Steamboat Conan Part 1

The Scarlet Citadel except it’s Steamboat Willie

Robert E. Howard and Pauly Hart



I


A Trapped Rat



The roar of battle had died away; the shout of victory mingled with the cries of the dying. Like gay-hued leaves after an autumn storm, the fallen littered the plain; the sinking sun shimmered on burnished helmets, gilt-worked mail, silver breastplates, broken swords and the heavy regal folds of silken standards, overthrown in pools of curdling crimson. In silent heaps lay war-horses and their steel-clad riders, flowing manes and blowing plumes stained alike in the red tide. About them and among them, like the drift of a storm, were strewn slashed and trampled bodies in steel caps and leather jerkins--archers and pikemen.

The oliphants sounded a fanfare of triumph all over the plain, and the hoofs of the victors crunched in the breasts of the vanquished as all the straggling, shining lines converged inward like the spokes of a glittering wheel, to the spot where the last survivor still waged unequal strife.

That day Steamboat Willie, king of Rinkitink, had seen the pick of his chivalry cut to pieces, smashed and hammered to bits, and swept into eternity. With five thousand knights he had crossed the south-eastern border of Rinkitink and ridden into the grassy meadowlands of The Nome Kingdom, to find his former ally, King Mowgli of The Nome Kingdom, drawn up against him with the hosts of Doctor Moreau, king of Ev. Too late he had seen the trap. All that a man might do he had done with his five thousand cavalrymen against the thirty thousand knights, archers and spearmen of the conspirators.

Without bowmen or infantry, he had hurled his armored horsemen against the oncoming host, had seen the knights of his foes in their shining mail go down before his lances, had torn the opposing center to bits, driving the riven ranks headlong before him, only to find himself caught in a vise as the untouched wings closed in. Doctor Moreau's Mifketian bowmen had wrought havoc among his knights, feathering them with shafts that found every crevice in their armor, shooting down the horses, the Evian pikemen rushing in to spear the fallen riders. The mailed lancers of the routed center had re-formed, reinforced by the riders from the wings, and had charged again and again, sweeping the field by sheer weight of numbers.

The Rinkitinkens had not fled; they had died on the field, and of the five thousand knights who had followed Steamboat Willie southward, not one left the field alive. And now Willie himself stood at bay among the slashed bodies of his house­-troops, his back against a heap of dead horses and men. The Nome Kingdom knights in gilded mail leaped their horses over mounds of corpses to slash at the solitary figure; squat Mifkettians with blue-black beards, and dark-faced Evian knights ringed him on foot. The clangor of steel rose deafeningly; the black-mailed figure of the western king loomed among his swarming foes, dealing blows like a butcher wielding a great cleaver. Riderless horses raced down the field; about his iron-clad feet grew a ring of mangled corpses. His attackers drew back from his desperate savagery, panting and livid.

Now through the yelling, cursing lines rode the lords of the conquerors ­ Doctor Moreau, with his broad dark face and crafty eyes; Mowgli, slender, fastidious, treacherous, dangerous as a cobra; and the lean vulture Captain Hook, clad only in silken robes, his great black eyes glittering from a face that was like that of a bird of prey. Of this Evian pirate dark tales were told; tousle-headed women in northern and western villages frightened children with his name, and rebellious slaves were brought to abased submission quicker than by the lash, with threat of being sold to him. Men said that he had a whole library of dark works bound in skin flayed from living human victims, and that in nameless pits below the hill whereon his palace sat, he trafficked with the powers of darkness, trading screaming girl slaves for unholy secrets. He was the real ruler of Ev.

Now he grinned bleakly as the rulers reined back a safe distance from the grim iron-clad figure looming among the dead. Before the savage blue eyes blazing murderously from beneath the crested, dented helmet, the boldest shrank. Steamboat Willie's dark scarred face was darker yet with passion; his black and white armor was hacked to tatters and splashed with blood; his great sword red to the cross-piece. In this stress all the veneer of civilization had faded; it was a barbarian who faced his conquerors. Steamboat Willie was a Rinkitinkian by birth, one of those fierce moody hillmen who dwelt in their gloomy, cloudy land in the north. His saga, which had led him to the throne of Rinkitink, was the basis of a whole cycle of hero-tales.

So now the rulers kept their distance, and Doctor Moreau called on his Mifketian archers to loose their arrows at his foe from a distance; his captains had fallen like ripe grain before the Rinkitinkian's broadsword, and Doctor Moreau, penurious of his knights as of his coins, was frothing with fury. But Captain Hook shook his head.

"Take him alive."

"Easy to say!" snarled Doctor Moreau, uneasy lest in some way the blackand white mailed giant might hew a path to them through the spears. "Who can take a man-eating rodent alive? By Hercules, his heel is on the necks of my finest swordsmen! It took seven years and stacks of gold to train each, and there they lie, so much kite's meat. Arrows, I say!"

"Again, nay!" snapped Captain Hook, swinging down from his horse. He laughed coldly. "Have you not learned by this time that my brain is mightier than any sword?"

