, guess I’ll show you boys around,” she said. “Come on.”


At dusk, the preacher and the two brothers probed and tinkered with the Subaru's engine, periodically shooing away insects attracted to the fluorescent lamp hung from the inside of the raised hood. An AM radio hummed a Gospel program; they listened to the grainy harmonies while sipping iced-tea and hypothesizing about the nature of the vehicle’s ailment. Reverend Wallis wiped his hands on a rag in resignation.

"There's an honest man in my congregation. He’ll know how to fix her."

He closed the hood and leaned against it.

Ben grimaced and scratched his head.

"We don't have a lot of money, Reverend."

“No, I don’t suppose you do,” the preacher gestured at the two boys with his glass. “I have a little problem of my own. Tell me, which one of you was expected to inherit the family business--so to speak.”

Roland looked at Ben; Ben stared hard at the preacher.

“We’re on our own now,” Ben said. “Doesn’t matter who.”

The preacher eyed him back.

“If one of you two has a gift, it surely does matter.”

“Neither of us have a gift, Reverend. But we’re still about God’s work.”

“And that’s why you’re here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s dangerous work. Even for the elect, it’s dangerous. But I respect that you still want to do it. These are dark times and whether you’re one of the chosen or not, we all got to fight the good fight. Satan rules the power of the air--”

Ben cut him off.


That fierce look passed over the preacher’s face. He took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry. Old habits. I use this gift of mine every Sunday. Only to keep my flock on the straight and narrow, mind you, never to control them. If I could turn it off, I would, but I can’t. So, I have to be careful. It’s good you boys are here, as a reminder of that fact.”

“And we’re glad to be here, Reverend. You’re still well respected in the Church, even though you left. Now that we’ve left too, we thought you might be able to help us.”

“Well respected, huh?” the old man said with a sardonic smile. “Those bastards are scared. They think I got me a cult following of zombies who’ll do my every bidding. Afraid I got an army. You two know that ain’t true, right?”

Ben shrugged.

“We just got here. And so what, if you do?”

The preacher laughed.

“Spend some time here and I think you’ll find there ain’t much fight in this here town. These people are simple. Good, but simple.”

“Which is why you want our help, I suppose,” said Roland.

“You must be the smart one. My guess is you’re pretty well studied--you know, on certain matters.”

Ben nodded.

“We both are.”

“Well then I’ll tell you about our problem here in Hamilcar, and you can tell me what you think about it.”

It started about a year ago, Reverend Wallis told them. An infant went missing, stolen under cover of darkness from his cradle. The police had no leads; no one in the town would do such a thing.

A week later, a man took a moonlight horseback ride in the countryside. He came across a large, flat stone; an eviscerated carcass lay upon it. At first, he thought it was the remains of a rabbit made prey by some creature scared off by the sound of hoof beats.

It was not a rabbit.

The man went straight to Oliver Rogers’ house--a police officer--and he did so with haste, as he imagined he saw some shadowy beast standing on a rise, watching him in silence.

When Officer Rogers arrived on the scene, the body of the infant was gone. Beneath the blood and viscera that remained upon the surface of the stone, he found, painted in black ink, strange geometric shapes layered atop each other along with, what appeared to be, some form of arcane writing.

Since that night, townspeople have reported wolf sightings in that region of the countryside--always after dark.

“There hasn’t been a wolf in these parts in nearly seventy years,” said the preacher, “and it’s almost as though the beast is standing sentry out there.”

    Ben had been listening, stroking the stubble on his chin between his thumb and forefinger.

“Hm. This does sound like something we can help you with.”

The preacher gave him a joyless smile.

“Convinced already, huh? Well, the story goes on.”

As it happens--the preacher went on to tell them--one structure stands in the otherwise barren countryside where the beast roams. A house. An oil man built it for his young bride around about the turn of the last century. Shortly after moving in, he died. Some controversy had surrounded the man’s death, but whatever it was is now lost to the fog of time past.

The widow never remarried. She adopted a daughter some years later. Upon the widow’s death, her husband’s entire fortune--including the land the house stands upon--went to her adopted daughter. That was more than fifty years ago. The heiress set foot in the house but once, some twenty years ago, while touring her holdings throughout the country. In the intervening years, the house has remained vacant.

“Stop,” Roland cut in. “Are you implying what I think you’re implying?”

“I’m just relaying the facts, as I understand them. Draw your own conclusions.”

“What?” said Ben. “What are you talking about?”

The preacher held up a hand to silence Roland before he could explain.

“It’s not a name that should be spoken aloud.”

Ben looked at the preacher, comprehending now.

“You mean to tell me that you suspect a connection with the most enigmatic witch in history? A woman who has lived for hundreds of years passing from one body to the next? There’s not even any real proof that she exists.”

