MUDMAN – Friend of the World's Detritus!

(MudMan tells 'em 'bout it from issue 10, Creet)

The body of this slow-talking, fault-finding cultural critic draws dust and dirt molecules to itself as if possessing the gravity of the sun. Also unfortunately born a sweaty, sweaty man, the accrual of this debris gives him the appearance of being covered in mud. Dungeon master. Lover of graph paper. Encyclopedic knowledge of b-movies like Robot Holocaust, Robot Monster, Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, etcetera etcetera. Quietly decisive in moments of crisis. 8-bit Nintendo expert. Host of late-night cable access TV movie show. Probably, honestly, the coolest guy in the house. Basement bedroom, just past the washer and dryer.

(MudMan explains it all from issue 3, the Cold Beer War)

JERRY RIG – Furniture Roboticist!

(Jerry Rig cracks the case from issue 2, Poisoned)

Abrasive inventor, most recently of miniature robotic doll furniture, or furnimicrobots, which are despised and feared by El Humidor. Ambiguously ambitious, demonstratively and demonstrably delusional. One-time worker in the G.I. Joe motor pool. Lonely lover of wordplay. A heavy-set guy in sweatpants and, all too often, a lab coat. Can never keep a thought to himself and wears Pokemon gear like it’s something to be proud about. Fanny packs in public. World's Biggest Fan: Hot Pockets. Sucks at Contra. Former member of agony rock band Send More Cops. Chairman: High Style logo committee. Second story bedroom, overlooking back yard.

(Jerry commands the troops from issue 8, Field Tactics for Urban Recluses)

(Jerry's got a hangover, from issue 14, Rags and Bones)

No. 17 - Attack of the Raftermen!

(continued from No. 15) 

Silently, almost sheepishly, Humidor and Aecca/Decca and Mudman and Jerry Rig walk through the southern approaches of the eastside industrial district to their final destination. A triangle of dried blood splays down from Aecca's nose over his mouth and onto his shirt. Mudman sports an impressive bruise on his cheek just below his eye, which is starting to swell. Humidor's pants are torn and ripped at the knees and shins, cuts and scrapes just visible through a mix of blood and grit. Rig is unwounded, but like all the others his hands and clothes are covered in a fine black powdery dirt acquired from transversing the railyards.

They hardly cut the figures they had hoped to at Punk Hotel, which now looms before them as they come around a corner. Where once two large houses had stood for decades, an enterprising landlord had purchased and melded the two together. The half on the corner sported a little roofed turret, the other had probably been more modest in appearance. The connecting segment jutted out all the way to the sidewalk, where concrete stoop led up to the hotel's European-courtyard styled double doors.

The party was in full swing, as it should as midnight drew near. An easy dozen people were arrayed on the stoop and sidewalk, smoking or talking privately or getting some air. Everyone held a red or blue plastic cup of beer. Every time someone went in or out of the front doors the great cacophony of humanity socializing from within would boom out, like a hurricane in a box. Doors closed, there was only the humming drone of muted music and voices.

"The fuck happened to you guys? Fall down getting the mail?" Jukeboxer’s usually dour face was grinning hard enough to split. As the foursome drew closer she got a better look at them in the dim streetlights. "Jesus, what DID happen to you guys?"

"Aecca lost a fight with the sidewalk," says Rig.

"The rest was collateral damage, really," says Mudman. Aecca scowls. Humidor's already eyeing the scene.

"How's the party going?" Rig asks.

"S'kay," Juke gestures at the Punk Hotel's proud sign, a collection of mismatched letters from other businesses, screwed on to a frame of 2x4s and hung by cheap rope from eyebolts in the windowframe above the doors. Snaps her fingers. "Rafterman's gonna play at midnight!" Four sets of eyes meet Jukeboxer's, wary of bullshitting.

"Bullshit," says Aecca, his previous dumpy mood vanishing.

"Its true," Juke nods furiously, "Wastrel had the Hotel keep it secret, not on the flyer and stuff."

"Wastrel's here?" Aecca eyes shift across the hotel's windows, almost expecting to see someone looking back.

"Yeah, back from Olympia, or Astoria, or wherever he was or goes. Yeah, see you around later," Jukeboxer nods at Rig and Mudman, who are drifting towards the front door. Humidor's long since vanished. "You should really go clean yourself up a bit, Aeck" Juke grimaces as she eyes Aecca, "you look disgusting."

Aecca looks down at his blood-stained shirt, "I thought it was pretty punk rock, but yeah, good idea. I'll catch ya later." Juke nods in response, takes a sip from her cup, turns and walks toward another group of celebrants standing at the corner. Aecca mounts the stoop and pushes through to the front door.