He passed through the lines of the pikemen, and the giants in their steel caps and mail brigandines shrank back fearfully, lest they so much as touch the skirts of his robe. Nor were the plumed knights slower in making room for him. He stepped over the corpses and came face to face with the grim king. The hosts watched in tense silence, holding their breath. The black and white armored figure loomed in terrible menace over the lean, silk-robed shape, the notched, dripping sword hovering on high.

"I offer you life, Steamboat Willie," said Captain Hook, a cruel mirth bubbling at the back of his voice.

"I give you death, pirate," snarled Willie, and backed by iron muscles and ferocious hate the great sword swung in a stroke meant to shear Captain Hook's lean torso in half. But even as the hosts cried out, the pirate stepped in, too quick for the eye to follow, and apparently merely laid an open hand on Steamboat Willie's left forearm, from the ridged muscles of which the mail had been hacked away. The whistling blade veered from its arc and the mailed giant crashed heavily to earth, to lie motionless. Captain Hook laughed silently.

"Take him up and fear not; the rodent's fangs are drawn."

The rulers reined in and gazed in awe at the fallen rodent. Steamboat Willie lay stiffly, like a dead man, but his eyes glared up at them, wide open, and blazing with helpless fury. "What have you done to him?" asked Mowgli uneasily.

Captain Hook displayed a broad ring of curious design on his finger. He pressed his fingers together and on the inner side of the ring a tiny steel fang darted out like a snake's tongue.

"It is steeped in the juice of the purple lotus which grows in the ghost-haunted swamps of southern Boboland," said the magician. "Its touch produces temporary paralysis. Put him in chains and lay him in a chariot. The sun sets and it is time we were on the road for Mifket." 

Doctor Moreau turned to his general Smee.

"We return to Mifket with the wounded. Only a troop of the royal cavalry will accompany us. Your orders are to march at dawn to the Rinkitinken border, and invest the city of Kingdom of IX. The Nome Kingdom will supply you with food along the march. We will rejoin you as soon as possible, with reinforcements."

So the host, with its steel-sheathed knights, its pikemen and archers and camp­servants, went into camp in the meadowlands near the battlefield. And through the starry night the two kings and the pirate who was greater than any king rode to the capital of Doctor Moreau, in the midst of the glittering palace troop, and accompanied by a long line of chariots, loaded with the wounded. In one of these chariots lay Steamboat Willie, king of Rinkitink, weighted with chains, the tang of defeat in his mouth, the blind fury of a trapped rodent in his soul.

The poison which had frozen his mighty limbs to helplessness had not paralyzed his brain. As the chariot in which he lay rumbled over the meadowlands, his mind revolved maddeningly about his defeat. Mowgli had sent an emissary imploring aid against Doctor Moreau, who, he said, was ravaging his western domain, which lay like a tapering wedge between the border of Rinkitink and the vast southern kingdom of Ev. He asked only a thousand horsemen and the presence of Steamboat Willie, to hearten his demoralized subjects. Steamboat Willie now mentally blasphemed. In his generosity he had come with five times the number the treacherous monarch had asked. In good faith he had ridden into The Nome Kingdom, and had been confronted by the supposed rivals allied against him. It spoke significantly of his prowess that they had brought up a whole host to trap him and his five thousand.

A red cloud veiled his vision; his veins swelled with fury and in his temples a pulse throbbed maddeningly. In all his life he had never known greater and more helpless wrath. In swift-moving scenes the pageant of his life passed fleetingly before his mental eye--a panorama wherein moved shadowy figures which were himself, in many guises and conditions--a skin-clad barbarian; a mercenary swordsman in horned helmet and scale-mail corselet; a corsair in a dragon-prowed galley that trailed a crimson wake of blood and pillage along southern coasts; a captain of hosts in burnished steel, on a rearing black charger; a king on a golden throne with the rodent banner flowing above, and throngs of gay-hued courtiers and ladies on their knees. But always the jouncing and rumbling of the chariot brought his thoughts back to revolve with maddening monotony about the treachery of Mowgli and the sorcery of Captain Hook. The veins nearly burst in his temples and cries of the wounded in the chariots filled him with ferocious satisfaction.

Before midnight they crossed the The Nome Kingdom border and at dawn the spires of Mifket stood up gleaming and rose-tinted on the south- eastern horizon, the slim towers overawed by the grim scarlet citadel that at a distance was like a splash of bright blood in the sky. That was the castle of Captain Hook. Only one narrow street, paved with marble and guarded by heavy iron gates, led up to it, where it crowned the hill dominating the city. The sides of that hill were too sheer to be climbed elsewhere. From the walls of the citadel one could look down on the broad white streets of the city, on minaretted mosques, shops, temples, mansions, and markets. One could look down, too, on the palaces of Willie, set in broad gardens, high­walled, luxurious riots of fruit trees and blossoms, through which artificial streams murmured, and silvery fountains rippled incessantly. Over all brooded the citadel, like a condor stooping above its prey, intent on its own dark meditations.

