And Now a Word From Our Sponsor by David S. Atkinson

I walked back to the dry goods storage shelves in the back of the kitchen and started counting the boxes of napkins again. The restaurant was slow and Lance wanted me checking dry goods inventory when we were slow. He was sure someone was swiping. No one did. No one stole crap from employers since the Shrinkage Act of 2009 made it punishable by death.

Stupid recession. Stupid shit job.

Still, it could have been worse. Could have been no job. Or, I could have been checking patties in the walk in freezer like Fred. At least I wasn’t frost bit.

Lance took the place so damn seriously since they made him shift manager. As if that meant he didn’t work at a Burger King like the rest of us. We all pretended to be gung ho; Lance was gullible enough to fall for it. And he was in charge, even if that was in charge of nothing.

The napkins were all there, except the ones we’d actually used. One napkin per purchase. Rationing. No free lunch; no free napkins. I would have to count again later.

I did see something weird as I was counting, though. It wasn’t the actual wall behind the dry goods shelf; it was a back tacked on to the metal rails that just made it look like the wall. I’d never noticed that before. Why would someone do that? The boxes couldn’t fall out through the wall. No need to brace them. What was behind it?

I pulled the shelf out a little ways and some dude sprung out from some hole carved in masonry back there like a trapdoor spider. One of the big ones. I almost screamed, but the guy grabbed me and put a sharpened spork to my throat before I could.

“Any sound and I end you,” he whispered angrily, spitting a little.

He was a little guy, but fast. Ragged, old looking. He had on a dirty, faded grey suit. The pant bottoms were flooded and he had on white athletic socks with scuffed black dress shoes. His head was shaved bald, nicked here and there like he’d been cutting it himself with the spork, and thick-rimmed glasses with big assed fish eye lenses covered most of his face. He was a nerd gone native.

Who was this guy?

Mind you, I was thinking all that and I wasn’t I’d about pissed myself when he jumped out and I wasn’t doing much better after that with the sharpened spork at my throat.

“Think you found me, dead man?” The freak kept talking. “They all want to find me. They all want the five grand and entry into the drawing for a million just for being in the restaurant when I’m found. Never had a burger here? Man…what do you think I’ve been eating back here all these years?”

What the hell was the guy babbling about? The spork point made it kind of hard to think straight.

“You didn’t find me; I found you. Nobody finds me. I kill them first. I’ll kill them all with my bare hands.”

That’s when it hit me. How could I have missed it? Dorky outfit? Five grand for finding him in the restaurant? Never at a Burger King burger? Drawing for a million if you’re there when he’s found? I knew this dude. Everyone did…or at least they used to.

“Herb?” I asked, trying not to move my neck enough to get stabbed. “That you?”

“You know it’s me,” he growled. “There’s probably a cardboard cutout of me standing in the lobby right now. You know my face.”

I couldn’t believe it. The guy really didn’t know. He’d crawled in that hole thirty some odd years ago and didn’t know the war was over. Never surrendered, never taken, never compromised. Dude was a hero, the last soldier still fighting.

“Herb,” I said gentler, respectfully, “that’s all gone now. It’s been gone for a long time. The Burger Wars are finished.”

He paused. I could feel him thinking, panicking. I didn’t move, not sure if he’d even listen. Maybe he’d gone crazy in there. I wouldn’t want to get a hero like him hurt over a misunderstanding. I didn’t want him to hurt me either, which seemed more likely.

Eventually, he let me go. He pushed me away quick, spinning me around so I faced him. The sharpened spork still brandished in my direction. Wary. His eyes darted paranoid around him and all around behind the kitchen, trying to take everything in at once.

“You feeding me a line? What’s the game here?”

“It’s over, Herb,” I reassured him. “You can relax.”

He blinked. He gritted his teeth and his grip on the spork tightened. “Who won?”