“Your father never believed the stories.”

“It’s far-fetched, even by our standards.”

The preacher chewed the inside of his mouth.

“Is it?” he said. “You’ve been around so long?”

“It’s possible,” said Roland. “I’ve read some and under certain circumstance it is possible. Is there more to the story, Reverend?”

The preacher nodded.

“The house. Someone’s been living there--or visiting it at night. A light has been seen in the window.”

“Has anyone searched the house during the light of day?” asked Roland.

“Well, it’s private property, you know, and the police department, such as it is in a small town like this, is reticent.”

“Reticent or scared?” said Ben.

The old man sighed. “Oh, maybe a little of both.”

Ben scratched his head. “And this has been going on for a year?”


“No disrespect, Reverend, but you’ve done nothing?”

“Not nothing. I wrote to your father about it. Fact, I thought that was why you boys showed up all on a sudden--till you told me you chose the path of the apostate. I’m an old man, I can’t do this sort of work by myself anymore. Besides I have no intention of stepping on the Church’s toes, so to speak.”

Ben frowned. “Where is this house?”

The preacher set his glass of ice tea down. “I’ll get a map.”


Ben sat in an easy chair staring vaguely at the darkness outside the window. Roland opened the foldout bed and lay down on it looking up at the ceiling fan.

“Why did you lie to him?” Roland asked.


“Why did you lie to him?” Roland repeated. “About me.”

“He’s an apostate,” Ben said. “You think we can trust him?”

“If we can’t, what are we even doing here?”

Ben took a long suffering breath. “Reverend Wallis is on Dad’s short list of loose ends. I thought we should suss him out.”

Roland sat up in the bed. “What?”

“You know this,” Ben said.

“We left the church.” Said Roland. “What do we care about Dad’s loose ends?”

Ben did not reply. He looked down at the rug.

“What? You think if you prove yourself to Dad, the elders will change their minds?”

Again, Ben said nothing.

“I have the gift, Ben. I didn’t want it and I would give it to you if I could, but I can’t. I have it. And as long as I have it they’re going to pick me to be Dad’s apprentice.”

“What gift?” Ben hissed. “Your stupid dreams? What good are they when you’re so goddamn scared of them you can’t even go to sleep without taking that goddamn elixir?”

“You don’t know what it’s like, Ben. I never get any rest--”

Ben bent his head and rubbed his temples. “Fine. I don’t get it. But you have been given a gift whether you like it or not and you have a responsibility to use it. Now, I know you don’t trust the Church. That’s fine. But that means we’re on our own--”

“Don’t put this on me,” Roland said. “All you’ve ever wanted was to be a hunter--”

Ben interrupted him: “And you’re too chickenshit to be one without me, so this is what we have to do.”

“What do we have to do?” Roland persisted. “The Church’s dirty work?”

“We’re witch hunters, you idiot,” Ben shot back. “We hunt witches. It’s in our blood. We have been told secrets that only a very few have ever heard. We have a responsibility to fight the evil in this world.”

Roland took a breath. “I know. You’re right.”

Ben continued: “And we do it on our terms now. No council of elders. No silly rules. We know how to identify a witch and we know what to do with it.”





“So what do you think about Reverend Wallis’ story?” Roland asked.

Ben placed his hands on the armrests of the chair and pushed himself up. “I don’t know. We’re going to check it out though.”

He walked to the door and gave his brother a crooked smile. “Get some sleep.”

“Where are you going?”

“Sarah and I are going out.”

“Out? Out where?” Roland asked.

Ben shrugged.

“I don’t know. Out.”

“You’re just going to leave me here?”

“Look. There’s just one of her and two of us and I made the first move so I think you should just bow out gracefully.”

“Don’t you think we have more pressing concerns right now?” Roland said.

“No. Tomorrow we have pressing concerns. Tonight, I have a date.”

“Are you serious?”

Ben grinned and shrugged. “Get some sleep,” he said, then left; there was a laugh in his voice.

Roland threw himself back on the mattress. He felt the bed frame’s bar against his spine. He sighed and sat up again. His duffel bag lay open on the floor; he squinted at it for a second then reached inside and rummaged around.

“Where is it?”

His fingertips probed for the familiar feel of glass--a brown medicine flask with the word “oblivion” scrawled in grease pencil on the side. Gone.

“Damn it, Ben,” he said aloud. “‘Get some sleep.’ You can be a real bastard sometimes.”

He closed his eyes. What’s the worst that can happen? he thought. He didn’t see his brother again that night; eventually, he fell asleep.


Roland dreamed of darkness. A thick, inky, pregnant black. It filled his throat and ears with silence and it ached with hunger.

The well, he thought. I'm in the well.

He jolted awake and found himself lying fetal style--muscles tight, spine tingling. He tried to relax.

