A Good Home

Recently got back from Wisconsin Dells, where most of my family lives, for a family vacation. It was a fine time, everyone pretty much put away their differences and tried to enjoy a beautiful day of food and games and the weather was hot and the state park was beautiful. I went on a hike, which is not my usual M.O., and had a fantastic time doing it even though it almost killed me.

But what really struck me was a birthday party I went to on Saturday. One of my cousins was throwing it for her son, so we went on over. My birthday is in the dead of January and the weather usually feels like you're on the surface of the moon, so birthday celebrations were pretty limited, but even the best birthday memories were nothing like what my cousin did for her son.

There were about 25 kids there, running around and having a blast. They'd set up a wrestling ring in the backyard and my niece and her fella were filling water balloons to drop into it. All the kids were selecting pro wrestler names, based on birthdays and formal names and they were pretty hilarious (Sneaky Sneak Fancy Dancer; Charming Smokey Hot Dog), and the adults were helping them assemble wrestling gear from old tie dye shirts and such. Scissors were flying, bandanas and knuckle wrapping were wound with precision and there was nothing but laughter and joy in that house.

My cousin also let the kids select an entrance song for when they came into the backyard, which she played through a karaoke machine that she was also using to announce the wrestling teams. The kids would come out, strut their stuff, and go into the ring and explode as many water balloons as they could using pro-wrestling moves.

My stomach hurt from laughing, mostly from the kids who took it seriously, with a look of fierce determination. 100% in. I also stuffed my face with food.

Both my folks are gone now, and that has hit me in ways I haven't expected, and life throws other things at me out of the blue that sometimes make me feel like a marked man - but I'm not. There was so much love in that home, my cousin and her impressive husband, speaking our Native language to their children, the laughing children, the adults watching quietly and happily as the kids enjoyed themselves. It reminded me of when we rolled up to Standing Rock the first time and were greeted at the gate with, "Welcome home."

I've been a city boy for over 20 years now, and I feel Chicago is where I belong, but I felt something stir inside while I was in the middle of all that, some kind of hope I'd forgotten exists. And I don't know why my relative, a man I admire, said this to me as I was shaking hands before leaving - but he looked at me and smiled and said, "Come back home more often". And I just nodded and thought about that for a good long while after.

 

Back home! The journey, and a bit of philosophizin'

Well, back home and ready to get back to work. Took a road trip to Dallas, TX and while down there I got to meet both Windows (Thomas G Waites) and Childs (Keith David) at the Texas Frightfest, which was pretty cool. The only frightening thing that happened, though, was on the drive down. I live in Chicago, and of course we have our share of difficulties, and I am usually completely ignorant of anything until I have to deal with it personally - which is why travel is nice. On the road down it rained constantly, and it didn't let up until I reached Little Rock, Arkansas. In St. Louis I got lost due to construction and confusing road signage (confusing to me, but I'm notoriously absent minded) and ended up on the wrong road. I figured this out in time to divert and head west on an alternate route, but 44 was closed. Why? It was completely underwater. I turned back around and took side roads until I could reach 55, which was my original route. Still under sheets of rain and gloom, I finally hit it and continued south where signs everywhere were warning of closed roads and hazardous conditions. I wasn't but 5 hours into a 15 hour drive, but that's still too deep in to turn around and I really wanted to get to Dallas so I consigned myself to the idea of driving to Memphis or further south and just skirting it along the southern edge of the country, but that would add untold hours to the journey. I followed the route, hoping the road wouldn't close ahead and was rewarded by more rain but the pavement stayed above water level until I hit Arkansas. By this time I was noticing large lakes along the roadside, with little tree tops sticking out of them, an occasional upper half of a street light or telephone pole... the entire area was flooded. Deep canyons were completely submerged, homes and businesses vanished under the waterline. At several points the four-lane highway was reduced to two as we were diverted to the other side, and the highway vanished into brown murk. Once it reemerged we were diverted back onto it - and I have to say, the road crews did a fantastic job at averting as much of that as possible. One of the concerns, however, was that I was in the middle of nowhere and almost at E on the ol' gas gauge - and the few stations I did pass were not accessible due to flooding... at one point I turned off the main road at the promise of a town 2 miles in, which turned out to be a few homes deep, deep in the woods. I've seen too many horror films to run out of gas off the main road so I turned tail and headed back to the highway on fumes. Thankfully fate wanted me to continue and we rolled in, sputtering, to a station in the nick of time. I say thankfully because shortly after the road was completely closed and we were redirected to a detour route into the middle of nowhere for a good hour before I saw anything close to a non-submerged place of business. The water lapped at the road from both sides, humvees and National Guard were stationed at nearly every intersection, blocking flooded roads on either side. I followed a kick-ass trucker who handled the road like a pro, and eventually returned to the course. The journey ultimately ended well, with me rolling into Dallas 10+ hours later - and of course the trip was well worth it.

Folks ask me why I drove, why didn't I fly? Well, sometimes I like to be alone for long stretches of time. I also enjoy having mini concerts of my favorite music and sing along at the top of my lungs. But mostly, it's the next best thing to walking for seeing this big ass country. As I said, I live in Chicago and it's its own world. I start to thinking that it's the way everybody thinks, dresses, feels about our country, etc. On my journey and over the weekend I met plenty of folks who would seem alien in my city, and I was sometimes painfully aware of my own strangeness in my Phantasm t-shirt and with my weird accent. Had I not taken this trip the flooding would've been nothing more than a scrolled photo on facebook, and the folks who live out of my sphere would continue to be people I just don't "get". The world is a big place, this country, this state, the city or town we live in is a rain drop and I will never get an idea of what others are experiencing unless I get out and go check it out.

That said, I'm definitely flying next time.

Thank you everyone! #c2e22017

Rarely has a show rejuvenated me in such a way, Mike Negin and his wonderful crew made the show another success and the fans made it amazing. I was particularly touched that a few young folks came from distant lands to get art from me - I'm glad I could be a part of their experience, and more enthused that there are youths out there with great taste in art! (wink)

I also got some good news concerning one of the projects I've been waiting on, and I'll let you know more about that once it feels appropriate. Suffice to say I'll be very busy soon, and that's a good thing. Beside that, I was able to meet some creators I've long admired and a few that I've only recently met - and let me tell you; I still hold that comics folk are the best.

Well, I've got a bit of work to do now so thanks for following along. Sorry I haven't been keeping up with the weekly stories, I'm just not that creative!

Here's some random art from "Lie Down Low".

I've been negligent! A round-up of things coming up...

I don't know if anyone's been following along with this story challenge, but I've missed almost two weeks now. I was in Seattle for a week, then off to Washington DC for the Native Nations Rise Indigenous March on Washington, which you probably didn't even know about due to the incredible amount of press coverage we didn't get.

ANYHOO, I intend to keep it up, just a little backlogged now but will soon be back in some kind of a rhythm. In the meanwhile, here's a couple things coming up:

THIS SATURDAY I will be at the Frankfort Library in beautiful Frankfort, Illinois, scaring families with my art. It's from 10-4, so stop by and say hello to me, I'll be the one wondering what he's doing in a library show with the kind of work I do. I love doing them, and in many ways owe the library system my personality, but I'm always like the weirdo who doesn't really belong. Ah well, when I was a kid I liked all the gruesome stuff so maybe that's my purpose.

FRIDAY, MARCH 31 is the "RESISTANCE IS NOT FUTILE" art show, which I was lucky enough to be a part of putting together. Anne at SIDESHOW GALLERY (2219 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647) took the idea and turned it into a 3 day extravaganza with music, movies and food. For the art side of things we'll have over 20 different artists of many different walks of life contributing to the theme of "resistance". ALL proceeds will be donated to the ACLU, so each of these remarkable artists are giving their art to a good cause and you can be a part of it as well! You can find a Sideshow Gallery page easy enough on Facebook; I'm too much of a Luddite to figure out how to post a link here.

And of course, C2E2 is coming. April 21-23, in my ol' sweet home Chicago. I'll have more info on that soon, but for now I know I'll be there in Artist Alley. Hope to see you there.

Take care, take care of each other, hope to see you soon!

#writingchallenge week 6, another short story from Jim Terry

I know, week 5 is missing. I wrote one, believe me, but when I reread it I found it to be a little too disturbing, a bit unsettling. Maybe I can polish it up a little and share it down the road. In the meanwhile I just did this nasty little bit of business if you care to take a gander:

Writing Challenge week 6

“INSPIRATION”

When Bailey saw her drinking coffee he didn’t see her in a thick sweater and jeans with her black hair pulled up into a large bun. He saw her on a veranda with warm sunlight slanting sideways across her, a warm glow and soft lines surrounding an impressionistic shape of white clothing settling gently in the sun. He saw a dark and flowing brushstroke, maybe sienna, standing out against a perfectly organic wave of weightless color and completely obliterated by a shock of black hair and blue eyes.

            He couldn’t say that to her, of course, so he walked across the coffee shop with his sketchbook and simply laid it on the empty seat beside her. She set her cup down, looked at it with blue/green eyes that startled him, then lifted them to him. Normally fearless with the opposite sex, he felt something stir inside his stomach that felt like nerves.

