Writers, Poets, and Cloud City Press fans, we’re overjoyed to announce that we are going to begin publishing flash fiction and poetry on this very website! In order to do so, we’re going to need some poetry and flash fiction. That’s where you come in. We are accepting submissions at…
A steady diet of gas station coffee, bananas, and liquor will keep you in fighting shape for no longer than two days. After this amount of time has passed, it will become increasingly difficult to negotiate a stairwell without injury or maintain a decent grasp on the events of the last several hours. Radical nutritional intervention may become necessary.
Its important to keep a variety of formal wear on hand if you’re going to live the life of a degenerate. A smart blazer or tie will assist you in concealing the unfortunate affliction of being down and out from society with far greater success than sunglasses or a good nights sleep ever could. When you are discovered by the police fist fighting a pile of broken glass outside of an apartment complex that, on closer inspection, isn’t actually your own, or ranting incoherently to your drinking buddies due to the unfortunate lack of friends you are suddenly burdened with, it is much more likely to be considered an unfortunate side effect of legs weary from too much time spent being upstanding if you’re well versed in the gentlemanly art of the half windsor.
It is the nature of the Horror to keep you running, as its power over you is greatest precisely at the moment when you believe yourself to be out of its reach. With thoughts along the lines of “the sunrise must be just over that next hill” you find yourself continuing onwards filled with hope that, despite all evidence to the contrary, if you can manage to put enough distance between yourself and the scene of the last moment of great disappointment or happiness, you will manage to escape its lingering results. Unfortunately, the Horror has a number of resources at its disposal, including an eye for the long term. As its voice gradually fades into a distant memory and you realize it’s been days since you unconsciously found yourself doing its work even in its absence, tearing yourself down with great gusto and withering invective until all you can manage to do is shave another seven minutes off your life on the porch, it is biding its time.
Like the callouses on your fingers or keeping a regular schedule, as time goes on you grow inured to repeated injury. The Horror is, as a result of its destructive goals, is fully aware of this fact. Bear like it hibernates, allowing you to run up the odometer until you’re somewhere just past Maybe Far Enough, until you’ve reached the ocean. Until you have no choice but to start swimming or turn back, or at least change direction equipped with the unsettling knowledge that all roads come to an end and will therefore force some manner of repetition on you. Once you are on these no longer novel roads and homeward bound a terrible discovery becomes increasingly necessary. Check the back seat.
I’m drunker than usual, so I’m just going to go ahead and ask:
Was it drunk driving when I held the wheel for you because you were the designated driver and wanted to take a a couple hits between bars? I swore I’d never do it again, but it’s become incredibly clear that that is a promise I can never keep.
The Gambler is slapping the table shouting “Baby, baby, bayybayyyy!” trying not to spill his drink. His wife is shaking her head, but she’s got chips down too so she can’t really say too much. Action Jackson just busted and now he’s pretending to play slots to keep the free drinks coming, but I’ve got five dollars left so I put it on the table.
The cards keep on coming like six, nine, thirteen, and an ace makes fourteen. I had managed to lose thirty dollars in the last ten minutes, so The Gambler and his wife and the dealer all knew I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. The Gambler was saying something that sounded like “everybody’s gotta learn sometime,” so I’m wondering what the hell that’s supposed to mean when I hit the table. Six makes twenty.
The Gambler’s wife starts waving her arms like “that’s enough sugar,” and the Gambler is looking serious just shaking his head. The dealer feels bad so now she’s moving her hands too like “stay” but the felt on the table is warm and soft like the back of my head feels and I’m half drunk on whiskey, compliments of the house.
The last five dollars I’ve got to my name is just sitting there like “don’t do it” but all I’m thinking is how I’ve always wondered what it would be like to actually go through with it and just pull the trigger on myself. Everybody stops and I hit my knuckles against the table and it’s funny; it’s a lot quieter than I expected, like bad news from far away.
I spent four hours in that airport that sober, hung over morning; it would’ve been pretty god damn suspicious if I didn’t wind up going somewhere. I lit out for St. Paul that day. But home is where your mailbox is and, with mine conspicuously empty and the work dried up, I decided the ghosts of one grand gesture could only be exorcised with another.
Me and Action Jackson figured we oughtta make a run for the coast, so we packed up the station wagon, put on our gambling faces, then set out for the Gulf and Biloxi. The car didn’t have airbags or cup holders but the whiskey was for St. Louis so we wouldn’t be needing either one anyway.
