Monthly Archives: January 2017

Fast Girls and Strong Women

Donna woke up with a headache. It wasn’t a hangover headache, but it was familiar. What was it?

Where was she? She wasn’t in her own bed—Disoriented… The couch? She was still having trouble getting her eyes open, but that was for sure the couch-back behind her. Comforting. Head-ache not from being pounded into ground by demon monkey—check.

Or was it? Why the couch and not her bed?

What had happened last night?

“Morning!” her roommate Tamsin coo’d in her sweet cockney accent.

Were her eyes open? Not yet. So how did she—

“I know you’re awake ‘cause you don’t shake your leg in your sleep, only when you’re awake, so I know you’re awake—morning!”

Oh, right. Tamsin. It was starting to come back to her.

“Head still hurting?” Considerate was good, but did she have to be so chipper?

Donna moaned weakly in response.

“That was a really brave thing you did last night,” Tamsin assured her.

“We,” Donna managed to correct her.

“Well, yeah, ‘we’, I suppose, ‘cause of teamwork, but honestly, you were the one taking all the risks.”

“Burning building you ran into.” By this point, Donna was stretching and forcing out the words with her breath.

“Yeah, but I didn’t have to touch it. ‘Cept with my feet, I s’pose.”

And then there was coffee. For a girl with superspeed, that sure took her long enough, thought Donna, but she pushed the cranky thought aside and took a sip.

Tamsin’s hands went to Donna’s head. “How’s that noggin?”

“Knocked,” Donna said, too proud, perhaps, of her witliness.

“You had half a building fall on you—“

“Not the half that was on fire.”

“Lucky girl. It’s not fair, is it?” This was one of Tamsin’s trademark nonsequiturs—part of the byproduct of her ability was thinking too fast, making too many leaps in conversation and occasionally getting bored in the middle and forgetting what question she’d asked.

“Hm?” said Donna.

This was not one of those times. “Well, the division of power and all.”

Donna knew what she was talking about but hadn’t had quite enough coffee yet, so she frowned for more information.

“I mean, look at you, right? Then look at me. Ask anyone on the street which of those two has super-strength and which has super-speed, you think anyone’d guess wrong? I mean, unless they were being ironic or thought it was a trick?”

It was a relief to hear someone else say it, but Donna still raised an offended eyebrow.

“Ah, come on, I didn’t mean it like that! You’re gorgeous, you are.”

Well, now she’d done it.

“No, you are! Look at you! You’re a warrior princess and any man’d be lucky to have you! Just you stay away from my Tim now, right?”

This was the part when any other girl might have given her friend a love-tap on the arm or hand or a light shoulder-shove, but Donna threw her hands into the air instead to avoid breaking any of Tam’s bones—not that she would have been quicky enough to actually reach her, but hey, it was habit.

“You know what I mean, though?” Tamsin continued. “If I’d found a burning builidng in Brooklyn—say that five times fast—and I’d called you, I’d’ve had to wait, at least for the saving the builiding and the big people part. It’s not like I could come get you. I mean, it’s all good and well you finding things wrong and calling me, I’d be there in a flash if that name wasn’t already taken. But just imagine if you were you with normal strength but my speed, and I was me with normal speed, but your strength, you’d have no problem liftin’ me—“

“Rub it in, why don’t you?”

“I’m just saying—“

“No, I get it. Not like I haven’t thought about it myself.”

“You wanna switch?”

The question, which felt like another leap on Tam’s part, though in retrospect she should’ve seen it coming, took Donna completely off-guard. Not that she hadn’t thought about it, but—“What? Have you heard something?”

“No, I didn’t mean like for real, just hypothetical.”

The thought still made Donna uncomfortable. Because she had thought about it. She thought of all the accidents, of course, from breaking beds to breaking hands to little things like ruining jars of peanut butter by opening them wrong. More than that, though, she thought of the awkwardnesses, she thought of the fragile egos of every man she’d ever tried to date (hell, every man she’d ever interacted with) and how she hated herself for not being able to find somebody to love her, and how she hated herself for hating herself, for being weak, like she was betraying her sisters and her ancestors.

