Stephen Roberts, WriterEmail: Stephen Roberts, Writerwww.robertswriter.net@gmail.com  Telephone: 732-407-0345
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Novel: Poisoned Vintage
Excerpt: From pages 49-51
The following excerpt has been taken from a novel not seen by me in at least five years. It has been rewritten for my web site but faces many more edits and will undoubtedly change as the master forms itself. It's with this I ask of your patience. Thank you for reading. Jan 2004 SVRPoisoned Vintage

The Year 1857

"The time comes when every good vintage of wine must be allowed to breathe and be consumed for the beauty contained within. For the historian, moments like these never last. Centuries and centuries have eluded themselves and it's to us that this truly rare wine has bequeathed itself in a riddle of mystery. A piece of history once to be delivered to James the 1st of Spain, wound up here in England three centuries later, found by us. The bottle's intact with no leakage; and even the label is in good condition with the exception of a few blood stains. A seal of wax on the side, stamped with the Royal Coat of arms will make this bottle worth a small fortune, full or empty. I asked you here tonight to partake of this wine of kings, once held by the Royal Guards of Spain. You're my mentor and without Poisoned Vintageyou, I'd be nowhere. It's for the reason two connoisseurs, world-renown, like ourselves end up here in my cellar before this great myth. God bless you." spoke Robert Thickstone with sincerity.

"Touching Robert, now please take care in opening that bottle. The cork must be brittle, but must remain intact for auction. We may have to apply some water to let it soak." Phillip Sherwood said gently as if his words might damage the fragile find.

As Robert applied pressure to break the cork free, an eerie sense of power crawled through the cork into his hand. It forced his hand to remain at the stem of the bottle. The veins in his arm bulged. His grip got tighter. His nails clawed the wax of the ancient bottle, until the expression on his mouth pulled back like some evil fiend. Instantaneously, sweat poured down his forehead before his mentor.

Short Story:
Madness on the Fourth Floor

Madness on the Forth Floor "If I hear another scream, it's certain to push me over the edge." Andrew Hanson pressed the red button by his bed. "They call this a hospital! If I could find the strength to lift myself from this stretcher, they call a bed, I'll put an end to those loudmouths. God damn, psychiatric floor! Don't they give these people drugs to keep them under control?"

The nurse answered his call, "Can I help you?"

"Nurse, I need a sedative! It's noisy down here, and I can't sleep; besides the pain's coming in waves as I breathe."

"I'll be right there," she said.

Within minutes, the nurse entered the room to find Hanson staring aimlessly through the open Venetian blinds; his back glued to his bed. The darkness from the black clouds drowned the stone roof and three enormous brick walls which sheltered his view of the hospital gardens.

"It's ironic; these blinds resemble the bars of a prison cell. A hospital's supposed to help people." He rolled his eyes. "Have they diagnosed my illness yet?"

"I think you should speak to your doctor about that." The nurse's voice was patient. "I'm sure they're doing all they can to help you."

"It's been one and a half weeks with no diagnosis!" shouted Hanson, "I feel like shit, and hell, it's probably because of the wrong medication they prescribed." He slowly inhaled. "I don't mean to take it out on you, but I'm pissed off."

"I understand. Many people come here and expect to be healed in a day or two, and leave feeling fabulous. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. What you have is unusual, but I assure you, they're doing their best to cure your illness."

"Do they have to keep me on this god forsaken floor? What if one of 'em escapes? What if security hits the buzzer by accident and the laughing looney pays me a visit? I'm the first room outside the asylum and I'm the first one they'll get. That god damn buzzer, which opens the door, rings in my ears. I can't stand it!!!"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Hanson, but the 100 degree heat gave many people heatstroke and other heat related problems. They've ended up in available empty beds others, including you, could use. All the beds are taken right now, so you'll have to stay here. Sorry." The nurse smiled. "Before you know it, you'll be home watching satellite TV and eating a juicy cheeseburger. Now take your percoset, relax, and go to sleep."

Hanson turned from the window to the TV. He lifted the remote and passed several channels before he settled at a documentary on the life of Vincent Van Gogh. The percoset kicked in and he found himself drift from Van Gogh's stay in an asylum to his hospital stay.

Buzzzzzz… His ears pricked up in fear. Unable to move, he listened intently and heard the drag of heavy feet and rolling wheels cross the floor. It came closer and closer. Rolling on abnormally round wheels, the sound of the IV rack turned the hall corner.

A shadow appeared from behind his closed door and formed a ghostly figure on the wall. It terrified him. He heard the sound of heavy breathing and his mind jumped to the red button for help. His reflexes were too slow. The uninvited guest took a seat next to him.

"What do you want?" Hanson asked.

"I want a life outside this fucking place. I figure I'll take your identity and walk to freedom," said the man.

"You do realize where you are, don't you?" asked Hanson. "You're in quarantine! If anyone sees you here, then you're in quarantine also, and not with me!"

His hand grasped the red button and slammed it down. Panicked, the man picked himself up and went for the door. Behind it, the crazed man found an orderly with a melting face. It's eyes bulged from a protruding skull. He screamed in vain.

"Get him," said the orderly. Several others immediately pounced on the man. They pulled his clenched body from the shatterproof window stamped quarantine.

The nurse rushed in moments later to discover Hanson clinging to the Venetian blinds for dear life screaming violently. She shook him from his state of sleep which lasted only minutes.

"Thank god. Nightmares," he said to the nurse. He sighed. "Could you fix the sound on my TV? It got very low since my sleep."

"It might help if you aimed your right ear towards it. It'll take some getting use to, but the appearance is only secondary. They have all types of prosthetic limbs. I'm sure they can replace your ear with a fake one, Mr. Hanson."

Madness on the Forth Floor "What???" Hanson's hand went to his left ear. It felt nothing. "Nurse, grab me a mirror quickly." She exited the room and returned. He winced at the horribly open space on the side of his head. It was gone. "Nurse, my ear, what happened?"

"You don't remember? You damaged it so much with a rusty razor blade, it became infected with gangrene and we had to amputate it. You're lucky you came when you did. Between the disease and the gangrene, you could have died."

"I see." Then he heard the laugh: the laugh which alienated him; made him hysterical; made him mad; that laugh was his own. He heard the buzz and remembered his quaint room on the fourth floor, closest to the locked door: the one that held him tight.

Phillip spoke with concern, "Robert, I believe you're getting carried away in the excitement of things."

Possessed, Robert shouted, "Shut up old man!!!" He bit his lip and restrained himself. His tone changed like a two headed Cyclops, "I'm sorry Phillip, I don't know what's happening!?"

Robert's face changed. His eyebrows formed small rainbows of fur, a sinister grin lit his face, and the veins from his eyes pulsated as if to warn his eyes to hold on to the sockets. His face grew maroon as it filled with blood. He was choked of air; he gasped and pounded the table. He laughed with an evil that made Phillips skin crawl.

Poisoned VintagePhillip leapt at Robert and tried to thrust the cork back into its home. Robert's fist connected his jaw with a fury that threw the man across the room.

Phillip shouted, plead with Robert. He leapt to his feet, grabbed Robert's collar, but even the hard slaps across his face weren't enough to bring reality back. Robert's face reddened under the softly lit candles that surrounded them. He slid down an eternal slide of evil. Robert released the cork under the light of a full moon.

