The Violinist’s Song
by Beatriz Langowiski
I once heard the story of a violinist who got on a bus. He made the driver feel cold and weary, with those grey eyes of his. He made the other passengers stare at his light grey suit, the colour of his eyes. He was a stranger in a little town not used to them.
I heard that his violin was the colour of bone, and no one would ever dare touch it to check what it was made of. The chords were as black as his hair, but not even the bravest man would stroke them with a lover’s hand.
I heard that the violinist got up on the bus and started playing. The bus would shake with every hole on the ground, but the slender man stood tall, still, and put his instrument to his face, his ghostly eyes looking at all and none.
I heard that the first note was so long, it sounded like the wail of a child. The melody that the violin built up after that was a series of long notes, one sadder than the other. It made stomachs churn with grief and chests heave with hopelessness. The world faded and all that there was, was the grey violinist and his sad eyebrows and his absent eyes. And people were drawn to him, to his music, to his strange violin. And his lament ended with one last note that resonated through his audience’s bones and made them feel like they would never be whole again. And he put his violin back on the case with his long, pale fingers, and left the bus.
I heard that, as the days distanced themselves from the violinist’s visit, the people started distancing themselves from their own minds. Their eyes lost their colours. Their hearts lost their passion. And every single member of his audience met again in the hospital, but they had left that world long before.
The person that told me this story is no longer sane, but he warned me to never take the bus in a small town again. Because a violinist with grey eyes and long, long dark hair may pay a visit. His song is the lament of souls imprisoned in eternal servitude, wishing to get out. And from the moment the first note reaches your ears, you become a part of his repertoire.
by Maureen DeLeo
The trio of men laughed loudly at their crass joke at the waitress’ expense. She told them with a sneer framed by her cheap, waxy red lipstick that men like them make her sick before turning away to see to the only other occupied table in the diner. One of the men got up to make use of the facilities, his pencil thin legs bowed slightly as he headed toward the back of the cramped place. Sipping his coffee, Doc looked over at the man at the other table as he got up and followed him a moment later. He returned his attention to Billyjack’s thick face lit up with excitement at the belief that he was ensnaring Doc with his colourful description of what he got up to last night with the seven that was in the big brown Cadillac that was pulled over on the side of the road. Doc sneered into his coffee. From what he remembered the girl kicked him so hard that Billyjack nearly lost his cool and got them caught by that passing sheriff.
Fifteen minutes passed. Doc turned his watery eyes toward the direction that Wade passed through. He must have gotten cold feet in the end. He was always a coward, never even had a sliver of a spine. It was just as well. He looked across the table at Billyjack shovelling his grits into his mouth like some starved hog. It would be less complicated this way.
‘Wade ain’t comin’ back,’ Doc announced. ‘And we gotta get.’
Billyjack, to his disgust, spoke clumsily around the food in his mouth. ‘How you know that he ain’t comin’ back? Wade’s loyal.’
Loyal. That was a big word with no meaning. Doc tapped the growing ashes of his cigarette into the dregs of Billyjack’s milk. ‘Time to get goin’. Come on.’
Wade probably managed to slip his skinny ass out from a window in the bathroom. He was too smart at least to run to the authorities and alert them as to their whereabouts, if only for his own sake. When they got out Doc knew that he was going to split shortly after they got out. He didn’t trust either of them and he was right to feel that way. For a moment he coolly regarded Billyjack as he sucked a little too harshly on his cigarette. Wade’s departure certainly made things a hell of a lot easier for him. Feeling a pair of eyes on him, Doc slowly raised his gaze to see the man at the other table watching him. There was no expression in them nor was there any on his face. There was nothing worse than seeing nothing in a man’s face because that meant that there was a whole lot of something behind it and that something was more dangerous than anyone could comprehend. The man lowered his eyes and reached for his mug as he studied the flimsy plastic menu before him. Doc dropped his cigarette in Billyjack’s grits and, ignoring his child-like protest, told him to get up. He tossed a few crinkled bills on the table and followed Billyjack’s lumbering, rotund form out from the curved booth. The tiny bell above the glass door jingled to signal their departure. The moment the door shut behind them, the waitress went over to refill the man’s coffee just so she could tell someone that she just hoped that those swine left her a decent tip. The man said nothing.
