No. 14 - Rags and Bones



Your mom is right: breakfast is the most powerpacked meal of the day. Jerry Rig never quite learned that, so he was taken entirely off-guard by the totipotent combination of egg scrambled and imbricated with soft, wet potato. Wrapping it in an oven-warmed tortilla had proven far too puissant for his gin-wracked morning body, and he had made for the dubious comforts of the porch couch, bolstered by running the boom box' power cord through the window and fortifying himself with his all-Boston mix tape and the cleanishest glass from the kitchen (for a lengthy series of red beers).

It wasn't like he wanted to vomit, or die, or go back to bed, exactly. It was like his heart wanted to vomit, his eyes wanted to die, his neck felt made of splintering beestung granite. Flickers of flashback guttered over and through him like choppy seas surging amongst chunks of calving iceberg.


o0o


"I dunno. I loved the first one as much as anybody, but I genuinely think identity-fuckery combined with musings about that which is real versus the ersatz and the simple sadness that the satisfactions of the latter may well be more profound and accessible than the former is/was a bad choice for sequels--indeed, for a franchise. A certain dilution has occurred, and the subtlety of the original formulations has been lost, has become mere obfuscation..."



Humidor stared, straddling the beach cruiser he insisted upon riding everywhere. "Akka/Dekka...I am stunning. That was...easily...the most nuanced thing you have ever said. On anything."

Dekka shrugged and yanked at his backpack straps. Squinted into the early evening sun and muttered around a cigarette. "'Man said it. I just read the note he passed me."

The four grunted quietly as their respective bikes creaked under them, empty beers forgottenly stuffed and leaking their can-leavings in four men's bags, the last single-screen theatre in Portland receding behind them, the marquee grimly inflicting TOTAL RECALL 3 on any eye turned to the east on this sunday afternoon. Any eye at all: the letters were vast pillars of an eternal eldritch flame, dozens of cubits high.


o0o


"Fuck you, buddy!"

Rig rolled his eyes and adjusted his fanny pack. A stub of cigar worked its way around his mouth as the dank, starkly underlit club shook itself to pieces around him. Leather squeaked inaudibly everywhere, piercings gleamed and flashed, fishnets more a uniform than an accessory. Rig liked the flesh parade, bodies colliding as though they were in a large, invisible rock tumbler turned on its side, but mostly he just filed away the flickering cleavage and pale thigh meat for lonely later use. His mind fixed on strange, pointless things as he strained to avoid the things that actually bothered him. How had nobody ever noticed that the main riff in this tune was lifted directly from "woodpeckers from Mars"? Did nobody have ears?

In this way and by maintaining a very strict regimen of one tallboy per song was Jerry Rig able to avoid thinking about how a cover band--Hedgehog's Dilemma--had become a huge success playing songs his own band had never had a whole lot of luck playing, even as that cover band cavorted photogenically on the chest-high stage at Duckworth's. It



had been a long day. Bike ride to their favored theatre for a free noontime screening, mile upon mile to the east. A brief post-film visit to the graveyard, a hustling exit before being rousted by the paracops, some amiably unsuccessful attempts to grill in the back-yard, followed by a sighing abandonation of tantrum-stricken Akka/Dekka, who'd climbed up on the roof for no reason anybody understood as everyone else jettisoned themselves into the remains of the sunday. Energy expended leaves a void to fill with alcohol; this cavity sours quickly, home to a sullen rage, the lashing pout of the naturally overlooked and underappreciated.


o0o


Rig had passed out on the couch, running the boom box cord out the window. He came to to a monday afternoon spalled by the flinty tenor of Akka/Dekka, raised yet beyond its usual car alarm heights. "My loan!? Her birthday? This is bullshit! What do you expect to talk about next--period panties, the glass ceiling and mascara ads? This is asshole shit walking!"

As Rig fussed with his musty lab coat, sweat-moist from drunken, overfed couchsleep, Dekka's unfocused eyes strayed to the corner where walls and ceiling met. One arm hung limply from a bum, bruised shoulder. Almost no time passed. "Uh-huh. Okay, yeah. You're right. I will. Today, I promise. Today. TODAY. Right now. Love you too, mom."

Scowling, Akka/Dekka hung up the phone and repaired to his war room. All the rage and despair locked within that craggy frame would have to wait another day. Afternoon lost time like shedding hair and evening slid over the High Style like mustard on a biscuit. Sweating and shaky, Dekka clambered out of the stifling, repurposed mud room. "Ha-HAH!" his rough cry, a flat lozenge held above his head with his working arm. "They said it couldn't be done. They later retracted that statement and lengthily questioned my abilities, my suitability for the task. And yet I stand. Here I stand--victorious."

Jerry, drinking on the porch and enjoying Boston's late period, nearly audibly ignored Dekka. Humidor was long



gone to the bar and Mudman lurked below, still playing games alone. Grumpy and underappreciated, Dekka intoned "Yup. Cool. Is. The. Word. What I got right here is probably the best thank-you note any man ever wrote to his aunt. For kicking down a little cash when she makes like a million dollars a minute. And I am currently between jobs. Which she expects to be paid back in like 2 months." When this proclamation somehow failed to win the spectacular response it merited, Akka/Dekka dropped his envelope hand and went to rummage the couch for stamp change. Still grumbling.

o0o


His night both ruined and fulfilled, his face lumpier and bloodier than usual, Rig slumped on the ped access platform of the Steel Bridge. About a third of the way across it (going east) there's a spot of black between two lights. Rig was treating his soul to one of his beloved punk rock picnics, a Black & Mild smoldering, bebourboned Plaid coffee half

forgotten, a filthy handkerchief around a fistful of ice held to his bleeding brow. Occasionally he'd toe the rear tire of his jounced and battered mountain bike to hear its comforting ticks. As the ice melted through the handkerchief, blood from his eyebrow seeped around and covered the stains from the 5 fluids from all 4 of his body's front's primary emitters of same.


o0o


It started in a tavern. It always starts in a tavern. Humidor hadn't noticed anything odd or interesting about the Pillbox when he's stopped in as afternoon lost a savage match against evening. Had he noticed two pairs of ember-eyes hotly glowing from corner shadows, he would simply have waved to Jukeboxer and Ritch Tapestry.

Who sat beclouded by smoke and gloom. Back by the pinball machines.

Humidor approached the bar. All he heard was two old men at talk. "Wow, your ex?"

"Yeah. Dating my girlfriend's stepson."

"They came in here?"

"Right up in here. Said they didn't know I drank here. I felt like a Mexican in a bookstore, for sure."

"..."

"Awkward. I felt very awkward."

"You're a fucking asshole."

Armed with a tall yellow beer, Humidor beat a retreat to the

pinball forest. "Humidor. Sit." Ritch Tapestry stood over the pinball machine like a stalk of bamboo. The ball hurtled through the gates and switches, careened off throbbing obstacles and caused lights to strobe. The score mounted, grew intimidating. Though his hands were in the customary and appropriate place on the table, his fingers never moved, the buttons never were pressed, and his eyes always burned, never straying from Humidor's wan, swarthy face.

Jukeboxer leaned forward creepily and got to the crux. "It is time, El Humidor. To be tutored in the ways of power. For example, you can walk down the street drinking a beer. Right out in the open."

"No! That's not true! That's impossible!"

"You know it to be true."

Time passed. Humidor's mind was further blown. The jukebox transmorphed into a pulsing vortex--something like a screen saver or a particularly good visualizer--eldritch spectra frying eyeballs over comet/planet collision drumbeats. A phalanx of guitars grinding like cavalries churning across the steppes. The portal didn't open so much as simply appear; by its very presence the dingy tavern was changed.

Humidor in a strangled voice asked "You mean...like some kind of...Eternal Champion?"

After a pause, Jukeboxer answered him. "Yes. No. Well, an overnight champion, one could say. A midnight warrior of a sort, chosen to battle once--"

"And only once." Tapestry followed his interruption with a freight train of a glance and a brief monologue. "You must understand. Grim forces abound. Occasionally a man is

selected to help another throw one or another dire yoke. You wear the mantle of the midnight warrior like a rank, and sally forth on some yet unknown sortie, like so many before you, so many yet to come. No one knows who will be chosen, or when, or where. Except us. Jukeboxer and I have the honor of introducing you to tonight's task."

Cued, Jukeboxer said "There are ways, Humidor, ways of power you have been introduced to. Ways any of us can, for one moment, hold the whip hand."

"Yes. And save another." Tapestry sat back and smoked. Jukeboxer glanced at the portal somehow disgorging Creet.

Humidor knew why he had been chosen. "What...what must I do?"

"Her. Buy her a beer." At Jukeboxer's point, El Humidor steeled himself and swallowed hard. Then he swallowed beer. A lot of beer. Then got up, squared his shoulders and his recollection of his bank balance and headed to the bar and the slim young lady waiting there.

o0o


Akka/Dekka woke up in free fall.

"Fu--" whump.

When a man falls asleep on the roof, he will sometimes wake up on the ground, or nearly so.


o0o


Creet smiled. "Hey, El Humidor."

"You have on me a disadvantage. I think we haven't never met."

"Oh, I was at a party at your house a while back. Don't get out much now."

"No?"

"Nah. Dumb desk day job thing. Dress code, the whole bit."

Humidor finally caught the bartender's eye. Thickly he thumbed at his envelope, impressed at a distant remove by the bulk of his rent money. "Hey..." distracted by the jukebox, omnipresent as the surf and powerful as summer thunder, "Can I get another? And whatever she's drinking? And some quarters?"

