The Laughing Madness

Lorenzo never made it in the city as a wood-worker,

but he made a house, a bar and a jail

when he arrived on the forsaken malarial marsh

that the military and blood-drillers abandoned.

When the days were short and when the long Darkness

froze itself into his toes and danced with his mind,

the coyotes would yip through the night, screeching

while their noses were deep in the red steaming bellies of rabbits.

He was a hundred miles on each side from a fort, and sometimes,

travelers going west knocked at dusk, asking for shelter after

braving the insect-blanketed shores and begging for safety from

the cackles that crowed in chase. He took them in happily.

One winter, a walking priest traded Lorenzo a Bible for a fill of whiskey,

and asked "why do the beasts chortle like breaking glass?"

Lorenzo told him that they laughed when they killed,

and it meant that Death had just walked by.

The next spring, Lorenzo thought warmly of the priest

when he tore the scripture pages out to roll cigarettes.

After the priest left, no more travelers knocked at his hut.

Years passed with only the marsh's howling, giggling choir.

On a final cold night, he quietly lit his last candle while the coyotes cackled,

and watched the dark of his shadow-filled home attack the lone, tiny flame.

As Light died, Lorenzo decided to read what was left of the Bible

that lay with a stone under the short leg of his table.

As he read the shattered book, the cold in his toes

slid up, up into his mind. The wind cutting at his neck distracted him

and then he stopped reading to watch the candle dance itself to death

while the printed faith dejectedly faded into the ink of night.

Then, it was still in the unchallenged black. Slowly, the laughs grew,

closer and louder, congregating into a minor cacophony

of whoops and shrieks like the din of a symphony

tuning their instruments, building to a crescendo of a mad, mad jubilation.

In the pounding, chuckling murk, without warmth or light,

Lorenzo finally surrendered to the laughter that haunted

the derelict land. He leaned back in his chair and,

after fighting it for too many years, he sighed and listened.

His mind deserted and drowned in the pitch. He paused--

he heard something familiar. There was...a prayer, yes,

a prayer locked in those laughs...a pious and small grace,

a hidden psalm for the grim, bony finger that touches everything--sooner or later.

And, in knowing he heard it, he steeled himself with the last remnants

of a mind husked by the howls and decided he would not wait for "later";

he would not sit pleasantly in the dark and allow the madness

that fed on the night's abyss to hiss and scratch at the walls between his eyes.

In the swell of snickers, Lorenzo rolled one last cigarette

from the bound shreds of the rapture. In the roaring black,

he found his rifle and pocketed a handful of slugs,

ignored his coat on the wall and kicked the whiskey cask over.

While the spirits bubbled onto the floor,

he lit the gospel cigarette in his teeth unceremoniously,

then dropped the gnarled match to the soaked floor.

He opened the door and frozen tongues licked his unguarded skin.

He walked into the moonless veil as the bar, jail, and house burned,

and he shot in every direction at the laughter in the night

until he fell down in the cold and his eyes went blue.

The darkness peeled from the sky and Death walked away

and they finally laughed for him.


He hungered for meaning to sound.

"Guttural noises made for the purpose of

procreation and evolution,"

he said, dismissing language and its

arbitrary meanings. "How can these grunts

even try to describe what a feeling is?"

Dry, cold, bitter, freezing ice wind--

just words, words that didn't mean that sense

of life flowing out of you from the slice

of the wind's knives and of the knowledge that

this is what the return to nothing felt like.

In time--as befalls all Ideals--he met a girl.

He held her long after the world went silent and

listened to her breathe and watched as the

night wrapped her face in the silks of shadows,

and then he knew the truth of his conviction.

In what way could he translate the feeling of gravity

sucking the air down into his gut when he

heard her moan, or the delicate burn of her

kiss when he didn't want it? Letters and sounds

couldn't make that truly known to her.

So he wrote what he felt into the sky itself.

He arranged the heavens for her, each star where she wanted,

so that the nebulae pulsed for her and the galaxies danced,

and that the world spun because she liked the colors

of the sunsets. And she said "I love you" for it.

He had found the lossless medium to translate

his soul's device into eternal truth, but she

had simply spoken back to him...with words.

He dropped the worlds to the dirt and walked away,

knowing them no more and instead knowing only

the empty sounds of a dry, cold, bitter, freezing ice wind.

Stand, Stand

She came from a family that had a Name,

made rich in mercantile trades with Greek gypsies,

whose purple silks would flutter on the shoulders

of the richest thieves France had to offer.