“No,” she said. “No, I like being able to lift builidings.” And she joked, “I’d switch bodies with you, though.”

“No, thanks,” said Tam, taking just a little longer than she usually did. “Be pretty damn queer, seeing you holding up a building looking like me, innit?”

And they giggled because it was true and then drank all the rest of the coffee.

“The Kids Aren’t Alright”

It all started with Kyle.

Not everything, obviously. First there was the big bang and all that, Dinosaurs, Roman Empire, Grunge. But then there was Kyle and Kyle’s the one who kicked off this story.

I guess you could start it with Anastasia Borgia and SchadowFreud, but realy they were just given circumstances. Kyle’s the one who brought them all up. He was the one who knew stuff.

My sister was in love with him. She wasn’t the only one, either. I think Declan’s brother, Tommy, might’ve been a little in love with him, too, I think maybe that’s why they started their band. And Mickey? He was probably just along for the ride.

Kyle was the one with the plans. Before Declan and my brother Jasper took off, took up the mantle, before Caspar June “discovered” Raven, before the ill-fated concert and Calvin’s plans for the school, there was Kyle sitting at a piano accidentally playing a false note and wondering how much less that would matter in rock’n’roll. Before Jasper started shooting up, Kyle breathed in the smell that wafted out of the hole in this brand-new acoustic guitar. Before dad went missing and mom went nuts, Kyle was grounded for trying to sneak out to go watch Acid Monsoon in concert, before they got big. Years before they found Mickey swinging in the garage, Kyle hung wind-chimes from those same rafters and tried to mimic on his instruments the melodies they made.

Is it any wonder my sister got herself knocked up on account of him? We were always broken. He didn’t make us that way. We all had our own beginnings. But I think what Kyle did is he saw we were broken and he found all the pieces and he fit us all together, a piece of Aly in a piece of Mickey, a piece of Tommy in a piece of Raven, a piece of Declan in a piece of me. But not in a weird way. He just brought us together.

(To Be Continued…)


The Appearance of Threat

TREVOR: Is it… Ben?

BEN: Yes.

TREVOR: Hi. Yeah, so, I’m sorry. She’s not coming back.

BEN: I’m sorry, what?

TREVOR: Your date? We called her a cab. She left about five minutes ago.

BEN: You called her a—hold on. She ghosted me?

TREVOR: I’m sorry. She did pay her own part of the bill, so that’s taken care of, she didn’t stiff you.

BEN: Oh, whooptie-do. Did she say why?

TREVOR: I’m sorry.

BEN: Can I ask you something?

TREVOR: I… sure.

BEN: Do I look like a thug to you?

TREVOR: Um… I mean, not particularly? I don’t know. I don’t really know many thugs? So…

BEN: No, but like, seriously… Do I look like… the kinda guy…

TREVOR: OK, um… I don’t really know the specifics of your situation? That’s just, I don’t know, she didn’t say anything, but I just want to be clear, this might not be about you specifically. Was this your first date? With her, I mean?

BEN: She didn’t even know me.

TREVOR: Well, yeah. See? There you go.

BEN: You’re saying it was her?

TREVOR: Well… I’m saying that it was probably just her interpretation of whatever she was getting from you.

BEN: So it was me?

TREVOR: Well… to be clear, I’m not gonna rule that out just now.

BEN: I see.

TREVOR: How’d you meet her?

BEN: Online.

TREVOR: Like a dating site?

BEN: Facebook. Through friends.

TREVOR: Right. OK. Does your… I’m sorry, but on your profile, do you have maybe pictures of yourself? Like your profile picture?

BEN: My profile picture is a… well, it’s not me, let’s leave it at that.

TREVOR: Do you have pictures of yourself, though?

BEN: Why does this matter?

TREVOR: It’s just that… I mean, I’m not sure how this would transfer to facebook—like I said, I don’t exactly read minds—but I know that on these dating profiles, sometimes if your picture doesn’t match what you really look like, that can be a huge red flag. For some people.

BEN: She knows what I look like. Like I said, we have mutual friends.

TREVOR: Did she seem uncomfortable to you?

BEN: She really seemed like she was into it.


BEN: No, but like, she really seemed like she was into it. You know?

