January 05, 2009

January 2009, Vol. 8, Issue 1

Welcome back to the first issue of the new year.

1. The Mollification the Foul Temptresses by Paul McGuire
The hookers at the Rio were a combination of famished vultures and parched vampires ready to pick apart any carcass. Any john. Any drunk. Anybody in their path. They were evil personified.... More

2. The Orchard by Joe Speaker
I reach for her hand, probing, touching it delicately. We don't form a fist when we come together, nothing like the taut intertwine of fingers you see lovers form, those Gordian knots, unwieldy like a stone fortress. Our fingers hang off each other's loosely, three of mine, two of hers, vice-versa, and they dangle. Spider webs in the wind. Tenuous connection... More

3. Hector by David Peterson
I remember clearly when the cops came and took Hector's mom away. He seemed rather nonplussed by the whole thing as we stood on the curb watching a bedraggled and wild-eyed woman being escorted from her home in cut-off jeans, a loose-fitting white tank top and handcuffs... More

4. Flight #22 to Denial by Sean A. Donahue
Her eyes were black as the night. Her black hair cascaded near her high cheekbones and tanned complexion. Her body wasn't made for sin but for pleasure, and the glasses she wore on her head framed her face perfectly. The only thing that didn't make sense was that it was raining over her head... More

5. Running it Twice by Andrew Moxon
There are, however, certain points of opportunity. Soft places in time, when the cockpit door comes open and we second-timers can take over. That's when things can change. Sometimes, every so often, we walk through that door and start flipping the switches... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

Welcome back to the first issue of 2009. It's hard to believe that Truckin' began in 2002 and we've come a long way since then. This issue features five stories which includes the debut of Andrew Moxon. The always venerable Joe Speaker returns with a zesty piece titled The Orchard. Sean Donahue is back after a short absence and David Peterson makes a splash in his second consecutive issue. And of course, I share a tale that has been told many times before involving Las Vegas working girls.

Truckin' needs your help with a tinge of grassroots promotion. Please tell your friends about your favorite Truckin' stories. The writers definitely appreciate your support, as do I. Spread the word on your blogs and whatever social networking sites you are currently addicted to.

And as always, please let me know if anyone is interested in being added to the mailing list.

Before I go, I have to give a hearty and sincere thanks to the writers for writing for free. They expose their guts, blood, and soul to the universe. Their dedication inspires me and I hope it inspires you too.

Be good,

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." - Carl Sandburg

The Mollification the Foul Temptresses

By Paul McGuire © 2009

6:08am. Las Vegas. The Hooker Bar at the Rio Casino.

One middle-age guy in an orange Texas Longhorns hat sat down at the end of the bar and shoved $20 into a video poker machine. An attractive young woman with Halle Berry looks slid onto the stool next to him. She pulled out a cigarette and asked him for a light. I started to wonder if those were assigned seats for johns and working girls.

Just as we took note of the latest harlot, a gaggle of them showed up at the other end of the bar. First one, then two, then a couple more. We only had a few minutes before they pounced on us. After all, we were the only marks left standing at that time of the morning. The hookers at the Rio were a combination of famished vultures and parched vampires ready to pick apart any carcass. Any john. Any drunk. Anybody in their path. They were evil personified.

Three of them sat by Otis and ordered drinks. Two of them broke off from the larger pack and made a beeline towards my group. They flashed seductive glances with every step. They always operated in pairs. One did the stroking while the other one did the talking.

"You guys looking for a little fun?" she said which was the standard opening line from the local strumpets.

I played hardball. "Umm, that's what we were doing before you arrived."

"So where are you from?"

I pointed to Nigel. He's a proper Englishman who resides in London but I blurted out, "He's Irish and I'm from Colorado."

"What's your name?"

"Steve," I said. "I'm Steve from Colorado. I sell propane and propane accessories."

"What's his name?" she said as she pointed at Otis who had his head down, tucked so far in that it looked like he was sleeping on the bar.

"Cameron," muttered Otis.

"Have you ever been with a black girl, Cam?"

Otis instantly raised his left hand and practically shoved his wedding ring into her face.

"I have," I said in order to rescue Otis.

"Well how about we have some fun?" she cooed.

"How much does fun cost?" I inquired.

"Depends. What do you want to do?"

At that point, both slags stroked various parts of Nigel's paralyzed body. Dogs, bees, and hookers can smell fear, but Nigel eschewed all of their advances.

"How much for a threesome? I want to videotape both you and her tag-teaming my Irish friend."

"What's his name?"

Nigel remained still and silent.

"This my friend Bartley," chimed in Otis.

"We'd both do him, but you can't videotape us," she demanded.

Before I could retort with a counter-offer, she instantly changed her mind.

"O.K., you can tape us, but no faces!" she said. "I don't wanna see you getting fuckin' rich by putting that shit up on the internet."

At that precise moment, Otis noticed that we were dealing with a hooker who had a keen business acumen. She demanded that I sign a contract. We suspected that she had let a previous john tape her and it ended up on YouPorn. Otis offered up his services as a choreographer and that's when the negotiations broke down.

"You want a fuckin' cut? You get 10%. What's my cut?" she demanded.

"Umm, 3%," I said.

"Fuck that!"

Foiled again.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Tela," she said.

Wow, that's was a peculiar coincidence. Tela was the name of a Phish song and she had never heard of that band before. No shocker there. The only other Tela that I'd come across was a cat. My ex-girlfriend had a Siamese cat named Tela. (Later that morning, I'd send my ex-girlfriend a text that said, "u named your cat after a vegas hooker." She's a third grade teacher at a parochial school in Dallas and was not exactly thrilled when she received my drunken text.)