Receding to the shadows, Jukeboxer mumbled a question at Ritch Tapestry. "You think he's got a shot?"

"I think he'd better."


o0o


Gorgeous late-summer monday afternoon in Portland. Cloudless sky, everything's clear, blue and green. The air has a magic sweetness rarely attainable by lesser cities, even near Jerry's cigar, on a porch that could be promoted to ramshackle with a few free hours and a pressure washer. "These Dreams" blared, because Jerry's view of "all-Boston mix tape" is as whimsical as everything else.

Dekka and Humidor mounted the porch from opposite directions, both struck by Rig's struck face.

"The fuck happened to you?" Akka/Dekka gently inquires. "You fall down getting the mail again?"


o0o


Pinball, jukebox and vast accessible alcohol took the night out back behind the barn, shoved a rifle in its mouth, delivered an Oscar-worthy disquisition on the topic of renting oneself, and loosed two shots. The second was just for effect. Creet and El Humidor laughed with newly-won familiarity as last call happened, and delivered their orders with glee. Somehow they'd spent most--55, maybe 60%--of the night talking about Creet's "dumb day job".

"Seriously. Not one person there will drink a beer at lunch. At least three people have told me they don't understand why I'd rollerblade to work instead of owning a car. They decorate their cubes and can't understand why I dress the way I do. I get there in a good mood from my ride; by lunch I'm furious. Every night I roll into my pad and just go to bed I'm so tired from dealing with all the bullshit."

Humidor shoved his cigarettes across the table. Creet spoke around one, absently clicking her Zippo a few times after lighting the tube.



"It's like getting beat up. My life is getting abused. Bruised. They won't let me be who I am when I'm there. By the time I get home, I'm too exhausted to be who I want to be."

Humidor cleared his throat quietly. Now was the crucial moment--as the midnight champion, he needed to strike a blow for the forces of freedom. He could just tell.

"Would you excuse me for a moment?" Creet's eyes were focused on some dimension unknown to most as she unfolded her lanky frame and vanished out the front door. Humidor slumped, crushed by the weight of failure as Jukeboxer and Ritch Tapestry appeared behind him, radiating thrill and not a little surprise as the bar's get-out lights suddenly shed harsh illumination on outing's end.

"Good man."

"Well done." And they were gone. Confused, Humidor finished his quarter-inch of beer, eyed the surround, shrugged and downed Creet's last inch. As he attained the pavement, Creet rushed him. "Wanna hit the Plaid? We have like 6 minutes."

"Thought you worked in the morning, not?"

Creet moved her cell phone like a tambourine. "Nope. I just called them and quit. Let's grab a sixer; I want to show you that anime I told you about."

"O-ohkay."


o0o


"Well, I don't entirely know. I remember going in to La Dolce 'Gina for a second, and getting kicked out for getting blood on the stage."

"The hell did you get the dough to go to a peeler bar?"

"I wasn't there for long."

Rig was lying. He'd been there for about a hundred bucks. And he knew perfectly well what had happened to his face, now that a raft of red beers had reassembled his sundered memories. As Hedgehog's Dilemma had wound up their second to last number, Rig's voice had unleashed the mightiest known heckle. "You're not very good!" The words wheeled around the room like predatory birds. The Bowie knockoff known as Kludge had hurled his keytar to the ground and leapt feetfirst onto Rig's grinning, furious face. He'd hung out alone on the bridge for a bit, then paid to look at naked women. But your roommates don't need to know everything.


Words by C. Collision, drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes

No. 13 - With Heights and Malt Liquor


Aecca/Decca closes the fridge door, gives the kitchen a cursory looking over. Not seeing what he's looking for, he walks through the passageway to the front foyer and pulls a balled-up hoodie out from between two legs of the banister.

"Where you going?"

Aecca turns to face the ever-inquiring Jerry Rig Rig and Mudman sit in the living room, half-watching teevee, half-reading comic books and magazines. El Humidor lays on the crusty sofa, half-conscious. Some part of his lizard brain goes through the motions of smoking a cigarette.

"Plaid. To get beer," Aecca responds, pulling on his hoodie, fishing into his pants pockets for wadded up dollar bills, "you losers got any money?"



"Did someone say beer run?"

Everyone startles at El Humidor's light-speed lurch into full lucidity and an upright seated position.

"If, IF you're buying in," Aecca quickly stipulates. El Humidor pauses for a heartbeat, his eyes jumping from housemate to housemate, whom shoot icy contempt back at him. Too many times has El Humidor "gone in on" a beer run, only to not spend a dime and merely provide "safe passage" for the beer in question. His housemates are now usually quick to make sure he actually coughs up a few bucks or some pocket change in advance. Mudman, curiously, accepts personal checks.

"Yes, yes, El Humidor shall pay." The contents of Humidor's pockets spill onto the coffee table.

"Got enough matches?" Mudman picks up one of the numerous matchbooks which seem to make a majority of the junk through which Humidor now sifts, plucking the occasional dollar.

"El Humidor is NEVER without his goodest friend, the flame, my muddy companion! Ah ha! Four! Four dollars!" El Humidor's eyes light up in vindication.

"Well then, let's go ladies," Aecca puts his hand on the front door knob, waits expectantly for Humidor to pull on his surplus Czech army summer jacket thing.

"I'll come," Mudman intones, slowly but smoothly moving to join Aecca at the foot of the stairs.

"Well, shit," says Rig, still half-watching the teevee, half-reading an old issue of Portland Mecha Quarterly. The other three look blankly at him front where they stand by the front door. Aecca sighs, rolls his eyes. El Humidor taps a sneakered foot.

"Hold on, I'll come, too," says Rig.

As Rig readies himself, the remaining housemates meander out onto the front porch and lawn. El Humidor gets out a cigarette and begins to fiddle with it, a sort of pre-expedition ritual. Mudman gives cash to Aecca, who does his best to brush the half-dry dirt off. Cashiers' have refused honest money from Mudman before.

Rig emerges at last from the house and the foursome head down the street, Aecca and Mudman taking the lead, Humidor and Rig the rear. As the sidewalk narrows and widens, the group alternates between walking four abreast, or two by two, or occasionally, say, El Humidor walking backwards addressing a cluster of the other three.



Conversation rambles and goes no where. The housemates beat a strange route, from side street to alley, then to bizarre muddy pathway between an overgrown blackberry patch and a suspect apartment building, and through an unexpected open field. The 'mates grow silent passing through here, eyes dancing over old concrete foundations which jut from the

ground, daydreaming that the earth has dislodged some marvelous artifact from its skin. Conversation resumes as they head back up a side street and onto the semi-major arterial avenue along which lay the major landmarks of the housemates' geographical and economic reality: the bar, the Safeway, the Plaid, a video rental joint.

Their destination in sight, Humidor casually suggests pushing on a few more blocks to the 'Box for a beer or two, maybe some pinball, then hitting up the Plaid on their way back to the house. The suggestion is ignored by the other three. Its only half past three in the afternoon, and Humidor's mild obsession with the daytime crowd at the Pillbox Tavern is not shared.

Avenue traffic is evaded and the Plaid door goes ding-ding as the four enter and make their way to the beer coolers. Rig puts a hand on the handle of one of the doors, as if he already knows what he's doing, but just stands in anticipation as they wait in a row in front of the humming glass doors, eyes darting from price to price, minds running an obscure calculus of price and preference and quantity. Everyone sort of shuffles or leans their way into physical proximity of what they want to buy.

"Why... hello there... darlings!" El Humidor croons.

The other three glance to see what it is that Humidor is obsessing over this time, only to see Humidor standing

slackjawed at the end of the row of coolers in front of a sales display of 32 ounce bottles.

"What it is?" says Aecca, stepping out of the orbit of a 12-pack of Oly.

"That's new," posits Mudman, looking away from a fistful of Mickeys hand grenades.

"Malt liquor?" says a skeptical Rig, "that's not really our area..."

Humidor turns to face the other three. His eyes are saucers. He looks a little faint. "A buck oh five," he says.



Aecca takes a sudden step back, as if the words were a shove. Rig starts scratching at his chin in thought. Mudman grabs one of the bottles and reads the label.

Mudman: "Seven point five percent."

Aecca: "At a dollar five each?!"

Mudman: "Sandoon. Funny name..."

Rig: "And five cents deposit..."

Humidor starts piling bottles into his arms. The others break rank and do the same.

Five minutes later the four biggest grins ever seen emerge from the Plaid. A plastic bag clutched in every man's hand, clinking with the sound of high-content low-cost liquid intoxicants. Briskly they walk, making the trek back in considerably less time. Upon arrival the usually sullen, argumentative High Style is momentarily filled with laughter and joviality.

Aecca squats on his haunches finding empty spots in the miasma of the house fridge, the other three taking turns passing him 32 ounce bottles out of the plastic bags. Aecca occasionally mutters and curses a "what the fuck is this?" as he examines some forgotten to-go box or brown paper bag, before thrusting it into the air behind him, where upon someone unceremoniously takes it and throws it into an overflowing trash can.

"Probably should take the trash out," Rig meekly suggests, as himself, Mudman and Humidor grab a bottle and mob out into the living room. Mudman alights to an overturned milkcrate next to the house's Frankenstein stereo arrangement and digs through an old shoebox full of cassette tapes labeled in a variety of styles and legibility and interpretation. His fingers hover for a moment before fishing out a tape and popping it in the deck. Staccato punk rhythms and intelligible lyrics bang out of the mismatched speakers.