TREVOR: And you’re probably right, she probably seemed that way, to you.

BEN: You’re saying I can’t pick up on signals?

TREVOR: I’m just going with what you’re giving me here.

BEN: What I’m giving you?

TREVOR: Well, she left. It’s not like I can talk to her.

BEN: Do you think I can’t pick up on signals?

TREVOR: That’s not really something I can tell about a person just by looking at them. Listen, you wanted an explanation, I… I just don’t know, I’m just trying to be a friend here and help you work this thing out.

BEN: You’re not my friend.

TREVOR: That is true.

BEN: Why are you doing this?

TREVOR: I just didn’t want you wasting your time waiting here, when I know she’s not coming back.

BEN: Thanks.

TREVOR: Has this ever happened to you before? I mean—I don’t mean to pry, I know it’s none of my business, but you seem pretty upset about this.

BEN: Not this, specifically.

TREVOR: Do you wanna talk about it?

BEN: I thought she wanted me.

TREVOR: Look, girls are taught from a very young age that they need to appeal to men in a certain way, for all sorts of reasons.

BEN: But how could she…

TREVOR: Maybe there was some trigger for her. It’s hard to know—

BEN: So you are saying I did this?

TREVOR: Maybe not consciously—

BEN: Look, I didn’t do anything here to provoke—

TREVOR: Who said anything about provoking?

BEN: I’m the one who got ghosted, and now, what, you’re blaming me?

TREVOR: OK, I’m gonna stop you right there. Because it sounds to me like you’re trying to set up some kind of equivalency here between what you call “ghosting” and sexual assault—that’s the language that I hear coming from you. And just so we’re perfectly clear on this, that is not a thing. What happened to you here tonight, her leaving you? That was not an assault, by any stretch of the imagination—

BEN: I didn’t say that it was—

TREVOR: Really? Because that was the language you were using. Blaming the victim? I mean, really? You are not a victim here. She just left you. What’s the big deal? She doesn’t owe you anything.

BEN: But she thought I was—

TREVOR: How is she supposed to know?

BEN: Do you know how it feels? To have someone…

TREVOR: Believe it or not, I do.

BEN: Yeah, I bet you have.

TREVOR: No, I have, actually. But you know what? I got over it. Not just the rejection part, either. I realized I had done something that I was not proud of, and I got over that, too.

BEN: Now you’re telling me I should forgive myself?

TREVOR: Why? Did you do something wrong?

BEN: Well, what if I did? What if I did something wrong and I don’t even know what it was? How would I know?

TREVOR: Did she really not tell you anything?

BEN: Not that I—no, no, nothing.

TREVOR: I don’t know what to tell you.

BEN: I should send her a message.

TREVOR: Oh, I wouldn’t.

BEN: I just… I need to know! God dammit, this was a date! A blind date, maybe, but like… Why do people even go on dates?

TREVOR: Lots of reasons.

BEN: We go on dates to get laid.


BEN: OK, maybe not to get laid right away, that night, but I mean, that’s the endgame, right? And I’m not just talking sex, I mean, we’re all looking for someone, right? Some connection? Romantically? So you come on a date, that’s what you’re looking for, and you know that’s what he’s looking for, what I’m looking for—

TREVOR: Did you make a move?

BEN: What if I did? We were on a date!

TREVOR: Not everyone is comfortable with—

BEN: Then she should have said something!

TREVOR: It’s not always that easy.

BEN: This is a crowded restaurant! What’s gonna happen?

TREVOR: Did you make a move on her, though?

BEN: Nothing… big. It’s just, how am I supposed to know? And that was early on, even. How am I supposed to know that was what did it? What if there was something else and I didn’t even pick up on it because she’s all programmed to placate when threatened? I mean, sure, yeah, she needs to protect herself, but, like, what’s the endgame here? Does she want to end up alone? Because if she goes around judging everyone for every little thing, she’s never gonna be happy. So why even go on dates?

TREVOR: You’re… I’m sorry, is that an actual question?

BEN: What’s the endgame here?

TREVOR: A more mature, respectful society.

BEN: A more mature, respectable society. Now how are we going to achieve that if I can’t learn from my mistakes? If my mistakes aren’t even pointed out to me?