A mist flowed from the bottle, like a fire bellowing smoke. Robert sucked it in one devouring breath. The muscles in his body throbbed, grew, until he stood twice the size of his normal body mass. His veins thumped with blood. They pumped like thirsty fire hydrants waiting to extinguish the life of his friend. He desperately inhaled for the oxygen that helped his muscles grow. He stretched, and bared his teeth in anger. The gums decayed rapidly. The first tooth that fell was from the front of the top gum. Phillip watched the foam ooze from his mouth and his teeth yellow over. The holes formed as quickly as termites infest a rotting piece of wood. A stale, putrid odor sprung from his mouth: one like the manure laid in a freshly planted garden. No one would have believed this ever so kind man, could be the transformed brute before him now. Robert was a beast.


Short Story: The Growth

by Pietro Barbera

“Do you think my hair’s too flat, Jonathan?”

“No, Wilemina. Your hair is perfect.”

“It needs more teasing.”

“Wilemina, we’re 20 minutes late already. We have to go!”

“Jonathan, aren’t I beautiful?”

“You are.”

“Am I not number one?”

“You are.”

“Then they can wait. I’m Wilemina!”

“This could be your most important shoot, darling.”

“They can wait.”

Wilemina continued to tease her hair while her publicist, Jonathan Eaker fidgeted in his chair. Jonathan stood up, paced, took a drag on his cigarette, then pulled his sleeve up. It was almost 9:30. He could barely contain himself when she said,

“I’m ready. Let’s go.”

“It’ll only take 10 minutes to walk there from here.”

“You should have a limousine waiting for me.”

“There was no time. The appointment came up too quickly. I needed to spend time updating your portfolio, besides I heard there was an accident tying up Broadway.”

“You’re my agent. I pay you well and you damn well better make sure everything is perfect! I could pay a thousand other men half the amount you work for! Remember that!”

“Yes, Miss Wilemina.”

“We’ll walk this time, but don’t let it happen again!”

“Yes, Miss Wilemina.”

“Don’t patronize me! I don’t need to spend my time arguing with you. We’re late,” she said. Jonathan rolled his eyes as they quickly exited the door.

Wilemina strode the concrete sidewalks with the confidence. Her 6’2” stature and long vivacious frame made eyes appear from every wall. The stiletto heels of her Veragamo shoes tapped the pavement like a metronome. She wore a black French hat and a dark pair of Yve Saint Laurant sunglasses. The slinky black dress hugged her hips while her fishnet stockings emphasized her long thighs. A red jacket draped over her shoulder, held by one finger. They walked quickly and elegantly to La Noir- an agency for elite supermodels.

“Jonathan, are you dreaming or something? You’re supposed to be leading the way clearing people from my path. You’re not doing your job. Your head is in the clouds. Earth to Jonathan. Get with it.”

“Sorry baby. I just had to see you from behind and what a wonderful one it is!”

“As if you had interest in a woman’s behind,” she snarled. Her face was driven with frustration but in a flash, her lips pouted and she said with baby talk, “Sorry honey, your so cute.” She brushed up against him as he ran to lead her way.

“Stand back! She needs space. We’re on a shoot. Move, please. Out of the way,” he repeated, shoving people to the side.

Wilemina’s head was held high, emphasizing her complete control over her surroundings. Look at these mindless idiots turn to look at me. I bet they are thinking how wonderful it would be to bed me. Men are so weak it disgusts me. She watched the men closely, as many glimpsed.

Jonathan led the way around the corner of 54th. Some photographers on the opposite corner momentarily distracted him. A homeless woman appeared from behind the support of St. Stephen’s Church. She startled the supermodel.

“Miss, could you spare a dime? Please, I beg of you.”

“Who are you street trash?”

“Street trash?! Who the hell are you calling street trash you, bitch!”

Jonathan quickly noticed the altercation. He moved in quickly grabbing the shoulders of the homeless woman, “Please move on. Go,” he said. He whispered to her and pulled a $5.00 bill from his pocket. He shoved it in her hand.

“Is this some street urchin trying to get my money which I work so hard for? Doesn’t she know people have to work for money. These people make me sick!”

The Growth

“Hey you, bitch! Listen to me and listen good. If you had any inkling on the reality of life, you’d know life deals it’s own hand.”

“Jonathan, what’s this crazy woman talking about?”

“Ignore her Wilemina,” said Jonathan.

“I think you should remember beauty’s not permanent. It can change at the drop of a dime.”

“Nonsense, old woman. Some people were just born to be beautiful. I’m one of them and that will never change.”

“So you shall with the words I speak, listen to the master speak. You’re playing a game with me. It’s me who’ll curse your monopoly. Crawling out the back door, beauty will be no more. The growth will grow with haste- disgusting, inexcusably adorning your face. A model no more, you will be.”

Jonathan pushed the woman aside after she waved her hand. He watched Mary’s eyes pierce Wilemina’s shell like a tidal wave reaching a barren shore. Wilemina discontinued her stare and bowed her eyes to the homeless woman. Wilemina hid her wallowing soul beneath the red coat she held behind her back.

“This woman’s crazy. Let’s go. I’m late.”

Jonathan pushed the homeless woman back and took his position in front of the supermodel once again. “Out of the way, move. Don’t you know this incredible woman? Move, please! Thank you.”

Editorial award winner 2005
Poem:


Paranoia

Paranoia

It speaks with a note of dread,
Something I'm unable to contain.
It rests for periods,
And rises from beneath stony passages
Of melancholia.

Why, should this burden be mine
To bear?
Should I fear it, or trust my intuition?
When all it can do is hurt,
These words drawn from me…

A wisdom, I'm not sure is legitimate
created by what-if scenarios,
they boil inside my soul.
Time is given the benefit of the doubt,
My scenarios, colored by obscure facts.

Theory, justify means:
until a case rises from the dust,
And we find reality,
forms
A Friend- Distrusted.

The old woman spit at the ground as she walked away hitting part of Wilemina’s shoe. It was all she needed before the strange effect took place. Wilemina felt a strange sensation on her face. She dismissed it in her hurry to get to the agency.

Wilemina arrived at the agency 45 minutes late. The Vice President of Marketing sat impatiently at the end of the table. He watched her arrive and was captivated by her beauty.

“Wilemina. I’ve heard so much about you. I must admit, I was skeptical on your reputation. It’s rare, I’m moved so quickly by a woman’s beauty,” the vice president said. He winked.

“I hope you like what you see,” she said.

“Very much so,” he said.

She pulled up her stockings revealing a supple cheek that showed itself beneath the skintight mini she wore. She watched the vice presidents mouth open, then sigh. You’re mine.

“Wilemina, you look like you have a blemish below your right eye.” stated the vice president.

“What? I don’t know what your talking about,” said the supermodel, “Jonathan, get me a mirror!” I know I look perfect. They need their eyes examined. Every hair on my head was teased, my skin has been exfoliated twice at 5:30 and 8:30, and there is no possible way.

Jonathan came back with the mirror. She indeed saw a blemish before her. “I must have been bitten by a bug. I’m sorry. Jonathan, get me some concealer. I’ll make your ads sell!”

The GrowthJonathan handed the concealer to Wilemina. She covered the small blemish and turned on her magical smile for the camera. She was a natural. Her relaxed and daring moves turned the photographer to jelly. They finished 1 hour from the start.

“Thank you.” said the Director. “I think it was one of my best shoots.”

