Steve Lowe's Blog
April 4, 2014
Buster’s got a mean right hook. Or, he did, until he put Ronnie Piccolo’s lights out in the fourth round of a fixed boxing match. See, Buster’s also got a mean heroin addiction, and he needs the money. Unfortunately for him, his failure to take a dive runs him afoul of a psychotic bookie, his henchman, and a fucking heavy sledgehammer.
Jimmy “Two Tickets To” Paradise knows the sledge well. His career ended a few years back when his weasel of a best friend tried the same scam on the very same bookie. Now he’s working in a machine shop, punching the clock, and caring for his pregnant girlfriend. When the same friend shows up on his doorstep, dying of ALS and begging to make amends, Jimmy will take him back to the part of Chicago where the cops take their time and the crooks handle their business with railroad ties.
There’s a bag full of money waiting where the streetlights are all shot out, where the windows are all boarded up. And swirling around it like blood in a drain is a rogue’s gallery of hammer-wielding killers, fast-talking thieves, and mutilated has-beens, all of them looking for revenge, closure, and the mother of all paydays.
“THE FIX floats like a butterfly and stings like a sledgehammer to the face. This fast-paced, loving homage to its crime fiction forefathers swings like pure pulp magic.”
Now available from Broken River Books
February 3, 2014
October 5, 2013
That pretty much says it all, right?
You are Sloth! is now on Kindle. There, I said it again in.
This is my wife after she read the death-by-bukkake scene in You are Sloth! that everyone seems to be mentioning:
Also, King of the Perverts will be coming to Deutschland soon. Mkrug Verlag out of Austria has acquired the German language rights to Perverts. Read the announcement here, in German!
August 14, 2013
In completely surprising and unexpected news, King of the Perverts is on the final ballot of the Wonderland Book Awards for Best Novel. KotP was published in 2012 by Grindhouse Press, which also has a book in the category for Best Collection with Andersen Prunty’s Hi I’m a Social Disease. Team Grindhouse tearin’ it up, y’all.
The best thing about this nomination for me is the cohort alongside my little Pervert. With names like Nick Antosca, Kevin Donihe, Pat Wensink, and Carlton Mellick III, I’m definitely the one people will look at and say, “Who?” And that’s cool with me. Because, you know, it’s just an honor to be nominated, and all. Winners will be announced in November at BizarroCon in Portland, which I will be attending again this year.
Speaking of Sloth!, book reviewer Bob Milne shared his thoughts over on his blog. Here’s a cherry-picked line from said review: “His story is deliberately offensive in many ways, but as a caricature or over-the-top parody, never as a mean-spirited attack. There are some Bizarro titles I skim through for scenes that catch my eye, and others that I read cover-to-cover . . . Lowe is definitely one of the latter, and a gentleman I need to read more of.”
HUMAN INTEREST ITEM
I’ve recently tried to get in the habit of running in the mornings. I’m no workout freak, and in reality, I hate the act of running. It’s tiresome, and painful on my increasingly cranky knees and hips. Sometimes there’s a searing pain along the inside of my left foot. I think it’s inflammation of the tendon there, possibly the posterior tibialis. That’s what the Internet suggested to me, anyway. The only time I don’t mind running is if I’m legging out a stand-up triple after hitting a softball into the gap. Any other time, running is just working out, and the key word in the phrase is WORK. Screw that, I work enough already.
But still, I’m trying. I need to be healthier. Get in better shape. I’m 38 and if I’m ever going to learn healthy habits, I better start now. But it feels like my body is assaulting itself when I run. Like my immune system is kicking in to combat myself for trying to injure it. My physical being defending itself from the mind with underhanded tactics, like inflammation of the posterior tibialis. I can only imagine what I must look like when I run. Face contorted in equal parts pain and anger, with a little fear mixed in. My every instinct screaming at me to stop, oh dear God, stop, what the hell am I thinking? I go early in the morning, and fortunately it’s dark and there are few cars on the road, otherwise, I suspect people would be calling 911 because I look like I’m either running from a murderer, or from the scene of a murder.
I bring this up because there’s a guy I see running almost every day on my drive into work. He’s around 6-foot-5, can’t possibly have more than 0.5% body fat. Long legs that attack the pavement and seemed to bounce off it. Effortless. Two springs that propel him along, shirtless and chiseled and defined and toned. The guy looks like a machine. A flawless assembly of strength and health and precision. Unwavering in his dedication to honing his body into a perfect specimen, and that this little run he’s taking (which is no doubt many miles long) is nothing but easy. Probably fun to him, even.
Fuck that guy.
July 2, 2013
*This message has been flagged as SPAM.*
My name is Steve and I have this thing for you that is great! Please continue to read down below, but first I will tell you some news that is true! In a short time to come will be releasing my new book of fun comedy named, YOU ARE SLOTH! from venerable purveyor of Bizarro fiction named Eraserhead Press!
It is my honor to request your compliance in making purchase of this publication with hard earned dollars unwound from your tight sweaty fists, BUT WAIT THERE IS MORE FOR YOUR INCENTIVE…
Don’t buy my book YET!!!1 First please read these things -
To be clear, I will be thrilled if you buy it at all, but maybe just wait a little bit. I’m thinking of a particular day, where as many people as possible are make the book purchasing happen at once. Just like Jennifer Beals in the FLASHDANCERS, I’m a girl with a DREAM: I have the goal to make my latest book, YOU ARE SLOTH!, an Amazon bestseller, even if for a day, or just a few hours. OH, WHAT A FEELING! Unlike Jennifer Beals, my glorious breasts and sexy water splashing dance moves are not get me there with my own merit. I need YOUR help to make IT!
