Tag Archives: Ohio

This we don’t need

It’s been a week since the attack on OSU campus. As you might imagine this particular act of violence struck a little closer to home than most. I’m an alum of OSU and live a few miles north of the campus.My dad is involved with campus ministry, as are some people I used to go to bible study with. While I don’t go down there as often as I used to, I did see a game with my wife earlier this fall, and I sometimes go for a sentimental walk to No. 1 Chinese, Used Kids Records or just down the Oval. I think of OSU as part of my home.

I’m grateful that people were not more seriously hurt and that the situation was able to be resolved in a short amount of time. Though things certainly seemed uncertain for most of Monday morning (I spent the day trying to get work done while listening to 10TV news feeds and Facebook Live press conferences) the actual incident was only about a minute.

Not long after the attack a friend of mine said on social media that he wasn’t looking forward to whatever hateful thing the President-elect was going to tweet on the subject. And sure enough, the Donald delivered:

ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2016
There are a lot of things wrong with this tweet. For starters, the motive of this 18 year old student will likely never be firmly known, and speculating is a destructive activity. Of course ISIS claimed credit. The attacker isn’t alive to contradict them, and it makes them look like they have more influence. Second, Columbus, Ohio has a thriving Somali community (who were among the first to condemn the attack). We have a legacy of taking in refugees for over 25 years. The president-elect may have won Ohio, but he didn’t win Columbus and he doesn’t know this city or have a right to speak for it.

But honestly it isn’t even Trump I want to talk about, but the people who are using this attack as an opportunity to advocate for a concealed or open carry policy on campus. This culminated today in a group of people parading around the campus carrying guns. Let me repeat. A week after a violent attack on a college campus, a group of non-students organized by a gun-rights activist from Cincinatti decided it was a good idea to march around with guns including assault rifles.

Now to be fair the students were notified, and the advocates were escorted by police the whole way. But this was far from a calm discussion of gun rights. When a professor questioned the group’s presence and said this wasn’t what the college needed, the gun-advocates questioned his citizenship. Lot’s of students are still dealing with the trauma and the fear of the last week. This community is still healing.

There was a lot of luck and providence in last Monday’s attack. A gas leak meant that an officer could be on the scene in less than a minute, and good training resolved the situation quickly. The school’s alert system notified everyone almost as the attack was happening, and the run-hide-fight protocol probably kept a number of students safe. One of the people injured by the attacker had military training, and even tried to grab the knife. There were heroic and well trained people on scene. The students were as prepared as any student population could be. And I believe God was there as well.

Here’s what a someone with a concealed carry permit would have added to that situation. Unless they had hours of extensive training dealing with active-attacker situation, there’s a decent liklihood they would not have drawn their gun, or fired it if they did pull it out. If they drew their gun and fired there is no guaruntee they would not have injured people besides the attacker. And when the officer came on scene they’d be adding another confusing element to a hot situation. Unless they were immediately compliant with the officer’s commands, they’d stand a decent likelihood of being shot themselves.

You may disagree with my assessment, and that’s fine. I know a lot of reasonable people who are gun enthusiasts. Maybe we can discuss it calmly in a month or two. But for right now, why don’t we spend our time having a national conversation about what OSU did to prepare for attacks like these, and praising the work of a fine young officer. Let’s not tar an entire community because of the actions of one person, and let’s stop waving guns around for a while.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

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The Sky Below (Chapter Nine)

Well, better late than never. Finished the last edits on my lunch break, so the eBook versions will be up a little later today. The next installment, Chapter 10, will probably be in three weeks as well since I need to spend next week writing a sermon on the book of Joel. That’s a pretty good apocalyptic book as well, though in that case with millions of locusts.

You can download the full eBook (Chapters 1-9) in Kindle, EPUB and PDF formats. Or you can go to the book’s landing page here.



“That’s surprisingly good,” Reverend Marcado said, biting his bottom lip after taking a sip from bottle number two. “I’m surprised this stuff lasted this long with all the boozers in this church.”

“Probably used to be a lot more where these came from,” the young man added, taking the bottle gratefully from Marcado. He took a long swig, brushed his lip and offered the bottle back to the father. Marcado accepted the outstretched bottle and took another long drink. He could feel the last little bit of liquid sloshing around in the end of the bottle and had to push down the temptation to finish it off. Even a drunk has a sense of fairness.