I shrugged. “Nobody, Herb. It turned into sort of a cold war. The two superpowers slammed away at each other, but nothing was going anywhere. No lasting victories. All the while, barbarians trickled in and chipped away at both of them.”

His eyes widened. Fear.

“Not literally! Deli sandwiches. Chicken. Chinese food. Burritos. Neither of the powers were strong enough to end the other and fighting left them open to the little guys. It was hopeless. President George Foreman finally got them to sit down and call truce, in the interests of the cheeseburger. It was better for everyone.”

He sagged, but it seemed like a mix of disappointment and relief. Maybe more relief than anything else. His grip on the sharpened spork lessened.

“Really? It’s done? I can come out from back there? No one is hunting me anymore?” His head tilted a little to the left. He looked that happy kind of stunned.

“Really, man. They declared amnesty for all soldiers. You’re safe now. There’s nothing more to worry about.”

It jazzed me to be the one to give him the good news, to see that smile start to creep across his face as the weight of thirty years lifted form his shoulders. War over or not, the dude was a bad ass. It was cool I could be the one to do that for him.

“Wow,” he muttered. “Wow.”

“Hard to process all at once?” I smiled.

“Yeah. I mean, I’ve been in there alone for…what? Years? Way too long. Then it’s all just done and the world is all sunshine and rainbows. How does a man even shift like that?”

“Just take things one moment at a time, man,” I replied. “Just take it as it comes. Think–what was the first thing you wanted to do when the war was over? What’s the first thing you’re going to do in the post war world?”

He grinned. Big. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to get me a Pepsi, would you? I’ve been dreaming about one all the time I’ve been stuck back in this kitchen. All I can think about is finally having one now.”

I, literally, felt my jaw clench as that son of a bit dared to say that. My throat burned with stomach acid boiling up my esophagus and I swear my vision actually went red. The fucker. He actually had the fucking gall to say that.

I snapped my wrist up and pressed the crown on my ‘polar bears drinking soda’ watch. I heard a TING! as the glass capsule inside shattered. Then a small compressed gas jet shot the prussic acid powder into that smug bastard’s face.

Herb gasped, sucking the powder right into his lungs. Stupid bastard. He gagged, his pale face going bluish. He clutched at his throat vainly. It wouldn’t do him any good. Neither would that damn spork. He fell.

“The cola wars are over too, Herb,” I told his corpse. Prussic acid worked fast. I spat on his body. “Maybe you should have thought to ask about that. It’s over and we make sure what we say is respectful toward the great master Coca-Cola. Asshole.”

A literary triumph from ‘the next great American writer’

I subscribe to things. That’s what I do. When I was promised free books by Netgalley, I subscribed. I had no idea that I was about to be blessed with an email offer to read “a literary triumph from ‘the next great American writer.’” Oh… my… God.

Not only is Benjamin Whitmer “‘the next great American writer’” but, in the lede of the email, we’re told that he’s written his “literary triumph” “in the tradition of Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown.”

At first, I thought it was some hack publicist at Simon & Schuster hanging this albatross around the dude’s neck:
“Hey, he writes about rednecks… let’s compare him to Larry Brown and Cormac McCarthy! Hell, let’s say he’s better than Faulkner!”
“Faulkner?”
“Ah, forget it. Let’s just stick with Brown and McCarthy.”

But visit his website, and behold! He’s wallowing in his hubris there. Why, he’s up for all sorts of Frenchie awards: Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, Prix des Balais d’or 2013, and Le Festival International du Film Policier de Beaune. Fancy!

My novel, Shake Loose the Dust From Thy Shoes and Trod Off On a Vast Country Road in Search of Whiskey and Meaning: An Allegory, is better. My protagonist, Toad, has syphilis AND a meth addiction. Toad keeps his girlfriend, Rose, locked up in the bedroom during the day. She doesn’t mind. Toad and Rose beltwhip each other for fun before heading off to the Pentecostal church to speak in tongues. Then she heads over to the truckstop to do some light whoring before Toad clubs her customers with an ax handle. The bodies of dead truckers are stacked like cordwood beneath the floorboards of their shotgun shack. The sheriff comes by on occasion to scratch his head at Toad’s collection of big rigs, parked higgledy-piggledy on his weed-choked lawn next to his collection of lawn jockeys and rat-infested living room furniture. The couple finally gets caught in the act, and Toad and Rose end up being electrocuted together (she sits in his lap, just like in that Bruce Springsteen song!).

