Sitting at a small table near the back is Maddie Sawyer. She’s glammed to the max. She plays with the straw in her drink. Twirling, twirling, twirling. Her eyes glued on the massive dance floor. The music is slamming, the talk is loud as are the dancers. They gyrate and bump and grind. Hair, arms and bodies all moving in several different directions at once.
As Maddie twirls her Tropical Thunder drink, a very tall athletic man is standing over Maddie. He’s good-looking in a Hugh Jackman-type way, only his hair is a sandy blonde. His eyes are kind. “Name’s Tony Blades,” yelling over the music.
“What? I’m sorry?” Maddie screams back.
“Tony… Blades.” Pointing to his chest.
Maddie registers Oh! “Maddie.” Yelling. She gestures for him to sit. He grabs a chair and moves in, smiling.
The Wharf is a landing area next to The Warehouse. Several seats line the walkway. The ocean view is wonderful from The Wharf. Approaching are Maddie and Tony. They both seem relaxed and enjoying each other’s company. “Let’s check out the view,” Maddie says.
“I already have,” Tony says, staring at Maddie.
“You’re so kind, but I mean the ocean view.” A slight girlish giggle. They sit, taking in the view for several moments.
Tony turns and faces Maddie. He looks so good to Maddie. She smiles out of reflex. He grins back and slowly moves in for a kiss. It’s a hot, sexy lip-smacker. As Tony moves away, Maddie softly says “Tender.”
The night is calm and cool. The quarter moon bathes the home of Maddie Sawyer with a reddish, yellow glow.
In Maddie’s bed are Tony and Maddie. Sexual moans are heard. Bodies are sweaty. Maddie playfully bites Tony’s ear, neck, chest, nipple, stomach, and thigh. Tony sighs with each nibble. “You have a sweet taste,” Maddie whispers.
Tony kisses her breasts and moans, “You have… you’ve got…” Trying to find the right words. “You’re perfect. Your eyes sparkle, your hair is lovely to touch and mess up. Your body is so sexy and hot. I’m in heaven!”
Maddie kisses him tenderly and smiles. “You hungry?”
Maddie jumps out of bed and goes to the bedroom door. Standing in the frame, Tony notices how sensual Maddie’s body is. He leaps out of bed and follows her to the door.
Maddie takes Tony’s hand and leads him down the stairs. They’re both naked and sweaty. Tony’s body gleams. Maddie’s breasts bounce playfully up and down as they reach the kitchen.
Lights switch on to reveal a Martha Stewart-like state-of-the-art kitchen. It looks as if it’s brand new. All stainless steel pots and pans, and cool white and blue tile. A wood butcher block knife set sits on the counter near the stove.
Tony views the kitchen and jumps on the counter top, his warm ass meeting the cool tiles. “Wow!”
“What’s the matter?” Maddie asks.
“Tiles are cold,” Tony replies as he jumps down from the counter and grabs Maddie and begins kissing her. Playful laughter. Tony stops kissing her and stands tall. “So, what good?”
Maddie pulls out the largest knife from the butcher block and swings it across Tony’s throat. Digs the blade into his abdomen not once or twice, but three times. Blood erupts like a geyser, hitting Maddie on her cheek, breast and right thigh. A sly, sinister grin appears.
The next morning arrives with the chirping of birds. A smell of scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and meat fills the kitchen. Maddie is at the kitchen table, eating. Her flower print dress appears new. She sips coffee. Takes a tiny bite of toast. Lifts a portion of scrambled eggs to her mouth. Picks up the table knife and cuts into a crisp, thick piece of meat. Takes it in her mouth and chews. A disagreeable expression crosses her face. She reaches for another piece of meat. Expression is sour. Only two words are uttered. “Tough date.”
When I woke up, I was as shocked as anyone. But where I woke up really took some getting used to.
There was warm light, and a heavy, intoxicating lavender smell on the air. The sky buzzed with a frequency that exhilarated the imagination, tantalized the senses. There were no dull tones, only bright, exclamatory hues that effortlessly caught every eye. Even the dust on my combat fatigues glittered like gold dust, and the day-old blood on my hands seemed to ripple, a deep pool of smoky sauce. A flock of music swept around me like a sandstorm, leaving an unbearably beautiful stanza in my hair. I brushed it out, tears in my eyes as I got the lay of the land.
Heaven, sports fans. I was in heaven.
And how the fuck did that happen?
In life, I was a combat technician with the 41st Division, regular army, and if I say so myself, I was gifted. I did the patrols, the recons, had my share of firefights like any PFC. But while the rest of them spent their nights and furloughs lounging at the clubs or going into the Green Zone for a little R n’ R, I’d slip some beer money to the sentry, go out into the villages and take my pleasure.