“Your welcome, honey.” She slipped into her coat and walked out more confidant then ever.

It was 11:30 and the rest of the day was open for suggestion.

They went to Zip’s coffeehouse, around the corner from the agency, and ordered a double latte and a French cappuccino.

“Jonathan, let’s go to the Guggenheim. There’s a fantastic exhibit on surrealism I’ve wanted to see.”

“Sorry, hon. I have appointments at 1:00 and 3:00. It’s going to be a long day for me. I heard the exhibit was phenomenal. You should go there, then take a walk through the park. Have you ever been by Belvadier castle?”

“No.” she said.

“It’s too hard to explain its location. The paths lead you all over the place and things start to look the same after awhile. You have to go! I should be on my way. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Deal, honey,” said Wilemina. She gave Jonathan a small kiss on the side of each cheek before he exited.

Wilemina finished her double latte and decided to walk to 77th. She ignored the whistles she was use to hearing, and simply smiled as she strode down the street. She entered the Guggenheim.

“I’ll take one adult. How much?”

The clerk gave her a strange look, “that’ll be $12.00.”

The Growth
Credit -Spellbound, a movie by Alfred Hitchcock graphic based on a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali

Wilemina pulled out the cash and paid the clerk. She removed her sunglasses for the first time since the shoot, and began to walk the spiral to higher levels, passing over some incredible masterpieces. She analyzed many of the paintings stopping on the third tier. A Salvador Dali piece demanded her attention. She stepped back and studied it.

An old English couple stood to the side studying the same painting. The man stood back slightly farther then his wife and eyed Wilemina. He shook his head at the same time his wife turned around.

“Alfred, what the hell do you think your doing?”

“Studying this incredible painting.”

“Doesn’t look like that’s the only thing you’re studying,” she said, then swung a hard right hook.

“Madge, I don’t know what your talking about!”

“Don’t play that game with me!” she said. Wilemina turned around and smiled at the old man. She giggled slightly.

“Oh, excuse me love,” said the old woman, “it look’s like you have something on your face. You may want to wipe it off.”

“What?”

“It’s there, near your nose.” Wilemina pulled a handkerchief from her purse and wiped the spot, clearing her concealer. “Eww,” said the woman.

“Is it off, now?” asked Wilemina.

“No, sweet. You should go to the ladies room.”

Wilemina’s horrified look made the old woman smile. She made a leap for the bathroom, practically braking the door from its hinges.

My God, what is it? It’s hideous! She eyed the raisin shaped boil that appeared on her face. One of the pores had opened and leaked a white fluid repulsive enough to make a maggot sigh. It was red and raw. I have to get something on it! Jonathan, where are you when I need you! In a panic, Wilemina spilt the contents of her purse on the counter. She covered her reflection in the mirror with her right hand, while she sorted the materials with the other. Where is my concealer! It wasn’t there. She looked at her reflection and in a moment of frustration, scribbled over her reflection with cherry red lipstick.

Wilemina took her scarf and wrapped her face like a Middle Eastern woman. She proceeded out of the ladies room and to the front of the museum.. She ignored the odd looks many of the tourists gave her on her exit from the building. I must get home. I’ll call Dr. Lilenquist about it. If anyone can help me, he can. She picked up her cellular and hit speed dial 3: her emergency dermatologist.

“Doctor Lilenquist’s office, may I help you?”

“Yes, this is Wilemina.”

“Good afternoon, Wilemina. How are you!”

“Not so good. I need an emergency appointment. I must see the doctor today about a blemish. It’s growing very quickly. I have an important shoot tomorrow.”

Jealousy
     painting by Pietro Barbera
Poem:

Jealousy

The nightmare begins
A few words out of context
An arm placed around my woman to "comfort" you- an earlier boast
The angry side of me.

Facts woven into a complex tapestry
Deceitful and distorted
The secrecy of unknown knowledge, your mastery of lies
Like the word "action" to the waiting actor

"Action" has stained our history with violence
To violence and against violence
The punishment to fit a hypothetical crime of masturbation
Drawn into my sleep- I dream the death of you.

Jealousy made Jack Rip
Jealousy has caused many a bad trip
Jealousy made many men sick
Still, jealousy comes to me.

“I don’t know, we’re booked solid.”

“I don’t give a damn! You tell Dr. Lilenquist I need to see him today, or you’ll have no job tomorrow!” she screamed.

Silence was heard, then a voice said, “One moment.”

Wilemina’s patience was running thin. She sped down the sidewalks like a sidewinder, dodging in and out people. She approached her home quickly.

“Yes, Wilemina. Doctor Lilenquist here.”

“Doctor, it’s hideous,” she said then began to weep.

“I don’t know what it is, you have to help me.”

“Take it easy. Come over now and we’ll look at it. Nothing the doctor can’t fix.”

“I’ll be there shortly,” she said and hung up the phone.

She entered the office 7 minutes later. “Would you tell the doctor Wilemina’s here.” she boldly said to the receptionist. The scarf still protected her face.

The receptionist smirked and stared at her, “What’s you last name Ma’am?”

“Ma’am?! How dare you call me, Ma’am! The insolence! It’s Wilemina, and Wilemina only! Do you live in a cave? Everyone knows me!”

“Sorry Ma’am, it must have been the scarf,” she said sarcastically.

“Doctor Lilenquist, Wilma’s here!” She watched the supermodel’s face redden with anger.

“Wilemina, how are you?” He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Please, come with me.”

She walked with the doctor, eyeing the receptionist with an arrogant look. “That woman insulted me, and was extremely rude also!”

“She’s got a strange sense of humor, but she’s a damn hard worker and the best at what she does. I like her, so I’m afraid I have to disappoint you and keep her.”

“Uhmm,” she said.

“So why don’t you show me the blemish we spoke about,” said the doctor.

Wilemina carefully unwrapped her face for the dermatologist. The last wrap stuck to her face by dried puss. She pulled it and opened a small scab that had formed. The raisin boil had grown to the size of a dime. The doctor’s face flinched, “it looks like a boil, not a big deal. I’ll drain it we’ll put some Neosporin on it, and it will be gone in about 2-3 days.”

Poem:

Vengeance…

Vengeance
painting by Pietro Barbera

Can't you remember why it is we fight?
"The price of greatness is responsibility," Sir Winston once said
Too many times we've turned our heads, looked the other way,
NOT this time.

How many bodies must we lose to take action?
How many monuments must fall before we bat an eye?
The first battle of turn over Pennsylvania skies on September 11th
An airline of patriots, sacrifice themselves, for freedom, for US.

It's why we abbreviate the United States with U and S.
We must lead the fight,
deal with the controversy that surrounds
our need for war.

You killed our family and we unite as one!
You "kick us in the balls", hide your faces in our neighborhoods
As strangers.
You curse us, take our jobs, our money and piss on our flag.

"We're coming for you."
"We're coming for your suppliers."
"We're coming for your glory."
"and we'll return the spit you shower in our faces"

Perhaps you thought we'd lay back
Like many times before and take it up the ass.
You thought we'd lost touch behind the red tape of a “pc world”
You were wrong.

Live in fear….
For this time you've taken over 3000 innocent lives
When you battered symbols of our nation,
American Pride.

Only blood, will correct wrong doing
make the world understand-
Stand for the sake of humanity,
and don't let brothers die in vain.

“I haven’t got 2 or 3 days! I have a shoot tomorrow! You have to get me done so I can shoot tomorrow.”

