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    Volume 5, Issue 3 August 30, 2010
    Message from the Editors
 Salvage Sputnik by Sam S. Kepfield
 Remembrance Day by Simon Kewin
 Fees des Dents by George S. Walker
 The Walls of Yesterday by Tony Peak
 Pusher by Matthew Howe
 Editor's Corner The Devotion Egg by David E. Hughes
 Special Feature: Author Interview Jeanne Stein



Matthew Howe

         There's evil in everybody. I think we all know that. Most of us try to ignore it, but we understand, deep down, that inside us is a darkness that wants to do bad, bad things.
         I understand that probably better than anyone.
         Like the other day, I'm on the subway next to this guy, Alex. Good suit, nice tie, reading the Journal. Alex looks like he's doing okay.
         But he's not doing okay.
         I'm standing right next to him, and I look inside his head. He staring at his paper, but barely reading it. His mind is somewhere else.
         His mind is on a coworker-a guy named Joel. Joel's the newest kid at Alex's firm. Alex and Joel are salesmen-they sell computer systems to airports and hotels, crap like that.
         Alex is the slow and steady type. He works hard but never seems to get noticed.
         Joel is a go-getter, type A, in your face. Joel gets noticed, though it doesn't hurt that Joel's uncle is VP of sales.
         Joel is also a thief. He's been poaching Alex's deals, and Alex is pretty pissed about it. Alex has this big deal cooking, when the boss calls him in. The boss wants Joel to handle the negotiation on Alex's deal. That means Joel gets the lion share of the commission. That means Joel gets most of the credit for the sale even though Alex has spent three months setting it up. That means Alex doesn't make his numbers this quarter, and he's afraid if he doesn't make his numbers, he doesn't keep his job.
         Alex has a wife and two daughters. He needs the job. He needs the commission. Joel is ruining his life, and Alex doesn't know what to do about it. But the darkness inside knows. Only Alex won't let it. Alex is choking it down, holding it back.
         That's where I come in.
         As the 4 Train rumbles up the track toward Grand Central, I step a little closer to Alex. I'm in his field just being next to him, but to make things really cook, I need to be closer.
         Close, I can feel the darkness inside him. It's deep and black-the ocean at night. It's churning-there's a hurricane somewhere out at sea.
         The darkness wants out.
         I close my eyes and I'm gone. My body is still there, clutching the pole, but the rest of me is inside Alex's head. I'm talking to the core of him, and he doesn't even know it.
         "Joel is an asshole," I say. "He's ruining your life. He's going to get you fired."
         The darkness roars back at me-a crowd at a football game cheering a touchdown. "He's fucking with you. He's a piece of shit."
         The crowd roars louder.
         "The bastard doesn't deserve to live," I whisper. Then I concentrate. There's a wall. It's not really a wall, but that's how I envision it-a wall made of big bricks. But the bricks are really just cardboard bricks like we used to play with in kindergarten. And like I did when I was a kid, I kick the wall and it collapses. Collapses easy.
         The darkness roars free. Whoa.
         I jump out of Alex's head. I'm back on the train and we're pulling into the 42nd Street stop.
         Alex is staring at me. His face is slack. His eyes are glassy. He gets off the train, but as my car fills, I see him walking for the transfer tunnel that'll take him to the downtown train instead of up to the Metro North station.
         I already know where he's going.
         Poor Joel.


         Next morning, there it is in all the papers. Joel is dead, beaten to death in his apartment by his co-worker. The Post even has Alex on the cover, in the grips of the cops, his eyes staring and blank. He looks like he doesn't know what the hell just happened. In a way, he's right. He doesn't know.
         The article is the standard stuff-family and friends wondering how this could happen. How it makes no sense. How no one saw it coming. Alex was such a nice, quiet guy.
         This should make me happy. Should give me a thrill, hell, it used to. But the thrill's not there anymore.
         It's not enough to make it happen and then read about it in the paper. There's something missing-the good part-the sounds, the smells, the sights-everything that comes along with one human being killing another.
         What did Alex say to Joel before he bashed his skull in with that baseball trophy? What did Alex's face look like as he swung. Did Joel scream? Did he try to fight? Curse? Beg? What does that much blood smell like? Did Joel shit his pants when he died?
         I've got to know.