“I knew they were holding out on me,” he said, lowering the bottle and looking at it. “I mean, I did tell them I was an alcoholic, but you’d think they’d at least offer me a sip of the really good stuff. I mean, I can understand keeping a man from drinking the crap wines or Budweisers of the world. But this is some really good shit.”

“There’s no justice,” the young man said, “though I wouldn’t have pictured you for much of a drinker.”

“Well, isn’t that the way? We preachers are expected to know nothing about anything. It’s only the really pious bastards who say they know something about God without knowing anything of the world. Wouldn’t you think it’s the ones who’ve sinned a bit who’d have something to really say about sinning?”

“You’re probably right.”

“Of course I am. We all know that sin is bad even if all we say is that it doesn’t make us very happy. But we don’t listen to people who haven’t been through the same things we have, seen the world the way we see it. We want to, but we don’t. Only a man who knows what sin is can appreciate forgiveness.”

Marcado handed over the last sip, which the young man quickly knocked back before opening bottle number three.

“Take women for example. That’s something else we preachers are supposed to know nothing about right?”

“But aren’t you not supposed to have sex?”

“That’s a common misconception. That’s only certain denominations. My faith has always been okay with sex, since before I was preacher. I’ve got a wife and two kids, and I didn’t get them by immaculate conception if you catch my drift. I know a thing or two about women.”

“By my count at least two things,” the young man said, laughing and handing over the new bottle.

“People think I know nothing about sex just because I wear a collar and some baggy black robes. Those are just clothes. It’s you lot who make them holy. God doesn’t give a damn about the kind of stuff we wear. It’s not in the Bible that I’m supposed to dress a certain way, or keep myself from carnal knowledge. God made the pleasures of the world after all. It’s the uptight Christian assholes who make it a sin just to enjoy God’s design.”

“Is that how you met your wife, ‘by enjoying the pleasures of God’s design?’”

Marcado chuckled, “Sort of. I was in a bar near the seminary. The seminary was in a dry town, but there was a wet one just a couple of miles to the south. My friends and I used to go down there, trying to test our virtue against temptation as it were. The really wise man, he avoids temptation like the plague. God gives us the tools to combat sin if we ever actually encounter it, but you’re not supposed to go seeking it out. The devil is someone you can defeat if he happens upon you, but trying to go out and fight him yourself is still a pretty stupid idea.”

“Anyway, we were at this bar having a few when this really incredible woman walks through the door. I mean Eve to our Adam, like nothing we’d ever seen before. She sits next to us because that’s the safe place to be. I mean, who thinks a couple of divinity students are going to chat you up and try to take you back to the seminary, right? On the other hand some women like the forbidden fruit angle. They want to try and get us future priests to do something we’re not supposed to do.”

“Turns out the rest of my friends were better Christian soldiers than I was. I wanted to see exactly how far she’d go to try and take me off the straight and narrow. It might’ve looked like I was ignoring her, looking straight ahead while a beautiful woman straddles me and nibbles my neck. But she knew where it counted exactly what my priorities were. The body can’t lie about the way it’s feeling, no matter how much the mind might want it to.”

“This whole dance takes nine, maybe ten rounds of drinks. At some point I black out and wake up back in the dormitories alone. Now I’ve got confessional that morning, and not a lot of time to ask questions, so I throw on my clothes and run to church. All the while my head is pounding, my stomach is threatening to empty its contents and my brain keeps giving me hazy flashes of images and sensations.”

“I was sitting quietly in the box, hoping nobody would come by so I could be alone with my thoughts and my headache when I heard the door creaking. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was her. My memory of the evening and its specifics may have been hazy, but no one could have forgotten that voice. She had no idea I was behind the screen, and it took me a while to really focus on what she was saying. When I did I realized she was relaying the events of the previous evening, in every exquisite and gruesome detail.”

Marcado’s hands went to his throat, “I could barely breathe. It felt like I was still deep-down drunk, where you can’t feel anything but the faintest of sensations, and you have to press down extra hard to be sure you can even feel your own body. I don’t know how long she talked, but suddenly she said something that grabbed my attention. I pulled the screen aside, leaned forward and exclaimed for all the empty church to hear, ‘We did what?!’”