“You’ll have to cancel your shoot.”

“I can’t,” she said.

“Then you’ll have to cover it up. I’ll drain it, shoot some antiseptic into it, and give you a cover up ointment, used to help heal it faster. I can give it to you in skin tones but it’s expensive.”

“I don’t care. Do what you have to do, then I can go home and rest. Forget about this mess.”

“Fine,” said the doctor.

The doctor went to work on the boil. He drained an extraordinary amount of fluid. The doctor was surprised to see it hadn’t sucked her face dry.

“Under no circumstances do you remove this bandage before tomorrow," said the dermatologist before prescribing the cover-up and sending her on her way. She wrapped her face with another scarf she found in her pocketbook and left the office in a hurry.

The photographers dream of shots like this. No body will recognize me. She arrived at her apartment and went directly to her bathroom. She carefully unwound her scarf revealing a bandage that seemed to take up half of her face, half of the mirror.

My skin’s always been perfect. I never would have been able to participate in those beauty pageants as a child. Thank god, Mom made me see a dermatologist back then. I never would have reached my fame if it weren’t for her. It’s a shame they couldn’t have a skin tone bandage.

After staring into the mirror, she decided to watch a movie. She sat in front of the entertainment center and pressed a button on her remote. Two large cabinet doors began to slide revealing a 40” TV. She pushed in her favorite comedy, Arthur, and began to relax. She poured herself a glass of cabernet sauvignon and before she knew it, the bottle was gone. She passed out.

Wilemina’s mind was like a speeding train falling into a dream, almost instantly. In the dream, she ran on a high mountaintop in a spandex running suit. There was snow everywhere on the jagged terrain and she sprinted unaffected by any of it. Her running was smooth like the soft tires of a race bike on heated pavement. She ran at a steady pace, even as she approached a sheer cliff. She ran full speed over the edge and began to fall into oblivion. Her arms flapped frantically and grew into wings, which saved her from her fall. She soared above the ocean, when she felt a crippling pain shoot through her left wing. Her head turned and saw a steady steam of blood shooting from it. The wings movement seized. She lost altitude.

She looked over the ocean and back on the land. She saw the homeless woman from the morning holding a gun. The woman laughed as Wilemina’s body plunged helplessly towards the ocean. The laugh grew louder and louder as she fell closer to earth. It pierced her eardrums, causing bleeding to erupt from her ear. Her injured wing changed back into a human arm and her healthy wing remained a wing which flapped uselessly without it’s mate. She arched her feet seconds before hitting the water like a torpedo.

Her body submerged quickly. She kicked and struggled to ascend the murky water. A net pulled her from the depths before she lost consciousness. Coughing and gagging, she thanked her savior- a mirror image of herself as a homeless woman. The image held Wilemina in a fishing net and recited to her over and over, “life deals its own hand”. Wilemina began to laugh and the woman put her slowly back into the water submerging her face.


“No, No!” Wilemina yelled, as she woke herself from her nightmare. She felt a strange sensation like a torrent of blood, circulating under her bandage. Under no circumstances should you remove the bandage until tomorrow. She placed her hand over the bandage and felt a bump. Something’s wrong. I have to look! I can’t wait. She repeated the phrase the doctor told her, “Do not under any circumstances remove the bandage until tomorrow.”

“Where are those Valium?” she said to herself. She began to scout around the medicine cabinet for the little orange bottle,“Ah- Valium. Do not take with Alcohol? Screw that! A few hallucinations could be good for me.” She popped 3 pills on top of the bottle she had. With in an hour she felt great but extremely tired. She passed out, oblivious of the time or the growth on her face.

Wilemina woke the next morning in a daze. Her memory was a blur, but when she stroked her fingers across her face, she felt the gauze. Oh my god! My face- the shoot! She ran for the mirror in a panic. She touched the corners of her bandage carefully, and counted. One, two, three! She ripped the bandage from her face. “AAAAHHHH!” she cried.

Poem:

Obligatory Small Talk

Obligatory Small Talk
crayon by Pietro Barbera

I see you in hopes you won't see me.
My vision- clear.
Clarity in a conscious mind is not continuous
Then you appear with all thoughts of yesterday, last night
A Drain, on my freethinking style
A Cork that seals an overflowing bottle
One that must fill pages with cleansing words.

Noticed, I must smile and nod in your presence.
Your lips move- my ears pick up a word, now and again.
Brains take on their own patterns- distant- removed.
Your words creep in like a disease
Invading the space I reserve for my imagination
Taking from me, my need.
Throwing me into turmoil of unexpected strength.

You ask me for my thoughts and all I can say is
"Obligatory small talk"
"Rude," you say, obnoxious in too many ways
Can't one be silent without offending anyone?

Dismiss me if I don't acknowledge your existence
The sparks of static electricity occur when I'm alone
Contemplating life's complexities
They make me draw into myself
Protect me from scaled walls.

I'm not always intent to listen
I'm not always full of grandiose words
So accept my obnoxious behavior
And maybe I'll accept you.

It was a deformity that grew during the night. One worse then she had ever seen. Oh my stomach. The growth had grown to the size of a half-dollar. There were 5 heads filled with puss and the red color had deepened to a purple hue. She couldn’t bear to see her reflection. Her hand shook as she grabbed the phone.

“Dr Lilenquist. I listened to you. I took off my bandage. I want to die. You have to remove it. Take the scalpel and remove it.”

“Wilemina?! Now, don’t get insane. I think you’re blowing it out of proportion.”

“I’m not! I’m coming down, you be the judge!” she yelled. She slammed the phone on its receiver.

Wilemina found herself bursting through the door of Dr. Lilenquist’s office, unscheduled for an appointment. She walked directly to a private room reserved for people of status. Isolated from the rest of the patients, Dr. Lilenquist greeted her immediately.

“Wilemina, let me look at this thing.” He expected her to over exaggerate but as he slowly pulled down the corners of the bandage, he realized his mistake.

“Uhh.” He said under his breath. The putrid boil began to smell. He exited the room to speak softly to the receptionist,

“I’ll need the next few hours free, cancel my appointments.”

The doctor came back and spoke to Wilemina in a strong manner.

“Wilemina. I have no clue what we have here. I sucked this dry yesterday. It could be a sac, like some people get in their earlobes. I’m going to contact a friend of mine. Upon his consultation, I’ll do surgery. You’ll have to cancel any appointments you have for the next week.”

“All right,” she said reluctantly,

“its only a phase, right?”

“I’m sure.”

Dr. Lilenquist paged Dr. Dare at County General Hospital. They spoke on a private line next to Wilemina’s room. She pressed her ear to the door in an attempt to listen. Not a thing. He finished his conversation and walked back into the room.

“I’m going to do this, but you have to be patient. It’ll take a week to heal.”

“I have no time for patience,” she said.

“You have to have time for patience.”

He put her under a local anesthetic and removed the abscess. He bandaged it up carefully.

“ You can’t touch this for 2 days. After that, you must change the gauze twice daily. Use Neosporin to help it heal.”

“Thank you, doctor,” she said. She exited the office.

She arrived home and went right for a steel strong box that she hid behind the blue jeans in the top of her closet. It contained a sandwich bag full of cocaine. For emergencies! This will help me feel better! She snorted a few lines and everything felt it was going to be good.