            She said nothing, so he said, “Please, look through it. My name is Bailey but I’m also known as ‘Verdant’. I would love to paint you.”

            To the naked eye, her expression did not change. To Bailey’s trained eye the threat of a grin teased the right side of her full, blood red lips.

            “If you think it’s awful I will walk away and leave you alone.” He said, and when she didn’t pick up the book he added: “After I apologize.”

            She allowed the grin to happen, her lips curving up on one side only. He was used to being fawned over, taken seriously and with adoration. He thrilled when someone didn’t know or care about him, it was a delightful chance to win a complete stranger over. She picked up the sketchbook and flipped through it, a little too quickly for his liking.

            He knew there was enough good work in there to captivate anyone with a modicum of art knowledge, so he rocked back in his loafers until she’d fanned through to the last page.

            “How often do you do this?” She asked, handing the sketchbook back to him.

            “Not very.” He fought back irritation, she didn’t seem to be impressed and this venture was looking unfruitful.

            “Why did you ask me?” Her voice was, of course, as velvet as he’d hoped.

            “Well, quite frankly, because you’re beautiful and all painters enjoy painting beauty.”

            “I’ve seen some beautiful paintings of some very ugly things.”

            “Of course. I’m talking about-“

            “Saturn devouring his son.” She said it simply, and he realized he’d opened a door to a much larger room than he’d expected.

            “Ah, you are a fan of Goya.” He smiled, motioning to the empty seat beside her. “May I?”

            She looked at the seat, then back at him and he felt his stomach quiver in anticipation.

            “No, I don’t think so. But if you give me your card I will let you paint me. It will cost you everything, but I will allow it if that’s indeed what you are looking for.”

            “That and nothing more.” He smiled, and he meant it, though he wasn’t really listening for the excitement. What he couldn’t say, if he was even aware of it himself, was that he had already won in his mind. To paint her, to capture her, would be to have owned her in some way and he felt the thrill of it course through him, down through him like an electricity that flicked about his loins and tickled his toes.

            Almost as though she sensed this child-like reaction, her grin stretched wide and treated him to her large and impossibly white teeth. They were imperfect, the incisors were too big, they were all a bit too big, but her utter disregard for this fact made them into something more than perfection.

            “Are you a pervert, ‘Verdant’?” There was no flirtation in her question.

            “Who have you been talking to?” He said, and her smile diminished and he knew his usual banter was going to be useless with this enigma. “No. I’m not what would be normally categorized as a pervert. I do, however, get a great and indescribable joy from painting. Whether that is sexual in nature or not is up to debate.”

            He said this loudly enough that it could be heard by others in the dense coffee shop, others he had completely forgotten about. Her smile came back in earnest and she did not look toward any of the patrons who’d turned to sneak a glance at him. He knew his face had flushed a bit but this seemed to please her as well.

            “Do you have a card?” She asked, finally.

            He went for his pockets, stopped. Of course he didn’t have a card. He never carried a card. That was for amateurs. He was Verdant, and now he needed a card and didn’t have one. The name was worthless.

            “I don’t, but I do have a pen.” He took the precision ballpoint he enjoyed sketching with out of his pocket and wrote on a napkin: Bailey, painter – and his phone number. She looked at it, then at him and his heart jumped at her eyes.

            “Not ‘Verdant’?” She was smiling but there was no cruelty in it.

            “I don’t think that name means anything to you.”

            “You don’t know if there is a single thing in existence that means anything to me.”

            With that, she turned back to her coffee. She didn’t have a book out and she wasn’t staring into a phone like everyone else, she was simply drinking coffee from a ceramic cup, cradling it with both hands.

            “Well,” Bailey said, tucking his sketchbook under his arm, “thank you for your time…” He waited for a name, for her to even turn her head back toward him, but received nothing. After a moment of silence he swiveled and walked away, suddenly intensely aware of every single fucking patron in the place and how they were watching him walk away like an admonished child, like some kind of goddam amateur being turned away at the door, a loser.

            He quickly gathered his things and walked out of the coffee shop and he told himself that he wouldn’t look to see if she was watching him but of course he did and she was staring into the middle distance, sipping her coffee as though their interaction had never happened.

 

                                                *                        *                        *

He was inspired. He draped a sheet over the still life he’d been working on and turned off all the lights save those illuminating his canvas. It had been years since he’d painted free of reference, but a power was building inside him and he had to release it. He tore his designer shirt off, the buttons flying into the shadows and tapping to rest on the hardwood floor. Rolling it into a ball, he threw it into the shadows as well, it settled noiselessly in the dark and he stood before the canvas in just his jeans and bare feet.

            The white fucking canvas was challenging him. With darkness around it the gesso made it absolutely glow and he stepped away from it, squinting his eyes. The blazing white rectangle blurred and disappeared and he pictured her looking up from his sketchbook.

            Those eyes. Her absolute indifference. It was magnificent. He would abandon the veranda idea and simply recapture those eyes, that look. If he could do that it would surpass anything he’d done. In his life. He thought of Goya’s painting “Saturn Devouring His Son” and the swirling blacks, the dreamy and muddy colors emerging from those very physical blacks. He pictured this painting in his mind, and her eyes emerged from within it, wavy, hypnotic and ridiculous like the cheap “water” dissolve in an old horror film. 

            He assembled his colors and laid them out, squirting healthy amounts of pigment onto the palette and selecting his largest brush. Excited, he destroyed the white gesso with slashing strokes of darkest brown. Soon the canvas was almost a shadow with the darkness of his studio. He stepped back from it and admired the stillness of the room, the window was open to combat the linseed oil and the sounds of the city, of the streets below were distant and part of a different world than the womb he was in.

            He began on the eyes. He closed his own and pictured hers, larger than the canvas, piercing beyond the canvas, swirling smoking tumultuous tremors vibrating from that oily darkness. Bailey rubbed his hands on his jeans and put the big brush in the oil. A one inch brush is what he needed, and he selected it, a flat head, and pressed it into the fat blob of cerulean blue even though he knew that wasn’t the proper color. That would come. He would let it go through him until it was right.

            He painted. For hours he painted and the street sounds diminished until he was completely alone in the city, in the world, in the universe, just him and the canvas and those eyes. He could hear her voice, could almost feel her presence in the darkness, milkily swirling, liquid, intangible. Her essence permeated him, guided his hands, his wrist, the very beating of his heart. He let it, he surrendered, and the colors came. The shapes came and he stood finally before the canvas as though he were standing before a god and he’d just slain it. The brush was weightless, an extension of him, as the work before him was an extension of his being made physical.

His hands shook when he stepped away from it, his heart hammering and his breathing intense.

            He had done it. Before the sun rose, in the darkest hour of the night, from a place completely within him, he had created his masterpiece. It was the purest thing he had done, he had transcended Bailey and Verdant and become something completely new. He had created a masterwork. In his heart he knew the clouds had literally parted and gifted him with the One Work. He fell to his knees on the hardwood floor and wept. The brush dropped from his hand and he cradled his head in them and continued to weep until they turned into sobs of gratitude and he found he could he hear himself choking out the words “thank you” until they where whispers.

            When he heard her voice from the shadows he was not completely surprised.

            “What have you done here?” She asked gently, smoky, from the complete darkness beyond the canvas.

            He looked up, wiped tears from his eyes. She emerged from the shadows, completely nude and washed with warm light. Her skin was not pale, not even her powerful thighs or the soft belly, a perfect chiaroscuro into the blackness of her pubic area. Perfect flesh emerging from oil-black pools of shadow, her heavy breasts casting ink shadows down past a ribcage rippling in perfect mechanics as she padded slowly, silently toward him.

            “How…” he began to ask, but he knew. He said nothing more as she neared him, like a leopard, and he could feel the electricity in the air, into his body. He knew. Bailey inhaled her faint scent and it wasn’t like flowers or even the clean skin smell of someone who’d been in the sun, it was cold and had the tinge of meat. Not rotten meat, but salty, coppery meat.

            She smiled and put a hand on his forehead, ran it through his hair. The palm was rough and intensely hot and he did not resist. He closed his eyes and could hear her thick breathing, could smell the meat on her hot breath. His face was an inch away from her stomach and he wanted desperately to rest his head against it.

            “Go ahead,” she whispered, and pulled his face to her belly and he felt her burning skin against his cheek, so hot, but not clammy. Soft, perfect. His eyes remained closed and she continued to gently rub her hands over his scalp.

            “You… gave me something beautiful.” He croaked, inhaling her smell deeply. He felt as though his feet were invisible, as though invisibility and weightlessness was spreading through his body from the legs up.

            “You did well.” She replied softly, and he sensed she’d turned her head to look at the painting. He was pleased to his very soul by how long she remained that way, she was studying it and he felt deep within that she was impressed. Something in his heart exploded warmth and it shot through his invisible limbs.

            She gently took his face in her hands and lifted it toward her. She said nothing, just waited. He knew she was waiting for him to open his eyes, but he held on to this indescribable warmth for as long as he could. His breathing intensified and his bladder released and hot urine spread across his crotch. Bailey suddenly became aware of the price. He did not want to pay the price, he knew this now. A realization shot through him that this was indeed happening and it was beyond his comprehension.