My novel won the Prix de Pain au Beurre et du Vin from the Ligue Française des Intellectuels at their annual conference in the Gare du Nord rail station in Paris. I wear the medal around my neck while I write. It’s as big as a dinner plate. The reflection off it once brought down a small aircraft, setting its wing on fire.

I AM MELVILLE! Who are you, Whitmer? Larry Brown? Cormac McCarthy? I am HAWTHORNE, fucker! And TWAIN! With a smattering of Thomas Wolfe, Katherine Anne Porter, Robert Penn Warren and Tennessee Williams! But mainly MELVILLE! Fall on your knees before my GODLIKE PROSE! Tremble!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must enjoy my favorite beverage–a mixture of Jim Beam, Southern Comfort and Rose’s Lime Juice served in a one-quart Mason jar, best served cold with a half-dozen hand-rolled, shag-tobacco smokes while singing the Carter Family’s “Worried Man Blues.”

 

The History Of A Dog. Written By Himself, And Published By A Gentleman Of His Acquaintance. Translated From The French.

100 Actual Novel Titles from Real Eighteenth-Century Novels as Presented by the Good Fellows at The Toast, being a Blog Presented Through the Complex of Websites Known as The Internet as Translated by Google, a Company That Doth Claim to do No Evil.

And good day, sir! I said, “Good day”!

Wisconsin’s obsession with culinary suicide

The latest food atrocity out of Wisconsin–home of the Italian Sausage Lollipop, Chocolate Covered Bacon-on-a-Stick, deep-fried cheese curds–is the Chicken Fried Bloody Beast, a Bloody Mary featuring an entire fried chicken as a garnish, among other things (yes, those are bacon-wrapped jalapeño cheese balls).

Place the “drink” on the table, and slowly step away from it. The HAZMAT team will be here shortly.

Enjoy your massive coronaries, Wisconsin fatties! More at UPI.

Speaking of “…on a stick…” that’s how most Wisconsinites wash themselves.

The Things They Carried

“What is the spirit of the battle axe?” To kill!

The Telegraph has a wonderful slideshow of soldiers’ kits from British history, what the U.S. Army used to call (unhelpfully) “TA-50.” It’s my understanding that these kits always ended up weighing about 70 pounds, whether you were a hoplite from ancient Greece or a paratrooper in Desert Storm. More at the Telegraph.

…Afghanistan…

Notes on Gravity

I hate space!

1. Gravity is a movie starring Sandra Bullock as an astronaut. George Clooney is also an astronaut. They don’t have sex. Their spacecraft blows up. So does the International Space Station. And the Hubble Space Telescope. Clooney dies off camera. Etc. More about this humdinger on the official page here.

2. I was never worried that Sandra Bullock wouldn’t make it–Hollywood.

3. I don’t think the experience was meant for my 17-inch TV.

4. I’m not a scientist… but I found some of the space physics to be off.

5. Sandra Bullock owes the United States, Russia and China each one spacecraft. I’m sure SpaceX can cut her a deal.

6. I wanted Sandra Bullock to be confronted by the ghost of Gus Grissom (played by Fred Ward) at the end, who tells her that she’s actually dead. “You ever read ‘Occurrence at Owk Creek Bridge‘?” Grissom asks her. “Good story. This lie you told yourself? Not so much.” He points up. “Hey, there you are burning up on reentry!” A little white streak crosses the sky. 

You’ve got it all wrong, the issue here ain’t pussy. The issue here is monkey.

