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Fireworks Through the Fog by Nick Manzolillo

Distant bombs burst in the air. Every creak from Perry’s recliner is that of firearms being loaded and safeties switching off. In the twilight of perception between drunken consciousness and a nearly sober mind, Perry rolls off his chair; a throne of empty Eagle Light cans.

He is aware that it’s the dark dawn of the fourth of July, but those distant, exploding rockets of nose twitching magnesium may as well be going off right in his face. Every distant boom causes him to twitch. He’s forgotten to go to the gas station to stock up on beer; he hasn’t had a drink in hours; he needs fuel, and he needs to leave his head. For every distant explosion, Perry straightens and then twitches from where he lies on the floor. The stench of shit begins to fill his nostrils as he curls into a ball.

In the dim of his sister's living room, between every blink, Perry can see the burst of automatic fire. The strange thunk of skulls popping and tendons snapping. How blood can spritz across a surface heavier than water. Sweat begins to swell around Perry's eyebrows, causing searing streaks of pain to blaze across his vision. More than anything else, he remembers the scorching heat of the desert, the blisters along his palms, and that mind-shattering scent of shit. Perry went to war and lost. He will never again fail and wake up covered in human feces, writhing from lead-chewed holes in his wrist and thigh as his friends and fellow government pawns scream until their own blood gurgles in their throats.

Perry straightens out on the floor and glares into the ceiling. From outside and down the street comes the steady drum of a pack of firecrackers. Perry screams his lungs hoarse before running to the garage.

 Sitting under Lindsey's ex-husband’s workbench is a box containing former Sergeant Perry's souvenirs from his life before the war. Next to the box is a duffel bag with a faded Nike logo that Perry hauls up, unzips and spills the contents of across the workbench. An Ar-15, a Remington, the standard berretta M9, three spare clips for the semi-assault rifle and only two dog-eared boxes of spare rounds. The munitions form a strange collection of clicking noises as they strike the table, reminding Perry of one big chamber being cocked. The Remington’s useless, he’s been meaning to buy ammo for the damn thing but he hasn’t been shooting since, well, fuck, Perry can’t remember.

Both ammo boxes have THINK written on them in thick, black marker. He can’t remember writing that himself, but maybe he did. Maybe Lindsey got to feeling extra concerned about Perry before she got sentenced to six months in county for breaking the nose of her ex-boyfriend’s new girl with a brick and then stealing and crashing that home wrecker’s car into an old stone wall.

 Lindsey would’ve gotten a couple years if the new girl wasn’t old Cranked Up Bill’s white trash daughter. Lindsey’s house hasn’t been the same since she left, mostly because everything seems to be damp and stinky. Perry keeps forgetting to change the cat’s litter box so old Felix has been taking to going to the bathroom in the bedrooms. Perry usually can’t smell shit, mercifully. The odor only exists when his memories come back. 

He slings the rifle over his bare shoulder and tucks the pistol into the waistband of his grease stained jeans. A fuzzy memory from those three months at boot camp resurges. A soldier’s nothing without his uniform, his gun, and his heart. According to his old prick of a drill sergeant, the mantra of preparedness went exactly in that order. Now where the fuck are his boots? More explosions sound off in the distance and Perry wonders how many deaths are tied to each burst of noise. He eyes the bike helmets hanging on the garage walls and he’ll customize himself, if he has to. He’ll customize everything until he’s ready for combat again.

 Worse than shit from the latrine pit that he can still smell all the way from 2004, is the burn of gun smoke. Home is no longer a safe place. There are people to kill and wars that need a happy ending.


“Take a good look at her, yeah? That’s my little girl.” Frank holds his phone in the air like the picture is the shining beacon of pride that it is. “She goes ‘daddy, why do you want a picture of me for?’ and I told her ‘because you are the most special, beautiful girl in the whole world and I want everybody I meet to know it!’ then she said ‘but dad, I know I’m the most beautiful girl in the world, I just don’t want the paparazzi to find me and bother me like the Kardashians.’ Now I admit, she probably got that attitude from her cunt of a mother and all that trash TV she watches, but she’s cute, right?” Frank “The Facefucker” Billiard shows off the picture of his seven-year-old daughter playing softball on his disposable flip phone. The majority of his friends and business associates know that he had to actually make an effort to take a legitimate picture of his daughter and then continuously transfer it to each burner after he replaces the old phone every other week. The others don't know any better, and they believe Frank to be the humble leader he claims to be. They are the good old boys who don’t think too hard, who he puts this whole show on for. The beer, burgers, strippers and a crystal clear pool that was green and stagnant as all hell just two weeks ago, it’s all in the spirit of celebrating this dear country’s independence.

“Cute, Frankie, but not the kind of girl you’d catch me showing off on my phone, huh?” Ricky Catoni laughs and swigs his half full can of Eagle Pilsner, spilling a little on his hairy belly that’s as round as an exercise ball. The other three men who’ve looked at the picture, Tanner, Dill and the other Rick all raise their eyebrows at him like Ricky shit himself. It takes Ricky a moment to realize what he’s said. Frank is on him all the same.

“I show you a picture of my little girl and” Frank’s raising his hands, pursing his lips and squinting his eyes as if the smaller and more rat like he forces his face to appear, the more likely he’ll be able to figure out what the fuck he’s just heard. “You go straight to thinking bout pussy, yeah? We’ve got strippers coming that are so starved for a bump and a bonus that they’ll lick the skin off your nuts but you go frothing at the mouth when I say I got something to show you? When I pull up a picture of my daughter?”