            Panic shook him and he squeezed his eyes tighter but her hands were strong, stronger than he could possibly have imagined anyone’s hands being, unwavering and unbendable. He grabbed the wrists and pulled as hard as he could, his eyes still squeezed shut, but he couldn’t even budge them.

            “Stop, Bailey.” She whispered, and he did. His name from her lips punctured him and he gave up all resistance.

            Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and looked at her but the overhead light was behind her and cast her completely in silhouette. Only those eyes. Those eyes were glowing inside the dark outline of her face.

            “It’s time.” She whispered, and he cried out, then nodded, whimpering. From the moment he laid the brush to the canvas he knew the price would be paid. He smiled when the shadow-shape of her head grew and he felt the hot meat breath wash over his face and the large teeth stretched and scraped like tectonic plates and his head was in shadow and then in her mouth and all receded into inky blackness.

           

#writingchallenge week 4, another short story from Jim Terry

THE TUNNEL

Jim Terry

 

She pumped the pedals hard and felt a burn in her thighs. This was a good feeling, as was the chill breeze against her face and through her long dark hair, her scalp tingled as it lifted off her shoulders and whipped around behind her.

            It felt good to be alive, it felt good to be riding, the twilight was calming and the sudden cooling of the hot summer air was welcome. The city would come alive soon with the night, but the in-between time always felt oddly quiet, serene.  By the time she got home and washed up and settled down with the book she’d been reading it would be dark and she could relax.

            The air even smelled sweet for a moment, a patch of it, maybe she just rode through a cloud of grass-scent, but it reminded her of her childhood in the suburbs and she felt like a kid for a moment. She was free. Free for the rest of the night, free for tomorrow, free of her family’s eye, free of Brad and his neediness.

            Knowing the tunnel was ahead, she followed her bike-from-work routine and left the main street for the sidewalk. There was the hole, ease right – hop over the uneven sidewalk break – and smooth sailing until the tunnel. The soft rotation of the bike chain and the hum of the tires seemed the only sounds.

            To be free of Brad. Always needing something. She could not understand modern men… or maybe it was just city boys. They weren’t like the guys she grew up with, who were just straight pigs and unashamed – but she felt she knew how to handle them. The men she’d met in the city were scared of her more than not, unsure of themselves, completely lacking the masculine quality that she wasn’t ashamed to admit she desired. To her, a beard didn’t make a man.

            It wasn’t that Brad was a bad guy, quite the opposite, but he didn’t… well, he didn’t make her feel safe. When she was with him he joked about what a coward he was, but she believed there was truth in it. He avoided trouble at all costs, which was the smart way to be, but it kept him from doing anything fun as well. He was handsome in a generic sort of way, but there was no character in his face. That’s what she missed. Character.

            Her mind breezed over the thought that she wanted to feel safe and that she looked for that in a man. She had often wondered the line between being feminine and feminist - she enjoyed being a woman, yet something within wanted to yell out for looking to a man for safety. There wasn’t anything wrong with feeling safe in someone’s arms… but to her it was also a sign of weakness in her, to desire that.

            No wonder men where confused. She was confused. She shook the notions from her head with a wry shrug.

            The tunnel approached quickly and she took a few sharp breaths. It ran for almost an entire city block beneath a massive network of train tracks, and the air beneath it was always musty and cool. To ride in the street was foolish, it was too narrow to accommodate a vehicle and a bicyclist and the walkway lifted beside the street, creating a five foot wall that trapped you in, so she always took the walkway. It was rarely occupied and was a straight shot, but the support columns made her nervous. There was one every ten feet or so, and they were wide enough for someone to hide behind.

            She entered the tunnel at a decent speed and immediately went to her worst case scenario: Someone leaping out from behind one of those pillars and making her crash. Then? Who knows, hopefully she could defend herself. The air grew cool and musty, and her guard went up.

            There was something ahead… something dark in the sulfuric yellow light, lying against the smooth wall opposite the street. The sidewalk rose, almost five feet higher than the street itself, a deadly drop on a bike going high speed. She maneuvered closer to the flat wall to her right as the dark object came closer fast.

            It was a black plastic garbage bag. She could identify it now, it was full and looked wet, like it was out in the rain, but it hadn’t rained in days. She pedaled harder and tried not to think of the Korean horror film she’d seen, the one where there were garbage bags being found all over the city with body parts in them, breaking open like swollen ticks and spilling the blood and chunks and hands-

            She pedaled harder, feeling the good burn in her legs. She heard herself breathing. The other side of the tunnel was a pinpoint of bluish twilight in the vanishing point of yellow and suddenly there was the bag and she glanced at it as she flew by, then looked ahead again.

            Safe. Safe and the home stretch. Why did she take this route? Was it to challenge herself? To face some unnecessary fear? For the hundredth time she swore to herself that she’d take a different route next time.

            Then something dark came out from behind a pillar ahead. She let out a surprised yelp and squeezed the brakes, the front tire wobbling uncertainly. It was a man-sized shape, dark, and it stepped out into the middle of the walkway. She could not gauge if she could make it past the shape and couldn’t continue on the bike while trying to see what it was, so she slammed the brakes and stopped. She put both feet on the ground.

            The figure was still about twenty feet away, standing in the center of the walkway. There was no way she could get around it on the bike. She was breathing hard. Was it wearing a robe? A hooded robe? Her heart was hammering, her legs went shaky.

            “Get out of my way!” She yelled at it, not sure why she didn’t think to yell “who are you” or “what do you want”.

            It didn’t respond, it simply stood there, silent.

            She took a breath, tried calming herself, but instead grew angry. Fear turned into a rage.

            “What’s your problem! Get the fuck outta’ my way!” She yelled, and she could hear her voice like someone’s voice in a movie and she could identify the tremble of fear in it.

            The figure remained motionless.

            Her mind darted around. Did she have a weapon? No, she had nothing that would even come close to a weapon. She whipped her head around to the way she’d just come and her stomach dropped.

            There was another figure, blocking the way back. It was just standing there darkly in the yellow light, about twenty feet away. Had it been hiding behind the pillar, just letting her go by?

            “Oh God,” she croaked.

            The figure behind her was about where the wet garbage bag was. It wore a hood and its face was completely in shadow. It watched her, though, she could feel it watching her.

            “What do you want, fucker?” She screamed at the one before her, whipping her head around. Her hands were wringing the handlebar grips.

            The figure before her lifted its right arm. She could see no hand, no glove, no skin, just the wide sleeve of the robe (or whatever it was) rising slowly. A gnat hummed past her ear, she shook her head. Sweat was pouring into her eyes, she blinked it away. The right arm of the figure slowly lowered. Her heart pounded in her ears, her cheeks, her eyes.

            Suddenly she spun around to the one behind her. She watched as it took a step to the garbage bag and crouched down to it. Whipping around, she saw the one in front of her still standing silently, then flung her attention back to the one behind her.

            The figure had the same type of robe with no hands and wide sleeves, and it reached to the plastic bag. It got some type of purchase and ripped it open. The world was silent. No vehicles had passed by on the street beside/below her.

            The street.

            The figure behind her stood and stepped away from the plastic bag.

            Something was moving in it. She saw the plastic move. She saw something poke outward, then touch the sidewalk. Like a crab leg. Like a big, white crab leg. Another came out, gently touching a pointed stalk end to the sidewalk. Another.

            She spun around to the figure blocking her way and it was walking toward her. Silently. Just casually walking toward her.

            Some kind of a scream ripped out of her and she put her feet on the pedals. Without hesitation she biked off the five foot drop onto the street below and in mid-air lifted the front tire as well as she could before slamming into the pavement. Her hands slipped when the front tire hit and her mouth smashed into the handlebars and she fell sideways off the bike. Her legs were caught in the bike and she’d broken her fall with her left wrist, which sent a sharp pain all the way up her arm and into her eye. Her elbows burned and there was something wrong with her tailbone but instinct told her to look behind her for oncoming cars.

            Nothing, no cars. A dead street. Scrambling out from the bike, she looked at the walkway, now above her. The cloaked figures were slowly and soundlessly walking to where she’d gone off the ledge. They were silent like shadows sliding across a wall, so silent that when she heard the soft clicky sound to her right it felt like it was in her ear. She spun, finally on her feat, and screamed again.

            The thing with the crab legs. It was crawling down the side of the embankment and it was big. She watched, breathless, as the multiple legs, more like spider-legs made of bone, clicked onto the pavement she was standing on. It was a vague, pulpy, whitish mass with too many legs to count, and it was moving toward her in the shadows.

            She didn’t scream. She looked up at the robed figures and they were now within arm’s reach, stooping to get closer. The yellow lights above and behind them cast their faces in opaque darkness and she didn’t give a shit anyway, the clickety-clack of those bone spider-legs was getting closer.