Just a dream, he told himself, but he knew it wasn’t--he never merely dreamed anymore.

Next: The Witch Of Hamilcar, TX, Part Two 06.26.15

Photo by Brenton Salo

Photo by Brenton Salo

Episode 5: The Delilah Complex

From my office, I can see her in the periphery of my vision, out there among the cubicles. She’s plain. Not disgusting; just plain. She must be hiding something behind those big, thick-rimmed glasses. I lean back in my chair, arms resting behind my head, and pretend to pay attention to the girl sitting on my desk--practically begging me to bend her over it--while I actually watch this inelegant girl do god-knows-what out in the hive.

And why shouldn’t I watch her? She watches me. Her head is always bowed, eyes gazing up like a rescue dog’s. Bulbous blue fish, her eyes, endlessly darting away if mine happen to pass over her. Maybe that’s the thing. Maybe it really is like in the movies, where the girl takes her glasses off. Why not? I know who she is, really. It seems so strange that no one else has figured it out. But then, people don’t notice the things I notice.

My apartment's just a few blocks from the office. I like the walk and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a girl back there directly from work. On a lunch break once. It’s a humble place, but people expect that with the older buildings downtown. I do a pretty good job with it, too--keeping it hipster chic, or whatever. Women always tell me how much they like it.

The best thing about my apartment is the fire escape. It’s perfect. If I had a balcony, it wouldn’t have the charm, the romanticism. I sit out there every night, in good weather, to smoke and drink wine and watch my city do its thing. You hear the voices coming up off the street, the traffic, eight stories down. It just sings. I truly love humanity--from a distance it’s all soft focus. Occasionally, you get the screech and bang of a collision. I’ll observe the whole thing, from crash to stretcher. I see a lot of things from up there; no one ever knows I’m watching--well, with the occasional exception.

Like the time I was smoking out there, and she blew by; she saw me, too. Her hair pushed back in the wind, her clear, blue eyes met mine for just a split second as she--literally--flew by me, arms out stretched, fists balled, her legs and tight, little butt planked behind her. I’d never seen her that close before. What was that costume made of? Latex? Spandex? It was like she was completely naked.

And then she just slammed right into this thing. I don’t know what it was; I didn’t even know I was in danger. It was like--what?--some sort of big fucking robot or something? God knows why, but it was fixing to wreck shit right downtown, near my building.

The whole thing was over pretty quick, but the aftermath, I watched well into the night. The unmarked helicopters and trucks rolling in from nowhere and the big white quarantine tent popping up over the carnage. I could see her buzzing around down there, shooting up to the tops of the towers now and then. I think she looked back at me a couple times to see if I was still watching.

By midnight the whole site was cleaned up. The tent pulled down. Just a crater there in the street, surrounded by construction cones and flashing, orange warning lights. And when the work was done, that’s when she came back to my fire escape.

I turned and saw her hovering there beside me, one foot lifted. All curves and skin-tight. I looked right at her--right into her eyes--and offered her a drink.

And that’s how it started.


Frumpy Girl is sitting at her desk with a serious expression on her face, like there’s somewhere she has to be. Then she bolts. What does she even do here? No one cares that she comes and goes?

I pull up my browser and search for local, breaking news. It’s all happening live. Another one of those metal things. This city can’t catch a break.

Then she shows up on the scene and ends the destructions.

Now, she’s pulling people from the rubble. Guiding rescue helicopters. I think I saw her dump the contents of a rooftop water tower on a burning tree in the park.

Damn, she’s going to be horny tonight.

Photo by Brenton Salo

Photo by Brenton Salo

Sure enough, she’s lying under me, now. Her skin is impossibly smooth and taut. I bite her neck hard--hard enough to draw blood--but it doesn’t even leave a mark. I slide down between her legs, bite the insides of her thighs. She looks at me with fingers curled in front of her mouth, holding her breath as if she were afraid I might actually be able to hurt her. I kiss the short, soft hair, then nuzzle her with my nose. When I nibble on her, she quivers, so I nip at her. She screams.

“Sorry,” I say, as if I hadn’t just probed her, hadn’t just sought out her weakness--and found it. Her point of vulnerability. Of course it would be here, between her legs, the soft skin, the seat of pleasure.

But she begs me not to stop.

Afterward, she just lies there, oblivious, like we “made love” or something. She curls up next to me and talks. I don’t get her, the stuff she talks about. You’d think she’d regale me with tales of her exploits, or whatever. But after she comes, that self-satisfied glow disappears. Now she’s saying, “This isn’t me. Not really. No one sees the real me. I’m not sure why I hang onto that other identity. No one sees her. But isn’t that who I really am? Before I had these powers? Isn’t that me?”

She buries her face in my chest, so I kiss her atop her head, stroke her hair; I’m pretty sure I can wind her up again for another round.