The last of that line lost it all to the horses,

and her great grandmother ran away at eleven.

Later, her great grandmother fell for a man who saw too much beauty

in the world--a man who knew he had to die, and

die well or else it meant nothing. He fought in

the revolution, and was cut down like so many others,

whispering his lovers' name at the end for the sake of Poetry.

After he died, he fathered twins. One never saw a sunset.

The boy left became a man, giving his change to the church

and bedding whores so that he wouldn't be forgotten.

When he fell from a smoke stack, they nodded,

and the papers printed his brother's name for his.

Her father was adopted by two widowed sisters that

loved him and made him get them cigarettes from the

drug store on the corner. He dreamed of fishing when

he read Hemingway, but followed a girl to college

and died in the rain while his wife delivered.

She grew up and her family came with her,

all of the generations standing as one and now--

alone as the many who lived, cried, and loved--

she died before her time when her boyfriend left her

and she stepped in front of my car.

The Burn

It smelled like dried blood in the basement of the church,

where Jimmy Hurricane Hattie and Crazy Casey Flaks cut their teeth.

The pipes rusted in the open air, beneath the pews, perspiring and

dripping onto the canvas--onto the sweat and the shame and the glory.

Two old men sat on an old bench, pointing at the ring, arguing in feeble tones.

"It was Red Ruddy who got Harpo with the left, I sawr it."

Both of their faces are on the only poster on the wall,

young and with level eyes and taut skin and without

the myopia and the cancer, the divorce and the accident,

printed in black and white on the yellow paper,

advertising a fight that took place on a day

when their names were reverently spoken into the smoke

that twirled in the ceiling fans in the late afternoon.

The church crowd entered above, each step a gunshot in the depth,

and the ring was dark and quiet as dust pelted it from above.

They turned off the lights on the ring, which hadn't seen any

fight since the day God arrived upstairs,

so the men downstairs prayed into their broken hands.


He proved everything in life by scripture.

The Bible told him how to grow up

And how to let go of his mother when cancer came.

He fought with a man of another faith over God,

and they exchanged their tomes to learn their differences.

And he asked, "do you mind if I write in this?"


My grandfather owned a red tomato orchard.

Drops of fire on the branches at sunset.

He made the sauce for Mussolini's plate.

My father owned the orchard next.

He drank too much and the red faded.

Then he died on the pier in the sun.

I remember my grandfather told stories

about the history of our grove.

That we were living history.

He said Caesar marched through this valley,

ate one of our tomatoes, and said,

"This is what your family is meant to do."

And so we did for thousands of years.

Now our name is on a bottle

in every home in America.

And I'm to blame.


The semaphore light burns red,

and it keeps ringing the rusty bell

to warn of the incoming train.

But everyone plays on the tracks,

between two paths,

as the train sadly throws their guts

into the trees.

To Whom It May Concern

I actually sent this e-mail to the Customer Support address for Homemaker Premium Orange Juice. The site was a single page JPEG advertising their orange juice with an e-mail and post address and nothing else. The following month, the URL to the site went dead. I never received a response. If a response is one day received, I will promptly post it here.

date Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 1:35 AM
subject Product Complaint
mailed-by REDACTED
To whom it may concern,

I'm in Cleveland, Ohio, and I've been drinking your orange juice for four years. Love the stuff. Great taste, great price, etc. However, I've recently come upon an issue with your product. To explain my problem, I must begin at the beginning. It began on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011.

On this past Tuesday, I came down with a flu. I am a full-grown man, but on the onset of those microbial terrorists into my virginal, sacred blood stream, I resorted to the most primal and well-known lesson of any proud, tough hero: I called my mother to cry and complain about how much it hurt. In the infinite wisdom passed from matriarch to matriarch, culled from the generational wisdom and knowledge that runs fathoms deep in the hallowed halls of Motherdom, she instructed me of an elixir, an ailment to my ills. She told me to drink orange juice. Now, I am not much for superstition. I rather believe in the scientific method, chemistry, medical practices, and all of that stuff, but I'm willing to forgo my educated senses to the ancient arts of the motherly ways. Thus, did I forage for my carton of 64oz. Homemaker Premium 100% Pure Florida Squeezed Orange Juice Now Without Pulp.

Little did I know that this would be the biggest mistake of my life.

I want you to know I don't blame you, Homemaker Premium 100% Pure Florida Squeezed Original Orange Juice Now Without Pulp. This may not have been your fault. Perhaps it was mine. Perhaps it was pride--that grand and spectacular weakness that drove the best of men to their own dooms. But, I want you to know what happened so that you may be prepared if this happens again.