            She didn’t scream, she grabbed the handlebars and hopped on the bike. White lightning flashes of pain shot up her left arm and she almost seized up but she didn’t and she didn’t yell out again, she put her feet on the pedals and cranked. Her tailbone sent piercing, cold pinches through her back but she stood on the pedals and cranked and pulled the handlebars for more power, stifling her breathing and suddenly the musty air was blowing into her face and she could see the distant twilight at the far end of the tunnel.

            Eyeing the columns above and to her right that lined the walkway, she steered left and rode hard in the center of the street, cranking. The chain held. The bike held. She held.

            She could hear herself breathing and it was like a feral animal but it was controlled. Her nostrils were flared and her eyes were wide but she was determined for that opening. It was within reach. The dark columns to her right whipped by.

            With each pump of the pedals she grunted.

            “You’re” pump

            “not” pump

            “gonna” pump

            “get” pump

            “me” pump

            “fuckers!” pump

            And she was out of the tunnel. The sweet smell of cut grass and the clean white street light hit her and the sky and the entire world around her was bathed in blue and she stopped. Something primal within told her she was safe. The quivering in her spine eased and the cold hand of pressure had released her chest. She was safe. Her arms were practically vibrating, her legs were rubber bands but she was safe.

            She stopped the bike and immediately all the pain came at her. Her wrist, her ass, her bloody mouth, her lungs, her legs… but she didn’t cry out. Instead she steadied her breath and looked behind her into the dark mouth of the tunnel. Despite the sulfuric yellow lights it was a pool of blackness.

            From within that blackness, something screamed.

            It didn’t frighten her. She watched the shadows within for a moment but nothing stirred. Taking a deep, slow breath, she got on her bike and rode away.

           

#writingchallenge week 3 another short story from Jim Terry

Writing Challenge week 3

 

“Christmas Eve, 1989”

Working the night shift at a fast food joint was a drag. Working any shift at a fast food joint was a drag.

            Outside it was snowing and quiet, and nobody had stepped in the store for almost an hour. The suburbs were closed, Christmas was tomorrow and most folks were with their families at home. Sam didn’t really care that he was working, but he was bored and the manager tonight was Isabelle, who tolerated no horseshit. Meaning he and Mike would be having no gunfights in the kitchen with the condiment guns, he’d be stuck at the hot grills and Mike would be tied to the drive- thru and register, both pretending to be busy which was a job in itself.

            There weren’t even any girls working, other than Isabelle, and she frightened Sam too much for him to even fantasize about. In his sixteen year old mind she was probably in her late thirties but in reality she was twenty-six and already disappointed with most things.

            He leaned against the grill and stared at it, going into his mind and trying to picture all the girls he liked. There were too many, at least one in each class. Well, not gym but every other one. It made the misery of school tolerable. There were three or four in his social studies class he’d sure like to get to know. He knew he wouldn’t, so he went further into his mind where he would have a chance. The vision of himself on a couch with Jenn Mindota blurred into his mind’s eye, then quickly shimmered and evaporated.

            Shit, he couldn’t even score in a daydream.

            He poured some water on the grill, watched it sizzle and boil, then scraped it. He enjoyed seeing the grill get clean with each stroke of the scraper. Like cleaning a windshield, which he also enjoyed, he pushed the brown sizzle-juice to the back of the grill and then with one sideways scrape sent it into the grease trap on the side. He took off his hat and wiped his brow with a forearm, smearing the greasy sweat.

            Mike came out of the drive-thru bay, his headset on, and casually kicked the meat patty refrigerator. He had black, curly hair and a brooding disposition.

            “Fuck, I’m bored. I usually hate customers but I’d fuckin’ bone one right now, just outta’ gratitude for comin’ in. Break this bullshit up.”

            “What if it was a dude?” Sam asked, leaning on the prep table. “Would you still bone him?”

            “Who gives a fuck.” Mike motioned riding someone, giving a little fishtail slap while he undulated.

            Sam figured that Mike had probably boned before, unlike his own loser-ass. Mike smoked cigs and talked about weed a lot, and according to Sam’s calculations that usually opened the door to some boning. He quickly imagined a woman blowing weed-smoke in his own face, but he never smoked weed so… rather quickly she morphed into blowing a white cloud into dark air… then she was naked, then she had a red dress on and was leaning toward him and he could almost see her nipples and she had dark red lipstick on and--

            “Fuck, I want a smoke.” Mike walked toward the manager’s office, a small cubicle with a computer and tons of papers taped to the wall. Isabelle was in there, looking through page after page of readouts and writing on clipboards.

            “Isabelle, can I take a break?” Mike leaned into the doorframe.

            Isabelle looked up from her clipboard, her round face sending no vibe other than irritation through the heavy makeup. One of her penciled-in eyebrows lifted.

            “Didn’t you have your break before Juan left? Like and hour ago?

            “Yeah, but I want another one. It’s so fucking boring out there, let me just go have a smoke.”

            Isabelle shook her head and set her clipboard on the small, cluttered desk.

            “What do you smoke?”

            “Reds.”

            “Bum me one and I’ll go with you.”

            Mike shrugged, nodded and walked back to the kitchen, peering through the food window at the empty counter on the other side.

            “We’re gonna’ go have a smoke.” He said to Sam and thrust his hands in his jacket pockets. Isabelle appeared beside him in a massive down jacket, her thin legs sticking out the bottom. She was a little thick in the middle and the jacket made her look almost cartoonish to Sam, like a Rocky & Bullwinkle character.

            “Just for a minute. You got the window, right?”

            “Yeah, gimme the thing.” Mike handed Sam the headset and Sam put it on, walked over to the drive-thru.

            He could see them smoking and talking outside of the restaurant, clutching themselves against the cold. What were they talking about? Were they having an affair? Was Mike banging Isabelle? Suddenly he was jealous of Mike for all the banging he figured he was doing.

            Sam looked down at his apron, covered in mustard and ketchup from leaning into burger buns while prepping. He always smelled like a sour burger. Jenn would have nothing to do with him. Would Isabella? She was a woman though… and Mike was probably already sleeping with her. Look, they’re laughing about something. Why couldn’t he make girls laugh like that? Why was he always freezing up, or saying something nerdy or… awkward? Always so awkward.

            Man oh man, Jenn. Soooo beautiful. He thought of her face and a small warmth came over him. Was it bad that she was dating Mark, a rugged jock with chiseled broody looks and a Grand Am? Sam knew it was a Grand Am because Jenn had confided in him during Social Studies that she’d found out he and his “pussy posse” referred to it as the “Grand Scam” because of all the scammin’ they were doing in it during the weekends. Sam really thought he’d had a chance at that moment. But she stayed with Mark and continued to complain about him to Sam and Sam sat there and listened. He looked forward to it, like one day she was going to suddenly look into his weird face and be all “I’ve been so blind, it’s been you all along”.

           Suddenly his mood became bitter and reflective. They probably spent Christmas together, going with each other to their respective families. He pictured Mark in an expensive flannel, probably J Crew or some shit, her in a fuzzy and clean and soft Christmas-type sweater and both of them smiling with perfect teeth surrounded by the soft focus glow of red and green lights and in the just out-of-focus background were their perfect parents, all sets of them smiling happily and their houses were always very big and clean with the safety and comfort of money and privilege and Sam thought of his own house and the frightening things that often happened in it and the splintered & confusing holidays spent frantically and terrifyingly going from one place to the other and the divorce and the step-dad who was as unpredictable and moody as real dad and his own hopeless ugly face and crooked teeth and thick greasy glasses and the zits and-

            Ah, whatever.

            Mike and Isabelle came back in and smelled like smoke. Sam handed the headset back to Mike and sauntered back to the kitchen, grabbed the broom and cleaned up a bit.

 

                                                            *            *            *

 

“Rush or Yes.”

            Sam thought for about a millisecond. “Rush, dude, no contest.”

            Mike stepped back as though struck. “You realize that every fuckin’ member of Yes is classically trained? They are virtuosos? All of them?”

            “And they sound like it, too.” Sam mimicked a somber musician weepingly picking at a classical guitar. His fingers flicked in the air like spiders while his eyebrows knitted themselves into an expression of pure, painful playing. He stopped and nodded. “One word for you. Peart.”

            “Fuck him, fuck that, Yes forever. Heart Of The Sunrise, motherfucker.” Mike was smiling.

            “Never heard it. Gimme A Farewell To Kings anyday.”

            Sam started singing “Xanadu” and Mike shook his hands at him, stepping back. “No. Stop. Stop it. I don’t want to hear about the honeydews of Shangri-La or any of that shit.”

            “Both of you nerds shut up in there, I’m on a call.”

            Mike shushed Sam and they both leaned. Sam looked at his greasy tennis shoes, they were white but every crease and stitch was stained dark brown. He blurred his eyes until the shoes were out of focus, the stained lines barely visible.

            “You got plans for tomorrow?” He asked Mike, but wasn’t sure why. He didn’t really care if Mike had plans.

            Mike stared at the grill but also stared through it.

            “No, not really. It’s just me and my mom, and she’s probably working. I’ll probably just sit around the apartment and play Nintendo.”