Months pass. I notice things no one else does; I put pieces together. It’s like my own super power. I watch the news. I watch the girl watching me. My nighttime visitor comes to my fire escape with consistency. I’m making connections; a pattern emerges.

I know when the next attack will come.

I suppose I could tell her. Waltz over to her little cubicle and just say it. That would make her job easier. How surprised she’d be. But, no; I have another plan; I know her weaknesses.

Photo by Brenton Salo

Photo by Brenton Salo

The day comes. I’m electric. I don’t look at her all day, but I can feel her eyes on me. I wait until I hear a boom from a few blocks away; she has that serious look on her face. I wait a beat longer--a beat before she heads for the door--then I say, “Trish, right? Can I see you in my office?”

Her blue-fish-eyes don’t swim; they fix on me, her mouth open and mute.

I have this certain smile I give to the girls who know I’m out of their league and aren’t sure why I’m talking to them. It’s reassuring, in a condescending way, confirming their feelings of inadequacy while letting them know this is a one time thing, don’t pass it up. I give her that smile.

“It’s--Trisha,” she says. That’s what I wanted to hear; I know she’ll follow me.

“Trisha. Right,” I say and we go to my office. It’s just a few feet away; I take my time, my body tingling with every stretched-out second I burn.

Somewhere on Broadway, people are very likely dying.

“I--I have to--” she begins to say, but lying is obviously not her forte.

I face her, sit on the edge of my desk and look her up and down.

“You’re the one who puts together the agenda for the staff meetings, aren’t you?”

She nods, then looks toward Broadway, as if she might fly right out the window.

I laugh an easy laugh. “I was wondering who does that every week. They just sort of appear out of nowhere. But, you know what? We wouldn’t be able to get by without them.”

She just stares at me now.

I tell her, “I’m trying to say, ‘good work.’ I’d like to see more from you. Maybe--” I clear my throat, as if this were the first time I’d ever done anything like this. “--maybe we can get a drink and talk about your special skills.”

She looks terrified. “What special skills.”

Another boom rattles the windows.

“Is there construction going on out there?” I say, and laugh.

People are definitely dying.

“I have to go,” she says, and it sounds like the words are cutting their way out of her throat.

“Oh,” I say with a slow, disappointed breath. “Another time, then. I just wanted to tell you what a good job you’re doing. You probably don’t hear that enough. But I’ve been watching you for a while. And I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen.”


I wait for her at my apartment. It’s all been over for hours--the worst disaster in the city’s history. It got pretty close to my building, before she ended it.

I smoke my cigarettes and wait.

It ended too quickly. I need more. A release. I need her to come here, broken and miserable. I’m all wound up inside. Where is she? I’ve defeated her; where the fuck is she?


She doesn’t come to work the next day. I never see the girl with fishbowls over her eyes again. But I see her, soaring up there above the rooftops. She looks down, but not at me.

Photo by Brenton Salo

Photo by Brenton Salo

Next: The Witch of Hamilcar, TX, Part 1 06.19.15

Episode 4: The Last Request

His last request went like this: “When you put me in the dirt, put me in heavy. Keep it loaded.” They nodded, their long, dusty beards scratching the green-grey ink on their chests. “You’ll need it where you’re going,” the older of the two bikers said, then they killed and buried Kyle Davies beneath a grove of black oaks, right over top the unmarked grave of their brother--or as near as they could reckon.

When Davies came to, with the thistle-sharp fallen leaves stinging his back, his hand went first to his waist. He looked up at the thick, twisting oak branches below the twilight sky and fingered the pistol’s steel features. He wondered if the sun was coming up or going down--stale, warm air and the noise of insects--going down, then.

“Looks like my brothers finally got to you.”

The man leaned against the cracked bark of an oak trunk, chewing a length of dry straw. He held the straw up and examined it, dissatisfied. “God damn. What I wouldn’t give for a cigarette.”

Davies got to his feet, watching the man. He kept his hand away from his waist, allowing his shirt tails to fall over the gun grip. The bikers had nabbed him before he could even reach under his pillow for the gun; there should still be eight .45 caliber rounds in the magazine. Only eight. Best not to use them too soon--or show his hand

“Some sort of poetic justice burying you here, I guess.” The man coughed out a dry laugh.

“Yeah,” Davies said. “Who knew anyone would give a damn about a lowlife like you, Bill.”

Bill put the straw to his lips and shrugged. “It’s family. I know why you did me. It was for Donna. My brothers? Same thing.”

Davies nodded. “I see it that way, too.”

“I didn’t like doing it, Ky. It was just the money. I know you enjoyed it plenty when it came to me, though.”

Davies didn’t meet Bill’s eyes. He thought about the pistol. “You’re brothers were kinder to me.”