"What's this? We are listening to?" asks Humidor, peeling the plastic wrapping off a new pack of cigarettes.

Mudman cracks the cap of his 32, "Polish punk comp tape."

"I found that in the Crocodile bargain bin," says Rig.

Aecca emerges from the kitchen, his stocking of the fridge complete, "we should try and get a second fridge. For beer only." He sits down in the chair by the window, nod at Humidor, who tosses him a cigarette.

Aecca opens his beer, pauses. Everyone briefly glances at each other, then takes the first gulp. Faces sour.

"Oh!"

"The fuck?"

"Beer with the flavor of fruit? Will this land never cease to amaze me?" Humidor takes a second, enthusiastic pull.



Mudman eyes the label on his bottle, reads aloud: "Tropical Splash."

"Whatever the fuck that means," says Aecca, half-absently taking another slug.

"Nectar! Sweet sweet nectar!" El Humidor's a third of the way into his bottle already (that's a little under 12 ounces for those keeping score at home).

"I admit, once you get past the, uh, taste," muses Rig, eyeballing the bottle's contents through its narrow aperture, "its not too, uh, bad."

Decca shrugs, "beggars can't be choosers, I suppose."

"At these prices, I guess you could say it sweetens the deal!" Rig looks around the room. Answered with silence. "Oh, c'mon, gimme a gruffaw, huh? A gruffaw!?"

"Who wants another?" El Humidor's up and heading for the kitchen, his empty 32 slowly spinning on its side on the floor.

"Geez, Humey, pace yourself a litt--" begins Rig.

Humidor freezes, spins on a heel, screams! "Humidor said. WHO. WANTS. ANOTHER?"



Silence. Broken only the gulps of the other three mates sipping their 32s.

"Well, if you're up."

"Yeah."

"Me, too."

"Very well!" The grin and the flourish return to Humidor's demeanor. He struts to the kitchen and returns clinking, four more bottles clutched to his person.

Their palettes now accustomed to syrupy sweet malt liquor, the four cohabitants consume their second bottles in a slurry of non sequitors and inside jokes. Somehow, the old discussion of rearranging the main floor is flushed out into the open, batted somewhat disinterestedly around like the shuttlecock of bored daughters of magnates of industry, then abruptly discontinued as the focus shifts to where a band should set up to play in the living room. Aecca's a fan of bands playing before the big front window, since that way he can watch from the stairs' banister. Rig makes his typical and actually quite reasonable case for having them set up right in front of where the teevee is, so that the crowd forms a sort of ring around the band. More interactive that way, personal. Not an army of ears arrayed before a false altar. Mudman shrugs and mentions that he's always liked basement shows. The low ceilings, the physical and symbolic descent into noise and chaos. Humidor, as always, the idea of a band playing in the kitchen hilariously novel.

"Speaking of the kitchen," hints Aecca.

"Yes! Yes!" Humidor practically leaps up and heads for the kitchen to retrieve more bottles.

Rig snaps his fingers, "y'know, we should get a second fridge. For, like, beer only. A beer fridge." He absently sets a bottle cap down on his miniature robotic sofa. It clatters away across the floor into the bike graveyard.

"An excee-lent idea my frumpy frontificating friend!" says Humidor, distributing another round of brown bottles to his fellow renters. El Humidor's vocabulary becomes quite inventive when under the thumb of a few drinks.

"Frontificating?" Mudman, frowning, furrowing his brow.

Aecca leans forward, puts his empty on the coffee table, "and who, exactly, will put beer in this dedicated beer fridge?"

"Well. Uh..." Rig scratches his chin, looks distractedly at the corner of the ceiling.

"Did not the Crooked House have a second fridge, dear Mudman?" Humidor asks. Mudman nods.

"And was there beer in it?" Aecca asks.

"No. But it was nice for parties," this answer draws slow, approving nods from everyone.

"I can't believe you, you lived, in that, that hellhole," Rig's eyes glaze over with fear.

"Humidor, are you okay?" Mudman's been watching Humidor with great interest ever since Humidor started rubbing his eyes, shaking his head.

"Thees stuff," says Humidor, gesturing at the bottle in his grasp, "its, not feeling so good, anymore for me."

"Its all that fucking sugar in it," says Aecca, rubbing his temples, "I can taste the sweetness in my skull."



"Yeah I feel like, like I just ate a jar of melted twizzlers and chased it with a pint of tequila," Rig tenderly palpates his stomach.

"Humidor's hands, they are cold," his eyes darting back and forth, Humidor shakily brings a cigarette to his lips. He strikes a match and brings it up to his face. He freezes.

Within a few heartbeats everyone's watching the frozen Humidor, all swaying slightly in a boozy breeze.

Humidor springs up and back off his seat. "Fuck! Jesus! Keep away! Away from El Humidor!!" He backs up against the wall, his eyes fixed at something in the direction of the front door.

"Christ, Humey, what the fuck is your problem?!" swears Rig dismissively (as is usually the case with things involving Humidor), but nonetheless he, along with Aecca/Decca and Mudman, follow Humidor's terrified gaze.

The room is full of gasps and stifled screams as the housemates look upon the monstrosity in their living room. A towering eight or nine feet of alien organics, insectoid spheres set upon a conical head, massive body all plunging edges and space-age triangular knobs and ridges, the creature-thing coldly regarded the scared shitless flatmates with masklike hollow eyes from which behind peered nothing.

"Is that thing for real?" squeals Rig, "oh shit!"

Everyone shrieks, again, as the thing whips his gaze over to Rig. Humidor lets loose a staggered series of deep sobs as it actually takes a step forward. As it takes a second step Mudman scurries on all fours past it and into the adjunct bicycle graveyard.

"Jesus Christ what do we do!?" implores Aecca, scrambling backwards but still prone on the floor.



"Um, um, I dunno. What do you want? We mean you no harm!" Rig's talking fast, his eyes pondering escape routes, then the thing takes a quick step right over Rig's defenses (the coffee table), bends over and reaches at Rig's head with a pointy tri-appendaged hand thing. Rig slips out of its clutch, losing his cap in the process. The creature pauses to examine Rig's baseball cap.

Rig joins Aecca and the sobbing Humidor together, their backs to rear of the house. The insect-alien-monster turns to face them and raises its arms up and emits a long, low, loud scream laugh. The threesome pale and go all weak in the knees.

Mudman comes out of the kitchen into the room. He's holding a used coffee can. He looks hard at the bug-demon-thing, blinks hard. Turns the can over and empties its contents of old batteries and broken pencils onto the floor. As this trash clatters on the floor the Aecca and Rig glance back at Mudman.

"Mud'! What do we do!" screams Aecca.

"We're fucked! Fucked, I say!" prophesies Rig.

El Humidor breaks out of his panic, "is this El End of El Humidor?"



Mudman drops to his knees, puts the coffee can on the ground in front of him, and unceremoniously jams his index and middle fingers into the back of this throat. He gags, and lets loose a current of frothy red stomach contents into the can. Shaking, he looks up and wipes vomit from his cheek, the rises and brings the can over to his friends. They are fleetingly skeptical, but Rig and Aecca both take to their knees and begin retching. Humidor shrugs and pukes onto his own lap.

Panting, sweating, convulsing, the housemates peer around their suddenly quiet domicile.

They are alone.

"What was in that stuff?" Aecca stands, begins gathering the remaining half-empty Sandoons.

Still sitting on the floor, Rig flops his back against the teevee stand, picks up one of the empty 32s, "Sandoon...," he says, musing.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," says Aecca, "some fiendish plot, I'm sure. Hey, Mudman, get the rest of these out of the fridge."

"What... are you... doing?" murmurs a weak, vomit-covered El Humidor. Humidor does not take puking well. His recoveries tend to be weak and slow.

"Flushing this vile demonshit down the fucking toilet, that's what I'm doing." Aecca stands with a commanding air before the bathroom, one half-empty held out above the bowl. Silence. Lower lips are chewed. Nervous glances at the yet unopened bottles Mudman now clutches.

"Toss unopened beer?" Rig nervously toying with his hat, which he has retrieved from the floor.

"It is not natural. It is not done. Taboo!" Humidor seems re-energized, slightly.

"Being visited by a fucking, jesus, were you guys NOT JUST HERE fucking now when that, that THING was here? You guys are crazy! We are flushing this shit down the toilet."

He tips the bottle, its contents splash against the porcelain.

Silence follows, as bottle after bottle is dumped. Shame, too, a little, when the coffee can's contents are dumped. Everyone cleans up the debris in quiet reflection.

Then, Humidor bounds back downstairs in a clean change of clothes, and sing-songs: "So, who is want-ing to go the World Fam-ous Pillbox? El Hum-i-dor is buy-ing!"

"Really?"

"No."



Words & drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes

No. 12 - Spent Hours in the High Style


Lucky men never wake up already grim. Akka/Dekka woke up quickly that morning, and it actually was morning, though barely. Saturday. Cold outside, not a cloud in the winter sky. Dekka transitioned from motionless, dreamless unconciousness to an emotion-free, open-eyed mode of assessment, inhabiting that clean, desolate space where no illusions are possible.

For long seconds he lay, burritoed in a tattered sleeping sack, the pulsing heat pump at the base of a heaped pile of rags. His eyes moved deliberately from site to site, and without sighing he rose and pulled on his boots.

