Hinnom maissue 002, p.16
Hinnom Magazine Issue 002, page 16
“Water. Eugene Water.” It was a man’s voice, quiet. Water, he thought. I am Water. He opened his eyes again and lolled his head to the side. Sanchez was sitting next to the bed. He realized he was in a bed. A hospital bed. Sanchez was sitting in a chair. A hospital chair.
“Krilanovick,” Water rasped. Sanchez tilted his head sideways, then looked away.
“Second Lieutenant Krilanovick was in a coma for three weeks after we cut him out of his Yellow Edison. His . . . his crown melted on uptake. He . . .” Sanchez trailed off.
Water thought about that. Kril had a wife and a kid with some kind of smile. Kril, who liked to BBQ even when it rained, especially when it rained. Kril, who liked to play Frisbee. Kril, Gulf War vet, three times decorated, who had been plucked from more than a hundred thousand soldiers with detailed psyche profiles, just like all forty-seven of them in Project Afterlife, the rare selection of the psychotransmogrification PhD’s and the research staff, for reasons no one ever talked about. Kril, who died in the World. Kril, who might not be anywhere, anymore.
“The uh, the new guy?”
Sanchez sighed. “He never really made it back. Name was Riley Koch. His profile read like a pervy horror movie shown upside down in a slaughterhouse, so I can’t say I’m too sorry about it. Made Nixon look like a choirboy from Disneyland fantasy church. He regained consciousness after four days and asked if someone could wheel him outside. Doc on rotation said a few minutes might even be good for his lungs, so they put him in a wheelchair and took him out into the courtyard. Looked at the tree out there for about a minute and died. Just . . . turned off. Autopsy team, well, there were people in from DC, Cedar Sinai, even Germany. Never did figure it out, but his body. It wouldn’t burn, so no cremation. Buried at Bethesda, but all the grass died so he was reinterred somewhere in Louisiana.”
“Riley Cooch,” Water said softly.
“Koch,” Sanchez corrected. “As in, eh, Koch.”
Water cleared his throat and tried to sit up. He was a good thirty pounds lighter and too weak to do it. He raised his arm and the brittle, wasted thing he saw brought up a wave of sadness, the peculiar variety of heartbreak he’d felt when his childhood cat had been put to sleep. The lost brand of sorry sad.
“How . . . how long . . .”
“Seven weeks,” Sanchez said, gently pushing him back. He raised a cup of water to Water’s lips and waited while he spluttered through a sip before continuing. “You were in a coma until this morning. The fever was terrible. Thirty-one days of it. The, ah. I’m not going to lie to you, Water. There was some brain damage. We won’t know until . . . Tests.”
Water didn’t say anything for a long time. He wandered around in his mind looking for things, but he didn’t know what he was looking for, and that told him enough.
“Suki,” he whispered finally. Sanchez nodded and rose to his feet. He looked down at Water for a long time and then, finally, saluted. Water stared at the ceiling and waited, and eventually he heard the door open and close. Suki appeared in his field of vision. She smiled with her mouth, but her eyes remained insect hard.
“First Lieutenant Water.”
Water held his hand out and Suki took it. She sat. Water tilted his head sideways and they stared into each other’s eyes.
“The micro vaults,” Water said. “The Sony micro vaults. What did, what was on Beeker’s computer?”
“Terabytes,” Suki answered. “A map. A map like no one has ever imagined. Cartography itself as a science made a huge leap forward. There are things, things no one ever imagined. But we only got a fragment of what was there.”
Water didn’t say anything.
“There was a lot from CEO Beeker,” Suki went on. “About thirty percent of what was captured was what he had been entering. Uncounted pages, but there really wasn’t any point in counting them in the end. A computer network is running it for a final count.”
“He only wrote five sentences, over and over and over again. We checked for a pattern, some king of hidden relevance, but there wasn’t anything. We had every kind of specialist we could think of look at it. They all came away empty.”
“What was it?”
Suki cleared her throat and recited from memory. When she spoke, Water could hear in the pauses every period, and in every syllable the cracks between the spaces inside the lines. There was enough Water for that.
my new bank will have these children
the seeds for eating—eating”
When she was done they sat in silence.