Bill chewed his straw. Davies pondered a little longer.

“Man,” he said at last, “I thought I’d run into more trouble on this side.”

Bill smiled, a smile as dry as his laugh. “You’ll have trouble, Ky. They’re gonna be hunting you.”

“But you’re not?”

“I’ve been here longer. I’m tired.”


Davies waded into the high, brittle grass beyond the diameter of the oak grove and found the cattle-trodden path. He trudged up the slope and at the crest he looked out west toward the coastal mountain range. The town nestled against the mountains twinkled in the evening glow. As he stood there, the din of insects, buzzing and chirping, sounded a little softer, a little sweeter than it should. It lulled him, reminded him the day was at its end. But he couldn’t rest. Not yet.

Down the other side of the rise he found the highway. He walked along it for awhile, thumb at the ready, but no headlights came or went. It was the same highway James Dean bought it on, but back the other direction; he wondered what that spot would look like from this side.

He kept on. Ahead the round-topped mountains were silhouettes, backlit by the setting sun. He walked on and on--an hour or more--but the sun never set. He heard the chug of an engine. A moment later he noticed the taillights and the reflection of headlights on the tall grass beside the road. He jogged closer.

An teenage boy lay curled up in the beams, like a fawn bedding down for the night. A white cross had been nailed to the barbedwire fence post here. Davies prodded the boy with the tip of his boot and the boy looked up with drooping lids.

“You okay there, kid?” Davies asked.

The kid smacked his lips and laid his head back down, tucking his fingers between his thighs.

Davies threw his hand in the direction of the vehicle. “I’m taking your car.”

The boy waved him away.


He got off on Union Road. The windows were dark in all the houses, but their porch lights were on and the streetlamps beamed down their amber rays. He crossed over Thirteenth and pulled off onto the dirt lot across the river from the utilities building. In the dry river bed, among the brush and scrub trees, a ribbon of dark silver stretched out from the south up and under the Thirteenth Street Bridge. He turned off the car and got out.

The sand and leaves crunched under his feet. He wondered what he’d find. When he came to the spot, she wasn’t there. He dug in the sand with his hands. Nothing. He stood and thought.

Donna’s body had been discovered right here, half buried in the sand. The deal was to pin it on a mental-case, transient guy everyone in town knew about; the poor bastard was probably still rocking in a padded cell at the state hospital. But Bill killed her. So Davies did Bill; but before he put Bill down, he had to get him to admit he was working for Donna’s uncle. Shit comes home to roost. Always.

Davies felt thirsty. He stepped over to the trickle of water running through the sandy bed, bent down, scooped some up and sucked it from his hands. It burned going down like the first taste of bourbon. Coughing he stood up. That’s when the noose came down over his neck.

Reaching for the .45 never crossed his mind. Instinct compelled him to claw at the cord around this throat. They dragged his flailing body through the growth and sand, cursing him all the way.

The big one, clean-shaved with a scar on his chin said, “You had this coming, Davies. You son of a bitch.”

The guy with the goatee trotted behind, smirking and kicking Davie’s ankles out every time he tried to gain his feet. Big’un tossed the end of the rope over a tree branch and now he was hoisting Davies up.

Davie’s toes left the ground, hovering above it mere inches and churning thin air. Big’un tied off the rope while goatee grabbed a fist full of Davies’ hair looked him in the face.

“About time you showed.”


They left him there, still kicking and clawing and making constricted cries. Davies struggle for a long time after they left, flashbulbs exploding in his brain. He chest felt like it might cave--the pain of emptiness. He grasped the length of rope above his head and tried to pull himself up, but couldn’t.

His chest never caved and the fireworks just kept going off. He let his body go limp tried to focus on the exploding lights, as if he were seeing them in his own eyes. The pain ever built in his chest, and yet never peaked, never reached the point of collapse. It occurred to him that this was his existence for the foreseeable future; he decided to make the best of it.

It became his world entire. He refused to think of Donna, of Bill, of the thugs he had killed and who put him here. Thoughts of revenge had no place in his new world of explosions and pain, of fractal shapes swirling behind his lids. A strong urge to sleep came over him.

And time passed.


Davies felt gravity, his body collapsing into a bony puddle. He breathed; his head cleared.

Bill said, “Wake up, Ky.”

Davies looked up, with blurred, sleepy eyes. His throat hurt too bad to talk. Bill squatted down.

“You’re not through, yet. Get your shit together,” Bill said, then looked off over his own shoulder toward the river bed. He made a weary sound. “Me on the other hand...”

Bill stood and walked off into the ever-darkening, never dark, evening.


At length, Davies pushed himself up and reclined against the tree trunk. He ran his hand against the riveted track along his throat; it didn’t hurt near as bad as it should. Nothing felt the way it should; it was like every nerve in his body just couldn’t be bothered to give a shit. He thought about Donna; if he found her, would they make love, or would they lay down, close their eyes for a moment, for an eternity?