Minutes later, he found himself in the midst of a project of reinvention and salvation. A project in which the external realities of habitual environment were to be made over in an image of limitless potential and achieved uptopia. A huge pile of reeking fabric sat in a garbage bag in his doorway, next to a depressingly small pile of quarters.

"Akka! Dekka! Akka/Dekka! How am I to interpret to this grotesque talmud?"

Dekka turned his head evenly, and said nothing. Just stared. Half-hunched before the High Style's pitted porcelain throne, he held a tilted gurgling 40, its deep amber contents sloshing into the bowl.



"How can you just...abandon this beer to the untender embracement of a sewer? Look there! Two more bottles, nearly full! And that jug of wine...that...that..."

Humidor gulped, reeling. Dekka turned away, set down the re-emptied empty, took up the jug of what looked not entirely unlike Chardonnay, but that was labeled "Merlot". "That is not...wine. Is...it."

Dekka, an unusually cruel smile playing across his grainy features, growled "Not any more." In Dekka's room, the window stood open, and a chafing breeze flapped the ridiculous curtain, actually a pair of hoodys too decayed to wear. El Humidor fled into the kitchen, herding his thoughts away from the ghastly sight of Akka/Dekka dumping his piss jars. A biyearly cleaning cycle can be a horrifying spectacle, especially immediately upon rising of a sunny winter's afternoon; indeed was El Humidor horrified.

"Well...I think...what happens is he just jumps right in the shower, without wanting to wait--"

"The single thing, perhaps, about which I care the very least in the entire Marvel Universe is the how/why issue attending Akka/Dekka's habit of leaving a slurry of waste to rot in wait in our toilet. No, all that moves me is the brute fact, that simple property of bare existence--"

"Just flush it, Jerry. What's the big deal?"

Choking on an overwhelmed yelp, El Humidor grabbed the nearest abandoned beer (no sweat glinted from that cylinder, indicating an inarguable up-for-grabsness) and dumped it onto a bowl of cold cereal. Shuddering and shaken, he ate his champion's breakfast before the television, hoping against hope for a Smallville rerun.

Sunday "morning". Three men jostled in a kitchen, their fiefdoms established and not so much contested as ignored as they each in their several ways went about the business of preparation of coffee.

MudMan watched impassively as his French press shoved the grounds and grit down and packed it into sludge. One day--when money wasn't so tight--he hoped to be able to discard the trawled liquid entirely, and enjoy only the silty coagulate left behind.

Akka/Dekka frowned at a saucepan on the stove, flicking a fork in delicate loops, always just below the surface of the winking water. With his other hand, he shook grains of instant coffee into the 'pan, waiting for the perfect color. When he'd see it, he'd pull the 'pan from the stove and stalk into the living room, pulling vast swigs directly from the rim. His view on coffee from mugs is, perhaps, too raw for this venue. ("Base faggotry", he calls coffee mugs filled with anything but bourbon.)

El Humidor stood near the stove as well, his tongue bitten and poking through the corner of his mouth, as he poked and prodded at a camping-style percolator. As it bubbled and burbled atop the burner, he finished peeling the flimsy foil from a Cadbury egg, and he cracked the egg, poured its contents into the percolator's basket, and followed the contents up with the shells. Arguably the brokest member of the house, his "grounds" are nothing but what few leavings he can wheedle MudMan into surrendering.

Afternoon. Jerry was on the couch, his stout trunk slumped exactly like a beer can, first thumb-indented, then discarded. The NES squatted under a tangle of cable; nothing was where it always was. The VCR had been plugged in. Grainy, over-saturated images spooled--industrial footage, scratched nature film, pyrotechnic displays, the inevitable nightmare-masked gogo dancers flanking an onstage barrel fire, and the briefest imaginable shots of men hurling themselves against various devices, some recognizably musical, some not, some of each category obviously homemade.

A voice like a human and a robot trying to make a third thing crested from the house speakers, rhythmic and with modulated speed (altogether like an angry, chain-mailed snake).
cocaine and competitors
handjobs in the wings
mismatched with discreditors
no-one wants to win
you can drink your pack of cigarettes
while you smoke another wine
Pops and hisses betrayed the age of the spinning ten-incher; Jerry, inert, flipped its sleeve to see the back cover.



A wide photo, the top third six young--so! young--men under a bridge, most not rock-angular, all with the requisite mixtures of diffidence and hostility, all wearing urban assault gear (pockets, patches, zippers, studs, hardpoints with tools dangling).

Jerry hadn't been thinner, then, much. Maybe in the face, but the hair product budget had evidently once been much higher than in recenter times. On the screen, a chopped, stuttering stock loop of a car going over a cliff and bursting into tumbling, jagged flame. Rig's scratchy voice joined the amplifed version for the one rendition of the chorus where all instrumentation dropped out and apparently the whole band joined in:

clock and work your load of pain
all there is is less

As the instruments returned and all but the inhuman voice dropped out, Jerry Rig wept and the record sleeve fell from his hand.

He wept for the things life only loaned, and always were repossessed: success, affections, chances in life. For knowledge, for learning, for fear and regret and for himself Jerry Rig wept. Some sunday afternoons are like that.

An hour later, he'd eaten a cold can of concentrate soup, straight from the can, with a fork, and hooked the NES back up. The stereo still blared, a jackhammer insturmental with tattoo-needle washes of shrill static.

Soundless MudMan entered from his basement by way of the kitchen. Startled and only slightly still tear-stained Rig "Oh, hey...didn't know you were home."

"Asleep." Belched, scratched richly, with thorough and focused depth. "What you listening to?"

"Oh, uh, it's--"



Taking up the sleeve and reading "'Send More Cops'. Wasn't Airport Dick--"

Humidor and Akka/Dekka entered, frantically flailing and exasperated, respectively. Rig snatched the platter from the turntable, thrilled, sick and relieved to evade having to have a discussion about his touring days in an agony rock band, manning one of the many keyboard-like instruments before getting ditched, on a tour, as a joke, while buying parts at a Nebraska Radio Shack. Evade discussion of the van accident he'd missed; evade discussion of surviving and guilt and absurd tragedies like your bandmates losing their lives at a roadside freakshow; evade explaining how it came to be be that a 7-legged horse turned out to be completely full of Roman candles, easily sparked by a roadie's cigar ash. Flushed with adrenaline, Jerry tossed the album behind the couch and grabbed a camouflage beer to help with his game face.



El Humidor sprawled on the couch, arms raised and outstretched. He seemed to stare at the rotting, filthy ceiling fan, but in truth his eyes saw nothing but trauma and despair. "It...it's awful. Awful out there. Some rotten scheme... Dozens of men and women stacked one upon the other, like logs cut to size for shipping--"

"Or those wonderful square watermelons!" Jerry, at least trying for excited about another triumph of rational man.

"Every one of them positively broadcasting upon one another, spilling onto everybody but everybody with these fields erected... Everybody like a creamed corn."

(Nobody really knew what to make of this simile.)

"Each person with some grotesque device to numb the agony of passing time, and fearsome arrays of kit-bashed gadgetry projecting power and isolated anxiety upon their surrounding unfellows even while insulating them from the power projections of others. A depraved--and terribly, awfully sad--escalating standoff; an arms race of arm's length. All of them locking themselves into eternal moments of total stasis and solitude precisely because they find themselves in a bustling, lively metropolis! And should they emerge from these fortifications of retreat, they maintain only an aggressive and tenuous connection to someone far away while brushing away any contact with any mammal actually present."

"It has become, friends, truly, madly, deeply worse than ever we could have imagined. Clearly, some deviant foe has--"

"I think he means 'devious'--"

"Not now, Jerry."

"Enacted her terrible scheme, and the world has become populated by these desolate, dessicated, deserted humans. Now more than ever are we needed, chums!"

Breathless. Exhausted. "Though I do confess I known't where to begin our mounted resistance." Spent, Humidor collapsed utterly on the soiled surface of the sofa. Rapid thin gouts of smoke twirled around the ceiling's bare bulb, agitated like a nest of oroborouses.



After no lenghthy pause, Rig ungently "The hell's he on about?"

"I took him down to the Manpower office with me the other morning. Guess he hadn't been on a bus in a while. Commuters...cell phones and walkmen are hard on everybody." (A shrug.)

"The what office?"

"Temp agency office."

"The what?"

"His job, Jerry."

"His what?"

"Not now, Jerry."

Stung, feeling his playfulness rejected, Jerry retreated to the kitchen, boiled some water. Threeish minutes later, fortified with a massive mug of instant oatmeal mixed with instant coffee and topped off with a dollop of raspberry yogurt, he made his way upstairs to the workshop. Eight hours later, he'd finished his first sectional. As it lumbered its desperately ungainly way around the mid-tornado hobby shop that is his room, Jerry Rig snored lightly.

In his dream, he was on stage with Send More Cops, a triumphant reunion tour in full swing--fans older and still avid, the music more tightly cacophonous than ever. Hidden between two of the three drumsets, Jerry smiled broadly and added his caterwaul to the din.



Two floors below, MudMan frowned happily at graph-paper scrawls. El Humidor, sightless eyes again apparently pointed at the ceiling, imagined ways for his beloved BiPlane Heroes to board stately airships, sweet sea-cows of the skies. Like some fearsome predator, he conjectured, one-half mosquito, the other spider...

Akka/Dekka stood barefoot in his room. For the first time, his feet trod upon hard wood. Maybe now he could call her. Just to hang out. (But there's no sense in not being prepared.)





