From the desk of the editor,
Greetings, welcome, good day and hello to the Fourth installment of Larks Fiction Magazine Volume Two! This week we are featuring two great tales of gritty urban fiction.
In news we moved our office to the city yesterday and are still getting everything organized. We will be without stable internet for at least the next week so my apologizes to anyone awaiting to hear back from our editors. We will make an effort to get caught up once we are fully operational again.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Larks and make sure to come back next weekend for Issue Five!
Daniel J. Pool
By Ron Koppelberger
Falsehoods and the wont of a gambol, told in a series of passing faces, they were anxious, waiting. Bobby Fame rolled the dice again while the others placed their bets. A pair of sevens, four dice and a lucky roll, Whip Whitcomb flexed his hands, “Come on Bobby, you’ll win it all.” he joked.
Manny Arken chuckled and said, “Roll em again Bobby, double or nothing!” Bobby picked up the dice and looked upward toward heaven. The brick walls of the ally stretched away to the sky and passing clouds.
“Please!” he whispered under his breath. The dice were heavy like bricks in his palms. He shook his cupped hands and blew into the opening between his palms; once for luck, twice for the love of the game and three times for a wish.
The dice rolled against the concrete bouncing off the red brick wall. A whisper moved through the ally, a warm wind and the scent of dandelions, fresh cut in bouquets, Bobby could taste the dandelion greens and he prayed.
The ally led out to the dilapidated ruins of fallen constructions in brick and mortar. They were all tenants of the crumbling neighborhood. Bobby looked to the end of the ally. Cardboard houses and rusty forgotten trash bins filled the spaces there. A wish, number three was a wish.
The dice came to rest before them and the moment stretched out and over the desolation of the city. Sevens and the promise of a new dawn, he just wanted to be somewhere else and be someone else.
For better or for worse he got his wish as something old and unerring changed him, bringing him to another life, another love, another breed of existence.
Manny scooped up the dice as if Bobby had never existed.
Whip said, “Give me those dice Manny, this is my lucky day.”
About the Author:
Ron Koppelberger has been published in The Storyteller, Freshly Baked Fiction and Necrology Shorts. He recently won the People’s Choice Award for poetry in The Storyteller for a poem titled Secret Sash. His works have been featured from England to Australia, Canada, Thailand and India. He aspires to establish himself as a writer and poet.
Other Roads to Damascus
By D. Byron Patterson
And so it came to pass that Saul was baptized in the unisex restroom at the Midtown Atlanta MARTA subway station.
Black Rudy, Junkie Prophet of the Sacred Homeless, cupped the white man’s face with chocolate hands. There, three crosses to the forehead, three splashes from the sink, three shouts of praise, and three lines of holy blow—Father, Son, Holy Ghost. A triple-dipped sacrament before the final judgment of a wicked man.
Yes, today was a time to kill.
Amen, amen, amen.
Jacked-up on Leviticus and blow, Black Rudy and Saul left their reliquary and fell into the crowd flow. They watched silver subway tubes spilling, filling, and fleeing with passengers.
Across the tunnel face above the late afternoon workday circus loomed granite slabs, each a totalitarian-themed bas-relief. Beaming rays of a glorious communist sun, happy Marxist farmers, their wives and children—joyful socialists of an unseen collective. There was music on the Ashford/Dunwoody line, an urban symphony of people moving en masse, of brakes screeching in cacophonic melodies across the platforms, of urchins who played jazz for pocket change.
An escalator moved Saul and Black Rudy, ivory orphan and ebony preacher, to the surface and a parking lot of arriving and departing cloud-white buses. They boarded the #23 bus, northbound from Atlanta to Marietta, and waited another ten minutes before the coach finally departed. Only half-full, an artsy young woman moved to an open seat up front. The duo remained seated in the very back, side by side and ever fidgety as they nodded to each other and spoke in furious whispers.
Saul, breathless and sharp, said, “There’s a time to every purpose under heaven, and it’s a time to kill the wicked.”
In Caribbean and Deep South tones, Black Rudy muttered bible passages and musings from his own brain—manic rants found only between the bookends of three-day benders. “God-Daddy never passes arbitrary judgments,” he said. “And Old River Chaos tests us ‘cause we can’t know God-Daddy’s mind. You shut de fuck up when dat still-soft voice comes and tells you to do His will, an’ dat’s de only purpose you need to know.”
Amen, amen, amen.
