Saturday, March 3, 2012

Free Story For the Weekend

Happy weekend, friends!
Enjoy this golden oldie.  I still dig it, hope you will too . . . .


     They say what goes around comes around.
     And boy, are they ever right.
     I’m walking proof of that.
     As recently as a month ago, I was a totally different person.  I don’t really mean that in the way you’ll think I do after I tell you what happened (ha!), I mean mentally.  Emotionally.  Morally.
     In fact, I don’t think you would have been too far off in labelling me, back then, as a Bad Person.
     I was proud of it.  I wore my bad-ass demeanor on my sleeve for all to see.  I was young (still am), I was brash.  I felt the world owed me a living.  If I had to obtain that living through crime, through violence, so be it.  At the time, I guess I considered hurting other people no more than a necessary means to an end. 
     Boy, was I a fool.
     Day after day, it was the same routine.  Jimmy Delmonica and I would roam the streets of New Orleans, doing what we had to do in order to survive in a world we didn’t make:  picking pockets (although I never became as good at this as Jimmy -- once I targeted an undercover cop on whom to pull my amateur sleight-of-hand, an incident which resulted in my sucking the guy’s cock so I wouldn’t have to spend more than a couple hours in jail; meanwhile Jimmy just ran away when it happened, as he was wont to do in such situations), shoplifting, burglary, even a random mugging when the opportunity presented itself.  This was how Jimmy Delmonica and I survived, how we thrived in the city some clueless idiot had once dubbed “the Big Easy.”
     We were a team, me and Jimmy Delmonica.  “Partners in crime” he always called us, with that big shit-eating grin on his scabby, stubbled face.
     Of course, I would never have trusted Jimmy Delmonica with my life, but I’ve never met anyone I trusted to that degree. 
     On the streets you gotta look out for your own ass, man. 
     There was this ancient black bag-lady, eighty years old if she was a day, started hanging out a couple months back around the abandoned tenement Jimmy and I slept in when we weren’t out raising hell.  We used to see her every day, could hear her even when we couldn’t see her, staggering along the cracked sidewalk with her rusty shopping cart creaking along like some thin metallic beast on its last legs.  She only had one arm, her left one, and always wore the same filthy gray ankle-length dress with red and black trim and lots of holes.  She never paid us any attention, never acknowledged anyone else, for that matter.  She’d just walk up and down 9th Avenue day after day, night after night, as if there was somewhere the old woman desperately needed to be but she couldn’t remember where that was.  She constantly murmured to herself in a language we didn't understand -- French, it sounded like, but I couldn’t tell for sure -- while she scrounged through dumpsters for food or "new" items to add to her already mountainous collection of refuse in her cart.  Old boots with the laces missing . . . radios with wires sticking out of them like eviscerated roadkill . . . cracked dishes, picture frames, or ceramic figurines . . . yellowed textbooks with mildewed covers and half the pages missing . . . it didn’t matter to that old lady.  I guess she perscribed to that cliche “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
     I can’t really tell you why Jimmy and I set our sights on old Leatherhag that night (“Leatherhag” was the cruel name we had given the bag-lady because of her ancient brown hide, her cracked and leather-like skin).  I suppose it was simply because she was smaller than us, weaker than Jimmy and me.  Isn’t that how most bullies choose their prey?
     It was on a Saturday evening when we did what we did, a chilly evening around eight-thirty or so.  We could see our own breath on the air that night, like the smoke from Jimmy’s Marlboros he always lifted from the 8th Street Shop-N-Save.  Jimmy and I, we were sharing a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 (compliments of the ABC store at the end of the block), sitting on the steps of the closed-down titty bar not far from our makeshift home, when we saw old Leatherhag rolling toward us.  She was peering up at the sky, muttering to herself in that foreign language about God-knew-what.  Just like always.
     “I hate that crazy old bitch,” Jimmy said, flicking away the butt he’d been smoking. 
     I nodded, started to say something in agreement, but he turned to me as soon as the words were out of his mouth and grabbed the bottle of Mad Dog I was about to finish off.
     “Hey, fucker.  Don't hog all that.”  He tipped back the bottle, downed the last few swigs left in there. 
     He belched.  The sound of it echoed down the block.  He tossed the bottle away.  It clattered down the sidewalk -- Jimmy looked disappointed when it didn’t break -- before rolling to a stop against a burned-out light-pole decorated all over with colorful globs of chewed bubblegum and a flier from some all-chick punk band called The Pussy-Eaters.