I steered the conversation towards economics. I wanted to know how the credit crunch and the collapse of the hyper-risky sub-prime mortgage market affected the average Las Vegas working girl.

"It sucks," she said. "Business is bad. No one has money. Shit, I might have to actually get a real job."

My buddy the Joker had emailed me a couple of questions that he wanted me to ask any hookers or strippers that I came across. He was curious to find out if working girls were benefiting from the popularity of the president-elect or if they look up to Michelle Obama.

"Did you vote for Obama?"

"I would have but I didn't vote."

"Why not?"

"I'm from Oregon."

"Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't know too many black people from Oregon, unless you count the guys playing basketball for the Portland Trailblazers."

"No shit. That's why I'm here. So do you guys wanna have fun or what?"

I sipped a bottle of Amstel Light as four hooker hands continued to stroke Nigel.

"What the hell is that?" Tela asked.

"Amstel," I said and she proceeded to give me guff about drinking a beer that she never heard of before.

A steady stream of conventioneers with name tags dangling around their necks walked by us every couple of minutes while on their way to breakfast. Some of them stopped and leered at the maudlin skanks hovering around us.

Tela didn't mess around and switched to lewder tactics as she unleashed an aggressive sales pitch.

"Don't you want a blow job? All guys want their cocks sucked. Let's go up to your room," she cajoled.

"We can't go up to my room. My girlfriend is sleeping there."

"Girlfriend? Who the hell brings sand to the beach?" said Tela.

That was actually a funny line but the banter ended right there. The hoochies knew when to fold a losing hand and finally gave up especially since Otis kept flashing his wedding ring and I constantly reminded them about my extremely understanding and wonderful girlfriend who was fast asleep upstairs. They were also worn down by Nigel's icy demeanor in the heat of battle. Nigel was as cool and smooth as a John Coltrane solo. He admirably displayed nerves of steel and did not blink once, nor did he utter a single word, or move an inch as the frisky hookers molested him.

"They fancied me," said Nigel once the storm had subsided and the harlots retreated. "I think we could have had a non-commercial relationship."

We managed to mollify the foul temptresses. We were unattainable and no longer on their radar. One of the working girls seated next to Otis received a phone call. She quickly wrote down an address and two of them scurried off. The last of hussies had bailed and disappeared into a sea of conventioneers. We never saw them again.

Otis polished off his Corona and motioned to the barkeep for another round of beers. He dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out a crisp $100 bill.

"This is just a semi-horseshoed bar in a no-name casino in a barely named city in a fuckin' country that's barely anything in the world," said Otis. "There is a reason why this bar is named the Hooker Bar. And we saw it tonight."

Paul McGuire is a writer originally from New York City. He currently resides in Los Angeles.

The Orchard

By Joe Speaker © 2008

I reach for her hand, probing, touching it delicately. We don't form a fist when we come together, nothing like the taut intertwine of fingers you see lovers form, those Gordian knots, unwieldy like a stone fortress. Our fingers hang off each other's loosely, three of mine, two of hers, vice-versa, and they dangle. Spider webs in the wind. Tenuous connection.

"Are you cold?" she asks.

"A little."

We drift over the crunching leaves, fall's blanket covering the moist Earth for the coming winter. The cycle. She steps lightly, as if she doesn't want disturb the ground. I drag my feet through the layers, kicking up little storms. The sky is a monotonous gray and the air is misty, dense.

"Want to go back inside?"

I move closer, shoulder to shoulder. "Not at all."

The day is darkening, invisible sun. Stealing light, these final moments before I go home. Time hangs over us, pressing down, thick as the rolling fog drifting in over the treetops on the south edge of the orchard.

She lurches in front of me, separating our hands. I goad her into a picture to pull her back. To capture her so I don't forget. We're different that way, like men and women are. I pretend I'm a fashion photographer, kneeling and whirring. Snap, shutter, click and there she is, arms out like the bare branches above her. Behold. She throws her head back, the sharp air slashing her cheeks and she blooms red and gold like the leaves at her feet. Jesus Christ Pose. And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the Earth.

We circle around the orchard, the apples gone for the season. It's high on a plateau, one edge looming like a storm over the swirling Willamette River. This is her refuge, her beating heart. Her voice cracks when she talks of it, shudders and halts, like the silent hills surrounding us. We could disappear. Hour upon Day upon Week upon Infinity, happily stuck in this sealed-off daydream. Just the two of us. Timeless. We see a family of deer up peek from the tree line, as quiet as we are heedless, as still as we are fluid.

Ours is an unlikely affair, a confluence of chance and timing conducted from nearly opposite ends of the Pacific Coast. We danced apart, guarded, like adolescent smiles across a darkened gym. Thrust and parry. Talking around the desire we felt, until falling furiously into each other, atoms colliding, all shackled energy and recognizing only then the fuse of loneliness that had burned inside of us, waiting to detonate. We conspired to find each other in strange beds, neutral ground, and I rode jet streams to clandestine spots, my blood boiling like a wild mustang, forgetting the anxiety of wind-slapped takeoffs and constipated landings, dreaming of her high above the earth, un-tethered and out of control, overcoming my fear for her lightning touch. And now, she's brought me to her home.

Whenever I see her, in those first few moments, she looks bewildered, arrhythmic, as if she can't quite place me. It's hard to talk initially, for both of us. I feel this sensation of wanting to burst, but the words are senseless drabs until I can get my balance. We talk of others, our sons mostly, safe ground. The trials of single parenthood, our adoration unrestrained, those emotions we can betray, if not yet for each other. The boys are more entertaining, free to say whatever their brains conjure. We cut and paste, our silences like a swamp, heavy and absorbing sound.