Ricky should know better, because unlike the other three bozos, he’s witnessed Frank break a man’s collar bone with a tire iron and then tear that same poor SOB’s skull half in half by trying to wedge it into his mouth. He’s seen Frank light candy and cash skimmers heads on fire and then kick in the jaws of disloyal pups that think they can go carrying out misdeeds in the name of his organization; the Corksville County branch of the people who really run North Carolina and all the lonely back roads and shy towns of this entire country. They don’t call him Frank “The Facefucker” for nothing. Forget the belt, he never aims below the neck.

“I was just saying, I was just joking that...” Frank grabs the curly locks of hair on either side of Ricky’s head and pulls him down because Frank’s only 5’7 and he likes to look people straight in the eyes. Ricky spilled gasoline earlier while helping to set up the fire pit and now that, intermixed with chlorine, fumes between the faces of the two men.

“You’re a real lovely son of a bitch but you can’t always joke, Ricky, you can’t always joke, especially when you’re a fat, hairy, clown.” Frank erupts into piggish laughter, rustles Ricky’s hair and then playfully shoves him away. He holds the picture of his daughter up in the air. Friends and business associates of Frank are sprawled out in lawn chairs by the pool, while others play Bache ball in the grass and a couple guys are comparing bull shooters by the fire pit; a massive pyramid of neatly stacked firewood soaking in the gasoline. “It’s family, fellas. Family that keeps your soul pure no matter much blood and shit you gotta swim through.”


Later, Frank’s starting his third cigar of the day and sitting on the back porch of his “vacation” house, eagerly awaiting the moment he can spark up the barbecue. The cigar was hand crafted by a buddy of his in the city to the South. It has a bitter sort of taste, like a beer with too much hops, but Frank likes the idea that somebody made it with him in mind. Cubans have nothing on a smoke stick made with love. Frank’s already calculated that, if he has a cigar every two hours, the entire stash he’s been gifted will last until he’s drunk enough to pass out between the ample breasts of a stripper or two in the hammock by the edge of the woods.

 The “vacation” house used to belong to somebody else, but then they disappeared. Frank had nothing to do with it. The humorless people who don’t believe in partying who oversee Frank are the ones who “relocated” whoever had this place last. It’s right in Frank’s town, and he didn’t even know the motherfucker, but when it comes to the people who tell Frank what to do, he’s not surprised about any of the sneaky things they conduct in plain sight. Around the world, even.

 Despite his name, Frank “The Facefucker” doesn’t always make a big show out of killing people. The Tony Mantana lifestyle is fictitious, mostly. Murder is for those cartel dogs in Mexico. In America, when you operate outside the law, you kill only as a dead to last resort. Or when you’re sure nobody the earth over will miss whoever fucked with you and thought they could get away with it. People in this red neck of the world like to talk up a killing just like they do their varsity football games all the way back in high school. There’s that one touchdown people keep going on and on about, even if it’s the only one you ever got. In the real world, all that wild west shit is the stuff of fiction. People don’t get murdered, not often at least, but plenty get beat, raw and bloody, over and over. Today, on the anniversary of this country’s glorious birth, Frank and the people he does business with, the people he even likes to call his friends from time to time, they all get together and forget about what they’re doing. They choose to instead reminisce on what they’ve done. On all the fan-fucking-tastic touchdowns they’ve scored.  

“You seen the garage yet?” Rick, the one who isn’t fat and spilling beer over himself while wearing a white bathing suit that’s too tight, asks Frank.

“Well, is the garage full of what I want to see?” Frank grins, clenching the cigar between his teeth.

“Hoh yeah.” Rick, who’s hardly in his mid-twenties, smiles with trembling lips. “We got more on the way, too. Marv and Buzz are coming, and they got a couple we can all play with now, y’know, so the girls can dance around with the sparklers and shit.”

“Alright, alright, let’s take a peak at what the stash is, man.” Frank doesn’t have a son and, far as kids go, his little girl’s enough for him. Still, he likes treating the non-fat and stupid Rick special every now and then. He feels like the kid, and other young people he’s employed in the past, kind of look up to him, even if they’re a little afraid cause of all the touchdown talk everybody loves to exaggerate. Nobody’s with their families today, but that’s alright, today’s something special, just for the crew, to celebrate all the work they’ve done for close to a decade now. Frank’s crew runs a standup operation, far as those humorless people up above that keep their fingers to the strings are concerned.

 “Gonna love this. We went to like ten different stores, found the biggest ones.” Frank lets Rick lead the way to the two-car garage. Town’s just down the road and it’s still probably the only house for fifteen miles that has a two-car garage.

“Say, I sure gave enough money for the best, didn’t I?”

“Of course, yeah, I’ve got that, about eighty bucks left, we couldn’t fit anymore.”

“Jeez, eighty bucks? Shoulda spent it on some whiskey or something man. Don’t go bringing me back eighty bucks after I told you to spend four grand. The fuck, brother?” Frank could bust the kid’s balls all day, it’s too rewarding seeing how red his face grows and how twitchy he gets.

“Alright, alright yeah, I’ll have Marv and Buzz run out, get us top shelf shit.”

“I already got top shelf shit. You make them pick out some top shelf shit, then surprise them and tell them they get to keep it. That’s how you make the people who do shit for ya happy, you see?”

“Cool, cool.” Frank follows his little apprentice into the garage and…

“Holy mother of god.” Before Frank stands a pyramid of superiority. A totem to the gods of mayhem and pleasure. Frank’s a good ol boy, always praising his liquor but, damn, when you see a mound of brightly colored bombs in front of you, even the thirstiest drunk will bow down before a display of fireworks he knows he’ll get to shoot off one by one and two by two. “They’re gonna hear us ten counties away,” Ricky’s beaming.

     Frank’s grin threatens to cleave his own head in two. He takes a final puff from his cigar, then stomps it out on the garage’s cement floor. A couple sparks saunter dangerously close to the mountain of bombs before dissipating. “Kid, they gonna hear us all the way up in the clouds.”