Beyond the immediate foyer, Aecca is greeted by a large room that stetches all the way to the back of the building where a staircase clings to the wall. This space, along with the apartment directly above, comprise the connecting structure between the two older buildings. The usual clutter of bicycles and debris has been moved elsewhere to makeway for a sweaty mass of party-goers in various states of intoxication. Aecca makes his way through the throng, smiling and nodding at the various ejaculatory exclamations at his appearance. About two-thirds through the crowd, he pauses. He could go down the hall to the right and wait to get in the hotel's only "public" bathroom and wash up, or could go left where he knows the keg will be. Judging in favor of personal hygiene, veers right, wincing when he bangs his shin against the low stage made out of a couple of old ping-pong tabletops and some cinderblocks.

"Aecca. Jesus. What happened to your face?"

"Tripped on the way here," Aecca grins, gives a casual handshake to the Pocketeer, "y'know, you could have called us that there was party here tonight, y'know? We came straight from the Pillbox."

'Teer smiles and figets with the collection of two inch long dreadlock stubs which punctuate his head in neat rows, "hey man, I was on my way to the 'Box and Juke and Ritch pulled up and were just like 'get in the car!' So," a shrug, shuffles forward with the line.

"S'kay. You seen Rafterman play before?"

"Nah, I'm fucking stoked though! I've heard a million stories. Everyone says they have to be seen to be believed," the line moves again.

"Yeah, it's like a rock and roll crucifixion."

"Wow. Strong praise," Pocketeer is next for the loo.

"I shit you not. I've seen grown men cry and women swoon at Rafterman shows."

"Wow. How many times you seen 'em?" the bathroom door opens, 'Teer steps into the breach.

"Four times," the door closes. Aecca turns, smiles at the couple behind him. "Geez, you get punched or somethin'?" the fella asks. "One of those booby traps, with the log on vines, my face," replies Aecca, grinning broadly. He hears a flush. "I could be in there for a while, so consider yourself warned."

The water going down the drain is pink in color for quite a while. Aecca's face is once more clean. His shirt is soaking wet but the heat of the crowd will dry it out and the night is warm. Ignoring the banging at the locked door, he tenderly palpates the cut on his upper lip. Maybe someone has some liquid skin or superglue or something he could borrow, cause the cut is deep and could scar bad. Wastrel would have some, or point at someone across the room who he knew did. As he wipes his hands on his pants (no way he's touching the pair of hand towels hanging on hooks by the sink) he hears the familiar whine and screech of microphone feedback. A spattering of swears and cheers. Sound check, he thinks.

"Way to take your time, fuckface!"

Aecca ignores the insults and does his best beeline down the hallway, back across the hallway in front of the little stage, now arrayed with mics and amps and a drum set. The hall is more crowded now, as people filter down from upstairs from the private apartments of the residents and from outside. Aecca makes fleeting eye contact with Mudman, whose ear is cantilevered in the direction of Jukeboxer, who herself gesticulates emphatically regarding some exciting anecdote recalled over the din of the crowd, all the while her mouth squarely aimed at Mudman’s poised ear. Aecca smiles slightly, to which Mudman replies with a small grin and the merest of head-nods.

Pushing on, Aecca heads down the hallway and gets in line for the keg. Glimpsing over his shoulder, he espies Humidor on the stairs, in full smoke-puppetry directorial mode. An audience of six or so giggle and smile and ooh and aah as Humidor’s employs his telekinetic sway of smoke to bend and shape the ample cigarette smoke into some silent-film shadow-theatre tale of derring-do.

"We meet again."

'Teer turns, smirks, "hey, how could I forget a face like that? Jesus, that's a hell of a cut you got there."

"No shit, yeah?" Aecca delicately prods at his wound, "I need to find some antibiotic ointment or some liquid skin or something."

'Teer snorts, "yeah I'd hardly call this an antiseptic environment," a hand pans across the great panorama of the Punk Hotel's interior.

"Man, I remember the last Rafterman show I saw here. Wait, was it here? Yeah, it was here. Hey, oh my gawd, I totally forgot about this." Aecca produces a can of beer from his pants cargo pocket, long forgotten from the evening's early provisioning stop.

"How do you forget you have a beer in your pocket? Especially when you're in line? To get beer!" 'Teer absently rubs an eyelid in mild exasperation.

Aecca cracks the beer open, thumbs at his face, "easy to forget when you're busy plowing your face into the pavement!" he takes a deep swig, his first beer since what seems like forever, hands the can to 'Teer, who accepts, drinks. Rig parades by, back towards the main hall, a pair of beers in hand. As he passes Aecca, his eyes lock onto Aecca’s upper lip as if for the first time. A snicker, then a chortle. The briefest of pauses, as if to say something, then a shaking of the head, and Rig continues down the hall. The corner of Aecca’s eye twitches in time to some internal clock of rage, then fades.

