The Greatest – Fiction

So I’m in Chicago and I wasn’t able to post this Friday because free WiFi is hard. Also, I’m still not satisfied with this story but here it is anyway. I might rewrite it one day. I’m posting it as is because consistency is important, I guess.

Update 4:15 PM 12/12/17: So I’ve had a few days to recover from my trip to Chicago. I got busy with planning my trip and didn’t have the time to give this the story the attention it deserved. I kind of want to give this story a rewrite, so I’m gonna go do that now.

*

Kurr sat at his desk between his partners’, Logsdon and Ball. Kurr read reports. He drank coffee while he verified alibis in the reports. He reheated his coffee in the microwave three times that morning while he found business names and homes with the listed addresses on his reports. He sighed as he drank his coffee and typed his progress in the reports.

Logsdon and Ball were on the phone that morning. They chatted across Kurr all morning. Logsdon and Ball looked half-dressed, in untucked buttons ups off the rack at JC Penny’s and faint gray stains scattered all over their navy pants, their hair curly, funny, like they’d just rolled over out of bed and come to work that morning. Logsdon and Ball were young. Logsdon and Ball were not used to getting up early in the morning.

Having made it to noon, Logsdon and Ball flipped a coin. Ball called tails. Ball bought lunch. When Ball returned to the floor with a white bag that smelled of onion rings, Kurr locked his computer and followed Logsdon and Ball on through the desks, down the hall, past the cubicles, and to the right. Ball set the bag on the biggest table. Kurr stopped at the counter and poured black coffee into his world’s best singer mug. When he got to the biggest table, Logsdon and Ball had already eaten half their burgers.

 

“Your food’s getting cold,” Logsdon said.

“Fine, got my hot right here,” Kurr said.

“You use that line on all the ladies?” Does it work?” Ball said.

“Damn it, Ball. Burgers again?” Kurr said.

“Payer picks. That’s the rule,” Ball said.

“Loser picks,” Logsdon said.

Ball threw an onion ring at Logsdon. It hit him in the nose. Logsdon squished his lips against his nose, unrolled his sleeve, and wiped the oil off with his cuff.

Two by two, the seats at the small tables around them filled. A brown haired man in tan corduroy pants and a white button up stopped and looked under their table.

“Still got both shoes, Ball?” the man said. Ball looked at him with no expression. The man laughed and moaned and went on down to sit with a dark haired woman eating a candy bar.

“These people never let things go, do they?” Ball said.

“They will. Just have to wait it out,” Kurr said.

“For how long?” Ball said.

“Long enough for someone else to do something stupid,” Kurr said.

Kurr heard his own tone and put his burger down. He looked around at the others, the duos. The lean man at the table next to him ate his salad with his partner across from him. They laughed at each other. They texted on their phones. They ate.

“How much more you got, Old Man?” Logsdon said. He chewed as lettuce hung out. Mayonnaise splattered up his glasses. Logsdon wiped his frame with his cuff. The mayonnaise smeared. Logsdon chewed on.

“Only about half way through,” Kurr said.

“We’re gonna be here all night,” Logsdon said.

“You’re welcome to help, you know,” Kurr said. Logsdon made his eyes small.

“I’m following up on leads for the Brown case,” Logsdon said.

“No, you’re having a goofball match across my desk with Ball,” Kurr said.

“I’ve been on the phone all morning,” Logsdon said.

Kurr set his burger down. He moved his world’s best singer mug over to the corner. He folded his hands and placed his wad of fingers on the table.

“Don’t you guys get sick of it?” Kurr said. Balls topped chewing his fry. Logsdon took off his glasses and cleaned his mayonnaise smear with his shirt tail.

“Sick of what?” Logsdon said.

“Sick of not being taken seriously around here,” Kurr said.

“People take us seriously,” Ball said. He looked over to mister corduroy pants a few tables down. Mister corduroy mimed a runner while sitting in his chair.

“Help me, help me, the bad guy stole my shoes,” mister corduroy said. He laughed, threw his hand down toward the big table, and went back to sipping from his foam cup.