“What happened then?” the young man said, rapped with attention.

Marcado took a long sip and tilted his head back. “I think she slapped me. Or kissed me. Or both. Either way I got a second date, and then another. And the rest is history.”

* * *

One of the hardest things about being hit by a patient is resisting the urge to hit back. Patients hit you for a couple of reasons. Usually, it’s because something hurts, and the attack is an involuntary attempt to fight off that hurt. Occasionally, a patient becomes scared. There are so many tubes and wires connected to them that they just want them all out. Patients can even be scared by the bad things happening around them, like a whole building being upside down for instance.

But some patients are just assholes.

“Get your damn n—– hands off me!”

Kammie and Frank were struggling with an irate Mr. Deckland Thomas, trying to save his life despite his best efforts to convince them it wasn’t worth the trouble. The few stretchers they’d managed to round up didn’t have restraints, so they had to improvise. Patients were being wrapped tightly in sheets, then secured to the stretcher with duct tape. Right now Kammie was thinking about how much better the rest of her day would be if she put a piece of tape over Deckland’s mouth.

“Think about it this way, Mr. Thomas,” Frank said as he grabbed the squirming man by the forearms. “Most of your fellow racists lived in the southern states where there are a lot of open spaces. If you want to keep mindless bigotry alive you might want to stop struggling and let us help you.”

Whether it was Frank’s words or the fact that he’d slammed Deckland down hard enough to knock the wind out of him, the man had at least stopped struggling long enough for Kammie to do her job. Professionalism kept her from wrapping him tight enough to cut off circulation, but not from allowing the duct tape to stick to the hair on Deckland’s arms and legs.

With the stairwell inverted there were no guardrails to keep them from a careless step, only a thin lip of metal a couple of inches high. Grace had hopped down into the entryway to help the patients with IV’s start the climb. In an ideal world these people would have been carried instead of being forced to climb, but Kammie simply didn’t have enough hands.

Ten patients were able-bodied enough to help, though most had sustained some sort of shoulder or head injury when the world went topsy-turvy. Frank had stitched her hand up as best he could, but it was still going to hurt like ten hells to lift anybody. Counting herself and Frank they could carry six beds at a time, meaning they needed to leave two people behind for the next trip.

Frank had suggested they draw straws for the two people who would have to wait, but Kammie shook her head. This was a triage situation like any other. Kammie moved over to Margie’s side where she was still laid out on a couch waiting for a stretcher. Her breathing was slow, but steadier. Pulse was still low, however, and she was unresponsive as Kammie took her hand.

Like it or not there were people with a better chance of survival than Margie. And the shaking seemed to have eased for the moment, so there was really no reason to believe they wouldn’t be back for her. Kammie gave Margie’s hand a squeeze, kissed her on the forehead, then moved on to the next patient.

With the help of the other patients they had eight mummies in the space of about twenty minutes. Margie and Mrs. Rosen, who was in a coma, were laid out in the lounge all set to travel. Frank put a reassuring hand on Kammie’s shoulder. “We’ll get the others up three flights then come back for these two.”

He gestured to the two nearest helpers. “Barry and … I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name?”

A stocky woman in her mid-thirties replied, “Frieda.”

“Frieda, right. You two up for coming back down with us?”

“Depends,” Barry said, “Can you take it out of my bill?”

Frank laughed, “Friend, somehow I think this stay is on the house.”

The patients who were carrying stretchers jumped down two at a time, grabbing people as Frank and Kammie slid them out. Movement was slow, as the people at the front of each pair were being asked to walk upside-down and backwards.

“Feel each step with the back of your heel and just move nice and easy,” Frank called out from the back of the line. “You guys facing forward be careful not to push your partner backwards.”

“Make sure you can make it the next floor before starting each flight of stairs,” Kammie added. “If you need to take a break, wait till you are on flat ground and move off to the side. Don’t be tough or in a hurry. It’s better to take a five minute break then to get the rest of us stuck in the middle of a climb.”

The stairwell was hot and everyone was breathing heavily. Several pairs heeded Kammie’s instructions and moved over for a breather after the first set of stairs, though most were eager to press on. The rumble which had died down was starting up again. A couple of patients gasped as the floor began shaking beneath their feet. The only earthquakes Ohio had ever experienced in recent memory were due to hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania, and those had been pretty mild. This shaking on the other hand was getting everyone’s complete attention.

