Tag Archives: David S. Atkinson

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.”

In Pursuit of Art: Drinking NyQuil at Pharmacies by David S. Atkinson

You can look down me as elitist if you like, but I really am a purist. Art does not have room for compromise. Compromise dilutes art, cheapens it. Cheapened art is garbage, worth nothing. My art? I’m a NyQuil swilling wino.

Sure, guzzling un-purchased NyQuil at random store pharmacies may not be as respected as oil painting or mime, but this isn’t the renaissance. Michelangelo was of another time. Contemporary society is synthesized in the display put on by hoboes snatching cough medicine and drinking whatever possible before being thrown out. That symbolizes the degeneracy of western civilization, everything in a nutshell.

We show you yourselves.

The basic elements of the form are pleasingly simple in their minimalism. Bums sneak in and snatch NyQuil from the store shelves. Then they drink it as they rowdily misbehave until tossed. But…that’s just the framework. The art is in the improvisation, the individual interpretation that each artist brings to the display. No two should be the same, even by the same artist.

Granted, performances aren’t required to be unique. The form is technically satisfied if cough medicine, not having been paid for, is chugged and ejection results. That’s all that has to happen…but that alone isn’t art.

As I said, I’m a purist. I have standards.

Though I steadfastly maintain that there is nothing for which to blame me in this, you really can’t blame me anyway. I studied under the legendary Zelkin, perhaps the greatest syrup-swiller of all time. Who else could get a Safeway quarantined by the CDC? After that sort of beginning, you really can’t expect that I wouldn’t be exacting.

Though, the art isn’t what it once was. These are not the days of Zelkin either. I work with Chuck these days, and I’ve fallen into a rut.

Mind you, Chuck is of the old school too. An artist. However, we just aren’t performing to the level we once did. Our work used to be a thing to behold, faxed warnings and legends detailed in poor quality faxes transmitted between pharmacies across the country. Awe.

These days, unfortunately, our routines look disturbingly similar. Chuck gets naked and I blow chunks.

As I said, this worked. Following this formula, Chuck and I have gotten hammered and thrown out of respectable pharmaceutical sections all over this great land. Dallas. Reno. Council Bluffs. Humptulips. We’re among the elect few, preserving a dying breed of cutting edge performance art.

However, was it even art anymore? We seemed more like a commentary on our own decline as opposed to anyone else’s.

Perhaps the change began when NyQuil brought out cherry. It was never regarded as a flavor, it just had a flavor. Black liquorish. It was just NyQuil.

But then there was cherry, and then there was no pseudoephedrine. Sure, you could still get premium behind the counter in some places…but how were you supposed to get that without paying first? Anyway, not enough places carried it. It didn’t work, and almost shut down the whole artistic community. We just had to make do with unleaded, altered as it was, that still sat on main shelves.

Of course, there’s still enough intoxicants in there to trip balls. Dextromethorphan hydrobromide and more booze than some fortified wines. Pseudoephedrine isn’t much to give up, particularly since I never have a cold.

But still…things aren’t what they were. Attitudes have changed as well. People didn’t look on us as artists anymore, more nuisances. No one appreciated a truly inspired performance.; they called the cops instead. It was as if they weren’t really seeing us, didn’t remember why we were there.

It’s hard to be inspired when no one is paying attention. Performers become lax, fall into a formula. Soon, they’re just going through the motions.

That’s where Chuck and I were, two guys drinking someone else’s cough syrup and getting naked or puking.

Speaking of that, Chuck runs by. I see him duck behind the Band-Aid and analgesics aisle. Predictably, he’s naked. His ragged clothes are clutched in his hand and his front is coated with red and green dribblings of the NyQuil he’s already drunk.

Oh, we’re in a Target pharmacy section right now. Somewhere in the greater Duluth area, I believe. We’re in the middle of a performance; I probably should have mentioned that earlier. I’m stained with NyQuil that didn’t quite make it down my throat too.

Seeing Chuck, even though he is just naked again, I’m reminded that this denigration of our art might be more me than him. I talk about purity of form a lot, but I fell into just vomiting all the time easier than Chuck started just going starkers. It was always naked and something else, brilliant things. He pared back after I’d pared back, and even still sometimes he works in flair like he’s trying to wake me up to old glories.