Ball ate the rest of his burger. Logsdon continued to rub his glasses down with his shirt. Mister corduroy pants ran toward the door. “Help, someone, my shoes, my shoes.”

Chief Mueller walked in. Mister corduroy pants straightened his back. Logsdon put his glasses back over his eyes. Mueller went to the counter and poured himself a coffee.

“Afternoon, chief,” mister corduroy pants said.

“Marmon,” Mueller said. He stirred his coffee with a red plastic stirrer, tasted it, and added more sugar.

People left their seats and threw their garbage in the hole near the sink. Logsdon and Ball stood up together.

“Back to it,” Ball said.

“Back to the phone,” Logsdon said. He looked at Kurr as he spoke. Kurr remained seated until they left. He watched Mueller as he stood and drank and stirred. Mueller turned and caught Kurr with his eyes over his world’s greatest seaman cup. Kurr approached him after the room emptied.

“Sir, could I talk to you for a bit?” Kurr said. Mueller stirred and nodded.

“What’s the problem, Kurr?” Mueller said. Kurr watched his feet for a minute.

“Am I being punished?” Kurr said. Mueller gulped his coffee and sat his mug down on the counter.

“What do you mean?” Mueller said. Kurr folded his hands and held them to his navel.

“You putting me with Logsdon and Ball. Are you punishing me?” Kurr moved his right foot further to the right, then back to the left.

“Why would you think that?” Mueller said. Kurr moved his right foot forward and then backward.

“They’re the youngest detectives in the department. Everyone else is partnered up and you have the three of us together. No one respects them, which means no one respects me,” Kurr said. Mueller pinched his chin. He came close.

“You don’t like your partners?” Mueller said. Kurr looked down at his feet, tapped his toes forward, backward, then planted his foot back down.

“No, sir. I think it would be best if I could put in an official request form,” Kurr said.

“Kurr, let me tell you something. You are more than welcome to put in that request, but I won’t accept it. You’re with Logsdon and Ball. That’s the way it’s gonna be. You’re with them and they’re with you. I want you three going everywhere together. Every desk assignment. Every case. Every day. If there’s ever a time someone doesn’t see you three together, I want people to think it’s fucked up that you’re not all there. Kurr, Logsdon, and Ball. That’s the way it is,” Mueller said. He patted Kurr’s shoulder, picked up his coffee mug, and filled it with soap and water from the sink.

Eric Shay Howard is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in Louisville, KY and is the editor of Likely Red Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like his Facebook page.

The Arrangements of Bird Men – Fiction

Thanks again for voting on which short story to post on my blog. I’m pleasantly surprised at how this one turned out. This is a version of a short story about mystery, plastic bird men, and awkwardness, I guess. If you like it, please share it.

*

He sits down next to me. His slim fitted pants wrap up his legs like a much anticipated Christmas present, one you don’t even intend to eye all that often because you already know what’s inside, but you stare anyway. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a good conversation with a stranger, even longer since I’ve flirted with one. Longer still that I’ve been flirted with.

We’re on a stone block between a fountain that doesn’t have any water in it yet and a lamppost. He takes his glasses off and places them in a blue case after he removes a lighter and a cigarette from to it. He lights the cigarette with his eyes closed, covering his mouth with his right and as sucks. The lighter goes into his right pocket. The cigarette tilts down from between his left index and middle fingers. The fingers squeeze the cigarette flaccid. He holds it in his mouth and plucks it from between his lips with his thumb and index fingers, blowing smoke out at the couple standing near the statue of a man with his arms stretched out under a bear. The tall woman under the armpit of the bear swings her head, straightens the back of her hair against her back, and walks away from the smoke.

“You think they’ll ever let us in?” I say. The man blows out his smoke mid-puff and looks over at me. We both look past the fountain at the steps up to the museum. A woman in a black dress and boots stands at the top. She checks her watch and scans the crowd below.

“Last year it took an hour before they let us in,” he says. He puts his cigarette out on the stone under us.

“I’ve never been,” I say. I watch his brown eyes and then look down at the charred paper on the stone. He moves his hand away from mine.