            And like that it hit Sam, that Mike was one of his people. That brief statement crushed the cool-guy status he’d assigned him and he immediately saw that Mike was from his side of the tracks. The side where parents were frightening and unreliable, or at the very least disappointing in a universal way – they weren’t wealthy. The school they went to had two types of kids, rich and poor, and ultimately every student fell on one side or the other and it was always Mike’s cavalier attitude that distracted Sam from the fact that he was, in fact, from his side. The side that was always laced with uncertainty or the queasy notion that things weren’t going to work out like they did in the movies, the knowledge that life wasn’t perfect and you had to get used to things rather than rise above them, that small things were to be held on to – the pleasures of music, of movies, of books, because the things you’d been taught that were measures of success and the height of enjoyment were things far beyond your grasp. Guess Jeans, designer clothes in general. Vacations. Hair gel. Clean skin. Fancy cars. Big spacious homes. He pictured Mike’s mother’s small apartment, comfy but dark and cramped, and suddenly it was very easy to picture Mike in his boxers sitting on the floor with a bowl of cereal waiting to be eaten on a very crowded coffee table. He thought of his own ranch home, he thought of his mother and stepdad’s first apartment and the scattering roaches that forbade him ever having friends over.

            “Your folks divorced too?” He asked, relaxed now.

            “No, my dad’s in prison.” Mike responded, matter-of-factly.

            Of course Sam wondered why he was in prison, but knew better than to ask.

            “Fucked up a bunch of cops.” Mike offered.

            “Really?”

            “Yeah. They pulled him over for a DUI and he…” Mike’s face changed, lit up a little and he stood straight, extending his arms and looking at his balled fists. “He just gets outta the car and is like, ‘come on, fuckers’. He’s a big dude. Like fuckin’ big. Took six fuckin’ cops to take him down.”

            “Fuck.”

            “Yeah, he’s a fuckin’ badass.”

            Sam nodded and they were quiet.

            “What about you?” Mike asked.

            “Ah, I got about four different places I gotta go. You know, fuckin’ divorce.”

            “Dude, that’s sweet though, you get four times the presents.”

            “Yeah.” Sam smiled with his crooked teeth but not with his eyes. It was not as good as it sounded but he couldn’t explain that to anyone.

            With that the conversation ended but neither felt the need to fill the dead space with bullshit. They were thinking about their own situations.

            And as was usually the case with Sam, his thoughts eventually led to movies he’d seen.

            “Dude, you see Evil Dead 2?”

            “Naw, I don’t really like movies.”

            Sam nodded and picked up the scraper to give the grill another go but Isabelle appeared at that moment, tired and irritated.

            “Alright, it’s dead as shit. Start clean-up, I want to get out of here.”

 

                                                            *            *            *

 

The worst part of the clean-up was the grease bucket. Sam had to slide the filled grease trap from the side of the grill, and it was burning hot and very heavy and awkwardly wide and flat, like a sideways table top. He then poured the steaming grease into a five gallon steel bucket without splashing on the tiled floor because it was a nightmare to mop, then carry the bucket out back which was a two-man job.

            He looked at the bubbling brown mess in the bucket.

            “Hey Mike, you wanna help me take this bucket out back?”

            Mike was usually kitchen so he knew the drill and he was done counting his drawer out. “Yeah, I could use a fuckin’ smoke.”

            He got his jacket on, Sam didn’t bother, he was too warm from the grill.

            “Isabelle, we’re taking this bucket of shit out back.” Mike called toward the office. There was no response.

            “Hey, Isabelle, we’re taking the grease out!”

            “Fine!” Her irritated voice.

            Mike smiled at Sam and put a smoke in his lips, and they lifted the heavy, steaming bucket together. It was slow, shuffling going. They set it down with a clang while Sam opened the back door and the freezing air whooshed in, then set it down again once outside so Mike could light his smoke.

            They lifted it once more and the outside was crisp and very cold. Mike grunted and inhaled from his cigarette, the cherry glowing hot red as they shuffled along. Inside the bucket the thick grease sloshed and steamed. Mike exhaled through the side of his mouth and started laughing.

            “What?” Sam said, freezing and trying to keep his footing on the icy parking lot as they made their way toward the dumpster on the far side. The synchronization of their shuffling steps was critical to keeping the grease inside the bucket.

            “This! This fucking sucks!” Mike said, laughing. Sam was concerned that Mike was going to lose his handle on the bucket. He suddenly slipped on the ice but regained himself quickly.

            “Yup.” Sam responded. They were almost there.

            “I mean, seriously, fuck this. I hate this job.” Shuffle, breathe, shuffle, grunt.

            They made it to the dumpster and set the steaming bucket down. Sam opened the lock and swung the wide door out, expecting, as usual, some sort of creature to leap out of the darkness but as usual nothing did. In the blackest corner was the oil drum they were to dump the bucket into. He walked over to it and looked inside. Just a frozen, light brown mass inside there, and Sam looked forward to dumping the hot grease on top and the strange chemistry of it mixing, watching it coagulate and sink into the frozen part.

            “Let’s get this over with,” He said, grabbing his handle on the bucket.

            “Lemme finish this smoke.” Mike said, leaning on the inside of the door.

            “I’m freezing out here, you got a jacket on!” Sam was beginning to get irritated.

            “Fine, pull your panties outta your crack.” Mike took his side of the bucket.

            They had both done this many times and had the timing down. The procedure: Lift with one arm, get your other hand under, place it flat against the very hot bottom of the bucket, and gently… gently guide it to the barrel, and evenly pour the grease in, a slow, steady stream.

            They both had good grips and were guiding it toward the barrel when Mike stepped on an ice patch and “oh shit” and gravity took the bucket and them both almost instantaneously. Before Sam knew what was going on he felt the concrete hit his back and a moment later the hot grease was pouring against him, beneath him. He panicked and rolled away, already too late.

            He stood up, soaked with grease but unscathed. The grease had cooled down enough that it wasn’t burning him. Mike was in the dark, laughing.

            “Shit. You okay?” Sam asked.

            Mike was rising, his smoke was gone and steam wafted from him. The steel bucket was on its side and Sam stepped away from the spreading grease.

            “Yeah, I’m fine.” Mike responded, and shook grease from his arms. “Fuck!”

            Sam was trying to figure out how he was going to make the walk home without ruining his only jacket and was he going to be able to get the grease out of these clothes and he couldn’t afford to get a whole new set of work clothes and if he ruined his jacket he’d get an ass whooping and goddam it Mike!

            “You know what? I’m fuckin’ done.” Mike said, and walked back toward the store. Stan picked up the bucket and dumped what was left in the barrel. When he got back in Mike was already gone and Isabelle had a new shirt for him.

            “Here, change into this.”

            “Are you gonna charge me for it?”

            She gave him an odd look. “No.”

            He thanked her and when he came out of the bathroom, a little cleaner, she was waiting with her keys and her jacket on, everything locked up and turned off. He clocked out, put on his coat and they walked out into the cold parking lot.

            “Mike left already?”

            “Mike quit.”

            “Oh.” Sam put his hands in his pockets and Isabelle looked at him, almost like she’d never seen him until this moment.

            “It’s pretty cold out, are you walking home?”

            “Yeah, it’s only a mile or so.” It was longer, but he was uncomfortable with her concern.

            “Do you want a ride?”

            “No, it’s okay, thanks. My pants are all greasy.”

            She waited half a second for him to change his mind, then shrugged. “Okay, see you next time.”

            “Okay.”

            They went their ways and he stopped, turned around.

            “Mike say why he left?”

            She stopped, shook her head tiredly. “Said he couldn’t take it.”

            Sam smiled, he thought that was funny. “Really?”

            Isabelle didn’t smile, she just nodded slowly. “Some real go-getters workin’ here.”

            “Okay, see you next time.”

            She acknowledged him and walked to her car and Sam walked home.

#writingchallenge week 2

So here's my second entry to the Ray Bradbury "write a story a week for a year" challenge. Hope you get something out of it.

Writing Challenge week 2

 

The Problem Of Wolf

Jim Terry

 

Mulhoon wanted Wolf the Indian dead. He stepped into the Sheriff’s office and sat right down like he owned the place and said the words the same way he would order breakfast.

“I want that savage dead, Sheriff. I don’t care how you do it, but I want it done by the end of the day.” He took a deep breath and his barrel chest pressed against a red and green paisley vest, the gold watch chain slid down into a fold of his jacket. Mulhoon wore no iron, and he carried himself like a man who didn’t need to. He exhaled and reached into a pocket for tobacco, the matter closed as far as he was concerned.

Sheriff Dwayne Murphy nodded and sat back and his chair creaked.

“You realize he’s in jail now.”

“I do. And I don’t care. I want that savage dead by end of day.”

Dwayne grinned, cocked his head.

“Is that all?”

Mulhoon squinted up to him with his frog eyes, looking bloodshot and flaked with dry skin on the rims. He commenced the rolling of his cigarillo and smiled, the tip of his tongue playing around his moist lips. They looked like two earth worms squirming around in the dust of his bloated, whiskered face.

“’Is that all’. Can I take that as an affirmation of my concern?”