Words by C. Collision, drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes

No. 11 - Citizens Emerge



1. AFTERNOON. YESTERDAY.

"Why is there no beer?"

"I did the dishes."

"Well. I purely, sincerely and thoroughly do not give one shit about the ass-diddling dishes, being that I haven't any desire to cook right at the moment...but I surely do have a desire to drink a beer...and thus do I append one complaint to you, sir: I do wish you had not finished drinking all the beer."

"Dishes needed to be done." A shrug. Akka/Dekka left the kitchen oblivious to the narrowed eyes and knotted neck muscles brandished by Jerry Rig. Rig inhaled, shudderingly, exhaled furiously: "This. Ain't. Over."

El Humidor's face appeared at the window, wide-eyed and disheveled. A general air of pleading. Distracted, "What's up with Humidor?"

"He's locked out."

Mudman shambles in from the front. "Why is the front door unlocked?"

Dekka, uncharacteristically philosophical, "Well, he thinks he's locked out."

"Should I go tell him the door's open?"



"No, 'Man! If we do that, he'll never learn."

From the living room, an ironic "Tough but fair."

This wholly unacceptable mention of fairness caused Rig to remember his rage and storm into the living room, launching a salvo, "Anyways, what's this bullshit about dishes equaling beer?"

Shaking his head, Mudman made his way downstairs, to drink from a private reserve of cellar-temperature brew.

"I cooked for everybody yesterday. I did dishes for everybody today. So I helped myself to 'everybody's' beer."

"That's preposterous."

"How do you mean?"

"I cook all the time. Nobody does my dishes. I don't take anybody's beer."

"Yeah, Jerry...but you don't cook for other people."

"Nobody asks you to cook. Nobody asked you to do the dishes."

"You eat the food I cook."

"That doesn't obligate me to clean the dishes you freely dirtied."

"Whatever. Bitch all you want about not having any beer, but you're bitching with a clean kitchen and a full belly."

There are some battles that must be postponed. On his way out the door for a sixer, Rig spat "Don't think you're taxing any of these beers for some imaginary debt..."

2. EVENING. DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY.

Akka/Dekka stood at the stove, his posture erect, his face a chiseled mask of intensity. His tongue jutted from his mouth's corner as he worked his multi-tool's can opener around the lip of a can.

"What are you doing?"

"Something wonderful."

Dekka's history remains largely a matter of conjecture. What was then known was that he was something of a survivalist, certainly no boy scout but generally prepared. And in that house, he was by far the finest cook.

Rig mused, not for the first time, "Somebody should really buy a can opener," as Akka/Dekka slit open a brick of Velveeta. He deposited same like a buoy atop a sea of recently decanned chili, and set the burner on stun. By way

of stirring, he'd poke at the slumping, miry cheese with his knife blade. Rig and Akka/Dekka loafed and leaned at their leisure as the cauldron heated.

No overt greetings were issued upon El Humidor's arrival. This was not to be taken as reflecting any lack of affection or esteem; men such as these knew, always, that their bonds would ever be mysterious to the undisciplined rabble they were sworn to defend. When their dire tasks were accomplished, why, then there would be time aplenty for revelry, relaxation, and for the unfettered commerce of pleasantries offered and accepted. Such times, however, were scarce and desired, therefore precious, and this time was decidedly not such a time.

In an even tone, perhaps clipped and harsh to a civilian, Dekka said merely "Did you meet with success?"

Excitedly, for he possessed an energy and surging ebullience no propriety could constrain, "I did!" Humidor held a sandbag aloft. "The tater tots are here!"



"And the chips?"

"...chips?"

"Tortilla chips. For the nachos."

"You're making nachos?"

"Not now, Jerry. Humidor, I asked you to pick up some tortilla chips. I specified this--we agreed that potato chips are delicious but that tactically speaking, on an operational level, at this time, tortilla chips were the best option."

"I...I must have misheard you." The depths of El Humidor's chagrin knew no bounds. The duration of his chagrin, however, was bounded by the limits of the last sentence he'd uttered. Brightening--much as a star brightens when it goes nova--"They were on sale! And this will probably work too!"



"You... misheard 'tortilla chips' as 'tater tots'?"

"Not now, Jerry," quoted Humidor with an immense air of satisfaction.

"Well, needs must as the devil does." Humidor and Rig exchanged bewildered looks as Dekka bent to the oven controls. "We shall press them into service. A cook goes to the kitchen with the ingredients he was, not the ingredients he might want to have, or the ingredients he might wish to have."

"Give it here." Akka/Dekka tore open the bulging sack with his bare hands, and scattered the tiny cylinders across a battered baking sheet. Somehow more like depth charges consigned to hostile seas than an aerial bombardment.

"Well. This is something I know a little about." Rig turned his cap around so that the bill faced backward, always his response to a situation's descent into chaos, where he was most comfortably effective.

A plate nearly clean was shaken free of crumbs and set atop a moraine of...crap on the kitchen table. The fridge, larder, and cupboards were accessed. A small daub of fancy mustard was sprinkled with some bar's pepper shaker, liberated in a campaign forgotten by all who weren't there. This hillock covered in hot sauce, then adorned with a curling squirt of store-brand BBQ sauce.

Dekka watched with the clinical eyes of a seasoned veteran, understanding the rationale of every move even as it began. Whatever his faults, Jerry Rig had ideas of undeniable flair, Akka/Dekka admitted silently to himself. And it was beginning to look like his panache was going to salvage another dicey situation. Hardly the first time a skilled operator on the front lines had neatly circumvented a

logistical foul-up, and surely not the last.

"I... do not think this will be a soup I will enjoy very much."

"Maybe not. But as a dipping sauce for tots, it'll do."

Yes, thought Dekka. This was a unit you could be proud of, a unit to get things done no mater what came. I hope there's still beer, though.

3. YESTERDAY. EVENING.

The living room. Jerry was sprawled across the couch, toying idly with a warm beer. Akka had a ten-speed upside-down, and frowned at the bike chain he was cleaning with a toothbrush. Spatters of road grime, WD-40 residue, and orange cleaner mostly missed the magazine he'd opened under the bike seat, soiling the putty-colored carpet. Shifting on an overturned milk crate, he said "We going to the 'Box tonight?"



"No dinero. Prolly just watch Smackdown. Jesus, Mud, you suck at Contra."

"I think that controller's fucked."

"What's fucked is watching this guy flail around with reflexes like... a field of corn."

"What?"

"Shut it. Give it here. You may as well use the code."

Long minutes passed as Rig stabbed at the controller pad, attempting to conjure the fabled thirty lives of Konami. Rig's stubby fingers barynya'd across the controller's face.

"The whole point of the game is the one! Hit! Kill! One hit! So you have to not get hit! You have to know where the hit is going to be and then you have to not be there!"

With a tight squeal of indignant frustration, he flicked the controller to the ground, somewhat near Mudman, and sliced his way from the couch. From the kitchen he sniped "I think that controller's fucked."

Akka rose and clumsily flipped his bike over. Leaning against the pile, he toed the magazine shut. "High Society. Nice. I ever tell you guys about my buddy whose girlfriend was in Gallery?"

"Maybe once. Maybe every time you wear your Gallery shirt."

Shrugged, settled his bulk into the room's comfy chair. "Heya, 'Man, look like you got it going pretty good there."

"..."

In truth, Mudman was playing well, exercising those two primal urges experienced by every man: the urge to move right and the urge to deal death.

"We should get a PlayStation or something. I'm sick of these games." Rig's words hung in the air like a zeppelin. No one cared to respond to his characteristic displeasure with the NES and their paltry game selection; no one dared to respond to a suggestion of fiscal extravagance along the lines of "We should clad our bikes with golden armor after we finish building that second helicopter pad."

They sat for some time in that strange reverie, the satisfaction of watching somebody else play video games. The sun set, somewhere outside. Eventually, Mudman initiated the console's power-down sequence, and rose, exactly like the slime monster what killed Tasha Yar. Silent and solemn, he retired to his basement rooms, where he would draw dungeons on graph paper until sunrise.

El Humidor burst through the front door (no, not "just like Kramer") to no acknowledgement whatever. Shortly, the queer clickings and beepings from the kitchen gave notice that he was renewing his ancient engagement with his great foe, the microwave. Its strange glyphs entranced and baffled him, and no amount of patient explaining could impart to him the difference between "cook" and "defrost".

Minutes, thumps, and beeps later, El Humidor wafted into the living room with a steaming Hot Pocket and two inches of a 40. Empties littered the squalid space like shell casings in a besieged pillbox.

"We're out of beer. Jerry, you should wrangle the empties and go get some refreshments before Smackdown."

Deadly, grating: "I beg your pardon?"

"I cooked. You clean."



Words by C. Collision, drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes

No. 6 - Severed! --That bloody teat now forsaken OR Four against many


A field, near a castle. Four men at their respective gallops. "Harder than it looks, castle defense. Requires a man who actually quivers at thoughts like 'overlapping fields of fire', a man who never overreaches his resources, neither tactically nor operationally, a man possessing the subtlest understanding of terrain and advantage."

"Your point, Deckard?"

"I don't believe they have such a man, men. Let us mount a mighty siege of Castle Super Star, and let none survive our onslaught!"

In that too-familiar real world, Acca/Dekka's boots were in the oven, warming so he could wax them. He was growing a moustache, frowning and at concentration, sitting crosslegged in front of the coffee table, his back to the dark tv.