So far, it hasn’t worked.

Sure enough, just as I think that, Chuck rounds the corner. Or, rather, an elderly pharmacist rounds the corner. A nude Chuck is atop his shoulders, bare crotch pressed into the back of the suburbanite’s balding grey head. Chuck is chugging NyQuil and driving the little man like a tame pony.

“Jesus is lord!” Chuck screams, red and green-flecked spittle flying everywhere. “Jesus is lord!”

Chuck’s pharmacist mount cries out in panicked pain, but there’s no mistaking the force in Chuck’s eyes as he locks gaze with me. He’s delivering a mandate, urging me.

Come on! His eyes shout. It doesn’t have to be this way. Act! We remake the world in our image. There is still art if we can but remember it.

And, for the first time in however long it’s been, Chuck reaches my core. I feel the essence in the way I used to, the art. I charge, chasing after.

Well, actually, I duck around the other way. I’m chasing, but I’m heading the pharmacist off at the pass. As he runs down the feminine hygiene aisle, I barrel down at him from the other end. His eyes go even wider as we almost collide, stopping being beyond his control.

“The power of Christ compels you!” I scream just before unleashing my Technicolor spew. My momentum and the force of the gusher blast the old man like a fire hose. Splatter city, even Chuck gets drenched.

It’s a funny time to think about this, but red and green NyQuil don’t seem to quite mix for some reason. You’d think they would, but it always looks still red and green when it comes back up…particularly on a nice white pharmaceutical coat.

You’d also probably think that I wouldn’t get fucked up off the NyQuil since I just hurl it all, but you’d be wrong about that as well. Chuck and I are both flying high by the time we’re sitting in the back of the patrol car.

Yup…arrested instead of thrown out. Nobody appreciates true art anymore; no one can recognize a real artist.

Fucking philistines.

Oh well, this isn’t just for them anyway.

There's a rabbit living under my kitchen sink…. by David S. Atkinson

There’s a rabbit that lives under my sink in the kitchen. He built a nest out of quarks and gravitons down there at the back behind my tools, cleaning products, and grocery bags. He has shag fur and diesel fuel for blood.

To the casual observer, he would look more like a penguin. They’d think: Hey, that’s a penguin with shag for fur and diesel fuel for blood living in that quark and graviton nest under that guy’s sink. However, I know it’s really a rabbit.

The rabbit knows a secret passage under the sink that leads into my walls. During the day he reads a copy of The Diary of Bridget Jones he has in his nest, but at night he slides on his belly into the secret passage and slithers around in my walls. I can hear it. I can hear him chewing on celery that the government sends him. He slides into the space in the wall behind my bed and whispers to me while I sleep.

He whispers secrets from books about the old gods and the time before the universe was born. Books written by blind, mad monks who saw too much. Books revealing things man was never means to know. He whispers secrets about the time before time to drive me mad.

I don’t know how the rabbit knows these secrets. All he reads is that damn Diary of Bridget Jones. At least he’s not whispering things from that at night. Then I really would go mad.

The rabbit doesn’t like it when I talk to the bum down the street. The bum lives under parked cars and eats discarded mint dental floss. He asks me if I have spare change when I see him. That’s to let me know that he knows. The bum knows I know about the symbols hidden on coins. He knows that I walk toward the west.

He told me about his brother’s goldmine, a way to extract it from sagebrush out in Colorado. He discovered the secret by listening to vibrations from his fillings. That’s why he insisted on the silver amalgam. The polymer invisible ones don’t vibrate right.

The CIA took the goldmine away, though. His brother had filed his claim and everything, filed it in a dentist’s office instead of the land survey to them off, but they found out anyway. The CIA manipulated the maps so the goldmine was in Wyoming instead of Utah.

The bum knows I can help. I know about longitudes and latitudes.

The rabbit doesn’t like it when I talk to the bum. He knows the bum would share the gold with me if I helped get the mine back. Then I could line my walls and not hear the rabbit whisper secrets at night. Then I’d be free from him.