Big Fat Hands of Iron

On a glorious American morning, Goobly Gorbus strolled through the park admiring the dew sparkling on the flowers. His hands were jammed into his hip pockets. He walked with the careless arrogance of one well pleased with himself. He’d written an especially inflammatory poem the night before excoriating the government’s policies in Latin America. It was so hard to find a rhyme for “Nicaragua,” but he’d overcome that hurdle with the phrase “mal agua.” He thought that was surpassingly clever. He breathed deeply of the soft morning air and strolled casually and more than just a bit elegantly, he thought, around the corner toward the duck pond. Perhaps he’d find some inspiration there. Something in the way the ducks squawked and quacked reminded him of Congressmen debating a bill.

He was so lost in a daydream of the furor his poem would raise once it was published in his personal zine that he nearly walked into The Man, also strolling through the park.

The Man nodded. “Gorbus,” he said. “Good morning.”

Goobly nodded. He loathed The Man. Best not waste any words on the likes of him, he thought.

The corners of The Man’s eyes crinkled. “Feeling a bit haughty this morning?” He laughed. “That’s okay. I know you dislike me, but I don’t care.”

Goobly rolled his eyes and The Man laughed again. “I don’t care that you don’t like me,” The Man said, “but it’s important to me that you know I don’t care.” He regarded Goobly through lidded eyes. “What do you think of that?”

Goobly snorted. “What do I think? I’ll show you what I think.” He spun on his heels rather gracefully, even though he stumbled a bit, and dropped his pants. He aimed his pale buttocks at The Man and loosed a shrill, wavering, tooting fart. “Ha!” he shouted, pulling up his britches. “That’s what I think.” He folded his arms over his chest and regarded The Man.

The Man hooted. “You’re such a tease.” He stuck the tip of his thumb into his mouth. His eyes bulged and his cheeks puffed. Just as his face began to purple, his entire body burst inside out with a horrible wet plop and everted into a gigantic pulsating veiny wet and dripping rectum.

Gorbus grimaced. “That’s disgusting!” he cried.

“Oh, now,” The Man said. “Don’t be a ninny.” His face was embedded within the slick side of his rectal wall. “I’m merely embodying the natural state of our society.”

Goobly rolled his eyes. “So now you’re symbolic, is that it?”

The Man’s eyes widened in sincerity. “Exactly,” he said. “Thank you for pointing that out. You see–”

“Oh, look!” a child’s voice cried. “A slippery slide!”

Several more children’s voices cried out.

“Yeah!”

“Cool!”

“Neato!”

Multicolored carnival lights suddenly appeared on The Man’s body, chasing each other over the curves and folds of his monstrously distended rectum. A cheerful organ tune burbled and bubbled. The enticing smell of popcorn and elephant ears and corn dogs filled the breeze. The lights and the music and the warm scents hypnotized Goobly for just a moment. The Man looked just like a carnival ride, even though in reality he looked nothing like a carnival ride.

“Come on, kids!” The Man shouted in a carnival barker’s voice. “Brave the slippery slide! Do you have what it takes? Thrills, chills, and spills await you if only you have the nerve!”

They came from all over the park. Some were running, but most of them just waddled. “That’s so sad,” The Man said, breaking the carnival illusion in Goobly’s eyes. “They have great hand-eye coordination from playing their video games for hours every day, but their asses are all double wide.”

Goobly watched the children converge on The Man. Red-faced and puffing, they lurched and waddled, heaved and gasped. Their double chins wagged, their bellies sagged, and each child’s four cheeks jiggled like mounds of jello. “Hey,” Goobly called.     “What are you–”

“Ssshhh…” The Man breathed. “Suffer the little children to come to me.”

A boy appeared atop The Man. From Goobly’s perspective, the boy appeared to rise over The Man’s bulk like a bloated moon over a landfill. He might have been beautiful in another life–corn silk hair, pale blue eyes, full red lips–but in this life he was a swollen little troll, a grotesque avatar of sloth, gluttony, greed, and the ready availability of processed foods. His wheezing gasps bellowsed. He tottered above The Man grinning triumphantly, then dove headfirst into the horrible gaping fundament.