They stop at Marv's house because he has to take a dump and Buzz stays outside because Marv's house is small with no air conditioning, which means Marv's stink will totally own the place for the rest of the day, maybe even the weekend. Buzz plays with an unlit Camel and leans against the side of his dad's 69 Camaro. The old man was too hung-over to crawl outta bed today; apparently, he celebrated the third of July a little too hard with his buddies at the warehouse and now he's paying his dues. Probably didn't even hear the throaty bellowing of the 69 starting up. The trunk's full of bombs and there's a party with unlimited booze and more strippers then there are laps to sit on. There may even be free drugs, pending on how tight Rick really is with them guys.

Buzz nearly chucks his phone to the ground when he sees Rick's text asking him to get some top shelf shit for the party. More chores? Screw that, the day's drawing on and isn't the fourth all about cracking your first brew by noon? There are M80 firecrackers chilling right in the backseat and it's high time he had some fun, saving the explosions for the party be damned.

Emerging off his beat up, splinter ridden front porch comes Marv, whose face is all red and he looks to be limping a little. Marv's got long blonde hair that Buzz considers shaving off every time the scrawny punk parties hard enough to pass out beside him. One time, when Buzz was fooling around with a blonde girl his senior year, he mistook Marv at a shindig for his lady, only for a second, but it made him sick enough to have trouble getting it up the next time he was with his girl. Marv's ruined blonde girls for him, and as far as best buds go, that's inexcusable.

"Hey my mom's boyfriend left some candy on the table! Whole dime bag full! Should I bring it?" Marv’s excited even though he’s a classic example of melt brain.

"We should do it on the way up over" Buzz says, finally getting a flame on his nearly drained butane lighter as he ignites the tip of his cigarette, takes a puff and, wanting to be cool, uses the end of his smoke to ignite the tip of the M80’s fuse.

“Aw shit!” Marv breaks into a goofy chortle as Buzz waves the bundle of firecrackers in the air before tossing them into the middle of the road. That’s when he sees the armored man with the big ole rifle in his hand, standing by the edge of the tall grass strewn field across the street.

The man’s wearing a bike helmet, and his eyes are so wide they’re almost revolving, spinning. His body’s quivering, the rifle rocking back and forth in his grip as he shuffles it, points the barrel to the ground. Anticipating something more than an explosion, the excitement brimming in Buzz’s chest begins to grow spikes and strip itself into knots. The hissing yellow spark eats away at the M80’s long wick, not particularly fast, but steady, punctual. The freak with a gun stops shivering, stops quaking in his oversized boots the moment the spark disappears into that red bundle of plastic, and gunpowder.

The ensuing eruption grounds Buzz motionless as each consecutive blast from the smoking noisemaker causes him to exhale as if every pop is a punch to the gut. The world is a funnel of noise that shatters all thought and intention. Amidst the tundra of sound, the gunslinger crouches, jerks his weapon toward Buzz and Marv and at last, the illusion of loudness is cancelled. Buzz drops to the ground and catches Marv diving toward him before the world pops and explodes into a new display of chaos. The Camaro becomes a bucking, living thing as round after round pumps into its metal frame, sending a shower of shrapnel and sparks over Buzz and his best bud.

“I win now! I win now, assholes!” the mad motherfucker in armor screams before popping in a fresh clip.


Officer Longshaw isn’t looking forward to Frank’s party, mostly because he knows what those sick bastards that stay in the dark have planned for the guy. It’s a shame, because he’s admired Frank for the near decade that he’s worn the biggest balls badge around the county. Longshaw’s upheld the other badge, the one who writes and spells out the exact rules Frank needs to break to be successful. The worst part is that the only thing Frank did wrong was by doing something bad to some punk’s face who turned out to be somebody’s son. It could’ve happened to anybody in his, or maybe even Longshaw’s, position. When it comes to the people up above, you don’t know anything about them, especially who their blood is. Then again, Longshaw has never crammed a baseball in some asshole’s mouth before hitting him with a bat.

He’s not looking forward to the party because it’s going to be a good party, maybe even one of the all time best, and he’s going to want to reminisce about it for years. It’s also a goddamn shame that some New Englander is soon going to be in charge of everything. Hell, it’s a shame that any of Frank’s crew will be. Longshaw’s known some of them since back when they were all kids, stealing dope crops from farmers and driving their dates along those pretty mountain roads and scenic rest stops every time they wanted to neck. Nearly every one of Frank’s crew, save for a couple guys, are the same punk motherfuckers who have filled every inch of town with their dysfunctional litter; from half abused kids to abandoned pregnant women to literal trash, illiterate graffiti and the embers of stolen cars laid to waste. It’s no wonder Longshaw has to walk his son to the bus stop every morning, if only to keep him from picking up empty needles, leaking hole poked condoms and the odd shotgun shell casing (either full or spent) from the side of the road.  

Longshaw’s on his way to have a beer, a burger, and to maybe slap a bare ass or two when he sees the smoke rising in the air. The explosions drown out the B.B King jamming away on his Sheriff’s car speakers.

The cruiser rises over the slope of a hill, and up ahead is something for the movies. Longshaw's throat goes drier than the dust twirling along the road and his seatbelts flying one way while his hand swings to the gun on his other side. He flicks the radio off because that does fuck all for his concentration. As he jerks his car sideways and feebly grabs his radio, he hardly has a moment to remember to turn on his siren, but he does.

The man firing round after round into the Camaro while two young shit-heels take cover for dear life on the other side is a perfect balance between what makes Longshaw’s balls shrivel and his belly brim with laughter. Longshaw kicks the Sheriff’s car into park and fingers his trigger as the world jerks short, to a stop. He's probably going to kill somebody. He might get killed. Dear god he needs backup and they sure as flying fuck won't get here in time. What's he care about those two used tampon sons of bitches hiding on the ground anyhow?