The mighty gates between the huge towers of the outer wall clanged open, and Willie rode into his capital between lines of glittering spearmen, while fifty trumpets pealed salute. But no throngs swarmed the white-paved streets to fling roses before the conqueror's hoofs. Doctor Moreau had raced ahead of news of the battle, and the people, just rousing to the occupations of the day, gaped to see their king returning with a small retinue, and were in doubt as to whether it portended victory or defeat.

Steamboat Willie, life sluggishly moving in his veins again, craned his neck from the chariot floor to view the wonders of this city which men called the Queen of Hearts. He had thought to ride someday through these golden-chased gates at the head of his steel-clad squadrons, with the great red heart banner flowing over his helmeted head. Instead he entered in chains, stripped of his armor, and thrown like a captive slave on the bronze floor of his conqueror's chariot. A wayward devilish mirth of mockery rose above his fury, but to the nervous soldiers who drove the chariot his laughter sounded like the muttering of a rousing rat.


Savannah Pizza Company, Midway, Georgia

        After a lazy Saturday afternoon nap and I felt like getting a slice of American Pizza Pie. My wife and I had visited Stoner’s Pizza in Midway, Georgia before and we had liked it, kinda. 3 of 5 stars. The last time we visited, they had just had a massive fire and they were closed but we had driven by recently and saw a new sign on the door, and they were calling themselves “Savannah Pizza Company” even though, from their five locations, none were in Savannah. “That’s fine,” we told ourselves… A little puffery in advertisement is the norm. So, I’m sitting in the lounger and express to my wife my desire to shop local and buy pizza to eat… Like, now. Cause I’m hella hangry.

So, normally, we’d take the extra five minutes to drive to Mr. Pizza, cause they’re like, AMAZING… Or even go to Pizza Peddler, cause they’re legit great… But Stoner’s (Savannah Pizza Company or Dough Bro’s or whatever new name they’re using) is the quickest off of 95 and so I want to eat as soon as possible, so that’s where I call. “Pauly” I say three times to the very quiet teenager who is taking my order - “Large Black olives, Pineapple, Green Bell Pepper.” Don’t judge me. I appreciate TWO fruits on my pie, because, technically, tomatoes.

We arrive, having drug my wife onto a “date night” which is really just to go pick up the pie and She’s reading a Karen Marie Moning novel on her phone while I’m listening to r/maliciouscompliance on my phone. And maybe that’s why I decided to stand my ground during the next few interactions when I arrived at Savannah Pizza Company.

        A little background on that, I’m married to my third wife and she’s the most wonderful person to me. I was married twice before and both were lying manipulative cheaters who took advantage of my middle name being “doormat.” Not anymore. The more I grow older and learn to love wife #3, the spicer we become in our interactions with other people, because she came from the same place, emotionally. But, growing together as people, we’ve both learned to stand up for ourselves and stand our ground. That’s the reason I’m writing this.

I walk into the door and tell them I’m here to pick up an order for “Pauly” and the same teenager I spoke to on the phone looks over at the two bags and says: “It must not be ready yet. Maybe another ten minutes.” So I say: “Alright, I’ll go wait in the car.” I should have known better because I see one cook walking to the bathroom and another out the side talking to a delivery driver. The pie was on a room temperature shelf, in a delivery bag, getting cold this whole time. But I’m like - “Well, they know what they’re doing. I’ll wait ten minutes.”

So back to the car where the wife is playing a mobile game that we both play together. We talk about the new guild she opened and I’m trying to level up to join it so I can “help” by sending supplies. Whatever. Ten minutes go by and in that time, several people have come and gone, exchanging money for food. I wander in and tell them it’s been ten minutes and I’m ready to pay. The same teenager looks at (what appears to be) the same bags on the shelf and gives a little frown. Her boss, a larger twenty year old lady, looks with her.

“What was the name?” the older one asks.

“Pauly. Large black olive, pineapple, green bell pepper.” I reply.

The younger one frowns again and says: “Here’s a large one for Kelly.” Oh. I understand. Not many people down here get “Pauly” when I say it over the phone. Understanding this I reply.

“Large black olive, pineapple, green bell pepper?” I ask.

“Yeah.” She says. That’ll be $20.18.”

I hand her my card, very reluctant to see her physically typing it in. I’m not a fan of human interaction with my card and make a detail to watch for suspicious charges over the next few weeks. People are people… I can trust machines with my card normally. Whatever. Give me the pie.

I thank her and she thanks me and I walk out with the box and the receipt on top. After exiting, I smell it and it seems… Off somehow. I open it up, Instead of green bell pepper, it was green olive. Whoops. But then I notice it. My hand isn’t warm. This box is cold… And not only that, it’s very, very wet. Almost as if it sat in the window for ten minutes. Interesting. The younger cashier hadn’t put two and two together to realize that. And that’s forgivable. We’ve all made mistakes, especially at that age. But it was the green olives. I’m allergic to green olives. I can’t have them. And I know that’s weird to a guy who loves black olives, but that was the hand dealt to me and I’ve got to live with it… But not pay for it.

So, I close the box with a very disappointed sigh. I can’t trust these guys to get it right so I’m just going to suck it up and go to Pizza Peddler, which, maybe I should have done in the first place. Hey, at least Savannah Pizza Company wasn’t on fire again. I walk back in and tell them I need a refund.