All the housemates stared at a smoky tableau manipulated by El Humidor's fumokinesis. A castle jutted from a cliff face, two rugged towers belching clouds of arrows, enough to blot out the smoke-figured sun. A fog, this cloud of wood, feather, bone and stone, a cloud of men's evil urges toward men given form and flight. These arrows end lives not easily known nor numbered.

Overkill, then, for the lives at stake at the moment are four.

Thorec Zentsoeir, stately and lithe, mounted the parapet, and frowningly surveyed the 'scape. "You backup archers--fire! Redouble all efforts, redoubtable defenders!"

Four tiny, clear figures scrambled to the summit of a grassy knoll, shields held above their heads to ward off that hellish hail of arrow. They surged robustly through this life-seeking, yet life-ending, mass of pointed sticks.

"By all the hells of all the gods of Lankhmar, Deckard, your assessments of enemy forces never cease to amaze!"

"Enough of that mewling, Whigg--they can't keep this up for long."

"What makes you say that?"

Deckard produced a small box from his belt (both intricately tooled and jeweled), and simultaneously Madstadon pointed out in his slow, nearly impeded way "You've never been to Lankhmar, Whigg."

Responding to Deckard's practiced, frantic operations, the box began to emit a profoundly irritating hum. He and Madstadon traded a look, the latter grating "Won't be long now."

Pacing those parapets, Thorec Zentsoeir was just in time to see the airship heave into view, all wicked points and cannons grimly gleaming. Thorec had defended this castle--and defended it well--for a decade and a half. It were only fatigue running deep as depsair that distracted him now, lead him into error. For he diverted fully half of his force to focus on the airship. "Concentrate all forward fire on that Super Star destroyer!"

Sensing the letup in the arrows' barrage, the four men atop the grassy knoll signal'd the ship and hurl't themselves forward as one.

Hugh Mann, mad geometer and wizard of information, still at a dead run, shoved a hand into both of his floppy, voluminous sleeves. Whipping the hands out, he produced from each sleeve a pair of daggers. Each pigsticker had a forearm's length of gaily-colored ribbon tied to a ring on the handle, and oh! how they fluttered as Mann hurled them, two apiece from each hand. They curved into arcs and landed in various spots just shy of the inevitable moat.



The skeleton crew still aboard the airship Enterprise (faceless ensigns, mostly) recognized their signal, and they did hustle to an especial cannon. As it roared and flashed, something like a bolo assaulted the air in a brutal trajectory. It all makes sense in a second, as, in quick succession, four cannonballs embedded themselves in the loamy earth, each one near a knife. From each cannonball protruded a length of chain, stretching to a grisly hook embedded near the top of the castle's wall.

Four men fairly flew up the chains, running up them like gangplanks, an acrobatic display discomfiting those watchers defending the castle. The wide, nearly naked Madstadon got there first, swinging his staff with devastating effect. Skulls cracked and spurted, stove in like shattered bowls of brain-curds and blood-whey, as Thorec, bigger and broader even than Madstadon, bellowed "Na'magh kaplatch!" and leapt from his parapet into the fray. He sported a huge, double-headed battle-axe...in each hand.

Hugh slipped in gore as soon as he attained the wall. Torii Whigg has a bat'leth, and he's been gutting people all over the place, in a red-eyed frenzy. He's been deeply annoyed by Thorec biting his Klingon style and shouting the Klingon equivalent to "get off my lawn".


Interested in stealing thunder, Torii shakes his bat'leth like a Sand Person shaking his...stick...and screams "Them what I would destroy I first make mad! --All your mothers wear secondhand combat boots!"



He spun and offered a two-handed shove of the wicked weapon into the mouth of the man standing before him. The air near his fingers was sullied by a slurry of frothing blood and tiny fragments of teeth. A quarter-spin, a diagonal upward slash, organs and offal arcing in a horrific splatter of airborne life-now-ended.

Scant meters away, Deckard is an archer by trade, and ill-suited for close-quarters work such as this. As such, he was wheeling and flashing, dancing between combatants and using his cloak like a matador's cape to direct and misdirect his attackers. Strove for the high ground, and a few free seconds with which to rain pointy death upon his foes. Mann understood all this in a wizard's flash, helped by Deckard yowling "Get me out of here!", and his perfected strategy mind suggested a path to the summit.


Coolly, a constant blur of motion, he seemed to pause to say "To the turret?"

"And step on it!"



Headlong he rushed, pell-mell Deckard followed in the wake thrown up by Hugh's flickering kunai. A half-dozen corpses littered their path, knives barely visible protruding from eyes and throats rivering blood.

"Deckard, keep an eye on our six whilst I rummage my trick-bag for some device apropos!"

Atop the parapet, Deckard broke the seal on a frothing jug of hell-violence, introducing a score of lackeys to fate with his infallible arrows of bone and ash. For his part, using Deckard's small box, Hugh Mann beckoned closer their airship, the Enterprise.

At the bottom of the parapet, Thorec slammed his shoulder into the nearly ruined staircase. "Get down here!"

As Mann and Deckard reeled on the assaulted platform, Mann wondered "Time to go?". "Let's beat feet!" Mann manipulated one last time the magic box, and the airship disgorged two chains for Deckard and Hugh to climb.

Winded and frustrated, fell Thorec paused to find a foe to fell. Madstadon yodeled his barbarian's challenge, and Thorec did not in any wise deny him. After some athletic posturing and mutual bellowing, the two began a slow circling, with feints. Madstadon growled "You and me, pal...just you and me," and Thorec, stretched to his full height, chin-nodded and gestured around the surround, as if to say that all had become battlefield for just those two. Circling, then, and searches for the fatal opening. Surrounded by Thorec's remaining men...and Torii Whigg.

Wicked attacks raked the air, and ears rang from the ringing clouts of clashing weapons, hurled by the taut sinews and thews of those two vast men, Madstadon and Thorec Zentsoeir. They were not evenly matched, for though Madstadon had momentum on his side, no man alive could hope to stand long against the matchless Thorec. Grinning, he tossed his head. "Yield, now, and I shall allow your comrades to withdraw. You cannot take this castle."

Madstadon, sweating and trembling with fatigue, mutters the traditional curse of his savage tribe: "Eat me raw and unsalted, dick." His staff fell from nerveless fingers. Grimly, rejected, Thorec raised the the axe, every inch the executioner.

Thorec then was ripped open from kidney to lung...by Whigg's bat'leth. From behind.

As Death leached the color from his world, noble, half-mad Thorec Zentsoeir grasped for Torii Whigg's hand and croak't a question attending all too much of life from beginning to end: "Why?"

Whigg cradled Thorec in a cruel, mocking pietas pose as the question wheeled in the air like a carrion bird.

"Hey, man, it was a nice castle. We just wanted to fuck it up."

A yawning chasm, vertigo, meaninglessness buffeted Thorec and he became one with an infinite nothing. His last moment alive stretched into an eternal keening note of sad wonder, that life could be made to mean so very little.

The Enterprise hung off the castle, Deckard and Mann leaning over the railing, enjoying the carnage vista below over their mugs of strong drink. Madstadon and Whigg stretched their weary limbs amidst the desolate, worthless horror. Those two yet living were ankle-deep in entrails, and Thorec Zentsoeir's discarded clay could be seen face down in offal.

The scene then wavered, collapsed, and drifted away. It was, after all, never more than smoky figuration.

"Geez. Bit of a downer ending, don't you think?"




El Humidor simply shrugged, his long face drawn with fatigue. Jer stood, seeming a giant surrounded by a vile rodeo of tiny, cavorting furniture robots--"To-morrow, I'll show you a play that's a bit peppier! I'll use my little guys to--"

"Cable fixed tomorrow."

"Really, 'Man?"

"Yeah. Paid the bill."

"Oh! Nevermind, then."

Words by C. Collision, drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes

No. 10 - Creet



SATURDAY, 4:15 A.M.

Down a quiet residential street, Aecca/Decca walks alone. His hands are balled up in his front pockets, his arms squeezed tight to his sides in an attempt to ward off the early morning chill that precedes the onset of sunrise. A hazy, dreamy expression hangs on his face, as he recalls the evening's events.

FRIDAY, 10:07 P.M.

He had just emerged from the side of the house, bladder freshly drained into the adjacent overgrown hedgerow. Scooping up his beer from it perch on the corner of the porch where he'd placed it, he was mid-step on his way back into the house, when he noticed someone rollerblading back and forth on the sidewalk in front.

"Hey," she said, noticing his gaze, "c'mere!" waving him over. Decca pauses briefly enough to make sure she's talking to him, and then heads down the walkway.

"What's up?" he says.

"Nothin'. How's the party?" she asks.

"S'kay," he replies around a sip of beer, "I think we'd call it a success."

"Oh, you live here?" she says. She hasn't stopped moving this whole time, instead in a constant series of languid figure eights and slow spins and backwards skating. Aecca finds it somewhat hypnotizing.




"Yeah," he answers, "uh, I'm Aecca/Decca, but people call me Aecca. Or Decca."

"I'm Creet," she says with a grin, "people call me Creet."

"Nice to meet you," says Aecca. He finds himself attracted to her. With her skates on she's about as tall as him, but without them she'd probably qualify as petite. She's wearing tan cargo pants, a plain yellow t-shirt. Her black hair in a short pixie cut. She's Indian. Sub-continent India Indian.

"Likewise," she says, "you gonna offer me a beer or what?" a little of that mirthful grin again.