The next few days, she spent most of her time painting, but her mind raced with activity. A sea of reporters appeared the beginning of the second day speculating on her absence from the world’s most important fashion show, the European Spring Review. Jonathan stated to the press that she was prescribed bed rest, due to a severe form of the flu and he continued to give his undivided attention to a new model with a lot of notoriety- Felicity Forrester.

Wilemina maintained her private surroundings. Her peek from behind the shades of the window gathered a thousand flashes, as photographers tried to break the stories of her disappearance.

It’s been two days, today. I think it’s time to remove this bulky bandage. She hadn’t stroked or felt any sensation on her face in days. She stood in front of the mirror boldly. “One, two, three,” she said. She felt the glue from the bandage instantly rip her skin. Her eyes bulged. It never left.

“I refuse to believe this is still active,” she said to herself. She pressed her face close to the mirror and got her fingertips on both sides of the boil. She squeezed it into a stream, which catapulted from the mirror. After it depleted the boil, she covered it with antiseptic and a fresh bandage. A day later, it hadn’t changed. She continued this for days with no affect.

The fourth day came and she re-supplied her cocaine. She had depleted the first bag, which should have lasted a month. She decided to celebrate the moment by ordering pizza. She picked up the receiver and hit speed dial 5.

“Hello, is this Vinnies? Could you deliver me a large pie with mozzarella and vegetables?” she asked. She paused for a moment, “this is Wilemina. How long will that take? A few minutes? Good. I’ll be waiting.” She said then hung up the phone.

Rap, Rap, rap.

“Who is it?” she asked.

“Pizza.”

“Come in,” she said.

“Please put it in the kitchen.” She covered her face with her right hand. The man came in and put the pizza down.

“Thanks. What do I owe you?”

“Twelve dollars,” he said.

She handed him the money with her left hand. He wasn’t receptive and dropped two bills to the ground.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.

She bent over spontaneously uncovering her face to pick up the bills. The man reached in his pocket and pulled a camera, which he flashed quickly and accurately, as she got back up. The camera went mad under the finger of the paparazzi.

“No! Please!” she yelled and tried desperately to hide her face, with no success.

The photographer left the room as quickly as he appeared, with shots that would make him famous. He met the pizza deliveryman at the bottom of the stairs with a $50.00 bill. He ran the pictures to Star magazine for an exclusive. The information hit the stands within the next 48 hours. Every supermodel jockeyed to take Wilemina’s position in this time of desperation for her. Wilemina sank to an all time low.

“Jonathan? This is Wilemina. The dermatologist has no diagnosis for the strange behavior of my growth. No matter what’s done, it grows back constantly, can you help me?” she asked with sympathy.

“Wilemina? Wilemina who? Are you still keeping the “monster”?”

“Jonathan, what’s happened to you? You use to be my best friend.”

Written between 2000 & 2004

Poem:
Ghost
Ghost

A listless night that I will wait,

Assuming nothing will penetrate,
The fog from witch my mind gyrates,
The fear of a second soul.

Appear at will, you see the gate.
The mist is deep and too the hate,
Of being alone, a single trait,
Full as the fear of the moon.

It descends by peace and cold.
A storm that withers the poor and old,
Cast upon my blindness bold,
Is it you, my Dad, my dear?

Ghost

“Do you still kick your best friends, Wilemina? I’ve moved on. Maybe you should too.”

“But it’s been two months. I can’t get any work anywhere. My money isn’t coming in. I’m suffering.”

“Don’t you deserve that? Isn’t that what you made people do, suffer?” spouted Jonathan.

“No, I mean yes, I mean no. I’m sorry if I made you feel inferior,” she said.

“You’re too late. Felicity Forrester has taken your place. She’s the hottest woman in town. She pays me much more than your peasant pockets. It’s been nice working with you!” he said. He slammed down the phone.

Touché. She hung up the phone and went to her steel strong box. It had been replenished just two days ago and she was on her last line. Her habit compounded daily while her ego dwindled. It ate away her savings.

Another month of not paying the rent went by. Wilemina was thrown into the street. Her dealer confiscated all her valuables for her cocaine. She walked the street and found the half way house. After a near rape, she hit the streets again. Her clothes had been given to charities and over the course of the next 6 months, she had become her own charity. Her boil remained a permanent reminder on her face.

She stole a shopping cart to keep what remainders she had. She begged desperately for a place to stay, but all she would get was some dirty nickels thrown in a cup.

She stood outside a church one cold morning when she heard a familiar voice,

It’s Jonathan. The man walked from around the corner.

“Jonathan, It’s me, Wilemina! You look so beautiful.” she said. She was so happy to see him.

“Jonathan, who is this beggar?”

“It’s no one, Felicity. Just someone I toss dimes to every so often.”

“Dimes! Jonathan, I-

“Wilemina, listen to me carefully and repeat the following words if you want to get back at everyone who ever turned you wrong,” Jonathan whispered quickly as he held her head. She nodded.

“So you shall with the words I speak, listen to the master speak. You’re playing a game with me. It’s me who’ll curse your monopoly. Crawling out the back door, beauty will be no more. The growth will grow with haste- disgusting, inexcusably adorning your face. A model no more, you will be. That’s it, then you have to spit on her for it to work. Do it, cause now is the only chance you’ll have.”

Jonathan returned to the front of the supermodel and started to recite, “Move. Please move. I have the most incredible woman in the world here.”

Wilemina started to quickly recite the curse Jonathan spoke to her. Her eyes gazed at the supermodel. It was him! He did this to me! Look at him, all smug. He must think I’m a fool. She finished the curse-bearing sentence and ran in front of the supermodel. She stood between the two people staring at Felicity. At a moment’s notice, she turned around and spit in Jonathan’s face.

“You bitch!” Jonathan said, then smacked her face. He wiped his face clean and carried on clearing the path for Felicity.

Jonathan and Felicity arrived at the agency 15 minutes later.

“Felicity, let me see your beautiful face,” he said. He carefully studied her face, but felt a strange sensation on his own.

“Honey, it looks like you have a bite on your face,” she said.




A Deeper Meaning to Tatoo
by Pietro Barbera
Short Story: A Deeper Meaning to Tattoo

It was an overcast day, much like most days before, overlooking the once powerful port of Liverpool and its infamous river -the Mersey. The rundown mansion, which once belonged to an industrial millionaire, remained three hundred feet from the shore. The paint pealed from its decaying walls and the porches broken planks could be seen from the street. The windows and doors were sealed with plywood, with the exception of a piece of plywood that swung on a one inch wide nail above a second story window. It provided a view of the industrial water coolers, smokestacks and old warehouses on the opposite side of the river.

A supernatural power emanated from this spot, close to the river. Its presence was undeniable from the squatters who resided there, but its voice called to a woman from across town, like a beacon, warning ships of their approach. She came by taxi to the dilapidated building like a modern day Joan of Arc going to war. Her face, permanently tattooed blue, had two large gold chain tattoos laid vertically down her face. They crossed over her eyes and mouth then disappeared below her druidical gown. Two others lay horizontally from ear to ear, across the length of her face. She slammed the door of the taxi.

Seized by HysteriaShort Story:

Seized by Hysteria

The irrepressible sounds of the casino attracted Oliver like an ant to a freshly laid picnic. That afternoon he arrived from New York and attempted to resist his compulsive urges, but was frightened by the prospect of free time. The bulge of his wallet in his pant pocket, gave him a reason to be haphazard and like any reformed gambler, he thought of a thousand and one reasons to play.

