Eric strolled into the Starbucks still in his bear costume, rotten breath muttering curses, his hands clenching and unclenching, a wave of heat pushing into the crowded space, his lips pulled back in a snarl. The thin blonde lady at the front table slammed her laptop shut, and spit on the floor, as the computer seized up again—every time the angry bear had come in to warm up. Eric stood in line, stamping his feet, his fuzzy, stinky head under his left arm now, eyeing the gun shop across the street, his gut filled with knots that tightened and then released. Bear Guns and Ammo. This was what he’d been reduced to—standing out in the cold, spinning a sign, thin legs shivering, gangly arms aching and tired, a fragment of his former self. The man at the counter shouted again TRIPLE SHOT VENTI MOCHA and a grin started to ease across his face. When the twins behind the man started pushing each other, the two girls dressed in similar styles, one in a hot pink top, the other in lime green, ponytails and tight jeans, cleavage and cat-eye makeup, Eric inhaled the sweet coffee grounds, his hands emitting a slight glow, his yellow teeth filling his head with a nasty smile.
It’s what filled his head as he worked, spinning the sign, growling at anybody that walked by, his boss standing in door to the shop, eyeballing him every chance he got—visions of war, and violence. Eric would fantasize about the sword that hung on his basement wall, the only refuge from his mother, who was always asking questions, always poking and prodding him—when was he going to move out, did he take a shower today, when was he going to find a nice girl and settle down? He would spin the sign and then take a stance, battle thrust, as if this cheap cardboard was metal, slicing open a solider, pulling the bade out slowly, his intestines pooling about his feel, teeth bared in pain and agony as he crumpled to the ground. This is how Eric got through his days. A step to the left, and a swoosh of the sign, another soldier decapitated, head flying through the air, blood pumping out in great arcs of crimson, splattering Eric, the god of war, as he kept on through the battle, lost in the frenzy of the moment.
He heard the comments as they walked past him on the frozen concrete, heard the car horns honking, the young men laughing, and he made a list—it was what he muttered under his breath at night as he tried to fall asleep—Amber, Victor, Jamie, barista, Big Bear, Little Bear, mother, Zeus. Friends, neighbors, and family—they’d all get their just rewards. It caused his head to ache, these flashes, exhaling frost, his face pale under the harsh conditions, these memories that would not go away. Standing amongst the ruins, a flock of black birds flying by overhead, dropping feather-darts on his enemies below, the Black Sea rolling out to the horizon. Flowing robes, and slick glossy flesh, the clang of gold bracelets falling to the marbled floor, his muscled arms wrapping around their willing surrender, their sweet perfume a mix of lilac, marjoram and salty sweat. Eric hung his head for a moment, out of breath, the sign dipping for just a second. It was all that his boss needed to stick his bearded face out the door and yell at him again.
“Hey, Eric, keep spinning. I don’t pay you to take a nap on your feet.”
Eric sighed and straightened up. For a moment he felt his flesh fill out, his back straightening, as the ground beneath his feet trembled.
“Yes, sir,” he muttered.
Amber, Victor, Jamie, barista, Big Bear, Little Bear, mother, Zeus.
For Amber, the pudgy brunette that he dated for a week, it was piss in the gas tank. Victor and Jamie, who had kicked him out of the coolest Magic the Gathering game in town, it was a key run across the length of the matching beige Corollas they drove, which he had always thought was kind of gay. He made it a point to challenge the barista on every order he put in, without exception—double not triple, caramel not mocha, whole milk not skim—until the day she ran into the back in tears, his face glowing with pride. Big Bear and Little Bear, the gun shop owners, father and son, bearded, swarthy men—for them, it was where it hurt the most, their wallets. Inventory started to go missing, Eric selling guns out the back door, saving up the cash for his final act, which he knew was coming, had been building for some time now, in fact. Banished, punished, ignored—no, these actions would not stand, this place and time was not his to enjoy, not his destiny, not his fate.
And then there was his mother. She would smoke until the ashtray was overflowing with butts, her fat in rolls that pushed her stained blouse out, her jeans buttoned tight into the distended flesh. Her face was peppered with blemishes and acne—she disgusted him—and yet, every night when he came home from work he’d collapse into a kitchen chair, the chipped Formica table a swirl of yellow and gray, dotted with burns and dried food. He would sit with his shoulders hunched, exhausted—unable to dig his way out, unable to reawaken the glory of his past. And his mother would stand, exhaling root beer and ash, and wobble over to him, start rubbing his shoulders, her mouth running, as her massive breasts pushed into his back. It was the singular most upsetting and thrilling moment of his day.
“My baby, you’re the sun and the stars, the others don’t see beyond your sickly frame, but I do, I see how handsome you are, your eyes full of lust and hunger, your hands just aching to caress, to hold to comfort, I know how special you are, sugar, those whores don’t deserve you, with…with their asses hanging out, their tits always in your face, what kind of man wants those easy pickings, those low hanging fruit…not my baby, not my god of war, my man-slayer, my king.”
And on it would go, as Eric sat slumped, the only love and attention he’d get for the day, finding himself sick and trembling just as often as out of breath and erect, his mother’s soft hands a fleeting touch on his sore body, cursing himself as he imagined he had been cursed hundreds of years ago, high on a mountain, laughter and ridicule, the air filled with the caws of great birds, the sky fractured with lightening, the sensation of his thick frame falling, falling, falling a great distance, dirt and branches scratching at his flesh, rocks splitting his skin, bones snapping, eyes wide open to the piercing blue sky as the world he knew faded to black.
It could have happened that way. The truth was a fickle bastard, but Eric knew that.
Eric stood in the unfinished basement, nude, a singular light bulb swinging back and forth, the cracked mirror leaning against the wall, his mother’s trembling flesh bleeding out onto the concrete floor. What had happened between them was now a secret for the ages—done and finished—never to be spoken of again. A calm washed over him, as his chest filled with pride, swelling up, his ribs poking through his pasty skin, black hair coursing over his arms, his back covered in bruises and acne, his penis like a mouse hidden in a nest. He was an abomination, but he would not be denied.
The sword leaned against the wall, no longer pristine, but bathing in the blood of victory. He took his time slipping on the armor, starting with the manica and fascia, the leather wrapped tight to protect his arms and legs. He buckled on the galerus and ocrea, shoulder and leg guards, the ancient words slipping over his lips like a kiss from an old lover, as his eyes went blank, his expression cold and empty, his choice already made. Breastplate, sheath, and finally his helmet—bronze with a great plume of red running from the front to the back, a bar extending down to protect his nose. Grabbing the sword, he shook the blood off of it, and held it out in front of himself, holding it with both hands, posing this way and that, taking swipes at the cold, musty air.
He would never hear the sirens or gunshots, so far gone, so stuck in the past, his mind full of dying soldiers, the screams and broken glass and car horns replaced with war drums ringing in his ear, the call of bugles and the screams of his fellow gladiators as they fought for their land, for their country, for their lives. The path of destruction he would create, as he wound his way towards the gun shop, towards the coffeehouse, it would be glorious in his mind, these noble acts of war. Big Bear, Little Bear—mother.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Richard Thomas is the author of five books—Disintegration, Transubstantiate, Herniated Roots, Staring Into the Abyss and Four Corners. His over 100 stories in print include Cemetery Dance, PANK, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, Pear Noir, Chiral Mad 2, and Shivers VI. Visit
www.whatdoesnotkillme.com for more information.