“Hey, wait!” Goobly cried to no avail.

Shrieking and giggling, the children clambered over The Man’s slick wet rectum to explore the gaping orifice at its top. “Get down from there!” Goobly yelled. “That’s disgusting! Get out of there!”

“Shut up, loser,” said a fat little girl. Mucous, blood, and feces smeared her face. She reached inside the sphincter, grabbed a polyp, and pulled herself inside.

“Yeah, loser,” The Man chuckled. “Don’t interfere with things you don’t understand.”

In a crescendo of delighted shrieks, the mass of children disappeared into The Man’s lower descending colon. His eyelids fluttered in pleasure. “Aaahhh…” he breathed. “Young American innocence tastes so sweet.”

“Unbelievable!” Goobly shouted. He clasped his hands to his head. “Those kids climbed inside you! They’re up your ass!”

The Man laughed. “Of course they’re up my ass. How else will they be changed?” Peristaltic contractions rippled up and down his abdominal wall. A few miserable screams sounded from deep in his belly. “Not to worry,” he said. “Of course, we lose some in the process, but we think the sacrifice is worth it.”

Goobly fell back a step, holding his hands up as if to defend himself. “This is crazy,” he said. “You’re a monster.”

The Man shook his head. “You’d better get with the program, Gorbus. I’m the bedrock of society. I do the hard jobs no one else has the, um, intestinal fortitude to do.” He tittered. “Why, I’m all that stands between you and despair. If not for me, then we’d be overrun by the likes of you, and then what?”

Goobly stepped forward, his index finger raised to make a point, but then a grasping hand popped out from The Man’s mouth and clutched at his chin. The cords in its forearms stretched and strained. Goobly saw a face in the darkness at the back of The Man’s throat. The face grimaced desperately as the hand clutched and pulled at The Man’s chin, trying to heave its way free from The Man’s gullet. The Man closed his mouth and swallowed mightily. A huge lump disappeared with a despairing scream down The Man’s throat.

“A few of them always try to buck the system,” he said with an indulgent smile, “but resistance is futile.”

“You stole that line!” Goobly shouted, pointing a shaking finger in The Man’s face.

The Man swatted Goobly’s finger away and chuckled. “No,” he said. “I wrote that line. I’m like God. All things serve me and I move in mysterious ways.”

The great purple lump of The Man’s everted rectum quivered and burped and spewed a frothy fountain of blood. Goobly leaped back with a cry. “What was that?” he demanded, his shaking voice thin and shrill.

The Man shrugged. “Just as a few of them always try to buck the system, a few of them are inevitably swallowed by the system, never to be seen again.” A single tear tracked slowly down his cheek. He wiped it away and studied the tear glistening on his forefinger for a moment. Then he flicked it away. “They’re weak,” he said, “not fit to participate in our grand experiment.” He dropped into a crouch and shuffled sideways pumping his arms. “Ya gotta break a few eggs,” he rasped, then spun around and shuffled back toward Goobly. “If you want to make a good omelet.” He snapped upright and grinned. “Hot cha cha cha!” Blood dripped from his rectum and pattered across his face. He rubbed it into his cheeks and grinned. “Keeps me lookin’ young,” he beamed.

A grasping hand popped out from his distended anus and groped for purchase. Slowly a shoulder emerged and then a head heaved forth. The child pulled himself from The Man’s rectum and slid to the ground. He wiped grue from his eyes and blinked rapidly. His sides bellowsed a few times as he caught his breath. He stepped forward and extended his hand. “Thank you, sir,” he said, soberly shaking The Man’s hand. “You’ve made a man of me.” He turned and marched off.

“Where’s he going?” Goobly asked.