We all knew where the insurgents lived. Instead of telegraphing a raid and giving them the chance to bug out, I’d sneak in with my Bowie and do my country some service. I’d clean the house, top to bottom. Make the dude watch while I did his wife, or child, or mother. I lost some buds on 9/11, and I just wanted to see if these insurgents could feel the same pain all those families felt.
You know something? They can. Guess we’re all human after all.
Houses in a war zone aren’t houses like we’re used to. Crazy shit goes on. I stumbled onto weapons deals, executions—Once I walked into the middle of an honor killing. This 13 year-old girl was left alone with a guy for, like, 5 minutes. It wasn’t the girl’s fault and nothing happened. But her old man was getting ready to pop her in the back of the head, while the rest of them watched. I killed them all, except for the girl.
I don’t say this to excuse myself. There are a lot of ruthless bastards in the world, and I was one of them. I lived a killer, and died screaming obscenities and shooting bullets into a house that we all knew for a fact had kids in it. If the mortar hadn’t taken me out in that bright flash of hot light, that WHUMP I didn’t hear so much as feel--- if I hadn’t died—I’d have killed every last one of them in that whole stinking country.
So you can imagine my surprise.
I fell to my knees, the tears spilling from my eyes. I remembered once when I was thirteen, I’d pulled some trick on my little brother, a trick that drew blood. He threatened to tell our parents. I begged him not to, as our Dad had a wicked temper, but deep down, I knew he had every right. When they got home from work, I hid in my room, waiting for the ax to fall. It never did. My brother didn’t rat me out, and for an instant, I felt a surge of love and gratitude for the little snot, before I started planning my next dirty trick on him. That surge I felt then was a tidal wave now, filling every pore of me. I couldn’t contain it, which explains the blubbering spectacle I made of myself, bawling my eyes out beneath a blue sky on a gold-paved street.
After a time, I saw a blurry form across the street. I wiped the happy tears from my eyes and beheld an angel. She didn’t sport any wings, just an aura of beauty that made her skin glow and seared the tears from my face. She wore a flower print dress, with an apron, like Beaver’ Mom. But her eyes, her smile, held a promise of more than cookies and milk. I felt myself stiffen beneath my belt. Apparently, there would be sex after death—if I had anything to say about it.
Her smile twisted into a soft leer, which she threw over her shoulder at me as she walked away. It was as if she’d read my mind. I knew with certainty that she didn’t object to my libidinous urges, that she’d be waiting for me. It was as if I could read her mind.
“There are no minds,” a tiny voice said. “Just one mind.”
I turned to face a dusky 13-year-old girl, skinny and tall for her age. She stood erect, but not straight, at a slight angle to the ground, and stared at me with deep brown eyes like pools of chocolate.
“Do I know you?” I asked. Before she could answer, my mind flashed to that night in Falouja, the honor killing I aborted. This was the girl I saved. I couldn’t tell right off the bat, because I had never seen that girl’s eyes. She had kept them on the floor, a frightened mouse of a kid.
But that fear was a distant echo now. The girl smiled, aware of my awareness, and nodded. “Adjani,” she said. “My name. Adjani.”
“So. You’re dead.” She nodded, amused at my quick grasp of the obvious. I shrugged. “I was hoping that I’d saved you somehow.”
“You did, that night. My father’s cousin completed his task, and slit my throat two nights later.”
The old thought patterns re-emerged briefly, and I was tempted to cynical frustration. You try and save a life… But her smile, and her carefree eyes, pierced the funk like a balloon, and we both laughed and embraced. It was all good. No harm, no foul.
Hand in hand, we walked the streets of paradise. She pointed out some of the landmarks, until her arm got tired of pointing. There’s a lot to point out in the afterlife. Every corner, you catch a whiff of the miraculous, and your chest fills with that electric feeling—like the morning you get out of bed on the day your biggest dream comes true. Sometimes I would stop, unable to take in breath, and she’d rub my back while it worked out.
“I don’t know what I did to deserve this,” I said during such a pause.
“Everyone comes here,” she replied. “Death is letting go of the illusion that there’s any separation between souls, and that’s all it is.”
“So there’s no hell?” I asked, in words that felt increasingly superfluous.
“Not as such. My father’s here, my family. The ones you killed to save me. They’re all here. It’s awkward.”
The bliss fit had passed and we walked some more. I felt a slight restlessness deep inside, and passed it off as exhilaration. “Everyone goes to heaven. Bet there’s a lot of guys pissed off about that.”