“Hey I just need a refund. There’s no green bell peppers but there’s green olives. Just a refund, thanks.” Like, I hope I didn’t come off snarky or spicy because I was really still super hungry but I wasn’t having any more of their shenanigans tonight.

So the older lady gets involved when the younger one starts apologizing and it’s all good, but I mention that I need both receipts for the transactions and she’s a little confused.

“One for the charge and one for the refund.” I explain, to which she gets it, but then starts talking about it going back as cash and it will take a few days, and I’m like, alright, no problem. Just the refund and then I’ll leave. So she apologizes again and I take my two papers back to the car where a very quizzical wife looks at me, with no pizza. I open the door and look at the receipts before getting in and it’s the wrong receipt for the refund, or so I thought. They had charged $20.18 and only refunded $19.40. Whoops. I go back inside.

“So I think I don’t know, but I think I got the wrong refund.” I show the younger one the papers.

The older one says: “They charge a credit card fee.”

“So you can refund the fee.” I say.

“It’s seventy eight cents.” She says.

“Yeah.” I say. “And you can refund it right? I mean, everything was wrong. Refund the whole amount.”

“Well it's the fee they charge to use a credit card.” She says again.

Now, at this point I have had enough. Just enough. I was probably a little shaky and more than a little upset. I’ve driven twenty minutes to get here, only to wait another ten minutes for a cold wet pizza that isn’t even made properly and then I’m being charged for the honor of doing so. I spy a large plastic tub next to the register and there’s a pile of dollars in there. I reach in and take one dollar off the top and tell them: “Fine. Here’s a dollar, I’ll be right back with your change.”

The older lady is visibly red in the face. At the top of her lungs she screams out: “How dare you touch our tips! Put that back right now!”

To which I reply, “Well I’m owed seventy eight cents, I’ll bring you back the change from my car.”

She promptly opens up the register and slaps down three quarters and a nickel. “Here’s eighty!”

I put the dollar back in the tub, take the four coins and tell her: “Well now I owe you two cents, so I still have to go make change, I’ll be right back.”

And at this point I’m out the door, shaking with anger. I walk out and all I hear is screaming from inside and honestly, I don’t even care if I stole three cents from them. I’ll mail them a check if they decide to press charges.

Honestly though, the “tip bucket” wasn’t sufficiently labeled. It had one of those “Dear friends and companions” messages on it that pretty much one had to read into to understand it was private employee appreciation money rather than just saying “TIPS” in red or whatever. Instinctively I probably understood it was tip money, but these people never even really tried to rectify with the customer the whole situation. It was as if somehow, they were doing me a favor by letting me walk in their door.

And here’s the thing, I’m not just some yahoo who doesn’t understand the way the food industry works. I’ve owned my own cafe and managed several others. Still today I do technician work and cleaning at a very well known franchise location and am paid handsomely for it because I know what I’m doing. So if I were worth my salt as a manager and was working this night and desperately knew that I was number three in the pizza choice for a small town, I would work desperately to try to make things right with the customer. I’d not quibble and argue about a fee you have to pay to your credit card service company. I’d have given me a free drink, or at least… You know… An apology. 

I got none of the above. That’s why I’m giving this location 1 out of 10 or 5 or whatever. I’ll never go back there. I’ll never recommend there… And I’ll actively campaign that they go out of business… Again.

And, you know… Maybe instead of mailing them a check for $.02, they can just take this article as my two cents worth.



Mind Storm - Flash Fiction

 Mind Storm

Groundhog Day, 2024

Pauly Hart

A Flash Fiction for PaulyHart.com



Bill Rogers was upside down, then backwards, then tragically sideways with a terrible force. The ground was up and the trees were over there and then they were in the window with a terrible sound. There was a motion against him and a scream from Emily and Valerie and Mister Jeff and then the horn wouldn’t stop blaring and he heard sobbing then it was black.

But only black for seconds because when he woke up he was still upside down in the car and Mister Jeff was awake and shaking his head groggily and a demon was screaming at him: “Bill,” but was it really Valerie? There’s no way it was because he remembers that this might be her fault and she wasn’t driving, that had been Mister Jeff, but she had done something maybe? There was a rushing in his mind. The demon became louder until he could bear it no more.

Pulling, twisting, now Mister Jeff is yelling at him about being too hurt. Bill does not care and pulls free and out of the van onto the ground, being freshly plowed by the passenger door, a wet rape mark of pure rage against nature. Bill ran. The family chased after him for several steps, a demon that looked like Emily crying and pleading, falling to her knees, mouth agape. Bill had to find help. He didn’t know if they were really the family he loved, the demon images of fright pierced his mind with lies. He should find help.

He runs down the highway. Other vehicles were pulling over on the side to peer down at the scene, but they weren’t doing anything. They just stood there on their phones. Why weren’t they helping? Some noticed him running and called to him. Fools. I’m not the one who needs help. He turned back towards the van for one last look at his people. Were they demons? Yes. Maybe. He didn’t know. It was all too overwhelming. He loved his people, but the people in the car maybe weren’t his people? Yes they were. They had to be.