"Anyway, Rafterman show. Its crowded. Rafterman's well into there set. Women, fainting. Men, crying. Its hot as hell. Booze and beer, everywhere. I look over, and the guy next to me, he's got his dick out, and he's just pissing on the floor like its no big deal."


"Yep. You'd think that'd be a slipping hazard, but there's so many people, pressed so close together, its like, impossible to slip, the crowd just holds you up. And besides, as the crowd jostled me around I was always on the lookout to make sure I wasn't stepping in piss, but its like the stuff evaporated or something, or was mopped up by being stepped in ten million times. Shit. What time you got?" Pocketeer looks at his wrist, which has no watch on it, then shrugs.

"You ladies gonna get some beer or hit on boys all night?"

'Teer and Aecca's heads snap around to find themselves at the front of the line, the four or five people in front of them having acquired their beers surprisingly fast. The two grinning line-mates stride forward and then slow at the sight of the source of the inquiry.

An imposing giant of a man, if not for poor posture, stands before them. Framed by a cruel overbite made crueler by impossibly thin lips, and a haircut that looks like his mom was possibly the world's biggest Ringo Starr fan, beady eyes regard Aecca and 'Teer.

"Oh, hey, Ogre."

Ogre nods at 'Teer, "hey, you guys are gonna need cups," he nods at a bag of blue plastic recepticles. As Aecca and 'Teer grapple with the bag, Ogre reaches over to three mismatched plastic beer pitchers sitting on a plank atop a broken radiator. The pitcher closest to the front has a sheaf of paper duct-taped to it, "TIPS" scrawled in sharpie. The middle pitcher appears to be foamy slop from the keg. Ogre picks up the third and takes a long quaffe. As he tips his head back, the true size of his stature is hinted at, as he actually straightens his back a little. He shrinks a good twelve inches as he sets his to-scale mug back down and returns to his preferred slouch. Aecca and 'Teer profer empty cups in his direction, which he begins to fill from the keg's hose, occasionally pumping the tap for good measure.

"Aecca, right?"

"Yeah," Aecca adjusts the tilt on his cup to minimize foam.

"The fuck happened to your face?"

Aecca considers a reply, stirring the head of foam with his finger while 'Teer gets his cup filled, then, not coming up with any funny retort, nor sure such a retort to be a wise course of action, simply says, "I tripped."

Ogre considers this answer but says nothing more.

"Okay," Aecca says, as he and 'Teer head back down the hallway. Mingling into the fringes of the crowd waiting for Rafterman to play, Aecca intones, "is that guy, like, slow, or somethin'?"

"Y'know," 'Teer says confidentially, "I can never tell. I think he's actually just a boring person."


The two pause in an eddy at the edge of the swirling crowd, take survey. At that moment there’s a spattering of applause and cheers as Rafterman’s drummer, a lanky chap with hollow cheeks and a magnificent red mullet wearing a white matador’s jacket, crawls onto the stage and begins to arrange himself. Aecca taps a distracted ‘Teer on the shoulder, and signals at a nearly invisible open spot against the wall by the entry to the hallway leading to the bathroom. The two of them shoulder and slide and shimmy their way through the mob, and then alight precariously atop a pile of bicycle wheels stacked against the wall.

Now that the drummer’s arrived, the room is packed. People are giddy, even scared. Yelps and curses fly at squashed toes and elbowed ribs, splashed beer and cigarette burns. With every passing minute, even more people pack into the space, now crowding and hanging off the stairs. A few of the more dimunitive girls perch on the shoulders of husky men, the girls’ fingers caressing the ceiling. The collective lust whumps and expands again when Rafterman’s lead guitar is suddenly seen on stage. A slighty built woman with whispy brown hair whose guitar almost seems a bit too big for her, wearing gray jeans and a black denim jacket with the collar and sleeves cut off, she flashes the crowd an infectious smile that yet again, impossibly, ratchets the excitement up a notch. Aecca’s breath is ragged, not just because of the impending show, but at the potent electricity in the room. He’s wearing his usual rubber-soled shoes, but the ambient charge of static electric in the room is massive. Should it come to him (if not for his precautions) his hair would be fairly trying to jump of his scalp, Jacob’s Ladders would course between his fingertips, he could probably start fires with his caress.