“You’re not,” she smiled. “Not many people looking back.”
“But, I mean…” I could feel my will to object oozing out of me. “To get here without deserving it…”
“This isn’t heaven,” she said, “Or at least, not the way we were told it would be. It’s simply what’s in all of us, without the trappings.” She could sense my resistance. She stood in front of me. “You saved my life. Let that be your good deed, if you need one.”
“For two whole days,” I said, with a smirk that tasted sour and foreign.
“You killed my family, to save me. I couldn’t comprehend it while in life. All I wanted was to join my family, to be killed alongside them, killed by you. Now, from here, I see your heart. If I could choose one person to share heaven with, it would be you, my savior. You belong here.”
I’ve seen all the tearjerkers—“The Yearling”, “It’s A Wonderful Life”… they never really got to me. But I was bawling like a baby halfway through her speech. She took my head and pressed it against her chest, a child’s breast, not yet a woman, but I held on and wept without shame.
And through the tears, the restlessness lurched and grew, an uncoiling snake in this heavenly grove.
We met Adjani’s family. She was right. It was awkward. They kept trying to explain themselves in terms of cultural limitations, and I barely heard a word as I stared at them, trying to remember where I’d shot them. Sensing my distraction, Adjani very gracefully excused me to seek out old friends or dogs or whatever, and I headed off on my own.
I hoped that the cool air would help clear my head, as I tried to process what Adjani had told me. I could accept that there was a heaven, and I could accept that somehow I made the cut. Maybe saving one innocent life wipes out all the other innocent lives you take. I could even accept that everyone winds up here. It’s the curveballs life throws at you that makes for bad guys, and if you live in paradise—no curveballs, no bad guys.
What made no sense was the acidic rumbling in my stomach, or the twitches that ran up and down my arms with increasing strength. I felt sweat on my scalp, a tingling alertness in every hair follicle. I knew these feelings. They usually preceded a battle, or one of my famous nights out.
I wanted to kill someone. I needed to kill someone.
I slammed the thought down deep in the foot locker of my awareness, focused instead on a poignant shaft of light slicing through a cloud formation, or the perfect shimmery smell of fresh baked bread wafting across a lake. Given how tuned in we all were to each other, I didn’t want to tip my hand to the rest of God’s tenants. I’d be a pariah, with the mark of Cain stamped on my forehead.
And how would I get close enough to kill one of them then?
It was making me crazy, the constant ping-ponging of my thoughts from bliss to bloodlust. And through it all, a deepening suspicion that, despite Adjani’s assurances, there had been a serious mistake. I had slipped through the perimeter, and now wandered the flock, hunting without hunger, sure that the kill would be sweet and effortless.
I sensed her more than saw her. I had wandered by a house, a 50’s dream, with a fence made up of freshly painted white pikes strangled by ivy. Slate squares made a path to the front porch, which held a swinging bench and a couple of chairs. Rose bushes erupted around the porch railing, and a pair of pruning shears lay on a wicker table. I quickly grabbed the shears and wedged them into the back of my waistband.
I could feel her hovering behind the lace curtains in the French windows, waiting there for me. It would be so easy to knock on her door, and as she opened it, to slide the shears into her abdomen and work the blades open and closed inside her. Would she die? Could she die?
I took a last look up and down the street, to make sure there would be no witnesses, and raised my hand to knock. Suddenly the door swung in. She stood there, still wearing her apron, her flower print dress. Her wavy blonde hair shimmered softly in the shade of the porch, it’s own light source. The woman who saw me arrive on Cloud Nine. Somehow I had known it would be her, and yet a wave of surprise swept through me. Although warm and radiant, there was a glint in her blue eyes.
“Hey!” she said. I could smell the Midwest cornfields in her voice. “You’re the new one. Want some punch?”
I felt the shears nestled in the small of my back, and decided I could wait a bit. I wanted to taste the punch.
She brought me into her living room. Hardwood floors, a table draped with a bright yellow tablecloth, on which rested a pitcher of red juice, beaded with silvery condensation. The air was heavy and sweet with fresh cut roses, arranged beautifully in vases throughout the room. A piano lurked in the corner, and I made a promise to myself to kill her before she offered to play something for me.
She poured two glasses, handed one to me, playfully clinked my glass and took a seat. “So. Did she give you the schpiel? The little gymnast with the suntan?”
After what seemed like hours of earnest conversation with Adjani, I’d forgotten how great a little sarcasm could be. I laughed, spraying some punch, and she joined me, a deep, throaty laugh from down low in her. She brought the punch to her lips, turning her lipstick a shade redder.