“It’s pretty alright. Weird stuff. Are you with a blog or are you here for pleasure?” he says.

“Both. You?”

“Insider.” He flashes his press pass.

“You’re with the Insider? I thought they went all freelance now.” I back my head up and scoot away, but then scoot over to him, an inch or so more than before.

“One of the last. Local events. Finn Wayland.” He scoots closer and extends his hand. I shake it. We stare at one another.

“James,” I say.

Two women come over and stand by us. Finn lowers a leg. Our knees touch. He gets up off of the stone. “I’ll see you inside,” he says. He walks the women closer to the steps. The crowd gathers under the woman at the steps. I join them. She walks down, her hands at her sides. I smile at an older gentleman in a dark green sportcoat and at a woman in a gray cashmere turtleneck. I grin at a man in straight bootcut jeans and a polo, my dry front teeth rubbing against my upper lip. He smiled back. He has a wallet chained around to his front belt loop. I settle in place.

“We’re about to get started,” the woman says. She matches the volume of the crowd. “Before we start, we want to thank Dr. Bloom for once again sponsoring this year’s opening and keeping the ticket price free until 2020.” Everyone claps. A man in a black suit blushes and retreats as everyone around him pats him on the shoulder. The woman raises her voice. “Now if you’ll all join us inside, you’re free to enjoy the evening at your leisure. Also please talk to any of the staff in red shirts about giving a donation. We appreciate you being here with us tonight.”

Finn walks in with the front half of the tide of bodies washing up the steps. I look for my cowboy. He’s behind me with a young woman. He wraps his arm around her and puts his other hand in his pocket. He wears his smile as he walks up the steps. He removes his hand from his pocket to scratch behind his ear. He keeps it down at his side the rest of the way. I excuse myself through the crowd.

“Hey, buddy, we’re all going to the same place,” Dr. Bloom says. He’s walking with a gang of suited men and women behind him. He tucks on his white bow tie. I smile at him, push through the crowd, then the heavy door.

Beethoven on low. The hand painted walls are frameless, but cluttered with black and white murals. Empty off-white squares of various sizes are scattered up and down throughout the lobby. Employees in red shirts and black slacks all stand and pace in little circles, watching. No one is behind the counter.

Finn stands under the archway that leads to the sculptures. He talks to two blonde women who share a nose and a man with a scruffy face who looks like he smells of a thick cologne. As I get closer, I can smell it. It smells like distrust.

I walk between Finn and the scruffy man, keeping my eyes fixed on the muscular bust in the center of the next room as I step through the short hall. I adjust my eyes in the room with the white walls as I browse the centerpiece, a gray nude dancer with no feet, melting into the base, kneeling, his arm resting on his knee. His hair is detailed, dark from a distance, fine and precious up close. I touch the hair on the head.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Look at the body hair,” Finn says. I melt into the stone. One of Finn’s girls laughs at a small brown clay figure on a pedestal. A skinny bipedal figure stands with its mouth open wide. It’s arms are held out. A woman screams.

The chatter softens. Men in red button ups run into the next room. The woman in the black dress follows. Through the doorway leading into the contemporary art room, someone shouts.

 

“Call 911.” The woman in the black dress takes a cell from the staff member nearest her. A woman pulls a black gate closed.

“What’s going on?” I say. A cell phone dings.

“Doesn’t seem good,” Finn says. People, huddling in small grounds, keep to their corners. Another cell phone dings. I stand in place and look around the room. Near the gate, a dollhouse carved out of stone rests on a table. Inside it, using the stone furniture, are little plastic people with bird heads, all different colors. Their beaks are enormous. The walls and furniture are smooth and solid.

“Do they know who it was?” An older woman in a turtleneck says, ruffling her hand through her thick gray hair. Her mouth is open and her eyes are wide.

“I don’t think so. No one is saying anything,” another woman says.

I move all the bird men and all the bird women into the sitting room. Finn watches me.

“I guess you got your story,” I say.

“Not quite,” Finn says. He picks up two of the bird men, one red and one blue, and places them next to each other in the hallway. He peeks through the gate.