His reverie is muted by a wild cheer as the bass player catapults himself onto the stage. A lean, mean,Visigoth of man, easily over six feet tall, sporting dirty blonde muttonchop sideburns, paisley pants and violently pink buttondown dress shirt, topped with a little navy blue cap with a little red puffy ball on top that would be more at home on the head of a drummer of Scottish bagpipe band, the bassist hollers if anyone is thirsty and produces a 12 pack of beer and starts tossing fresh beers to outstretched and raised hands. Then he produces another twelve, and yet another, then a goofy smile and shrug when than one is gone. The crowd’s laments pass as he straps on his bass and thrums a few chords, then starts strumming a simple bummm. bum-bum. bummm, bum-bum. The lead guitarist starts clapping her hands above her head, inciting the crowd to follow her lead with her wild grin.

And then, there he is, Rafterman’s lead singer and rhythm guitar. He wears a modest black vest over a forest green long sleeve dress shirt with ample collars from which springs his long neck and arch-featured face, the seemingly oversized mouth of the great rock and roll vocalists, deep-set eyes surveying the crowd from beneath a heap of corkscrew curls.

Cheers and applause greet him, but the bassist’s thrum and the lead guitar’s clapping return the crowd to their beat. The lead singer’s cuts into the electricity of the humid air.

"I tell everybody we want everybody to do. Tell ya we want everybody to clap their hands. Warming up like this. C'mon Hands up in the air an' warming up. Everybody c'mon. Hey. All right.”

Clap clap clap clap clap clap clap.

Let me hear it now. I think we're getting ready to do the hard way."

The bass stops. Clap clap clap clap. The lead guitarist lets out a guttural, primal “yeahhhhhhhh!!!” Clap clap clap clap.

"Alright alright hey!"

Clap clap clap clap.

Rafterman's building tank of anticipation crescendos and explodes into a rocking, romantic ballad called Denim Dreams and Sex Jeans. Packed gill to gill, the crowd is largely incapable of dancing or thrashing about to Rafterman's rock and roll melodies – and it’s the good stuff, too. Rafterman's talent is evenly spread, no one player trying to prop up the others. The crowd feeds off this joyous democracy, which is entirely evident in the band's stage persona. Standing shoulder to shoulder, heads bob and hands clap (Rafterman is nothing if not a crowd participatory experience) and feet stomp. Fellas and girls with a bit more room, whether it be atop someone's shoulders or a alight a coffee table, freely air guitar or sing along (the lyrics are simple and easy to pick up after a listen or two, and Born Again Hard might be the best selling local independent EP ever).

As the band launches into the bottom third of its set, Humidor and Mudman emerge out into the cooler, open night. They run into Creet and her friend Levy. Levy's a friend of Creet's, lives out in eastern Hinterland area, just up Church Row, in an apartment above a biker bar. A bit on the short side, she has dark hair down just past her ears that flips up and out around the perimeter, and has a rather general hunted, haunted look to her. She’s sporting a kung-fu-style dark blue coat with bright red stitching. It’s the type of fashion Humidor finds exotic, and irresistible. Creet catches his admiring glances, “Humidor, this is my friend Levy.”

“Pleased,” Humidor nods his head quickly in a sort of abbreviated bow.

“What’s your excuse?” Levy disdain is exaggerated and probably false.

Creet jumps in, “he can control smoke,” waves her fingers in front of her like she’s a magician, “with the power of his mind!” Levy’s stoney mask breaks as she laughs at her friend. Humidor laughs uncomfortably, unsure of whether these two women are sharing some sort of inside joke. Perhaps about him. Levy suddenly offers a Humidor a handshake. Creet smiles, “Levy can read the secret language of cities!”

"You can read the secret language of cities?"


"How do you manage that?"

"Well, its not linear, like, left to right, or up and down like our written languages, buts its like 360 degrees, and curvey tossy-turny, and its atemporal, so old scribblings and new ones are around at the same time. In some ways its real time and in others its historical."

"So, sometimes you can see, erm, read, what the city's writing right at this moment? This very moment?"


"Like spying on someone's journal?"

"Like spying, yeah. Like spying on somone's journal over their shoulder without them necessarily knowing you're there, but then like every other page, every other paragraph, heck, every other sentence, they ink it over, they tear it out, they set it on fire, so you have a stream of consciousness AND you have fragmentary pieces of old stuff. Sometimes I think William S. Burroughs could read city."


"Wait. 'Not necessarily know you're there?'"

"Yeah, its like you're spying on someone writing in their journal on the bus, and then all of a sudden they just turn and look you dead in the eye, y'know?"

"The city KNOWS you're there."

"Yep. Its why I try to avoid peeping as much as possible. At least on purpose."

"What's it do then, when it, uh, 'sees' you?"

"It usually writes something snarky, like 'like what you see?' or something, then goes quiet for awhile til it thinks no one's looking anymore."

"Is it writing right now?"

A pause, eyes darting at the sidewalk, at the telephone poles and wires, at traffic signals and clutters of litter. "Yes…"

Hushed, "…what's it saying?"