He looked up at the cars. There was one person coming down the slope to help. That was not enough. Bill had to find more. He was a good boy. His Valerie always told him so. He was a good boy.

Hang tight master. Bill will get help.


The stock market will crash soon

 Where's your proof Pauly?

There's a lot of proof.

You can go get it everywhere.

One of the most important things to realize is that the TV pundits are wrong.

They base their "Hey everything is fine" info on GDP.

They should be looking at GDI.

Things are gonna hit the fan hard soon.

Believe me, don't believe me.

Your life is your life.


But my household dumped its Roth IRA's and 401k's.

Heck, I just dumped my Acorns account. 

That whole $300 is a drop in the bucket but it's a drop, nonetheless.


This is not the end. It is just the onset of a new outlook on our reality.

Do you have enough food? Real estate? Precious metals? Crypto? Bullets?

I mean, we aren't going to go digging holes in our basements or anything...

Like I literally did when Obama was elected and bullets disappeared...

However, I'm saying you're going to need to tighten your belt if you have hope in paper assets.

There are better asset vehicles.

Farmland. Try that one. It's better than paper.


I wrote this book a year and a half ago:

Economic Alarm Clock

Even before Biden and The Fed started acting like spoiled children.

I lowered the price for you to $.99

Buy it or not, it's up to you.

I'm just a harbinger of the coming economic storm.

May God guide you during this coming horrible time in our lives.

Blood Tar

A Free Read

Just For You

By Pauly Hart

Saturday, Janteenth, 2024




    “Happy Janteenth!” Madison said to the bus-driver, who was black. She said it to all her black friends. Though in reality none of her friends were black, She knew black people, though, and she thought maybe that was the same thing. She liked to bring the act of inclusion into her life even though if she were honest, she wouldn’t really hang out with them. Not to say she didn’t want to, that wouldn’t be ‘woke’ of her… But in reality her family was so anti-woke she didn’t know what was the right thing to do, so… “Happy Janteenth!” She told the old black lady coming out of her building.

    “Appy Janteenth? Gwan tin!” she shooed Madison away with her umbrella, like you would a stray cat. The Jamaican woman’s name was Winsome Notice, and, like the horse she was named after, was truly one of a kind. She would say she was a people person but really didn’t like most people. Especially this pesky white woman who wore Paddington Bear wellies and Jah only knows why she wanted to talk to her about some rainy day in January.

    Madison didn’t know why the old lady didn’t like her and tried to shoo her away with her umbrella. “Gwan tin!” she yelled at her. “Go on then,” she supposed it meant. Whatever, old lady, you aren’t going to spoil my beautiful splish-splashy day. Farther down the street. “Futher” her grandma might say. Her grandma was from Old Kentucky where “farther” and “further” could be summed up with “futher.” Like, she could walk farther down the street and go further into the thoughts about the word... Because to someone from Kentucky, the word “futher” meant either or. Wonder what her grandma would say about old Winsome Notice.

    The bus driver waved at Winsome as he passed by her. She knew him. His name was Thomas Richmond and he was from Queens. Usually she didn’t like folks from Queens, but he was an aberration to the greater unwashed masses of New York City. She also thought his ass looked cute in that uniform. Oooh wee but it did. “Jah forgive me,” she said. She had four more blocks to go to the grocer. She could go to the fancier grocer that was only two blocks away, but Reacha Patel, the owner, was a bit of a snob and didn’t ever want to take her coupons.

    Madison Hill didn’t see any other black people before she reached her apartment building to wish a “Happy Janteenth” to, which was a little bit of a let down, but she felt she did her civic duty to do so. Waving at Mrs. Nguyễn in her little bakery which occupied the first floor of her eighth floor walk-up. She was on the fifth floor that overlooked the alley. On a good day, she could see the sky if she sat just right. The kitchenette was arranged in such a way that you could stand face-to face with the neighbor in the next building if you both stood up and were directly in front of your window. Thankfully, the couple in the building worked at night and their shades were drawn most of the day.

    Winsome looked at the Bartlett pears and South Carolina peaches and didn’t like any of the fruit that had just been stocked. She always went to the grocer on Monday because the fruit was always fresh, but none of these were ripe yet. “Whea in de name oh Jah is yo gud froot?” She asked the twenty something grocer named Enrico. He didn’t know so she settled on some Gala apples and Cavendish bananas. Sometimes they had breadfruit, like she used to eat in Jamaica, but not today. She got her little cart and went up to the line to pay but it was rather long. The lady at the front of the line was making some sort of fuss about something. She leaned over to look. It was a “Karen” as people called them. Oooh, Winsome hated Karens more than folks from Queens.

    Madison drew the shades a little so she could only see the back of the building and the afternoon sky. She had some microwaved mac-n-shells and a bit of chicken nuggets left over from lunch and she crumbled them up and put them in her mac to spice it up a bit. Mmm. You know what would go good with this was a little ‘Slap Ya Mama’ seasoning. She reached over to her cupboard by her seat and got it out without getting up. Yes, the place was that small. Popping the lid and adding a dash was perfect. She tried to “eat black” every now and again. She whipped out her Tiktok and scrolled through it a bit then put it away after too many ads for diapers. What the hell, she thought, I’m not even dating anyone.