“It was written that way. Over and over. If it were printed, it would be on a paper that would wrap around the world until all the earth was white with it, white with paper and letters too small to read.”
Eventually Water spoke, the last words he would ever speak.
“Suki. When you kill for the lattice ride up to Clowntown, why does your soul stay?”
Suki took a syringe from her lab coat pocket and thumbed the cap off, met Water’s eyes. He nodded, pleading, and she injected the lethal dose of potassium chloride into his IV.
“Eugene. I don’t have a soul. Belief is a terrible, terrible vice. The dirty screen door in Heisenberg, where Plank left his keys for Socrates—”
His eyes closed, and Water was silent.
Jeff Johnson is a full time screenwriter and novelist who divides his time between Portland and Los Angeles. He’s the author of the critically acclaimed Tattoo Machine, Spiegel & Grau 2007, as well as Everything Under The Moon, Knottspeed, A Love Story, the Lucky Supreme series (Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review) Lucky Supreme, A Novel of Many Crimes, A Long Crazy Burn, and The Animals After Midnight, and Deadbomb Bingo Ray. His latest short story, “Cantina Kinjiku,” will appear in the upcoming Killer Crimes Anthology, alongside Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates. Literary representation is Mark Gottlieb at the Trident Media Group. The Lucky Supreme series was recently also acquired by Italian publisher Fanucci.
Current television projects with Tom Hildreth of Sternman Productions include Lincoln Park, a police drama set in Portland, Maine, Millinocket, a political comedy-drama set in Millinocket, Maine, Sternman, a crime drama set on the Maine coast, and Lune, a horror-fantasy, based on his acclaimed 2016 novel Everything Under The Moon.
LAST OF THE AZTEC RIDERS
By Mark Mellon
(Originally published in Deadman’s Tome)
"Buy me a beer and I'll tell you a good story."
Jack Pilgrim regarded the one-eyed, one-armed, huge man on the barstool beside his. The half of his face minus an eye was scarred almost beyond recognition as human, his deformed lip pulled down in a perpetual half scowl. After twelve hours on his hog, high on meth, Pilgrim only wanted to focus on the shot and the beer before him, drunk, to delay and lessen the inevitable bummer.
"Look at the patch on my cut."
He turned his back to Pilgrim. On the faded black leather vest, a skull with a feathered headdress screamed. The top rocker read "Aztec Riders,” the bottom said "Tiny."
"I'm the only one allowed to wear this patch, man. Nobody left but me. And I can tell you all about it, the whole freaked out story. But you gotta buy me that beer first, man. So, what do you say?"
Intrigued and sympathetic to a biker so fucked up he'd never ride again, Pilgrim nodded to the bartender who poured a draught Bud in a pint glass and set it before Tiny. He knocked it back, set the glass on the bar, and wiped the foam from his scraggly beard with his hand.
"Like I said, I'm the only Aztec Rider left. You should've seen us back in the day, bombing a hundred strong in a tight vee formation at eighty per, total road Nazis, blowing through every traffic light. And no one, not no citizen, not no pig, dared fuck with us. We had Bullhead City under our thumb and most of Nevada and Arizona too, at least as far as pussy and meth went. And it was all because of our Prez, Pothunter. See, we called him Pothunter coz
The clubhouse was a long, one story cinderblock building with a corrugated iron roof in the middle of the desert, surrounded by a ten foot fence topped by concertina barb wire with signs posted that read: KEEP OUT! and TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT! in huge, screaming red letters. Inside the dimly lit clubhouse, the Riders sheltered from the roasting heat to the dull roar of a sorely overtaxed wall unit air conditioner, ripped off from a hotel. In the background, John Kay rumbled, “Close your eyes, girl, Step inside, girl,” on the tape deck while Tiny snorted yet another line of meth. The room became infinitely extended in his tunnel vision. Blood pounded in his ears like hammers against anvils. He wondered if he was going to pass out.
The door burst open. The blast of light and heat sent the Riders scurrying to darkness like rats to their holes. Pothunter walked in, a burlap bag held in both hands. A prospect hurried to shut the door.