Oliver stepped on to the yellow brick road, a path that led through the ever ringing bells of the casino floor of the MGM Grand. He hit a split in the path and turned into the cowardly lion as he pondered the thought of self-destruction. He dismissed it without reservation when a nearby slot machine rang out to the tune of forty-five hundred dollars. There he stood in front of several monopoly machines. He fondled them and remembered the days he played monopoly with his family long ago. He rubbed a rabbit's foot that hung from his belt hoop.

"Oliver, play me."

What? Is someone speaking to me? He looked around cautiously and saw no one. This is insane.

"Oliver, it's me, you're every desire. Right in front of you! I've missed you."

Stop it! Whoever you are, stop it! I have business to do and I'm here for only a few days. Thanks, but no thanks.

"But Oliver, all I ask is you play five dollars. It's not much. I'll even tell you how much to play and when. Five dollars, that's all."

Oliver looked at the monopoly machine and read the instructions. Easy enough. He reached for his wallet and pulled a five dollar bill from it. Win or lose, I leave after this.

"Don't worry, Oliver. I'll take care of you," the machine said. "We're old friends, why would I do you wrong?"

Never mind, tell me what to do.

"You have twenty chances with a five. Cover the first three lines and push the on screen button to spin"

Right.

Oliver hit the button and the machine spun. The second line stopped with three avenues in a row. Winner! The counter shot up to a hundred quarters. Oliver giggled.

Now what?

"Now you play five coins and lose. You know it's a game of statistics, bet higher when I tell you. You'll always lose some, but those that you lose bet minimally. It's better to get the losing over with. Don't get carried away."

OK.

He pulled the lever and the wheel spun, his eyes mesmerized. The machine stopped with no payout.

Right again. So you think you're good at this?

Short Story:  Seized by Hysteria

"Absolutely," said the machine. "You're going to double your bet on three lines. You need to hit chance so you can reach the big board- monopoly. That's where your money's at. I'm going to get you there. Spin."

Oliver listened to the machine. He waited patiently for the dials to stop. Three chances and the machine started to chant to him.

Yes!!

The machine's deep salesman's voice was soothing to him, like he just came home from work.

"Welcome to monopoly. Pick your game piece."

Oliver picked the car.

"Excellent choice!" it said. "Now, let's win some big money! Spin the dial!"

Oliver spun. The lights hypnotized him as they spun around the board. The light finally stopped on North Carolina Ave. It was thirty-five times his original bet of two. Seventy coins filled his counter.

Fantastic! What a rush! If only I bet five coins, I'd have a hundred and seventy-five coin pay out. This is easy riches! Now, that I have some money to play with, I'll take more chances.

"All you need to do is reach the big board and monopoly will do the rest from there," said the machine. "It's easy. You take it from here. You don't need me to tell you what to do. Good luck."

Easy money.

Oliver took more chances. He bet twenty coins per bet on average. He hit the big board and made the machine sing to the tune of two hundred coins.

The big board, I gotta get the big board! If I can hit with ten coins in the machine I'll walk away. I can do it!

The time passed. One hour, two hours, and then it extended into three. He found the ever present spiral of doom and as he paid more and more to try and come out, he found himself further and further into it. Like quicksand, he struggled and dove quicker and quicker. He was the horse with one hundred to one odds that gets trampled by the frenzy of emotions as he tries to overcome the grips of a problem. He couldn't escape from his past; he couldn't escape from the feeling of lost euphoria. He was hooked on an emotional roller coaster.

"You fucker!" he said. He shook the machine. I'm getting out of here! Goodbye!

Oliver walked away. His eyes followed the path on the floor away from the machines.

"Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road." How can I handle three more days of hell here? I've been here three hours and lost three hundred on a slot machine! I never play the slots!

He followed the path aimlessly. He circled around the curves and bends that enveloped the casino. He walked for a good ten minutes when he realized there was a split in the path. He stood in front of the same machine.

"Sweetheart, did you miss me?" it said.

God dammit! What are you doing here!

A beautiful blonde waitress stopped in front of him, "Excuse me sir, may I get you a drink?"

Her figure filled the tightened dress she wore, her breasts pushed up to emphasize her incredible curves. Oliver's eyes surveyed the untouchable territory.

"A whisky sour, please," he said to her. He sighed in remorse.

She spoke with allure, "Be right back."

Oliver stood in his original position in front of the dreaded monopoly machine.

It spoke, "Just a five to keep you busy, while you wait for a second look. She's worth it, no? Besides, I'll help you with this one, like I did the first."

No! Not again! I'm walking away from here! Screw the drink!

"What about the bombshell?"

Fuck her.

He stormed away on another branch of the path. He followed it as it twisted and turned like the other. Once again it looped him back to the same location. The waitress was there.

"Your whiskey sour, sir," she said.

"What??"

"You did order a whiskey sour, didn't you?" she asked.

"Well uh, yes I did." He turned and faced the monopoly machine. He slammed his hand into its corner. Dammit!

"Are you having a good day, sir?" she asked with the sweetness candy's made of.

He regained his composure. "Yes, these machines are great," he said with enthusiasm. His insides ate away.

"Maybe you'll get lucky tonight," she said, then winked.

"I hope so."

She smiled, gave him a wave and left.

Oliver watched her hips swing side to side.

Lucky! That'd be the day! He faced the machine, and pulled a five from his pocket. It lasted him five minutes until it was gone. He reached back into his wallet and found he only had fifties. No change machines were around.

"Welcome to monopoly! Choose your game piece," echoed a machine from closeby. He walked over and watched from behind. She picked the horse and watch it race to five hundred quarters. She jumped up and down in her seat.

That should be me! I've invested time and money in that machine. It has to be on the verge of paying me out. Fuck it. He pulled the $50.00 from his pocket and in a moment of spontaneity, he stuck it in the machine.

His emotions broke free in a jumbled mix of adulation.

I can't lose. Get me on the big board so I can rape this machine of all it's worth. One shot. When I hit, I walk. Simple.

"There's the man I know. You're so in control, Ollie. I like to see you like this. It shows your manhood. You're confident, daring. Now make me weep, you fuck," the machine said angrily.

"What?"

"Make me purrrr like a kitten."

Wait. What's going on? Is this a trick? Oliver looked at the ceiling and saw a tinted dome above his head. He looked for a speaker on the machine in suspicion. Why would my subconscious call me a fuck? It doesn't make sense.

He looked at the dome above his head again and squinted to see inside. It was hopeless.

I'm getting out of here. His hand covered the cash out button.

"Ollie, you don't want to do that. That woman just won five hundred quarters. Think how much you could win."

Oliver turned and watched her expressions. Her dials moved quickly and each spin of the dial brought on another expression of anguish. Her hands stroked her hair, more disheveled with each roll. It was a look he knew too well. She was driving her fortune back into the machine.

Take the loss, Ollie, take the loss. He repeated to himself. Look at her, it's you. See the mirror, take control, and cut your losses.

He screamed, as he hit the pay out button.

"No Oliver, no. You must play to win. Just do it."

The counter decreased and the coins echoed from the tin below. He grabbed a bucket to toss them in and cash out.

Ohhhh, that burning sensation. Something's not right. Someone's watching me. It's someone behind the dome. He turned to face the dome, and stared intently into the tinted glass. He tried to focus on any sound besides the coins as they hit the tin container. He erratically put his ear to the machine.