TREVOR: Honestly?

BEN: Please.

TREVOR: That shouldn’t be her responsibility. She doesn’t know you. I mean, sure, you have friends, but like, seriously? Especially if you’re talking about making her analyze, like this, while she’s that uncomfortable, that shouldn’t be on her. You’re making this all about your feelings, but it’s not even about that. This is about safety.

BEN: This is about the appearance of safety.

TREVOR: There really isn’t a difference. Not really. Not when it comes to this.

BEN: Well, I’d like to thank you anyway, for taking the time to talk to me.

TREVOR: Well, like I said, didn’t want you sitting around all night sulking, right? But you’re welcome. And I really do hope that you find an answer to what’s bothering you. Just… do yourself a favor. Keep your distance from her. For now, at least. Give her some space. If you do have mutual friends, maybe ask around, but… can you do that?

BEN: I guess if that’s a step in the right direction, then…

That Phantom Touch

She stood at the funeral looking down at the coffin with the body in it. At the reception, she stood and listened to condolences.

Then afterwards, she stood by the grave again, now it was covered with dirt. She stood, but then she fell to her knees, quietly, carefully.

That’s when she felt it.

It was soft and subtle, but it was unmistakable. A light brushing of fingertips across the back of her neck. It was just like him almost as if he was—

But he wasn’t. He couldn’t be. There was nothing between her and the willow tree thirty feet away. Nothing but grass and gravestones.

She went home. Alone. In the rain. Some friends had offered to accompany her, but she told them no. She was fine. She was good. She could take care of herself.

She closed the door behind her, and there it was again, like he was taking her by the neck to spin her around for a kiss.

“Stop it,” she said, and the sensation ceased.

Was she talking to herself? Or had an outside force obeyed her?

She took a shower. She needed it—oh, but there it was again, the memory washing over her, comforting and warm and cleansing, before gathering and pulling down the drain. But were those hands upon her, encircling her, folding her into memorable embrace? A kiss on her shoulder? It couldn’t be, but couldn’t she just pretend?

For here? For now?

She hadn’t brought herself to sleep on the bed since it happened.

In the kitchen, she cut fruit. She wasn’t paying attention, though, and her hand slipped. Just before it happened, though, before she was going to slice herself open, she felt something in her other hand that made her move away.

It happened so fast, she could’t be sure of anything–Had some part of her seen the danger and self-corrected? Or was there something else?

Had the something else caused the danger by making her aware of it?

She sat on the couch. The TV was on, but the sound wasn’t. The case was next to her on the end table by the lamp, but the ring was on her finger.

It had all happened so fast.

“Are you still there?” she whispered into the silence.

There was no sound, just the flickering light from the screen.

“It’s okay,” she said, “It’s okay, really. It would…” She knew it wasn’t a good idea. She wasn’t sure how bad it was, but whatever it was, she knew that she deserved it. “If you’re still here,” she said, “Whatever you want, it’s all right.”

It started on the back of her neck, like it had before, like it always had. It massaged the top of her head—she could feel it in the tiny muscles even though it didn’t move her hair. It worked her shoulders and without thinking, she lowered the strap of her bra.

Should she move it to the bedroom? Surely they would be more comfortable. But no. She was comfortable here, and she was already going to feel guilty in the morning for cheating on her fiancé with a ghost.

The Dreamer in the Void

In the beginning, there was only the Void, and She was at peace.
There was silence in Her kingdom, and She knew the rest eternal.
She was at peace. She was serene. She was whole.

But then came the Dreamer.
He was Beyond the Veil, but She perceived Him there.
The fact that She could perceive anything at all was an annoyance.

But the Dreamer knew She was there, too.
And the Dreamer was bored.
The Void did not care that the Dreamer was bored.
But the Dreamer did care that the Void didn’t care.

All the Dreamer wanted was for His older sister to play with Him.
This is why He showed Her us, His Dreams.
To annoy His sister
into loving Him.

You Will Be Uncomfortable

If you are a woman
Living in the United States of America in 2017,
You Will Be Uncomfortable.
Eyes will always be on you.
Hands will always be reaching for you.
Sometimes they will touch
And sometimes their touch will not be gentle.