"Hey, Prez. What you got? Beer or scotch, I hope," Tiny said.
Pothunter set the dusty bag on the already filthy carpet.
"Lots better, Tiny. I went to Teuwanta State Park and dug some by the cliffs. You won't believe what I found."
He undid the rope and pulled down the bag to reveal a terra cotta figure about two feet high, ancient and worn, the paint faded, the features still distinct. The idol was a hideously grimacing, round-headed skeleton, dressed in a mask and garments made from flayed human skin. Internal organs, liver, heart, and kidneys, dangled from an open chest cavity.
"Whoa. What the fuck is that thing, Prez?" almost everyone said simultaneously.
"Our new mascot."
Pothunter's broad, red face beamed with pleasure. Tiny had never seen him happier, not even when he beat a Red Devil to death with a chain. He picked up the idol and set it with great ceremony on the card table that held the club's shrine, composed of pictures of members who were either dead or in prison and some fake Indian relics Pothunter bought in Nogales one time.
"Listen up, everybody. This is the first real find I ever made. It's some kind of god, some kind of bad, evil thing that just lives to make trouble. You know, like us. This is bringing us wicked good luck. So, I declare a three-day party in honor of our new mascot, the god of the Aztec Riders. Bad Bob, tell the mommas to haul ass over here. They got some trains to pull."
"Bitching," Tiny bellowed.
The others howled as well, more delighted by the prospect of days of sex, booze, and meth than the idea of an official mascot. Head bent, arms pumping, Pothunter shuffled back and forth before the idol in his own version of a ritual dance. Puzzled and somewhat disturbed by the grotesque figure, like the loyal members they were, others showed club spirit and followed the Prez's lead. They danced behind him in strict order of precedence, Vice Prez Bad Bob, Secretary Tiny, Treasurer Vulture Ed, and Sergeant of Arms Bruiser Vito, followed by patch members in order of seniority. Prospects brought up the rear. The Indian Dance became a ritual, a ceremony that set the Riders apart and drew them together.
"Swear to God, if our luck didn't change the day Pothunter found that idol. Like bam, like the biggest, best hit of meth you'd ever want in your life. In no time, we had a steady stable of a dozen whores, each one turning over eighty percent of everything she made in tricks. She'd a fucking well better if she didn't want her ass beat. Plus, we had five meth labs going, no bucket shop shit either, man, each one with a real cook who knew his stuff cold. And no cop ever so much laid a finger on us, not one bust in the whole club for eight months, I shit you not."
Tiny paused to give Pilgrim a significant look with his pale blue orb.
"Storytelling's thirsty work, you know."
Pilgrim nodded again. The bartender set another Bud before Tiny. He knocked it down like the first.
"Yeah, so like I said, we was rolling in serious bread after years of nickel and dime bullshit. We knew we was lucky and Pothunter was right. The idol brought us luck. Every weekend we threw a party with enough booze, drugs, and sluts to do up Vegas, and live bands too. And the big climax was always the Indian Dance in front of the idol. Man, you should have seen how we used to get into it. It was downright tribal, know what I mean?"
Tiny frowned with the good side of his face and shut his eye.
"And everything was cool, man, just completely cool, until this bitch came along one night and really started some shit, you know—"
The sun was a bloody red eye above the horizon. Clean, fine desert air was marred by the stink of tobacco and marijuana smoke, silence shattered by pounding drums and twanging guitars.
"And this bird you cannot change," a three-hundred-pound man in a tiny black cowboy hat wailed from the stage as his band thrashed through primitive chords behind him.
Tiny took a drag off a giant reefer to take the edge off the speed tweaking through his veins and stared at bare breasts flaunted by drunken mommas as they gyrated to the music. He caught Bad Bob's eye and stuck out his tongue. Bad Bob made a fist and pumped it up and down, the universal symbol for a gang bang.
The night wore on. A select few outsiders were allowed inside the clubhouse to party with the Riders, primarily hangers on and attractive women. Flush with cash, the Riders had refurbished the clubhouse, equipped with a new pool table, fully stocked wet bar, and an impressive new shrine, handcrafted from mahogany by a full patch member who also held down a righteous day job as a cabinet maker. The idol was in its own special niche, topped by a banner that depicted the Riders' crowned, screaming skull.