“Yeah,” I said when I finally recovered. “I guess she did.” I quickly scanned her kitchen, all white tile centered around a butcher block table. “Are you allowed to be funny here?”
“Well, you gotta laugh, or the evangelists will take over. I mean, I’m from the Bible belt. Seventy years was enough. I don’t want to listen to harp music the rest of eternity.”
I laughed again. I liked this chick. It was gonna be tough, killing her.
She eyed me over the rim of her glass as she sipped. “But you’ve got some questions. Am I wrong?”
“Is this that whole ‘one mind’ thing?” I asked, trying to match her light mood. It was hard keeping up with her.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like a good meld as well as the next girl,” she leered. “But it’s written all over you. You want to know how you got here.”
“The question crossed my mind. I don’t think I’m your average profile for this kind of place.”
“Uh-huh. I get it.” She put her glass down. “It’s the whole Bible belt thing. It screws you up. It’s not heaven like they told us it was gonna be heaven.”
“That’s what Adjani said,” I replied, drinking deeply. The punch hit the spot.
“There’s no…” she searched for the word. “There’s no judgment here. You get what you want, not what you deserve. Does that make sense?”
“Well,” I chuckled into the glass, “You don’t know what I want.”
“Trust me. It all balances out somehow. I don’t know how. Probably because on some level, we’re all part of the same organism. Or maybe there is a God. I don’t know. All I know is, they’ll let anyone in.”
There was a loud WHUMP that I felt more than heard. I realized it was the sound of something hitting the table, and then I realized that something was my head. I watched, fascinated, as the spilled punch rolled off the table. From far away, I felt fingers in my hair, and a voice telling me “It’s all good, it’s all good…”
I woke with a start, and immediately felt the bonds around my wrists and ankles. I pulled against them, to see if there was any give. This woman knew her knots. I was still in the living room. The table had been stripped of its cloth and transformed into a stainless steel hospital bed, with slats extending the head and feet. I had been stripped of my cloth as well. The garden shears lay on a small ebony stand, on top of a small pile of Rachel Ray magazines. I heard a piano softly playing “Don’t Fence Me In.”
Perhaps I was still groggy, but I felt no worry, no pain. Everything seemed to be happening according to plan, although whose plan I couldn’t say. I groaned a couple of times, to get a sense of what my voice could do, and satisfied that I was up for it, I inhaled for a fat bellow to attract passersby. There must be some do-gooders in heaven.
Before I could shout, someone else’s scream cut me off. It was a woman’s scream of horror, like so many I’d heard in Iraq. It curdled the air, silencing the constant background of birds and pleasant buzz. It also sent a thrill through me, a caveman urgency that immediately stiffened me. I fiercely pulled on the cords around my wrist, twisted on the tabletop, which only seemed to arouse me further. The cords held me in place. As I struggled, I became dimly aware that the piano music had stopped. High heels briskly clicked towards me across the hardwood. Her gorgeous face appeared above me, and she stole a quick glance at my own hardwood. “Huh-lo,” she laughed.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “You can’t kill me. I’m already dead.”
“Actually, I can kill you. You just don’t stay gone like you would if we were back down below. You take a week or so to collect yourself, and you’re back, good as new.” She leaned close to me, stroked my hair. “But I have no intention of killing you, my darling.”
Her lips against my cheek were like satin, and the heat from her breath filled my throat with a choking passion. I wanted her.
“And you’ll have me, Slick,” she said. “But first, you’ll have to deserve me. Since that’s so important to you.”
She grabbed the garden shears from the stand and pressed the point firmly against some artery in my neck. “I’m going to untie your wrists from the table. You’ll be able to sit up. There’s something in the kitchen I want you to see.”
I felt a loosening near my hands, and my arms jerked down from above my head. My wrists were still lashed together, impeding my mobility but making an excellent club. I could’ve taken her then, I think. But I obediently brought my arms down, resting them on my erection, waiting for the circulation to return.
I wanted to see what was on the table.
She smiled, and put the shears down on the floor. Then, after a moment, she helped raise my head off the table, eased me up into a sitting position. I looked over into the white tile kitchen.
Strapped to the butcher block table, Adjani struggled. She was naked, bound, beautiful. She grunted as she strained against her restraints, then screamed hopelessly in the general direction of the window with torn vocal chords. Then she struggled some more, screamed some more, a twisted, desperate loop of mortality. Her eyes were filled with fear and terror again. It was like old times.
I watched, transfixed, as my angel whispered in my ear. “You want to kill. She wants you to kill her. We all get what we want.”