Finally, I'll reach for her, she for me, bridging that temporary canyon with an electric caress across the table. She always seems to find my pinkie. The right one. I broke the finger playing basketball in college and it never healed right. It's misshapen, jutting out like a craven idol. She moves along the length of it. It doesn't bend right. Deformed like an injured bird, she cradles it in her palm.

“What do you think?” she asks, her face earnest, the answer is important to her. Lingering, tenacious leaves fall, brush her shoulders, like she's posing for a postcard, a sales brochure.

"It's beautiful, baby," I say, sweeping my arms, all I survey. "Really."

The limbs form a tunnel, shelter, the trunks in perfect rows. "They're dying," she says.

The trees. Rooted here for generations, it doesn't seem possible. They stand so solid, impeccable posture, a contrast to our temporary state. We are aimless, chasing scents on the breeze. Not like at home, where life crashes, demands. Cars, factories, deadlines, alarm clocks. Outside my bedroom window, I see slate roofs, nothing like the unbroken expanse here. My days are mandated, like the other homes on the street, like my neighbors, uniform and complying beneath the summer heat. The lawns are a mirage of imported relief. Brown air covers everything, except when it is pushed away by hot winds, revealing a snatch of the mountains in the distance, with their bald and threatening high peaks. It's briefly beautiful, in those two winter weeks when topped with snow, white as a straitjacket. Otherwise, a foreboding and jagged callous.

She breaks away from me again, bored by my silence. She spins around a tree, her fingers dragging across the trunk. It's a childish gesture, a game around the maypole that reminds me of my son, who purposefully makes himself dizzy, but her face betrays none of his cheery delight. Her lips are set and her eyes far away. She hates me. The distance. This fantasy we perpetuate, 48 hours at a time. Around she goes then lists away. She needs a couple steps to regain her balance and looks back at me when she rights herself. I smile into the wind, encouraging her, thinking I'd like to stay. I want to tell her that. Shout it. Knowing I have to go home. To my life. My son.

There's a park two blocks from home where he likes to play. We walk past the muffled voices of my neighbors behind their castle walls. It's always a crooked trip. He slithers like a snake, four years old and on the hunt, curls back when he sees a flower, a bug, trash. New discoveries. Questions rattle from his mouth like machine gun fire.

"What's that, Daddy? Are you taller than a gorilla? How come you and Mommy don't live together any more? Did you know a spider web is as strong as steel?"

On the cracked cement of the playground is a faded map of the United States. We talk about the places I've been. He points them out, proud smile on his face. Florida, Texas. I've shown him Oregon, the state 892 miles from us.

"What if we lived in North Dakota?" he says, and I joke with him about having to get warmer clothes. "Los Angeles is right here," he says, stamping his foot confidently in Southern California. "It's only four steps to North Dakota."

I laugh, which I know he wants, and he beams back at me.

"Look Daddy! I'm running to Maine!"

"Wish it was that easy," I say and he sprints off toward the monkey bars. I sit on a swing and watch him attack the playground, scrambling impatiently. His tongue protrudes with concentration when he climbs, his legs twisted like putty. My mouth turns dry when he leans back, eight feet up, or when his foot slips on the ladder. I tell him to be careful, small tremors in my throat, and I'm on the balls of my feet. He protests when I pull him away. We start to walk home and he willingly reaches out. I cover his hand in mine and we swing our arms back and forth like a jump rope.

She walks to the edge of the orchard and looks down the craggy precipice toward the river. The breeze is stronger here and I stay a few steps back. I jam my hands into my pockets. They are raw from the cold. Inside the sprawling farmhouse, there is coffee and I think about wrapping my fingers around a steaming cup, blowing into the dark, glassy surface. She turns and looks at me in that way, seeing me again for the first time. Visual inspection, a poker player looking for tells. There's a curious bend in her smile. I don't know if it's amusement or consternation.

"Oh, I forgot," she says, noting the safe yardage between me and the edge. "Heights."

"Yeah," I say. The drop. Recent rain has left the cliff muddy. Brackish rivulets roll near my feet and vanish over the side.

"I'm afraid of falling," I say a few beats later.

She nods, as if this is the most natural thing in the world. I could tell her about the dreams, the ones that came night after night when I was a child. How they'd always end the same. I'd jump, from my top bunk, a staircase, showing-off, tricks of bravado like my son on the monkey bars, the same laughter. Then the floor would recede, the world with it. Every night plummeting into a beckoning abyss, an endless crypt, and feeling final, blatant terror.

A car barrels down the road behind us. The noise is an intrusion, tears me from my memory. I snap my head around and, sensing the cliff, instinctively take a step away. The car pulls into a gravel driveway at the other end of the orchard, crunching, spinning waves of pebbles at a solid strand of pines. The trees are nearly uniform in height, stacked like a barrier. I'm suddenly angry. I resist the urge to chase the car, throw rocks, shoot out the tires.

My eyes follow the car and stop on the tree house. Her son is holed up in there. The man of the house, older than my boy, an adult before his time. Wise, yet still a boy, from the pictures. He is mostly an image to me, as I'm a threat to him. He's quiet, like his mother, wary eyes through the slits in the boards of the tree house. She sings his name.

"Do you want to come down and say 'hello'," she asked her son when we walked by earlier.

"No." Keeping a safe distance. He is watchful underneath that mop of hair. Eyes on us as we walk away. I hear him and his friend giggle nervously, scuffle around inside their lair.