Please don’t rush right out and click BUY on the day SLOTH! is available – PLEASE to wait for July 18. That is the day to do this. I don’t know why I am picking July 18. It was the first day I see when I looked at the desktop blotter/calendar under my keyboard. So OK! let’s make it July 18.
JULY 18 is officially, “Stop Having the Lazy and Buy YOU ARE SLOTH! Day”
Help me sneak onto the bestsellers list! Read a goofy book about being a sloth. For an added incentive, if you make buy the YOU ARE SLOTH! and Tom Piccirilli’s new novel THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK at the same time, and emails me a copy of your Amazon confirmation showing both books, I will send you a free paperback copy of one of my previously published books. These include such titles as: MUSCLE MEMORY and KING OF THE PERVERTS and SAMURAI VS. ROBO-DICK. Email the confirmation to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me which book you want! Buy two, get a third for FREE.
CAN IT BE THAT EASY? Holy crap yes it can! WHO DOES THIS CRAZY THINGS? me
Did I tell you what is YOU ARE SLOTH! about? NO??? Then have some of these:
“Why you are sloth? Because fuck you is why! HAHAHAHAHA!!1!”
That’s the last response you got from The Spammer, who’s developed an insidious computer virus that transforms people into their power animals. You never should have opened that email from the Philippino Sherriff’s Attaché to East Berlin. So many missed warning signs there, but you were drunk last night. Things have been rough lately – you can’t pay your rent, your neighbors are annoying, you keep getting strange calls from horny guys with unique and unsettling fetishes, you’re way behind with work, and your computer is suddenly crapping out on you. And now you’re a goddamn sloth. Nice going, genius. But there’s more at play here than simple animal hijinks. You’ve been added to the Homeland Security Terror Watch List, and the cops want to question you about the mysterious disappearances of several gay men, who all seem to have called your phone just before they vanished. Not only has this Spammer fuck turned you into a sloth, he’s framed your slow ass, too! You’ve had enough of this shit. With the help of your neighbors, Cross the Asshole and Randy the Retard, you form the SLOTH SQUAD. It’s time to track that Spammer down and reap some three-toed vengeance on his ass.
You are Sloth!
WOW, doesn’t that sound CRAZY? Alright!
How about a blurb from a living bestseller type? I really like this one:
“If Steve Lowe offers to sell you a watch, run. Lowe is a literary conman of the highest regard. He reels you in with a dizzying shell game of hilarious jokes and bathroom humor. But before you know it, he’s fled with your heart thanks to the sharply drawn, lovable lunatics inhabiting his writing.” – Patrick Wensink, author of BROKEN PIANO FOR PRESIDENT
How can you NOT stand to buy this thing? I DON’T KNOW! But remember, WAIT for July 18 and take part in “Stop Having the Lazy and Buy YOU ARE SLOTH! Day” for maximal enjoyment of these exciting times we are having.
What a lot of FUN!
May 28, 2013
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
David Barbee showed us what he’s got with A TOWN CALLED SUCKHOLE, but his next book, THUNDERPUSSY, confirms it – Barbee is one of the best authors of weird fiction out there right now.
THUNDERPUSSY is a consistently funny, perfectly over-the-top Bizarro update of the super spy adventure. Declan Magpie Bruce, Agent 00X, is everything you’d want in a spy. He’s hypersexual, majestically mustachioed, and armed to the teeth with fun spy gear like a suitbot that transforms his clothing to whatever environment or situation he’s in. Ever wonder how James Bond always shows up in nice new threads all the time, despite never carting luggage around with him? Had to be a suitbot.
That’s one example of dozens of great, weird ideas that pepper the pages of THUNDERPUSSY. While James Bond continues to be re-imagined as Jason Bourne, Barbee goes the other direction and puts a shitload of fun back into the spy genre.
Get it on Amazon: click here
April 25, 2013
I issued a challenge on Facebook yesterday. I wanted to give away a copy of my first book, Muscle Memory, so I proposed this:
“A signed & personalized paperback copy of my first book will go to the first person who writes a NEW Amazon review of one of my other books. The review must be at least 243 words long, be partially written in a foreign language (different from your own normal language, that is), contain the chorus from your current favorite song, and it MUST utilize the following words in any sequence: CONSTABULARY, SLOTH, PORTICO, TOOLBELT, JEFF, PACZKI.”
I figured no one would take the time and the post would quickly be forgotten. Sometimes, I throw little giveaways out like this without much fanfare or buildup, mostly because I’m bored at work and need to do something to keep my brain from slowly oozing out my ear. But I figured wrong. Within an hour, Scott Pratt responded with this masterpiece, which I would like to reproduce here, with a couple added images.
I present to you, an amazing impromptu review of my book, Samurai vs. ROBO-DICK:
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Great Read! Cage your sloth!, April 24, 2013
This review is from: Samurai Vs. Robo-Dick (Paperback)
As I was reading “samurai Vs. Robo-Dick I looked over to my friend, Jeff the Sloth and smiled gently. He was eating a pazki and jelly had dropped from his mouth onto his toolbelt. I was sitting on the Portico, as the Constabulary walked by. Jeff seemed upset at their presence, and yelled out to them, “Carry on my wayward son There’ll be peace when you are done Lay your weary head to rest Don’t you cry no more”. The constabulary lead halted and stared for a brief second before saying, “Sobald ich stieg über den Lärm und Verwirrung Nur um einen Einblick jenseits dieser Illusion Ich wurde immer höher steigenden Aber ich flog zu hoch Obwohl meine Augen sehen konnte, war ich noch ein Blinder Obwohl mein Verstand denken konnte ich noch ein wütender Mann Ich höre die Stimmen, wenn ich trauma Ich kann hören, wie sie sagen”
I was upset that Jeff confronted the non-military police officers, and told him to tighten his toolbelt and go inside. He obliged, and I continued to read. I was upset that he was being such a robo-dick and distracted me from reading. As I read, I realized that I was wearing a brown shirt and had a stack of junk food at my side. Was the author writing about me? I was more intrigued. Did I mention that my wife is a redhead? Anyway. All was silent after Jeff disappeared into the house. I was able to finish the magnificent book. I highly recommend it to anyone that loves the bizarre. The book is really well thought out, and amazing. Just make sure your talking pet sloth is locked in his cage when the constabulary walks by.
* * * * * * *
I loved this so much, I decided to offer up two more copies of Muscle Memory to anyone willing take on this challenge. If you can match what Scott did, I’ll send out a personalized copy of Muscle Memory to YOU. Tag me on Facebook, or email (email@example.com) me the link to the review when it’s posted on Amazon.
And as luck would have it, to aid you in this task, my collection Mio Padre, il Tumore is free for the Kindle until Friday, April 26th.
April 18, 2013
As a kid, the only time I ever wanted to go to the grocery store with my mom was on Saturdays, because that was when the old ladies with the big hair would set out their tables in the aisles and hand out free samples of cuisine perfectly suited for my 10-year old palette. Pizza rolls and little cups of cereal. Crackers with Cheez-Whizzy type stuff from an aerosol can. My first cup of coffee came from a free sample lady at Krogers when I was a wee lad. Free samples hold a special place in my heart, as does 1980s nostalgia.
I haven’t mentioned my latest book from Grindhouse Press much since it was published back in December, so I thought, what better way to do that than by offering a sample from Samurai vs. ROBO-DICK. And not a tiny portion of dried-out Tostinos that’s been soaking grease through a paper plate for an hour sample, but a large, juicy, meaty hunk from the middle of the book, with lots of action and blood and some other fluids sort of offering.
(If you don’t know me by now, the following is most definitely rated-NC-17 material. Fair warning and all.)
So, this free sample comes from Chapter 8, when our (wimpy) hero Benson DuBois is confronted by the Brown Shirts, a neighborhood watch group comprised of a bunch of fascist assholes who run around the gated community of Grand Acres, bludgeoning non-compliant residents with their Peace Keeper batons. They’re led by asshole No. 1, Richard Belvedere, who Benson refers to as Dick, and he doesn’t much like it. Dick has just cold-cocked the girl of Benson’s dreams, the redheaded lovely Maggie Malone, after their secret meeting was discovered by the Brown Shirts. Things look bad for Benson, but then they get weird when the neighborhood Samurai and a wendigo named Kevin join the party…
* * *
“Nice try, Benson, but you’ll never get the drop on me, you spineless fuck.”
Dick stood up and raised his arm over his head.
“I should have done this the day I met you and saved us both the hassle.”
I struggled for air and couldn’t speak, couldn’t plead and beg him to spare me. But that’s not what I would have done anyway. I didn’t even care what he was about to do to me, all I could think of was what he’d done to Maggie. Despite the agony in my guts and the looming bludgeon above my head, all I could see was blood, my vision blotted by fury.
He bared his teeth and was just about to bring that thumper down on my face when a shriek from my right stopped him. He looked and I watched his face drop down, mouth forming an O of shock. I strained to look as well, but from my vantage point, sideways on the ground with the streetlights glaring down in my face, all I could see was the blood. Not those dancing spots of anger in my eyes, either.
A fountain of it, real and gushing and black under the lights, sprayed in the air like an oil rig just come in. One of the Brown Shirts staggered toward Dick, his hands clawing at the missing chunk from his neck, his own blood coating his left side and showering one of the Things as he wobbled past her. Everything stopped, every heartbeat, every lung, even the wind. The entire neighborhood froze in time as he dropped to his knees and pitched onto his face, dead and twitching and hemorrhaging gallons of black ink into the perfectly clipped grass.
The form standing where the dead man had been suddenly came into view. It resembled a human, only much larger – a hulking, huffing, chewing mass of man-like creature. Blood squirted from its lips as it worked on the hunk of neck it had torn from the dead Brown Shirt. It had to be near seven feet tall, broad shouldered and thick-muscled, with a massive, naked, filthy chest coated in grime and hair. Wild, unkempt tufts of black curls sprung from everywhere on its head and face. It flexed tremendous hands with fingers like polish sausages that could encompass my entire head. Bands of muscles rippled along its arms like twisted bundles of rope writhing beneath his skin.
I say his skin, because as I looked down, I clearly made out the thing’s gigantic dick bouncing between its legs, sprouting like a fleshy Peace Keeper out of a tangled mass of black pubic hair. As he chewed and snorted, dripping blood down his grimy front, the monster between the monster’s legs began to inch up, bobbing in time with each chomp. Only when it reared back and bellowed up at the night sky did anyone finally react, and then it was panicked chaos.
Brown Shirts scrambled to get away from the beast, which reached down and plucked up the Thing Maggie had called “Marcia”. She screamed but quickly fell silent as it twisted her head around on her shoulders until she was staring cross-eyed back at me. The beast buried its face in the back of her neck and ate, tearing large chunks of flesh and muscle away with its teeth. It yanked on her severed spinal column, snapping off vertebrae and tossing them over its shoulder, literally ripping the woman to pieces. Marcia’s head wobbled loosely on her shoulders, a grotesque bobble-head. As it chewed a large mouthful of gristle, the beast lowered Marcia’s head to its crotch and inserted its huge, mud and blood streaked dick into the hole it had made in the back of her neck. Then it began to pump, hard and fast. Marcia’s lifeless eyes jiggered around in their sockets. Her jaw fell open and blood gushed between her lips, down her chin. The beast huffed and groaned, and when it climaxed, it rammed the back of Marcia’s head so hard, its erupting penis burst from between her teeth, spraying long, arcing ropes of red-tinged semen from her mouth.
That was enough for me. All that macho bravery and anger and revenge shit was pretty much forgotten and it was time to get the fuck out of there.
I struggled to my knees, still finding it difficult to breathe. I was about to stand and join the rest of the fleeing crowd when I noticed that they were all running back toward me now. New screams split the quiet Grand Acres air, along with several limbs. Brown Shirts staggered through the street clutching at stumps that had once been full limbs. One stood in the middle of Peach Pit Pass, wobbling on his right leg and reaching down to grasp the empty space where his left leg had been. He stood straight and stared with shock at the blood on his hands, unable to comprehend his sudden loss. Then his head dropped away from his body and I saw the Demon.
It was the same thing from the other night, the figure that had separated Dick from his right hand. As it strode across the road and up onto the lawn, I finally saw what it was. The horns were attached to a helmet and the scaly, overly wide body made up the armor of what could only be described as a samurai warrior. He didn’t run, but stepped with a purpose as he easily fought off the pathetic counter-attack of the remaining Brown Shirts. His sword flashed and caught a Peace Keeper hurtling toward his head. The impossibly sharp blade sliced through the metal baton, leaving its owner with a useless four-inch hunk of steel in his hand. He gaped at it in shocked awe as the samurai drew his blade straight up to the sky, splitting the man up the middle, from asshole to Adam’s apple. The Brown Shirt crumpled to the street, his guts dropping out first with a wet plop on the asphalt between his feet.
Dick scrambled toward me, the samurai tracking him like prey. I couldn’t move, even as Dick came within a few feet of me. He let out a strange, choked cry and landed hard just inches away. He struggled with his Peace Keeper arm to push his body off the grass and turned to look back at the samurai. As he rolled aside, I saw that his legs did not go with him. Dick flipped onto his back, squealing and kicking the stubs that remained of his legs, which had both been severed mid-thigh. The stumps squirted blood in sheets over the samurai’s red boots and leg armor.
He stood before me with his katana at his side, leaving runnels of blood in the grass as it poured from the gleaming blade. From behind me came a heavy grunt and a huffing sound, and I felt the musty, thick proximity of that immense man-beast as it edged closer. A fog of animal musk, body odor and coppery gore enveloped me, trapped between the two of them. I figured, either by the samurai’s blade or the creature’s teeth, I was a fuckin’ goner.
The beast stepped close enough to spatter bloody drool on my back, but the samurai held up his armor-protected hand and issued a deep, forceful grunt that stopped the beast. The samurai turned and drove his katana into one of Dick’s legs, skewering it like a side of meat. He hefted the leg up and over my head and I ducked as the polished boot passed by, brushing my hair. It landed on the ground behind me. The samurai gestured to the beast, waving his hand as if to tell it to go away, which it immediately did. I chanced a look over my shoulder and saw the thing snatch up Dick’s leg and scuttle off for the shadows between the houses.
The samurai seemed to pay me no mind and instead turned to survey the carnage. We both watched as the surviving Brown Shirts struggled into one of their black GANARCT golf carts. Dick used his baton hand to push himself away, rolling over and over toward his comrades, slobbering gibberish as he went. They pulled the cart near and two one-armed Brown Shirts worked together to lift Dick up onto the passenger seat. The samurai simply stood still and watched.
Dick pointed his baton arm at the samurai and shrieked, “You’re dead! You’re dead, fucker! You shoudla killed me when you had the chance ’cause you won’t get it again!”
The cart sped off down Peach Pit Pass, trailing Dick’s hysterical threats into the distance as they headed in the direction of the Community Center.
I watched them around the curving arc of the avenue until they disappeared. I looked back at the samurai. But as he had done the first time I saw him, he had vanished as if the night had swallowed him.
* * *
February 27, 2013
In case you weren’t aware, Chuck Palahniuk has a new Kindle single out for $0.99. It’s called Phoenix, and I just snagged it for my Kindle iPad app. I would like to suggest you do the same. CLICK HERE TO BUY PHOENIX.
Here’s the part of the post where you realize this is not a completely altruistic request. While you’re of the mood, CLICK HERE and snag a Kindle copy of my book KING OF THE PERVERTS as well. I’m hoping to create a little algorithmic magic on Amazon. If enough people buy copies of both, KOTP will begin to show up in the Customers Also Bought This Item area. Hence the title, Operation Coattails.
Help me ride Chuck’s best-selling wave like a remora on a great white! You’ll get a weekend of fun reading for $4, and you’ll also be able to say you’re friends with a bestselling author! Total win for YOU!
Hopefully, Chuck won’t mind because people are buying his story. Double win. And maybe now that you’ve worked yourself into a complete spend-crazy frenzy, consider a couple of these awesome titles as well. Click the pictures to be magically whisked away to Amazon!Let’s start with Andersen Prunty’s THE DRIVER’S GUIDE TO HITTING PEDESTRIANS - “A pocket guide to the twenty-three most painful things in life, written by the most well-adjusted man in the universe.”
You can also click any of the links on the front page of this site. I wouldn’t, you know, mind or anything.
No list of anything, regardless of subject, is complete without including Cameron Pierce. Whether you’re a fan of Bizarro or not, every fan of original fiction should be reading this guy.
“The bacon storm is rolling in. We hear the grease and sugar beat against the roof and windows. The doughnut people are attacking. We press close together, forgetting for a moment that we hate each other.”
From the man who brought us “The Scatological Elitist Obsessed with Lightning Bolts”, more horrifying stories of things that invade our bodies and minds. Or, as the Scatological Elitist Obsessed with Lightning Bolts might snarkily say, “Oh, look, another story collection about parasites, because you didn’t already drain that well seven years ago. Good job pushing your limits, I’m sure WE SHIT INSIDE YOU was well worth the wait. Excited to see what you come up with next in 2021.” But that guy’s an asshole, so don’t listen to him. Go snag this book.
“He has a mouth in his gut. An obnoxious, toothy, foul-mouthed, pig of a mouth. Luckily, his girlfriend doesn’t seem to mind. Marie, the one-legged stripper and cyber-prostitute love of his life is very accepting of it. And then a little too accepting. What would you do if your girlfriend cheated on you with the voracious yapper under your belly button? If you live in Gutmouth’s world-a bleak city where gruesome, spontaneous mutations are no big deal, klepto-roaches take anything not tied-down, drugs turn pain into pleasure, consumers are tortured for growing food, and your best friend is a misogynistic rat-man-you might do something crazy. And what if you got caught?”
GUTMOUTH is one of the juciest, slimiest, sleaziest things I’ve come across. Dripping black noir set in a world you can practically smell thanks to Gabino’s excellent descriptive passages and wonderfully whacked imagination. One of the best New Bizarro Author Series books I’ve read.
Those are but a few. Now, what say you? Will you help me make Operation Coattails a success? Go now, consume! Read! Incredible delights await!
January 16, 2013
Please enjoy the following story, one of four from my recently released collection from Bucket ‘O Guts Press, Mio Padre il Tumore:
Just to Spite Your Face
by Steve Lowe
Jerry is fourth in line for his rhinectomy. He hates waiting.
He’s stuck next to a lady called Fanny. Her face is opaque and Jerry sees her jaw and teeth and tongue grinding in her mouth as she tells him, “I’m getting my facelifts re-touched.”
Fanny looks at Jerry and he hears her voice in his head say, “What do you mean, why?” Then he notices her iPiece and realizes she wasn’t talking to him.
She looks at his nose.
Jerry turns to the old television in the corner of the waiting room. The President is on, talking about the attack the night before, the Guerillas again. Grave-looking men stand on each side of the President, talking to his two heads.
A woman strolls by, dazed and floating. A mask hangs from her ears, a tiny white curtain covering the flat spot where her nose used to live. A female computer voice says from the ceiling, “Daniel?” and a massive man on a scooter zips through the waiting room, disappears into the back.
Jerry thinks, “I’m third in line now.”
Signs on the wall above the TV read: Welcome to FedMed – YOUR Dollars Working For YOU! and Beauty – It’s More Than Skin Deep™
Jerry watches Fanny’s face from the corner of his eye, the outline of her molars and incisors and jawbone working in unison as she chats away on her iPiece.
Jerry removed his own iPiece when he entered the clinic. Something inside the building interferes with the gadget. The static feedback and distortion pierces his skull, causing terrible headaches. But he feels bare, disoriented without it, his stream of constant info no longer planted in front of his own left eye. He pats his shirt pocket where his iPiece sits, still on and faintly murmuring entertainment and vital information into his chest.
A warm spot over his heart.
Jerry looks back at the ancient, archaic television set. The President’s two heads are speaking at once. The left side is smiling and laughing, the left hand held out to the audience, palm up. Jerry can’t hear what the left head is saying through its unnaturally wide smile. The right head is angry and barking, fist pounding the podium. Jerry can’t make out what the right head is saying either. Their words mix together, the left and the right. Their static and distortion also make his head hurt.
An hour goes by and Jerry fights boredom-induced sleep. The huge man on the scooter motors out from the back, thinner now, gaunt-looking, his emptied flesh sagging and gelatinous. A moment later, another man, sickly skinny, staggers through the waiting room. Glassy eyes float above a white mask and Jerry imagines the new, gaping holes in the man’s flat face.
Jerry’s nose runs. He wipes it with his sleeve and thinks I’m second in line now.
A girl wanders into the waiting room. The female computer voice in the ceiling chirps, “Good afternoon Candace. Please have a seat and we will call you when your procedure is ready to begin.”
Jerry watches Candace take a seat across from him. Her iPiece, a clear rectangle of plastic, hovers in front of her left eye, which stares straight ahead, glazed, mesmerized by the content streaming into it. But her right eye twitches up and down, left and right, nervous and unsettled, like the look on her face.
Like the feeling deep down in Jerry’s guts.
He looks back at the TV President. The left head is angry now, growling at the assembled Congress, baring white fangs. The right head is serene, speaking gently, the right hand casually slipped into his pants pocket. Jerry still can’t make out what they’re saying. His head still hurts.
An older woman stumbles out from the back, plodding along with the help of a metal walker. Her hair as white as the mask strung over her ears, shielding a face that lacks contour. Tennis balls wrapped around the walker’s feet skid across the tile floor and her worthless left foot drags along behind her.
Jerry sneezes into his hands and thinks I’m next in line.
Both the President’s heads are laughing now. They stare directly into the camera, directly into Jerry. A trickle of snot leaks from his nose and spreads across his lips, salty.
The iPiece is his shirt pocket buzzes faintly and the female computer voice in the ceiling calls out, “Jerry?”
* * *
Jerry walks down the antiseptic corridor, the walls pockmarked by doors on each side. Bright light pours through the lone, eye-level window in each door.
The female computer voice in the ceiling instructs him, “Bear to your right and enter the last room on your left. A technician will be with you momentarily to begin your procedure. Thank you, Jerry.”
Jerry tiptoes along the silent corridor, afraid to break the serene calm of the clinic, where dozens of people are in the process of reshaping their looks and their lives. He made himself sick with excitement for two weeks anticipating this day, and now that he is here, he feels sick again, but not in the same way. His spine bunches like a knotted rope twisting through his torso. He feels taut, ready to snap.
I’m just anxious for my procedure. It’s only natural.
He doesn’t believe himself.
Jerry comes to the end of the corridor and stands before the door he was instructed to enter. He reaches for the knob, but pauses. Another door, two down from his, opens. A sickly skinny man with a shock of spiked hair glides out into the corridor. His facemask dangles, his dilated eyes leaking, his nose gone.
Jerry steps back to look in the other room. White, mechanized arms extending down from the ceiling drift about through the air. Their precise movements mesmerize Jerry. A robot hand carries a tray toward an opening in the wall and dumps its contents through as the door silently glides shut. When Jerry awakens from his momentary trance, the other man is gone and Jerry is left alone in the claustrophobic closeness of the corridor.
“What am I doing here?” Jerry barely notices he is speaking aloud. His voice is alien, not his own.
His iPiece buzzes again and the female computer voice in the ceiling answers him. “Bear to your right and enter the last room on your left. A technician will be right with you to begin your procedure. Thank you, Jerry.”
Jerry flinches. His nose runs, into his mouth. He tastes it.
* * *
The alarm wounds his brain. The sharp squawks resonate through the entire building, the universal sound of emergency alertness. The modern call to attention that something bad is happening. Jerry knows the alarm is for him, for pushing through the door at the opposite end of the corridor, the one clearly marked DO NOT ENTER. But the sound of the alarm is so closely associated with the Guerillas that he catches himself looking around for them, automatically, Pavlovian.
Alarm equals attack. Guard against terror. Fight the Guerillas. Take back the night. That piercing, clear tone, synonymous with fear, danger, pain.
Jerry trembles at the mere thought of the Guerillas. Short, hairy, sinister. Always around a dark corner, lurking, waiting. Leaving a bomb in a transit car, opening fire in a crowded café, suicide attacks, their bodies loaded down with explosives and roofing nails and ball bearings, sprinting and jangling toward their targets. If you could hear them coming, then you were dead. Guerillas were the enemy and Jerry saw them everywhere, especially when he didn’t have his iPiece in, with its comforting stream of knowledge and data and funny videos, iMail and iTalk and …
The alarm ends. Jerry is tucked back in the corner of a storage room, nestled beneath soft plastic packaging of snowy white, hands clamped over ears. Trembling in the wake of the alarm. His iPiece buzzes again and again and he hears the voice in the ceiling out in the hall calling for him. He removes his iPiece and switches it off, then tries to remember the last time he had done so. He can’t.
He leans back into the soft bags and closes his eyes. There are no Guerillas here. Time disappears. Voices drift past, hushed and hurried. They don’t find him there, in his cocoon.
Jerry’s heart slows, his pulse normalizes. Exhaustion supplicates fear and he slips into sleep.
* * *
Jerry awakens to a muffled noise on the other side of the wall he is slouched against, the smoky tendrils of a nightmare instantly melting away. His mound of plastic packaging still surrounds him, close and hot and slick with his perspiration. He panics and kicks the airy bags away, clawing toward the light, but there is none in the black storeroom.
The memory of the alarm lingers in his mind, dangles from his brain stem like the phantom tingle of a severed limb. He remembers where he is and why. He ran because he was afraid. But where did that fear suddenly come from? Or why did he just now recognize it for what it was?
His grandmother’s voice, cracked but resonate, says from the deep of his memory, “Don’t cut off your nose just to spite your face.”
Jerry runs his hands over his face, feels the contour of it. Lips, dry and splitting, chin spiked with stubble, his high cheekbones products of his European lineage. Nose, bulbous and jutting. Jerry feels his nose and closes eyes, tries to picture his face without it. He imagines the cord from the mask strung over his ears.
Snot runs down his lips into his mouth, tastes like blood. He hears the noise again, like something inside his head digging, chewing its way out.
He opens his eyes and listens. The muffled crunch continues, growing louder in proportion to his realization of it. A grinding, tearing, cracking; a sound like animal ingestion. He places his ear to the wall and listens.
Panic pinches him in the absolute darkness and he feels his way along the wall for a light switch or an exit, stumbling over the bags of soft material, wondering about the contents.
Gauze? Facemasks? He shudders at the thought of a thousand facemasks for a thousand faces, a thousand noses.
Where do they go, the noses? Do the robot arms dump them down the hole in the wall? Do they fall down into the bowels of the clinic? Do they throw them out with the trash? Recycle them? Incinerate them?
Jerry comes to a corner, a new wall. He tries to remember seeing a door at this end of the room, but knows that he never bothered to look. Never took the time to see his surroundings before the lights went out. Too frightened to notice.
His hand strikes cool metal, round like a doorknob. He grips and twists and is relieved that it is not locked. He pulls the door in and rushes through into more darkness. The smell hits with a nauseous wave and Jerry knows instantly to go back the way he came, that his weak stomach will not last long in here, wherever he is.
Jerry holds his mouth and nose with one hand while searching through the dark for the doorknob. He finds no cool metal orb on this side of the door, though. He gropes, panicky, but feels only smooth, solid steel. He gags from the stench, like turned dairy products, the puddle of old milk around the clogged grate of the grocery store cooler where he lasted just two weeks as an employee, about a hundred years ago.
He searches for something else, a handhold, a solid object, another wall or door, anything to guide him. He reels with vertigo in the shapeless, unfamiliar, rancid dark. He steps on something with a crunch, soft and slick, but solid at its core. He takes another step forward and his left foot sinks into a pile of the same. Objects tumble around his foot, bury it up to the ankle, and he trips, falls forward.
His hands plunge into a pile of something up to his shoulders and his face hits the mass with a splat. The smell assaults his nose and rampages through his guts, which reject their contents. Jerry scrambles, his panic nearing delirium, reaching and crawling, slipping through a mound of rubbery, wet, slimy objects, fearing what they might be, probably are, but praying, begging that they’re not.
He notices for the first time the sound that drew him here. Louder now and very near. He freezes and listens. His eyes slowly adjust to the dark and shapes form. A spectral glow several yards away gives the room a sudden, vast feel, like a massive cavern opening, the breadth of the space stretching out before him. From the other end of that space, Jerry hears the sloppy crunch and gurgle of eating, of something massive, chomping, chewing, swallowing. A sluice of fluids and a rumbling. The whoosh of air intake and noisy, wet, rattling exhalation. Between the nausea and stench and horrible texture of whatever he is stumbling through, and that wet, dense din, Jerry’s head swims.
The lights come on at that moment and Jerry sees, squints.
The noses piled before him and beneath him are a small mountain, building to a peak of pink and red and brown and tan, of flesh and cartilage. He stands knee deep in noses, too horrified to make a sound. From a chute in the wall to his left comes a light tumbling sound as another nose bounces out and pinwheels through the air onto the pile, the surgicallylasered end cauterized, smelling faintly of charred meat.
A scream builds in Jerry’s throat, on the verge of exploding from lungs, but catches there when the hand appears above him. Four fingers and a thumb, covered in translucent, pinkish-gray skin and large enough to envelop him, glide through the air and drop down to the pile of noses. Jerry jumps back as long fingernails, yellow and split and stinking, narrowly miss his chest. They plunge into the noses and curl in, hoisting away a handful. Jerry can’t see where the hand goes, but he hears the sound, the chomping, crunching, grinding, swallowing.
A voice from the other side of the nose mound calls out, “Time to eat, you huge bitch!”
A grate rolls away from the black ceiling above and a hose drops down. The crunching stops and there is a silent pause. Jerry holds his breath in anticipation, his scream a blockage now, cutting off his wind. From within the workings up in the ceiling, gears turn and a motor rattles to life. Fluid sputters and sprays from the rusted end of the hose, chunky pink viscera flinging about as pockets of air chatter through the line. Then the spray explodes from the hose, a full stream of the stuff, showering down.
Despite his fear, Jerry has to look, has to know what this place is, what that hand belongs to. He crawls up the nose mound, slowly closer to the edge. The room drops down several feet and he realizes he’s up high, on a second level, overlooking a large room, dank and fetid. In the far left corner, a man dressed in a rubber suit like a firefighter leans on a lever and watches the spectacle before him with either a grimace or a grin, Jerry isn’t sure which. He leans further over the edge to see what the man is looking at.
Long and tubular, like a giant worm, pink-gray flesh stretches tight over its pulsating, dripping body. A hairless head, turned up to the hose, a great mouth opened wider than seems possible, catches the plopping contents from the sky. Jerry watches in frozen disbelief as the worm undulates with each swallow, ripples roiling through it, internal organs just visible through the milky skin.
He thinks of the woman in the waiting room. Fanny, with her jaws and her teeth and her face stretched tight against her chin. He thinks of the enormous man on the scooter emerging from the back, roughly half his original girth, his skin drooping from his bones. He watches the pink slush spray down and can smell it, smell them. He looks down at his hands, propping himself up on the pile of noses to see down into the pit, the thing down below. Eating, drinking, gargling, rumbling, consuming.
He takes it in again, unable to process the sight, seeing without comprehension. He follows the length of it, at least twenty feet. A dark mass slides through the translucent tube, inching along with each convulsion from the head, each guttural ingestion of liquid fat. He looks to the end of the creature, where its body narrows and another mass is making its way out. There, a second man in a glistening yellow slicker coaxes the dark mass out from the end of the creature, births it into the world. It has arms and legs, like an adolescent child. Jerry watches in horrified disgust, incapacitated by equal parts fear and revulsion and curiosity.
The second man picks up a hose and sprays the new thing with water and it reacts, cowering against it. It turns away from the hose and Jerry sees its Guerilla face. More Guerillas crawl about and stumble to their feet, testing their limbs, flexing their stubby fingers, bumping into each other. Jerry‘s wide eyes take it all in, his myopic focus finally broadening, opening to the scope of what is happening. A dozen Guerillas fumble about in differing stages of existence. Those able to walk without much trouble have also begun to dry, their dark, matted hair sticking out from their bodies in tufts. They help the fresher offspring to their feet as still more inch their way out of the mother creature.
The pump within the ceiling shuts off and the last bits of liquid drop from the hose into the mother’s mouth, which catches it all. She lowers her head, still working the meal through her considerable length, smacking her lips together wetly. She turns toward Jerry, a mostly shapeless mass with two huge, glittering eyes, two vertical slits for a nose, and that terrible hole of a mouth. She reaches for the nose mound and Jerry watches the hand with a disembodied interest as it hovers near, descends down over him. It begins to close around him when his body finally breaks free from its terrified paralysis.
His lodged scream also breaks free as he scrambles away from the hand, the fingers scraping his head, his arms, ripping into his shirt. He tumbles back, head over heels, noses rolling down with him, bouncing off his face and chest.
A voice from down in the pit yells, “What the hell was that?”
Jerry jumps to his feet and slams into the door, reaching for the handle he already knows is not there.
“We got a breach! Containment, down to the basement, we got your runner!”
Jerry searches around for something, anything. The hand scoops away more noses and Jerry can see the heads of the workers down below, running toward the exit door, just visible past the edge of the shelf. The door doesn’t move against his shoulder and he stops throwing himself against it when the pain makes his eyes water. He considers the pit, jumping down, fighting his way out.
Who are you kidding? You’re a coward. You’ll break your leg jumping down. There’s Guerillas down there.
He hears them as well, their agitated cries. The beast that bore them huffs on her mouthful of noses and turns her head back, her pupils dilated and fixed on him. Her hand reaches again and Jerry feels his bowels loosen. He can’t think, can’t save himself, can’t do much more than weep and tremble.
A tumbling sound from his left draws his attention to the far wall, where a nose bounces out of the chute from above and lands on the pile. Jerry sees it and reacts.
He feels the mother beast’s nails scrape against his right shoe as he scrambles up through the narrow chute. He is slick with sweat and sickness and other, foreign fluids, and he struggles up into the metal shaft, adrenaline powering his muscles. Minutes pass like hours as he climbs, the occasional nose tumbling down, bouncing off of him. He eventually reaches a junction thatbranches off into several secondary chutes leading away to different parts of the clinic. He sticks with the main shaft before him, clawing and shuffling, painfully, slowly, reaching for the white square of light ahead.
Jerry does not recognize the sensation inside him. He feels a wellspring bursting from within, a shower of energy that filters through his body out to the tips of his fingers and toes, to the end of his nose.
“I don’t want to die. Oh, God, please. Don’t let me die.”
He reaches the white light of the opening, urged on by his imagination, thoughts of Guerillas scrambling lithely up behind him and tugging him back down to be consumed by the monster that bore them.
He pushes through the hole and tumbles out of a wall, falling to the floor and slamming into the base of a surgical chair.
A girl in the chair says, “Hey, what’s going on?”
Jerry stands, wincing with pain from every joint and stressed muscle, his drenched clothes clinging to his body. He looks at the girl, at the robot arm hanging from the ceiling, the laser gripped between its mechanical fingers. He recognizes the girl from the waiting room, the scared look still in her right eye. He pulls her by the arm, drags her from the chair, from the room.
The female computer voice in the ceiling says, “Please have a seat in the chair, Candace, so your procedure can begin.”
Jerry says, “C’mon, we have to get out of here.”
Candace says, “Oh… OK.”
Out in the main hallway, red lights flash high on the wall every ten feet.
That must be for me.
Jerry looks around, trying to think. He imagines a team of armed guards covering each exit, waiting to gun him down. He looks at himself, filthy, stinking, dripping. He looks at Candace swaying next to him, at her fresh, clean medical scrubs.
Jerry guides Candace back into the room and helps her into the chair. The robot arms go to work.
* * *
Jerry glides out into the lobby, which bustles with excitement. He struggles to ignore the woman’s iPiece over his left eye and the images streaming into his head, to focus on playing the part. Sweat seeps into the fresh, white medical scrubs, builds on his upper lip. He tries to breathe slowly so the facemask won’t flutter. His nose feels massive on his face, even hidden beneath the mask, as obvious as the red warning lights flashing throughout the building. Security guards stalk past with machine guns in hand. They don’t bother to look at him.
Jerry catches a glimpse of the TV, the President still on. Both heads are silent, watching, boring a hole through him.
A security guard stationed near the front desk places his hand on a sidearm at his hip and watches Jerry shuffle toward the door. The iPiece over his left eye buzzes and the female computer voice in the ceiling says, “Thank you, Candace. Have a pleasant day and we’ll see you again at your follow up appointment. Goodbye.”
The guard relaxes and looks back into the lobby. Jerry stumbles out the front door.
He wills himself not to run for three blocks then ducks into the bathroom of a battery replenishing station. He places Candace’s iPiece in the tank of the toilet. He pulls out his own iPiece and decides he’ll flush it. Perhaps they’ll have some fun tracking him along the sewers beneath the city. Jerry feels his mind opening by the minute, new ideas blooming where before there were only vacant, complacent thoughts.
He turns the iPiece on and it instantly buzzes in his hand. He hesitates, knowing he should not linger, but curiosity wins. He places it over his left eye and sees the FedMed logo next to a cartoon icon of a ringing bell.
A pre-recorded message, the female computer voice from the ceiling, chirps, “This is a reminder for your appointment on Monday, August third. We missed you at four o’clock today, Jerry. We hope everything’s OK! Please call our office at your convenience to reschedule your visit. We look forward to having you back soon!”