"…Stop pissing on my face, fuckers!"

Due to his unassuming yet attentive quiet nature, and the fact his dirt-covered skin causes him to blend into the night, Mudman slips away from the conversation. He crosses the street and shambles towards a dual-purpose parking strip and loading dock in front of a industrial/commercial space. The lot is like a hundred others except for the presence of a rather bedraggled monkey puzzle tree growing out front on a narrow strip of otherwise barren earth – a reminder of the area's well-to-do residential past. Beneath the tree's hanging branches two men talk, each holding a cup of beer.

The taller, skinnier one, with cylindrical face and lantern jaw, black hair in a monk's cut, finishes a detailed yarn to his companion, a stocky fellow with an explosion of bleached hair, all higgledy-piggidly with gel product, his eyes attentive but red and glassy with booze.

Treading closer, Mudman makes out the tall skinny guy to be Ritch, who, having finished whatever he was saying, now listens closely to the other man, the man called Wastrel. Now under the umbrella shadow of the monkey puzzle, Mudman dimley sees that Wastrel's upper body describes a lazy orbit above some undetermined pivot point below his waistline. Wastrel's musky scent of stale beer, sweat, second-hand smoke, and slept-in clothes wafts in the air.

"Well, Ritch," Wastrel was saying, "I'd say you do just what you're thinking of doing, there," he reaches up and sloppily pats Ritch on the upper arm, "now, if. If you'll excuse me, I haven't seen my good friend. My good friend Muds-man here in a while and would like to see what he done and whom he's seen and what to whom!" Ritch smiles, waves at Mudman, oblivious to Mudman's bruised cheek in the low light. Ritch then looks at Wastrel with eyes of deep significance, and heads back to the party.

"Muds, how's it going? How is the High Style, these days? You guys holding down the fort?"

"Not the same without you, Wastrel."

"Well, hey," Wastrel shrugs, falters back on his heels a bit, "whoa, think my buzz is plateauing," Wastrel puts his index finger on Mudman's collarbone like he's holding down the pause button on a tape recorder and promptly downs the rest of his beer. Wastrel's biochemistry is all reverse-upside-down-backwards-opposite when it comes to alcohol. The specifics are hazy. Rig speculates Wastrel has a biological symbiotic relationship with alcohol, specifically, beer, although its unclear what services he and the beer are exactly rendering for each other. Wastrel lowers his cup and wipes his lips with his forearm, "so, what were we talking about?"

"You could have told me."

"Told you what? Hey, what's that?" Wastrel squints, "that a bruise on your cheek, there? What is that?"

"Aecca/Decca hit me with a traffic cone."

"Why'd he do that?"

"To get even."

"With you?"

"With the sidewalk."

"Oh," Wastrel reaches down a picks up a full cup of beer from the ground, "pretty in character, really, then.," Mudman notices at least two more full beers resting in the darkness, "wait, I should have told you about what?"

"The party. You should have told me about the party," Mudman glances towards Punk Hotel as applause is heard. Rafterman must be done playing.

"I left a flyer at the Pillbox. With Sling. I knew he'd show it to you guys."

"A little haphazard."

"Well, you got here, yeah?"

"A little last minute," Mudman hears angry yelling from the direction of Punk Hotel.

"Pfft. Not my fault you didn't get to the 'Box earlier," Wastrel peers and cranes at the growing commotion. The entire party begins to spill out Punk Hotel and into the street, led by Aecca and followed closely by Deadbeat, who accosts Aecca about being a liar, about the tag "Master of Static Electricity" being a total joke.

Wastrel puts an arm around Mudman's shoulders, "y'know, some parties are good, great even, but with a little narrative, some gentle prodding, then can become legendary!"

Mudman furrows his brow, "this is one of your dioramas?" Wastrel responds by with a sidelong glance and devious smile.

"Aecca's a nice guy," says Mudman, "he doesn't deserve this." Aecca's stopped in the middle of the street, fists clenched, breathing fast and shallow.

"And what," asks Wastrel, trying to look over the top of the crowd, "of poor Deadbeat?"

Mudman considers, as Deadbeat continues to loudly and coarsely berate Aecca, then concedes, "he deserves to be manipulated."

"Besides, Muds," Wastrel sways in his semi-stupor, "Aecca needs to impress."

The crowd has encircled Deadbeat and Aecca. Humidor and Rig end up side by side on the very inside of the circle. Humidor asks how it started. Rig says the band finished a song and then when the applause died down everyone noticed that Aecca and Deadbeat were yelling, screaming at each other, and then Aecca tried to just disengage and walk out but Deadbeat just kept it coming and followed him, saying something about Aecca being a DI washout and a never-was. Humidor's face crinkles in anger at this last piece of information, his eyes darken.