After another length of time, Davies shimmied himself to a standing position, braced against the tree trunk. He stumbled back along the course of dragged dirt and matted brush his body had made and stopped at a certain point to feel around in the tall grass. He found the .45 half-buried in the dirt where it had slipped from his waist while he was struggling. The two thugs, it seemed, had not noticed.

He walked back to where Donna should have been and there found Bill lying face down, prostrate like a man bereaved. Davies left him there to rest.


He popped the magazine out and laid the gun on the hood of the car. He removed the slide, blew it out and rubbed it with his shirt tails. He disassembled the rest of the pistol, cleaned it as best he could, then put it all back together and cocked it. After that, he set off on foot across the Thirteenth Street Bridge, holding the gun at his side.

He crossed the 101 and kept on for three more blocks until he hit Pine Street and turned left toward the park a block away. He cut through the park following the path diagonal from one corner to the opposite corner. Under the streetlamp, he stood and looked across Spring Street at the brick, mission-style architecture of that historic inn.

The south wing of the building, the restaurant, was big and rounded and lined with windows where the booths were. It was mostly dark in there, except for the lights around a single booth where the two thugs sat throwing down cards and scowling at each others’ plays.

They heard the bell jingle when he walked through the door and rose expectantly from their benches. Davies shot the big one first--two rounds, but only one met its mark. The big man’s chest burst and he collapsed backward onto his bench, his outstretched arm swiping cards onto the ground.

The other man cursed Davies. “We gonna keep doing this forever?” he said, and Davies wasn’t sure if it were a question or a threat. In either case, only one answer made sense; Davies fired two more shots. The first bullet missed the man, second passed through his neck.

The man clutched his throat, covering the wound; blood poured out of his mouth, running into his goatee. He looked almost confused, more confused than when he actually died.


Davies found the old man in his usual room, sitting under the lamp, reading from a Gideon; the door was ajar. The old man looked up from the scriptures as Davies came in, regarding him with a friendly smile. “Heard you down there,” he said.

Davies stood with the gun at his side, his face in shadow.

The old man gave out an easy laugh. “I’m sorry if you don’t terrify me standing over there in the dark.” He gestured at the open book on his lap. “Death. Where is it’s sting now?”

“Your  men came after me,” Davies said.

“And you robbed them of their satisfaction. But what did they expect? The water doesn’t even quench your thirst here. Why would revenge be any different.”

“I don’t want revenge. Where’s Donna?”

The old man held his smile, but his eyes told a different story.

“She’s here, of course. In this old hotel, actually. She came to me, you know.”


The old man thought. “Can I ask you something before you go?”

“Where’s Donna?”

“Just--talk to me for a moment.”

The men looked at each other, the one making an effort to appear inviting.

“Sit,” said the old man, with a gesture. “Good. I’m curious. Who runs this town now?”

Davies made an indifferent gesture.

The old man prodded him, “Mexicans? Bikers?”

“I have seen bikers,” Davies offered.

The old man’s grin turned malicious. “You see, I never allowed such elements in my day. Now there will be drugs in the schools--all manner of immorality. I, at least, kept it outside the city limits.”

“I weep over the unintended consequences of my actions,” Davies deadpanned.

“Did you know she blackmailed me?” the old man said, as if changing tack.

“You denied her her inheritance.”

The old man made an irritated sound. “She’d have shot it into her arm.”

“Maybe she would have gotten help. I would have gotten her help.”

“You think she loved you? You’re just a bodyguard she paid by spreading her legs.”

For the first time since this long twilight began, Davies felt an acute emotion. But, though the old man’s words stabbed him, he made no reply.

“You know she did the same for me? Manipulated me. Her own uncle. And then she had the nerve to blackmail me. As if I forced myself.”

“She was a child, then,” Davies said simply.

“That’s not how I remember it.”

Davies stood. “Your men looked sleepy down there. You look like you’ll be sitting here a long time. I don’t think you’ll ever rest.”

The old man looked up at him and Davies could see in his eyes this prophecy rang terrifyingly true.

Davies stopped at the open door and said, over his shoulder, “What did she say to you? When she came here?”

“Why don’t you ask her yourself?” the old man said, his amicable facade now vanished. “I watched her fall asleep in one of these rooms.”

“No. I won't wake her.”


He found the car where he left it. Sitting in the driver’s seat, he watched the dark mountain range and skyline that never quite slept. He wanted to see the sun waning against the flat horizon on the other side. He started the car.

The 101 took him south to the 46. On the 46, going west, he watched the sunlight flee at his approach and he realized--with only a vague melancholy--he’d never see the sun again.