If you have dark skin
And live in the United States of America in 2017,
You Will Be Uncomfortable.
Eyes will always look away from you.
Strangers will cross the street to avoid you.
People will say things
And not all of them will be embarrassed at what they say.

If your love is unconventional
And you live in the United States of America in 2017,
You Will Be Uncomfortable.
You will be judged
And told that how you feel is a decision that you can change.
You can choose to hide, to lie about yourself,
But will that really make you any less

If you have a “disability”
Either mental or physical
And you live in the United States of America in 2017,
You certainly don’t need me to tell you
How Uncomfortable You Will Be
Always to be reminded that you are different.

But just because you are different,
Why should you be made to feel that way?

If you are a straight white man in 2017
Born in the United States of America
To a good home with supportive parents,
There is a very good chance
That you will be given every opportunity to prove your worth.
Some more than others, true,
But all of us more than them.
We will be seen as active subjects of our own sentences,
Given the benefit of the doubt, even armed in crowded spaces,
And not be told that to want what we want is in any way
Yet We, too, Shall Be Uncomfortable.
That’s just the way the world is.

Because the differences are fading,
The different are gaining ground
And when you’ve been in the lead for so long,
It’s hard to be told there’s no such thing as a race.
It’s Uncomfortable.
So if you are a straight white man in 2017,
Born in the United States of America,
Please learn to live with being Uncomfortable from time to time,
With being called out, with ceding power
To those who aren’t straight white American males.
We are all going to be
Or, at least, that’s the best we can hope for.

Blue State

I originally wrote this on November 9th, 2016. Still relevant, I guess.

I thought about not coming in to work today,
But then I remembered that I am a straight, white man
and have nothing to fear.
I thought about moving back to Belgium,
The country I grew up in and still call home,
Not because I have to
or even because I want to,
Not because I have a job lined up
or even know
what I would do
when I got there,
But because I was angry.
So instead, I went to work today,
In a blue state
Because angry white men will destroy this country
if we let them
(and maybe even if we don’t)
So I have a responsibility
As a straight white man
who has a job
who has a supportive family
who is in good health
To do what I can to break this cycle,
to be in the thick of it, the thicker and thicker it gets,
to use my voice
unfairly made louder than many that are better
As an echoing chamber
for messages of hope
for powerful diatribes
for attempts at edicts that call for manners
No matter how feeble
For there are things that are said about power
about great responsibility
about absolute corruption
And I will err on the side of compassion
every time.

You Are Mine

KATIE: Jimmy? Jimmy, oh my God! Where the fuck have you been? Everybody’s been looking for you!

JIMMY: I’ve been around.

KATIE: Around? Did you have your fucking phone off? What?

JIMMY: Lost it.

KATIE: You lost your phone? Shit. I’m sorry.

JIMMY: Yeah, I lost my phone when I crashed my car.

KATIE: Holy shit. Jimmy, I’m so sorry. What happened?

JIMMY: What do you care, anyway?

KATIE: What do I—what do you mean “What do I care?” I’m your girlfriend!

JIMMY: Oh, are you?

KATIE: Jimmy… Jimmy, you’re scaring me.

JIMMY: Yeah, I bet. I bet you’re scared. You prob’ly should be. See, I uh… I had a little talk this morning.

KATIE: A talk?

JIMMY: With Karl.

KATIE: Carl? Which Carl?

JIMMY: Don’t play dumb with me, you know damn well which Karl. He had some stuff to say.

KATIE: Like what kinda stuff?

JIMMY: He actually had some stuff to say about you.

KATIE: Well, Karl Damien is a fucking liar!

JIMMY: You gonna tell me you didn’t fuck him?

KATIE: Yeah. Actually, that’s exactly what I’m gonna say.

JIMMY: You’re really not good at this, you know. This lying. It’s your body, I think it just, I don’t know, maybe it’s whatever’s left of Karl that’s still inside you and wants to, wants to like—

KATIE: All right! All right, it was one time. I don’t know.

JIMMY: Oh! Oh, just one time. Oh, I see.

KATIE: It was one. Time. Jimmy.