The car quiet and forgotten, we turn and walk along the cliff, me at a slow, safe distance. She moves naively, not feeling the moisture of the leaves sopping her pant legs. Her arms are crossed, but not against the chill. She holds tight. Everything she sees and thinks. She loves the beauty, the physical charge, of the orchard. Out here, just her and the boy, away from the cruel city she mistrusts, insulation from the wounds she absorbed. She sits on the porch and stares out at the trees even when they're shed of color, massages the places where the sutures were, can't hurt her now, not here. She feels this place, becomes the orchard and everything around it. The way the earth plunges to the green valley, the sheer leap to the river beyond. When the wind whips the water and the waves go white on top, briefly.

Her arms are bare, half-sleeves underneath a vest, and her pearly skin glows crimson. She takes on color, like a chameleon, her arms red like the leaves and the end of summer. Blue in her midnight bedroom from the gurgling glow of the aquarium. White this morning, her splayed, pale body offset by black curls. I watched while she cherished those last minutes of sleep. I traced her imperfect scars with my fingertips, re-lived my lips on her, how her blood rose to greet my kiss. Curves like rolling hills and the sad sighs just before waking. The picture I wish I'd taken.

The fog is coming fast, descending from every direction. I pick up my pace and close the distance between us. She turns back toward the farmhouse, less a structure from this distance than a shape in the dying light, a long, low rock. She hears them before I do and lifts her head to see a flock of crows alight from the pine trees. They fly in tacit circles over the orchard, stark and black, forbidding as a nun's habit. Suddenly, they explode into high-pitched chatter. The cacophony sounds like a taunt to my ears and I instinctively dip my shoulders. I feel, abruptly and keenly, useless.

"I'm not afraid of dying," I say, the words out of my mouth involuntarily, paired with an urgent need to be at her side.

The leaves crunch and break underneath my heavy, impatient steps. I try to ignore the panic in my head, the unwelcome strain nesting here, in this peaceful place, this important place. I hope my face doesn't betray me. She sees me coming, and in hers, I see no alarm. She smiles, that guileless smile, and extends her hand. I'm almost running, quickly covering the last yards. I reach out for her. She takes my hand and pulls me close.

"I'm afraid of the certainty," I say.


"Not dying, just falling, or crashing. Knowing that's it, the end, right here, right now. What I would think..."

My voice trails off and she pins my thoughts there with a kiss. I lean into her, a stalk arching toward the sun. Her lips are hot and I wrap my arms around her like a vine. So often, I feel a million miles away from her, forgetting what this is like, right now. We are weighty, tangible. My flight home is in two hours.

Pulling back, she calls out to her son and his friend, chipmunks in the tree. There is hot chocolate inside the farmhouse. The boys sprint across the orchard trailing laughter while we slalom around the trees together, stepping over roots, thick cords plunged deep and resolute into the soil. They guide our way, sturdy and sure.

"They're dying," she'd said. The trees. That can't be true. I envy them.

Joe Speaker is a writer from Southern California.


By Dave Peterson © 2008

My dad had a good job in 1971 but he drank away most of what he got paid. With limited options, we turned to family and moved in with my great grandmother. I called her Grannie. She was forbidden to speak Spanish to us but she did anyway. Grannie feared no one.

I was wearing plaid pants on both of the days in question.

At first I didn't mind living in the barrio in my Grannies tiny, one bedroom house in
Denver. There were tons of kids and during hot summer days they roamed in packs like feral dogs. On occasion, I roamed with them, the half-breed son of an Anglo dad and a Latina mom.

I remember clearly when the cops came and took Hector's mom away. He seemed rather nonplussed by the whole thing as we stood on the curb watching a bedraggled and wild-eyed woman being escorted from her home in cut-off jeans a loose fitting white tank top and handcuffs. I was shocked. We'd just moved from the suburbs and no one ever went to jail. I liked Hector. He had his own room and a spir-o-graph that he let me play with from time to time. I asked what his mom had done.

"She's smoking the weed again," Hector replied casually.

In my mind I pictured something like a farmer on Hee-Haw, chewing on a piece of hay. "Is that against the law?" I asked.

The rest of the pack howled in laughter at me. Fortunately for me, nature called and I ran home and avoided more ridicule. I unzipped my pants and took care of business. In my haste to get back outside, I zipped my penis up in my pants.

I screamed like someone was killing me. I thought for sure I was dying, I screamed for my mom and she came running and demanded that I tell her what the problem was. I just couldn't bring myself to show her what I'd done so I hid under the sink where she couldn't get at me. I continued crying in pain. Eventually, she grabbed hold of something, probably my hair, and pulled me out and figured out what the problem was. My mom was always so rational with me. She calmly told me that she'd have to see it if I wanted it to stop hurting. In what I'm now sure were seconds, but at the time seemed like hours, I let her look. She gasped, but then looked me in the eye and told me that I was going to be fine. In one fierce yank of my zipper, I was free.

The next day, I was back out with the pack. With my blonde uncombed hair, I would've always been the most noticeable member of the pack, but I was also head taller and at least a year younger than the other boys.

We were happily smashing beer bottles against a wall in the alley when Hector and another boy split off from the group and ducked into an alcove next to my Grannies house. After a moment they motioned me over. I got there thinking they wanted to share some secret or possibly candy.

As soon as I was in the alcove, Hector said, "Watch me kick this honkey's ass."

And with that, he kicked me hard, in the testicles. I doubled over and began to cry.

"See? I told you he was a pussy!" Hector yelled.