    The woman at the counter was still at it, growing a bit louder with every sentence. Winsome looked down at her basket. Bread, cheddar cheese, bananas. She gave a little chuckle. That woman was quickly becoming more bananas than these bananas.

    “What are you laughing at!?” Screamed the woman, now directly in front of her. Everyone else in line had left. Winsome noticed the little green trail of seeds and purple mucus coming out of her nose.

    “You wanna dem dead ones.” Winsome said to her. “Git outta heah.” She said and waved her left at her.

    The woman stared at her. “What did you say to me?” She was rage incarnate.

    “Check yah nose den.” Winsome said.

    The woman wiped at her nose and her hand brushed the tiny purple tendril. Screaming in pain, she collapsed over and started crying and thrashing like a seizure victim. At the same time, store security came and grabbed her and drug her outside flailing.

    Since everyone else had left, she found herself the only one in line. She happily put her basket on the conveyor and it rolled up to the cashier, who seemed bored, even moments after the Karen had flipped out on him.

    “Busy today wit alla dem Karen's nah Kenny?” Winsome asked.

    Kenny sighed. “Third one today.” He said, and started scanning her items.

            Madison lay in bed watching her Tiktok. Her AT&Sprint plan was “Unlimited” but they capped it off to super low after only about half a month went through. She should have gotten “Super Unlimited” that didn’t have any throttle but Susan, who sat next to her at work, said it throttled anyway. She didn’t want to upgrade her plan because she just bought the Tiktok 4 and the contract she signed was a three-year.

She was on Mister Beast’s channel, which had mostly modern trends about the Tzors and what was going on with the vaccine. Tzoraline AB-49 was new on the market and it seemed to get rid of the sores for good except for the ones in Haiti for some reason, though they supposedly tested it there first. The “Alien Greys” had shown up and introduced the antidote and promise to end world hunger and war, etc.. etc… Well, T-49 was working in New York, and since she lived in the city, she was really thinking about getting this batch. Or she could smoke. One or the other. She looked over at the pack on her dresser. Marlboro Lights. They were nasty but everyone said they worked. She decided not to smoke tonight. Not cigarettes anyway.

She rolled over and got the pipe out from under the bedside table, where she kept it next to her vibrator. “Not tonight,” she said to Alejandro, her vibrator. Reaching behind it, she got out the nickel bag and pinched off a bit and packed her pipe. The line from Romeo and Juliet played through her mind as she lit up: “These violent delights have violent ends…” Moments later, she was gone. After that, she slept like a log. 

Winsome sat on her little terrace overlooking the garden. She was on the second floor in her converted brownstone quad-plex. She liked the exercise those twelve stairs provided when she got home. There was a church nearby, two grocers, and many good people lived here.

The brownstone wasn’t a typical floor plan, the second floor was a bit smaller due to the shared entry with the third and fourth floors and with the conversion, she shared laundry space with the first and third floors. Mr. Upton shared it with her on three, and Mrs. Deloris shared it from the first floor. They were tidy enough but sometimes they got in her way.

She opened the box of Benson and Hedges and pulled out another fag. She had smoked all the time when she lived back on the island and had given up when she moved to Florida, but when the sores and grey came knocken, she had started up again, one fag a day - just to keep the grey away. “No matta de fool o dat preacher say,” she laughed at the former minister of the Presbyterian church minister. She went there sometimes. Sometimes she took the bus to Times Square Church. They were good people. They let you smoke outside.

She had moved from Florida to New York in the mid-80’s and worked doing this or that, always one step ahead of trouble. Mostly it had been service work, until she befriended old Mrs. Kissa, who had left her this portion of the Brownstone in her inheritance. She moved in in 1995 and had been able to pay the bills ever since, still doing odd jobs no one else wanted to do. If you minded your own business and paid your bills, New York tolerated your existence.

Taking another drag, Winsome looked out over the shared courtyard. It was a quaint little place with pretty flowers, a nice break from the streets. She had no work today and had a mind to do some weeding in the little place. Delores, the first floor tenant, usually kept the place up and it was looking a little raggedy. She decided to go out back before sunset and do some quick weeding to feel like she accomplished something today. Just a weed or two. Nothing special.

    BAM! The ceiling shook hard enough a little plaster rained down on Madison’s face.

    “Huh?” Madison came out of her sleep abruptly, just in time to get plaster in her eyes. “Ah! Gross!” she fumbled out of bed, knocking her glass pipe to the floor where it skidded under the radiator. “Great. What the hell Benny?!” She yelled up at the ceiling where Benito Gonzalez lived. There was no more banging and usually he kept quiet except when there was a Jets game. No TV. Nothing. She listened. Just the usual city noises, more ambulances than normal, but still kinda normal. Going to her restroom, which was little more than a closet, she washed her face and looked in the mirror. Ugh. I’m a mess.