JIMMY: It was three times. Hold on. You wait a second. I might even be able to tell you the dates, you ready for this? Don’t you walk away from me!

KATIE: What do you want from me?

JIMMY: How ‘bout some loyalty? How ‘bout some goddamn fidelity? How ‘bout you not sleeping around behind my back just ‘cause I got an internship the other side of the fucking country? How ‘bout that? How ‘bout that?

KATIE: I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you, but—

JIMMY: I didn’t want you to tell me! I wanted you to not fucking—Goddammit, Katie! Why?

KATIE: I don’t know why. I just… I’m sorry. You weren’t here and I needed…

JIMMY: Oh, you needed to. Oh, I see, now you needed to fuck some other guy?

KATIE: It just happened, OK? I’m sorry!

JIMMY: Listen to me. Listen to me, Katie, all right? Are you listening?

KATIE: I’m listening.

JIMMY: I’m the boss here, you got that?

KATIE: Excuse me?

JIMMY: Shut up when I’m talking to you! I am your man! You got that? I am your man which means you do not fuck any other men—

KATIE: Get off! You’re hurting me—

JIMMY: Oh, I’m hurting you now, huh? Oh, you like that? It’s not fun, is it? It’s not fun getting hurt.

KATIE: I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Jimmy, I’m so sorry!

JIMMY: Sorry isn’t good enough! God, do you have any idea…

KATIE: Jimmy…

JIMMY: You’re mine. You’re my girlfriend. You hear that? Do you feel me? You’re mine, means I can do what I want with you. Just like that. I can do what I want, and when you fuck me over like that, oh baby. Oh baby. I don’t need you anymore. And nobody else matters. Nobody else gets an opinion. You got that? You got that, Katie? ‘Cause you’re mine! Always.


When Brandon Kostley started at BertHold, he thought he had it made. Investment supervisors may lose a lot of money sometimes, but they never starve, least not the way he figured it. And on top of his great fortune getting that gig, practically his first day in the city, he happened to be seated at a restaurant next to Hank Hunt.

BertHold was a great company, don’t misunderstand, but Hank Hunt ran the city and had for like twenty years. that was what Brandon thought. Never mind Hunt’s twelve bankruptcies—after all, he always managed to get back on top. So with this man as his mentor, as he was after only a brief conversation, Brandon was confident he would soon be rich beyond his wildest dreams.

But then old man Bentley, the owner, died, leaving controlling interest and more to his grandson: Damian Bentley-Hoag.

If Hank Hunt was the most powerful man in the most powerful city in the world, Damian Bentley-Hoag was the most dangerous. Oh, most people wouldn’t think so, of course. Most people later on would insist he was a champion of the people, a real stand-up guy with a lot to offer, who offered it freely.

Here’s what made Damian Bentley-Hoag dangerous: he actually believed trickle-down economics, but not the way his peers wanted people believing in it. When he got an influx of money for the company, he turned right around and invested it—but not in the stock market, not in the banking system. He used it to actually buy new and better equipment, to hire more people, to give raises to the people on the bottom—and one time, he even used the extra cash to lower product prices. “We got a good product,” he said, “Not just somehting people want, but something they’ll use, something that’ll actualy work. i want people to buy it, real people. And I don’t want them going broke to do so.”

“But Damian,” one of the board members condescended, “What about us? What do we get out of this?”

“What exactly have you put into this?” asked Damian.

What followed was an enumeration of every one of that board member’s personal contributions to the company. It was very detailed, but for every monetary scheme, Damian had a moral riposte, until finally the board man insisted “I have put my soul into this company!”

“No,” said Damian, “you have put money into this company, and have gotten money in return. Your soul, as far as I can tell, is on a golf course in Hilton Head, and you are free to retrieve it at any time. The people who have put their souls into this company are the ones who found themselves too desperate to keep looking for something better and settled for working for my grandfather, and for you, who didn’t pay them enough.”

“You’re not going to get away with this,” the man on the board said.

Damian only looked at him, his elbows on the table, his left hand covering his right fist covering his mouth.

That board member was not invited to any more meetings.

“He can’t do that,” Hank Hunt insisted when Brandon brought the news to him.