The lunatic stops as soon as he hears the siren. The gun, an Ar-15 if Longshaw's damn sure of anything, drops to the ground. One minute the guy's full lead to the wind and no survivors, next he's staring in shock and crying like a baby at the horrible mess he's done to Barry Thompson's daddy's Camaro.

Why, it's Perry fuckin' Scholtz under that silly looking bike helmet with a reflector along the side. The poor son of a bitch is staring at his hands as he raises them. His eyes go wide when Longshaw raises his gun and screams for him to stick those scab filled arms in the air. When he tells Perry to kick the gun away from him, those oversized, what, fishing boots maybe, kick that thing hard enough that it clatters under the Camaro.

The two shit-heels are peering over the side of the car, crying loud enough to rival the gunshots as Officer Longshaw approaches Perry, whose turned his back in the air like he's been told. "What in the hell happened to you bud?" Longshaw asks as he closes within ten yards.

"I was winning..." Perry croaks. A firecracker bursts in the distance, and he twitches as his arms lower.

"Raise your fuckin arms, come on bud." Longshaw knows Perry’s sister, Lindesy. She's one hell of a sight, and it’s a shame what happened to her, beating that deadbeat Cranked Up Bill’s daughter and all. Perry was always a quiet boy in high school. He had a single mother, and she seemed to do her best, though she still ended up dead in a ditch with a needle in her arm while Perry was n his second tour overseas. God bless this motherfucker all the same, he's a veteran.

There's another firework and a pistol has somehow slipped its way into Perry's hands as he raises it toward the boys. "Fly, you pig motherfuckers!" Perry shouts but before he can fire Longshaw bashes him over the head, catches that arm and nearly snaps it in two, forcing that gun to fly loose. The army was three years ago, and Perry's done nothing but hide away since. Nothing feels good about slipping the cuffs on him, but Longshaw’s ready to do a little jig considering he managed to get this solved all by himself.

"Shows over fuckwads, you bleeding? You dinged up? Quit blubbering and call your boy Rick and tell him you're gonna be late. We all have paperwork to fill out f’or any of us get to that party." Longshaw shoves his boot into Perry's back to make his point.


The stench of burning hotdogs fills the whole house, even the clothes-strewn bedroom that Emerald finds herself digging through. There’s a bag of something in here with her name on it. Or maybe somebody else’s, but she wouldn’t mind taking their name if she’s got to, she’s done that before. When your considered nothing but a pair of tits and ass (and a scrawny pair at that, no matter how much of her tip money Emerald spends on fried chicken) you know how easy it is to go unnoticed, uncared for. Emerald, or Emma as she finds herself being called in her dreams, knows that the house’s six bedrooms won’t stay empty for long.

It’s getting dark and the amount of alcohol being consumed has already resulted in enough cans to fill the back of a couple of those big-assed six-wheeled pickup trucks. Mr. Billaird’s company is forbidden from taking the girls in here by daylight, and some of the men have already been going with the other girls off to their cars but that’s only because Frank himself has yet to select his “brides” for the evening. So far, each one of the twenty-two girls has gone up to him where he stands alone by the grill and like an audition, Frank has voiced his opinion. Emerald got a “Mmm, I think you’d be great for Rick. One of us full grown boys is liable to split ya in three, yeah?” then Frank offered her a burger and she didn’t want anything to do with his sweat drenched body, but the insult still stung like the hands of the man with the potbelly that slapped hers and the other girls’ asses the moment their bus arrived.

There is something of value in this dark chamber of sleeping and fucking, and she is going to find it. Whether it be crank, coke, or plain crumpled cash, she’s going to get a part of it before someone less deserving does. Emerald didn’t ask to work today, but when you’re always hungry for that one pinch through the nose that makes your heart finally start beating, you go to work on holidays. You put on the lacey underwear and make sure your more hairless than a lizard in the underbrush. Her sixty-four-year-old mother, who knows everything but claims to be blind, asked her what she was doing today. Emerald was offered a place to stay and even though her mom lives in a third floor walkup with hardly a pool or grill in sight, it would have been something. Emerald could have gone somewhere, and she realized it as soon as the club sponsored bus driver passed down the isle a pair of pre-party dope baskets for the girls to get amped up on. The worst part about feeling alive and getting your fix is that, almost always, you feel like a good for nothing bitch the moment you should be at your most sated.

 The door snaps open behind Emerald, and immediately she says“Hey, help me find my earing!” trying to take advantage of the real nervousness twitching through her chest. She turns and there’s the boy, her designated “partner” for the evening. Rick, who can’t be older than twenty-five, stands there, frowning.

“What are you doing in here?” He asks the wrong question.

“Well, what I was brought here to do.” She smiles with a well practiced grin that she’s been fishing into the pockets of lonely losers and worthless mad dogs for years, for the better part of her own twenties.

“But Frank said…” and she has to do it, as she strolls over to Rick and grabs him by the crotch. She’s pretty sure she knows, and remembers, every bit of what’s supposed to happen next. As cringe worthy as it always, always is. When Rick grabs her by her jaw and slams her to the ground, every idea turns to shit. The young ones used to be so shy, and sweet. Who’s been turning them rabid?

Rick drags her by her ankle partially out the door and yells, “You were right! I found one getting greedy,” to a pair of giant legs.

Frank, a big goon with a baldhead, and a smaller, hairy man with a half moon tattoo on his cheek and some kind of eye shadow fill the hallway, a gleam in all of their eyes. Emerald predicts the very worst that these kind of men can do. She can take it, as long as nobody scars her. She can survive anything, and she will get what she wants, no matter what any one of these no good pigs thinks about her or her profession or her needs.