Billyjack played endlessly with the radio as they drove down the flat, empty stretch of road with brown tobacco and cotton fields on either side. Doc sneered as the only station that came through was one of those flashy preachers who kindly say that for only a small, very small really monetary contribution you not only guaranteed an act of charity that God would smile down upon but you were also helping him keep spreading the Word. Evidently the Word manifested itself through false veneers, bad toupees, and pastel spandex suits that were a little too snug in certain spots. People didn’t know nothing because they were nothing more than swine. He looked askance at Billyjack rubbing the heel of his meaty hand against his short snout. Once they got to some woods it could be done.
‘Hey,’ Billyjack suddenly said with the blind enthusiasm of a child. ‘Hey, look, you see that man there hitch-hikin’? Let’s pick him up.’
‘You lost your mind?’ hissed Doc. ‘Pick up some stranger?’
‘Come on, it’ll be fine. It’s hotter’n hell out, he can’t be out in the sun.’
‘Since when do you care about other people?’
‘We can let him think we’re doin’ him a favour and rob him blind once we had our fun.’
Turning off the radio, Billyjack rolled down his window as Doc stopped alongside the man. Asking him if he needed a ride, the man agreed with a wide grin, saying they sure were nice fellas.
‘I don’t really mind the heat,’ the man said as he climbed in the back, sliding over to take a seat behind the driver’s seat. ‘But it’s nice to get out of it.’
‘Where you headed?’ Doc asked, glancing up at the rearview. He narrowed his eyes. ‘Were you at that diner outside of Chipchowchilla?’
‘No, but I have been in Chipchowchilla for a long while. Time to get goin’.’
Unconvinced, Doc returned to his original question as he continued driving. The man looked up at him in the mirror. ‘I’m headed all over,’ he answered.
Billyjack grinned. ‘You’re a man of the world, friend.’
Silence fell over them. Every now and then Doc looked up to find the man staring at him in the mirror, swaying a little from side to side in his seat. Billyjack resumed searching for something on the radio, but now even the preachers couldn’t break through the thick static. It the sound seemed to steadily get worse and worse, voices garbled to the point that they didn’t sound like human voices at all and the odd guitar coming through so warped as to sound like they were being tuned on air. Doc winced as Billyjack went from station to station, the fuzziness and loud punctuations of sound seemingly working in earnest to split and crack open their skulls. Suddenly it reached a high pitch frequency like a prolonged screech that had Doc and Billyjack gritting their teeth, clenching their jaws, and, in Billyjack’s case, covering his ears and digging his blunt fingernails into his temples. Doc shouted at him to turn it off and although Billyjack wanted to keep his hand over his ear, he was more terrified of the pain Doc would cause him than the sound from the radio. Thrusting his hand toward the dial, he quickly shut it off. Both sighed in relief. The man in the back said nothing.
‘You from Chipchowchilla?’ Billyjack asked as he shoved his thick finger into his ear and moved his hand back and forth in a jerky motion.
‘Kinda… From everywhere, y’know,’ the man returned.
Doc looked up in the mirror to find him staring though he now sat still. There was some comfort in that at least. There certainly was none in his face.
‘We’re from Dalton,’ Billyjack said. Doc sneered. He thought he was being so clever giving the name of the state penitentiary without actually disclosing that was where they came from. He had nothing going on in that head of his and that was dangerous.
‘That so? I’ve been down there.’
‘You like it?’
‘You ever hear about the Chipchowchilla Mud Prophet?’