Saul was staring at his hands, instruments for the righteous act of judgment. His chest was a warren of mad rabbits digging holes until the emptiness summoned visions. He imagined what he’d do to the man they were going to see. The man living north of the Kennesaw sticks. And Saul pictured squeezing the doomed man’s neck, hands under a fleshy chin and doughy red face, the helpless man clawing at them as the light of wide green eyes faded to shades of dusty, empty hazel.
Black Rudy, his legs dancing below-knee jigs, said, “If’n you got blessings to count ‘fore we get up’n doin’ dis deed, best count ‘em lest you be fucked from one o’ God-Daddy’s bolts trown from He cloud-shed up there in Heaven. We ‘bout to walk us like de last gang of God-Daddy’s baby-boy, Jesus H. Christ.”
Saul, grinding his teeth, said, “Amen, amen, amen.”
Black Rudy, his mane of dread-beads clicking, nodded.
As Fulton County’s rush hour traffic headed for Cobb County, Saul forgot his hands and counted blessings. Losing all—sanity, home, job, friends—a great fall that presaged a shattering that preceded a rising from destitution.
A Junkie Prophet and his congregation of urban nomads, monks working subway crowds, earning money for spirits and coke to better understand a new testament and to master its two great secrets. One, that a breathing hand opened empty but closed full, and two, that a life in the street was freedom, the greatest blessing, and a reclamation of Eden.
The sea of barely moving vehicles on the I-75 corridor meant at least an hour of air-conditioning. Filled with gratitude, Saul and Black Rudy waited with grins as the bus crept across what once had been the Chattahoochee River. Months of drought had scorched banks into caked clay, cut by a thin trickle and flanked by sentinels of bony Georgia pine.
And so it came to pass that the #23 unloaded two passengers into the hot, encroaching twilight. The air was bayou-thick, and a boiling sunset walk to Acworth was fast-becoming a crawl. As luck would have it, a flatbed truck ride took them to the woods surrounding what was left of Lake Altoona. And there, they followed a dirt road southeast around the marshes of the southern shore.
Saul pointed to the farmhouse silhouette on the hill. Leaving the main road for a narrow path, they headed west until the anorexic trees revealed a wide clearing.
“It’s about a quarter-of-a-mile,” said Saul, searching the ground and the area beyond the trees. “There was a well here, forty-feet below with a thick wall, a bucket and pulley—my uncle must’ve covered it up, the bastard.”
Black Rudy, kicking dust clouds, sat cross-legged beside a fat stump. He hummed the melody of a Negro spiritual, dug inside the front pocket of his trousers and pulled out a bottle of water for Saul and a second for himself. He drank as he cut the holy blow, three lines apiece laid out in tangents to the stump’s tree rings.
“Let’s jack-up for God-Daddy ‘fore we go to your uncle’s house for his judgment,” he said. “Tirteen months o’no damn rain points to demon trouble, Saul-baby, so I hope you see tru pitch. Now, come for my blessing and talk ‘bout what’s to happ’n up’n here.”
The Junkie Prophet cupped his disciple’s face. Three forehead crosses smeared with spit, three shouts of praise, and then three lines.
Father, Son, Holy Ghost—amen, amen, amen.
Sitting on the grassy edge, Saul sipped water and studied the parched ground, starved for moisture. It must have siphoned fluid from the poor Kudzu, turning green leaves and fat vines into brittle yellow-ochre twine. Blackberry brambles fared only slightly better and bore runt fruit between leaves caked with clay dust. A once lush place of flowers, vegetable gardens and peach orchards was now white-washed and dying. Somewhere around here was the deep well—had it dried up? Its wall of river stones lay about in broken piles that marked nothing.
Childhood landmarks had vanished, turning Saul’s memory backwards. A warm wind carried a familiar scent of ripening peaches, hinting at something familiar until he felt lost again. Still, somewhere here was the well he’d spent ten long years braced against, wishing with pebbles as coins. It was a place for finding courage to face long nights paralyzed in his bed, waiting for Uncle Bud to find him.
“Everything has a season,” said Saul.
“A time to every heavenly purpose has come,” said Black Rudy. “Heave up dat heart, for I’m seein’ changes in destiny, mine and yours. You got damned sight, boy, you seen tings dat poison—reason ‘nuff for your name, tink so?”
Saul knew that his people were Kennesaw Mountain crackers and white lightning runners. Aunt Tilly was his mother’s sister, and she once told him about his mother’s lifetime of bible-reading. It was something she did every day until that car wreck took both she and his father.
To his mother, names like Enoch, Saul, or Micah were as ordinary as Bob, Joe, or Billy.
After they shared the last of the water, Black Rudy put hands on the young man’s head, shouted a prayer, and shook in an Old-Testament Rasta-frenzy. He spun around in a jig and howled as he lifted his arms to the setting sun.
“God-Daddy, give dis gentile strength to kill an evil man t’nite. If’n killin’ ain’t your will, I pray dat You give us a sign before he shoves a smiting smiting smiting flaming angel sword up’n dat uncle’s unholy ass. I know dat You got some plans cooking even for all da ugliest of Your motherfucking uglies.”
“Amen, amen, amen,” said Saul.
The farmhouse now cast longer shadows, each a dark bone-finger penetrating the soft places of the surrounding forest. They waited for a sign as twilight gave way to a rising moon. Black Rudy leaped in a chicken dance, grabbed Saul’s hands, and pulled them towards the house.
There, now only a hundred yards before smiting a very wicked man. There, only seventy-five yards before drinking ice water and taking a shower and eating a stolen supper of fresh vegetables and steak. Forty-five yards before sleeping in a real bed, before a blessed blackout and a late breakfast.
They reached the farmhouse. Candlelight glowed in one of its windows. Beneath it, they climbed two upended metal crates and peered inside a tiny bedroom. Lying on the bed against the opposite wall was a woman, Saul’s Aunt Tilly. Draped across her forehead was a cloth. Her face was bone-thin, wrinkled, fever-flushed, and sweat-stained. Clutching her hand was Uncle Bud, smaller and thinner, and old now. Beside her, he rocked in prayer, wiping her face and weeping as she howled in pain.
“Black Rudy, that’s him, but...” began Saul.
He didn’t finish.
Aunt Tilly sat upright and screamed obscenities. Uncle Bud held her down until the fit passed. He wiped away vomit and mucus, mopped the drool and blood, and after she was still for several moments, the cycle repeated itself.
“You sure dat’s de wicked man, boy?”
Wiping his face, Saul nodded.
Laughing, Black Rudy sat on the crate, his back against the wall. “Dat man in dere,” he said, “is tendin’ to a woman doin’ battle wit de devil, an’ he might’a raped you back in de day, but he ain’t now. He’s in hell if’n ever I seen it, an’ dat’s a truth to kick de shit outta you.”
Saul studied his uncle and dying aunt for as long as he could stand it. A life of poison began to drain from his body. He sat beside Black Rudy and said, “The man I knew as a child doesn’t exist. I can’t take the life in there.”
Amen, amen, amen.
“Can’t tell what God-Daddy wants,” said Black Rudy, still laughing, “but killing ain’t it. Sometimes, you gotta take other roads to Damascus. Now let’s get cleaned and steal us some fruit before we head back.”
The two men stripped off their dirty clothes as the night air filled with scents of peach and honeysuckle. They ran to the orchard and drank from a nearby garden hose, refilling their bottles and spraying each other like pagan boys under the bright moon light.
Dancing away from the trees, they sat on a stone fence to watch fireflies and bats. They listened to the crickets and tree frogs and gorged themselves on handfuls of stolen peaches. After a final wash-up, they dressed and headed back.
“How you feel, boy?” asked Black Rudy.
Saul smiled. “God-Daddy is great—amen, amen, amen.”
At the clearing, they discussed camping there as they passed over its center. Midway, a sound like muffled thunder sent a pair of muskrats scurrying from a patch of nearby cattails. The two men stopped mid-stride when a thicker crack heralded four ripping creaks. **
A handful of moments passed before a gaping mouth-like hole opened beneath their unsteady feet.
As if the earth decided to quench its thirst by swallowing a holy man whole—either one of the two would do, but only Saul fell through the sudden maw.
Time slowed as Saul sank like a stone through the stale weightless air. He waited for the hard bottom. A slope caught his body, almost breaking the fall in all that cold blackness.
Saul opened his eyes.
He didn’t remember hitting bottom, but there he was with muddy water up to his waist. And the smells of damp soil and rocks, the sounds of spiders and centipedes, the dusty spray of pebbles and debris.
Saul closed his eyes.
His memories were disjointed recollections. Loose boards and cracks, a slow drop into the heart of this goddamned deep thing, and then nothing else afterward. Sensations of flying sent a rush of chills across his flesh, stippled goose bumps burning briars into his arms. Not much pain, but breathing was not easy. And he tasted metal.
“Amen, amen and amen, boy!”
Saul opened his eyes.
Black Rudy shouted into the well again. “Another man named Saul liked to slaughter disciples and journeyed near to Damascus,” said the Junkie Prophet, his voice echoing. “Light from heaven bitched-slapped him to de earth as God-Daddy dumbstruck the man fool-blind for his sins against a Holy Son. After some repentin’, Saul got to his feet and saw nobody for days. Man had no sight, no food, no drink—God-Daddy done jacked his ass up into a fit of perfect temporary blindness.” A long stretch of silence followed before Black Rudy added, “Answer me, white boy.”
Saul managed a loud grunt.
“D’you holla up at me?” Black Rudy shouted, his voice trembling with the euphoria of a sleep-deprived man coked out of his mind. “Yes, God-Daddy be praised, my boy-boy-boy! Amen, amen, amen, I’ll go’n get you some hep at da farmhouse. Won’t be long, no way, no how. But if’n you die a bit ‘fore I come back here, you best forgive your uncle, hear me? Demons abide in all us fool sinners, ev’ry goddamned one.”
Black Rudy left.
Saul closed his eyes.
Alone and cold, he counted his tick-tock heartbeats to pass the time. Yes, time, time, time that whittled at him, nip-nip-nipped at his mind as he teetered on the razor sharp seam of wakefulness, and oh did the lucid phantoms come for him.
Sounds—singing, laughter, applause. Scents and taste—baking bread, chocolate-chip cookies, hot buttermilk biscuits, nutmeg. Sights—Mama’s moon face full of yes-baby love, a beach of sugar white sand on the bottom of his wet feet, flocks of pink flamingoes. And touch—the tickle of ladybugs, cold running water, fresh cow manure between bare toes.
Leaving that strange lucidity as he began to drift deeper, Saul recalled the story of a coked-out homeless idiot who fell into a well after following a profane schizophrenic Rastafarian monk through the dry Georgia wilderness.
Amen, amen, amen.
He recalled a dream he had about a boy who loved to fish. The boy would row his red boat to a secret place where fish hid on sunless days. There were schools of bream there always, and by day’s end his catch trailed in the water behind the boat as he paddled back to the dock. He’d unload the tackle and tuck the boat into a shed near an old well. Sitting against its mossy wall, he’d breathe deep the dampness as he imagined living in its depths until God transformed him into something else, something altogether different than himself.
For there is a time to every heavenly purpose.
Saul opened his eyes.
He smiled when one of Black Rudy’s vulgar sermons popped into his head. His homeless guru was somewhere up there, his voice blending into several others that shouted down to him. Only one voice cut through the clamor. It belonged to a woman who kept asking him to say his name, please-please-please she kept asking him again and again to just say his name. A sudden roar and thumping overpowered her sweet sounds.
Oh but the voice returned, yes it did, yes it did. Again, the woman asked the same question, which fell around his broken body in as many pieces. A name, name, name—yes, the woman asked him for a name.
And so it came to pass that he finally spoke to the darkness.
Hoping it would reach the ears of the one waiting to hear it, he said it again. Before the return of roaring thunder and more thumping, he said it again. As an unseen bed slipped under him and pulled him from the ground, he said it again. Rising into the morning air as mud and water sloughed from his skin, he said it again.
No, he wasn’t surprised that he couldn’t see anything. Blinding blurry sunlight amidst the white noise of whirring machines and crowds of people—yes, he expected that much.
Saul closed his eyes.
Whether or not they were open didn’t matter anyway. In the cacophony of everything else happening around him, he sought a single chord of music, the sound of a woman whose angelic voice had lifted him from the black bosom of the earth. Hoping she was nearby, he said the name again and waited. As strange hands carried his battered body away from the well, he began to wonder if she was just a dream.
Then he heard it.
Louder and closer, he heard it again.
Someone took his hand and squeezed.
No, he couldn’t return the squeeze, but he did smile. And knowing that he’d never again hear his name—yes, even then—he still smiled.
It was a good thing too, for it was time, indeed, to face a rather specific purpose under heaven now, and having such a name might serve him well. After all, his was the name of a saint. Yes, indeed, it was.
Amen, amen, amen.
About the Author:
Byron Patterson is a multifaceted Jack–of-All-Arts as a painter, web designer, singer, vocal technician, musician, songwriter, and classically trained stage actor (even performing at Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London). As Creative Director of Lambpants.com, an entertainment media website for kids, his primary focus is developing the world and creating its original content. His current project is a young adult fantasy adventure novel, Little Tiger and the Year of the Dragon. To keep his creativity flexible he also writes short fiction with more adult themes.
Next week we will have two stories of adventure from the air to the sea! Make sure to come back and read more great independent literature. Also remember to get the latest updates via our Facebook page and Twitter @LarksMedia.