“Actually, I’m afraid he can. He still owns the company, so he’s free to do whatever he wants with it.”

“Well, he’s not gonna get away with it.” Hunt’s face darkened. “I can tell you that much for sure.”

Then he dipped his fork into a mountain of kaviar.

The problem was, Damian did get away with it. He had been barely 21 and still in college somewhere overseas when he took over, but the boy had a knowledge of business and of politics that woudl drive most men mad. Maybe it had driven him mad, at that—but every decision he made was successful.

Meanwhile, the boy himself lived modestly, in a converted tenement in the Bronx, and commuted to Manhattan. The security in his apartment was supplemented by the fact that most of his bodyguards lived there, too, with their families, and even some of his low-level employees. He said it kept him honest, kept him in touch with the people who actually ran the company.

Most of his personal wealth, meanwhile, went directly to building the company.

“Who the hell does he think he is?” Hank Hunt asked, staring out the window of his Manhattan Penthouse past the gold-plated columns. “He’s a loser, that’s what he is. And he knows it, that’s why he lives like he does—he knows he can’t keep this up. He knows it!

“Somebody oughtta teach that asshole a lesson.”

Three days later, there was an explosion at the tenement, just over Damian’s own apartment. He wasn’t home—fortunately, neither were the folks above him. They were a nice Puerto Rican family he’d been sponsoring for citizenship, and he had taken them out for Chinese. No one else was hurt.

At first, it looked like a gas leak, they said. That was the police. But the fire department had a different story. Brandon Kostley didn’t come forward, though. He told himself he didn’t really know anything. It was all just speculation, after all. Second hand. Subjunctive.

There was an investigation, but the trail went cold.

But that was when something happened that was really unexpected.

Hank Hunt disappeared.

It was actually the perfect, classic locked-room mystery. He was shup up in his office, “Do Not Disturb” and all that, secretary outside the door, and suddenly no answer. He was just gone.

That was when Brandon Kostley came forward. It got him in a bit of trouble, not having revealed that Hunt had made his threat against Damian’s life, but the judge decided he was a good kid, who just didn’t want to tarnish the old man’s reputation. He was certain, though, he said, that Damian had something to do with the disappearance.

Well, based on that, there was an investigation, but the trial never made it past a hearing. There just wasn’t any evidence. After the trial, Damian was heard remarking a few times on the fact that Hank Hunt hadn’t even been put through that much, although there was some evidence there. But of course, it didn’t really matter.

Brandon had already left the company by then. He did it voluntarily; Damian insisted he wouldn’t fire a man for following his conscience.

One night, though, Brandon came home to find Damian in his kitchen with a very expensive bottle of wine Brandon couldn’t pronounce the name of.

“How did you get in here?” Brandon demanded.

“I thought it was high time we talked,” Damian told him, and poured the wine. Then he proceeded to make dinner.

“You see,” he told Brandon, “the business world, as it seems to me, is at odds with democracy. We stand on high here making decisions, and the people? What do they matter to us? They are trees our money grows on, and trees are not meant to make decisions. Our employees depend on us for their livelihoods, and our customers for the actual things that they need. But I’m here at the top. I’m the monarch. The way my grandfather put this company together, I get to make all the decisions. No one can stop me. My power is absolute.

“Does that mean I can get away with murder? No. It shouldn’t. But it does mean that I have every right to treat my employees fairly.

“You know what the best form of government is, Mr. Kostley?”

“Benevolent dictatorship?”

“I prefer the term ‘Enlightened Despotism’. That’s how I like to think of myself—which is a dangerous line of thinking, of course. But I figure it’s better than only thnking of myself, and not about the consequences of my actions.”

Whirlwinds of responses soon overwhelmed Brandon’s brain. Was he thinking of the consequences for his board members? For the business community at large? But then he remembered the kaviar and the gold-plated bathroom and his own childhood in the bad parts of Detroit.

It’s been quite some time since anyone’s heard from Hank Hunt. Now and then, it’s said he’ll be spotted by an associate or a member of the press in Thailand or Mogadishu or the Sarajevo slums. But the witnesses are never able to reach him, never even get close.