“It’s alright,” Frank called out. “Let’s just keep moving nice and easy.”

But the rumbling wasn’t stopping. It started as a small vibration, like your feet waking up after they’ve been asleep. Rumbling turned to shaking. Shaking turned to rocking. And rocking turned to thundering. Kammie caught the flicker of a blue hospital gown before she heard the scream. It happened too fast for her to see who it was, or to do anything but watch.

“Hug the wall!” Frank shouted.

The world was falling around her. The building was shaking so violently that it was impossible to tell if they were even still attached to the ground above. Kammie tried to stay as far away from the edge, but the walls kept leaping out as if to knock her off balance. There were more screams, one of which was probably hers.

Miraculously the shaking stopped almost as quickly as it had begun. But something was wrong. The air was suddenly cooler than it had been a moment ago. The space that had been cramped and hot was now open and airy. Kammie was simultaneously grateful for the relief, and apprehensive about its cause. She didn’t dare lean too far, for fear of spilling her charge over the side, but she had to know.

The stairs went down for a flight below them, then abruptly cut off into perfect blue sky. She imagined if she stared down she could see the shadow of the top of the building still tumbling down and away from them. The whole floor was gone, as well as the five floors above it. Grace’s mother, Mrs. Rosen, Margie and countless others were right now falling to their final resting place out among the stars.

Some of the patients above her were starting to cry. All Kammie wanted to do was scream. She could have, nobody would judge her. She’d lost her friend, lost her nurses, lost her safe silent space and all the things that seemed to make life worthwhile. But she didn’t scream. She mustered up the most cheerful voice she could manufacture and said, “Alright, let’s keep moving.”


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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The Sky Below – The Story So Far

It’s been about a month since the last installment of The Sky Below so I thought it might be a good idea to catch everybody back up to speed before tomorrow’s Chapter 7.

*SPOILER WARNING – Contains content from the first six chapters of The Sky Below*

The Sky Below follows the immediate aftermath of a world-wide disaster from the perspective of four residents of Cleveland, Ohio. Gravity has gone all higgledy-piggledy and what was down now is up, and vice-versa.

A morning of silent prayer and study is interrupted for Reverend Marcado when the world is flipped upside-down. He rescues a young man who was visiting the historic Old Stone Church, but unfortunately is unable to save the man’s girlfriend, Stacey. Marcado is an alcoholic, who came to the church when the booze wasn’t working for him anymore, but it’s hard to see God’s plan in a cataclysm like this one. The two men are currently wandering through the church basement which is now its highest point, searching for an entry into the sewers and possible survival. Marcado has no idea where his wife and two children are, or whether they are still alive.

Eddie is a baseball player at the end of his career. After striking out at bat he watches from the dugout as everyone watching the game, including the next man at bat, starts falling into the skies. In a matter of minutes Eddie and his teammates watched tens of thousands of people die. It’s unclear how many people were in the inner part of the stadium when the calamity hit, or if anyone managed to hang on out in the stands, but Eddie and his group decide it’s best to act first for themselves. They strike out in search of food and a means to protect themselves when they encounter a young man who pulls a gun on them, demanding food and help for his injured sister. The scene takes a disastrous turn when the young man kills one of their teammates triggering a savage beating that ends with Eddie putting three bullets into the young man’s chest.

Bethany is a lawyer getting a cup of coffee and a donut in the mall when the world turns on its head. Her sister Grace has been living in her apartment for the last three weeks as the two try to care for their dying mother. Circumstance throws her together with Claudia, the woman behind the counter at the Dunkin Donuts and her co-worker Jared who is badly injured. The two women carry Jared into the back offices behind the store while Bethany tries to get a hold of her sister, who was trying to reach her before the disaster struck. Bethany and Claudia are forced to abandon Jared when they witness a gang of looters stabbing the manager of a sporting goods store. They hope to return with first aid equipment and some kind of climbing gear, though they suspect Jared may have to fend for himself.

Kammie is a nurse at a downtown Cleveland Hospital, taking a break in a supply closet after a 13 hour shift. She encounters Grace, Bethany’s sister, and learns that their mother died shortly before the disaster struck, a fact of which Bethany is unaware. Grace helps Kammie take care of Margie, a nurse and mentor, then the two sweep the rooms of the floor looking for survivors. While some have been crushed beneath falling debris or other injuries, there are at least half a dozen patients alive and well on the floor. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the other nurses, who died falling through a hole in the skylight of their break-room. Kammie cut her hand crawling from room to room, and will probably need to stitch it herself if she can find the supplies. She worries for her cat Alomar, though suspects he’s probably better able to take care of himself than her.

Chapter 7 continues Kammie’s story as she looks for a way to get the patients to safety. Tune in tomorrow!

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The Sky Below (Chapter Six)

Well, it’s been a few weeks but the new chapter is finally here. If you’re wondering what the heck this story is all about, you can start from the beginning here, or download the whole book including the new chapter here. As always you can get to the main landing page for this book by clicking the cover on the right, or by clicking here.

WARNING: This chapter contains some offensive language and violence. For more information see last week’s post.

Can’t remember what last happened with our baseball player or the good reverend? Check out the second half of Chapter 3 for where we left Reverend Marcado, and check in with Eddie in Chapter 4.



The basement was hardly as Reverend Marcado remembered it, to the point he hadn’t been entirely sure it was there. Though he was at the church daily, most of his time was spent either in the sanctuary or his office. The AA meetings he attended once a week used to meet down there, but that was at least a decade before his time. This particular church basement was like any other, relics of decades of church plays scattered amongst old choir robes and stacks of retired hymnals and Bibles, all covered in a thin layer of dust. The unceremonious flipping of ceiling and floor had littered their path with all sorts of random fabric, torn pages, and broken props.

He had no idea where he should go next. The basement was a labyrinth, as most church basements are. Somewhere would be a service closet that should have the sewer access that was their next logical step, but Marcado suspected it would take hours of wandering randomly through these corridors to find it. Marcado and his young companion walked slowly and silently, the younger man shuffling in a daze, the older lost in thought. Disasters were like that. In the moment things are moving too quickly for you to do anything but act on instinct. But after the immediate moment of danger there is so much time and silence.

Marcado was thinking about his wife and daughters, something he hadn’t had time to do while he was counseling this young man. The kid at least had the certainty that his girlfriend was dead and maybe in a little while the comfort that there was nothing he could have done about it. Marcado was not so fortunate. He didn’t know if he should be mourning his family, or desperately trying to find them.

Like most professional men, Marcado saw the world and what was happening in it largely in terms of its relation to himself. He was going to be at the church until the late afternoon, so he didn’t need to remember the movements of his wife or his children unless it directly affected him. What did it matter if his wife went to the store or the mall, or if she had just stayed home as long as he knew where they’d be when he got home?

His children’s lives were fairly regimented between school and extra-curricular activities, but what if one of them had become sick during the night and stayed home? He hadn’t seen them since about 9pm last night. In the early morning he’d made coffee for himself, eaten breakfast alone, and left without waking anyone, not even turning a light on in the kitchen, like a thief in the night.

If his wife hadn’t left the house then she might already be dead. The foundations of this old church were already beginning to creak ominously. A two-story home, even one with a basement, wouldn’t hold up long under these conditions. Even if she had wedged herself in the crawlspace, she would probably only have extended her life by a couple of hours.

His eye caught the open page of one of the fallen hymnals and he chuckled bitterly to himself. The foundations of faith may be built on the word of God, but even stone buried into bedrock wouldn’t hold against these forces for long.

His children were probably in school and safe in the care of others. They might even have an easier time getting into the sewers than he was having in this maze of a basement. If his wife … If Rachel … had gone out she might be safe as well.

But what if they were dead and he was left alive? What was he supposed to do then? What were any of them supposed to do? Marcado had never contemplated suicide, but there were times in his life when he hadn’t been particularly interested in living. There’s a hole in everyone that needs to be filled with something for us to be complete. Marcado had tried the bottle first, and when that finally didn’t work he tried God. God gave him a wife, a family and a purpose, and now he’d taken it all away.

Some people would consider it blasphemous to be angry with God. Everything that happens is part of his plan, meaning that everything terrible happens for a reason. Some people are comforted by the notion that bad things are either part of a divine plan, or punishment for sin. Marcado had a different view. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen in the world, he just makes the best of a lot of bad situations, starting with us. But sometimes it was okay to be pissed off at God for not stepping in sooner. God wanted to have a relationship with his creation, and people in relationships fight.