"Yeah, c'mon in," Aecca says, turning to head back to the house.

"Don't like houses.'Specially crowded ones," Creet says, a hint of apology in her voice, "can you get me a beer and bring it out here?"

"Yeah, sure," says Aecca. Over five minutes later Aecca remerges from the crowded house, and tries to conceal his relief that Creet's still waiting outside, and also that no one else is talking to her. They chat amiable for the next forty minutes, interrupted only by occasional concentrated bursts of yelling and cheering from the house. She asks if they'd rented the house for long (yes), if this was their first party (no), if he was from Portland originally (no).

At some point, Aecca feels Creet's eyes looking over his shoulder. He looks behind himself and finds El Humidor and Mudman standing at the end of the walk looking back. He turns, greets them, "oh, hey guys."

"Hey," says Mudman.

"Uhhhhhhh," says El Humidor, steeping to the sidewalk, "we're, off, uh, to get that second keg."

"Cool," says Aecca, noticing that Humidor's eyes are darting back and forth between himself and Creet, "uh, this is Creet." He looks at Creet, motions at other two, "these are my housemates, El Humidor and Mudman."

"Nice to meet you," says Creet. That charming smile, again.

Humidor walks backwards, toward his van parked down the street, jingling his keys, "we'll, uh, be back soon."

"Yeah. Soon," says Mudman.

"Okay," says Aecca, turning away from them.

"They seem... interesting," says Creet, arching her eyebrows.

"Yeah. They're okay, I guess," Aecca scratches the back of his scalp.

"So, there's no more beer inside, I'm guessing," say Creet, eyeballing the insides of her plastic cup.

"Well, there'll be more, trust me," says Aecca, a confident, knowing smile.

"Mhmm," Creet seems unimpressed, "there was a sixer of talls in my fridge when I left. Wanna have one of those?"

"Uh," Aecca hesitates, looks at the house. Rig's still in there. The others will be back with the second keg soon enough. The party will survive without him. "Yeah, sure."

"Its not far," Creet reassures.

The two walk to Creed's place. Well, Aecca walks briskly, while Creet skates around him. Turns out she lives in the basement of an old Victorian house, one of those one's with the little garage that connects to the basement, and the house is up on top on a little raised manmade hillock. Creet produces a small key from a cargo pocket, unlocks the old garage doors. Aecca steps into darkness Creet follows, Aecca hears a deadbolt thrown. Creet flips on the lights and skates through the open door that separates the garage and the basement, tugging at a shoelace. A few uncovered bulbs light up from the basement ceiling.

Aecca walks casually to the middling area of the space, while Creet skates over to a mini-fridge plugged in in the corner. "Now," she says, opening the fridge, "the beer!" Five tallboys of beer can be seen in the crowded fridge. "Hey!" Creet sends one tall boy somersaulting through space across the room. Aecca barely catches it. "Have a seat," says Creet, rolling over to a boombox, shuffling through a shoebox of mix tapes.

Cracking open the cold beer, Aecca moves over to a chair covered with a blanket. He plops down. And curses in shock and pain. He lifts up the blanket.

"Oh sorry," says Creet as Aecca discovers the 'chair' is actually cinderblocks arranged to look like a chair, "I forgot, I don't have any normal furniture down here. I let my housemates keep it all upstairs."

"Uh, its okay, I just got caught by surprise, that's all," Aecca looks around for somewhere more comfortable. Realizing suddenly that there's nothing else to sit on (Creet appears to sleep in a sort of nest of sheets and blankets on the floor in the corner), he settles for sitting on the floor with his back to a vertical support beam.

"So," says Creet, as she inserts her selected tape and opens her beer, "you haven't told me yet what your powers are."

"Uh, oh, really?" Aecca sips at his beer, "well..."

Aecca/Decca explains that he constantly attracts static electricity, like a lightning rod. And he couldn't discharge it in energy bolts or anything cool or destructive like that. Instead, it just discharged the old fashioned way by giving him a mighty jolt whenever he touched a doorknob or whatever other random thing.

Every hair on his body stands on end 24 hours a day.

Rubber socks and shoes, and occasionally rubber pads glued to his fingertips, helped in small facets to allow him some degree of normalcy, but the rest of existence was now an endless parade of essentially random electric shocks. For a long time he had not slept more than 3 hours at a time, although recently he'd gotten the hang of just not rolling around much in his sleep. Bathing was fine but toweling off not an option. His last girlfriend left him when she couldn't stand the random convulsions and yelps during foreplay anymore.

Aecca stopped talking at this point, embarrassed he'd broached the subject of girlfriends and sex. Thankfully, Creet took the opening to explain her power.

Creet is blessed with the ability to be invulnerable to concrete. For her, falling face first into a sidewalk or the street or anything made of concrete (or cement or asphalt) is akin to falling into an ocean of pillows.

"Get out!" says Aecca/Decca.

"Yep, check it," says Creet, and before Aecca can object, she rises from the floor where she's been laying on her stomach, pads barefoot back a few steps, spreads her arms, and falls face-first smack into the floor.

Aecca cries out, startles forward.

But then Creet springs up, grinning, arms spread: no bloody nose, no marks at all, "taa-daa!!" she says.

"Jesus..." murmurs Aecca, understanding now her lack of regular furnishings.

"Wanna 'nother beer?"

"Sure," Aecca glances at her clock. Its quarter past two.

Not surprisingly, she continues, this has translated into a lifetime of street-sporting. In no particular order, she's casually competent at roller skating, inline skating, skateboarding, long boarding, razoring, and street hockey. She mainly supports herself competing in sports of this nature, namely long boarding, which requires less trick-learning and more just reckless abandon, which she's fine with given the asphalt doesn't hurt.

Her problem, she confesses, is that she tends to feel a bit paranoid when NOT standing on a poured surface. Since moving out on her own she's opted to rent basement rooms and garage apartments. Her dream abode is a large, openspace loft with concrete floors where she can actually build a poured-concrete bed. For time being she makes due with cinderblock chairs, sofas, and even a bed. Regular "soft" beds & chairs give her the willies.

"We should form a team," Aecca suggests, smiling.

Creet chuckles, "oh yeah? What's your angle?" All the good teams have an angle.

"Everyone's paranoid of household furnishings."



"Yeah!" Creet laughs, sips more beer, "and we could get a guy who can control dust bunnies but is terrified of vacuum cleaners!"

Aecca's turn to chuckle, now, "We could call ourselves The Living Room Set!"

They continue in this vein for the remainder of their second beers. At about 3:15 A.M. Creet pours half of the last beer into one of Aecca's empties. As 4:00 creeps closer, the beer is gone. The conversation's losing its momentum. Aecca's

putting the finishing flourishes on his retelling of how El Humidor once threw up on the floor after donating plasma. Creet smiles thinly, looking tired.

"I have to call it a night," she says, standing.

"Oh, okay," says Aecca, also standing up.

"Thanks for coming over," she says with a tired but sunny smile. A little part of Aecca wilts.

"Yeah, it was fun. We should, uh, do it again, sometime."

She shows him out. He waves good bye, and begins his walk home.

At first he walks slowly, head down, lips pursing and eyebrows arching and head tilting as he reviews and replays the evening's conversations in head. He feels silly for thinking he was gonna get laid. But Creet's cool, regardless. Like, too cool for school cool. As in, too cool to hang with him, cool. So its kinda a win-win. He feels good about himself. Then the pre-dawn chill and damp starts to get to him.

SATURDAY, 4:15 A.M.

Hands are balled up in his front pockets, arms squeezed tight to his sides in an attempt to retain a little body heat, Aecca/Decca emerges from a unimproved footpath slotted between two high walls of blackberry brambles, then cuts diagonally across a church parking lot and comes around a corner to bring the house into view. The cacophony of voices and yells is gone, replaced by the occasional laugh or murmur of drunken late night conversation. The front door is open and all the lights in the house are on.

The yard stinks like spilled beer and cigarette butts. Worse than usual.

Aecca heads up the steps and into the house. He closes the door behind him, hesitates, and locks it with a shrug (who else is coming over, after all). He starts to head for the kitchen, because he hears voices floating through the back door from the back yard, but detours through the living room to kill the analog hiss of the not-playing-anything stereo.

Looping back into the kitchen he checks the second keg with a rattling shake. Hearing a reassuring slosh, he grabs a nearby plastic cup. Finding it full of cigarette butts and spent matches, he grabs another and rinses it out pretty good, and pours himself a beer.

Emerging from the backdoor, Aecca surveys the backyard from the top of the steps. At the base of the stairs, Jerry Rig, chuckling, tears at the corners of his eyes, refilling a mason jar with beer from a plastic pitcher ("BEER $" note still clinging on) nods to Decca. In the approximate center of the back yard El Humidor stands on top of a cinder block. He's wearing a real combat helmet (which that Mudman found in the basement) and brandishing a fencing foil (which Aecca found in a hall closet) in the air like its Excalibur, both presumed to have been left behind by previous renters.

Humidor, mid-sentence, apparently, is taking a deep draught form his beer cup. Lowering his cup, wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he continues,

"So just give it your best shot, Man of Mud! I dare ya! I'm armored!" taps the helmet with the foil. He then initiates a sort of taunting chicken dance, "I. Am. El. Humidor. El. Hum-i-dor. El. Hum-i-dor. El. Hum-i-dor."