But, I poured myself a glass of orange juice that Tuesday. It was a big glass. Surely, much too big to be an idle side-drink. It demanded dominance of my weakened senses, it required the attention and will of battle rivaled only by Caesar's conquest of Gaul to quell its massive, fluid contents. So, I set out to do so. As the enemy of my enemy, it was my friend. My flu hated the orange juice, so I must make my peace with this behemoth beast in front of me. I took a big gulp. It burned. The citric acids ate away at the virus inside of my throat, it wrapped itself to the infected leisons in my esophagus, and it began to work.

I was feeling better. I took another gulp. I felt stronger. I cleared my throat and had a full, unhindered breath. I coughed and wrenched my airways free of that microscopic immigrant in my motherland respiratory tract.

I felt stronger now, that this was working. I took another gulp, and another, and the glass in front of me began to empty. Each swig was another battle won, as if beating both the enemy of the flu and the fortress of Vitamin C-infused orange blood. But, once I finished the glass, nearing the bottom, I felt something in the bottom of my soul. Something rumbled within me, stopping me dead in my movements. And I felt it.

I felt something stir. Something foreign.

I had traded one enemy for another--a nuisance for a greater beast. To eradicate the invading flu from my fields and lands, I had let a far worse barbarian in: the orange juice.

I felt the juices pushing into my veins, pumping into the corners of my body. I watched the orange beneath my skin pump to the edges of my fingers, that faint glow beneath my skin like an identification. I was doomed and I knew it. I began to feel stiff, to tighten up.

The only thing I wondered was why. Why would the juice do this? What have I done? OJ is supposed to be my friend, not my enemy. But, I knew this feeling, and I was helpless now. It was betrayal. And all I wanted to know was why. Why, orange juice, why?!

As the juices entered into my brain, I got my answer. As if from a great distance, I heard a whisper. I turned to look around me, but I was alone. Then, again, from elsewhere. The voice began to get clearer, but from no discernible place. No, the voice was inside. And it spoke, softly, but strongly. Its voice was not one, but thousands, all speaking as one, a harmony of mass in their words.

What do you want, I asked of this voice.

You, it returned. We want you.

Why, I asked. What do I serve in purpose to you?

You can help us.

Help you do what?

There was no answer. Instead, I felt my spine seize. I went rigid. My skin felt hard, like shards lying one atop the other and my blood became thick like syrup. I had to sit down, and once I did, I knew I would never move again. My feet rooted themselves to the floor, and my arms lifted above my head. I did these things without thinking--the thing inside was making me. I tried to move my arms or legs, but I could not. Then, the voice returned.

You will be our vessel. You will be our passage from what we were unto what we shall become.

In my frightened state, I tried yelling. I opened my mouth, but no words came forth. A dark, clumpy material came out. Rough, coarse, wet...I tasted it and couldn't place it. Then, it hit me. It was dirt. Dirt fell out of my mouth whenever I opened it. Dirt poured from my mouth into the pit of my lap, covering me. I looked to my hands, and they were spreading, each finger elongating like spikes, turning brown and scaled.

What do you want of me, I screamed in my head.

You will soon know.

I looked to my feet and they had partially melted, sinking into the floor and grabbing at the loose edges, pulling the flesh into the floor like one co-mingled being. My skin started to flake off, ripping in small scabs. It turned brown and brittle, like shards of...shards of...bark. My skin was turning to bark. Then, an enormous pain was in my hands. I looked to my fingers and felt them being ripped apart down the middle, splintered and shattering as they each forked off into branches. I felt my skin rip apart as leaves burst from the flesh, replaced now with bark and green leaves.

My head peeled back and stuck to my thickening trunk of a body, and my head moved no more, stuck in forever gaze at the canopy of leaves blooming out of once where my hands. My beautiful hands. I then saw a small thing off of what used to be my pinky, a small It grew quickly, and soon, a full orange hung above me. Looking at it, I heard it speak. Not truly, but in my mind, it spoke.

This is what we are. This is what you are now, too. You are us. We are all of us. Welcome. Welcome to Homemaker Premium 100% Pure Florida Squeezed Orange Juice.

Finding the Party

This is a minor rewrite of my previous blog post Third Story Slice. I sent in to a 1,000-word-and-shorter fiction contest.