"Cabron!" the other boy said and he spit on me as they walked away, with chests puffed out, arms and shoulders back like prize-fighters before a fight.

Hector yelled to the rest of the pack, "I just fucked up that eight year old!"

Tears filled my eyes. My face and hands were dirty from roaming the alleys and playing in what passed for grass in the barrio. I saw my mom at the window as I entered the house. She was noticeably upset. She'd seen the whole thing. I could see it her eyes. I can still feel her shame and fear for me at that moment. As I entered the house bawling, I expected her to do what she always did when I hurt myself. She'd hug me, clean me up and make it better.

On this day she slapped me, hard across the face. "You have to defend yourself, you can't let them hurt you or they'll do it all the time."

And she slapped me again to drive her point home.

The next thing I remember about that day is waking up in the cool bedroom next to my soundly sleeping brother. I noticed the fading sunlight making its way through blinds that could never be closed tight enough to keep back the summer sun. I listened to my brother's peaceful breathing and then looked down at my filthy plaid pants utterly terrified at the things I'd learned that day.

David Peterson is an ex-soldier, musician, geek, degenerate, and a complete jackass hoping to one day get what's coming to him.

Flight #22 to Denial

By Sean A. Donahue © 2008

I was driving on the way to pick up my kids and the skies opened up. Down the rain came, washing my car but making it impossible for me to make any progress. I pulled over to the side of the road and saw a man.

I drove up to him as the rain continued to pour; my eyes were amazed as he sat on the only dry area around. It rained everywhere I set my foot as I got out of the car, but he remained sitting surrounded by bluebonnets.

"Why are you sitting here? And how are you staying dry?" I asked as the rain poured down my face.

"I sit here because I can," he said, "and I am dry because I choose to be."

I looked at the freak, but something was not right.

"You choose to be? It's pouring rain out; you can see the people, all on the side of the road. How is it that you are in the only dry spot around for miles?"

"Because I am dry and I choose to be."

The rain began to let up and I walked back to my car as I couldn't make heads or tails of this man.

I got in and started to think.

I couldn't figure out what he meant. My trip continued and the sun finally came out as the rain faded away.

I drove on and on with not a sign to tell me where I was, or where I was going.

Mile after mile I drove; looking at the gas gauge and seeing it was still full I continued.

After what seemed to be hours, I looked again and it was still full. I saw a sign for fuel and pulled off the highway to this small grocery store in the middle of nowhere. There were people everywhere as I tried to pull up to the gas tank.

I watched as a girl of ten, wearing a pink dress and her hair in pigtails came up to my car.

I rolled down my window and said hello to her.

"Welcome, my friend. My parents will be glad to take care of your needs."

I was tired, hungry and wanted to check my gas tank because it felt like I had been driving for days.

I was directed by the girl to an empty pump and was surprised to see a boy of 17 in a white uniform come out.

"Fill it up and top off the fluids sir?" the boy said as he started to take the gas cap off.

"Take care of it son. Where can I get a bite to eat?"

"Inside sir, mom's cooking up a helping of Love Loaf," the boy said to me

"Love Loaf?"

"Yes sir, she puts a lot of love in that meat loaf, so everyone calls it Love Loaf!"

"Can you tell me where I am son?"

"You are off the highway sir, at the station of the Henry's. We've been in these parts for years."

"And what state am I in son?"

"Denial," he said as he popped the hood.

I looked around and was puzzled, but didn't think to answer his confusing answer with another question. I went inside and sat down at the counter. My senses were on overload. The colors were so vivid, the smells so wonderful.

"Can I get you something, son?" the grizzled old man said to me as I sat on a stool that was ripped from a 30's diner.

"What's the special?"

"Well that would be Mama's Love Loaf, best in the entire county!"

"The entire county? Which county are you speaking of?"

"Denial County, the best county nobody ever thinks of."

I sat puzzled and ate the meatloaf that was presented to me with a heaping serving of mashed potatoes and brown gravy.

"Hun, did the loaf fill you up?" an older woman had come in front of me asking. "I make it fresh every day."

"Sure, I guess." I had eaten the entire plate but never really remembered swallowing anything. I felt full and it was just what I needed. "How much do I owe you?"

"Well hun, you can get the bill from Minet, over there. Come back now, ya hear?"

I walked over to the cashier’s stand and saw her. Her eyes were black as the night. Her black hair cascaded near her high cheekbones and tanned complexion. Her body wasn't made for sin but for pleasure, and the glasses she wore on her head framed her face perfectly. The only thing that didn't make sense was that it was raining over her head.

"Excuse me? Is there something wrong?" I asked as I looked at the clouds that shadowed her.

"Wrong? Why would there be something wrong? Why does everyone think there is something wrong?"

I looked at her, took the bill from her and paid.

"Have a nice day," she said sarcastically as I walked out the door.

I got into my car and started to try and find the on-ramp for the highway. But it was nowhere to be found. I took the feeder roads around and watched the sun slowly start to set.

For hours I drove next to the highway looking for an entrance and I was exhausted.

I drove up to a hotel and got a room.

I couldn't sleep. My mind was going a mile a minute and I didn't understand anything, or everything.

I took a shower and dried off. The lone tear that fell from my face couldn't be stopped.

I lay down and fell asleep.

When I woke up I checked out of the hotel and found the entrance to the highway. I got back on and started to drive.

Slowly, the signs that were blank the day before were filled with words, but none of which I could understand.

I filled up the car and drove the day, without a reason in the world, and without knowing where I was. I drove to keep going, not knowing what I was running to or running from.