"First we get a lil tempted murder, now thievery? Fuck if this is some kinda fourth huh?" Frank brings himself closer to Emerald. "Why, this is the one I was gonna pair you with Rick. Shit. Girl, what were you thinking? Here, at a party of all places?"

"Listen, I'm tired, I was up really, really late last night...hustling, Mr. Billiard"

"Oh were you now? And you just thought you'd take a nap, yeah?" Mr. Billiard grins and then the man with the outhouse moon taps his shoulder. Frank's tight, muscly neck twists his head to face the man and something unspoken and agreed upon in a prior moment occurs before Frank looks at Emerald with a wet grin as he licks his lips.

"Well, you can take your nap, and Cory here will tuck you in." The bald man with mean eyebrows steps forward and clasps an iron grip over Emerald's arm.

"Rick? Did you want to help tuck Emerald in?" Frank asks but the kid shakes his head, looking down at the floor.

The giant doesn't so much drag Emerald as he does haul her through the air, past the bedroom she had been plundering and toward a room in the furthest corner of the upstairs hallway. Of course, Mr. Billaird doesn't want the other girls to see or hear what happens to her. A junkie, never mind a whore, is as loyal as a hungry pet gator, but no woman would ever rest easy knowing Emerald's probable fate. There would be runaways and last chance robberies, maybe even stabbings and overdoses.

 Mr. Billairds associate, Carlton, the drug manufacturing scientist and lunatic that privately owns Emerald's club, wouldn't want a rebellion on his hands. Emerald's heard him claim that "his" girls are hooked just enough on the candy and the meth and the coke and the multicolored drops and drips and tabs, that he owns them both body and soul. Emerald's heard him say this practically right to her face. She’s hidden her smirk, just as she hides it now, because she knows, when the moment is right, all slavers come to a bloody end.

The giant drags Emerald into a messy, of mold and piss stinking bedroom nearly identical to the one she was caught in. She's thrown to the ground as the giant towers over her, a thing of shadow and half-light from the partially folded window blinds. " This is bullshit", the giant mutters, before crawling over Emerald and slapping something cold over her wrist. A pair of handcuffs that then close their mouth around the wooden bedpost.

"Hell's wrong with you, miss? You know they gotta put on a show snooping around like ya are, silly as fuck girl. You better find a means to break that post there, or your fucked. When the New Englander comes in here...find a way to break out or kill yourself, my advice, he aint right." The giant leaps off her, shakes his head, then hurls himself out of the room. Emerald is left with her heart pounding, ripping away in the dark. She knows she's done a silly thing indeed, misunderstanding both the mercy and the limitless savagery of animals. She’s not afraid, though, nobody at no cost gets to make her do that.


"These here are ‘Merican strippers. They aint’ afraid of a few burgers and ribs like them vampire European imports you see in New York," Frank dares to wag his finger at Lark, The New Englander, who’s just one plain crazy fuck in general. He's got a weird half moon tattooed on his cheek, and Frank didn't want him to come here. The cloud gatherers that tell him what to do insisted, however, and now the saying’s true that every party has its weirdo.

It was Lark’s idea to see if anybody was “snooping around” the vacation house and to Frank’s sincere regret, shit now has to get nasty. It’s also Lark’s idea to save the girl whatshername for the “after after party,” whatever that means. Frank knows that Lark is part of some fucked up, balls to the wall moon cult in one of them clam chowder states. He knows that, in this case, it’s best to give Lark what he wants. Whatever he does to that damn poor fool of a girl won’t matter in the long run. There’s plenty more beer to drink, and Frank’s hardly gotten started. As it is, Rick’s damn friends have gotten themselves into trouble and worse yet, Sheriff Longshaw says it’s not their fault.

Frank didn’t respond well to the phone call and tried to hang up immediately. Of course, about forty minutes later Rick had to go pick up sparklers and his buddies Buzz and whatever the fuck his name is because their Camaro was shot to shit. Apparently, that poor fuck Perry Rash has lost his mind and is having some kinda PTSD flashbacks because of all the fireworks. Go figure, somebody always has to be to going around turning shit ugly. Marv and Buzz, despite being surrounded by affectionate strippers with thick thighs over on the pool chairs, are still fucked up and twitchy. Some of the other guys don’t like the sound of it all, either, and this is quickly becoming a pity party, on top of Lark’s depravity. This what happens when you run things and try to give everybody a good time. You end up suffering the most.


On the cold slab of his piss and puke scented bench, Perry’s been dreaming without sleeping.  Within the damp cement walls of his cell, his thoughts have been drifting through time, as if each empty shell casing that popped out of his rifle was a lifeboat rowing him back toward the war he escaped from. Perry misses the friends whose bodies he stumbled through, blinded by shit and shrapnel. Perry feels no guilt, both for what he’s done both back then and now. In this new war of his, he regrets not settling on a new definition of “victory.”

The bullets tore through the side of the outhouse while he was staring at a picture of a girl he missed. His pants were up, which is a small mercy, and despite the heat and stink of the latrine, it was still better to rest in that small solace of shade when compared to standing by the barracks while the sergeant raised hell throughout the camp. They had been told to expect an attack every single day for almost two months, so everyone was surprised when the mountain men came in guns blazing. The outhouse tipped over before Perry could even stand up. It was on its side over a ditch when he finally managed to crawl free with fresh, bleeding holes along his arms and legs, scratches ripping across his face. The pool of shit he was swimming in spilled out into a ditch. Because of the bullet in his thigh, he had trouble standing as he kept slipping and falling back into the muck and feces. To think, all of that excrement was what him and his dead and dying friends had created after digesting and turning to waste their rations and special care packages that amounted to little more than cheez-its and the occasional fully melted chocolate bar that had to be licked off the paper. When the medics and later, doctors, finally got ahold of Perry, they were full of wry jokes about how he was lucky if he didn’t get E-coli from the infections along his many open wounds.