Rig and Humidor, and the murmuring crowd, and Deadbeat go quiet when suddenly and silently Aecca unlaces his boots and kicks them off.

Then it begins.

The air starts to smell of ozone. Aecca's hair, everyone's hair, stands on end, fairly jumps about to some unknown rhythm, their clothes cling to their bodies. People giggle and holler. Tiny bits of trash pinwheel gently toward Aecca and spin in circles around him.

Creet appears at Humidor's side, "what's happening?"

"He's polarizing," Rig says in a distant, abstract tone.

Under the monkey puzzle tree, Wastrel's grins ear to ear. "No one. No one will forget this party, now, Muds." His eyes fix drunkenly on the ground at his feet and sways with the waves of a rolling blackout.

Deadbeat's still standing unmoved and scowling at Aecca, but a trace of anxiety begins to sneak into the corners of his eyes and mouth.

The atmosphere on the street is now silent but electric. Debris hypnotically orbits Aecca in two tapering clouds, like the top and the bottom of an hourglass.

"The air's so… still," murmur's Creet.

"Any second now…" says a mesmerized Rig.

"Magnificent, isn't it?" says Wastrel to Mudma, snapping out of his glassy-eyed drunken reverie.

Mudman looks on with a discerned, almost mournful expression, "I still don't like it."

Wastrel ignores him, "the crowd is the note, the power, yet unformed, and Aecca the chord yet unstrummed, the hand that strikes it."

Aecca's twinges minutely, and, for split second he smiles at Deadbeat the smallest of dastardly smiles. Then there's a barely audible crinkle noise, and in an instant, a blue bolt of superheated air fairly leaps from Aecca's stomach, throwing him and Deadbeat to the ground in opposite directions like they'd each been hit by bus.

The air temperature on the crowded street jumps a good ten or fifteen degrees, and those closest to Aecca momentarily see the floating debris around him ignite, burn, and disintegrate, like cinders from an open fire. The lightening bolt arcs magnificently a good 50 or 60 feet into the air, and then jaggedely plummets back to earth and violently conducts itself down the length of a streetlamp into the ground. The lamp explodes, showering broken safety glass bits and pieces onto the crowd beneath it. People scream and howl in fear, run in random directions, tripping and falling over each other.

Then the lamppost groans and cracks, and begins a slow, drunken fall to the street, a section of it splinted and burning about five feet up from the pavement. The top of the lamppost catches on another set of electrical wires, hangs suspended for a split second, then the broken off lower half canterlivers out and under the wire, like a man clothes-lined onto his back, hitting the street with a loud, final clang.

People scatter or go back inside. When the fire department shows up and a few police cruisers lurk about, even more people begin to dissipate. Aecca sits on the curb across from Punk Hotel, his boots still off, the belly of his shirt is blackened and burnt, with a hole the size of a softball centered roughly around his navel. Mudman and Rig sit to either side of him. They all sip beer from plastic cups. The upright stump of the remaining street lamp smolders 30 feet or so down from them. The fire department and some electric company workers have the rest of the lamp over to the side of the road. A fire marshal and a utility worker listen incredously to Wastrel's tale of a flukey, spontaneous electrical explosion, of an arc of lightening that nearly killed his buddy (pointing at Aecca for effect).

"I'll never understand why it shots out of your belly button," Rig says and shakes his head.

"Yeah, let's just not talk about it, huh?" Aecca's voice is thick, like he's got an awful sinus infection. He looks at his feet and wiggles his toes. His feet are covered in a fine black soot. You'd think he was wearing ballet slippers.

Creet crosses the street, two cups of beer in her hands. She gives one to Aecca. "Thanks" he says, setting it down on the curb next to him, taking another sip of the one he's still working on. Creet plops roughly to the curb next to his cup, not-so-discreetly bumping Mudman over to make room for herself.

"You okay?" Creet's mouth crooks into her distinctive smirk.

Aecca shrugs, stares at his feet and smudges some of the soot off with his thumb, "its not the first time, but its never really easier, so…" he shrugs again.

"I had no idea," she rubs the back of her neck, "you never told me that it was like that," indicates the broken lamppost.

"Yeah, well," Aecca smiles absently, "I guess I always hope the last time is the last time, y'know?"

Creet smiles warmly at this confession. Aecca smiles back, sharing the tiny intimacy.

Humidor emerges from the mingling remnants of the party, wearing a shit-eating grin to which everyone's gaze it drawn. He smokes his cigarette flamboyantly (even by his standards) as he stops in front of his assembled housemates, striking a faux-casual pose which screams I-have-news. His smokey exhalations form into a cloudy tail which spirals behind him, as if he was being followed by a transparent vortex. His eyes flick across his audience.