Lines of meth were laid out on a table, straws alongside for anyone who cared to snort. The open bar was staffed by two succulent, young honeys, enormous fake breasts straining against ridiculously tiny t-shirts to the point of rupture. As always, Steppenwolf blared, only now from a state of the art MP4 player.
“Last night I found Aladdin's lamp . . .”
The scene was lively, the vibe as mellow as could be among a gang of violent felons high on hard drugs. Tiny tried to take it all in, perception fractured by alcohol and drugs until moments became difficult to link together. He took another drag off the joint, exhaled, and went into a coughing fit.
A loud, brassy, female voice cut through the party chatter and music like a semi-trailer's klaxon in the desert night.
"So, what the fuck is that supposed to be? Santa Muerte or something?"
A fortyish Latina woman drunkenly swayed in the middle of the room, attractive even though overweight, jet black hair flecked with a few silver threads, a loose grin on her face, eyes wide and full of devilry. Miller tall boy in one hand, she pointed at the idol. Wild, chaotic laughter burst from her.
"Where did you gringos find that? In Tijuana? I bet you paid way too much."
"Listen, bitch, that's our club mascot, so don't disrespect it, you hear me," Pothunter bellowed, his ordinarily red face a brighter shade of beet. "That's a genuine pre-Columbian artifact I dug up myself out at Teuwanta State Park."
"Are you kidding me? Where I come from in Guerrero, factories make stuff like that by the shit ton. Dios mio, que gringo tontería."
"No, bitch, you're wrong. This is the genuine, real thing that I dug up with my own hands. And I'm gonna prove what I mean right now. Members. It's time for the Indian Dance."
Pothunter dropped low and began the familiar wind milling shuffle. The other Riders fell in behind him with the precision of a well-rehearsed dance team. Back and forth they danced before the idol in zigzag lines, each man caught up in the intricate dance steps, faces serious and grave.
"Oh, shit, I can't believe this shit. This has got to be the funniest fucking thing I've ever seen. Ay, que broma."
Her beer gut rhythmically shook with laughter, the whites of her eyes and teeth flashing in the black strobe light.
"Bitch, I've had fucking enoug
He ran over to the woman, and with one vicious uppercut, knocked her sprawling, out cold before she even hit the linoleum. Tiny put two fingers to his mouth and blew out a long, loud appreciative whistle.
"Down with one sock. That's why Pothunter's Prez. Yes, sir, Aztec Riders forever."
The Indian Dance continued. The woman lay where she fell, ignored by everyone. The night wore on. Before Tiny knew it, sense of time destroyed by drugs, it was three in the morning and no one in the clubhouse but the few most hardened partiers and the unconscious woman.
"Tiny, chop up some more flake."
"Sure thing, Prez."
Tiny dumped a hefty pile of meth flake onto a mirror and chopped it fine with his buck knife. The woman on the floor moaned loudly. Pothunter looked over at her and grinned.
"Looks like she's coming ‘round. Good thing too. Now we can kick her ass out."
She sat up and cradled her aching jaw in her hands.
"Oh, you motherfuckers. You cracked my tooth."
She looked up and focused on Pothunter.
"You're a real brave man, you are, punching a woman. Que hombre."
"Yeah, well, you see what you get, bitch, when you disrespect the Aztec Riders," Pothunter said.
She got to her feet, still good and drunk and plenty angry too.
"Disrespect a bunch of pussy, pinche cocksuckers like you, you fucking gringo. I got chulo buddies that eat little shits like you alive. Fuck you and fuck your stupid idol most of all. Pendejo joto cabron."
She spat at Pothunter.
"Bitch, I've had just about enough of your fucking shit," Pothunter said.
He ran over to the woman, knocked her flat again, and kicked her repeatedly with his steel toed Chippewa boots. Other Riders joined in, punched and kicked her as she writhed and screamed on the floor.
"Hold her down. Hold the fucking cunt down," Pothunter ordered.
by C. P. Dunphey have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes