Sunday, March 30, 2014

it isn't only crocodiles that cry, part 4: meatballs in the back

original story by horace p sternwall

originally appeared in the may-june 1945 through the jan-feb 1946 issues of throat grabbing tales

adapted for the 21st-century by chuck leary and roger "peg leg" wilson

illustrated by danny delacroix and eddie el greco

part four of thirteen

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous episode, click here

doreen was originally from nebraska.

if people asked her from where in nebraska, she would say "dinkville" or "hicksville" or "poopville" because she didn't want anybody to know exactly where.

she didn't want anybody to be able to track her down in case she had to lie low and wanted to go back where she came from and hide.

like most of her fellow humans, she was paranoid in some ways but totally didn't give a fuck in others.

this phenomenon has been called the "new bipolar brain" by some experts - as opposed to the old bipolar brain with survival on one side and religion on the other. or something like that.

but you already knew that.

but right now doreen didn't have any home town in nebraska to go back to anyway, because the only two people who had been connecting her to it - her mom, alison, and her younger brother keith - were here in the big city.

enjoying doreen's hospitality. until - ha ha ha ha - they found someplace better.

with the bag of groceries in her arms doreen kicked at the door. maybe one of the two morons inside would hear her and open the door.

more likely not. she had been through this before.

doreen was not the sharpest piece of glass in the gutter but she was einstein compared to the rest of her family.

that was not an opinion but a natural born cold hard fact.

nobody opened the door. doreen put the bag down, got her keys and opened the door, picked the bag back up and went inside.

keith was sitting at the table with buds in his ears looking at his phone. no surprise there.

alison was looking out the window.

"didn't you hear me?" doreen asked. not that she really cared.

"i was looking out the window."

"yes, i see that you are looking out the window. are you looking at anything out the window?" doreen put the bag on the table and keith took the buds out of his ears and started taking stuff out of the bag.

"i was watching to see if that guy came back."

"what guy?"

"that guy you were talking to."

"i was talking to a guy?"

"yeah, right outside. i saw you, don't try to deny it."

doreen thought for a second. "oh, that guy."

"yeah, that guy."

"he was nothing, just another creep."

"but what did he say?"

"i don't know, the kind of things creeps say - that he was the prophet, or he was the hand of fate, or some shit like that."

keith had taken all the stuff out of the bag. "where's the chef boyardee spaghetti and meatballs? i said i wanted chef boyardee spaghetti and meatballs!"

"they didn't have any," doreen told him. " i got lasagna instead."

"did you ask?'" keith persisted. "did you ask if they had any in the back?"

"fuck no, i didn't ask if they had any in the back. you'll live, if you have to eat lasagna. and i got some stuff for salad, too. you should start eating healthier."

"salad! salad! fuck that shit! are you trying to kill me? ma, she's trying to kill us!"

doreen laughed. "death!" she turned to alison who was still looking out the window. "that's what that guy said - he was death."

"you are death," said keith. "you and your salad."

"death! " cried alison. "you should be afraid." she kept looking out the window. "but he hasn't come back. yet. "

"he isn't coming back," doreen told her.

"if he comes back, " said keith, " you can invite him up for some salad."

doreen ignored him. "come on," she said to her mother, "you want to help me make the salad?"

"no, i'm too old to learn new things."

"go back to the store," keith said. "and ask them if they have any spaghetti and meatballs in the back."

"fuck you!" doreen grabbed him by the hair and tried to smash his face into the table. "i'm sick of your whining, o k? if you don't like what i buy, go get some money of your own and buy your own fucking spaghetti and meatballs! or anchovies or caviar or anything else you want, o k?"

keith twisted his head out of her grasp. "where am i going to get any money?"

"panhandle! when i was your age i'd put in a thousand hours of panhandling."

"i'd rather not do that."

"oh, i'd rather not do that!" doreen mimicked. " why don't you just grow up? and grow a pair."

"he's sensitive, doreen. like you used to be. some people just don't have it in them to do things like beg from strangers."

"maybe they better learn." doreen went over to a drawer and took out a small but sharp knife. "now if neither of you two parasites want to help me make the salad, maybe you can just sit quietly and not bother me while i'm working."

alison finally moved away from the window. "i can heat up the lasagna. i can do that."