         Next day or two, I encounter a couple of dozen people I could easily push to do horrible things. I get next to this man who's having very wrong feelings about his teenage daughter, and I almost go for it, then pull back at the last second. Not enough. I need something more visceral. I want blood, not tears.
         I find what I need in a coffee shop. I know the second he walks in that he's the one. His name is Greg. He's short, kind of fat, sweaty. He looks like he's smart, but I can smell that he's damaged goods.
         He buys his coffee, takes a seat close to me, as if he can sense me too, as if he knows I've got what he needs.
         I lean closer and scan his mind. I see a girl. Her name is Marisol. He goes to college with her. They're both studying photography. He's friends with her but wants to be more. Only he's afraid if he tries, he'll lose her completely. Because he's fat. Because he's not good looking, and Marisol is the most beautiful woman in the world.
         So he never acts on his feelings, just suffers in silence. He knows what a chickenshit he is, and that only makes him angrier. It should make him angry at himself. But you know what? Facing the truth, being mad at yourself is hard. If he was any kind of a man, he'd stop eating all that fucking Ben and Jerry's Super Fudge Chunk, join a gym, drop some pounds, and make himself presentable.
         But that's hard. That's work. Effort. So much easier to blame her. Which he does. Even as they pal around, go to class together, catch a movie or some Chinese food downtown, he's blaming her for his pain and starting to hate her.
         Worse, Marisol has taken up with some other dude in their Photo One workshop. The guy's name is Chris. Greg has seen Chris and Marisol hanging out, and it's fucking killing him.
         I tap his thoughts as he sits staring at his coffee. I sift through his memories and experiences, looking for the pieces I need to build a plan. It's all right there for me, falling into place on its own. Destiny.
         When I know what needs to be done, I lean closer, close my eyes, and I'm inside him, speaking to him in words he can't hear. "Marisol is a whore," I whisper. "Chris is her pimp. They're laughing at you while they fuck. They're hurting you. You have to hurt them."
         A roar of approval. Touchdown.
         "You have to do it carefully," I continue. "But you know what you have to do." I sense the darkness, poised, waiting.
         "You have to kill them. I can show you how."
         In the coffee shop, a fat, lonely kid with a broken heart nods as I lay it out for him.