On the other side of the mountains, he killed the car in the parking lot by the pier. The sea was grey, like the sky, with only a thin line of purple where the two met. He walked onto the sand. A rusty, wind-blasted swing set and jungle gym sat half buried right where he remembered it.

He leaned against the paint-chipped bars and drew the pistol from his waist. He release the magazine and thumbed out the remaining four rounds into the sand. For a long time, the shining horizon held his attention, but he knew he’d sleep soon.

Next: The Delilah Complex 06.12.14

Episode 3: The Mastodon


The Mastodon? If memories from my boyhood serve, The Mastodon wore a garish costume, just like the rest. His was brown and yellow with a deep-vee revealing thick, red body-hair. Or was that Ultimate Man? No. Ultimate Man had the crimson cape; he could fly, too. Mastodon couldn’t fly. And the deep-vee was the middle part of an ‘M’ on his chest... so, yeah, Mastodon.

“Why do you believe that you’re the Mastodon?” I say--because you can’t argue with a delusion. Believe me; I’ve tried.

Brian sits across from me leaning forward in his chair, gripping the armrest as if he’s still bearing the weight of his confession on his back. He’s breathing heavily and I’m wondering if he will faint.

But thinking about it, he really could be. He’s huge, broad-shouldered. About the right age, late forties/early fifties. He’s pudgy around the middle, but I’d buy him as an aging superhero--metahuman, or whatever. He even has red hair.

Brian runs a shaking hand across his brow.

“Can I get a lorazepam?” he says in his husky, thick-tongued drawl.

I nod and stand, take out my keys as I cross to the cupboard. We keep this cupboard locked, of course. There’s a book where I sign for every single dose I give out: morning, noon, evening, bedtime, PRNs. Some of the guys living in this house have twenty different prescriptions or more. Most of the meds are to treat the side effects of their various antipsychotics: diabetes, high blood pressure, eczema, constipation, nausea. Mental health or physical health? I often wonder which one I could live without. It’s a hell of a choice.

And then there’s the drugs they like--like lorazepam.

I finger through the file folder of med boards, take out Brian’s lorazepam PRN--plastic bubbles on one side, foil tags on the other. I pop one into a little dixie cup with dainty pastel flowers all over it. I read somewhere that snipers take this same drug to slow their heartbeats, steady their hands for accuracy; Brian takes it every day and if he has to ride the bus, he takes a little extra.

When I give the cup to Brian, he dumps it out into his enormous hand and stares at the pill, tiny white against a field of red palm.

“You don’t believe me,” he says.

I sit down across from him with a cultivated nonchalance and take a heavy breath. You can’t argue with a delusion, but here we go.

“I have my doubts,” I tell him. “Didn’t all those guys die back in the nineties? There was, what, some kind of reality dysfunction. All the heroes and neverdowells across the multiverse came together and were destroyed in some sort of quantum cataclysm. Right?”

He’s nodding like it were just the objection he was expecting, then he makes a fist around the little pill and brings it to his mouth.

“All of them but me,” he says and swallows.

Photo by Brenton Salo

Photo by Brenton Salo

Mornings are always busy around here. By seven, the guys are filtering into my office to get their first round of meds. A lot of them need to be woken up so they can get their meds on time--they have to take them, and they have to take them at the right times; it’s part of the contract they signed to get into the halfway house program. When I go into their rooms, I always knock and make a big show of warning them that I’m coming in; but they're always just sleeping.

Back in the office, I take up my customary position behind a counter near the med cabinet. Steven comes in doing broad, sloppy boxing moves. He’s trying to get in shape, he tells me.

I begin popping pills out from a stack of boards thicker than five volumes of an encyclopedia. I have the paperwork next to me--a grid of tiny boxes for every medication on every day. I put my initials down for each pill that goes in the cup. It takes a while, so Steven jogs in place for a bit and then goes back to punching.

Russell comes and stands in the doorway. These two argue sometimes because it takes so long for Steven to get his pills and Russell has to wait. Russell eyeballs Steven for a few seconds then says, “You’re doing it all wrong.”

Steven turns and looks Russell up and down, incredulous.

This is just what I need this morning. Steven’s been spiralling out of control lately, getting more and more agitated, short-fused. He goes on these long tirades filled with violent imagery and I have to tell him to leave the house and walk around the block to cool down; but that hasn’t been working lately. I keep warning my superiors that he’s decomping--that he needs his meds adjusted or something. They just tell me to document everything.

“What do you know about it?” Steven says, puffing out his chest.

Russell shrugs. “I used to be a boxer.”

“OK,” I say and push a dixie cup full of pills across the counter.

Steven turns on me like an angry dog turning on his master.

“Don’t say that! I hate it when you say that! It sounds like you’re saying ‘Oh gay’ and I’m not gay!”