"great." doreen took the tomatoes and celery and the big purple onion off the table in front of keith and carried them over to the small space between the sink and the microwave.

"i think maybe we should heat up both cans, don't you?"

"go for it." doreen started chopping up the celery.

"that onion is the most disgusting thing i ever saw in my life," said keith. "i ain't eating that. it looks like something that fell out of frankenstein's asshole."

"you'd eat it if it was cut up and cooked on top of a pizza."

"that's different!"

doreen didn't answer.

alison started opening the cans of lasagna. "do you think i should put them on a plate or in bowls?"

"they fit better in bowls and they don't spill all over the microwave," doreen told her.

"but they get hotter if you put them on a plate," said keith.

"thank you, julia child," doreen told him, "for your expert advice."

"i'm thirsty. don't you have anything to drink?"

"water. a whole fucking city reservoir full of water."

"i want some red bull."

"red bull." doreen started to laugh. "he wants red bull. i think it costs more than fucking heroin. is that the last fucking straw or what?"

"now doreen, you know he's just teasing you. you were the same way when you were his age."


"we both really appreciate what you are doing for us."

"except mick wouldn't talk to us the way you do," said keith.

"mick!" doreen waved the little knife at him. "but fucking mick isn't taking you in, is he?"

"let's not bring mick into this," said alison. "let's just all be nice and enjoy a nice dinner."

alison and keith and mick and doreen were part of a world wide migration not only from the virtually obsolete "countryside" but from small towns and cities into a handful of mega-cities dotting the globe with consequences for the very nature of "humanity" which as yet are not even shadows on the walls of the future…

but you already knew that.

part 5

Sunday, March 23, 2014

it isn't only crocodiles that cry, part 3: voices in the wind

original story by horace p sternwall

originally appeared in the may-june 1945 through the jan-feb 1946 issues of throat grabbing tales

adapted for the 21st-century by chuck leary and roger "peg leg" wilson

illustrated by konrad kraus and eddie el greco

part three of thirteen

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous episode, click here

if you were like me you were probably brought up as a human being and taught to believe all the crap that humans are taught to believe.

maybe you were brought up to believe in the bible and the second amendment and the confederate flag and nascar and cake sales on saturday afternoon.

or maybe you were brought up to believe in darwin and global warming and feminism and diversity and killing babies and survival of the fittest.

or maybe you were brought up to believe in peace and love and john and yoko and pete seeger and sunflower seeds.

or in bill gates and andy warhol and fifteen minutes of fame and satan in the bathhouses in san francisco.

or in buddha or hitler or nancy pelosi or chairman mao or nietzsche or joshua fought the battle of jericho or who knows what?

because it's all the same. all the same big pile of steaming shit, with different colored bows and ribbons on it.

because in the end there is only one thing certain.

something that's easy to forget when you are sitting stuck in traffic or on the bus watching mad men or game of thrones on your smart phone and sipping your peppermint mocha coffee from dunkin donuts.

we are all going to fucking die.

and now it was doreen's turn.

doreen, do you know you are going to die? not in some far off time when space ships fly through the sky and mad men and how i met your mother aren't even on any more but right now.

because i have the contract from mr and mrs fernwood to terminate your pathetic existence.

which i have reason to believe may be almost as pathetic as mine.


there was no use waiting around.

the fernwoods didn't have doreen's phone number. but i had her address, which mr fernwood had written down on the napkin in mcdonalds.

mrs fernwood had suggested i memorize the address and throw the napkin away, because it had mr fernwood's dna on it.

i didn't think so.

i would have enough trouble remembering to keep the napkin.

865 main st.

there didn't seem to be any mystical or astrological significance to the numbers that i could see.

i was a mage and an astrologer in another life. but that's a story for another day.

i got to the 800 block of main street before the sun went down.

before the sun went down over the lonesome city.

the rain had finally stopped around noon.

but the streets didn't look clean or anything like that.

somehow i had in my mind that the buildings would have the kind of high steps you could sit on like you see in the movies and i could sit and wait for doreen on them.

but they didn't.

there was a pizza shop that i could probably sit in if i wanted to buy a cup of coffee but for how long? besides i didn't really want any coffee and i didn't want to spend even one cent of the hard earned money i was getting from the fernwoods on anything i didn't really want.

so i just sat on the sidewalk. like a bum.

nobody was going to come along and say, why is that guy sitting on the sidewalk like a bum? because i looked like a bum.

i was sitting on the opposite side of the street from doreen's address at 865.

there wasn't much traffic. or many pedestrians.

after a while my knees and back started to get sore and i started to get a little sleepy , and i was afraid i would fall asleep even with the soreness.

so i got up and stretched a little.

i heard a voice behind me say "it's tough, isn't it?"

for a second i thought it was mr fernwood checking up on me but it wasn't, it was a gentleman i had never seen before.

i say gentleman because he looked kind of distinguished. not real distinguished, just kind of.

about as distinguished as anybody can look in the 21st century. he was wearing a tie, and he was old.

"it's tough," he went on, "being a bum in a world of bums."

i nodded politely. then he laughed. "what? don't you recognize me?'"

i just looked at him .

"randal, isn't it?"

i started to say, no, i wasn't randal, but then i thought - hey, maybe after i kill doreen and if the police bother to investigate, maybe this old timer will come forward and say randal - whoever he was - was hanging around.

it couldn't hurt. and too bad, randal.

so i said, "yeah, yeah, and you are - "

"colonel chapworth. you remember me, from division headquarters."

"oh, of course -" i glanced down the street, in case doreenwas approaching. "so, how's it going?"

"shabby, shabby, just like everything else."

"isn't that the truth?"

"but those were the days, weren't they? splendid times, splendid times."

"they certainly were," i agreed.

"but we played the game, didn't we?"

"indeed we did."

he cleared his throat as if he were about to say something more at length. but he just looked at me and said "well. carry on."

"you carry on yourself," i told him.

he moved on. i watched as he disappeared up main street toward the boulevard, but he never looked back.

i wondered if maybe i had not actually met him, in some former life…

he looked familiar.

but after awhile everybody looks familiar.

because there are not enough faces for all the streets in the universe.

then i thought, maybe everybody he passes on the street is "randal" and he goes through the same routine. looking for someone to buy him a drink, maybe?

i thought, maybe i should try something like that sometime. like i told the fernwoods, i had never been too good at out and out panhandling…

then i saw a figure coming toward me on the other side of the street.

a short, round figure.

it had to be doreen!

the figure came closer. it was a short, round female carrying a big paper bag in her arms that covered half her face. yes, i thought, it must be doreen.

i stepped in front of her. my mind went blank. i couldn't remember where i was, or what century i was in.

she stopped and looked at me with the left side of her face, the side not hidden by the bag.

"are you doreen?" i asked her.

she just stared at me. mrs fernwood was right about one thing - she wasn't going to cure me of being a faggot.

"who the fuck are you?" she finally asked.

"death," i answered. i just blurted it out.

"fuck you, asshole. get out of my way."

i knew i was back in the 21st century. where people said things like "fuck you, asshole" and not "we know not the day nor the hour" or "play up and play the game".

i had told doreen she knew not the day nor the hour. but she didn't seem to want to hear it.

"there's a cop car coming down the street, asshole. why don't you just get out of my way."

but i was too old for that trick. i just stepped aside and let her pass without turning around.

i looked over my shoulder and she had put her paper bag down and was opening the door to number 865.

and a police car was in fact coming down the street.

i turned and started walking up toward the boulevard.

i felt better. i had given her a chance - sort of.

and i didn't like her looks anyway.

a wind started blowing in my face.

a cold wind.

part 4

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

it isn't only crocodiles that cry, part 2: date with doreen

original story by horace p sternwall

originally appeared in the may-june 1945 through the jan-feb 1946 issues of throat grabbing tales

adapted for the 21st-century by chuck leary and roger "peg leg" wilson

illustrated by konrad kraus

part two of thirteen

for part one, click here

the fernwoods only had one umbrella between them and they could hardly fit under it themselves.

and they couldn't afford a cab so i just got wet as i followed them to mcdonalds.

as i got soaked i started to think about this doreen person that i had just agreed to kill.

despite all my tough talk i had never actually killed anybody before. at least not that i could remember.

of course i had seen and done things too terrible to be described and my brain and my memories were all a jungle of cacaphonousity and chaos that might or might not be true.

but i could not go into a police station anywhere in the universe and say "i killed mister x or miss y on a rainy night in june in 1959 and i buried the knife with my fingerprints and their dna on it in the basement of the house at 53 st charles st".

no, i couldn't do that.

and now i was about to meet doreen.

whoever or whatever she was.

and doreen was about to meet me.

if everything went according to plan i would be the last person doreen would ever meet.

already i was feeling sentimental about her.

who are you, doreen, lost in the antediluvian night?

are you a good person or a bad person? if you associated with the fernwoods, probably a bad person. but you never know, do you?

are you young or old, fat or thin, beautiful or not so beautiful, respectable or not so respectable?

do you sing in the choir on sunday, give blow jobs in parking lots on monday?

do you spell your name with two "r"s or one? "een" or "ine"? for the fernwoods are not the sort to put things in writing.

my reveries were cut short by our arrival at mcdonalds.

the rain had not let up.

i grabbed some napkins to try to dry myself off a little, and followed mr fernwood to a table by the window. mrs fernwood shook the rain off the umbrella and folded it up and went to place the order.

i love mcdonalds! it's my favorite place. sitting in mcdonalds is my favorite thing in the world. (walking through the aisles in wal-mart or costco might be second). love, sex, drugs, booze, smashing the face of your enemy and drinking his blood - these are fleeting pleasures by comparison.

i love the atmosphere - the warmth, the salt, the sugar, fat, chemicals, whatever they use.

it's the closest a human can come to just lying in the mud like an alligator.

seated across from mister fernwood i was able to look into his eyes as i had not back in the office. it was not a pretty sight.

but i didn't care. bring on the fries!

i grabbed at them when mrs fernwood arrived with the tray. but she slapped my hand away as soon as she put the tray down.

"down, boy, down!" she took her wet coat off and hung it on the back of her chair. she settled in over the tray with its two double quarter pounders with cheese, two chocolate chip frappes and two packets of fries.

"no curly fries, sorry," she announced. she took a big bite of one of the double quarter pounders.

"but i still get some regular ones, right?"

mrs fernwood couldn't answer with her mouth full.

mr fernwood pushed one of the packs of fries toward me. "i ain't that hungry. go ahead, you can have all mine."

i grabbed them before he could change his mind.

mrs fernwood looked at mr fernwood with bulging eyes, but by the time she swallowed her mouthful i had the fries in a death grip.

mrs fernwood shrugged. "you're spoiling him, " was all she finally said to mr fernwood. she gave me her best glare.

i bit into my fourth fry. already the salt and grease were reviving my body. i started thinking about my date with doreen again.

i looked around. despite the rain, the place was almost empty. it was late.

"tell me about doreen." i tried to slow down, savor each fry.

mrs fernwood looked around herself before answering. "we'll give you her address. that's all you need. the less you know the better. but you understand that."

"you got a picture of her?"

"hell no. are we amateurs? you think we carry incriminating evidence around with us?"

"well, can you tell me a little what she looks like?"

mrs fernwood looked at mr fernwood. "do you hear that, he wants to know what doreen looks like! ha, ha! why, you think she's some kind of hot babe? you think she's going to cure you of being a faggot?"

"i think it would help if i had some idea of what she looks like so i don't make a mistake, that's all."

"i suppose that makes sense," mr fernwood conceded. he took another bite of his double quarter pounder.

"great, so what does she look like? is she black, white? fat, thin, old, young, short, tall?"

mr fernwood finished swallowing his bite. " she's as white as we are. she's neither old nor young." he took another bite.

"she's fat," mrs fernwood said, after looking around the room again.

i looked at her. the fries were making me thirsty. i wondered if the person at the counter would give me a cup of water if i asked for one.

"fatter than me even," mrs fernwood added.

"is she your sister?" i asked her.

"no. and she don't look nothing like me."

"she's short," mr fernwood added.

"so she's miss five by five," i said.

mrs fernwood laughed. "more like miss four by ten."

i wondered if doreen was so fat it would be hard to stick a knife into her. or if her fat would protect her if i hit her with a car. i had never wondered about such things before. "so - um - she probably doesn't have a very happy life."

"how the fuck do we know if she has a happy life," mrs fernwood answered me. "she's happy enough to go around saying bad things about us, that's all you have to know."

"here." mr fernwood took a pen out of his pocket. he wrote something on a napkin and handed it to me. "here's her address."

"i think that concludes our business tonight," said mrs fernwood.

i looked at the napkin without really registering what was on it. "so when i'm all done where will i see you? to get my eight dollars." i didn't want to tell them to come to my office because i might be thrown out of it by then.

neither of them answered right away. "should we meet here? in a week?" i asked.

"no," said mr fernwood. "let's meet at wendy's. the wendy's over on main street. one week from tonight." he thought for a few seconds. "around eleven o'clock."

"that's if you do what you are supposed to do," added mrs fernwood.

i didn't like wendy's as much as mcdonalds but i wasn't going to argue. "is there only one wendy's on main street?"

"the one on main and 63rd," said mrs fernwood, as if it was the stupidest question she ever heard.

i had finished the packet of fries. i stood up. "all right then."

i went up to the counter. there was a girl, or woman, behind it, leaning on it. she could have been fifteen years old, or fifty-five. i couldn't tell what nationality she was, or if she had a nationality.

i asked her if i could have a cup of water. she looked at me and didn't answer. finally she shoved herself up and went to get the water.

she had the saddest eyes i had ever seen.

but i had not yet seen doreen.

maybe her eyes would be even sadder.

part 3

Friday, March 14, 2014

it isn't only crocodiles that cry, part 1: the fernwoods

original story by horace p sternwall

originally appeared in the may-june 1945 through the jan-feb 1946 issues of throat grabbing tales

adapted for the 21st-century by chuck leary and roger "peg leg"wilson

illustrated by konrad kraus

part one of thirteen

i needed dough.


i didn't care how i got it or who i got it from.

i was down on my luck and up the creek.

a cold rain was falling. had been falling for days.

it was coming through the roof and the broken window but at least there was a roof.

i had a couple of tin cans and a frying pan that i had put on the floor to catch the water dripping from the ceiling.

they made a racket i knew mcgraw, the landlord, couldn't help hearing - reminding him i was still there - if he needed reminding.

i had been begging him and crying on his not very soft shoulder and giving him sad stories for months.

i didn't have any pride left or anything like that but i finally just gave it up.

i had gotten an eviction notice three weeks ago and i had been stalling but tomorrow was the day.

i hadn't eaten for three days and i was down to my last bottle of hooch.

i hadn't had a bottle of real booze in three months.

so when mr and mrs fernwood showed up at six o'clock - just after sundown if there had been any sun - i didn't like their looks but i would have done anything they asked if they paid up front.

speaking of fronts i made a pathetic attempt to keep one up.

but i knew right away they saw right through me.

i saw right through them too.

a couple of cheap chiselers and losers - guilty as hell of something.

maybe of everything.

i would find out soon enough - if they could pay.

but we kept up appearances, the way people will. you know how it is.

i was talking to the fernwoods in the tiny reception space in front of my office because i didn't want them in the office itself with the raindrops coming through the roof. i was sitting at the desk of my long gone secretary and they were sitting squeezed together on the one couch. mr fernwood was skinny and mrs fernwood was fat.

they were the scum of the earth. like me.

but i guess i already said that, didn't i. one way or another.

try to forgive me. i repeat myself a lot.

it has something to do with being brain damaged.

i was in the war. some war. i won it singlehanded. or maybe i didn't.

or maybe i wasn't even in any war.

was there a war? when? you tell me.

where was i? oh yes, the fernwoods.

mister fernwood looked guilty. even guiltier than mrs fernwood or myself.

what are you guilty of, mister fernwood?" i asked abruptly, cutting through the bullshit and getting to the heart of the matter. it's just my way.

"guilty?" he stammered. "me guilty?"

"of course you are guilty, mister fernwood, why else would you be here,eh?"

"why, because i've been done wrong, of course." he stared at me with his watery green eyes.

"and why would anyone do you wrong, except that you were guilty?"

mister fernwood laughed bitterly. "are you a private detective or a philosopher?" he turned to mrs fernwood. "did you hear that, tanya, this chap is making accusations against us - us, his potential employers. and without even hearing what we have to say. i told you it was a mistake coming here."

but mrs fernwood did not seem so upset with me. she was stating at me with her evil little eyes the color of kitty litter. they were the evilest eyes i had ever seen. and i've seen some evil eyes, in my endless journeys to hell and back.

"i think mister raven was just making polite conversation, philip. weren't you, mister raven?" she took a long drag on her lipstick-smeared cigarette. "i think he was just trying to cut through the bullshit and get to the heart of the matter."

now the rain must have started to come down harder because i could hear it dropping into the frying pan in the office even through the door.

mr and mrs fernwood could hear it too. and they knew that i knew that they could hear it.

but you already knew that.

just like you know if there ever was a war, or if there is still a war going on.

mrs fernwood took another drag of her cigarette.

"yes," i said, "i was. i couldn't have said it better myself. so - what is that you want? what do you want me to do? do you want me to kill somebody?"

"not quite," mrs fernwood answered.

"what then?"

"we just need some dirt on somebody."

now we were talking. "somebody? or anybody?"

mrs fernwood thought for half a second. "this person is more of an anybody than a somebody. she's not not really somebody at all."

"does the dirt have to be true?"

"what do you think?"

i don't know why we were going on like this. i was going to do anything they wanted, for whatever they were willing to give me.

"i think a flat fee would be best, " i tremulously ventured. "that way there won't be any arguing about expenses."

"no argument here," said mrs fernwood. it was obvious that she was completely in charge, especially of the money.

"all right, how about $50 now and $50 when i complete the job."

they both laughed.

mrs fernwood looked me in the eye. "how about $10 when the job is done. and if we think you deserve it."

"that's not very generous. that's not - that's not going to inspire me to do a good job."

"you need inspiration?" mrs fernwood asked. " how about the satisfaction of a job well done?"

i had no answer for that.

mrs fernwood turned to mr fernwood. "that's the trouble with the world today - nobody takes any pride in their work."

"yes, all they care about is money. it's very sad."

"i need a dollar," i begged them. "just one dollar. i'm starving. please."

mrs fernwood looked at me and blew some smoke. "one dollar? have you considered panhandling?"

"yes i have, but i - i'm just not very good at it. i just don't have the touch - i - besides, it's raining."

"panhandling isn't about touch, it's about aggressiveness. isn't that right, philip? philip and i have panhandled many a time when we had to."

"panhandling builds character in a young man," mr fernwood told me.

"i'm not a young man," i answered.

"i used to panhandle in front of the old roseland ballroom. talk about competition! you had to be tough."

i was almost in tears. "look, this is all very inspiring, but can you advance me a dollar."

"i'll tell you what," mrs fernwood said. "we won't give you cash, but when we leave here we're headed for mcdonalds. you can come along and we'll let you have some fries."

i had some pride left. i kept bargaining. "curly fries," i told her. "i want curly fries."

"do they have curly fries at the mcdonalds over on the boulevard?" mrs fernwood asked mr fernwood.

"so far as i know. i'm not a big curly fry person myself."

"all right," mrs fernwood told me, "we'll get you some curly fries if they have them. but it will count as two dollars off on your fee. and then you'll get seven when you deliver."

"aw, come on, make it eight. please!"

she gave me a long searching look. "o k, eight. but just one more thing."


"forget this just digging up dirt on doreen - you'll have to kill her instead."

mr fernwood started to say something but mrs fernwood held up her hand.

"all right," i said.

"so we have a deal?"

i didn't hesitate. i could taste the fries. "yes, we have a deal."

"all right then." mrs fernwood stood up, and mr fernwood stood up too. "let's go get those curly fries."

part 2