Dwayne had played this game before with Mulhoon, played it with others before him. He had tried all the moves, like a chess game, attempting each time to approach the problem in a new way. Trying to find a peaceable solution, doing his best to satisfy all parties. He had never found success in this endeavor. In fact, he had seen brutal failure more often than not, and occasionally bloodshed. When reason failed repeatedly his patience began to grow thin, this he knew, so he decided to get this over with without so much games.

“You can take that as me askin’ you if you have anything else to say.” He replied, in a dead tone.

Silence hung in the air, Deputy Jarvis squirmed a little in his corner, not sure if he should pretend he wasn’t aware of what was going on or if he should just invest himself in it. He ended up just nervously looking this way and that and Dwayne tried not to hold it against him, he wasn’t exactly a kid but he was inexperienced in matters such as these.

Mulhoon licked his paper and rolled it in his fingers. They were clean and the nails were cut smooth. Dwayne wondered how his clothes, hands, even his boots were so immaculate but the man’s face never looked the same. Always had the appearance of filth, and it betrayed the man. Mulhoon never broke eye contact with Dwayne as he brought the cigarillo to his worm lips and grinned.

“I know you’ve been some places, Sheriff, but you haven’t been here long enough to start throwing weight around you haven’t earned. It ain’t unheard of, a man making a legend out of talk and rumor.”

“That’s true, Mulhoon. I’ve encountered many a man who consisted of little more than hot air and bluster when push came to shove.”

An eye twitched and Mulhoon reached into his inner pocket, pulling out a box of matches. He struck one on Dwayne’s desk even though there was a strip alongside the box and brought it to the cigarillo and his hands were steady. Neither of the men had blinked, so far as either of them could tell. Dwayne smiled and it was not reciprocated.

“If that’s all, Mr. Mulhoon, I’ll be getting back to my business. There’s a dispute over a land claim I need to oversee.”

Mulhoon puffed smoke. He blinked and then Dwayne blinked.

“You know what that savage did?” He asked, looking at his cigarillo.

“I know why he’s in jail, and that’s for fighting.”

“If we let some red skinned monkey get away with maiming white men it’ll be the start of a reckoning.”

“He got away with nothing, rest assured. He’s in jail for what he did.”

“A precedent has been established out here that needs be maintained.” He motioned to the jail door, behind which slept the Indian named Wolf. “That ain’t justice, Sheriff. Not out here it ain’t.”

“It is now. And when I find those hands of yours they’ll be in there too.”

“They were defending themselves. That Indian was drunk and crazy.”

“I don’t doubt he was drunk. He might still be. Gotta admit though, if a fella could maim two of your boys as drunk as you say he was, you might want to get some different hands.”

Mulhoon looked past Dwayne to the street outside the window, the men and women going about their day in the bright daylight. His dry face cracked like sun-baked mud into a grin. He puffed his smoke.

“You got a mouth on you, son. I can see that you’re what one might call an advanced thinker, one of these folks from out east who got an erroneous view as to the way things work. Dandies and intellectuals don’t last in hard terrain such as this, and it doesn’t make one any friends neither. In fact such erroneous views could be akin to walking oneself off the edge of a steep cliff and thinking one could fly. Only birds fly, and like man, they have their place in the world. As do good white citizens and filthy savages like that barkeater you got locked up in there. If a dog bites a man, you shoot the dog. No difference. Could you be one of those advanced thinkers who thinks a savage or a darkie got the same rights as a decent white citizen?”

Dwayne said nothing, sat back in his chair. Jarvis looked at the floor, giving up the pretense of disinterest. Mulhoon stared at Dwayne, his challenge hanging in the air.

“Could be, Mr. Mulhoon. Could be I believe in the law.”

“Law’s different out here, son. Life’s hard enough for most folks, breaking their backs against the earth, trying to scratch a living out of this unforgiving land. Then to have some savage who might kill them or their livestock just walkin’ around, free as a bird. We gotta’ protect the good people. Give them the message that they’re safe. We’ll deal with undesirable elements in a permanent way. When people feel safe is when they’re the happiest! Ain’t that what it’s about, a pursuit of happiness?”

Dwayne was growing weary of this. Still, there was a certain amount of time you had to give to men like Mulhoon. In the end, however, there was no reasoning with them.

“I’m gonna’ give it to you straight, Mulhoon. I don’t agree with you. And I sure as hell am not going to kill a prisoner, so you might as well fit that into your head.”

“He ain’t even a man, sheriff.” With cold certainty and a bit of venom. His eyes reduced themselves to slits and his worm lips were parted just enough for him to breath.

“I don’t see it that way. Just ‘cuz he’s a red man don’t mean he ain’t a man all the same. Black, white, red, yellow, whatever. They break the law they go in there. If they don’t they aren’t my concern unless someone starts trouble with them. When that happens I’m gonna’ defend them all the same. It’s my way.”

When he said those last words he leaned forward into Mulhoon’s smoke cloud. It cleared and they stared eye to eye, both men determined in their personal outlooks.

“Well,” Mulhoon said, leaning back, “I guess we are at what you would call an impasse. We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

“Sounds about right.” Dwayne leaned back again, scratched his chin. “So are you going to bring me those two boys of yours or am I gonna’ have to come find them?”

Mulhoon chuckled, sandpaper scraping dry stone. “Oh don’t worry, Sheriff, I have a feeling a bunch of my boys will come on down and see you.”

He rose from his chair, short of breath, still chuckling.

“I’ll be here.”

Mulhoon walked toward the door, stopped and looked at Jarvis. “You gonna side with this fool, Jarvis? Or you gonna be sensible and walk outta’ here with me before things get… dangerous?”

Jarvis looked up at Mulhoon, then over to Dwayne.

Mulhoon dropped his cigarillo on the floor and rubbed it out with an immaculate boot, his shining spurs softly dinging.

“Rest assured, kid, there’s a world of hurt coming this way. Your boy here has nothing on his side but a foolish ideal. Is that enough to side with? A foolish ideal? For some drunken dirt worshipper got nothing in common with you?”

Dwayne said nothing, just watched the exchange of the two, his face betraying nothing.

Mulhoon continued, spurred on by the silence. “Look at him. Look at how small he looks, sitting there. Throwing his life away – not for just a stranger, but a goddam heathen. Come on out with me, son. I got the manpower and the money. Come on out with me. It’s a hell of an easier life under my wing. Think about what kind of country you want to live in.”

Jarvis swallowed hard and looked over at Dwayne again, who just leaned back in his chair and put his old dusty boots on the desk.

“Do what you gotta do, Jarvis.”

The Deputy looked from one man to the other.

“He’s too powerful, Dwayne…” he croaked.

Dwayne smiled.

“That may be, son. I’ve seen his type before and he’s gonna play as filthy as he can to get what he wants. But at the end of the night I’ll lay my head on my pillow and know I’ve done right by my fellows, including young drunken Wolf in there.”

“How the hell does that do any good?” Jarvis asked, his voice cracking.

“Might not do any good at all, Jarvis,” Dwayne said, laughing. “But it makes living with myself a hell of a lot easier.”

#writingchallenge week 1

Well, I foolishly agreed to this Ray Bradbury writing challenge... doing one short story a week for a year. I haven't written much prose in the last decade, but my head is reeling enough these days that maybe getting some of the chaos outta there will do me some good. You're welcome to peruse the stories as they come, or write some of your own and provide me with a link.

I can't guarantee any type of quality or consistency, I wrote this first one just now and only proofread it for grammar, it's essentially a first draft and most of them probably will be. Hope you find this exercise fun, and selfishly I hope to benefit from it as well - it's a hornet's nest in this brain of mine, and need to be shaken loose every once in a while.

“Leaning Against A Tree In The Dark”

Jim Terry

 

He ran but could not feel his legs. Nor could he see where he was going, the darkness was almost absolute in the moonless night, and the only sounds he could hear were the pounding in his head and heart and the rasp of his own labored breathing.

There was no way to tell if they were close behind, or if they had circled around him and were waiting ahead. His legs were shaking so strongly now that he couldn’t control his direction, so he stopped for fear of breaking one. If he broke his leg he was as good as dead. Leaning against a tree, he closed his eyes and tried to calm his breathing. It was difficult to do so quietly, but the idea of one of them hearing him cough or wheeze forced him to tremble silently. Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t make a sound.

His heart pounded and now sweat began to pour into his eyes. He leaned into the tree and felt its bark with his trembling fingers, snapped off a small bit and put it in his mouth. He chewed this and it calmed him enough that he could breathe through his nose and listen.

The night was fairly silent. He looked around and saw darkness between the trees, which were dark too. Black shapes between blacker shapes, unmoving. The ground beneath his bare feet he became sensitive to, aware now of the quality of cool dirt, the few loose leaves and the hard root buried just beneath the surface. He rubbed a toe against the root and felt it connect to the tree he leaned against.

He was breathing more calmly now, and the pounding in his head and heart were still strong but he could separate them from outside sounds. He closed his eyes against the sweat and kept them closed, imagining himself as the center of a large circle of silence, expanding outward through the trees. Any sound caught within that widening circle would be made apparent to him. It was something he’d learned as a boy and never questioned its validity.