     “Hey,” said Jimmy.
     “What?”  I said.
     He poked me in the side with one bony elbow.  “Let’s have some fun with ole’ Leatherhag.”
     The bag-lady continued to gaze up at the starless night sky as she drew closer to us, oblivious to the fact that we were there at all.  The squeak-and-rattle of her ancient cart echoed up and down the block.
     “Whaddaya say?”  Jimmy popped his knuckles like a guy preparing to jump into the middle of a bar-room brawl.  “We’ll just scare her a little, that’s all.  You wanna?”
     “Sure,” I said.
     I had nothing better to do.
     I stood then, smiled, mirroring Jimmy’s own mischevious devil-grin.  “You know I’m fuckin’ game.”
     I think as I went along with Jimmy that night I might have felt the slightest bit of guilt even then.  I was a hoodlum, a “no-good delinquent” as my stepdad used to call me before I finally left home for good . . . but when it came down to it, what the hell had ole’ Leatherhag ever done to us?
     Nothing.  And I knew that.
     But it didn’t stop me from going along with Jimmy, having some fun at her expense.
     Plenty harsh words were shouted in the bag-lady’s ear that night, words like “nigger” and “porch monkey” and “jigaboo cunt.”  At one point I grabbed the stub of ole’ Leatherhag’s right arm, touched it to my crotch.  I hawked up a green loogie and spat in her wrinkled brown face.  When her gnarled left hand came up to try and block it, and Jimmy and I saw she only had three fingers on that other hand, we laughed like we had never seen anything so hilarious.  We shoved her and she went down on the cold, hard asphalt, blabbering nonsense through her tears.
     Jimmy said, “Fuckin’ freak!  You ain’t even a whole nigger!  You’re only half o’ one.”
     We cackled and jeered and even kicked her a couple times while she lay whimpering on the asphalt.  Meanwhile, her shopping cart rolled away from the scene like some fairweather friend sneaking away once things got bad.  It hit a pothole at the end of the block, rattle-crashed onto its side in the middle of the street like a tired old beast finally lying down to die.
      Jimmy screamed with laughter, and I couldn’t help it.  I echoed his sentiments tenfold.
     Finally, when the game grew tiresome, we walked away.  As we left we gave one another high fives -- as if we had accomplished some monumental feat -- while behind us old Leatherhag shrieked hoarsely at the top of her lungs.
     Batards!  De tel hommes mauvais!  She waggled those three fingers in the air, danced madly in the street despite her injuries as if she were inflicting upon Jimmy and me some satanic skid-row curse.  Par les dieux, vous ne partirez pas avec ceci!  Vous payarez, vous heathens blanc, vous payerez et vous viendrez pour savoir crainte vraie!!!
     “Alrighty-then!” said Jimmy Delmonica, and we laughed so hard we cried. 
     God, if I only had all to do over.
     If I did, I swear I never would have gone within a hundred feet of her.
     I didn’t know we had killed the old woman until two days later, when word on the street got around that she’d been found.
     Seems her heart had given out on her later that night.  Her corpse was found the next morning on the front steps of the Orleans Parish Courthouse.
     I suppose I could argue that, since she died of a heart attack, Jimmy and I weren’t really responsible.  But I know better.  We killed her that night, even if we didn’t want to admit it.
     We had killed old Leatherhag as sure as if we’d put a .38 to her head and pulled the trigger.
     Now we were gonna pay.
     I’ve been wondering lately if Jimmy would have suffered the same fate I have suffered in the days since we killed that old woman.  Or maybe something worse (is that even possible?).  He was the one who instigated the whole thing, after all.
     I’ll never know, though.
     Less than a week after we heard the news that old Leatherhag’s body had been found, Jimmy Delmonica was dead.
     He’d been stabbed by some psycho over on West 32nd.  Stabbed to death when he tried to mug the wrong mark, apparently.
     Word on the street is, he was stabbed forty-seven times.
     I can’t help thinking that Jimmy Delmonica got off easy.
     These strange things that I've been leading up to -- the stuff that's been happening to me, to my body -- began two weeks ago.  My own surreal penance for what Jimmy Delmonica and I did to the old bag-lady.