“Oh boy I wish I could wash my brain,” the man in the cell next to Perry says, with a strange singsong pitch to his voice.

“Shut up…” Perry says, remembering a man, who was really just a boy, called Micky, who would always run his jaw a mile a minute whenever they were in the field together. Something to do with nerves, it made Perry want to blow the kid’s brains out himself. Until he stumbled past what was left of Micky’s body while he was wiping shit from his eyes.

“I know you, I know you, brotha. Your sista’s a hell of a fighter. Little miss Million Dollar Baby she is. She beat my daughter’s ass!” Perry recognizes the man through the void. It’s Cranked Up Bill, who’s more of a town mascot than the local high school’s Chieftains. Cranked up Bill, father of three, with lips chewed damn near away and so many track marks scattered along his arms that he’s something of a saint, considering he can even stand up and appear to be breathing.  Perry’s nerves and arms and the back of his neck still feel like there’s electricity, dancing through the air, but Perry can remember, for the most part. He can use his brain, kind of, though it’s like he’s in two places at once. Like he’s travelling between the now and the then.

 “Y’know, that brats been real nice to me ever since. Shame my moral convictions kept me from doing it myself.” Cranked Up Bill’s bald with an impressive red beard from ear to ear. The old cleanliness disciplines that still course strong through Perry leave him wanting to pull apart the metal bars between them and pluck out each one of those hairs individually.

“You’re not right.” Perry’s lips feel like rubber, and it’s hard to talk. He doesn’t feel himself talking. He kind of wants to scream. If only he could stop fucking shivering. There’s something like another gunshot or bomb, way off in the distance but Perry can hear it, through the walls. He starts breathing heavy, then he thinks of how a dog breathes and then Perry starts panting, with his tongue out.

“You a real show, god damn. You are a walking salute my friendly friend. Ya PTSD, poor twitching sonnova dame, I dunno, you’re PTSD Perry, that’s who you are. Boy, word spreads quicker than a lick of fire. Ol’ deputy dragged me in here a minute after I heard ya while I was by the store, trying to get my free beer. Y’know, I think I heard you shooting off up in the Downbrick neighborhood, but maybe it was just more of these damn fireworks. Ya like a sniper in a thunderstorm, huh?”

“You don’t know bout no spark from a rifle, you never been burned.” Perry finds himself spitting on the cell floor. He’s disgusted with himself, if only because the familiar sense of his lip being packed full of tobacco is missing.

“You really are a loon. I’ve lit myself on fire more times than anybody I know can count. Let me ask ya something, before we go getting so unfriendly we forget what kinda salutatious day it is. Why’s the flag on you’re military guy uniforms always facing backward? Yer army uniforms. It aint on the cop ones, I was looking at longdick’s and his was facing normal, all stars facing left like.”

Stunned out of his anger, it takes Perry a moment to consider the question, before he remembers asking it himself once upon a time. “It’s cause, when you’re geared up, you’re running, hustling, so it’s meant to look like the flag blowing back.”

“That’s kinda silly. It’s just like the government to have us all blindly running forward. Ya know, winners walk backwards, go side to side, and even hang upside down, if they gotta.”  The word win does something bad to Perry, so he lunges for the bars between his and Cranked Up Billy’s cell. He just manages to grab the druggie lunatic by the strands of his beard. He bashes the Bill’s face against the bars once, twice….

     A shadow moves into the hallway before the holding cells “Shut the fuck up,” Officer Longshaw says, stepping to the cells with his hands on his hips. His gun belt has been removed. Like the sight of those flashing police cruiser lights, Perry lets Cranked Up Bill fall back into his own cell. The squad car’s lights pulled Perry out of that…red fog and that’s when he woke up and realized where he was and what he was doing. Perry remembers the cop pointing a gun at him. He also remembers the cop asking if he’d be alright, the night Longshaw showed up in his sister’s driveway to explain to him that she wouldn’t be coming home for a little bit.

“You calmed down a little?” Longshaw asks Perry and it sounds like Perry wants to call him “son” but maybe Longshaw respects Perry too much to slyly talk down on him like that.

“I don’t know how I am.” Perry hears himself say.

“Let’s get you out of here…..buddy.” Longshaw unlocks the cell and extends a hand for Perry to follow him.

“What’d he win the fucking lottery? Or is this special fourth privileges for veterans? I was a volunteer firefighter back in the day, where’s my…” Perry’s lead out of the room with the holding cells before him and Longshaw can finish listening to Cranked up Bill’s sputter.


It’s a sad fucking day, when you have to get somebody else to fight your war for you. Longshaw debates leading Perry into his office, where there’s a tall bottle of malt Home Sweet Home freshly cracked and sitting on his desk, hardly touched. Time is of the essence. It’s getting dark. The firework shows will be starting soon and Perry shouldn’t be late. He’s a bomb ready to go off. A bomb that’s been shooting sparks all over the place before it truly erupts into color and sound.

In the hours between finding Perry and locking him up, contacting Frank to let him know his excuse for not making it to the party and now, after much mournful contemplation, Longshaw’s got a big brilliant idea. It’s horrible, too, but only for Perry and maybe one or two of those poor naked girls who get caught in the crossfire.