A wave of inevitability swept over me. I saw clearly that there were no choices in life, or whatever this was, that every decision I had made was just a step in an unwitting, complex dance. The beast, the slaughter, the avenger, the admiring crowd, were all nothing more than endlessly intricate choreography. Performing the moves was the least we could do, the most we could do, all we could do.
“What about you?” I asked my blonde captor. “What do you want?”
“I want—“ She kept her lips near my ear. I heard her choke. I faced her, saw tears in her eyes. “I want to feed.” She closed her eyes, her cheeks streaked with tears of longing. Then, with a sniff, her eyes opened and her smile returned like glorious sunshine. “That’s what I want, Mister,” she said, playfully tapping my nose.
Minutes later, we stood over Adjani. Her eyes locked on mine in a silent plea. I smiled a silent assurance as I stuck the shears into her belly. The spurting blood proved to be a minor annoyance. I was still naked, and Angel had her apron. She guided me through the gutting, warning me off damaging the best bits, which she carefully placed in a ceramic mixing bowl. Flavored with spices and some marbled fat from Adjani’s thigh, she promised it would make an exquisite stew. She tutored me in the culinary art of cannibalism with patience, love and laughter. And soon after, Adjani died, her eyes still fixed upon mine with what I imagined was a glimmer of gratitude.
Later, over some red wine and the best damn stew I’d ever tasted, Angel and I made plans for Adjani’s return. I wondered if the girl felt the same anticipation we felt. Was she in some incorporeal place right now, longing for my hands to take the life from her? Or was she frightened, in hiding? I guess it doesn’t much matter how we feel about our part of the dance.
One man’s heaven, after all.
The sun came up on New Havensville. It’s a clear, crisp Saturday morning. Early birds chirp happily. The dew gleams on top of the manicured grass. The lovely, if the same, tract homes line up like new cars.
A sweet looking house with pink window shutters stands out from the crowd. Number 1313.
The sweet scent of baked honey buns, bacon, eggs and gourmet coffee float through the air like mist. Food for the Gods.
Inside the kitchen of 1313 is Mom, Maddie Sawyer. Blonde, blue-eyed. A tight, mature body that screams “Hot Babe.” A lovely smile is on her face. She’s humming a tune to herself. Suddenly, WHACK! WHACK!! WHACK!!! Her butcher knife is covered in blood. A stream of blood from the knife trickles down the blade onto her hand and into the folds of the wrists.
Maddie frowns at the sight. Grabs a towel and begins to clean up. Rinses the towel several times under the faucet. A sly grin appears on her face. She crosses back to counter and looks down. Her eyes widen. She picks up the All Spice and Pepper. Begins to sprinkle.
Maddie’s face lights up. “This is going to make a lovely stew.” She pulls a casserole dish out. Loads in the vegetables, water and soy sauce. She holds up the human arm. Blood drips from the forearm. Maddie gingerly places arm into casserole dish. Sprinkles in a pinch of thyme, ginger and nutmeg. She smiles as she opens the oven door. “Cook for three hours, should taste delicious.”
In the oven beside the casserole is a baking pan… a roasting leg of human is crisping to a golden brown. “Mmm” is all that Maddie says.
Pass the potatoes, please…]]>
Maddie Sawyer is running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Her beautiful blonde mane swings back and forth. Sometimes colliding in her right eye.
Her eyes dart about the room. Her left hand clinches and unclenches. She paces in the kitchen like a caged cat.
The phone rings. Maddie jumps to pick up the phone. “Hello?... It’s starting to come together… I’ve already made the salad, I got the appetizers chilling in the fridge… What’s the main course? Good question.” Just then the door bell rings. “Honey, I’ll call you back… Somebody’s at the door.”
Maddie goes to the front door and opens it. Standing there is a forty-something man. Semi-balding, mid-life tire around his middle. His face is round and pleasant. He has a big, warm smile plastered on his face. “My name is Earl Carey. I wonder if I might have a moment of your time?”
Maddie smiles a sinister smile. “Of course, you can. Care for a glass of lemonade?”
That night, Maddie is sittng at the head of the dinner table. She smiles contentedly to her four guests. The dark haired woman sitting to her left is wiping her mouth with a napkin when she says, “Delightful meal, Maddie.”
Maddie’s head drops in recognition. “Glad you enjoyed yourself.”
“I really was taken with the beef dish, what do you call it?” the dark haired woman queried.
Maddie sips her drink. Puts it down. Smiles. “It’s called Carey con Carne.” She picks up a small piece of meat and slips it into her mouth. She looks over her guests and states, “There’s plenty, so eat up!”]]>