So how was God going to make the best of this bad situation? Was Marcado supposed to save this unbelieving kid, all while skirting around the issue of his girlfriend having died without faith? What kind of salvation did he exactly have to offer? The world seemed to be operating on Old Testament logic again.

“I thought only Catholics used the real thing,” the young man said abruptly.

“Excuse me?” Marcado said, shaking his head out of a thick fog.

“This,” the young man said, holding up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. “Must’ve survived the fall by landing on someone’s old vestments.”

Marcado scanned the small pantry and found several other bottles and a jagged corkscrew dangling from the wall. Like everything else in the basement, this little corner had been long forgotten.

The young man frowned, “I probably can’t drink any of these, can I?”

Marcado shook his head, “That’d only be a problem if the bottle was specifically blessed, which typically doesn’t happen until shortly before the service. And we haven’t used real wine for communion in all of the years I’ve been preaching here. They’re probably older than you are.”

“Hey, anything’s good as long as it’s not Manischewitz,” the young man exclaimed.

Marcado chuckled, “People still drink that stuff?”

The young man nodded, “Mostly college students trying to show a sophisticated side on an unsophisticated dollar. Better than a 36 pack of Nattie light I suppose.”

Marcado had been more of a whiskey man himself, but like all good alcoholics he’d known times of not being choosy. Without realizing it, he noticed he’d been holding one of the bottles in his left hand, finding the familiar weight an odd comfort.

“What d’ya say rev? A toast to the end of the world?”

Leaving aside the fact he hadn’t had a drink in eight years, he didn’t think it was the best idea to dull his senses when they were having a hard enough time finding solid ground. Even when the rest of the world was falling away, sobriety and faith were things he could hold onto.

“Yeah,” Marcado nodded, “I could use a drink right about now.”

* * *

“Ya think ‘cause this jersey has my number on it, I’m entitled to it, right?” Franklin asked as he pulled hangers off a flipped circular rack.

“You want the child sizes,” Conesta said. “They’re in the corner behind the t-ball sets.”

“Fuck you,” Franklin said casually as he kept flipping through. “Hey, Eddie! I think I found one of yours.”

He held the shirt up and examined the tag, “You’re in luck, Eddie. It’s marked down 95% clearance so it practically isn’t even stealing.”

“Knock it off, Franklin,” Manny said impatiently. Franklin just kept chuckling at his own joke.

“We’re not here to loot,” Stankowsky interjected. “A souvenir shop is not a place to find food.”

“Not unless you like big league chew,” Conesta quipped.

Franklin stuck out his tongue, “That stuff’s worse than chewing on toe-jam. Where do they get off claiming that stuff tastes like grape?”

“I’m sure there are trace amounts of grape, and 79% used shoe leather,” Conesta retorted.

Stankowsky just shook his head, “Come on, there’s a concession stand just around the bend.”

Franklin picked up the bat he’d leaned against the rack, but not before stuffing a couple of the jerseys into his bag. He tossed Eddie the jersey he’d found, laughing and patting him on the shoulder as he passed. Eddie rolled the jersey around his hand before letting it fall in a tight crumple.

The concession stand was a mess. Popcorn from oversized poppers had spilled all over the floor, mixing with a noxious looking yellow substance. Conesta picked his shoe up in disgust. “What the hell is this stuff?”

“Nacho cheese,” Eddie offered.

“Yuck! Better it’s on the floor. That stuff always tasted like warm jizz anyway,” Conesta said, scraping his shoe against the pricing board.

“And you know this from personal experience?” Franklin asked.

Eddie cracked a smile. He didn’t like vulgar humor especially, but right now it was just good to get a laugh from something.

The pricing sign was soon torn away from the ceiling and tossed casually on top of the layer of nacho cheese and popcorn. The plastic creaked with every step as they piled behind the counter. Most of the hot dogs had been in sealed steamer containers. Eddie wasn’t too sure how long the dogs had been soaking in their own juices, but he was too hungry to care. He cracked one of the latched doors, letting the juice and hot steam flow out onto the floor and mix with rest of the mysterious liquids at their feet.