It was dark when we crossed the bridge but the Arch was warm and bright, hugging downtown like it was the kind of place that really knew how to take care of you. We could hear the Hard Shell Cafe boppin’ from the street so we turned out our pockets and shelled out the three dollars to get in. There was a color line between the band and the audience you could use as a straight edge and the singer sold soul for tips while I talked with The Man in the Yellow Hat. He told me that if I wanted to get laid I should go to Washington Avenue and the bouncer told me where to score, but the beer was making me tired. Besides, the whiskey was for St. Louis and that’s where we were now.
The Horror, by it’s very nature, is constantly striving to create and maintain the impression that it is a figment of your own imagination. It thrives on uncertainty. It dispatches its agents into your apartment in the predawn haze in order to, in the most surprising fashion possible, force you to figure out just who broke into whose apartment, or whether you can really call it breaking in if the door was never locked to begin with. Each morning characterized by a thousand small mysteries is further evidence of the encroachment of The Horror into your life. But to deal in vague terms is to abet the beast. On that note, a specific example:
Lately when I wake up there are several smoked cigarette bones in my coat pockets. It’s like a god damn mass grave in there. You’d think I’d spent the night walking from bus stop to bus stop just picking them up and saving them for later. I’m fairly certain this is not the case. But how else would they there? Why would I do such a thing? You’d get the impression that I’m walking around pocketing the damn things after I smoke them to impress my friends, co-workers, some girl, or whatever with my penchant for not littering. What the fuck kind of notion is that to have? Would anyone even notice? Outside of these questions there’s also the critical consideration of the fact that it’s probably, in the end, far more impressive to not have, and smell like you have, a pocket full of smoked cigarettes you carry around with you all the time. But it gets weirder; The Horror operates on many levels.
When I really think about it, didn’t I quit smoking months ago? Everybody was buzzing about it. That would also explain the nicotine patches I keep finding underneath my bed, but now the cigarette bones are even more disturbing. It just doesn’t make sense that someone would go through the trouble of sneaking in while I sleep, smoking several cigarettes in the bathroom, then depositing their remains in my coat pockets before stealing off into the night. That’s the type of thought that a crazy person would have. And that’s how it gets you. All of a sudden, it’s not just the cigarettes or the night before you’re uncertain about, now it’s got you questioning yourself.
Now you’re wondering if you really are the good person that you thought you were, if every time you shake a mans hand when he offers you a smoke and you smile proudly and say “No thanks, I quit months ago.” and he claps you on the back and says “Good job, I’ve gotta quit these things myself one of these days” he can smell the lie on you and wants to knock out each of your nicotine stained teeth individually. Maybe it’s not you he smells it on at all, it might just be what’s in your pockets.
The kids downstairs were eating things that made them hallucinate again and it was making a hell of a racket. I think it was Johnny Warm Water who spoke up, to be honest I’d forgotten I’d even said anything.
“So you mean like a porno?”
“An alternative romantic comedy, you mean like a porno? You’re saying we should make a porno?”
Now it was all coming back to me. We’d been grinding our teeth up there for the last three hours trying to come up with a new project before those bastards downstairs started bouncing around like pogo sticks at a god damn trampoline convention. It wasn’t exactly clear what the project was for, something about a meeting and keeping the heat on, but regardless it had grown into a pretty big priority for the both of us. I think it was January. Those were idealistic times.
“No man, not a porno. It’s like one of those movies with a guy and a girl and they’re pretty sad until they realize they can be happy together, like Sleepless in Seattle or some shit.”
“But where does the alternative come in?”
“Because nothing pans out. It’s like the traditional scenario but then everybody is just fucked at the end instead of the implied happily ever after.”
“So it’s just some guy and some girl and they’re depressed, huh? I suppose it could work. But where are we going to get the girl?”
He had a point. The girl would pose a problem. But then, sometimes the greatest inspiration comes to you not in some great divine flash when you’re looking at an airplane or some particularly compelling horizon line, but rather in some shitty little room above the cacophony with Johnny Warm Water out of necessity. He looked at me and I could see the sparks shooting from those bloodshot eyes of his straight to the back of his brain pan and it was one of those times where I just knew.
“There is no girl. How the fuck else are we going to make the guy sad enough?”
We both had a good laugh at that and it just kept on going for who knows how long. Eventually the noise from downstairs stopped and for at least that moment those kids downstairs must have been more afraid of us than we were of them. I smiled at Johnny while we stood at the top of the stairwell and just kept right on roaring. We were going to be famous.