I’m not worried, though. Even if I don’t get the goldmine back, I can always pretend to be a cola. Everyone knows that cola is a rabbit’s greatest fear. Have you ever seen a rabbit drink a cola? You haven’t, because rabbits fear cola more than anything else.

Even more than plastic wrap.

I’ve got that rabbit under control. I’ll let him whisper some…just to learn a few things. If I get tired of it, or need to sleep, I’ll just pretend to be a cola. That’d show him. That’d show any rabbit.

David S. Atkinson is the author of “Bones Buried in the Dirt” and the forthcoming “The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes” (EAB Publishing, spring 2014). His writing appears in “Bartleby Snopes,” “Grey Sparrow Journal,” “Interrobang?! Magazine,” “Atticus Review,” and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.

Ideas: Where to Get Them and What to Do When They Won't Leave by David S. Atkinson

People are always asking me where I get my ideas.  I’ve never really understood that.  I mean, I run into them all over the place: supermarkets, taxis, parties, begging for spare change on street corners, orgies, drunk tanks, you know…all sorts of every day places.  Frankly, the biggest problem is getting rid of the worthless ones.

For example, take the one I ran into back in March.  I was at the biannual convention in Tucson for people who like to use the word ‘nipple’ inappropriately.  Advance reports suggested this one wasn’t going to amount to much new, but I figured I’d go anyway just to get some of the obligatory networking out of the way.  Put in a little face time in the industry and what not, just to keep my name fresh in everyone’s mind.

About the time I’d had as much pointless handshaking and business card exchanging as I could stomach, I headed to the refreshment table for a well-deserved break and some free stale pretzels.  There was already an idea hanging out when I got there, opening and chugging one can of Diet Coke after another.

“Hey,” he gasped between cartridges.  “How’s it going, guy?”

“Good,” I replied perfunctorily while trying to pretend to be deeply engaged in the debate between a bear claw and a cruller.  “Not doing too bad at least.”

I was not, needless to say though I will say it anyway, anxious to get into it with this idea.  He was dressed up in faded brown corduroy and the Battle of Hastings.  The soles of his shoes were peeling off and the Magna Carta hung out of one of his torn pockets.  Clearly, he was a bad idea if I’d ever seen one.  Maybe even Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle bad.

“Working with anybody right now?”  He wiped mustard from his fingers on the checkered paper tablecloth, though none of the snacks on the table included any mustard.  “You look like a classy sort.  Maybe we should hook up sometime.”

“Sure,” I replied, stuffing pretzels into my mouth to make it clear I wasn’t really seriously considering such.  “Maybe someday.”

“Really, we should,” the idea belched.  “I bet you’d be right up my alley.  Into weenie dogs?”

“Isn’t everyone?”

I pretended to catch sight of someone across the room right then.  “Ben!  Hey, Ben,” I shouted to no one.  “Where’ve you been hiding, you old dog?  Sorry, got to run,” I hastily told the idea before charging purposefully but aimlessly across the room.  Then I ducked into the can and cleared out of that snooze fest as soon as the coast was clear.

What was I supposed to do?  I’d never work with that idea.  He’d ruin me.  Still, I didn’t want to come out and actually say that.  No need to be rude, right?  We weren’t making a deal.  I was just being polite.

Or, that’s what I thought until the idea pounded on my door.

He charged right on into my condo, carrying a see-through whicker suitcase of old Scholastic magazines and my grandmother’s antique silverware, when I opened the door.  Half asleep from an afternoon nap as I was, he was already kicking back on my beige living room couch and watching reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies before I realized what was happening.

“Hey…what are you doing?”

“Settling in!”  The idea scratched his crotch (inside whatever underwear the idea might have been wearing) with my remote control.  “We got work to do and these things don’t happen overnight.  Got myself ready to just crash here so we could work round the clock.”

I stood there, staring at the revolting little guy.  I had to do something; I had to get rid of him quick.

“Well…I’m actually in the middle of a project right now,” I stammered, desperately trying to think of a way to get him out my door.  “It could be quite a while before I’m ready to sit down to something else.”

“No problem, boss,” he retorted, blowing his nose on my Herman Melville commemorative lace coffee coasters.  “I got nothing but time.  We’ll just be roomies until you get around to it.”

