International Writers Magazine Si vis pacem, para bellum
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You Want Peace, Prepare for War
Hero is one of the people in the filling stations convenience
store. He wears snug black jeans that disappear into tall black
riding boots like cavalrymen wore when tilting towards each other
in green fields, heroes all. The Hero wears His jeans the right
way, and if He saw some man showing off his shapely legs with
the same tight pants and sneakers, He would pull the little black
Italian iron from His waistband and fill them with nine-millimeter
parabellum rounds. They would not see the big iron, but the world
would spin a little more like correct.
"Thirteen and Camels. Straight," the Hero barks at the cashier
after spilling twenty-five golden Sacagawea coins across the counter.
One falls to the other side. The cashier bends down to pick it up, picking
out the filterless cigarettes on the way up. The Hero accepts His change.
He steps out into the neon-lit night and walks to the hatchback car.
The Villain still sleeps under a muslin blanket in the passenger seat.
A lawman is sitting in his cruiser barely fifteen feet from them. The
Hero wonders if the Villain has stirred in his sleep or cried out in
some manner indicative of distress. The possibility of the Villains
sleep being a ruse floats into his head and the Hero reaches back quickly
behind his seat, where the big iron remains hanging in its brown holster.
The officer drives away. He lights a cigarette and breathes in unfiltered
fire and exhales success. All is well for the Hero.
"Youll like this place," the Hero says, His voice a
grind of stones crushing seeds that he sometimes coalesces into words.
The receding moon and righteous ends push Him east, towards the house
the Hero and the Woman had visited last week. The Woman told Him of
the incredible atmosphere in the surgeons operating room. It was
exactly like she had expected it to be but off somehow. And graveyards
are always scary at night. "This is the kind of thing youd
be able to appreciate," He says into the unconscious Villains
ear, "Lots of attention paid to appearances. The Woman went crazy."
Outside the world is black and matches the Heros vestments. Guardrails
are an incessant blur of silver dividing the grey road and gold grass
highlighted by high-beams. The Hero sees a subjectively new green sign
every tenth-to-fifteenth mile. Rye Road, Riddle Run, Logans Ferry,
Alliteration Lane. Tell Him not where to go, for He has been everywhere,
and knows that house on Boot Hollow is where this needs to end. The
white letters of B-O-O glow under the Xenon arc discharge and the Hero
swings the car hard and left, pitching the villain into the window a
little less softly than intended. The Heros car dips into the
black below of Boot Hollow and He reaches over to peel the blanket from
his passenger. The seat is barely covered by the thin Villain. His hands
are wrapped together in duct tape. He is finally awake.
"How are you feeling?" the Hero asks, "No headache? Sometimes
theres some blurring of vision and thats normal, but if
your head hurts then there may be some brain damage. Nervous tissue
scarring is permanent you know."
"Whatd you do to me?" the Villain asks.
"Dont worry about that now. Youre about to see something
incredible. Atmospheric. The Woman went crazy," the Hero says while
he accelerates the car, "You should prepare yourself."
"What the hell are you doing?" the Villain asks, "Where
am I? What gives you the right to abduct me? Whats going on?"
"Relax, everything will be perfectly pellucid in a few minutes,"
the Hero says. He slams the car to stopped in front of the dark house
and swings the door open. The Villain is crumbled into the footwell,
trying to open the door and untangle his limbs at the same time, so
He takes His time raising the headrest and extracting the big iron and
its holster from the car. Walking to the back of the car, He opens the
hatch and pulls out a shovel wrapped in a plastic drop cloth. From His
jeans He retrieves a retracted lock-back knife.
The Villain finally pries himself free of the footwell and out of through
the car door. The Hero slices his legs free at the ankles. He pokes
him in the back with the wrapped shovel and takes a secondary pleasure
in the residual impairments the sedative has applied to the villains
gait; now shambling, now sloppy, now drunken. The Villain stumbles across
the threshold of the double doors, swinging loose and disorderly on
their hinges, and the Hero quickly breaches the dark house after him.
By memory, He nudges him out of the foyer with its inward-winding, ostensibly
grand, staircase, through the kitchen and its tessellated white-and-black
surface streaked red, avoiding the pot filled with latex limbs and down,
into the basement.
Mercifully, there is light for the Villain when he descends the bottom
half of stairs. The Heros gloved hand gropes the light switch
at the top of the staircase and he stops for a minute.
"Keep going," the Hero says, "This is nice."
There is another set of stairs, but the Villain is not a coward. This
is something he can appreciate. A single iridescent bulb subtly sways
from the ceiling, its light bent toward the ground with a silver-plated
pan. A hose is coiled in the corner. A metal table lies parallel to
a wooden one, bisected by a brass drain. The metal table is bare, but
the wooden one is someone elses workbench with a whetstone laid
in it and a leather strap laying across it, a hand ax that is better
described as cleaver sticks out of it and a straight razor is unfolded
on its wooden majority. The Villain is a thin man, a knife man, and
eyes the cleaver like salvation.
"Go on," the Hero says, "pick it up."
The Villain dives for the handle fast with both hands and it folds instead
of following the motion of his arms. There is a confused look on his
face when the Hero lays him back down with a heavy bullet from the big
iron. Like everyone before him, the Villains last words are a
"Plastic," He mutters while the Villain gropes for the hole
in his chest, "a prop."
Now it is the time for the Hero to do the work of a vigilante, someone
who must pretend he is a bad man when he is more right than the world.