What's that muffled noise? It sounds like someone covering a microphone. Someone's talking. God dammit! His blood boiled. I'm being cheated!!

He walked slowly over to the woman who sat a few seats down.

"Excuse me. Is that fifty dollars in rolled quarters on your machine?" he asked.

"It is. I'm saving that for the big machine. The pay out is over $50,000. I'm going to win today. My little voice tells me so."

"How's your little voice tell you?" asked Oliver.

"It tells me how to play my first few hands. Leads me in the right direction, then lets me go to it"

"I see." His anger burned his soul. "Could I give you a $50.00 bill for that roll of coins?"

"I was holding on to it."

"Please?" Oliver pleaded. "I'm in dire straits. I really need it." He looked to her with sorrowful eyes.

"OK" she said uneasily.

Oliver turned and walked back to his machine. He listened intently.

"Ollie, you're back. I know I can please you this time," the machine said.

Oliver turned dramatically to face the dome, wound up, and hurled the roll of money at the glass. It shattered, as spectators looked on. The casino seemed to stop.

"This god damn machine is rigged!! The casino watches and coordinates your losses from above like Big Brother!" he yelled.

Three security members pounced on Oliver.

"Its subliminal control, like the movies in the 50's. It fakes you into believing you can win, than rapes you for all you're worth."

A security guard leaned Oliver over to disguise the fist he threw into his gut.

People gathered beneath the open dome. A sheet was quickly placed over the open roof. A mob of weary people watched Oliver dragged away. The woman a few machines down stood dumbfounded.

"Manager, manager!!" Oliver screamed.

"Take it easy friend," said a security guard. "You need a drink?"

"I need some god damn attention to what's going on in this place!"

"Hey now, you don't want trouble do you? You better shut your mouth, lunatic!"

"I just want my fifty back." "Yea, so where's your fifty?" asked the security guard. " I threw it through the dome."

"You gotta be fuckin kidding. You throw it through our dome and expect to get it back?

I'll send ya to jail, asshole. Besides, you'll have damages to pay."

"Come on, man. I made a mistake. I thought you were controlling the machine from behind the dome. It had to be my subconscious."

"You need help, man, a little reality check." The security men laughed.

"If you take me to the room and show me nothing exists, then I'll be on my way." He looked at the head security guard for approval.

The guard looked at his watch. Seven minutes had passed since the incident. He looked to the ceiling, and then reluctantly nodded his head in approval.

The security guards escorted Oliver to the second floor and knocked on the door. They heard two knocks back and then they opened the door. They escorted him into a secure room with several monitors covering various areas of the casino. There was shattered glass around the hole in the floor. One of the men from the room looked at Oliver.

"You let this god damn guy into our room after he could have killed someone!

What are you on?"

"He needs his coins back, Richie. Give it to him."

He gasped, "God damn insolence of this guy." He pointed his finger into Oliver's face. "You're lucky I'm not alone with you, guy. I should knock you in the mouth with your god damn quarters." He put it firmly in Oliver's hand and gave his Dominic a disgusted look.

Oliver looked around as security watched him closely. He finally nodded acceptingly and security escorted him out. The security guards stood by the door of the room and watched him walk away. They watched him till he was gone.

"Is Greg all right?" asked Dominic. "He may have a concussion. He took a good blow to the head. It's almost as if the guy saw him. We sent him to the hospital to get checked out. I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Quick moves. Good thing we have these what-if plans."

"Good thing," said Richie.

"Do you hear that Michael? It sounded like a car."

"Johnny J., you're tripping again," said Michael.

"I'm tellin ya, I heard a car. I'm checkin," he said. The drug induced junkie stumbled across the floor to the boarded window. He lifted the corner and saw the woman. "Aaggggggggggghhhhhhh."

Michael leapt at his friend, covering his mouth. "What the hell's wrong with you? Do you want us found out?"

"It's the reaper! The reaper's comin for me!"

"Calm down," Michael said.

The woman pulled down the hood of her robe and looked towards the boarded window. She watched the wood sway back and forth on the nail as fingers stopped it mid-swing. Michael pulled it back. He stared at her mysteriously tattooed face for five seconds before she turned her head and returned her hood to its place.

"It's just a woman, J, a very interesting woman." Michael watched her in fascination, "I'm gonna check her out. Stay here." he said.

He crept down the dust-ridden stairway to a broken window at the back of the mansion. Michael saw her approach the river. He maneuvered his way through the broken window sill, and jumped to the yard. He whistled to get her attention.

"Hey, miss!"

"Please don't interrupt my destiny," she said with sympathy. She turned her head and wiped a tear.

"What's your destiny, lady?"

"To sacrifice everything worth sacrificing; to take my life."

"You're talkin nonsense, lady! I can't let you do that!"

"If only you understood. It's why I was born the night of a full moon. The reason, I wake at the setting of the sun."

Michael watched her breathe in a trance, as they moved closer to the water.

"Lady, be reasonable. No man's worth takin your own life. We all endure some incredibly hard shit, but that which we endure, makes us stronger."

She looked across the water at the old chimneys of the munition works. She stopped only feet from the water, to avoid small crashing waves. She tuned him out in meditation then pulled the hood from her head. Michael stepped back. She was albino.

"Please, lady, listen to me. You don't have to do this! Think how much you could do for the world alive!"

She stopped, turned, reached for him, and French kissed him. Her colorless eyes pierced his.

"I value that true sense of kindness in you, but nothing you can do, can keep me from my fate." She leapt from his arms into a foot of the river's water. Her mind took over. The tattooed chains tightened around her body. She watched herself from above being pulled beneath the water, by heavy stones attached to her chains. Bubbles poured from her mouth, as she sank through the murky waters. The light that appeared from the surface got dimmer and dimmer. Her hands grabbed, reached, and clawed, but not one muscle moved above the one foot of water in which she stood. Her mind buckled.

Michael shouted to no acknowledgment. He watched her mouth form small puffs and blows.

"Lady!" he screamed. Her eyes twitched blindly, when suddenly her pupils disappeared.

Michael picked her from the water and ran her to the beach. He lifted her neck, gave her mouth to mouth. He slid his hand beneath her robe and discovered her naked body. The robe fell to the side and revealed the continuation of tattooed chains which covered every inch of her body. Her skin swelled around each tattoo of chains, as if they'd been pulled with all their might.

"Jesus," he said.

Red blemishes appeared on her face mysteriously before his eyes; again, to the sides of each tattoo. He desperately tried to revive her, till minutes later, he let her body go limp. His hand checked her pulse. She was dead.

Michael sat on the shore for hours with her body. He stroked her hair. She's so beautiful. His hands caressed her face. Why would she do this? No one's worth taking her life. Why'd she pick me! Why couldn't I help her? He noticed a beautiful old English script tattoo at the nape of her neck.

"Olivia," Michael said.

If I go to the police, and they see my record, they'll be sure to arrest me for murder. The only other person who saw her was Johnny J., but he was on mescaline. I'll be condemned to death with no trial, which leaves me only one option: I'll bury her. I'll give my blessings and bury her here. I'll be the only one present and the only one to know. It'll be our secret and Olivia, I promise I'll make you live, at least the length of my life.

He threw her body over his shoulder and laid her body by the backdoor. He found a shovel and dug a deep trench under the shadow of a tree. He finished two hours later under the darkness of night. Michael dragged his feet into the house exhausted and fell into a deep depression before he fell asleep that night.