Then he switched the channel to a three day Toddlers & Tiaras marathon.  Clearly, he was settling in pretty deep.  I retreated upstairs just to get away from his smell of old fish and Emily Brontë.

I mean, how else should I have handled the situation?  The idea was obviously unstable.  His choices in television revealed that if nothing else.  There was a chance he’d get violent if I tried to throw him out myself.

The police certainly wouldn’t be any help.  They tended to stay out of idea-related conflicts.  ‘Purely a domestic matter’ they’d say.  Too many people inviting idea in and then thought better of it later for law enforcement to get involved.  No, ideas were outside police marching orders as far as they were concerned.

So…I was stuck.  I couldn’t just make him leave and I sure couldn’t actually work with him.  My only option was to wait him out and hope he got bored.

By the second week, though, it was clear that waiting wasn’t going to work too well.  I’m not sure the idea had even noticed.  He just watched TV atrocities, drank all of my Bisquick pancake mix, and made macramé sculptures out of my used mint dental floss.  He even alphabetized the words in my first edition copy of the complete works of James Joyce.  I guessed that this idea really did have nothing better to do.

My work was starting to seriously suffer.  After all, I couldn’t bring a decent idea home with that hobo parked on my couch.  What would it look like?  All the good ideas would be out of there faster than Mark Twain at a James Fenimore Cooper convention.  Whatever kinky plan they’d think I was roping them into, they would want no part of it.

Finally, when I’d had all I could stand, I went and got my tools.  Now, I don’t mean my normal ones.  I drug out that real bastard of a set from where it rusted on the shelf in my garage.  One way or another, this idea was getting taken out.

He sat up when I stomped in and pulled the plug on Dancing with the Stars.  I positioned a chair on the other side of the glass coffee table from him and grinned.  His head bobbed as he swallowed sharply.

“What you got there, boss?  Thinking of doing a little renovating before we get down to business?”

“Nah,” I laughed hollowly, slapping my knee with a jerky motion.  “I thought it was time that we embark upon our mutual little enterprise here.  No time like the present, right?”

I took out my foot-long gutter out of the dented iron box and dropped it on the table.  The nicks in the hard metal blade glistened as it fell.

“Only, I’m considering a different direction than daschunds.  Something along the epic line.  Maybe three thousand pages of consciousness stream unformed dream logic babble with a hint of poetic inversion.  Real high-level groundbreaking academic fiction kind of stuff.  We’ll need serious gear to take that on.”

The idea stared as I tossed the bone saw next to the gutter.  The rib retraction ripper came next, followed by the skin hooks.  He even gasped a little when I brought out the reciprocating centrifuge cartilage/fluid separator.

“Yeah,” I went on, pretending to check the high-pressure formaldehyde pump for coagulants, “no fun and games on this one.  Pain and sweat kind of writing for years on end by candlelight, right?  That’s the only thing for guys of our caliber.  None of that readable excrement.  No fluff.”

It was the testicle corer that really got him, though, what with all the gears and serrations.  I held that up in front of the idea and he was already halfway out the condo.

“To tell the truth, boss, he called over his shoulder as he ran, “I’ve got a few short pieces I need to ride sidecar on before I can commit to something long term like this.  I’m your man once I get all that wrapped up.  I’ll call you!”

Before I knew it, I was free.  The medieval assortment went back to its place in the garage and I finally got back to work.  All in all, it was just another day.

Extreme though it may seem, this is what you have to sometimes resort to in order to get an unwanted idea out of your house.  Just start putting it through the paces like it could really amount to something.  The bad ones will check out by noon instead of enduring that kind of thing.  Trust me, I know.

David S. Atkinson received his MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska. His writing appears or is forthcoming in “Grey Sparrow Journal,” “Interrobang?! Magaine,” “Split Quarterly,” “Cannoli Pie,” “C4: The Chamber Four Lit Mag,” “The Lincoln Underground,” “Brave Blue Mice,” “Atticus Review,” “The Zodiac Review,” and others. His book reviews appear in “Gently Read Literature,” “The Rumpus,” and “[PANK].” His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.