     The Friday morning before last, I stepped into the 7th Avenue McDonalds to use their restroom.  I would do this once every couple weeks or so before all of this started happening; when I could sneak in there without getting thrown out, I would use their facilities to wash up a bit, maybe take a dump or jerk off with a little privacy.  Sometimes a fellow needs that, whether you live on the street or not.
     On the day in question, I first noticed the itching sensation in the fleshy part of my right arm, on the underside of my elbow.
     It was a deep, burning itch like nothing I’d ever felt before, like a nagging tingle deep in your throat that’s impossible to scratch.  Now, as I sat there on Ronald McDonald’s crapper, hearing the bustle of the breakfast crowd outside, I saw the cause of it.
     “Jesus,” I whispered, oblivious now to the basso echoes of some old man’s machine-gun diarrhea filling the next stall over.
     A deep, oozing boil was embedded in my flesh, in that tender part of my forearm underneath my elbow.  I touched it cautiously with the tip of one finger, but hissed through my teeth when that simple brush against the thing resulted in piercing agony.
     A blood bubble welled up in the center of that shiny red-pink crater as I stared at it.  It popped.
     Jesus Christ.  Why hadn’t I noticed it before?  And what had caused the festering wound?  I hadn’t been with any crack-whores for at least a year, so V.D. was out.  Thank God.  I’d never used intravenous drugs.  Didn’t know any lepers.  What the hell?  For a second or two I found myself wondering if touching old Leatherhag that night might have given me something for my sins.
     No.  I had barely touched her at all, far as I could remember.  My assault against her had for the most part consisted of cruel epithets, verbal battery.
     Couldn’t be it.
     I finished my business in McDonalds then -- ignoring, as I always did, the handwritten FOR COSTUMER'S USE ONLY sign on the bathroom door -- and went on.
     Putting that . . . thing out of my mind as best I could.
     Two nights later I awoke from my bed of cardboard in the condemned apartment building I called home, woke in a cold sweat from some terrible nightmare.  I could not remember the dream in its entirety, yet I knew it involved the old bag lady Jimmy Delmonica and I had murdered.  I was sure of that much.
     My right arm was alive with a ticklish sort of tingling at first, as if it had merely fallen asleep beneath the rotten tarp I used for my pillow.  But once I had fully awakened, that needles-and-pins sensation mutated into an awful throbbing.  It felt as if thousands of tiny daggers were stabbing into the length of my arm now.
     I clenched my teeth, moaned.  Looked down at the crook of my arm, where that wet red boil had been two days before.
     And I gasped as my eyes fell upon it.
     A miniature mouth, tiny jaws chomping frantically as if in hunger.  It was the size of a silver dollar, that mouth, and hideously alive.
     Its lips peeled back to reveal coal-black gums, tiny chipped and yellowed teeth.  I could smell its breath, an odor like meat gone to rot, and I immediately turned and vomited onto the cold ground beside me.
     I could see the thing's wet pink tongue in there.  I could feel it rolling around inside me, inside of my elbow, for Chrissake.
     Glistening.  Squirming.
     It almost seemed to smile at me.
     Four days later, I discovered the eyeball that had grown into the back of my head.
     That spot on my scalp had been itching terribly for the past twenty-four hours or so, but I hadn’t really thought much about it.  I chalked it up to dry skin, the consequences of not washing my hair as often as I should.  At worst, perhaps I had contracted head lice from some fellow street denizen.
     Maybe.  In any event, I assumed it wasn't anything that couldn’t be remedied.
     You see, in those last few days since I had discovered that orifice -- that mouth, as impossible as such a thing could be - in the crook of my arm, smiling up at me, often dribbling its pinkish saliva onto my wrist, I had almost grown used to it.  That is not to say that a new mouth suddenly growing upon a part of my body not normally reserved for facial features is an everyday occurence . . . I simply knew there was nothing I could do about it.
     So I dealt with it.  I wrapped dirty wrags around it when I went out.  Folks would stare at me like I was a junkie trying to hide his needle-tracks, but I paid them no attention.  The alternative, I knew, would be much worse, if they saw what I was really hiding.  The worst part was the moisture that would soak through my makeshift bandages throughout the day, like blood from a leaking wound.  That, and the fetid stench of its breath, which would often wake me in the middle of the night.  I would sit up with a start to the sound of some distant siren, the sounds of the city to which I had grown so accustomed, wondering what had awakened me . . . and I would feel it working furiously in my flesh.  Gasping, smacking its cracked alien lips, sometimes grunting though it had no visible vocal cords.