A fast melody plays from a cell phone from one of the women behind me. The woman with thick gray hair answers.

“Okay. Okay,” she says. She whispers to her friend. Finn joins his friends over by the melted man. I keep to the birds. I rearrange the bird people in the sitting room so that they are all facing a partner of a different color. Their beaks don’t touch.

My cowboy in boots pulls on the top of the brown paper head a few sculptures down. The young woman he’s with laughs. They move on down to the dollhouse.

“Cute,” the woman says.

Three men in blazers and two women in blue t-shirts and black pants walk in from the lobby. I stay by the dollhouse. A woman in a red shirt opens the gate. They go in, one by one. The oldest looking man enters through the gate last. He wears a badge on his belt. He smiles. The gate closes.

Many people are on their phones. Finn leans against the wall by the short hallway and smokes a cigarette. Finn plants his foot onto the wall behind him and extends his thickly wrapped thigh. He sucks and breathes. I walk over to him, lean against the wall beside him, and watch through the gate beyond the melted man.

“Couldn’t hold out, huh?” I say.

“Nope,” Finn says. He shows me the open pack. I shake my head and wave my hand sideways. He returns his cigarettes to his pocket and lays his hand along the wall. I let my arms fall from their fold over my chest down to my sides.

The gate opens and then closes. The older officer walks toward the melted man with his badge held high.

“Hello. I’m Detective Kurr. I apologize for the inconvenience. We appreciate your cooperation and as soon as we ask you all a few questions we can continue to evening,” he said. He starts with the man nearest, the cowboy. They speak briefly and then he talks with the woman from under his shoulder. He moves on to the scruffy man who smells of distrust near the dollhouse.

Finn drops his cigarette and mashes it with his shoe. He pushes away from the wall. He walks into the lobby and touches the screen on his cell phone. The scruffy man joins him. Detective Kurr moves on to a woman in a salmon colored dress over by the brown paper head.

“Is that yours?” A man in a red shirt says. He points to the cigarette in the floor. Smoke rises. I stomp my foot over it.

“I don’t smoke,” I say.

“There’s no smoking in here,” he says.

“It’s not mine,” I say. He curves his mouth and picks up the butt. He bends at the knee and extends the cigarette out from his chest. He walks over to the dollhouse and tosses the cigarette into the trashcan just before the gate. Finn plays on his phone and cuts up with the scruffy man. I walk across the room and play with the dollhouse.

“Have you spoken with Dr. Bloom any this evening?” Detective Kurr says. He came out from behind the melted man.

“Doctor Bloom?” I say.

“Yes. Well dressed. Older. Bow tie,” he says.

“Only outside. I accidentally cut him off coming up the steps,” I say.

“What did he say to you?” He says.

“He told me to slow down,” I say.

Detective Kurr looks at me. His brown eyes scorch mine. He smiles. He walks to the other side of the melted man. I move the red plastic bird man into the sitting room and leave the blue bird man in the hallway. Smoke rises. People say fire. A man in a red shirt rushes over. He sprays. Detective Kurr comes back from behind the melted man.

“Sir, may I take your name?” He says. His sulfur eyes strike mine.

“James Hatcher,” I say. I play with my bird men. Detective Kurr writes on a legal pad. He walks across the room, back behind the melted man. I look for Finn. I play with my bird men.

*

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Eric Shay Howard is a creative writer and editor. He lives in Louisville, KY and edits Likely Red Magazine. He’s on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The Brawl Outside Butterweather’s – Fiction

Thanks for voting on which of my short stories I should post on my blog. This was the winner, a story about a man who glows in the dark. It’s an early draft of a story in a themed fiction collection that, so far, has been about misunderstandings in dating. If you like it, let me know. I’ll do this more often. I write a lot. Check my Twitter for more polls on the weekends. Links to more of my fiction are here.

*

Julian sat down on the cream colored chair at the table and dropped his jacket, beanie, and scarf under his chair. The table was covered in a warm, wrinkle free white cloth. He opened his beaten paperback copy of Lonesome Dove that he had tucked under his arm and read a few pages, writing notes in the margins with a pen that he pulled from his right pants pocket.