"Well? What is it?" Rig asks at last.

Humidor smiles, nay, verily beams with self-satisfaction. He pulls his free hand from his pocket where it had been at rest, and with a jingle produces a set of keys with a flip his wrist.

"You got your keys back," Mudman states, not asks.

"Indeedy, and I'm giving all of the Raftermen a ride to the 'Box."


"Yes! Ritch Jukeboxer and Pockster have already absconded. I have agreed to rendevous with them there shortly."

"Ah, here! Here you are!" Wastrel stumbles up and wraps an arm around Humidor's shoulders,
sir! Your payment due!" he pushes a wad of cash into Humidor's front shirt pocket, "fifty buck, as promised! For use of the van."

"Housemateys!" Humidor cries, "Assemble!" .

"Bet we're all here."

"Tonight!" continues Humidor, "the beers are are on me!"

The other housemates' sit in dumb silence, then Mudman says "everyone in the van before Humidor forgets what he just said."

No. 16: Grounded

The smooth black monolith squatting serene
    The heart-master dynamo of a squalid house
A lurker not at the threshold but at the center, where teem
    Full four failed men, friends, each a souse

Ever thus desperate for a noonish elixir
    With strong flavor and stronger power
To uplift and overcome—fuel to conquer last night's mixture
    Of folly and liquor. Each day's foul routine repeated first: one dour

Figure shambles into a fetid kitchen, himself rancid as any forgotten dish,
    Shifts through drifts of filth to fetch filter
And find bean or grounds according to which
    Sad wretch first fled sleep to flinch the day. A welter

Of debris on the counter faces whichever one of four
    Founds the day. Woe betide the step
Of that becalmed wretch who finds no brown reason to live to pour
    'Pon arising, who must scrounge the couch for cash and trek

Instanter out to 'plenish the go-juice supply,
    In iron accord with the one law of the High Style.
"If you get up first, you make a pot of coffee." No need to describe
    The punishments for this frank sin; any violator would greet exile.

Let all that passed be prologue only, though,
    A mere sketch of regularity, lines of a still life
Like ruts in the exhausted earth, a ditch-image existence in a field better left fallow.
    Because today is no stock gift of same, but a novel slice—

Nearly an attack, this new obstacle now, this new failure
    This morning of things broken (besides the men
(A known quantity, and one none too large)) following the sure
    Setbacks suffered last night, then the stumbling back to this den...

The coffee maker's busted. That's what's different.
    There's little enough coffee, but that's not the problem. The money's fucking spent.
There's no more replacing the ancient Braun than there is overpaying rent.
    Like a cattle-gunned child stands MudMan silent, staring at where once happiness came from, where hope went.

A few times he tries what makes sense.
    Checks the cord and plug, jogs the switch.
There's power to the outlet, he means to check (twice). When
    Did it last work? Doesn't matter. No good now to wish

Now were then, with then's things working still.
    MudMan's morals founder on a challenge this big.
Would yours? A feint, he thinks: go back to bed, let somebody else uncover this rotten deal.
    He slumps to turn and slip down the stairs. "Oh. Hi, Rig."

"'Man. Coffee yet? Man, my goddamned head.
    Shit, it's not even on, you must have—"
Rig flips the switch, sees no light, stops. Looks at what's dead.
    MudMan stands mute to history, knows there are no words for some facts.

Jerry recapitulates MudMan's actions with plug, cord, and outlet,
    To of course no particular avail. That's not how these things work!
The futility doesn't stop him. He pauses, and the friends stale the air with cigarette
    Smoke. "The hell are we gonna do?" Rig sighs. "This one hurts."

Humidor slumbers. Dekka, like always, keeps to his bed.
    He hates making coffee—for anybody else, anyway—
So he's careful to avoid stirring before there's something to stir, playing dead
    To the world. Let others prepare potions at the break of day.

"I'm gonna find a tape—" "No. There's no point.
    That won't fix this." "Helps me think."
Rig slouches out; 'Man left, bereft, wishes his exit had been so adroit.
    No coffee. Nothing to drink. Maybe a drink?

Bleak. Harsh realm for sure. A lamestain unlikely to be caught
    On the flippety-flop. Or anywhere else. Almost
Unnoticed, MudMan's second beer is half gone.
    Rig noisily munches on toast.

Some horrible blare rackets away and the coffee maker sits, inert.
    "We'll clean it up!" Rig blurts. "Act like it's new
And return it for exchange." "Without a box? Wrapped in your shirt?"
    MudMan's far from buying this shit. Few

Retailers would mistake the questioned unit
    For anything made in recent times
Anyway. Even if divested of the crust of years accrued to it,
    Its like hasn't haunted shelves since cigarettes cost just dimes.