I use my fake calm voice, “I’m just telling you that your pills are ready.”

He pours the cup into his mouth, then walks over to the water cooler and fills it up.

“You’re the gay one. You’re a fucking faggot,” he says through a mouth full of pills. He drinks the water, crumples the cup and drops it on the ground.

“Go for a walk,” I tell him, trying to sound authoritative, as if there were anything I could do to compel him to obey.

He huffs and shoulders past Russell.

“What’s his problem?” Russell says, moving in to take his place in front of the counter.

“You didn’t have to provoke him.”

“I used to be a boxer,” he says, raising his voice an octave to show that he’s being defensive. “I was just trying to help.”

Russell is all matted hair, and whiskers and food stains on his clothes. He wouldn’t look at all out of place sleeping under a doorway somewhere downtown.

I get to work on his meds.

When were you a boxer?” I say, just short of calling him a liar.

He pretends not to notice my tone.

“Oh, when I was younger. But I didn’t like it. I just can’t hurt people.”

I nod as if I agree. But I read his file. I know what he’s done. It’s not fair to judge because he was psychotic at the time. No one could seem further from that man I read about than the man standing in front of me now, though. But isn’t psychosis just that moment when the cork pops off and everything seething inside you comes spilling out?

Russell swallows his pills and says, “can I get a sharp knife?”

Staff keeps the kitchen knives in the office so the guys have to ask when they want to use one. They’re supposed to be practicing life skills, learning to be independent. This means, every now and then, they need a knife. But I still feel nervous whenever I give one out.

“I’m going to chop up some vegetables for an omelette,” Russell explains.

I retrieve the knife and hand it over. “Don’t forget to bring it back.”

“I won’t,” he says, but I know he will. I’ll most likely find it lying on the kitchen counter later this afternoon.

Photo by Brenton Salo

Photo by Brenton Salo

Everyone’s had their evening meds, and I’m waiting for my shift to end--for the night staffer to come in. The house is quiet. Brian taps on the office door.

“Can I get another lorazepam?” he says and slumps into a chair.

“OK,” I say--it does kind of sound like ‘Oh, gay.’ “What’s going on?”

Brian clears his throat. “I just been thinking about that boy.”

“What boy?”

“You know, that one that used to run around with The Dark Cowl. What was his name? Like a mouse or a bird or something. I never understood why The Cowl would put a kid in danger like that. We were supposed to be protecting kids, weren’t we?”

I raise my eyebrows as if to say, “Yep, it’s a crazy world. What are you going to do?” This is not something I want to get into right before quitting time. I move to the med cabinet to get his pill.

“You ever pick something up,” Brian continues, “and hold it in your hand and think, ‘this thing is very important. Too important for me. I’ll just mess it up.’ So you put it down?”

“Um,” I say, flipping through med boards. I have no idea what he’s talking about.

“On that day when they all died and I didn’t,” he goes on, lowering his voice like he’s talking in church, “I tried to talk the boy out of going with them for the final battle. I told him someone had to stay behind just in case. He said, ‘you do it, then.’ So I did. He was only fourteen and he died with the rest of them.”

I pop the pill into a cup and when I look up, Steven’s standing there in the doorway; his eyes are wild and shining. Brian gets up and rushes toward him. Then I see the knife in Steven’s hand--I never did find it, did I.

Brian is reaching out like he’s going to grab Steven. Steven brings up the blade and Brian folds over it, collapses, holding his stomach, curled up on the floor. Steven looks at me. Hate and vengeance all over his face. He’s rubbing the front of his pants. I can see an erection bulging there and I’m paralyzed.

“Fucking faggot,” he says and takes a step toward me.

I put my hands out in front of me. “Steven--” I begin to say, but he slaps me in the face so hard I jerk to one side, and see white sparks popping in the periphery of my vision.

“Bitch! Faggot!”

And then Russell’s in the doorway and his fists are up by his chin and he cocks back and he let’s fly. The blow connects with Steven’s brow and he reels backward and falls onto the ground.

I grab for the phone and pound out 9-1-1. I’m screaming at the dispatcher. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Steven getting to his feet. Russell’s fists are up again, but Steven ducks by him and out into the hall. I hear the front door open and slam shut.

“Lock the doors!” I scream, and Russell rushes to obey.

The dispatcher is all assurances of an ambulance and patrol cars. I drop the phone--no, I throw it down without bothering to hang it up.

Brian rolls over a bit and I can hear him crying softly. I kneel beside him. Blood is pooling on the carpet so I take my shirt off and try to bunch it up around the blade still wedged in his belly. His eyelids sag and when he speaks his voice is even thicker than usual.

“You look just like him. The boy. About the same age, right? Would have been fourteen at the time, right?”

I nod. “Yeah. You saved me.”

Next: The Last Request 06.05.2015