“Something to drink, sir?” The waiter said. He wore a black vest over a white button up and black pants. He had glossy black shoes that didn’t match his black belt. Julian looked around him and then straightened himself back in his chair.

“A sweet tea, please. I’m meeting someone,” Julian said.

“Of course. I’m George. Just let me know if you need anything,” he said. George smiled, adjusted the smile away, and then turned towards the bar along the back. Julian looked to the other couples coming through the door and cleared his throat.

“Would it be possible to get a little more lighting?” Julian said.

“Yes, of course. Just one minute,” George said. He turned. His straight black pants on his skinny legs were the only clothes on him loose enough to sway as he turned, revealing white socks inside his black shoes. His ass filled out the top of his pants. His black and white checkered shirt tail was sticking out under his apron strings. He walked back and past the bar, disappearing through a doorway between a painting of soup cans and a short statute that stopped just shy of the painting on the other side of the opening.

While also glancing at the first page of chapter three of Lonesome Dove, Julian watched the people around him. The man opposite the woman at the table at the end of the row was constantly interrupting her story with his giggles and, from what Julian could hear, the culprit topic was canning pickles.¬† The piano player in the corner between the two biggest windows gently glided his fingers across the keys as the man’s laughs, ranging from chuckles to cut ups, outplayed hum. The pianist’s head-nods were off the beats by a split second. Julian turned his attention to the candle sitting in a skinny glass at the empty table next to him. He watched it flicker until George returned with two light bulbs. He screwed them into the light fixture hanging over his table and then went to check on giggles and pickles at the table at the end of the row.

“Julian?” A tall blonde haired man in a maroon button up and gray pants said. His squared glasses were fogged. The short blonde haired hostess with big eyelashes took quick steps shorter than the length of her hair back to the line of guests at the podium up front.

“Yes. Harvey?” Julian said. He let go of his book, letting it close upright on the table and extended his hand. Harvey took a step backward toward his chair. Julian quickly withdrew his hand, bumping the empty table next to them and pulled out Harvey’s chair for him. The candle at the center of their table flickered as Julian maneuvered himself back around the table and to his chair.

 

“Yes. Harv, if you want,” he said. He wiggled in his seat as he pulled his arms out of his sleeves. The polyester in the tight fitted sleeves squeaked. Julian watched him as he settled, his skin brightening in the warmth of the restaurant.

“How’s your day going, Harv?” Julian said.

“I’ll let you know after it’s over,” Harv said.

“That’s fair enough,” Julian said. He smiled at Harv, but Harv’s head was tilted down towards his lap behind the table. Harv shivered. Julian’s smile faded. George returned.

“Good evening. Would you like a drink?” George asked. He placed two menus on the table. Harv looked over his menu and tapped the table with both hands. Julian jerked his head back and then pretended that he didn’t. Harv looked to his left and then to George.

“Do you have Stella?” Harv said.

“Absolutely. Just one minute,” George said. He checked the tables between them and the bar and then disappeared behind the doorway between the statue and the painting.

“You’ve never been here before, right?” Julian said. He flipped the menu over. There was nothing on the back.

“No. I’ve had some people from work tell me it’s pretty good, though. The vibe is okay,” Harv said.

“It’s my first time, too. Do you think it’s a little too dark?” Julian said.

“Well, it’s that kind of place, isn’t it?” Harv said.

“Guess so,” Julian said. George brought Harv’s Stella and placed it in front of him. A woman with a red and white checkered shirt under her apron approached the table and stopped behind George. She carried a black leather ledger and a white pen with a blue top. She had a wide face.

“Ready to order?” George asked Julian, then he turned to the woman. “Just one minute,” he said. She tightened her lips. Julian looked over his menu. George turned his head to Harv and lifted his notepad.

Harv turned over his menu to the blank side and then turned it back over. He ran his eyes down one column and then the other. Julian abandoned his menu and watched Harv’s hazel eyes, up and down, no glare interrupting their performance as they danced across the ingredients beneath them.