And in New York, Damian’s strategy is catching.

Freedom from Religion

JEAN-YVES: Adèle! Adèèèèle! Où es-tu?

ADÈLE: Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?

JEAN-YVES: Come down. Please? Please come down and talk to me.

ADÈLE: I can’t right now.

JEAN-YVES: Adèle, I swear to you—

ADÈLE: Mais putain! All right! Connard, va! What? All right, come on, spit it out.

JEAN-YVES: You can’t be with him.

ADÈLE: You’re gonna tell me what I can and can’t do?


ADÈLE: Oh, well, then, you’re the boss, I guess. Guess I’ll just swing by your place and walk around naked all day, cooking you snacks?

JEAN-YVES: This is not funny.

ADÈLE: Am I laughing?


ADÈLE: What? Muslim?

JEAN-YVES: Adèle, he doesn’t think of you as a person.

ADÈLE: He’s not l’espèce d’islamophobe misogyn standing on my doorstep telling me who I can and can’t date. Va te faire foutre, Jean-Yves.

JEAN-YVES: He doesn’t love you.

ADÈLE: And you do? Look at you. I must be the luckiest bitch in the world, to have you here to save from the big, bad muslim who’s gonna stand up to his own parents, who do not want him dating a non-muslim.

JEAN-YVES: And you think that’ll work out? You think you’re gonna stay non-muslim? You think he’s gonna put up with that forever? Oh, or do you think you’re going to change him, make him abandon his faith, stop practicing—

ADÈLE: I don’t need him to abandon his faith! I like his faith! His faith gives him morality—what have you got?

JEAN-YVES: You want to talk about morality? I don’t attack people just for believing in a different God!

ADÈLE: No, just for believing in a God at all.

JEAN-YVES: What, so now you’re suddenly religious?

ADÈLE: I’m not a bigot.

JEAN-YVES: But your boyfriend is.

ADÈLE: This, coming from you?

JEAN-YVES: What if there were more of them? Huh? What if there were more of them than us? You don’t think they’d be the ones persecuting?

ADÈLE: You really need to read up on this shit: Muslims aren’t allowed to persecute—

JEAN-YVES: Jews of Christians or Sabians, yeah, sure, that’s what they keep telling us, but look around—

ADÈLE: I am looking around, and I’m seeing Jews and Christians attacking Muslims, after which I’m seeing Muslims getting fed up and fighting back. They didn’t start this cycle of violence—

JEAN-YVES: But what if I’m not Jewish? Or Christian? Or whatever the fuck a Sabian is? What if I’m an Atheist? Their religion explicitly tells them to kill me—

ADÈLE: Where the fuck are you—Look it up! It says “anyone who kills another human being, it is as though he has killed all mankind”—

JEAN-YVES: And if you’d actually read that verse, you would know that you’re leaving something out, it says “if you kill someone except for murder or for spreading corruption”—so then you look at other places in the text, where it uses that word, “spreading corruption”, you know where they use that? Any time they are talking about people speaking out against Islam. That verse is blanket permission for Muslims to kill all the infidels who dare to defy them.

ADÈLE: Like Muslims are the only ones who do that!

JEAN-YVES: Atheists don’t!

ADÈLE: You’re telling me no atheist in the history of the world has ever killed someone for being religious?

JEAN-YVES: Name one!

ADÈLE: Josef Stalin!

JEAN-YVES: Putain de merde, va ! Josef Stalin was a dictator!

ADÈLE: And an atheist!

JEAN-YVES: C’est pas le même chôse !

ADÈLE: Ah, non? And how’s that? Bin Laden was a terrorist, but now suddenly all Muslims are terrorists, alors?

JEAN-YVES: You’re not going to be happy with him.

ADÈLE: Well, I’m definitely not going to be happy with you, donc…

JEAN-YVES: This is not about that.

ADÈLE: Isn’t it, though? If I were hooking up with a white guy, would you accept that? Or would you be jealous?

JEAN-YVES: Jealous? Sure.

ADÈLE: Alors, quoi ?

JEAN-YVES: I’m not jealous for you, Adèle. I’m afraid for you.

ADÈLE: Then I’m telling you it’s none of your business.