     Still, I lived with it.  I had to.  What other choice did I have?
     But it didn't stop there.
     I discovered the eye in my scalp at the same place I first encountered the ugly boil that eventually became a mouth in my arm.  In the FOR COSTUMER'S USE ONLY restroom at McDonalds.
     The itch had become worse than ever that day, just above the nape of my neck at the base of my skull.  When I went to scratch at it this time I felt wetness.  Soft, pulpy matter that made a squishing sound beneath my finger.
     At first I feared my brains were leaking out of my head!  I had to get to a mirror . . . .
     And I did.  And I saw it.  A corner section of the bathroom's mirror was broken, had been ever since I’d been going there for my bi-weekly shits and paper-towel baths.  I peeled away a shard from that corner, careful not to cut myself (though ultimately I did leave there with a few shallow gashes in the tips of my fingers once I saw what had become of me) and then I turned around.  I held up the piece of glass, positioned it so I could see the back of my head in the mirror over the sink behind me.
     I pushed my hair away from that itchy spot with two fingers, exposing my scalp.
     Gaaa!  I shrieked when I saw it.  Impossible!
     “What the fuck?  What the fuck?!  My voice echoed through the small room, bounced off the walls, off the tile floor, off the urinal filled with soggy cigarette butts to my left.
     The eye was barely visible, covered with hair and an ultra-thin film of fleshy matter, but it was there.  In me.  And it was very alive.  It glistened wetly in the overhead flourescents, rolled about as if looking for its mate.
     It blinked at me several times fast.  Almost flirtatiously.
     “Agh, God . . . Jesus God . . . what is this . . . ?”
     Its pupil was dark brown, almost black, and stippled with specks of gray.
     My eyes have always been green (I have no idea why I should feel the need to mention that now, but there it is).
     They threw me out shortly after.  A manager barged into the restroom just as I began to tremble violently, as I thought about curling up in a fetal position right there on the dirty floor, whimpering until the men in white suits came to take me away.  He was a young man, like myself, though life had treated him better that it had treated folks like me and Jimmy Delmonica.  He was very tall, almost freakishly so.  Fiery red hair.  Resplendent in his McDonalds manager’s uniform, a tie with tiny Golden Arches up and down its length.
     “Get out of here, you,” he said.
     His voice was high-pitched, effiminate.  Jimmy Delmonica would have called him a “faggot,” I'm sure, had my friend been around to voice his opinion.  But he wasn’t.
     At that moment the squeakiness of the manager’s voice sounded just like old Leatherhag’s rusty shopping cart.
     “What are you doing?  You must leave!  We don’t allow your kind in here!”
     I left, but I had to stifle a sick laugh in spite of myself as he shooed me out . . . .
     My kind?
     Not long ago, I would have known exactly what he meant by my kind.  I probably would have kicked his ass for that comment, and I might have sliced him open with that jagged shard of McDonalds mirror.
     But now . . . .
     Now my kind has has taken on another -- far more bizarre -- context entirely.
     Things haven’t gotten any better, either.
     Far from it.
     In fact, things have gotten so out of hand lately . . . I’m starting to think about using this shard of mirror on myself.
     I don’t know what she did to me, man.
     Old Leatherhag.  Was she some kind of witch, a voodoo bitch or something?
     That’s all I can figure.
     ‘Cause when I got up this morning, I found . . . new things.
     New additions, if you will, to my rapidly-changing body . . . .
     I screamed when I saw them.  And felt them.
     And I haven’t stopped screaming since.
     The sharp brown nose, growing out of that tight stretch of pimply skin on the underside of my dick, just above my balls.  Its nostrils flare constantly, and it runs like it’s got a bad cold.
     The stiff brown nipple, on the backside of my hand.
     And the fingers.  How could I forget the fingers?
     Three of them.  Wrinkled, black.  I saw them in that piece of mirror.
     Growing out of my asshole.
     Wiggling, down there.  Bending and flexing.
     My God, what is happening to me . . .?    

If you enjoyed "A Changed Man", please check out more of my short stories:  my collection People Are Strange is available in both trade paperback (signed) and e-book formats . . . see the BUY MY BOOKS tab at the top of the page for more info!

"A Changed Man" was originally published in Whispers From the Shattered Forum.

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