The following day, he hopped on the M3 bus and went into the town center. His blank mind struggled in grief, while he watched the industrial architecture and decrepit buildings pass. He arrived at a soot faced building that had a neon light in the window. It said- Tattoo's. He entered.

"What can I do for ya, friend?" asked the artisan.

"I want the face of a woman tattooed here on my arm. Her expression should be painted in sorrow. It should be painful and I want a single tear to fall down her cheek. Her face should be cobalt blue with chains of gold running horizontally and vertically across her face."

The artisan looked at him strangely, "this wouldn't be a local woman would it? A friend of mine worked on an albino woman who's too's like this."

"Can I talk to your friend?" asked Michael.

"Why?"

"I work in Weary Traveler, a shelter on the other side of town. She's got AIDS and I gotta talk with him, about the needles he used. I need to find her too. She disappeared a few days ago," Michael slyly said.

"Alright, 241 Penny road. His name's Willy. I'm sure he'll give you her address considerin the circumstances."

"Thanks," said Michael, "but first, my tattoo. She's my secret love."

The artisan worked from Michael's description, his hands guided by some unknown external force. Painting like Rembrandt, the artisan finished with a mirror image of Olivia. The man taped a gauze pad over the tattoo and collected his money. Michael ran out the door to 241 Penny Road.

The manager of Will's Tattoo, distinctively remembered the woman. He immediately gave Michael her name, Olivia Pentingham, and her address, 40-15 Farthing Ave., Birkenhead. The tattoo parlor was told to notify Jeanie Willard, Olivia's roommate, in case of an emergency.

Michael located the area on the map, hopped on the bus, and arrived in a dilapidated neighborhood. Penniless vagrants wandered the streets. Trash blew in the breeze and the smell was putrid. He arrived at a building much like his own. How can I tell Jeanie Willard of Olivia's death? He rapped the knocker on the door. A few seconds later, a very plain looking woman opened the door. Her mouth dropped.

A Deeper Meaning to Tatoo "Oh my God, your name's Michael. Please come in." Michael looked at her in astonishment. He cautiously walked in to the railroad apartment. Jeanie stood behind the door, as he walked into the main room. "Olivia's dead isn't she?"

He nodded.

Without emotion, Jeanie shook her head. "Let me show you to Olivia's room. It might explain some things."

Michael followed Jeanie through an old rickety doorway which separated the back of the apartment. They met a closed door. When Michael stepped in front of it, Jeanie pushed it open.

The walls were covered in sketches. Michael pulled a sketch titled Michael from the wall. The likeness was amazing.

"It's me!" He looked around, "My house! My roommate! What the hell!" he said. He waved it at her. "What's the meaning of this?" he said in an angry tone.

"She saw you for the past two years."

"She followed me? Why didn't I notice her, with a face like that-

-She did that only a month ago, but she never followed you or even met you. Until now, I had no notion you actually existed! She made money as a psychic, and within the past two years she dreamt of you many times. She was quite an artist, wouldn't you agree?"

"Amazing."

"She started acting very peculiar within the last three months. After she did the tattoo, I really thought she had made some sort of crossover. It took her days to get it. Did you see the entire thing?"

Michael looked at her with guilt, "Yea, I saw the chains wrapped around her body and her face, but why?"

"I couldn't tell you. She told me not to worry about it, and one day I'd see the big picture. She only told me you'd know the deeper meaning of her tattoo in the future. I think she fell for you."

Michael sighed. He pulled up his sleeve, revealing a bandage over his upper arm. He ripped it off in front of Jeanie and revealed the tattoo of Olivia's face.

"I'm more than a little upset by this. Can I come back and would you mind if I took a couple of these sketches with me?" Michael asked.

"Of course, you can come back. I'm sure she'd be really happy that you took some pictures."

"Can I come back tomorrow?" Michael said.

"Certainly," she said, "I'll leave you alone."

"Thanks."

Michael picked a few sketches from the wall which included his portrait, a picture of the mansion, an unusual sketch of light peering through murky water and the industrial machinery that lay across the river from the mansion. He rummaged through the papers on her desk and found amongst her supplies a sketch.

"It's not possible," he said with denial. He put his hand over his mouth, clutching the sketch with the other. "This is my tattoo!" He read the title on the bottom right hand corner. "Love".

The trip home was difficult. He looked into the haze of an overcast day, finally he reached his house before sundown. The sun's streams of light shimmered through grey clouds on his yard. The mansion had an eerie stillness.

"Johnny J! Vinny B! Where are you guys?" shouted Michael. He heard nothing. Probably out for a pint downtown. He climbed the stairs, opened the door and was met with a flying fist from behind the door. It nailed his cheek and threw him backwards. Sketches flew everywhere.

Two thugs walked out from behind the door.

"We're here to collect your debt, Mikey. You owe us £10,000 with interest accumulated."

"But I only borrowed £5000 six months ago!"

"You know the deal. It was spelled out in simple English. You understand English don't you?"

"Wait, you don't understand! My friends should have it. I invested, my friends dealt, the drugs should have paid off by now. I just put the money out."

"We had a talk with your friends. After a little coercing, they told us most of the money went back up their noses. We left one of 'em to go out and collect our debt. The other's still here. " He opened up the closet door and his friend, Johnny J. fell out dead.

"No!!!" Michael yelled. He looked at his friend's dead body. "You can't! I told you, I just arranged the deal!"

"This means you're responsible. Do you have the money or not? We need it NOW!"

"No, I don't have it! But please…" Michael begged.

"Then it's your turn to face the responsibility of your actions!"

The men threw a barrage of fists and kicks, and severely beat him to unconsciousness. One man threw him over his massive shoulder, and carried him downstairs to the living room.

"Z, get those chains."

Michael regained consciousness. He said in a soft shaky voice, "What chains?"

"We're taking a payment for your debt."

The men wrapped Michael in heavy steel chains. The chains placed precisely where the tattoos were on Olivia. Michael curled in a ball, horrified. He struggled.

"Put his lights out," one ruffian said to the other.

"It'd be my pleasure!" He grabbed a two-by-four and smashed it on his head. Michael went unconscious.

The thugs grabbed him under the arms and feet and carried his body out to a rowboat. They threw him in and rowed to the center of the river.

Michael's eyes blinked in and out of focus as the small waves rocked the boat. He tried to make sense of his situation.

"It should be deep enough here, Z. The silt has to be six feet thick on the bottom. He'll disappear like the invisible man." They picked him up again under the arms and legs and counted.

"One… two… three!" They released his body into the water.

After hitting the water, Michael's body came to life with an adrenaline rush. He reached and clawed at the water, sinking rapidly with the weight of Deeper Meaning to Tatoothe chains. He struggled to try and free himself, but was helpless. The light through the water faded fast.

In an instant, it all made sense to him! It was the sketch he had taken from Olivia's room. The chains were his own. He saw her vision.

Olivia, you're coming for me.

He squinted at the appearance of a ghostly white figure which wore a flowing white gown.

"Olivia."

She gazed into his terrified eyes, and then stroked his face. She smiled and he felt his pandemonium disappear. She touched her lips to his and pulled his spirit from his last bubbles. His lifeless body disappeared fathoms below and the tattoos which scared their bodies were gone.

The mansion was where they would die, together.



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