         I don't sleep well that night. Too excited.
         I get to the warehouse early, go through the hole in the fence I saw in Greg's mind, and wait.
         I'm shivering. I haven't been this stoked in years, not since I pushed that 13-year-old to murder her whole family. Headlines and lead stories for weeks. This is going to be better.
         I hear voices. I peer out the nearest window. It's Greg, with his two friends. Greg and Marisol have been to this abandoned warehouse before. They snuck through a hole in the fence on a photo expedition a few months ago. The danger of it, trespassing, exploring this death trap of a building, really got the juices flowing. That day was the closest Greg ever came to telling her how he felt. The day he almost worked up the guts to kiss her.
         Now he and Marisol have returned to their special place, only this time Greg invited Chris along for the ride.
         Chris is handsome enough, but kind of dumb-looking. One of those guys who's had everything handed to them and never really had to learn anything. I sense he's uncomfortable. He likes Marisol, but not the way Greg does. Looking for a quick lay is what I figure. He feels weird being with the two of them. Greg and Marisol are so good together, he's not sure he fits in.
         Marisol? I have to admit I'm disappointed. The Marisol I saw in Greg's mind was a goddess. In real life she's not half bad. But that means not half good, either. I wouldn't kick her out of bed, but I don't really get why Greg's all crazy about her. But hey, everyone's got their thing, right?
         Greg is where the action is. I can see the darkness. This is the first time I can see it, not just sense it, but see it with my eyes. It's bubbling around him like a cloud of flies on a chunk of rotting meat. I feel it too, like a subway train coming fast. The vibrations off it cut through me, fill me, set every nerve in my body tingling.
         I watch as they approach the fence, take a little look around, then crawl through the hole.
         Greg goes through first. I see Marisol watching him, and I know if the fat shit ever tried, she'd be his. She admires him. She loves him, but doesn't even realize it. One word from him and that love would burst free.
         Too bad he doesn't know that.
         The three kids enter the warehouse. I duck back into the shadows. The darkness Greg is dragging around with him passes my hiding place like a storm front. Another tingle runs through my body. I feel a distant contact with his mind. "Kill the bitch," I whisper. "Kill her good."
         The darkness hisses back at me, a giant wave breaking on the beach. Oh yeah, she's going to die. She's going to die nasty.
         "Which way?" Marisol asks.
         "Upstairs," Greg says. I'm amazed how level his voice is. "I was in here the other day, I found a really cool spot."
         "You came alone?" she asks.
         Greg nods.
         "Greg, it's dangerous. You should have asked me to come with you."
         Greg shrugs. "I figured you were busy," he turns and heads upstairs. The darkness around him thickens. I can barely see him through it.
         After Chris clears the stairs, I go up, shadowing them. The darkness inside Greg is going to break soon, and when it does, I want to be there to see it. I follow them down a series of corridors. The warehouse had offices up here that ran the length of the building. You walk through one room to get to the next, railroad car style. Greg is leading them toward the end of the line.
         There's broken furniture, papers spilled everywhere, the piles sodden with rainwater that's leaked in through broken windows. It's a dying place, wet and rotting. A perfect setting.
         Finally they reach the last room in line. I know what it looks like; I've seen it in Greg's mind - splintered furniture piled high along one wall, soft light coming in the broken windows along the other.
         Greg stays by the doorway as Chris and Marisol move deeper into the room. I'm in the next room back, pressed to the wall by to the doorway that joins our two spaces. Greg's on the other side. We're two feet away, separated by nothing more than ten inches of cinderblock.
         I'm inside the field of darkness that surrounds him. It's fucking unbelievable. Every cell of my body is singing. "Do it," I silently command him. "Do it."
         He walks forward. I peer around the door. There's a piece of pipe on the floor. Greg picks it up and sneaks up on Chris, who's admiring a wall where mold and peeling paint have formed something that looks like a human face.
         A human face screaming.
         Greg raises the pipe and brings it down on Chris's head. Chris drops. He's out, not dead, I can still sense him, but definitely not going to be dancing the rumba anytime soon. Greg's playing it smart, dealing with Chris first. With the dumb clod out of the way, he's got Marisol all to himself.
         She turns when she hears the pipe hit Chris' head. Her eyes go wide, and I catch a flash of sweet panic. She doesn't know what's going on. She sees Chris on the floor, sees Greg drop the pipe, sees Greg reach into his pocket and pull out a clasp knife. He opens it. Her eyes go even wider.
         The black cloud around Greg explodes into a tornado. I watch from my place by the door, my whole body on fire.
         They say shit to each other, I can't hear much through the storm. Marisol begs. Greg yells. The darkness has him. She's hurt him and now he's going to hurt her. He's going to hurt her bad.
         This is what it's like. Every time I made this happen, this is what is was like. I had no idea. No idea what I was missing.
         I'm with Greg, inside him, feeling everything he's feeling. He's cut loose from his moorings. All the civilized instincts beaten into him from the day he squirted out from between his momma's legs are gone. He's pure animal fury.
         Greg grabs Marisol, throws her against a wall. She yelps in fear and pain. He presses himself against her and slaps the knife to her throat, the point of the blade dimpling her flesh.
         The blackness roars. I give a little moan. All my senses are wide open. I see clearer, hear sharper, smell every fucking thing in the room, and all of it smells amazing.
         Greg tenses, ready to drive the blade in. The swirling blackness has reached some kind of crescendo, it's huge, and when he kills her, I know it's going to be the best thing ever. I'm already thinking about the future, the others I'm going to push over. All that swirling darkness out there. Every sick twisted fuck with murder on his mind, which is basically everybody in the fucking world, all mine. My personal playground.
         Except Greg is still standing there.
         Do it, I silently command him, fucking do it.
         The fat shit steps back.
         He drops the knife.
         It rings sharp on the concrete with a sound that stings my ears.
         Greg falls to his knees, weeping. Marisol edges away, then runs. Forget Chris, she just bolts for the emergency exit in the corner and down the stairs.
         The black cloud around Greg evaporates.
         I feel like someone just sucked all the guts out of me. I feel empty, cheated. Betrayed.
         I can't believe it. He chickened out. The piece of shit chickened out.
         I don't get angry a lot. I don't have to; I've always let others do that for me. But now, seeing him on his knees, weeping, when he had his chance to kill that fucking bitch and settle her hash good, does something to me, flicks some switch. I charge into the room. "What the fuck?" I yell. "What the fuck are you doing? Go get her. Go fucking get her!"
         Greg looks up at me. "Who are you?" he asks. Like he doesn't know.
         I grab him, yank him to his feet which is hard because he weighs a fucking ton. I shake him. I press my hand against his face to reignite the darkness inside him because it's not too late, he can still catch her and finish this. He has to finish this. I need him to finish this.
         But there's no more darkness left. Because he loves her, and he saw something in her eyes when he attacked her, not just fear, but betrayal. He saw inside her for that moment and knew that she loved him too. And he let her go. He fucking let her go.
         I shake him again. "Go!" I yell.
         He stares at me, confused.
         I bend down, grab the knife off the floor and slam it into his hand. "Go get her! Kill her. Kill that fucking bitch."
         He gives kind of a groan, and I see the knife isn't in his hand, it's in my hand, and I've jammed it into his gut. Then I'm yanking it out and jamming it in again. Now I feel it, the darkness in me, bursting out because this fat fuck was too weak to finish the job and give me what I deserve and I can't believe how fucking angry that makes me and all I care about now is dealing with this motherfucker and the knife is going in and out and he's making these little groans of pain which only piss me off worse and the blood is pouring out of his belly all over my fucking pants and shoes and the smell of it.
         My God the smell of it.
         It takes me, and my world goes black.