“Bourbon steak, six ounce, mashed potatoes,” Harv said. George ran his hands over his apron, felt in his pockets, and then his apron again.

“How would you like your steak?” George said. He returned the notepad to his apron pocket.

“Medium rare,” Harv said. The woman stepped up to the table beside George. She moved the ledger from her left hand to the other, squeezed her lips together, and then put the ledger back into her left hand.

“Bourbon steak, medium rare. Mashed. And for you, sir?” George said.

“This stew. When was it made?” Julian said.

“George turned his head and looked past the center of the table. Julian watched his blue eyes twinkle in the light hanging between all of them. George looked back to Julian. Julian looked back down towards his menu.

“I’m not sure, but we go through it quick. It would’ve been made fresh this morning, if there’s not already a new pot,” George said. The woman raised herself with her toes and whispered into George’s ear. “Anything else?” Julian looked at Harv and shook his head. “Okay. Just a minute. Thank you,” George said. He left the table. The woman followed him and they spoke by the bar past giggles and pickles. She pulled away from him and walked toward the soup can painting and Buddha, adjusting her heading as she walked through the doorway. George turned around and around, patted his pants, his apron, his shirt, and then checked his other tables.

“He forgot to take our menus away. It’s not even that busy. You think he’ll remember my steak?” Harv said.

“I remember. Medium rare. See? It’s not that hard,” Julian said. He watched George walk around and wait on tables. He smiled at jokes from giggles and pickles and even brought the pianist a cold one, which made his c chords more jarring. Outside the windows behind the piano was still well lit with sun.

Harv rearranged the shakers and sipped his beer. Julian lifted his tea to his lips but got nothing but ice. Harv laughed at him. One of his two front teeth was turned inward slightly.

“So how new in town are you?” Julian said.

“One week,” Harv said.

“So you really haven’t even had a chance to get out yet, have you?” Julian said.

“Maybe thinking about checking out a club tonight. Green Quarters. Meeting some colleagues from work there since it’s my last free weekend before training. Said it was fun. You’re welcome to join us,” Harv said.

Julian looked across the room and out the window behind the piano again. He bent down slightly and found the bottom of the sun just above the top of the window.

“I can’t tonight. You should go, though. You’re co-workers are right. You’ll have a good time,” Julian said.

George seated another couple two tables over from where Julian and Harv were seated. George’s eyes were red as he grabbed the menus from their table and took them over to the new guests. He took the newly seated couple’s drink orders: a water for the silver fox in a gray suit and a bourbon for the woman with long black hair pulled through a small scrunchy. He then thanked giggles and pickles as they left a cash tip on the table for him. He picked up the cash from the table and took their dirty dishes to the back before returning with the new table’s drinks.

The woman in the red and white checkered shirt stood in the doorway past the bar and looked out into the dining room. Her eyes followed George between tables.

“Training on the weekends?” Julian said.

“Yes, unfortunately. Just the first few weeks,” Harv said.

“What sort of work do you do?”

“Government.”

The woman in the red and white checkered shirt brought the newly seated table a plate of Calamari and placed it between them. She came over and dropped off a new tea for Julian.

“Hi. I’m Lisa. Sorry, what were your orders again?” she said.

“He had the stew and I had the steak, medium rare,” Harv said.

“What kind of stew?” Lisa said.

“I think it was beef,” Julian said.

“Yes, but did you want the stew with the buttered noodles or rice on the side?” Lisa said.

“Noodles,” Julian said.

“And did you want another beer?” Lisa said. She pointed to Harv’s empty glass with her her red painted pinky nail.

“Do you have anything red?” Harv said.

“No, but we have a local brew that’s a little dark and tastes kind of like maybe what you want. Want a taste?”

“No I’ll just take one,” Harv said.

Lisa smiled. Julian cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry, but has our order not been started yet?” Julian said.