It’s my turn to keep watch around 4am so I spend a lot of early mornings looking out my window. There’s a girl a cross the courtyard who likes to dangle from her balcony about this time. It looks quite dangerous but there really isn’t much I can do about it. She just hangs there, rail thin arms like some sort of frail extension of the balcony itself with her feet just visible to the downstairs neighbor from his living room, if only he were awake. Sometimes I think to myself, “Maybe I should invite her over for a drink, if she’s lonely that ought to fix things,” but she’s probably got enough problems already.
One of the more difficult moments of any interpersonal relationship is the moment when you realize that the other person involved is trying to kill you. It’s completely normal to feel slightly betrayed, a little ill at ease when you find yourself around the other person, and the urge to take karate, or at least to sharpen up some spoons to keep under your pillow just in case. However, after the initial trauma of discovering the malicious intentions of your friend, co-worker, tennis partner, drug dealer, or whoever it is that, on reflection, has had it out for you the whole time, it stops bothering you surprisingly quickly.
After all, it’s nice to know that you’ve been prominent enough in the mind of someone in your life, even if the two of you only interact in a peripheral manner, that they’ve decided it’s not just desirable but absolutely necessary to off you. That’s a commitment of mental energy right there. When you really think about the tireless scheming and fantasizing that must be going on if they’re serious about the whole endeavor, you soon realize that it’s probably more a sign of affection than anything else. You almost want to give them some gesture of appreciation, some small token of gratitude, if only it wouldn’t further endanger you by exposing the depths of your knowledge in regards to their sinister machinations. This is usually the case.
Unfortunately, as seems to be the nature of The Horror that his been infecting my life lately, the situation I find myself in today is irregular to say the least. I awoke around 7:30 am and immediately began my morning ritual of thrashing about in a cold sweat, sending the now mostly empty cans and bottles from yesterdays libations scattering across the floor, frantically searching for a water jug, a cigarette, even a 3.2 beer, anything to get right enough, even just for a moment, to figure out exactly what the fuck the big idea is and who’s couch I’m on anyway. As is more often than not the case, I found the first question quite impossible to answer satisfactorily but quickly ascertained that, based on the brain shearing shrieks of my harpy of a cat, I was in my own apartment. But something wasn’t right. That’s the nature of The Horror.
The acrid stench of varnish cut through the ruins of my living room like an ice pick through an oil painting. I retreated to the corner furthest from the front door, fighting sleep, the morning chill, and, as it felt at the time, the devil himself to force my lighter to catch a spark. They were scratching at the door, the hallway wall, a steady rasp like bones on sandpaper echoing through the cracks in the door. From the sounds of things there were at least three of them. In my minds eye I could see their faces. Scratched and bruised, stains about their noses and mouths, filthy rags coated in acetone, varnish, mineral spirits, all manner of inhalants, their eyes bloodshot like stained glass windows. They’d probably been awake for days, rampaging through this cursed city like it was about to run out wine and hardware store dumpsters. The landlord sent them. The landlord is trying to kill me.
She must have found out about the cat. Well she can pry that pet deposit out of my cold dead fingers. Finally the lighter caught and I managed to get the cigarette bone hanging out the side of my mouth lit. I needed to think. Were these degenerates trying to get in, or were they just trying to smoke me out with fumes? I could already feel the headache coming on. The stench was overwhelming. I knew I didn’t have much time. I’d go out and meet them head on. Kick out the door and toss the lot of them down the stairs, or die trying. Jesus, how did it ever come to this…I stubbed out what was left of my cigarette and ran a hand across my face. When I looked down it was coated in thick, black blood. I could feel it streaming from my nose now, warm and slick, the taste of rusted iron flakes permeating the back of my throat. Fuck.
I came to what must have been several hours later, mere inches from the door frame. The bleeding had stopped, but not before ruining a pair of slippers. The noises from the hallway had ceased. Somewhere deep within the apartment the cat caterwauled. Good, they didn’t get her. I struggled to my feet and cautiously opened the door. Open cans of varnish littered the hallway, along with several filthy rags, paint can openers, and a few worn down brushes. It looks like the landlord was sending just sending me a message, the drug crazed lackeys from the morning were nowhere to be found. A note was crudely affixed to my door with blue tape. It was spattered with some unknown liquid and had a crude drawing of a paintbrush on it next to a simple three word warning: “Caution, Wet Paint.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what she was getting at, but I did know one thing: I’d be looking out alright.
Do you remember when we were drunk and drove 120 miles an hour on the Beltline? I was more worried you’d die of alcohol poisoning behind the wheel than anything else. To this day I spend my nights walking around looking for the shittiest looking Honda Civic to break into just to try and find that cigarette you dropped. Back then it was a pretty big deal.