“The Man smiled tenderly. “Oh, to be that young again,” he said. “He’s going boldly forth into the corporate world to occupy an uncomfortable chair in a vast cubicle farm. He’ll make a fantastic cog in a great corporate machine. Give me half a million of these obedient little robots and the profits will soar. Oh…” He choked up a bit. He smiled and cleared his throat. “It makes me feel ever so patriotic.”

He farted, a long, low blast that resonated deep in the bass register and sounded rather painful. His face reddened. “Please do excuse me,” he said. “You’re about to witness a paradigm shift.”

The children climbed out from his pulsing rectum. Singly at first, then in small groups, and finally in a great flood they emerged blinking from The Man’s bowels, wiping the sticky residue of his last meal from their eyes and digging the foul offal from their ears. Goobly heard their chatter. “Finally,” one fresh-faced young girl said to her mates, “I can see. What’s good for The Man is good for me.”

Her companions giggled. “That would make a great advertising jingle,” exclaimed a young man with a sweater draped casually over his shoulders.

The fresh-faced girl laughed. “So it would,” she agreed. They all laughed and linked arms and marched away.

The last of the children disappeared down the street. The Man’s everted rectum shrunk and shriveled and disappeared into his nether regions where it belonged. He stood, arms folded across his chest, beaming happily. “There they go,” he said, “the followers of tomorrow. May God bless them.” He turned to Goobly. “So,” he said, frowning. “What about you? What’s your story? How did I fail to catch you?”

Goobly backed away. “Oh, no no no,” he said. “I’m not crawling up your ass. I don’t want to be like them.”

The Man shook his head. “No, it’s too late for you. I want to know how you escaped. It troubles me that so many grown men and women will never know the sublime joy of working for the greater good.” He spread his arms. “Come, tell me.”

Goobly shook his head. “You’re disgusting.”

The Man roared laughter. “Oh my.” He grinned. “Oh my my! You are naïve, aren’t you! I think that’s cute. I could just eat you up.” His grin grew even wider.

Goobly backed away shaking his head. “I’ll expose you,” he said, thrusting his jaw forward.

The Man doubled over laughing. “What are you gonna do? Oh, I know! You’ll start a blog!” He shrieked laughter. “You’ll spread sarcastic internet memes! You’ll get a facebook page!” His laughter spiraled higher and higher, piercing the sky.

The Man laughed. He laughed long and loud and hard. He laughed last and he laughed best. The smug bastard.

Werner Herzog interview

When I see those words (above), “Werner Herzog interview,” I immediately look for the link and click vigorously–mit Elan. Because Werner Herzog always gives wonderful interviews. This one, over at Vulture, is no exception. He talks about ecstatic truth, little people, Klaus Kinski shooting a hut full of extras with a Winchester, Muhammad Ali, Mel Brooks, David Lynch, languages vanishing thanks to tourism (but not tourism by foot), and how happy he was to grow up without a father.

Herzog and Kinski
People let me tell you ’bout my best friend, He’s a warm hearted person who’ll love me till the end.

Thanks, god. Thanks, god. What a blessing! What a blessing that there was not a Nazi as a father around telling me what to do and how to conquer Russia! And how to be a racist! Thanks, god! I thank god on my knees everyday.

Enough waiting: Here’s the link.

Fire Walk With Me

Twin Peaks tat
Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song… and there’s always music in the air.

I’ll admit it: I’ve never gotten any ink. The thing is: I’ve never found an image that I wanted on my body permanently. I think that just may have changed. Over at Flavorwire, there is a great 35-slide collection of Twin Peaks tattoos. The log says, “Go get yourself a tattoo!” Shut up, log!

Hirsch love

Jedidiah Ayres, author of the excellent noir novel Peckerwood, throws some love at our very own Joseph Hirsch over at Hardboiled Wonderland. We dig you too, Jed!

Pick up a digital copy of the Paragraph Line Books original Kentucky Bestiary at Amazon.com, por favor, mis amigos. You’ll be glad you did!