         When I come to my senses, the room is full of cops. My hands are behind my back, cuffed. Two of them yank me to my feet.
         Greg is still there, a bloody pile under a stained sheet.
         Chris is gone; Marisol is nowhere to be seen.
         They hustle me downstairs and outside to a cruiser. I catch sight of myself reflected in a window. My eyes are wide and glassy, my face blank.
         A flash of light. A reporter with a camera. Taking a picture of something. Me, I realize, he's taking a picture of me.
         Some part of me, dim and distant, already knows what tomorrow's headline will be, what tomorrow's cover photo will be.
         The cops hurl me in the car. The door slams. One of the cops in front glares back at me. "You're going away for a long, long time, asshole," he says.
         I don't say anything. I know where I'm going. Prison. The rest of my life, probably. I'm ready to cry.
         And then my mind kicks into gear. I think a little deeper. I think about clouds and silver linings.
         I think about the men I'm going to be thrown in with. How much evil will I encounter at Riker's Island? Or in the cell blocks of Sing Sing?
         How easy will it be to push over those who didn't need pushing the first time?
         Sharpened spoons. Razor blades in toothbrushes. Guards with tasers and billyclubs. Rape. Beatings. Torture. Torment.
         Me. Front and center.
         I lean back. "Sucks to be me," I whisper.
         And smile.

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