It’s like in that movie n’ book Rambo, when good old John Rambo goes a little nutty in a small town after being harassed by the local police. In the movie Rambo II, John Rambo is given a purpose, a mission to go rescue POW’s still remaining in Vietnam, and just like that his violent capacity for terror becomes less tragedy and more patriotic justice. Longshaw thought Perry was just another heroic victim, until he did a little digging on the old, big-boxed computer that sits gathering dust half the time on his desk. Before Perry got sent home with a purple heart clenched in his fist, he was a god damn machine. He saved something like a dozen lives during a botched operation where his own brothers where getting hacked up and torn to pieces. Perry isn’t just a heroic old-fashioned army man, he’s a warrior. He knows how to kill, and act under pressure. All that’s happened now is, his sensors are fucked up. If Perry is steered toward the right kind of enemy…he could do wonders.

Frank’s going to die. What matters now is who takes over everything. Frank’s boys are scum and the people up above will eventually realize that and kill them all too. Longshaw can save the people up top the trouble, and he can keep his hands relatively clean while he does it. It’s a sick, fucked up thing, but this is a regime change. This is the time where people like Frank and, unfortunately, people like Longshaw himself, have to get dirty. Innocent people could die in the ensuing scuffle between the remnants of Frank’s crew and those who dwell above. The whole town could be destroyed and children could be harmed. Soon as he thought of the children, Longshaw knew he had to do this.

 Perry’s already doomed, there’s no coming back for him. Throughout history and America’s black-bleached underbelly, no change of leaders is conducted without bloodshed. And all the while, those without a mind are tossed to the gutter. Perry doesn’t deserve to be in no gutter.

Officer Longshaw leads Perry to his squad car. The station is small, and empty. Nobody sees them. In the trunk of his Sheriff’s car is a fine selection of confiscated guns, a vest, and a Swat helmet. It’s all petty, ugly, and can’t be traced back to Longshaw. It will do.


Perry can smell a BBQ cooking when Officer Longshaw drops him off at the base of a dirt road. There are lights in the distance. A boom box blares a crescendo of country music and Perry is reminded of the barracks. There is the foreign laughter of females, and then a random gunshot that causes tremors to erupt, starting in Perry’s belly and spreading to his limbs. Longshaw holds him still, while dressing him. Like a baby, Perry lifts his arms and allows Longshaw to slide the vest over him. Then the helmet. A belt is spread around his waist. Better boots have been propped onto each of his feet. The first thing Longshaw asked on the ride over was “Do you want to do this? I can’t promise it will end well.”

Before Perry could respond, Officer Longshaw told him about what happened to Perry’s mother. He said it was no accident she was found dead. He said Frank and some of the other older guys had something to do with it. “Well don’t you wonder who sold it to her?” It’s funny though, standing here and hearing that gunshot, Perry’s forgotten all about the emotion that came and went after hearing that little revelation about his mom. There is only the need to act, and win.   

   “It’s going to start soon.” There is plain fear in Longshaw’s voice. In the car ride over here to the enemy’s stronghold, Longshaw mentioned how he served in the military, briefly, “just before the tip of the gulf war.” He never saw active combat.

A pistol is clenched into a holster by Perry’s side. A rifle is pressed into his arms; an M-16, close enough by definition to be like the AR-15. Perry remembers shooting earlier. He remembers, but he doesn’t feel it. That was a nice car he shot. If only the bad guys woulda stepped into plain sight, like the wars of old. Perry never thought Afghanistan would be a battle between ghosts and shape shifters, enemies that weren’t your enemy until they erupted right under your nose.

Longshaw gives Perry a reassuring little push toward the dirt driveway that rises up a little hill. Evergreens block the home from the road. “I’m gonna go around back, I’ve got ya bud.” Longshaw says, and his voice is choked up. Perry takes a few steps forwards, not feeling his legs move. There is a strange pop, from up ahead. A shooting star rises into the sky, and then there is the big, almighty blast. A circle of blue fire erupts across the night sky, killing all the pretty stars and their lost wishes. Perry starts running toward the noise.


The bald fucker was right with his hints and all. The bedpost snapped easily. Emerald was out of the bedroom window faster than she can flick her tongue. She never expected the bear trap. Even on the worst of days, in the worst of light, and in the fever of her cravings and nightmares, she never could’ve expected that wicked, wicked thing.

It wasn’t chained to the ground, and its jaw wasn’t jagged like a shark’s, thank the lord. Rather, it was dull, but the trap itself was strong enough to clench her ankle and shin and if not break, then certainly fracture a little something. Before she could scream louder than the Bob Dylan throwback occurring on the massive speakers set up behind the diving board of the pool, there were hands around her throat and neck. The man with the moon tattoo was instantly all over her. “I was hoping, I was hoping,” he kept saying and he was more wolf than man. Worse than any little dick-having short tempered fist flying woman beating scumbag Emerald’s ever had to deal with and escape. There was a knife to her throat and she was laughing, hysterically, over just how bad everything turned out to be. Who could’ve thought? A little violence and molestation is the norm but this? This is some eighties exploitation flick horror movie shit. This is the kind of stuff her mother would warn her about when they’d curl up and watch those kinda movies in the wee hours of a school night.

The wolf taunted her with the knife for who knows how long before the fireworks distracted him. He was off her, hunched low to the ground and running towards the pool and the heart of the party. There was another firework, only there wasn’t any lights in the sky to go with it. It took until the automatic firing started before Emerald realized she was hearing gunshots. One of the men had fired into the woods a little while ago but this wasn’t lazy and playful like that.

She starts crawling, dragging her wounded leg. The trap wasn’t attached to a chain. It hurt, but it was a focused hurt. She could forget about her damn leg. She could bite it off, if she has to. She crawls away from the side of the house and there’s a fence near the edge of the trees. She has to crawl past the side of the party to escape into he woods. The other girls are screaming and running towards her rendezvous point. A few of the men are running, too. She recognizes two younger boys, one of them with blonde hair, following the girls and screaming into the forests. She rounds the corner of the house and men are exchanging fire with somebody in the driveway.