Finally the signs started to make sense to me and I arrived right where I had intended to be.

Then I looked up and saw my gravestone.

I wasn't looking at the date of birth, but of the date of death. It moved and changed, like an old airline departure board. It moved forward and backwards, went blank and started over again. It slowly came to a stop... when I woke up.

Sean A. Donahue is a radio personality and freelance writer. He is divorced with two children and lives in Lubbock, TX. His writing can be found on Instant Tragedy.

Running it Twice

By Andrew Moxon © 2008

It’s not what I expected, I’ll say that much.

Not because I lost control of the moment-- which I did – but that part at least didn’t take me unawares. In the afterward, you can see Time, so you know what to expect on that account. I’m talking about something else. The best way to describe to you how Time is in the afterward is to say that it is present like a monument in a city square, an honor to a great orator, a general, a founding father, a reminder of a bloody war. But, in the case of the afterward, and in the case of Time, the monument does not show the effigy of a person, and the medium for the piece is not marble or granite. The medium is the same as the subject; it is Time. It is made of time and it is Time. Not an effigy. Time itself.

Perhaps I should introduce myself first. My name is Maxwell Redman. I’m a gambler by trade and by inclination. Of course, we’re all gamblers, aren’t we? Some of us just embrace it more tightly than others do.

I just took a rather large gamble. I changed something. Let me see if I can explain to you why that matters.

Everybody in the afterward, save perhaps the most dull and the most enlightened, comes and observes Time when it suits them. From a safe distance, it looks kind of like lightning; for, like lightning, it is bright and dangerous, tree-like (or perhaps root-like) in construction, with a thick trunk springing from the base and winding up and up and up in seemingly random jags and crooked turns, and at irregular points of its transverse sending off sprays of bright ragged tendrils in all directions. Each tendril in turn wends its own indiscriminate path, like the taproot dodging this way and that in hairpin turns, and each in turn giving birth to its own spray of tendrils, which give birth to more tendrils, which give birth to more tendrils, and in that way it forks and spreads, children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And still in the center all the way rises the main trunk. It is the brightest of all. This is the way in which Time resembles lightning.

And this is how Time does not resemble lightning: In every other conceivable way.

Everybody in the afterward comes and observes it on occasion, as I say. I will say to you that some watch for a long while and some watch for a short while, but I’ll say that because it’s the only way I can make you see precisely some of the truth of what I really mean. Nobody watches it for any period of time, obviously. How you say for how long you sat outside of Time, observing it? Time in the afterward is immaterial. But some watch deeper than others, and those who come to watch in that way see the ways in which time is nothing like lightning at all. All you need to do is look at it; it’s always there. You can look as near as you want. This is the beauty. This is the trouble.

The differences? To begin with, lightning is there and then gone before you can take it in. Time is fixed; it’s going nowhere. But that is just the most superficial difference. As you come closer, you can see that it is not composed (as lightning is) of ionized atmospheric particles and charged electrons. It appears, as you come closer, to be made of threads, intertwined in patternless and beautiful configurations. No longer bright white as you draw in close, colors begin to appear, dive, duck, reform and spread. Nearer still, you begin to notice shades of tendrils that are not actually there, phantom limbs, placeholders that splay out with the slightest gossamer gleam until they tessellate into nothing. With wonder, you know you are looking at the infinite threads of May Have Been, the nowhere glow of Never Was, and you realize that each dodge off from that main thread, and each similar twist on each tendril along time’s dynasty, is the choice that was taken, is the way it could have gone and then, among infinite potentialities, the way it finally did go.

As you draw far too near, you see that the trunk is not entirely static; it pulses. The threads that compose it are woven densely, and they pulse, sometimes leaping away from the trunk and then diving back in. Each thread within the trunk zigzags like the body politic they collectively form. Each turn of each thread an individual choice. And the threads are moving. Not enough to change the shape of the trunk, but within that shape, they adjust. Not wriggling like worms. More subtle and elegant than that. A change here, then a change there. Then another. Then another. Then nothing. Then three at once. There’s no predicting where it will strike; why, it’s almost like watching a lightning storm. Somehow, here deep within time itself, things are changing.

You are among the threads now. You are looking for your own thread, because if these threads can be adjusted . . . just a few things . . . if that’s possible . . . it is more than most souls can resist. You keep looking for the thread that is you.

They say “live as though you have no regrets.” Impossible. Everybody wants to move the furniture around a little after they see the way the dust collects.

You have found your thread. A light purple one. It lies among its twitching brethren, as still as an abandoned boot. All you have to do is wish to enter it and you can. There is no such thing as “cannot” in the afterward. You wish it, and you are back. Right there for the beginning, and locked in until the end.

I think I told you it’s nothing like what I expected.

And again, it isn’t the fact that you can’t control your actions most of the time. The way that, on your deepening approach into them, the threads all made nothing but the most occasional and random twitches let you know that you wouldn’t have the controls. If you did have control, then it stands to reason those threads would have been writhing; that main trunk would surely lose integrity. So, as expected, you sit back, nested in warm sub-consciousness, and observe. You’d think it would be boring, wouldn’t you? I thought it would be. That was my primary concern before taking my second trip through. But you’re not bored, you’re utterly engrossed. That, more than anything, is the unexpected part.

It’s your memory, of course. How much of it you have is a constant surprise, because you have all of it. Every bit.