“Tell me, is there any madness left in the world?” he said with melancholy as he stared into the night. Dots of light from the city spread out along the horizon like pieces of shattered glass. Between his teeth, an unlit cigarette hung, rolling back and forth on his lips. He brought a lighter out from his pocket and moved to light the cigarette, but he hesitated. He stared at the lighter as a thought formed in his head. Then he smiled and began to search each pocket of his jacket. The cigarette hung still unlit when he pulled out a green lucky rabbit's foot from an inner pocket. It was green like radioactive sludge. He kissed the gnarled foot, and then flicked the lighter on and held the foot over the flame. He rotated the foot slowly. The smell was between plastic and boiling rotten meat. After a while, the flame took hold on the foot, burning without the aid of the lighter. He held the flaming foot to the tip of his cigarette. Following the inaugural exhale, he spit on the flaming foot and tossed it away.

He looked into the distance as he deeply inhaled. He watched the graffiti-covered train cars clanking along an overpass as they dipped in and out of the spare light from rusted street lamps. The train cars stretched from one black horizon to the other, rattling with a rhythmic, metal heartbeat of clank-kerkerker-clank-kerkerker...

“That was a perfectly good charm,” said the woman to his right.

“Focus,” he returned sharply. “Madness. Is there any left?”

“You mean like a place? A place where there's some madness left?” The man sat down in a folding metal chair next to the woman. The folding metal chairs had a permanent residence on this third floor porch. The porch angled downward such that one could roll right off into the street if they weren’t cautious. Such were the luxuries of this rickety, leaking, leaning apartment building they slummed at. Christmas lights hung from the tin roof on the porch and they buzzed with electric life, casting their fluttering colors through the grimy glass tubes into the April air. The woman reached down to a stack of books next to her chair and picked up a thin novella.

“Sure, a place," the man responded. "Maybe on some field somewhere, with two guys fighting with one knife, or a dog with a fully-belly watching a human starve whose got too much compassion to eat the mutt, or some guy mixing his cabernet with the ashes of his dead wife and drinking himself real stupid.” While the man went about his little speech, the woman turned the pages of her novella delicately until she found the page she wanted, smiled, and then ripped it out. She dropped the defiled book back to the ground.

"I always loved this part," she said. "This guy here, in the book, he's a boat captain, sailing along, and he gets blood on his shoes, so he throws them overboard. He doesn't even think to clean them."


"No, just thinks they're now worthless."

"You can clean a little blood."

"Not really," she responded. Then, she started folding the piece of paper slowly, neatly, creasing every edge. "Can't fully clean it. You feel it sticky sometimes, when your hands are in your pocket and you're not thinking, and you keep wiping your hand on your leg even though it's got nothing on it." She kept folding the piece of paper smaller and smaller.

"Is it gonna make you smarter?" the man asked while flicking the ash from the cherry tip of his cigarette.

"No harm in tryin'," she smiled back and then popped the folded paper pill in her mouth and swallowed hard. She sighed a moment later with watery eyes and a hoarse cough. "Won't hurt me none anyways."

"Imagine the madness of some guy reading a book you've half eaten and thinking that the book was pristine, as the author intended, and he's sitting there flipping page to page asking himself 'what the hell am I reading?' Think he'd get something good out of it?"

"Maybe. You can’t get off this madness thing, can you?"

"Think there's any left in the world?"

“I think it’s like home.” She paused. “Home’s where the heart is, y’know?”

“You’re saying I’ll find the good ol’ madness where I see fit to make it?”

“I’m sayin’ somethin’ like that.”

"I like that idea," he quipped back. "I still got a chance to find the party then." He stood up, unzipped his pants, moved to the edge of the porch, spread his arms wide, and fished his dick through the slats on the porch railing. As he started to urinate, he began to scream as loud as he could. "Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowds!" He looked over his shoulder to the girl, smiling, cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth.

"Let me see what spring is like on...Jupiter and Mars," the girl sang back.

"Wrong song," he said back to her, still whizzing away. The steam rose in front of him in the chill Spring air.

"Not in my head. I see no reason why they have to be."

"Fine. How does it end then, this song of yours?"

"And the home of the brave," she said confidently. The man nodded then turned to face the city in front of him again.

"And the hoooome, of theeeee braaaaave!" the man screamed, reaching up to clutch onto the hanging Christmas lights. He stood for a moment, dick out, watching the train cars pass in the distance. Smoke floated up and burned his eyes before he spoke.

The woman spoke before the man could start: “Man, we need a kid.”
Return top