The shovel is unwrapped. The plastic drop cloth is cast across the metal
table. Water pours out of the hose at the Heros command. For good
measure, He opens and closes the razor three times before slicing it
shut and shoving it into his jeans before carefully hoisting the dead
man onto the plastic-covered table.
It would be a good time for a cigarette, an acceptable unit of time
for delineating tasks. Instead, the Hero picks up His shovel and walks
away from the tables to the storm doors, pushing them open and walking
out into star-lit night and towards the ad hoc graveyard. He plunges
His spade into the turned-over dirt, going deeper than the gravediggers
original design, but not as deep as is appropriate for ritual burial
of human remains, villains or otherwise. An hour later, His gloves are
warmer and tighter around His fingers and He walks back in to the basement
to finish His dirty work.
The Villain is pale on the silver bier. He is ready for the razor. The
Hero turns off the hose and digs the thin blade out of His jeans. It
cuts through his shirt and skin, then the sparse tissues of fat and
muscle, in two fast slices. The Hero prods the hole left by the bullet
with the blade, listening for the distinct tink of metal on metal. When
He has two-thirds of the bullets He retrieves the lock-back knife from
His jeans and begins cutting chunks free. There is a hefty shard in
the sternum, and the Hero uses the thicker knife like a lever to pull
it out. The Hero is satisfied. He wraps the Villain up in the plastic
and hoists him on to His shoulder, carries him out into the graveyard,
and casts him down into the murky hole before filling it further, completely.
The Hero leaves as He came, through the storm door, up the basement
steps, pausing briefly at the top to acknowledge the importance of caution
before walking through the dark kitchen, foyer, and double-door entrance
into the night and the car. Settling in the drivers seat, He flicks
out a cigarette. He breathes in unadulterated fire and exhales pure
success. The Hero Exits.
"You met him today?" I asked you when you picked me up after
a mundane day at the call center.
"Yes, we didnt get anything done," you said, "just
talked about the possible color combinations of the place settings and
looked through a cavalcade of photographers portfolios. I was
not satisfied. No numbers were dialed. No plates were bought. No appointments
"Oh thats too bad, baby," I said as you turned your
hatchback around in the wide, sweepingly empty parking lot we werent
allowed to leave our cars in and started for home, "Youre
meeting him again on Wednesday though, right? Youll work things
"I think you should come with me and help me decide."
"Id really like to hang out with you two again, but Wednesday
is my day off and your meetings are really early, Teagan,"
I told you. I really wanted to tell you that you were being sexist.
I couldnt come with you to pick out bras, and I know that was
a big deal that, like this, should be very simple. Its just volumes
and circumferences, design, and color coordination determined by ratio.
Real quick, Teagan, how many black panties do you have? You buy half
as many black bras. While I couldnt help you with that, I could
help you with this?
"So you dont want to be involved?" you concluded, "Everyones
going to be there, you know. Your parents and mine. Our friends. Community
pillars. A priest."
"I dont care what they think," I said.
"You should care if I care!" you said.
"Oh, of course I care, Teagan, but I thought this was something,
you know, you fantasize about all your life. "
"But theres so much to make sense of."
"Youre smart. Youll figure it out and itll be
beautiful. What do you want to do tonight?"
I tell people things are still going well with you and me. We make dates,
and not just for the sake of going out.
"When she picks me up off the steps of the call center," I
say, "We come to a consensus. Aggravating days demand comedies
with Seth Rogen or Robin Williams." You and I had a natural sense
that allowed us to course correct and when we needed scared out of complacency,
a healthy dose of horror was absolutely necessary.
"Theres a haunted house down Boot Hollow," you said.
We shared a kinky thrill in a home that appeared to be owned by a doctor
and, I suggested, in the thrall of the disembodied spirits he hacked
free in his basement. Assuming appraisers can express "possession"
as a fault, the local land value has plummeted. His neighbors must be
pissed. You pressed purple bruises into my arm.
"Why so dour?" your adversary asked me when I dropped in on
him, on Tuesday.
"I dont know what you mean," I told him. He sat down
in an overstuffed armchair that he still didnt fill out.
"You look like youre going to a funeral," he said, leaning
forward, resting his jaw on his fists.
"May yet," I told him, "Seems like a good business to
break into. People always got to die."
"Ah, the human condition
"Suffering and death," I said for him.
"I guess this is what Teagan sees in you?"
"I have a giants cock," I told him, pointing at my crotch,
"Its an important asset."
"Of course," he said, "So, if youre not here to
plan a funeral, what can I help you with?"
"Teagan isnt going to make her mind up on these plates."
You werent. When you finally picked the paper for the invitations
wed be setting a date for 2012 and no one would come because they
would be vaporized or choking to death under a giant cloud of ash along
with everyone else. I couldnt sit through another eight years
of guest list revisions and subsequent seating chart revisals.
"Well, would you like to see the book?" he asked me, "Shes
marked the ones she likes."
"No. No. I want you to tell her that everything she looks at is
genius. Sparkly Bluegill dishes and matte Canary yellow napkins? Brilliance!
Green felt table cloths and Salmon bridesmaid gowns? Perfection!"
"You realize Ive been hired by the two of you as an aesthetic
consultant? Youre paying me for my opinion on these things,"
"Then tell her that you have a heavy client load, people who scheduled
you very far in advance, and you need her to figure these things out
straight away," I told him.
"Thats not even ethical!"
"Youre a bridal consultant."
"A keen observation," he said, "You let people yell at
you for money, I would think youd have some skill with resolving
"Uh-huh." This was a job for the Hero.
Willie Better December 2008
Stories in Dreamscapes
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