Something about his tone caused Doc to look up at his reflection again. The man finally turned his eyes to Billyjack. Just because his eyes were on him didn’t mean his attention was as well. Billyjack lit up with the excitement of a child as he told him, no, sir, that he hadn’t never heard of such an individual.
‘The Chipchowchilla Mud Prophet was a self-styled prophet,’ explained the man. ‘His real name was Elijah Johnson, aged sixty-three, resided on a small bit of land in the woods to the west of the town proper. In his care was a boy, Abedoah Disgrace Dooley, aged fourteen, who he was preparing to become the next Mud Prophet. The Lord doesn’t abide by false prophets. There is no authority except that which God has established. Elijah Johnson’s sins include this, but also assault, battery, kidnapping, forgery, lechery, and gluttony. I will not go into the details because details are vulgar.’
‘What happened to him? What’s “vulgar” mean? Momma used to say I was vulgar for – ‘
‘Shut up,’ spat Doc, hoping he kept his panic out of his tone.
The man slowly rolled his neck. ‘I killed Elijah Johnson.’
Before either of them could react to this revelation, the car slowed down before coming to a creeping halt as though it was finally empty of the last bit of fuel in its tank. Doc’s grip on the wide steering wheel was so tight that his knuckles appeared as though they would break through the skin of his hands. Billyjack’s heart raced as he desperately looked to Doc to come up with something to get them out of this situation. The man in the back stared at him through the rearview.
‘You like stories, don’t you, Billyjack Foley?’ the man asked. ‘An ignorant man child who plays with pain and suffering like they’re dolls. And you like dolls, don’t you, boy? Like your sister when you pressed your thumbs against her eyes because she called you a bad, bad name. You pressed so hard that she cried and screamed for help in that little shack you grew up in but your momma was out and your daddy was out so no one could help her.’
Doc watched in frozen terror as Billyjack’s body shuddered and his hands raised shakily to his face. He mumbled and stumbled pathetically over his words as he begged for Jesus’ help and told the man to go to hell. Slowly he ground the heels of his palms into his eyes.
‘That’s right,’ the man said. ‘You kept goin’, too, because you liked her pain. And you didn’t like that she was tellin’ you the truth about yourself. If anyone injures his neighbour, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’
A low groaning sound rumbled in Billyjack’s throat, rising upward until it began as a slow, agonised scream before his hands shifted to press his fingertips against his eyes. His body rocked and shook as his fingers seemed to be intent on getting through into his sockets. Doc could say and do nothing to stop it. Blood trickled down his ruddy cheeks and along the sides of his piggish nose. Finally he stopped moving all together, his fingers buried in his flesh, muscle, and tissue.
‘And you,’ the man started without any trace of emotion or feeling. ‘Seymour “Doc” Sevier, thirty-four, escaped convict from Dalton State Penitentiary. On the run for the past four days with reasonable success, though there was that incident on the road last night getting this car. Robbery and the murder of your wife and father.’
‘You’re the devil,’ Doc said, his fingers wrapped securely around the steering wheel.
‘How do you explain this then? How do you know what you know?’
‘I don’t answer to you or anybody else.’
‘Then what are you?’
‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. By His wounds we are healed.’
Doc tilted his head back against the headrest. Around his throat was the same tightening that his wife probably felt. He closed his eyes. Opening the door, the man stepped out and closed it. He walked onward down the road, seeing and feeling nothing.
An Ode to October 2021
by Earnan Macoireaghtaigh
Freddie Kruger’s got a booger
to scare you with tonight,
sitting down at a gig
waiting for a lover or fright,
subliminal messages in horrors
is it wrong or is it right?
Time to go back to the pagan rave
and dance with all our might,
In the darkness the file
will always shine the light,
keep it satirical and lyrical
nil is agaim shite,
the ghost is see through
not always white, and b.t.w
the latex is too tight,
P.S. consumerist adds too bright
on the blue screen dream
the truth is in sight,
Sublime inside the turnip g’night.