Their torches would be extinguished, this he knew. It’s difficult to see in the dark when you’re holding one, and they were determined to find him. His best chance was to hear them or their horses, that was his best chance. He expanded the circle of silence and heard bugs… buzzing around, close and far… he heard something rustle gently, feathers, not leaves… nothing else. Not the wind, or the leaves in the trees. It was as though the entire wood was holding its breath with him.

With a muscled forearm he wiped a thick sheen of sweat from his brow. They were either gone or very, very good at what they did. He had to assume they were still out there. He spit out the bark and touched the tree again, as if it was the sentinel keeping him safe and to depart from it fully would expose him.

“Hey, you.”

It was a whisper, but it was so loud to him that it might have been in his own head. Silently he fell back against the tree, his eyes wide with terror against the dim dark. He did not respond or make a sound, he remained as silent and still as a stone.

“I’m talking to you. Don’t despair, I mean you no harm.”

He looked around, his heart and head pounding again. New sweat dripped into his eyes. His legs were shaking. He could not pinpoint the voice, it seemed to come from several places at once, and from no general direction at all.

“If you walk toward my voice I will help you. I can help you.”

He gulped, tried to focus. He closed his eyes and tried to extend his circle of silence. If the whisper sounded again there was a chance he could find its origin.

“You are going to have to trust me. You can continue to hide or you can step forward.”

It was no good, the whisper was elusive. There was no hint of character in it either, it was completely void of intent. He had learned to read the subtleties in the way people spoke, but he could not penetrate this whisper.

He decided to expose himself.

“Who are you? I can’t see anything!” His voice was coarse, even in whisper. It had been some time since he’d spoken a word to anyone.

“If you want my help you have to come to my voice.”

He fell silent again. He could no longer hide here. He had been found, by this… voice, this voice with no origin or intent… this utterly unreadable voice. Beyond the darkness were those that wanted to find and hurt him, this he knew. Also he knew that he could not outrun them forever. To trust this voice, this whisper, however, was beyond his capability.

“How do I know you won’t hurt me?” He whispered, gulping.

“You don’t.”

He wanted to laugh. He wanted to cry out, to strike out. What arrogance this voice had, offering nothing in exchange! Not even a platitude of helpfulness, just this cold statement! His hands were shaking, his heart was near exploding in his chest.

“Leave me alone,” he whispered to the dark.

“If you think you can do this alone, I will.”

He cleared his throat, tried to steady his heart.

“How do I know you’ll help me?”

“I told you I would.”

“That’s not good enough!”

He was met with silence. He listened for a rustle, a breath, nothing.

“Hello?” He said to the darkness.

“I won’t wait here forever. You make the choice. Stay here or come to me.”

He leaned against the tree, exhausted. He thought for a moment. He knew what was beyond the darkness, what waited out there in the trees. He knew what would likely happen if he continued on his own – failure and capture… defeat and death. Nobody beat those kinds of odds without a little help. And here was this… empty voice. Offering him help. This was one direction to which he did not know the outcome.

“You still there?”

“Yes.”

He stepped forward.

Jan 2, 2017 #inking #comics #storytelling

It's going to take a minute to get used to writing a 7 rather than a 6... Anyway, here's a little bit of inking talk.

So after the pencils have been laid down, the FUN begins! With this particular story I decided the wavy lines of hand drawn borders would add to the rugged bare bones-ness I was looking for, so I drew the panel borders freehand with a pen. Generally I avoid using a pen whenever possible, as I'm a diehard brush man. I also tend to avoid using white paint, and prefer to establish negative space while laying down the blacks. Here, though, I used the white paint to do the razor wire - then wondered why I didn't use it more - before putting it back in the drawer to be not used again. Most of the textures I like to implement while inking were established by the '50s by masters like Jack Davis, Will Eisner, Wally Wood, etc. O'Barr and I share a deep love and respect for the old EC war books, TWO-FISTED TALES and FRONTLINE COMBAT, and wanted to emulate that feel with this puppy. So in the snow, rather than leaving it pure white space, I couldn't resist putting in a few wavy Kurtzman lines to signify clumps; most of my lighting techniques are ripped off from old Spirit books. In fact, there might not be anything original on this page! Ah, wise King Solomon was right. HOWEVER - it's all about using what works to tell the story you're telling. Hopefully this portrays the kind of grit and gruel we were going for. After the inks are down I erased those damned pencil lines and scanned the page in, usually at least 400 dpi, and submit it to the editor. Hopefully they like it! No, hopefully it blows their minds. I think our editor on this was nervous but kind about it.

So after the pencils have been laid down, the FUN begins! With this particular story I decided the wavy lines of hand drawn borders would add to the rugged bare bones-ness I was looking for, so I drew the panel borders freehand with a pen. Generally I avoid using a pen whenever possible, as I'm a diehard brush man. I also tend to avoid using white paint, and prefer to establish negative space while laying down the blacks. Here, though, I used the white paint to do the razor wire - then wondered why I didn't use it more - before putting it back in the drawer to be not used again.

Most of the textures I like to implement while inking were established by the '50s by masters like Jack Davis, Will Eisner, Wally Wood, etc. O'Barr and I share a deep love and respect for the old EC war books, TWO-FISTED TALES and FRONTLINE COMBAT, and wanted to emulate that feel with this puppy. So in the snow, rather than leaving it pure white space, I couldn't resist putting in a few wavy Kurtzman lines to signify clumps; most of my lighting techniques are ripped off from old Spirit books. In fact, there might not be anything original on this page! Ah, wise King Solomon was right. HOWEVER - it's all about using what works to tell the story you're telling. Hopefully this portrays the kind of grit and gruel we were going for.

After the inks are down I erased those damned pencil lines and scanned the page in, usually at least 400 dpi, and submit it to the editor. Hopefully they like it! No, hopefully it blows their minds. I think our editor on this was nervous but kind about it.

Dec 29, 2016 I'm A Terrible Blogger #pencilling #comics #art

If anyone is paying attention, you must have realized by now that I'm awful at "blogging". Most likely I've been dispensing my personal brand of wit and wisdom through other various "social media outlets", and hopefully you've found me on one of the 3 I frequent. If not, MY BAD.

Anyhoo, Christmas has come and gone and now the New Year is upon us. Been a miserable ride for most of the world lately, and I won't get into my personal opinions here (most of you know how I feel about things anyway), but I'll try and post some more art as the New Year progresses. After all, it's about all we've got left! (Slipped an opinion in there)

So here is the 2nd level of page creation (according to my process, 3rd if I wasn't writing the page)... THE PENCILS! In this particular instance I worked on 100lb Bristol paper, unlined. I'd recommend using a better quality paper if you can, I worked with what I could afford here at the time. In the end I don't think it makes much of a difference other than finesse and time (I've heard stories that the paper Jack Kirby used was so cheap and pulpy that a certain inker had to literally IRON them down before he could lay any ink), so use what you can afford! At this time I was using a regular old #2 pencil, like the one us old fogies used to fill in "Scantron®" tests, because I didn't know any better. These days I use a blue pencil, which saves an incredible amount of time due to NOT ERASING. I can't tell you the hours spent erasing after inking, then having to clean it more in photoshop when it'd been scanned. With the blue pencil it's a matter of erasing the blue lines in the computer, and poof! they're gone. But again, here I was just using a standard pencil. As you can see here, I went ahead and wrote the lettering in there. The publisher was a little taken aback by this, as it is far from standard these days to include letters in the art, but that's the only way I knew how to do these things. I felt (and still do) that it's part of the composition and should be treated as such, and thankfully (with the weight of O'Barr behind me) the publisher accepted this with no problem at all. I just wish I were better at it. So now it's all laid out (I darkened them in photoshop for the publisher's sake) and ready for ink! Yay!

So here is the 2nd level of page creation (according to my process, 3rd if I wasn't writing the page)... THE PENCILS! In this particular instance I worked on 100lb Bristol paper, unlined. I'd recommend using a better quality paper if you can, I worked with what I could afford here at the time. In the end I don't think it makes much of a difference other than finesse and time (I've heard stories that the paper Jack Kirby used was so cheap and pulpy that a certain inker had to literally IRON them down before he could lay any ink), so use what you can afford!

At this time I was using a regular old #2 pencil, like the one us old fogies used to fill in "Scantron®" tests, because I didn't know any better. These days I use a blue pencil, which saves an incredible amount of time due to NOT ERASING. I can't tell you the hours spent erasing after inking, then having to clean it more in photoshop when it'd been scanned. With the blue pencil it's a matter of erasing the blue lines in the computer, and poof! they're gone. But again, here I was just using a standard pencil.

As you can see here, I went ahead and wrote the lettering in there. The publisher was a little taken aback by this, as it is far from standard these days to include letters in the art, but that's the only way I knew how to do these things. I felt (and still do) that it's part of the composition and should be treated as such, and thankfully (with the weight of O'Barr behind me) the publisher accepted this with no problem at all. I just wish I were better at it.

So now it's all laid out (I darkened them in photoshop for the publisher's sake) and ready for ink! Yay!

Nov 18, 2016

I'm not sure what I have this blog for, since I have facebook, twitter and instagram accounts, but I'm going to figure it out. Perhaps it would be a good place to share information on my process rather than to simply showcase art. The art is floating about, and it's bound to settle somewhere on this site, so I think I'd like to use this blog to explain some of the things about comic art and storytelling that I've learned in my limited time. For the now, here's an example of my "breakdowns".

This is from the very first page of "THE CROW: SKINNING THE WOLVES", and it's unique in that James gave me plenty of freedom in the storytelling. I detailed the process in the trade paperback, but I'll try and go through it a little more here. This is how I usually approach a page. I find a piece of scrap paper and work it out in ballpoint or pen; no pencils, otherwise I'd be inclined to perfect it and that's not the point. For me the breakdowns are from the gut, and the fine tuning comes later. If I'm responsible for dialog I'll write it in the side and use loose balloons in the panel to try and make it work with the composition of the art. This page is a little bit of a cheat, as it's really a "splash" broken down into panels to signify a camera move. The idea is to start with the snowflake and the eye follows it down, presumably into this hand, which (reading left to right), follows with a pan over to the soldier with his weapon at the ready.

This is from the very first page of "THE CROW: SKINNING THE WOLVES", and it's unique in that James gave me plenty of freedom in the storytelling. I detailed the process in the trade paperback, but I'll try and go through it a little more here.

This is how I usually approach a page. I find a piece of scrap paper and work it out in ballpoint or pen; no pencils, otherwise I'd be inclined to perfect it and that's not the point. For me the breakdowns are from the gut, and the fine tuning comes later. If I'm responsible for dialog I'll write it in the side and use loose balloons in the panel to try and make it work with the composition of the art. This page is a little bit of a cheat, as it's really a "splash" broken down into panels to signify a camera move. The idea is to start with the snowflake and the eye follows it down, presumably into this hand, which (reading left to right), follows with a pan over to the soldier with his weapon at the ready.

On Standing Rock #NoDAPL #Mni Wiconi #waterislife

I haven't drawn anything all week. In fact, I brought a sketchbook with me on my trip to North Dakota and I didn't touch it once. Barely looked at my phone. I went up there with a couple of my sisters to drop off the few supplies we could figure to bring and help out any way we could with the Standing Rock Sioux and their struggle against the pipeline. I knew we were only going to be there long enough to drop the stuff off, check things out, and come back home.

I feel guilty that I'm not still there.

If you don't know what's going on, here it is in a nutshell: A pipeline is being built on disputed land. It was supposed to go through Bismarck but Bismarck didn't want that poison near them, so they brought it right up to the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation. The land it's going through is, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, Sioux land. They're building it anyway. The Sioux camped out in its way and were met with billy clubs, sonic weapons, tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bag guns, mace, arrest, attack dogs and more. There are currently over 250 tribes camped out there, along with all types from all over the world. The Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL) has the Sheriff's Dept, local police, National Guard and militarized mercenaries in the form of "security" there to get them to move.

The Governor who dispatched the National Guard has stock in the pipeline. So does the Sheriff. So does Donald Trump, apparently to the tune of some $100,000,000 or so. President Obama and all the Federal constituencies have stood back, saying essentially to "ride it out, see what happens".

And that oil? We'll never see it. It's to be sold to foreign interests.

The Sioux and their relatives on the camp call it not a protest but "protection" of Earth. If that pipeline ruptures (which is almost a guarantee) it will contaminate an aquifer that supplies water to the entire Midwest. The ENTIRE MIDWEST. That includes the Mississippi, all the way down to the Gulf Of Mexico.

These guys are digging their heels in, and the cold weather is around the corner. Trump's announcement of Presidency is not a good sign. President Obama's indifference is not a good sign. The enormous amount of power behind the pipeline is mind boggling. But these folks are digging in for a long winter, no matter what.

I stopped up there for two days to drop off winter gear and some solar stuff I'd been able to put together, along with some other junk I hope they needed. I planned on dropping it off and turning around, but we stuck around for a couple days and I saw things, beautiful things, heard amazing things, that I will take with me forever. Also saw some rugged, scary things.

I saw the sniper aiming at my face from the disputed bridge, saw the ATVs at the hilltop keeping the buffalo in a barbed wire confinement without food or water. I heard the helicopter in the "no fly zone", buzzing over the camp into the early morning, and the constant droning of a plane with no lights flying above, while everyone's phone mysteriously goes crazy. I saw the massive SWAT vehicle with the sonic weapon on its roof, the barbed wire, the men on the hillside watching us through binoculars or scopes.

I listened to stories about the raid, when they pulled men and women out of teepees and sacred sweat lodges near naked and after arresting them confined them to what were essentially dog kennels. I heard about the sacred items that were smashed, urinated and defecated on, and left on the side of the road in a pile. I heard many, many things.

There were other things I saw and heard, like the Elders during the morning prayer talk of possible infiltrators from DAPL. They told us, "If you see someone suspicious, invite him to sit by the fire and have a cup of coffee. Talk to him." TALK TO HIM. He told us about the cycle, and that our ancestors have been through worse, and this was our time. He said things that make my eyes well up even now, thinking about it. He called everyone his relatives. All were welcome at the camp, no matter race, religion, or sexual orientation. Weapons, alcohol and drugs were not. The slogan, heard passionately yelled out from time to time, is Mni Wiconi. "Water Is Life". It felt like a final stand for things beyond my comprehension and way beyond my control. Everyone was united for the purpose of protecting the water, the earth, the future.

Never have I been anywhere like that place. I am half Irish, half Ho-Chunk and I don't talk about it often because it's been a complicated part of my life and introduces uncomfortable conversations that I usually just don't want to deal with. But being in that camp made me realize some things. We ARE all brothers and sisters. This planet IS sacred, and we MUST do what we can to protect it. And if you feel, if you KNOW in your heart that what you are doing is true and good, you can be fearless in the face of anything. I've SEEN it.

I wanted to share that last part with you because we are living in a time of massive change. If I spend more than 5 minutes on social media I'm convinced we're all doomed. Even now I have a nugget of discomfort in my belly, and hopelessness creeps up. What I felt out there in Standing Rock was a oneness that I've never experienced before, a singleness of purpose that was so simple and so profound that it seemed to encapsulate every problem in the world and solve it for me as well. Protect the earth. Love each other. If I know in my heart that I am doing what is good and true, and harming no one, I can be fearless.

By no means am I perfect. I'm a grumpy, angry man with more character defects than I can list here without turning it into a Tolstoy novel. But I felt a strange hope for the first time in a WHILE up there. Not hope that everything's going to be okay, because it probably won't. Hope that just doing the right thing will lift this pain, this fear, this hate. That loving my fellows (as well as I can), loving the earth, will justify me in a way that goes beyond the material world.

Next week will be a tough one for the folks up there, and they can use your help. My suggestion would be to contribute to their Legal Defense Fund, because it's a pretty much guaranteed arrest to go against that law enforcement. If you can donate any kind of cold weather gear, that would be helpful as well. Here's their website, which has all the ways you can help:

http://standingrock.org/

Sorry for the long "blog", but I've been chewing on this for a while. I hope I can be, in the future days, nearly as good as I saw them be. I hope I can sustain the vitality they gave me in the face of the adversity to come. I hope I can be a good guy.

Nov 2, 2016

Welp, it's been a weird year and much of the weirdness will be coming to a head soon! I'm trying not to let all the outside weirdness hit me too hard, and you should do the same! Inner weirdness is about all I can handle most of the time, and it's usually spilling over the side of the cup anyway. Weird!

On a non-weird note, I am finally going to open up a little store on the site here, and sell a few original pieces a month through it. So if you've always wanted some original art here is the place, soon is the time!

Here's some weird art to occupy you in the meanwhile.

10/22/16 #inktober

Well, folks, it has been a while since I posted anything here on the ol' website, and a lot has transpired. Went to NYCC and had a great time, met some incredible comics fans and got to hang out in that indescribable city for a bit, then went to the opposite end of the country for an insane concert in the middle of the desert. I then returned to Chicago and have been sick ever since! Also came home to about $350 in parking tickets because Chicago wanted me to stay humble, I suppose. Ah well, now it's finally back to work time and aside from a few tasty things brewing on the old burner I've reinvested myself into a project that constantly lingers in the back of my mind.

Here's a little sample of one of the new characters, BARRGOTH.

9-9-16 #CincyComiCon!!!!

Hey folks, just getting the truck packed up to roll on down to CincyComiCon in Cincinnati! I'll have original art (including sequential pages), books, prints, and I'll be doing a few commissions as well. I love this show, as it is stuffed to the gills with folks much more talented than myself and I've left it feeling inspired and revved up. Swing on out and support a show about COMICS and the people who make them!

Here's some art. I'll have the original there if you want to check it out.

8/24/16

So I'm just gearing up for CinciComicon, coming up soon Sept. 9-11. I'll have original art, graphic novels, and prints for sale as well as a sketch list. If you'd like a pre-show commission hit me up here! In the meanwhile, here's a western/horror illo just for kicks.