Once the stream had stopped, he slid a dog out into his palm and latched the door shut again. The dog tasted thin and limp, but it sat somewhat satisfactorily inside his stomach. The rest of the guys started taking dogs out for themselves, finally dumping the contents into a flipped over baseball cap.

Everyone ate with abandon, with no thought to rationing or to the limits of their stomachs. With no refrigeration the dogs would spoil in half a day anyway, so it was better to eat what they could now. It was the best meal any of them were going to have for a while.

They hadn’t given any particular thought to their surroundings, or to the noise they were making. Most of them had dropped their bats against the back wall, far out of reach. When a quiet voice asked them for a hot dog they didn’t even hear it at first.

The gunshot that followed was heard by all.

A young teenager, not older than 15 or 16 was holding a pistol unsteadily in their direction. His first shot had embedded itself in the wall about six inches from Franklin’s head. Rather than being scared, or grateful for being alive, Franklin was furious.

“You nearly killed me, you little shit!” Franklin spat.

The kid’s aim was shaky; the gun was twitching to the side every few seconds from trembling hands. An unlucky spasm might cause the gun to go off again.

“I said I want a hot dog,” the kid replied with surprising bravado, even for someone holding a gun.

“Where the fuck did you get the balls to fire that thing anyway, cause yours certainly haven’t dropped!”

Franklin had more to say but Belanchek put up an arm to silence him. “It’s alright, there’s plenty for everyone.”

“The hell there is!” Franklin said, “Who’s he to threaten us?”

“He’s not threatening,” Belanchek said calmly, “he asked nicely before and just lost his patience a bit. Isn’t that right son?”

The young man’s grip was loosening slightly, but Eddie could see the tension in his shoulders. Unless the kid had somehow snuck the gun past security, there was only one way he could have his hands on one now. A closer glance at the kid’s shirt and knuckles gave some hint as to how he had come by the weapon.

“My sister’s hurt. She needs something to keep her strength up. I just need some food and maybe a little water so I can help her.”

“Bullshit,” Franklin said, “We’re supposed to buy whatever sob story you make up just because you’re waving a gun in our faces.”

The kid lowered his gun a few inches, “I’m sorry about that. I just … look she’s really hurt.”

“I bet you don’t even have a sister. I bet you just want to stuff your face, you fat fuck,” Franklin said.

The kid’s grip tightened again, “Are you gonna help me or not?”

“You want a hot dog so bad? How about you suck my….” Franklin was cut-off mid-sentence by the top of his head splattering against the wall. He’d had more colorful things to say, but at least he’d gotten his general point across before sliding into a lifeless heap amidst the hot dog juices.

Conesta screamed in anger and grabbed the kid’s arm. The gun fired wildly, ricocheting off the metal grill and refrigerator before striking Stankowsky in the arm. Belanchek stepped forward and chopped down hard with his right hand into the back of the kid’s elbow, loosening his grip and sending the gun clattering to the ceiling.

Stankowsky was running on adrenaline, not even noticing the new hole in his arm as he picked up a bat. He held the bat by the middle and swung wildly at the boy’s ribs. The young man crashed into Conesta under the force of the new onslaught. Conesta managed to roll out from under the kid while Stankowsky took a few steps forward to stand over him. The boy lifted his left arm to protect himself, which Stankowsky swiftly broke with his next swing.

The blows fell quickly after that, alternating between the ribs, knees and any available soft tissue. Conesta had regained his feet and picked up his own bat, joining in on the festivities by shattering the boy’s right collarbone before swinging the bat down hard on his throat.

Belanchek pushed Conesta back but the damage had been done. His last blow had collapsed the kid’s windpipe. His eyes bulged from lack of air and he convulsed violently, each jolt of pain from his freshly broken bones sending him into a new fit of spasms.

Eddie picked up the gun, the grip sticky with yellow slime. He raised his arm calmly, and without a word fired three rounds into the kid’s chest. With a final spasm the kid kicked up and collapsed back, dead.

Eddie handed the gun to Manny and quietly took the bat from Stankowsky. The ball in Stankowsky’s throat looked like it was about to burst its way out. He just kept staring blankly at the slowly growing pool of blood as it started to mix and swirl with the yellow liquid on the floor. As he kept staring, Eddie pulled one of the jerseys out of Franklin’s bag, tore a section out of the middle, and started to dress Stan’s arm.


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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