Inside your own head, experiencing it again, you realize. You have no idea the things you still remember from being a baby! You just haven’t figured out how to visit it. If you could, you would remember your crib. You’d remember what your parents looked like when they were younger than you are now. You’d remember your hands waving in front of your eyes. You’d remember the wallpaper you stared at when you couldn’t sleep during naptime, and the curtains, too. The stain on the carpet in the living room. The feeling of filling your diaper; the relief of being clean. The frustration of inadequacy. The simplicity of need. The comfort of touch. The indignity of immobility. The sounds of wakeful helpless night and the relief of daybreak. And it keeps on, too. Your classmates in kindergarten. Every song you ever heard. Every knee scraped. Each time you ate spaghetti. Do you realize that you remember, right now, each and every time you ate spaghetti? You can take my word for it. You can’t imagine how much of your life is there, available to you, and which you never access, ever. Unbelievable.

If you could access it, you’d remember it. But when you are actually there again, living it, then of course access is no problem. There’s no arguing with really being there. There’s no way to avoid that one. When you’re faced with the reality of the place, you remember in a flood.

I’d say that it’s lucky that we are not able to come forward, we interlopers, souls or whatever you want to call it, running it a second time, into the front rooms of the consciousness. I’d say that, except there’s really no such foolish thing as ‘luck’. You’ll realize why (why it’s lucky and why luck is a mirage) later, when you yourself are taking a second trip through.

And you are, you know. You, reading this now. You’re taking a second trip, too. I don’t know you personally, but I’m just playing the odds. Almost everybody does trip two at some point.

You doubt it? I’ll prove it.

You ever had that feeling, as you walk into a room, or you have a conversation, or you see a cloud, or whatever the hell it is; you ever have that feeling of hey I’ve been here before, didn’t we say those exact same words, I’ve could swear I’ve seen a cloud that shape . . . You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? They call it déjà vu. A decent enough word, but inaccurate. It’s just the second-timer you, coming to the front for a second. Just for a moment. So remember: you feel like you’ve been there before because you have.

Next time you feel that old déjà vu coming on, just tell yourself ‘hello.’

It’s been wonderful so far; I’m constantly transfixed by what’s happening. Almost all of my life feels utterly fresh, utterly new; constantly remembering things I never knew I’d forgotten. So there’s my point; it’s a good thing that we second-timers don’t spend much time in the cockpit. Imagine spending your life like that. We’d just walk around in tranced-out wonder. It is better to observe.

There are, however, certain points of opportunity. Soft places in time, when the cockpit door comes open and we second-timers can take over. That’s when things can change. Sometimes, every so often, we walk through that door and start flipping the switches. Every so often, but not at every opportunity. Only when regret comes in do we (or at least I) risk changing the constant stream of wow! New recognition of old things is a powerful thing, and not to be abandoned lightly.

My first words came out differently this time. I spoke them at 20 months to both of my parents as they watched me bounce in one of those plastic and cloth harnesses. That part wasn’t different, but what I said was. I bobbed up and down, pushing in uncoordinated jerks with my fat little legs. My mom and dad bounced their heads along with me like idiots, hoping to make me smile. Just then, everything became lighter. Not brighter, but more faded, as though reality was becoming thin. It was the first time I had experienced a soft place.

“Buy Microsoft,” I said to them, clear as a mountain stream and sober as a judge.

It didn’t make a difference. Nobody takes financial advice from a toddler, no matter how precocious. The folks still just invested in mutual funds, but it made a funny story for awhile. After Microsoft took off, it brought more nervous laughter, and then it just disappeared. My folks didn’t think about it anymore, or at least they never spoke of it. I think I have mentioned that most of us do that with almost all of our memories.

From this I learned that you can change something without changing anything. That’s not always the case. Once I took the fall for a petty theft in middle school, which had resulted in a kid being expelled. Lester Franconia was his name. I never saw him again. This time, when I did it, I copped to it. Because I admitted guilt, I got leniency and just took a couple weeks off (the time before, Lester had protested his innocence to the end and got the book thrown at him). I graduated with Lester Franconia this time. I mention this because it’s probably the best change I’ve made, so I’m a little proud of it. There have been changes for the worse, too. But nothing much has changed. There haven’t been serious ripples in my life’s pool. I was hoping to create some major ripples yesterday. I’m still working out whether or not I have done so. I’ll know soon, I suppose.

As I said, I changed something.

It was a big poker tournament. You may have seen it on television, the thing I wanted to change. I won’t bore you with the details of the hand. I used to do that all the time the first time around, tell all the details of a poker hand. But now, I have been able to observe, and as a result, I have heard myself relay these stories. To everybody reading this, if you knew me, and you heard one or more of these: I am so, so, so, sorry. I have been boring myself with them for years now. I can only imagine what it was like for you.

So never mind the details of the hand, suffice it to say that this was a big hand. It was the big hand. Every gambler has one. I thought in life (and still do now, for what it matters) that it was the biggest hand I ever played. The shit of it was-- it was a loser. I made what I hoped was a big laydown on the river and was shown a stone bluff by a little snot in a parka and dumb mirrored shades. His little smirk. He had the kind of face that was made to smack. Instead I shook his hand. He shook limp-wristed, too. I’d known he would. It felt kind of like pulling a Kleenex out of a box.

The hand left me half-crippled, and a half-hour later, that was it. That was the closest I ever made it to the real cheese. If I’d called I would have been the guy with the chip mountain when it mattered. The Snot won the whole thing, and I was left with a clip of myself on cable television that played every four hours for the next six months. Me with a sad look on my face and my ass showing. It’s not a nice feeling.

It eats at you, I have to say. You try not to let it, but it eats at you all the same. I try not to have regrets, but that’s one. It’s the big one. That hand, what it did to me, led me to make more mistakes. Error piled on error, all the big ones stemming from that little one, growing and splintering out from the root like lightning. So it seems. My hope has been that I would get that chance over. Now that it’s all over, I must say that it was the reason I came in for another ride through in the first place. Of course it was. I wanted to alter this one big thing.

But then something else happened on the way. Something I’d forgotten.

It was the day before the big hand, the end of the day at the tournament, and by this time there was electricity in the air. Some of us – more than half of us – were going to become very wealthy. The rest were going to be forgotten scrubs with a decent payday. As I was bagging up my chips, things got thin again, more faded than I’ve ever experienced before. This was unexpected, and, coming as it did a day early, not particularly welcome, either. Then I felt a fingernail slide up one shoulder blade to my neck, and I remembered. I knew who it was before turning.

It was Roxy Michelson. You probably don’t know her, but I happen to know she is going to be pseudo-famous within the subculture for about a minute. In the world I lived in, there is always a Roxy Michelson or two, or three. Good looking and utterly damaged and just draped in crazy, always shooting some angle and usually high, Roxy was a couple months away from being every degenerate’s combination pin-up girl and punch line.

“Hey,” she said, and I felt something light in my hand. It was a plastic hotel room key. Roxy had sniffed money on me, and she and I were about to go upstairs to her place and do squalid things to each other until daybreak. Later, she would ask me to bankroll her. I’m not a good looking fellow, so I wasn’t surprised that there were strings attached. Everything has its price, and so I’d promise to help her as soon as I broke into the large money. After I busted early, she was gone, on to the next thing, and the next, and the next. She’d use them as badly as she had used me, and almost as bad as she was getting used herself. Fourteen months later, she’d disappear. Two weeks after that, they’d find her hanging by her designer belt in her motel room, and the world would go on to the next Roxy Michelson. I remember at the time feeling bad about having been a part of it, but I certainly hadn’t given it as much thought or worry as that bad fold of mine.

And now, hanging out back in the green room of my mind, I felt bad. Life could be cruel sometimes, and what was about to happen felt sort of like playing with a bird whose wings are broken. The bird’s going to die, but you don’t have to mess with it, all the same. The world was so thin at this point; I couldn’t even hear the cacophony of the slots. I gave her back the key and gave her a solemn kiss on the forehead. She just stared at me with tranced-out bovine eyes. She was on something, that was for sure.

“Listen,” I told her. “Somebody in this life actually cares about you, and it sure as hell isn’t me. Why don’t you go back to your room by yourself and try to remember who that is. Then go find them. There’s nothing here for you.”

She looked at me for a few seconds. I couldn’t read her expression. Then she laughed, sharply, staccato, four times. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.

“Oh whatever,” she said. “Like I was into you, anyway. Faggot.”

On impulse I pulled a black chip out of my pocket and put it in her hand.

“That’s fine,” I said. “Just think about it.” Then I turned back and started bagging up my chips again. When I was done, the world had snapped back into focus and Roxy was gone.

After that? I don’t know. I got a chance to make the call and I busted that little snot. I didn’t even have to feel his dead fish of a handshake, either, as he wouldn’t shake. The Snot left in a snit. Snap. He didn’t win his big money, and I expect he’s better off for it.

As for me, it was odd and exhilarating, but also completely unexpected and horribly disorienting. Nothing was familiar to me anymore. I’ve never seen these poker hands I was playing before. Gradually, I found that I had come to the front completely now, and I was making decision after decision – something I haven’t done in decades. I had to do it by rote, and I suppose I did alright. I’m still in the tournament. And I expect that if you were in the afterward watching my thread of Time, you may have seen it take a little jump.

But I’m amazed that it never occurred to me before: I’d still have to play. I’ve spent so much time obsessing over that one play that I’d assumed that all I had to do was change it and I’d win the whole tournament. Now, though, I have to play the next hand, and the next, and then the next. Nothing is guaranteed. I may win, but then again maybe not. It’s like that, of course. Anybody who has spent some time outside of Time, observing it, knows that. You make your choices, one after the other, until your choices are done. And who’s to say that I’ll make the right ones? I told you from the beginning, I’m a gambler at heart.

And I wonder about Roxy, too. She wasn’t on hand today. Did she take my advice, or is she still making her slow inevitable way to that motel room with her demons and her belt? It just strikes me, that maybe there is a shot, an out. The world got so thin when I was talking to her, I have to say, maybe it was just my imagination, but it seemed like it was twice as faded that time . . . is it possible that I wasn’t the only gambler last night who was running it twice? Is it possible that both of us were making the threads of time twitch?

I only know what my regrets are; I don’t pretend to know those of another. But it strikes me that I have had the benefit of knowing exactly what my mistake was. Hands of poker are often clean in that respect. I know what error it is that I am guilty of in that case. The sin of bad reads, perhaps, or the sin of choosing fear over facts. But most people, they don’t know what they did to bring badness on themselves – or, worse, they know beyond a doubt that they didn’t do the wrong, and yet wrong was done to them all the same. Perhaps it isn’t the guilty that are tortured by tragedy; it’s the innocent. The guilty understand what has happened to them. The innocent understand only that they are at the mercy of fate. And so here I sit in the front seat again, maybe for good, until some end comes that I’m not so sure of anymore.

As I said, it isn’t like I expected.

Andrew Moxon is a writer living in Michigan, where he is currently seventy-four inches tall. He enjoys most things that are not coleslaw. His writing can be found either on his blogs The_Goat_Speaks, FilmChaw, and Coventry, where he writes under the nom de livestock Julius_Goat, or in his filing cabinet, into which you are not invited.