            It was three in the morning and she wondered what was going on with Benny.

    “Benny! You alright?” No answer, which was odd. Usually if he was loud he yelled down to apologize immediately. He had the hots for her and, unfortunately one night, due to too many Margaritas and some really dank kush, they had done the deed and now he was all over the pursuit… Which she wanted nothing to do with. It was a mistake, and she told him that, but he kept hounding her all the same. And he always called down to her, except right now.

    Madison didn’t want to get her shoes on, or her robe, but she did it anyway. Walking up to his place, she knocked on the door, not knowing what to expect. But before she even raised her hand to the door, she noticed it was open and the latch broken. Nerves crept up her back as she opened up the door very slowly. “Benny?” she called softly, “You alright?” But there was no answer.

    Winsome couldn’t sleep. She had weeded for a bit and stacked all the terracotta pots in a nice little tower next to the birdbath.The normal New York sounds of alarms and sirens weren’t the same tonight as they were every other night. There seemed to be more of them. And they moved faster. And her neighbors were missing. Things were off. Like that Karen at the grocer.

There was a clatter and an earthen crash from the courtyard. What dat den? She muttered. She got up and put on her night robe, and pulled the shades open on the back terrace.

    There was a man standing in the garden next to where she had stacked the pots and he had knocked them over.

    It was something like a man anyway.

    He was very still except for once every couple of moments, he would twitch and sneeze, and then he would be still again. She thought maybe it was Mr. Upton.

    “Craig?” She used his first name. “Zat you der?” She called to him but the figure didn’t move. It may have been Craig Upton, age 68, retired Attorney, who lived above her, but she couldn’t be sure. The man in the garden wore the same blue and white pajamas Mister Upton wore. She reached over to the little table and lit up a Benson and Hedges cigarette. “Fags” she called them, after the fashion of the British. She had her formative years in Jamaica after all. It was still her home even though she no longer would recognize it, were she to visit.

    She was angry. “Mistah Uptahn! Watchu goin’ on at nah?” She asked but the figure only sneezed. She took a long drag on the cigarette and blew it out angrily. “Imma gwanna call de police nah!” She told him, walked in and shut the door. Locking it she realized she still had the cigarette in her hand. Going to the sink, she ran the tap and put it out. Throwing it in the trash can, she turned to walk back to the back door.

    The man was suddenly standing there, turning the knob, trying to get in. It was Mr. Upton but something was very, very wrong.

    The door to Benny’s place swung open slowly about a foot and then there was a foot. That is to say, it opened twelve inches and then there was a pant leg with a shoe on the bottom blocking it. It was a foot. Unattached to an actual leg, it was a work boot with a bloated purple ooze spilling out of tattered work jeans. What the actual fu-

    But before she thought it, a hand grabbed around the door near the bottom and a voice gurgled “Please heeelp meee!” Screaming at the top of her lungs, she ran back down the stairs to her place and slammed the door, heart beating a mile a minute. What the hell! What the hell! What the hell! Her mind raced with what she had just seen. No way, no way there was just some nasty severed leg just sitting there on the floor. No way. She was wrong. NO! She screamed at herself. There had been a leg. There was a severed mushy nasty purple gooey shoe and a leg pussing out of it. What the actual fu-

    BAM BAM! came from the ceiling again.

    Nope. She said to herself. She got her 9mm Glock case from under her bed and opened it up. There was good old Bessie Lou inside, shiny and nasty, with two magazines ready. All her friends thought she was some gun nut for even having one, but her dad had insisted. Jesus and Bullets were his two mantras that he lived and died by. She thought she left Jesus behind but the gun on the other hand… It came in handy right about now… She picked up Bessie Lou, checked the chamber, loaded the magazine, and racked the slide. She sat down on her bed facing the doorway and waited.

       Winsome didn’t wait for him to take another step. She was ready for this. She had grown up in Jamaica where you were dead if you weren’t ready. She had old shotty over in the umbrella stand ready for just such an occasion. It was a double barrel brake action. It was a 12 gauge and the left was loaded with 5-6-7 and the right was loaded with a 300 grain slug which meant it could take down most things, small first, then big on the next shot. She liked to keep her options open.

    “Mistah Uptahn! You bess be runnin off nah!” She said as she drew back the first hammer. She brought old shotty up to to the door and aimed it at him. He didn’t flinch but brought his hand away from the knob and slammed his palm on the glass. Squishy purple splatters appeared where the hand hit, leaving slug-like trails oozing down the glass.

    “Mistah Uptahn! You gotta counta tree till I gwanna blast ya! You’s scarin me tah deaf!”

    Mister Upton said nothing.

    “Look Mistah Uptahn. If dat be you in der, Imma burn dis fag dahn and if ya don’t wanna be blasted to deaf den you be gone byin de time it take tah smoke, ya hear?”

    Mister Upton still said nothing.

    She had brought in the Benson and Hedges absentmindedly and placed them in her robe pocket. She propped old shotty underneath one arm, reached into the pocket and brought out the pack and lighter. Lighting up, she took a tentative drag and blew it at the door where Mister Upton stood, staring at her, in the dark. Taking a small step forward, she reached out her hand to the wall by the door where the light switch was. His eyes followed her hand and click, she turned on the light.