“No, I’m sorry, but they’ll get it going as fast as they can,” Lisa said. Her smile was as wide as her face. Julian looked to the window behind the pianist, who was more gentle with chords now that his beer glass was empty. When Julian turned his head back towards Harv, Lisa was already heading back towards the doorway past the bar. She rubbed the Buddha’s belly as she went through the doorway. Harv was rearranging the shakers again.

Julian tilted his head over and moved it up and down as he looked at the sun through the window. Two couples and one table of three were seated between Julian and the pianist. A small girl in a polka dot dress and purple shoes walked around and between the tables, zigzagging between them until an older woman got out of her seat, picked her up, and put her in her chair. The older woman pointed her finger at the child and then wiped her hands on a napkin as she sat back down. She patted her hands on her emerald green dress, coughed into her hand, and asked Lisa for a menu.

“Everything okay?” Harv said.

“I’m sorry, but I really can’t stay out too much later. I was hoping we’d be eating by now,” Julian said.

“Maybe they’ll comp it,” Harv said.

“They can’t comp your alcohol,” Julian said. Harv looked at his empty beer glass, then moved it over next to the shakers.

There was a crash of pots and pans from behind the doorway. George walked past the opening on the other side of the doorway. A door slammed. Lisa went by. A door slammed again. A man in a chef’s apron walked past the opening of the doorway, then came back and yelled. Someone else yelled back. The man in the chef’s apron came out from the doorway, peered over into the dining room, and then took small steps toward Julian and Harv.

“We’re out of the beef stew. I can get you something else if you like. Anything,” the chef said. Harv laughed. The chef looked at him until he stopped and then turned his head back to Julian.

“I’m sorry, but it’s been forty-five minutes. Just give us the check and we’ll be on our way,” Julian said.

“Oh no, no check. On me. Everything on me. Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” the chef asked.

“I’m sure. Thank you,” Julian said. The chef turned and took small steps back toward the doorway.

“You can stay if you want, but I have to get back soon,” Julian said.

“This place is kind of a clusterfuck. I’ll walk out with you,” Harv said. He took off his glasses and cleaned them with his shirt. Julian put on his jacket, his scarf, and his beanie.

“Cold natured?” Harv said.

“Very,” Julian said.

They stepped between the tables until they reached the black wooden door. The short haired hostess wiggled her fingers and smiled at them as they left.

“What about the alcohol?” Harv said.

“Not our problem now,” Julian said as he stepped onto the sidewalk. The sky was red. Julian took a right turn out of the restaurant and Harv followed.

“It was great to meet you,” Harv said.

“Same. Have a good time tonight at Green Quarters,” Julian said.

They passed an alley between the restaurant and a dry cleaner. George and Lisa were standing by a brown side door. The chef was between them.

“Sir,” George said. Julian stopped and turned. George ran out of the alley and put his hand on Julian’s shoulder. The skin around his eyes was pink and wet. His eyes were red. “I’m sorry about your stew.”

“It’s fine,” Julian said. He turned away.

“He’s a liar,” Lisa said.

“Is everything okay?” Harv said.

“I did not steal a thing,” George said.

“I know you did it. Gerald, it was him. I swear,” Lisa said. She came out onto the sidewalk and tackled George. They all fell to the ground.

“No,” Julian said. After an elbow in the ribs and a kick below the waist, Julian crawled out. He looked down at Harv who looked up at him. Under the setting sun, he saw the orange glare in Harv’s eyes.

Julian turned away from the brawl and ran down the sidewalk, ignoring the crosswalk signs. He held his hands up and watched them as he ran until he reached the basement apartment at the Chowder Ridge block Downtown. His arm lit up the keyhole for him as he fought to get the key into the lock. He closed the door behind him and pulled a blind in the window back with a finger to look outside at the darkness. He stripped and watched his skin as it went from a pasty white to a bright white glow. As his eyes adjusted, the white glow of his arms and legs turned to faint blue. He cried, punched the wall by the door, kicked the couch, and pouted. He lay on the couch naked, glowing.

Portrait photo of writer and editor Eric Shay Howard

Eric Shay Howard is a writer and editor. He lives in Louisville, KY and is the editor of Likely Red Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and like his page on Facebook. You can also contact him using his contact page.