Flashes of yellow and orange from the moving bodies, Frank’s boys, pushing forward and crouching low, with nowhere to take cover. The speaker system is shot to hell. A firework, already lit, tips sideways off the big rock behind the pool where Frank was having one of his buddy’s fire them. The rocket shoots towards the house and explodes in a Christmas colored explosion of red and green sparks amidst the men firing from pistols and little compact guns Emerald doesn’t know the name of; machine guns. Another stray firework darts its way between the two war parties and it must be a whole army assaulting this place. Emerald is paralyzed where she crawls. Men are screaming, bleeding, dying. Bodies float face down in the pool and the pool light is turning crimson. The boy that Emerald was supposed to lay with is lying on one of the pool chairs, his body crumpled and still.

Frank is screaming and firing from the back deck when something thunks into the top half of his forehead. There’s a little beady hole in his scalp as he staggers and falls against the grill. It’s one hell of a grill, a big sturdy square thing, and Frank doesn’t knock it over. As he slides down, his face strikes the hot metal rungs and even over the gunfire, Emerald can hear the sizzling as his well-fucked face melts and his hair, full of stinking gel, becomes alit with flame. All Emerald ever wanted was a little bit of an advantage, a free score, a heads up on the other hustlers. Why is there so much blood? Why does the gunpowder make her nose burn so bad?


Perry bobs, weaves and cuts down man after man. He’s no monster. He hardly pay attention to each body after it’s riddled with bullets. After stomachs and livers and hearts are deflated and flooded with blood and air. All that’s really killing them is the air, the exposure. Taking what’s in and pulling, punching it out. There are massive hornet stings along his arms and against the vest. The vest is a shitty one for cops and Perry is confident that a bullet or two have pierced past the Kevlar and are now lodged within him. He keeps moving, from side to side. Maybe that fucker Cranked Up Bill was right about winning.

A shirtless fat man’s stomach takes too many holes and a bullet whizzes by Perry’s head. Perry craves the silence. He needs it all to end. He gets his wish when the M-16 clicks empty on his fourth and last clip. He drops it, brandishes the pistol and then is tackled to the ground.

A snarling man straddles Perry’s chest and this, it’s all a joke. It’s all pointless. The pistol still clutched like a dying ships anchor in Perry’s hand bucks twice and the man, who had a half moon tattoo across his face, suddenly has a full moon under his jaw, pouring out the liquid of the stars.

Perry shoves the carcass away and another hornet sting appears across his chest. These fools don’t know how to hide. They don’t know how to take cover. They don’t know not to wear a bathing suit and flip-flops to a gunfight. Half the enemy has fled into he woods, but, let them run. Perry shoots another man, whose already lying amongst his fallen comrades on the ground. It’s a mercy kill, as Perry lowers his pistol and howls to the night sky. Small fires from the magnesium bombs are softly burning beside the fallen. There is a sizzling emitting from the porch. Something’s cooking.

Someone’s twitching by the pool, so Perry heads over, cautiously. By the time he limps over there, the twitching body’s stopped and Perry’s staring into the emerald hue of the pool. Its red clouds are starting to dissipate. Its floating bodies can only bleed so much. Perry looks over himself, and begins to cry. There are too many holes in him. Just like last time.

There is a sharp pop-pop from Perry’s left. He watches his own chest become deformed as he crumples to his knees and the pistol falls from his hand. Officer Longshaw is approaching him, gun drawn all cop-like. Perry imagines smoke twirling up from that police issued piece of shit.

“God…son…God…” Officer Longshaw is speechless. There is more gunfire from Perry’s left, and Officer Longshaw crouches, screams as something plucks his leg, and then he’s firing at someone Perry doesn’t care to see. Several shots whiz by before another round catches Longshaw in the throat. The cop becomes another gurgling thing lying down, bleeding fast and then slow.

In the pool, there is an American flag float. It has four cup holders, and each one is full of an unopened can of Eagle Light. The float gently glides towards the edge of the pool and Perry, a mess of gore, falls forwards. His legs are soaked but he manages to role over. The vest took all it could take. He shouldn’t blame the vest. Perry’s pretty sure he won, now, and the vest is a hero. It took all it could. The guns did their part. Those spent clips were brief, but not wasted.

There is a limping figure, coming toward Perry, and he hopes they can’t swim. He pushes against the pavement with the tip of his distant toe and the float brings him toward the center of the pool. He has just enough energy to pick up one of the cans of Eagle Light but he can’t snap it open at first. It takes a good minute, or maybe three hours, before he pops it open and presses it to his lips. The first sip of alcohol brings him back to reality, and his eyes brim with tears once more. Perry remembers himself, as he looks around at all he’s done. All he needed was a sip of alcohol this whole time.

There is a woman, half naked in her underwear, or maybe a uniform, hunched over by the side of the pool. Her bare ankle is bruised, bleeding and kind of crooked. Perry knows her. Oh, Perry knew her, back in the great before. She’s Perry’s ex, the girl who was sending him letters and pictures in 04’, blaming him for not giving a fuck, for introducing her to the sweet, sweet candy before getting sober, abandoning her and responding to the call of duty. Emmy’s holding a pistol, a cowboy shooter, painted red. “I know you,” she says softly. “You’re a good guy, I know you…” she says, her voice trailing off to somewhere better. Perry would like to believe her. The raft rotates and the woman, the survivor, slips out of view.

 Perry raises the beer to his lips but then his arm stops working and he spills it all over himself, all over the floating American flag. There’s so much red around him he might as well be swimming in blood but, he’s floating, he’s flying, free.

There are fireworks in the distance, but the bombs have finally stopped ringing in Perry’s ears.