An impasse. Rig spits crumbs. "Well? You solve this,
    Then, dick." MudMan opens his fourth.
The center is not holding. The house is cracking. The risk
    Is that the coffee/beer cycle—the last strong support

Of any kind of reasonable life these men know—
    Will collapse forever, and they will be lost.
Humidor's on the couch already, already crying. Rig: "I'll fix—" "No."
    "We've lost enough today. We can't stand the cost

Of some stupid fire or any more broken shit
    From you kit-bashing our stuff for parts."
Thus Akka/Dekka, roused and moved to roust or rout. Rig takes the hit
    Silently but sour, fingers his wallet and departs.

He'll buy his own coffee. Gawp at the girl
    Working the counter, if there is one,
Heaving his heavy load about the place, hiding a grotesque whirl
    Of emotions. A ghastly attempt to flirt. Dumb.

He'll be half-mute and will say nothing smart
    As his sausagy body, smock-stuffed, phocine
And hardly gainly, repels faintly. Rig didn't start
    The day with a hot shower. Or a cold one. He nor his clothes are clean.

Gross. Leave him his self-hewn hell. Contemplate the High Style
    Anew. Humidor has uncovered surprises. Two,
In fact. First, he revealed Akka/Dekka's own coffee machine, hidden the while.
    Second, an admission his footfall had known Dekka's little room.

A violation uncool. Chamber of Solitude! But protocol be screwed
    For the moment, as the small tool gets shoved
Onto the counter and stoked with solid and liquid that coffee might brew.
    "Smaller than the house pot," notes 'Man, "But enough."

Fuming Dekka stomps a sulk away. Humidor anxiously flits.
    MudMan's hands dole the groups—use the very last
To full fill the hopper, topped to the brim. Turning back, he jars his wrist
    Against the unfamiliar dimensions of the new maker. With a blast

The carafe falls. On the floor it irrefixably shatters!
    Stumbling back, Humidor flails in shock
And strikes the machine's basket. It too falls. Grounds scatter
    Amidst broken glass and into standing water. Fuck.

Everything's ruined. No coffee. No money. A pair of
    devices down with no prospect of change.
Let alone bills. The 'mates despair of
    Resolving this with money. Their minds are made strange

With lack of coffee and so many awful blows
    Delivered by this shitty world in one day.
They retire from the fray as from life. Hosed,
    They yield. MudMan and Humidor run away

Now from everything. The night now to fall will be the end.
    The end of all things. The end of sobriety.
The end of any bond to bind the friends.
    Coffee—the ritual and the drug—was the last anchor to the world they flee

And sure the only world they'll see again
    Will be at the bottom of cans, tops endlessly popped.
Without coffee, eternal night of yellow beer descends.
    What little forward motion these men could caffeinated muster now forever stops.

Hours later, all wallow in something like fate—or frank doom.
    Rig sits in a state trooper's car. Long story. He's ripped.
So are his pants, and the other 'mates. MudMan and Akka are sad at the bar, Humidor same in his room.
    Unseen in the Chamber of Solitude sits a circuit breaker only tripped.

Words & drawings by C. Collision

EL HUMIDOR – Smoke-Mentalist of the Sky Pirates!

(Introduce yourself, Hummy [from issue 10, Creet])

Not an actual sky pirate. A self-styled citizen of the world, he speaks with bizarre accents and rhythms, reflections of somewhat confusing social and cultural origins. He talks and thinks like he's part of several elaborate fantasies happening at the same time. Never been employed. El Humidor is an adept fumokinetic – he can control smoke with his mind. (Usually the smoke exhaled from smoking an Oggie brand cigarette). Typically creates smoke-figurines which play out escapist fantasies. Favorite themes involve biplanes, dirigibles, and general airborne adventure. Also, generic fantasy and 1950s-style pin-ups. Humidor's skinny and wears whatever was cheapest at the surplus store, usually Swiss, Czech, and other army gear from tiny, boring, socialist-type countries. Average day consists of being the last to wake up, drinking coffee made from left-over grounds, laying on the couch smoking, foraging in the streets for dropped change and returnables, laying on couch. Terrible with directions. Owns a van he calls the 'Valiant,' which he apparently 'won' from someone in a game of Magic. Obsessed with hanging out at the Pillbox Tavern during afternoon hours, with the godawful old Liverspot Gang daycrowd (they tend to buy him at least two beers, for reason unknown). Quick healer, in the event of a hangover. Second story bedroom, overlooking side yard.

(El Humidor waxes rhapsodic from issue 13, With Heights and Malt Liquor)

(El Humidor returns with the spoils of war, from issue 11, Citizens Emerge)