Mudman is off towards the far back corner of the yard, by a pile of broken concrete. Once, long ago, there was a paved driveway into the back yard. The owner busted it up and left all the fragments in a pile. Rig likes to call it "The Ruins of Troy VIIb," some sort of academic reference the rest of the 'mates either don't get or ignore. Mudman's giggling through Humidor's tirade.

 

"Ah yeah? Let's see your smoke obfuscate THIS!" and in a surprisingly graceful and fluid motion, Mudman scoops up a broken piece of concrete (but surprisingly large: about the size of a cantaloupe, or a very large zucchini), turns, and overhands it right at El Humidor. The concrete rock dully clangs into Humidor's helmet, a few inches above his left eye. Humidor goes down off his perch like a sack of potatoes, the helmet coming off in the process. He hits the ground pretty hard.

If the backyard was a room the air would have been sucked out of it. But then El Humidor sits back up, looks around. Getting up, he picks up his helmet. Looking at Mudman, his hands playing across the helmet's surface, "Hey!" he starts to laugh, "Mudman, look at this!"

Grinning broadly, El Humidor holds up the helmet. There's a nice, solid, inch-across dent where the rock hit. Mudman laughs, deep and long, "I could have fucking killed you!"


Everyone laughs hysterically. "I could be brain damaged!" adds El Humidor, setting off a cascading effect of hyena howls. Somewhere nearby, a dog barks in response, as the sun begins its slow creep over the Portland horizon.

Words & drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes

No. 9 - Where the Hoopla Is


FRIDAY NIGHT, 11:00 P.M.

Afforded a modicum of privacy by the overgrown hedgerow bordering one side of the house, El Humidor enjoys a long, beer-fueled pee, a cigarette smoldering from his lower lip. Zipping up, he walks up the side of house back to the front, turns, and makes his way back the front stoop, from which billows clouds of blue smoke. He shoulders (politely) through the crowd of smokers and squeezes in the front door.

Nodding hellos, smiling broadly and saying "hey" at party-goers male and female alike, El Humidor makes his way through the morass of sweaty humanity in the front rooms of house. The stereo is blasting but what's playing is almost undistinguishable from the din of voices.

"So I told him of course I would but that I would naturally have to do the same for my husband--"

"Never mind."

"You're going to want to disinfect that, before. And after."

"Him? Sweetheart, nobody's ever been that drunk."

"Your mom."

"What are you trying to kiss me for? You didn't buy me any drinks."



"...my mom. Once."

"I rubbed it up to half mast, but nobody saluted. Truck stops are such a waste of time anymore."

"Like you were never broke enough to do that!"

"I think the bathroom is clear."

Humidor pauses to light a girl's cigarette in the passageway between foyer and kitchen, chats amiable for a minute or two until his red plastic beer cup runneth empty. Excusing himself, but promising to return, he pushes on to the kitchen.

The kitchen floor is slippery with a mix of spilled beer and dirt and grime. Someone's lighting a cigarette on the electric stovetop. El Humidor pauses at the sink, where a guest has procured a bottle of cheap whiskey. Cupboards are ransacked for suitable substitute shot glasses. A menagerie of mason jars, coffee mugs, and measuring cups result. A round is poured. A toast is proposed. An awkward silence follows when no can think of what to toast too, followed by just taking the shots to a general shrug.

Yelling his thanks for the drink, El Humidor resumes his migration. Aecca/Decca's Chamber of Reflections (the pantry) has been reappropriated as a sort of beer docking station, at the front of which sits a keg. Behind the keg lean Mudman and Jerry Rig. Rig's manning the tap and pouring beers. Mudman's saying hello to party-goers and pointing at the empty plastic pitcher full of cash, a paper scrap marked "BEER $" taped to its front.

Being a housemate, El Humidor cuts to the front of the pseudo-line and squeezes around the keg and into the alcove with Rig and Mudman. Rig nods and fills El Humidor's outstretched cup. Refilled, El Humidor perches on the desk at the back of the pantry and drinks. Mudman kicks the base of the keg and looks back at Humidor meaningfully. El Humidor nods, winks, signals at his beer.

When he's done with his beer he grabs a second plastic beer pitcher from a shelf and heads out into the crowd. He slowly makes his way back to front of the house, and eventually reaches "the sweet spot." The sweet spot is an vantage point along the wall between front door and the front window, from whence one can see all the way back on the right, through living room/dining room to the door of the bathroom, and, on the left, through the passageway by the stairs through the kitchen to the door of the pantry. El Humidor steps up onto a convenient chair, elevating him a few feet above the sea of drunken souls. He catches the attention of someone by the stereo and makes a turn-it-down gesture. The music cuts and is met with a disappointed groan from the mob.

"Ladies and genteelmen!!" shouts El Humidor, "it has come to my attentshone, hey, SHUT UP! It has come to the Keg is Empty! We already have a lot of money!" he points back towards the pantry. Mudman, grinning, hoists the pitcher of cash up like a grail. "But we need more to GET A SECOND KEG!" He pauses as a spirited cheer rises from the crowd. He holds out the empty pitcher as a steady slew of ones and an occasional fiver are tossed in. After a few minutes Humidor sits down at the top of the stairs, joined by Rig and Mudman.

"Man, where the fuck is Aecca?" asks Rig, pausing to sip his beer. They're counting the money.

"Outside?" suggests Mudman.

"Well, I am not venturing to thee public house on my own," says Humidor, "oh, okay, I count sixty-two dollars."



Mudman holds up a stack of bills, "eighty-five and some loose change."

They both look at Rig. Rig's face breaks into a slow, wide, smile. "One. Hundred. Eleven."

El Humidor whistles. Rig slaps the pile of cash into Humidor's hand.

"Two Fifty-eight. Good haul. Good plan, Rig," says Mudman, handing his pile to Humidor.

"Yeah. Thanks," says Rig, then turns at Humidor, "now, remember, make a big show of taking the cash with you when you go."

"Yes yes yes, El Humidor remembers!" replies Humidor, "but who is, how you say, riding shotgun with I? Where IS Aecca/Decca?"

"I'll go," says Mudman.

"Good, let us go, you and I, then," says El Humidor, standing.

The three housemates trundle down the stairs. Holding the fistful of money in the air, El Humidor declares loudly over the again blasting music that more beer will be on the way, for which he receives a loud cheer from the crowd. El Humidor makes a theatrical exit through the front door, Mudman in tow.

"Be back before you know it!" says Humidor as they pass through the porch throng, "here, hold this," he says, handing the stack of cash to Mudman and fishing his van keys out of his pocket. El Humidor comes to a stop as he reaches the sidewalk, his attention drawn to the left as if by some black hole of gravity. Mudman, starting to count the cash for the zillionth time, almost bumps into him from behind, follows his gaze. The two stand there, soaking up the scene before them.

"Oh, hey guys," says Aecca Decca. Decca's standing out in front on the sidewalk, beer in one hand, other hand casually stuffed in a back pocket. The girl he's talking to smiles slightly gives a tiny wave to Mudman and El Humidor, rocks back and forth on the roller blades she's wearing. Cargo pants, plain yellow t-shirt, pixie haircut. Bengali features.

"Hey," says Mudman.

"Uhhhhh," says El Humidor, steeping off the walkway and on to the sidewalk, "we're, off, uh, to get that second keg," suspicious eyes looking at Aecca, then the girl, then Aecca.



"Cool," says Aecca, noticing Humidor's looks, "uh, this is Creet." He motions at the girl, then looks at her, "these are housemates, El Humidor and Mudman."

"Nice to meet you," says Creet, a friendly grin.

"We'll, uh, be back soon," says Humidor, jingling his keys as he walks backwards to his van.

"Yeah. Soon," says Mudman.

"Okay," says Aecca, turning his body to face Creet again. El Humidor and Mudman walk a few car lengths down the street and clamor into El Humidors dilapidated van. They drive to the bar from whence the procured the kegs. They park in the back, head inside, order themselves up a couple of beers.

"We drink these, then we head back, agreed?" asks El Humidor. Mudman nods.

The two drink in silence. El Humidor spins around on his barstool so he's facing away from the bar, look around the place. "Where IS everyone? It is Friday night!" he asks with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

"At our party," says Mudman, with a boastful tone.



"Oh, right! I forget! Silly me. Silly El Humidor," he claps the empty beer down on the bar, "shall we go?"

Mudman shoots the rest of his beer in a long swallow, "yeah."

The two get up. El Humidor leaves a whole five dollar bill as tip! They return to the van and head back home. Mudman throws open the back door of the van and the two of them wrestle the keg out. With no small amount of wrangling, they manage to actually lift the keg up to their shoulders: El Humidor in front, Mudman behind. Then, like heroes bearing the spoils of war, they begin their march back into the awaiting party. As the cheers begin to rise, first from the front porch, then from inside the house as the word of the second kegs arrival spreads, Mudman murmurs to El Humidor, "I don't see Aecca/Decca."

"What?" Humidor says over his shoulder. The crowd has spilled down the steps, buoying the two of them now into the house, like an amoeba absorbing some protozoa.

"Aecca/Decca. Is he here?" repeats Mudman over the growing din.

The keg has now been entirely separated from Mudman and El Humidor, and is sort of bobbling its way back towards the pantry, where Jerry Rig can be seen holding the tap above his head like a poised sacrificial dagger. As the crowd's bum-rush jostling begins to push El Humidor and Mudman away from each other, Humidor hollers at Mudman.

"Fuck that guy, let's get drunk!"

Words & drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes