The bar was not crowded but soon would be. The after-work crowd always
arrives at 5:15: 20-something men in colored shirts and black pants
with gel in their hair, initially talking about interest rates and
mutual funds but eventually collapsing into not-yet tired stories of
pranks done at their fraternities when they were in college. For every
10 white men there were 2 Asian men and one black guy
The women always arrived between 5:45 and 6:00. The happiest ones were
tall and blond and slim with big teeth, and the other women tried to
be tall and blond as well. For every 10 white women there were 3 Asian
The bartender had an Irish accent and looked like his nose had been
broken a few times. The waitress was a little heavy with a large
Carl stood on the pier, waiting for the stranger to pick him up.
Carl's name was Frank, Franklin Charles Moore Junior.
"Frank is an old guy's name" He used to say, out of earshot of his
father. Carls' mother's mother was from Guatemala and used to call
him, "Carlito". So when Frank Jr. was twelve or thirteen he began
going by Carl.
Tom sat at a cafe, sipping coffee from a mug, looking at the local
paper without actually reading it.
He hadn't eaten yet and looked around for somewhere to get a bite. The
cafe only served cookies and what they called scones, but he didn't
want that sort of thing. He could see a donut shop and a deli at the
end of the street. Tom could imagine what they had to offer, and knew
none of it would satisfy him.
There were at least two each of taco joints, Chinese take-out
holes-in-the-wall and pizzerias within a couple of blocks from where
he sat, but having eaten at all those places in the past, he knew he
wouldn't go back except out of desperation.
The 5th Planet
Jackson felt the warm squeeze on his wrist that meant a call was
coming in. It was from Jarvis, the managing dispatcher for Asmico Inc.
"Hi Jarvis, what's shaking?"
"Everything, man. Where are you?"
Jackson adjusted the cruise module in his rig. "Just drifting to the Moon."
"Ugh. Why are you wasting time with that bullshit? That doesn't pay nothing."
It was a warm day on the farm and the humid air carried all the smells of animals and vegetation and spilled diesel fuel and insecticide.
Donald had been asked to come by to see if he could figure out what had happened to the Jones's horse, Blaze, who had gone missing a few days before. He walked to the stable; his boots leaving deep prints in the wet earth, and he bent down to pick up a horseshoe near the stable door. Donald sniffed the shoe. There was no horsey odor, just a faint metallic scent, which suggested that the shoe had not been worn for a while.
"Well I could have told you that." Said the Farmer, Jones, who stood nearby, chewing his tobacco and occasionally spitting in to the grass, often getting a bit of dribble on his chin and the front of his t-shirt. "The boy who works here isn't too good about picking up after himself."
I woke up earlier than usual and after a piss the cupboards reminded me that I didn't have any food in my apartment.
I dressed in yesterday's clothes and when I went out I saw the door across the hall open.
Frank Bourbon sat in a chair fully dressed except for his feet and was putting on his favorite pair of socks.
I can only guess that they were his favorite since he seemed to wear them every time I saw him and he seemed like the kind of person who would own a lot of socks.
And I recognized them because they were what I considered to be uniquely ugly, and I had given them to him.
They had been a gift to me but I had never bothered to take off the wrapper, and a few months ago I happened to learn that he was going to be alone on his birthday.
So I bought a pizza and some beer and spent the evening with Frank and I gave him the socks. He drank half of one beer and I drank the rest.
After that I noticed that he always opened his apartment door when he was getting ready for work, at least that was the case whenever I happened to be up and about that early.
Bart farted loudly. Nobody reacted. About half a minute later he scratched his rear and laughed a couple times, mumbling something about underpants.
I looked at Arnie, who stood in the corner, smoking a cigarette, staring at nothing. He saw me staring and looked back without changing his expression or blinking his eyes. I looked away first.
"So." I said. Nothing moved but Bart's TV screen and Arnie's smoke.
"So." I said. "Maybe one of you can sign for this, since it looks like Mr. Cooke isn't around."
Again, nothing moved.
The train was late leaving Penn Station.
Delays between Boston and New York meant we wouldn't get into Washington until around 2AM.
Apparently there had been flooding in Connecticut which somehow caused an electrical fire at a switching station.
The conductor was telling some of the passengers about an area of woods they had passed that was both underwater and on fire at the same time, with water going up three or four feet on the trunks while flames consumed the branches.
While the businessmen shuffled back and forth to the bar car to fetch beers in twos and threes, I figured I'd just settle in and snooze or read.
On some trains, falling asleep meant possibly missing your stop, but DC was the last stop for this train and I knew that the worst that could happen would be a conductor nudging me awake with his foot.
Johnny Reeve waited in line at the Dreamcaster Dream Resource Center.
Johnny was an average looking dream character, and his resume was typical of the others waiting in line: mostly crowd scenes, laughing at dreamers in their underwear at school. He had never had a big break, as Mystery Lover, or Helpful Stranger, (or, if he were really lucky, getting to play thedreamer himself in a third-person dream) and his hopes weren't high this evening; the line was longer than he had ever seen it.
Standing behind Johnny was Wally, who had had some success earlier in his career playing dreamers' friendy uncles.
Wally was reading the classified ads in the Dreamland Gazette.
He grunted and closed the paper, turning to Johnny.
"The Night Mare is the only place hiring. Not enough dreamers these days to go around."
Johnny took the paper and looked for himself.
"I thought she only used volunteers."
"Too much demand," Wally retorted. "Can't get enough volunteers. How do you think I would go over as a knife-wielding madman?"
"Don't joke like that." Johnny had vowed that he would never work for the Night Mare, but he was nervous that he might not have much choice.
"If it gets to that, I'll just quit and do daydreams."
"Meh, daydreams don't pay, and they're no way to build your career."
Jim awoke on his back, looking up at the stars.
He blinked a few times before realizing how cold he was.
His clothes were damp, but he knew it hadn't rained because the sky was clear.
The dampness must have been from dew settling on him, which meant he had lain there for a few hours at least.
He stood slowly, and halfway up his head began to throb and he suddenly felt very thirsty.
He touched the side of his head and the bone felt soft. When he looked at his fingers they were dark with what must have been his blood.