Friday, September 23, 2016


Five black helicopters chopper away overhead, searchlights crawling across the human slums lining the edge of the city. Sid and I are hunkered down in a drainage pipe just beyond the ghetto, hunched on our toes and trying to keep everything important out of the watery shit spewing past.

“I think they’re following us,” I say, carefully looking up at the search team.

As if on cue, the helicopters turn and drop, sweeping closer to the sewage treatment plant, the downdraft churning up pulpy liquid from the spillway in front of us. We push backward into the pipe.

“Why are they following us?” I whisper. I wipe sludge from my wrist, check my watch. “It’s not past curfew is it?”

“No, we’re good,” Sid says quietly. “With the time anyway.”

“‘With the time?’ What aren’t you telling me, Sid?”

“You’re not going to like it …”


“Fine,” he says. He takes a deep breath, regrets it immediately. Then: “I, uh, I didn’t pay for the waffles.”

I deflate. “Really, man? That’s what you think this is about?”

“They were REALLY expensive.”

“So, what? Fifteen bucks?”

“More like five hundred ...” he mumbles.


“Five hundred and one, technically. Before taxes.”

“God damn it, Sid!” I shout. “That’s a Class D felony!”

“I didn’t know that when I took them!”


“Jesus, man,” he hisses. “Be quiet!”

“Asshole,” I mumble. “Let’s just lie low for a few and get home.”

“Hey, I’ve always wondered: What’s the D stand for?”


“The D, in Class D, what’s it stand for?”

“DOOM,” screeches a voice that isn’t either of ours. We turn to look and find a massive robot blocking our exit. 

“Look what you did!” hisses Sid.

The robot’s an Android Coalition Security Droid – a Mark I cyborg, the first in a line of human/robot experiments. The thing looks like a Ken doll and an electronics store dumpster smashed together by a troubled five-year-old. Exhaust blades where limbs should be, flesh used like twine. It’s a walking cyberpunk nightmare.

We try to disappear into the sewage pipe but there’s a metal grate no more than twenty feet back. We’re trapped, and worse, all the runny poop is starting to seep into our socks.

“Uh … Here!” shouts Sid, hoisting the take-out box and stepping toward the cyborg. “Take the waffles!”

“Code 42C, Statute iii of the Coalition Codes of Conduct,” drones the droid. “Returning stolen property does not subvert the initial offense.”

“OK, sure,” says Sid, “but, like, they’re … for you? As a gift.”

“Code 822R, Statute xi of the Coalition Codes of Conduct: Bribery is punishable –”

“What? No,” he stammers. “Who said bribe? I didn’t say bribe. I just figured you could … use a break?”

“I have no need for sustenance.”

“Waffles aren’t for sustenance, dummy. They just taste good.”

The red eyes of the robot’s Hunt Mode blink blue. The entire meat-and-circuit monstrosity seems to relax.

“The sustenance paste they feed us IS pretty disgusting,” says the cyborg. “Robots should NOT be in charge of food.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” replies Sid, shoving the box into the security droid’s hands. “Here. Eat.”

The android’s eyes flash purple for a moment – Computing Mode – before returning to blue. The cyborg slowly opens the take-out box and then crams an entire waffle into its Food Deglutition Cavity.

“Oh my God,” says the cyborg. “These waffles are incredible! AMAZING! I can … I can FEEL again!”

“So … You’re not going to bring us in then, right?”

The robot’s eyes flick red. “Tell me where you got these waffles.”

“The Tick Tock Diner,” Sid answers immediately.

“On Old Route 3,” I add.

“I need to obtain more of these,” the cyborg monotones, before hopping into the spillway and heading west, entirely ignoring his idling helicopter.

“What the hell is in those waffles?” I whisper, watching the android skip away.

“Pre-war Canadian maple sugar.”


“And military-grade hallucinogens.”

“Damn it, Sid! We have been over this!” I bark. “You can’t – Wait. What do military-grade hallucinogens do to a human/robot hybrid?”

“I don’t –”

There’s a tremendous sound, then a number of even more tremendous explosions. We scurry to the end of the tunnel. The cyborg is down the spillway in full-on Kill Mode, weapons extended from all its orifices.


We watch as Mother Murphy’s Home for Wayward Bastards erupts in a tiny mushroom cloud of nuclear fire. Firefighting drones spring up from the sidewalk surrounding the flaming wreckage. The security droid starts picking up burning orphans and throwing them at the drones.

“That’s just mean,” says Sid.

“This is absolutely going to end the truce,” I add.

The Trouble with UPCs by Dale L. Sproule

Some people complain about them, but Sophie was happy using the self-scanner at the supermarket, at least until last Tuesday. The codes had been scanning accurately, when she came to the dry roasted peanuts, which the scanner read as "Elephant – $11,280,875.45."

Even if she had wanted an elephant, her credit card limit couldn't stretch that far. And none of the plastic bags available at the self-check-out were big enough to fit one. Besides, the only elephant

Sophie had seen in any of the aisles at the store had been a shopper rather than a product. 

So, she attempted to bring the error to the attention of the clerk helping the self-scan customers. 

Holding up the jar of peanuts she declared, "Excuse me, this is not an elephant."

But the clerk was paying no attention, having gone off to sweep the floor around the empty cash registers. Sophie had, however, garnered the attention of customers at the other self-serve terminals, who gaped at her, as though she were from Mars. She looked them in the eye, one after another, turning each to ash with her laser vision. "Does anyone else think I'm from Mars?" she demanded.

The one customer remaining in the line-up backed away slowly, swinging her enormous trunk and flapping her huge ears. 

Harrumphing self righteously, Sophie didn't ask a second time. Replacing the peanuts in the basket, she stuck her flashing green nose in the air and walked out – as a further demonstration that this sort of lackadaisical service was simply bound to lose them customers.

Conflicting Reports by Jasper Oliver

They all saw Jesus come out of the post office, they agreed on that much. “Jesus!” they cried and looked at one another and nodded. One guy said Jesus was a woman and another that Jesus was an old man. A third insisted that Jesus was a horse escaped from the Piccadilly circus. He said he’d read about it in the paper, that the circus ringleader was a large cruel man who beat the horse and refused it gruel and that the horse had escaped and was the son of God. He described its resplendent red conductor’s jacket, its teeth gnashing at the bit, its sorry shiny eyes. The fourth guy saw regular Jesus.

“Crown of thorns and everything,” the fourth guy said and smoked his cigarette cruelly.

They wondered about this, how they all could see the same thing and yet give such varying accounts.  The police reporter nodded and jotted it all down. He didn’t wonder. He’d been on the force a long time.

“I think maybe we all see what we’re supposed to,” the 1st guy said- the lady Jesus guy- “we all find what we need in Christ.”

The third guy looked out over his shoulders at the new buildings being erected. It was true, he had owned a horse as a child and loved it fiercely.

“I saw a ghost once,” the second guy offered. “It was long and pale and had red coals for eyes. It burbled and lived in our sink drain for an entire summer and would come out at night to steal milk and use the restroom. We’d always hear things shuffling about and the toilet flushing and in the morning the milk cartons would be empty save for a quarter inch of sludgy pink backwash. I guess my Mom felt she owed it the milk because we were always well stocked by nightfall. One time I saw it. I couldn’t sleep and had wandered into the kitchen and the fridge door was open and it was inside, crouched and squeezed on the 3rd shelf behind the eggs. It was wispy and opalescent with thousands of tiny silicate hairs, no face but those burning eyes. That was the weirdest thing I ever saw until today. Do you think Jesus is like that? Like a ghost?”

“He seemed pretty solid to me,” the fourth guy said and the rest of them agreed. “And anyway you didn’t see him have burning eyes like that right?”

The second guy admitted he had not but thought privately that proved nothing. Surely every ghost was different. He wondered if he’d see Jesus again that night, gazing up from the depths of the drain with geriatric eyes. He shuddered and squeezed out a few tiny terror tears.

“Thank you very much for your reports,” the policeman said and closed his notebook, “this will help us a lot with our investigation believe me. The varying descriptions don’t matter much.”  He took them by the hand, each in turn and got into his cop car and drove away. In his mind he’d always pictured Jesus as a portly Jackie Gleason type. He was raised in the church but hadn’t been to service for years. He wondered if Jesus got his mail there often or what?  He thanked God he’d been on patrol that day.

Lamps by Joseph J. Patchen

I am having difficulty sleeping.

It’s not because I murdered my wife. It’s not because I killed my mistress.

Oh I suppose one can make a case for feeling some guilt out the dismemberment of my three children and the watching of their blood, partially my blood, pouring down the bathtub drain.

I suppose, but honestly I didn’t feel any pit in my stomach or burning sensation tearing my insides apart. I didn’t feel anything, not a thing.

Oh wait, that’s not entirely true; my apologies.

I did feel relief. I felt a massive wave of relief and even calm with each axe blow and saw cut. I am smiling now as I recall how easily I dissected the women…

I can only describe it as a cleansing, a purging of emotion and thought. As I chronicle this confession of action a great weight has lifted from my chest and escaped my conscience.

Hell, this alone should allow me to float into the never land of rapid eye movement and drool.
I should be feeling a great weight force my eyelids snap shut but it’s been three days and three nights and I just can’t sleep. Not even now.

It’s not because my mind is racing. I’m not very deep. I’m impulsive and not an intellectual.
Police? Am I worried about the police you ask?

No, I’m not concerned. This is a medium size coastal town masquerading as a city with a department more interested in donuts, muscle flexing and young beach bunnies.
We have a saying here; ‘If the crime doesn’t happen at the mall, it doesn’t happen at all’.
Our State crime lab is a mess. Union political hacks, you know the drill. So I’m not losing sleep on this point.
Besides the newspaper and local television says I’m dead. That little red herring I devised of inserting a male corpse into the mayhem; a homeless man of similar build for mine seems to have done the trick.
Like everyone else, he is in pieces and with all the deceased I’ve kept the hands and heads.
Dread, confusion, excitement, emptiness, sadness, want, desire….no but I think pondering and writing about this dilemma of mine has helped. I think I’m getting warmer or maybe my space heater is a too little close...
No, it’s off.
Anger, annoyed, bored, in denial, depressed, distracted, envious, jealous, and guilty – we covered that. Grief, optimistic, resentful, regretful, shame, stressed, unhappy --- yeah that’s more the ticket.
Unhappy, frustrated, agitated, displeased; my shrink was right. She’s a genius. ‘Chronicle your thoughts and re-trace your steps and the meaning will be revealed’. Wow that chick has it right.
Well all I know I’m not killing her after my Thursday appointment.
I will have to go down the list and pick another name. No problem the list is long enough, but Hallelujah she is really helping me.
Yeah, ‘unhappy, frustrated, agitated, displeased’; all of them and they all relate to these damn lamps.
I didn’t want to admit it because I have trouble with criticism even if it is self criticism. I made these lamps by hollowing out their heads but they suck.
I can’t get enough light out of the eye sockets to make it matter and if I want to let more light out of the mouth, I have to be careful with how far I open the jaw because if it is opened too far the head falls over. What a rip.
Even with all six together ---they suck.
What a crappy idea on my part. I just wanted some lamps. They are very expensive and I am tired of living by flashlight. I couldn’t find any at the flea market or any yard sales. There are none at the dollar store.
I’m just trying to show improve my lifestyle with initiative and achievement and I’m screwed. What a failure I am and boy does that hurt my narcissism and self-esteem.
God I’m disappointed and tired. Still, does anybody want to come over tonight and play Canasta?

No Smith is a Jones More Than Once by D.C. Lozar

I chew off the fingers of my left hand with the mouth in the palm of my right. It's a nasty habit, one I'm trying to quit, but that's the thing about habits: if they were easy to stop, we would.  

Unconsciously, the lidless eyeball in my wrist searches the knuckle nubs for rough edges in need of gnawing. The thick copper warmth of my blood, glass-smooth as it slides up my throat, nourishes me with guilty panic.

My future won't say anything in public.  

Later, they will crawl into my ear and burn my heart wings. They will make me feel ashamed and weak. They'll use their needle claws to strangle the empty spaces in my self-control.

"Rejoice," I'll scream with fluted tongues, "for this is the last of future days when clocks lie with straight faces upon bent tables of ethics. No hand may taste the blood of another without first seeing the bones."

"Rejoice," they'll whisper with ears that have been burnt to putrid orbs, "for this is the future of last beginnings and no soul may clean itself upon the blood meant to stain the living world."

They say this because they never listen. They are righteous in age, forgetting I have yet to be born. I could argue, could regurgitate each with beams of light, but my friends have corded boneless fingers trailing from their skulls, and I have none.

"Authenticity is a disturbing dream." Or, as I learned the day after I died, "No Smith is a Jones more than once."

I lift my nose and feel the rainbow, the knife-edges of color, as it slices off bits of my thought.  
They flutter to the sky, tittering sideways before regaining consciousness and screaming that I
should have done more, something - anything. It hurts to breathe, so I inhale the fluffy clouds of sin and wonder why we have to relearn things we know at birth.

Things would be simpler if we grew skin; borders of flesh to contain us, to organize our eyes so we can find them without looking. Even crocodiles have skin, and they don't cry half as much.  

I burp, tasting the last of my future, the knotted tendon strings that are so hard to dissolve, and clench my liquid fist - hoping no one smells.

Like I said, it's a nasty habit.