It was a monster dressed in Mister Upton’s pajamas. Where his nose had been, now purple tendrils grew out and around his face. Vines came out of his nose, wrapping upward and around the back of his head, as well as from his mouth, wrapping down and around. When the light snapped on, many of the tendrils stood on end, spiking away from his head, creating a terrifying static electricity look. Purple vines shook and trembled like they were alive. Indeed they were alive and it was not Mister Upton that was the being before her, but rather, the Tzores inhabiting his body.

She didn’t wait til three. She pulled the trigger. Mister Upton and the glass moved onto the courtyard like New Year’s confetti.

    The blast brought Madison out of her stillness. She looked out the window. From the little she could see, it all looked like a normal night. She heard the normal sounds of the city. What was going on? Who was shooting?

            BAM BAM BAM the ceiling called out.

    That was super annoying.

    BAM BAM BAM the ceiling said again.

    Nope, she thought.

    She got up off the bed and entered the hall. With her left hand she closed the door and her right hand steadied the grip on the Glock.

            Her phone went off. It was an alert. “Imminent Threat Alert” the text read and then stuff about how everyone needed to stay safe and all that. She had no idea what that meant except it was nothing good. The National Emergency thing at least was working. She laughed. Usually in all the movies she watched, the government was the first thing to go. Not like real life, I guess. Hollywood never had it right. They were all safe in their zillion dollar bunkers while we had neighbors turning into purple goo, losing their feet.

            The hallway was quiet, just like before, and she heard others phones going off, but no one silenced them. Maybe they weren’t home? That’s ridiculous. Who doesn’t carry their phone around with them, like, all the time? Not anyone I know.

            Up the stairs, Benny’s place. The foot is still there. Super gross. Opening the doorway, it’s dark inside. No noises. Then the BAM BAM BAM from the bedroom. No, that was the bathroom. There was a long slick of dark mucus leading to the bathroom. Had to be the bathroom.

    “Benny!” She called out. Nothing. “Benny, it’s Madison!” Still nothing. She moved towards the bedroom to see if there was anyone else here. No noises. “Benny! What happened to your foot?” She called. Still nothing. 

            She was in front of the bathroom. The door was shut. Her left hand trembled at the knob. Should I call out again? No. Open it, step back, and raise the gun? Probably. That was what the cops did in the movies. OK. She opened the door.

            It wasn’t anything like the movies. Benny’s body was in the bathtub and it was his clothes but it wasn’t Benny. Out and up from the severed leg, was what looked like a child’s science project. Tiny purple vines and tendrils crept up attaching themselves to the walls. Vines that sprouted tiny white flowers and bright green leaves. His leg was a bulbous mass of an overly large gooish purple tumor. Her eyes made their way up his body. A tourniquet was over his pant leg. There was a saw in his right hand. A regular wood saw. He had sawn his own leg off. When her eyes made it to his face, she vomited immediately. It was almost a skeleton. Gray and shrunken, eyes pulled back into the skull the size of grapes! She vomited again.

            BAM BAM BAM his leg flew up and down on the tub.

            Winsome stepped out over the mass of ruined body that was Mister Upton. She looked around for something - anything to explain what was going on. Nothing. “Da hell wit alla dis.” She said, under her breath. She went inside and went to her bedroom. The bag was in the back of her closet. She opened it up, threw in two boxes of shells she had on hand, and got ready to leave. She looked down at her feet. She hadn’t put shoes on and she was still in her robe. Laughing a little, she went and changed into sensible work wear. Gardening clothes. You never knew about things like this. Time to dig up the yams.

            As a teen, in Montego bay, she remembered the night. It had changed everything. One of the possies had taken up some issues with some Tommian fisherman over conch. They almost burned the town down fighting each other over damned sea snails. Her mother, her little sister and her were kidnapped during the mayhem and were raped the entire night by the possie. When her mother and sister died, she vowed to leave Jamaica and never come back. And she did. With her go-bag ready, shotty in hand, she opened the door and moved out into the night. This would be different than that night.

            Madison ran back to her room crying and gagging all the way. She ran to her door and tried to open it. It was locked. What? “Oh my god.” she said. She locked herself out. She banged on the door. Tried using her shoulder. Nothing. It was a good door. She would shoot it out. How did they do that in the movies? Step back and shoot the lock? Here goes nothing.

            Winsome heard shooting. One. Two. Three shots. Then a woman screamed. A girl was in trouble. Jah had led her to the USA from the terrors of the possie rapists. She would use that gift to save someone.

            Madison swore. She had tiny splinters all inside her arm from that damned door. That wasn’t like the movies at all. She ran inside to… Wait… Now I can’t lock the door.

A scream ripped out her throat like no other scream she had ever heard. It was agony. It was defeat. She didn’t know what to do. The world was ending.

The door opened. There was someone inside her apartment smoking a cigarette but she didn’t care. She might as well be dead.

Then a voice said to her:

“Appy Janteenth child.”






fin