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Chapter #26

Declan 2.0 (The Long And Winding Road)

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“Ayieee!” I woke up, throwing my back against the
tree trunk. A viper was flicking his tongue mere
inches from my face.
Okay, okay he was a couple of feet away, but “Aye!”
The stick was in his face like that, and it must have
scared him because he dropped and slithered off into
the desert.
I caught my breath and stood up on my aching legs. I
walked away from the tree staring up at its low
branches just over my head. There was more fruit
than leaves. And only one snake, fortunately. Well,
two if I include this one. I pulled out my viper and
peed on a small cactus. There were several of them
growing all around the small tree.
Wow, they're peyote cacti. I looked back at the tree
and recognized it. The time tree was growing right
there in front of me. I went over and touched it,
hoping it might transport me to better place
somehow, but nope. I squeezed the branch,
remembering the ole saying, “That which you touch is
all that is real. If it's true then, all that exists, is me,
this tree, and my aching feet. Oh yeah, and my need
to eat.”
As hungry as I was, I didn't want to eat any time tree
fruit. Tripping was about the last thing I needed to
I started walking away towards the road and decided,
maybe I would put some of those crazy ass fruits in
my pocket. Never know, I might be able to sell them
down the road, but when I turned around, the tree
was gone.
And so was the moment.
Oh, well.

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So, I headed west again. I could see a couple of small
rooftops behind some low desert trees a ways off in
the distance. I headed straight for them for about two
hours. As I got closer, I began noticing some other
details. There was a small steeple about halfway up a
low-pitched hill just around the bend and a store
with a residence on top of it just ahead on the right,
and a small trailer park across the street and down a
Yeah, it looked like I was approaching a small village.
The two-story store had a small sign with an arrow
on top of it out front that read, “Hey Joe's quick stop
and laundromat.” I made my way to it with no plan.
At least there's shade. Maybe somebody'll feel sorry
for me and give me some water and something to eat.
I made my way across the small parking lot and up
on a small covered walkway in the front of the
laundromat. There was an old sign hanging by its
corner dangling in the window that read, “Drop off
service available.” I walked in the open door and
hung it back up straight and turned around with
aching legs.
A short little round woman was busy folding clothes.
She looked up at me and said, “Can I help you?”
Embarrassed I said, “Maybe. I need to earn some
“Yeah,” she answered. “I got a machine over there
that's leaking water every time I turn it on. Think
you can fix it?”
I was hungry. And I am a plumber’s helper. “I can fix
about anything,” I told her.
She looked down and murmured, “Well, hop to it,
then.” I could tell she had her doubts.
And so, did I, but I asked if she had some tools I
could use. She shook her head and pointed to a
closet door in the back of the small place, and I went
right to work. My legs and feet were aching, so I got
down on my knees, but that hurt too.

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I’d never fixed a washing machine before, but I
figured I could probably find a leak. A few moments
later, I found a seal that had broken on a valve. So, I
took it off and showed it to her. Told her we'd have to
get another one and with a warm smile of approval
she said, “Come on.” She waved her hand for me to
follow her.
We went out the laundromat door and into the
grocery store right next door. And she said, “Hi,
Honey,” to the clerk behind the counter.
He blew her a kiss and said, “How are you, Oh, love
of my life?”
She smiled back at him as she proceeded to a
counter on the backside of the store. She gestured up
a VeeM and said, “Here, print out whatever you need.
I'll be next door.”
Then she walked behind the counter and kissed the
man and began talking to him about something. I
don't know I was flipping through the Maytag parts
catalog. I found the right seal and then waited for it
to print. Shortly thereafter, I had the machine up and
running. She said, “I'm sure glad that's fixed,” as she
walked around the counter by the front door and
VeeMed up her Cryptoklayten account and said,
“What? You don't have a com?”
Embarrassed again, I shook my head no.
“Do you have a Cryptoklayten account?” She asked
shaking her head a little.
Again, I shook my head no.
She made a frowny face and mumbled under her
breath, “Well, I never.” as she walked over to a
change drawer and started sifting through it. Then
she said, “All I have is a few laundromat coins.”
I told her, “I'd be happy if you just gave me some food
and something to drink right now.”
She said, “Well, here, take these and go next door
and tell Joe I said to fix you up with a couple of hot
dogs and something to drink.”

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I said, “Thanks, I'm so hungry I could die.”
She must've seen the look in my eyes because her
facial expression suggested that she felt sorry for me.
She said, “Well, come back over here after ya eat
something, and I might have a couple other chores
for you.”
“Oh that'd be great,” I said. I walked next door and
told Joe to fix me up with a couple of hot dogs on his
girlfriend’s account. He turned around with dreamy
eyes and explained, “That's my new wife. Isn't she
wonderful?” Then he handed me two of the nastiest
hot dogs that I had ever seen. They were fucking
blue! The dogs in the buns were black and blue with
ketchup and mustard squirted on them. He pulled up
a spoonful of sauerkraut and asked if I'd like some on
my dogs. I told him to put the lid back on it. The
smell was making me ill.
I pointed at the hot dogs and stated, “Really? You're
not serious, are you?”
“What?” he replied as he shrugged his shoulders and
turned his palms up.
“Dude, the franks are fucking blue. How old are
His eyebrows squinted up with confusion as he
explained, “It's just food coloring. There for prostate
cancer awareness.”
“Well,” I said, “I'm aware now, aren't I?” Then I looked
down at the hot dogs and took a bite out of one of
them. It wasn't bad, and I was starving.
Making small talk, I asked Joe how long him and the
Laundry Mat Queen were together. This was a big
mistake. He told me that they'd been married for a
couple of months and then proceeded to grind my
ears off by telling me how great she was my gosh. I
never met a man so in love in my life. He was Lola
this and Lola that and Lola, Lola, Lola.
He opened up the till and gave me a few stollars. And
then he made himself a hot dog and stunk up the

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place with extra sauerkraut and continued telling me
what a wonderful woman he married with very strong
breath. It about knocked me down, and I had to get
out of there.
I told him, “Good day,” and I walked next door and
said, “Congratulations on the recent marriage, Lola.”
She said, “Yeah, yeah, Joe's alright I guess. He wants
to have a couple of kids, but I'm not really ready.”
I felt like I already knew enough about their
relationship, so I changed the conversation sharply. I
asked, “You said you might have some more work for
She looked over at an old dilapidated auto-mop and
said, “Tell ya what, you sweep and clean this floor up
properly, and I'll feed ya dinner tonight and give ya
some of these old clothes I got laying around here.
They might not be much, and they maybe a little out
of style, but least they’re clean.”
“Ya know, people don't leave behind much these
“You got a deal,” I said politely. I'd seen a putty knife
in the toolbox earlier and took it out and scraped god
knows what off the floor and swept everything real
nicely. Then I mopped it couple of times really good,
and Lola seemed quite pleased.
Wanting to please my new and only friend for miles, I
told her, “You know, that old auto-mop could
probably still put a shine on the floor. It doesn't take
much to spin the buffers and squirt solution. It'd
probably do a fine job with some new buffing wheels.”
She was gazing at the floor just beaming with joy.
She said, “Yeah, okay. Just go and tell Joe I said we
need them, and he'll open up our account on and print them out.”
“Great!” I said, all proud. I was so happy that she was
happy, and dinner was in the bag. I walked joyfully
next door, and there was another customer in front of
me printing out a pizza. So, I stood there behind the

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little lady. I stood up on my toes then down a couple
of times. I was full of energy, and I started to make
some small talk with her when all of sudden Joe
angrily blurted out, “What are you so happy about,
hot dog boy?”
He was red in the face. I sensed he was jealous. I
said, “Nothing, just glad I could help out, that's all.”
The woman printing out the pizza in front of me said,
“Ah la, la penyo sin gringo ah lalala.” Or something
like that. It was definitely Spanish, but I know very
little Spanish. I know cervasa, and bonita senorita,
burrito, taco, and frijolds, but that's about it.
He answered her and lightened up a bit. He said,
“She wants to know who the handsome new guy is.”
I looked at her pretty face, and into her smiling eyes
and said, “Buenos dias, senora. I am Declan,” patting
my chest with an open palm and repeating, “Declan”
real slowly for her. She was a little bitty thing with a
nice body. She was looking me over, and when she
smiled, I noticed one of her teeth was set at a slight
Joe said, “She's one of my renters. Works in town a
few miles away.”
She said, “Yoyoyah rrrumba la toneya bonya pincha
pie sown ala con Yagh benito.”
“Yeah, well... I don't know,” I replied. The printer
dinged, signaling that her pizza was ready, and she
smiled, and I said, “Nice to meet you.”
“Buenos dias, Declan” she replied as she made her
way out the door. She had a tight, round butt, and I
watched it walk out the door and hop into a newer
model roloball with a bright pink inner carriage. She
brushed her long, thin, brunette hair out of her face
and put it in a ponytail then looked up and saw me
watching her. She smiled and waved, then sped
Joe opened the catalog and put in his account
information, then I cycled through the buffer

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selections and picked one. Joe was giving me dirty
looks, and I knew it'd take a while for them to print
out. I wanted to go next door and visit with my new
friend, but Joe's jealousy bothered me. I told him, “I'll
be out front here just let me know when it's done.” I
smiled at him as I walked by. The friendly gesture
found no return.
I walked outside and sat down on the curb. I stared
out at the clear blue sky and then lowered my eyes
and looked around at the trailer park across the
Funny, I wasn't worried at all about the NSA or any
other agency finding me way out here. I laughed to
myself. Sync world updates are probably an annual
event around this place. I noticed the only security
camera in the store had a Marlboro display in front of
it. I know small town folks don't like big brother
watching them one bit. That was probably why people
lived way out here in the middle of nowhere.
I'd blow my brains out. I'd hate having to live way out
here. That'd suck.
Hmm, I might have to get used to it. Where else am I
going to go? Yeah, I might just have to get used to it.
This was a horrible thought. About that time, the
door opened, and Joe grumbled, “Your buffer pads
are ready.”
So, I got up and did what I had to do. I put them on
the old auto-mop and poured in some fresh solution
after emptying out the old crap that had sludged up
and clogged a filter. I turned it on and Lola and I
watched it polish the floor with some measure of
excitement. A couple of people sitting around waiting
on their laundry also smiled and gave their approval.
Lola gave me some clothes and pointed to a small
bathroom in the back. She said, “You can change
back there.”
I put on some shorts and a T-shirt. The shirt was
worn but comfy and loose-fitting the way you want a

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T-shirt. It was blue with a vintage, Quantum Cat logo
on it, a genetically modified cat lady carrying a bikini
chair and wearing a red one-piece at the beach. They
do make the best bikini chairs around.
I came out and handed her my slacks, my dress
shirt, and my jacket and said, “Can you clean these
for me?” I handed her a couple of the coins she'd
handed me earlier. It'd be nice to have a change of
She said, “Of course, now, you come on over around
six o'clock tonight and I'll feed ya some dinner. Just
go up the stairs on the back of the building and
knock. I'll be in the apartment. I'll have Joe cook us
up something good to eat.”
“Thanks, and I'll be there.” I felt bewildered with
nothing to do, alone and in strange place for the rest
of the day. Whoa, maybe the rest of my life!
I walked out and up the street. Put my hand in my
pocket and pulled out a couple of the left-over
laundromat coins that Lola had given me and the few
stollars that Joe handed me and looked down at
What am I supposed to with these? I looked around
and there was nowhere to even spend what little
money I had been given. Nowhere but the stupid
laundromat and Hey Joe's quick stop, where I got
them from. I decided to walk up the small hill and
look around. Get the lay of the land and figure out
my next move, as if I had one. God, what I wouldn't
give for just one normal day.
I walked up the long and winding road, thinking I'd
rather be back in the jail house. I don't know how
anybody could live way out here in middle of
nowhere. I sat down on a mesquite stump to rest my
weary legs just over the top of the small incline.
Sweat ran down my face. I contemplated life. What a
strange thing it is. A strange and wonderful thing.

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I got up and started walking up a steep, mostly
barren hillside, just scrub brushes scattered around
like the rest of the desert, and about halfway up I
passed the church on the hillside, the one that I’d
seen earlier when I was walking down the highway. It
looked like it'd been abandoned for years. The paint
was peeling up and the windows were busted out.
There was a black smiley face spray painted on the
side of the faded white building that had x's for eyes
and underneath it the words, “Death, we deny he
exists then practice his follies.”
Well, that's kind of weird.
I walked up and peeked inside one of the broken,
stained-glass windows. The inside was in disarray.
The pews were this way and that way and some of
them were turned over. It looked like there was once
a small fire in the far back corner. I looked over at the
altar and saw a statue of Jesus wearing a worn,
straw cowboy hat and dangling from a hangman's
I'm sure it was just adolescent kids, but come on,
have some respect.
Disgusted, I turned and continued up the barren hill
and looked out over the tiny village. I could see the
highway that I had walked down stretched out in
both directions as far as my eyes could see. There
was the small trailer park across from Joe's quick
stop with a dirt road running beside it. There were
rooftops and small, dried-up ranches and dirt farms
peppered throughout the area and a small feed and
supply store on the adjacent intersection across from
the trailer park. I couldn't tell if they were open for
business or long out of business. The building was
pretty old either way, though. Next to it was an old
truck stop and not much else for miles.
I walked back down the hillside and decided to go
inside the old church, get out of the sun, and take a

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load off. The door was locked, but there was a hole in
the back corner by the soot-stained wall.
I walked in, brushed off an old wooden pew with my
hand, and sat down while clapping off the dust from
my hands. If these kids knew how much this old
wood was worth, the pews would be gone. They were
real hardwood.
I sat back, stretched my feet out on the upturned pew
in front of me, and rested my eyes for a few moments.
A warm, dry breeze blew in through the broken
windows just before I started to doze off. I cracked my
eyelids and peered out across the room. Dangling
Jesus was swaying in the breeze back and forth on
his cross.
I guessed, if he'd lived in cowboy times, there'd be a
hangman's noose on every steeple in the world
instead of a cross.
Steeples would be hypodermic needles if he'd have
lived in the early twenty-first century.
I could just imagine people kneeling down before
electric-chair Jesus and singing that ole rugged
electric chair....
My crazy ass life is driving me insane. I wonder what
it'd be like to be normal. Be like Joe down there,
insanely in love with a chubby little hobbit.
I'm starting to believe that I'll never know. A
melancholy haze gradually entombed me. I felt so
abandoned as I gazed around the empty room.
The word “Sincerely” was carved into the back of the
old pew laying down in front of me. I took my foot and
nudged an old hymn book out of its slot revealing a
small poem that read,
may demons scatter in your presence
may they tremble at the mere mention of your name
may the spirit of God always be with you
and may your life be not lived in vain

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That's deep.
I reached down and picked up the hymnbook that I'd
nudged with my foot. Oh, eew, I immediately threw it
on the ground and stood straight up, jumping to my
feet. Much to my surprise, there was a used condom
inside it that nearly fell out onto my lap.
Ooh, so disgusting!
Who would have done such a thing? I was totally
grossed out. I got up and immediately exited the
building. I walked across the parking lot, back down
the hillside, and found myself walking along the
highway towards the laundromat. A freight truck
hauling soylent passed by, along with a few roloballs
making their way to who-knows-where. I got about a
block away from the intersection by the trailer park
and saw a familiar roloball turn and drive down the
dirt road, leaving a dust cloud in its wake. It pulled
up in a driveway across from the fueling station, and
I saw snaggletooth, the cute little Spanish girl, hop
out and go inside a small trailer house at the end of
the driveway.
Well, I had nothing else to do, so I moseyed to the
right and down the dirt road adjacent to the highway.
I started walking slower and slower and debating
whether or not I should knock on the door. I was
feeling very weird about the whole idea. After all, she
didn't even speak English. What could I possibly say?
I just don't know.
But my feet kept right on moving in her direction,
I passed the feed store and decided to try and collect
my thoughts in the fueling station next door. A semi
was pulling in off an access road, and I heard his air
brakes let go as I entered through the door. I looked
back and saw a fat trucker get out, smoking a big, fat
cigar. Holy shit, I thought. One little spark could
ignite the hydrogen tanks underground and blow us

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all to smithereens. “Good lord have mercy.” I said
right out loud.
A young clerk behind the counter laughed out loud
and said, “I know, guess he never heard of a
hydrogen bomb before.”
I looked over at him, shaking my head in disbelief,
and told him, “Man, there's some really stupid people
in this world, huh?”
The clerk replied, “Oh, it's pretty safe, nobody's blown
up yet. How can I help you?”
I looked around, found the cooler in the back,
grabbed a cheap six-pack of beer, and handed him a
few stollars. He smiled, gave me some change, and
said, “Come back now, ya hear?”
“Oh, I'm sure I'll be back. I really don't have
anywhere else to go right now. Good day.”
As thirsty as I was, I didn't crack one open. Nope. I
walked across the street, pulled my new, old shorts
up, and walked right across. I pulled some wild
desert flowers growing on the side of the road and put
them in a corner of the six-pack. They stuck up
about seven or eight inches higher than the carton,
and I was feeling kind of corny, but that's what I did.
I made my way up the driveway and started
wondering if this was her boyfriend’s house. I gotta
be insane. I wanted to turn away, but my hand had
other ideas. Yeah, it was knocking. The other one hid
the six-pack behind my back just in case.
The door flew open, and there was this huge dude
looking down at me on the stoop. His arms were as
big as my legs, and he was covered in grease and
sweat. His hands and T-shirt were black, and he had
a smear on one of his cheeks and a ring around one
of his nostrils. He looked up and down the road, and
then back at me and asked, “Vwhat? Your car broke
down, down the rrroad or somethieeeng?” rolling his
r's in a Spanish accent.

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I went to shrug my shoulders, and before I could
speak, he saw the six-pack with the flowers.
He laughed and said, “Serrrvase O's for me and
flowers for my seeester.”
Then he turned his head and hollered, “Terrresa the
man of your drrreams is here.” She came out
blushing as her brother grabbed one of the beers and
said, “Dammit, I thought for sure you were the
parcelcopter. I neeeds a sponge capacitor for my
special prrroject.”
I smiled at Teresa, who was smiling back at me, and
asked him, “The ole jalopy broke down?”
“Oh, no, senor, dees is a special prrroject. You can
find lots of things in the desert vaghto.”
I completely ignored him as I was talking with my
eyes to Teresa. She was moo E. Bone eat toe! I
handed her the beers and she said, “Mucho grassy
I replied, “You're welcome.” She put the desert flowers
in her hair. She introduced her brother, Pete, as he
left the room. He went out to a side patio and started
lifting weights. Highly anticipating his sponge
capacitors. Next, he'll probably be looking for a tube
for his guitar amplifier. Ha, a sponge capacitor, I
haven't heard of one of those in years.
I knocked down a beer and started another, and
Teresa and I just kind of looked back and forth at
each other. She said something that sounded like,
“Meanya poyo topo loco locka basa?”
I said, “Yeah, I know,” nodding my head. “I was just
thinking the same thing, It's a messed-up life!”
And then she kissed me passionately, then said, “Ma
mia something something tooda loo cockadoo” and
something else and she looked a little frustrated, but
then she grabbed my hand led me into her bedroom.
She poked her head out, looking as she slowly closed
the door. Then she turned around, smiled, and
attacked me with hugs and wet kisses. The bed found

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the back of my knees, and we tumbled onto it,
embraced and intertwined.
There was pulling and grabbing and disrobing, and
she was so hot as she paused and stood up to remove
her bra. Then she laid beside me, grabbing my head,
and pulled it into her firm, cinnamon bosom.
She moaned as I sucked her hard-little nipples and
softly teased them with my teeth and tongue. My
hand cupped her muffin as my finger found her moist
I gave her a raspberry on her stomach, and we
laughed as I tickled her little man in the boat.
Looking her over, I inserted my rock-hard manhood
as she moaned with pleasure and squeezed me. I
thrust in and out of her as our sweaty bodies became
one. When she said “Ooh, oh, ooh, yeah, Mmmm, oh,
pinga grande, pinga grande, O, O, Ooo yeah,” as she
climaxed, and we came together with pulsing and
squeezing, and the sex was so good that we barely left
the room for days.
She did put on a sexy teddy to go make me a
sandwich a couple of times, but we didn't leave the
room for days.
On this one particular morning, she got up really
early. It was still dark outside. I remember that. She
slipped quietly into the kitchen and made some really
strong coffee. Then she came back into the room and
almost snuck inside her own tiny, crooked, little
bathroom and started fixing herself up. It was serious
business. A metal spider came down from the ceiling
and there was spraying, and buffing, and polishing,
and combing, brushing, and shaving like you
wouldn't believe.
I better never introduce her to Chaz.
She said something that sounded like, “Puablo, bella
burina ocho punocho, ama trrra vah hoe.”
I smiled at her, all sex drunk and shaking my head,
yeah, as though I understood every word.

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And then she repeated some of the words, trrra vah
Then she said, “Buenos dias. Helpus yourselfus.” as
she opened the pantry.
There was a can of frijolds in there and not much
else. I grabbed her and squeezed her ass passionately
and gave her the kiss of her life. I didn't want her to
go. I wanted to make love to her forever.
She parted to pour herself a cup of java. She had the
same make and model coffee maker that my mother
had. We sat down at the kitchen table and drank the
coffee together. She kept VeeMing the time. I know
good jobs are hard to get. I have a feeling the whole
village would suffer tremendously if even one person
around here lost their income.
Her brother came in and poured a cup and said,
“Buenos dias, senor.” Then he pulled up a VeeM and
said, “The sponges didn't come eeen
He looked upset about it as he sat there pouting and
pulling up tracking information.
“Another no-fly rrristreeection.” He groaned.
I sat there and nodded as I secretly gave Teresa a toe
job under the table.
She kept pushing my foot away, but it was fun
teasing her.
Then she frowned and said, “It is time for me to go.”
So, I walked her to the pink rolo-mobile. I gave her a
kiss goodbye and waved as she rolled off down the
dusty road. I felt a little weird as I walked back inside
to finish my coffee. I wasn't sure what her brother
Pete was going to say.
I walked back in, and
he looked pissed.
He said, “You cheat on my seeester I keeel you.” As
he ran his finger across his throat.
I immediately got big lump in mine. Now, I've seen
people run their finger across their throats before,

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lots of times, but it's a little different when you’ve
seen this done to somebody, straight up. He looked
all macho like it was him that had scared me, but he
no idea. The things I've done and seen.
Knock, knock, knock.
My heart stopped as I drifted back into the moment.
He pushed me a little as he walked by and said,
“Relax bro, she likes you.” Then he opened the door,
and I suddenly realized that there was a parcelcopter
on the other side of that door. Those freak'n things
record everything.
I turned my head away, but I just don't know if it was
in time. If that thing sees me, I'm done. No more
fugitive on the run.
When I heard the door close, I turned around and
Pete was singing a happy song. It was in Spanish,
and I'm not sure, but I think it was about a
He put the package down on the table and began
opening it up.
I asked, “Would you mind if I had another cup of
He said, “No, no, of course not vato.”
And kept singing,
“La cock-a-roach-a, la cock-a-roach-a, la, la, la, la,
Then he looked at me and said, “meeester, you not
going to believe what I found in the desert.”
Mug on my lips, I blew across the hot coffee, then
asked, “Yeah, what did you find?”
I was hurting.
He took some kind of jingly bells out of the box and
laid them on the table, then pulled up one of the
sponge capacitors and said, “Come and see.” He
scooched his chair back and got up.
My penis was sore.
I got up and followed him out the back door, past the
weights to an old, tiny, red shed. The paint looked

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like it had been peeling for years and a white layer
was exposed here and there. He opened the sagging
doors and I was amazed. Not surprised, but amazed.
There in that old dilapidated garage was the
nineteen-forty-seven Nash that QD and I had stolen
from that old man in the past. No wonder he needed
the old-time sponges. It wasn’t like he could buy gas
anymore. Maybe in India or Nigeria, but not around
He popped the hood on the old car, and the pistons
were exposed and ready for the sponges. He asked,
“Isn't she amazeeeng?”
I said, “Yeah, it looks brand new.”
He replied, “See, vato eeet's only ten thousand miles
on the odometer.” He put the leads through the old
spark plug holes.
I was feeling a bit nervous.
“Hand me the wreeench over there on the beeeench.”
He said.
So, I reached over and handed it to him. Ew, my
hand was all oily after touching it, and I knew right
then I had to go. I grabbed a rag, started wiping my
hand off, and told him, “I have to go. I'm sure I'll see
you later.”
He turned and looked me up and down a couple of
times. I could tell he was displeased, but I told him, “I
have to go see Lola about making some extra money.”
As I was leaving, I heard him say under his breath,
“Sure you do, ben day hoe, sure ya do.”
I walked out and down the street. I was glad I’d
escaped. I'd have grease from head to toe if I'd stayed.
And I wouldn't want to ruin my new Quantum Cat T-
shirt. No, sir.
So, I moseyed across the street and found my way to
the laundromat. I walked in and Lola looked at me
with a halfcocked grin and asked, “Well, well, where
have you been?” smiling and folding some clothes.

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I blushed and smiled. “I think I've met the love of my
life and she doesn't speak a word of English.”
“Mmmm, hmmmm,” she replied. Then she said, “We
missed you the other night, and you missed out on
Joe's famous possum potato stew. It was so good.
The best he’s ever made.”
“Ahem, well, that is a crying shame, now, isn't it?” I
She continued, “Can you make it tonight? We need to
talk to you about fixing a couple of things on a couple
of our rentals. If you’re interested, that is.”
Concerned, I asked politely, “I don't know. What are
you cooking tonight?”
She laughed and asked, “No taste for possum? I was
just joking. Come on over and we'll throw some
burgers on the grill.” “Did you have some clothes to
wash or something?”
I looked down and back up.
She said, “Don't worry. I washed the suit you were
wearing when you came in.” Then she handed me my
sex slave outfit and asked, “You still have the
laundromat coins I gave you?”
I replied, “Yeah.”
“Good, keep an eye on the place and I'll be right
back.” Then she looked out the front windows, then
almost tiptoed to the back and slipped out the back
door. Odd, I thought. I guess there's really nothing in
here to steal, though. I grabbed the suit and took it
into the bathroom, where I gave myself a sponge bath
and changed clothes.
Of course, I inspected my wanker. That fucker was
still sore. I bet Teresa was walking around slightly
bowlegged today.
Whew, she's the best.

A short busty lady had walked in while I was
changing my clothes. She'd just put her clothes into a
washer and was pulling up a chair to sit in. She gave

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me a quaint smile as she sat down. She had a cute
little girl that had pulled up a chair real close to the
front of the washing machine, and she was watching
the clothes run through the machine. She was
staring at the window in the front of the washer as if
she was watching a show. It was kind of funny.
I gave them a polite smile and then threw my dirty
clothes into a washing machine. I glanced around
and spotted some soap that somebody had left
behind. So, I borrowed a little of it.
Okay, I stole it, but it was just a little.
Then I watched as the clothes flew around in the
blower tank, getting sprayed by the nozzles moving in
and out.
Hmm, reminded me something.
I watched the steam wheeler shoot suck in a sock,
my shorts, and my undies. Then I swear the
quantum cat on the T shirt whirled up and waved at
“Hehe,” I turned around and the little girl must've
seen it too.
It was kind of funny and weird.
I smiled and turned around and thought how cute...
Maybe someday.
Oh. Oh, no.
Just then, I remembered breaking a couple of
Nooo, then my head fell, face to hands, to elbows and
My crazy ass life? Then I looked up and saw the T-
shirt get sucked into steam rollers.
I went and sat down in one of the chairs by the
window and zoned out a moment. Reality slowly
faded back into my being as the sound of a real
estate seminar commercial began grinding my ears in
the background. Bored, I turned around and watched
this guy selling lots in low earth orbit. Apparently,
some company developed and employed bots to

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harvest raw materials from low-earth asteroids and
old satellites to build a small village in low-earth
Wow, and I thought about it. I’d heard a rumor, or
maybe it was an article somewhere about Disney
building a resort up there. I just don't remember.
Then it was back to the show.
I laid back and I could just imagine a little village in
low-earth orbit. They already have a gas station,
hotels, and gambling casinos, alongside college
laboratories and that new particle collider. I heard
they expect to find gravitons when it's completed in
the next year.
I could never live up there. That would be scary as
hell. It'd be my luck to look down on a planet filled
with water and die of thirst from some contaminated
water supply or something. I could see some Kahlah
terrorists doing that. They hate everybody, even
themselves. Pray to a God that hates and sooner or
later he'll hate you. It's like they want to bring back
the Roman Catholic inquisition or something. Back
room deals manipulate the people, just like always.
This I know.
Lola walked through the door. She seemed overly
happy, downright giddy even. My clothes were folded
and waiting on the out belt. Lola said, “Doobie
Declan,” because that's what I’d told her my name
was, and I turned my head away from the holovision
and looked back at her.
“Doobie, could you hang these cute little jingly bells
over the door, so they'll ring when somebody comes
in.” Then she held her arms close to her body and
looked up and proclaimed, “A really good friend of
mine gave them to me. And hang these up next door
while you’re at it.” As she handed me a second set of
jingly bells.
“It'll cost you one of your husband’s black and blue
hot dogs” I said.

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She smiled and handed the bells to me and said,
“aren't they just wonderful?” and batted her eyes at
I sarcastically replied, “They are for prostate cancer
She just ignored my comment and handed me the
bells. She was acting kind of weird, but I obliged her
and went to the back room to get the toolbox and go
to work. It only took a couple of minutes, and then I
went next door to Hey Joe's convenience store and
hung one up on his door. I tested it out, grabbed a
couple of black and blue dogs, and took a big bite out
of one of them.
Joe looked at me and smiled. He said, “Those are
some fancy clothes you’re working in there, Doobie.”
I said, “Yeah, well,”
I really didn't know what the hell to say after that,
but I came up with, “I'm a runaway groom.”
His face collapsed. He looked all disappointed and
maybe a little mad too. He said, “Boy, you left some
poor little damsel at the altar?”
Ho, fuck. What am I gonna say now?
He said, “That poor girl, she's probably shattered to
pieces,” and gestured the agony as if he was feeling it.
I said, “It's something I'd rather not talk about. I
don't want to embarrass the woman I almost
Joe-meo looked relieved. Then he looked up at me all
worried and said, “You can tell me. You need to get it
out, boy. Don't let it bottle up inside. That's not good,
you know.”
So, I spilled the beans. Yeah, I looked him right in the
eyes and lied to him with honed skills that I thought
I'd never possess.
I said, “There's really not much to tell. When she
pulled up to the wedding in the limo, the doorman
opened the back door and there she was, hunched
over in the back seat with her ex-boyfriend, who was

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sitting there smiling and laughing at me. His hand
was on the back of her head in his lap. Then my
blushing bride turned around all embarrassed, with a
surprised look on her face and that ain't all.”
A look of horror came across Hey Joe's face as he
backed up and said softly, “Oh, oh, no,” shaking his
head. And then he looked up at me and asked, “What
did you do?”
I looked down to try and keep my composure. I
looked back up at him with a straight face, all sad
eyed, and just shrugged my shoulders. I turned my
palms and eyebrows up and said, “Just stood there.”
Shaking my head, a bit, I said again, “Just stood
there and watched her ex-boyfriend zip his pants as
she wiped her mouth.”
Then I looked down and shook my head around as if I
was devastated and replied, “I really got to go.”
He said, “You need some work. That'll keep you mind
busy. And don't worry, I'm sure you'll feel better in no
Then he sent me to the trailer park across the street
to clean out a house that a tenant had just moved
out of. He handed me a bucket with some cleaning
supplies in it. The place wasn't hard to find or to walk
to. There were only about fifty trailers spread out
across the hillside across the street, and my legs were
getting used to walking. I thought this wouldn’t be
too bad as I walked around a corner and saw the
place. The yard was well kept. Actually, it had some
desert flowers planted around the front patio. One
thing is for sure. I didn’t have to worry about mowing
the lawn around here.
I miss Florida.
I put the bucket down, unlocked the door, and
opened it. Holy shit, I couldn't believe my eyes. The
place was a wreck. There was trash all over the floor
and stains all over the carpet and dust an inch thick

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on the windowsills, and the smell. Good lord, what
the hell is that stench!
Holy crap. How could anyone live like this?
My feet were sticking to floor as I eased across the
kitchen towards the sink. It was like walking on
flypaper. There were a couple of red and yellow plates
there in the sink with food and mold on one of them.
I looked in the bucket of cleaning supplies and
thanked god that there were rubber gloves in there. I
guess Joe knew how nasty it was. I almost puked as I
sprayed on the gloves. This is gonna cost him a lot
more than a couple of hot dogs.
I put my “a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do”
face on and dug in. I got to going and organized a
plan in my brain as I was scrubbing and working.
The time flew right on by. I was moving and grooving
as Skrillex Pandora kept the time in my head. In no
time at all, I had the stacks of garbage and useless,
worthless crap stacked out by the road and the place
all spic and span. As I worked, I'd stacked a bunch of
unfinished water bottles on an ole rusty table outside
and when everything was done, I used them to water
the desert roses growing around the front patio. You
never know, I just might come back in a couple of
days and pick one for ole snaggletooth, my bone eat
toe little senorita.
I'd been thinking about her pretty face and spanking
ass all day.
I couldn't wait to kiss her again.
I looked up and threw the empties into the recycle
bin. I felt pretty good. It feels good to do an honest
day’s work, I thought as I whistled “The Fishing Hole”
song. As I strolled along the dirt road back to the
store. The sun was going down fast, and the cool
desert night air was gently blowing through my hair.
I waved to an older woman wearing red pajamas and
pink rollers. She was letting her little doggie out to

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It wasn't quite dinner time, so I strolled over to
Teresa's house.
I was hoping she might be home early, but no, her
ball wasn't in the driveway. I knocked on the door
anyway. Pete answered the door and said, “Hey,
vato.” He had oil and grease from head to toe.
I said, “D'ya get her going?”
He said, “Almost there. I lost a nut, though. I can't
really go any farther till I find eeeet.”
“Oh, that sucks,” I said as I stood there like an idiot,
hoping he might invite me eeen. But he didn't.
I asked, “Your sister coming home anytime soon?”
He just shook his head no.
“You want me to help you find that nut?” I asked.
He looked up at me and then back down again and
shook his no again.
“Oh. Well, have a nice evening,” I said and turned
and walked away.
I guess he felt bad for me because he called out and
said, “Teresa will be back tomorrow night, senor
“Grassy ass,” I said, thanking him as I waved and
turned around.
I walked back over to the store and when I walked in
the bell jingled. It was so quaint, made me smile for
some reason. I waited in line behind a couple of folks
that were passing through. When they left, I told Joe
that the place looked good. Spic and span and ready
for someone to move in.
Joe said, “Thanks, man, I'm glad I didn't have to
clean that place.”
I handed him what was left of the cleaning supplies,
and he gave me a few bucks. I promptly bought a
cold drink and knocked the bottom out of it.
He asked, “Feel better?”
“What?” I asked.
Then I remembered the big story that I'd told him

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“Yeah, I told him. “I think a hard day’s work was just
what I needed.”
He said, “I hear you got a girlfriend already.”
I said, “News travels fast around here, doesn't it?”
“It's not Lola's friend, is it? The little Senorita that
was in here the other day?” He asked.
I smiled and blushed. “Yeah, it is,” I replied, shaking
my head yes.
He laughed and said, “I thought so. You watch out for
that one. She only has one thing on her mind.” Then
he gave me a sinister grin.
Slightly perplexed I inquired, “What's that?”
Then he spelled out, “M a r r i a g e.”
“Oh,” Then the smile ran away from my face and I
said again, “Oh,” with a bit more of concerned
He said, “She's a good one, though. Seems to be,
anyway.” Then he paused and said what we were
both thinking, “Probably better than the last one.”
He said, “You wanna sweep the store and face the
shelves for me? I'll give ya another hot dog
I said, “Make it pizza, and you got a deal.
He pointed to the back room and said, “There's a
broom and mop back there. Get'r done.”
“Mop?” I said jokingly.
“It's all gotta be done before the grill gets lit.” He said
as he started wiping down the counter and dusting
around behind it.
I grabbed the broom. I’d have thought he'd have a bot
for sweeping and mopping and doing the stupid stuff.
It is kind of a small store, but still. Maybe he hates
robots as much as I do.
The thought got me to thinking about QD. I began
wondering how he was doing as I mopped the floor.
The night shift came in. I said, “Hello,” It was the lady
I'd seen earlier with rollers in her hair.
She smiled back at me, with her curly hairstyle.

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Joe told me, “Go tell Lola we'll be upstairs freshening
up, and I'll let you take a shower there if you promise
not to rummage through my medicine cabinet.”
I said, “I really appreciate you and Lola helping me
He said, “Don't worry. Just don't ever lie to me or
steal from me.” I agreed and felt all guilty about the
lies I'd told him already.
Well, I couldn't tell him the truth.
I hated my life.
I walked over and told Lola we'd be upstairs and
grabbed my other outfit. I felt kind of low and stupid
doing so, but it was better than only one outfit. That's
all I really had in jail.
As she put some clothes in a basket, she smiled and
said, “Okay, I'll be up in a bit.” As she put some
clothes in a basket.
I went up and Joe was kicked back on the couch
having a beer. He said, “You go first. Save me some
hot water.”
So, I showered and got out, brushed my teeth with
my finger and some of his toothpaste. I'll have to
remember to print one out at the store tomorrow
along with a hair brush and some kind of travel kit. I
hope they would have some more work for me.
I put my clean clothes on and walked out. I went to
thank Joe for letting me use the shower, but he was
too busy catering to Lola's every whim.
She said, “Did you turn the oven on?”
He said, “No, honey, I was mixing the cake.”
She said, “Well, don't you think it might be a good
idea to let the oven start warming up?”
She was standing right beside it. I was appalled.
Then she went over and sat down in an easy chair
and commanded, “Hon, bring me a beer real fast, I'm
so thirsty” Then rolled her eyes and looked at me.
Shook her head like,
I don't know.

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Then she barked,
“Did you start the grill? Did you make the patties
“Yes, dear, and no, dear,” he answered.
“My neck hurts. Honey. Honey,” Then she turned to
me said, “Come sit down here beside me. How was
your day, Doobie?” and before I could answer she
said, “Ugh, I told him to clean up that mess all over
my desk this morning. And to dust the bookshelf.
Look, he couldn't even dust the bookshelf. Tsk tsk
She looked disappointed in him and looked at me as
if I could somehow feel her pain.
“Honey, could you open this window behind me? I'm
feeling warm.”
“Ow,” he shouted sharply.
I stood up immediately to see what happened.
He said, “Damn it, I just cut my finger.” He grabbed a
paper towel as he walked out of the kitchen and all
the way across the room where we were sitting to
open the window mere inches behind the love his life.
She said, “Awe, let me see your little fing fing.”
He took the paper towel off from around it to show
her, and it did not look good. I cringed slightly just
glancing at it. It was deep and still bleeding.
She said, “Ew, that's bad, you’d better wash that off
real quick, and there's some skin bond in the
medicine cabinet,” as she shooed him and turned her
head away.
He said, “I know, lovey.” as he wrapped his finger
back up in the towel. Then he creaked around behind
her easy chair as she kicked up the footrest, tilted
her head back, and rested her eyes.
Then he opened the window for her and she
mumbled, “Hurry up and set the table so you can
come over here and rub my feet. I've had such a long

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He smiled a loving smile and said, “Yes, dear,” as he
rounded the corner into the bathroom to close his
gaping wound. That must've really hurt.
I felt sorry for him. I told Lola, “I'm going to go finish
cutting the tomatoes for him. And the lettuce.
“No, no, come back here and sit down,” she
demanded as she pulled my shirt and my ass back
down into the chair. Then she reassured me, “You’re
our guest, Doobie, relax.”
He came out and smiled at her. He looked at me and
proclaimed, “Isn’t she wonderful?” I don't think he
was kidding or being sarcastic. He started rubbing
her feet with his one good hand and said, “I hope
you're lucky enough to find a goodhearted woman
just like Lola someday, Doobie.”
I couldn't believe it. This dude was lovesick. I guess
they said love is blind, but they never said it'd make
you stupid. I wanted to escape. The whole scene was
making me very uncomfortable. He went back into
the kitchen, humming a love song.
She smiled an evil smile towards me as she said to
him, “Don't forget to wash your hands.”
He was already to the sink. The water was already
running. What a bitch. She always seems so nice at
the laundromat. I'd have never guessed.
Joe whistled his way out the door and down the
stairs to put the burgers on the grill. She asked, “Did
you have a nice day, Doobie?”
“Yeah, it wasn't bad,” I said. “I spent most of the day
cleaning up an unbelievably grody, nasty trailer in
the park across the street.” I made a sour face just
thinking about it.
“Oh, really,” she asked.
“Yeah, it was so nasty I almost puked when I opened
the door.”
Just then, Joe came back in and said, “I had Doobie
clean out your old trailer today sweetie, A little

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spackling and some touch up paint and she'll finally
be ready to rent.”
A cold sweat broke out on my forehead as the art of
conversation failed me. I was at a total loss for words,
and her upper lip curled up enough to raise a nostril.
I was kind of quiet for the rest of the night. I told
them that I loved their cute little love nest. Joe pretty
much sat there and made goo-goo eyes at Lola all
night, and she never stopped talking, mostly
complaining about Joe.
I was polite, but all I kept thinking was, You chubby
little shit. This man absolutely adores you and treat
him like shit. Joe's a good-looking man. Nice, pleasant,
honest, and you'll never get another man this good
again. He really, really, unconditionally loved that
After dinner, they invited me to stay the night, but I
couldn't take it. I was tempted to tell him the truth
about her, but I know it was really none of my
business. I don't want to be involved in any domestic
anything. No sirree.
Joe assured me he had a few chores for me to do
around the little trailer park and said we'd go over
things in the morning.
I told him, “I'll see you there. “Good night.”
I don't know why they were being so nice to me.
Probably because they knew I'd work for little more
than a hot dog and a fresh change of clothes. I don't
know. Maybe they're just kind hearted, small-town
people that could tell I was in trouble. I just don't
I walked across the street and back over to Lola's old
trailer. I'd left a back window open just in case. I
might have been a homeless fugitive on the run, but
I'm not a stupid one. I looked up at the stars that
seemed to be almost sucking me in. The universe
looks so deep way out here, far away from any city
lights. I patted my full belly, thought about Teresa

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and said right out loud, “I am kind of a lucky one,
though.” So far, anyway.
I grabbed an empty two-liter soda bottle out of the
rubbish that I'd cleared out earlier and sneaked in
through the window. I washed it inside and out and
then blew it up until the foil bulged inside of the
exoskeletal frame and put the lid on it.
Then I found a place to lay down and used the bottle
as a pillow. Yeah, I had my sex slave shirt as a
blanket and cold hard linoleum as a bed, and I went
to sleep.
I tossed and turned a lot on the cold, hard floor but
eventually managed to hit R.E.M. I woke up to a
weird, tickly feeling on the end of my nose.
“Ho! Ho, shit!” I yipped, slapping my face. It was a
fucking cockroach! I was up on my feet in an instant,
stomping and yelping. Ugh, Ew. After squashing him
several hundred times with my foot, I stopped to
catch my breath. I took my sock off and held it way
out in front of me, as if the damn thing could come
back to life and jump on me, and I threw it outside. I
looked over at my cheap dress shoes and decided I
might need that sock. I only have two. I pulled out
the money Joe paid me and decided I needed to
spend it on some new socks and sneakers. It's not
easy having to walk everywhere. I smacked my lips a
couple of times and decided I should print up a
toothbrush as well.
I talked myself into putting my sock back on after
wringing it out in the sink several times and letting it
dry in the rising sun for what seemed like hours.
Then I walked up to the store and paid Joe to use the
printer and buy a bottle of Caf-buz. I couldn't wait to
put on my new shoes.
Joe asked, “Did you have a nice time at dinner last
I said, “Why, yes, and thank you for having me over,”
as I nodded.

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He said, “Oh, it was our pleasure.”
I couldn't wait to put on my new shoes and get rid of
those cheap loafers. The cheap loafers were killing my
“You have the sweetest wife,” I said with hint of
sarcasm. Went right over his head. Shwoo!
I gave him a quiet smile as I walked passed his
register and looked out the front door. Then I moved
out of the way to let a customer walk through. The
bell jingled and then the customer said, “Hello,” to me
and Joe and put some junk food and a seven pack of
7-Up on the counter, and we made small talk as he
stretched and moaned a few moments. He said he
was headed to the San Diego comic-con convention.
Then he looked at me with a puzzled look on his face,
“Funny, your name is not coming up on my eye-chip.
No info, nothing. And I've met very famous people
and they all have a cover, but you...
I pointed to my hand and said, “I left my comband at
“Nope,” he replied, “it doesn't work like that.”
I said, “It's probably just a glitch in your network. Do
you have B.U.& U. or Vorisun?”
He just stood there perplexed and shaking his head
I said, “Well, I really don't like telling people this, but
ma left me in the desert when I was very young, and
pack of coyotes found me and raised me until I was
nine years old.”
“Nine, huh,” he replied.
I said, “Dude, I'm a hologram in surrogate mode.
That's all.” Then I shrugged my shoulders like he was
an idiot.
He was already halfway out the door. I didn't think
he'd come back in and try to run his hand through
me. He did scan the ceiling in doubt. Not like a

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quaint little place like this to have holoprojecters in
Joe started going over my list of chores and
explaining everything he wanted me to do for the day.
I nodded to gesture his wife walking across the
parking lot. I thought she was coming in, but she
walked around back. He watched her go around with
a confused look on his face, then looked at the clock
on the wall, and then went back to describing my
chores and making a list of things I would need in
order to get everything done.
Then Lola walked through the front door and said,
smiling, “Hey, Doobie. Hey, Joe.” As she rounded the
corner, I noticed a blond wig on an end cap. It was on
a toy carousal with other cheap amusements. It
warmed my heart and brought a smile to my face. I
gazed at it a moment then looked up at Joe who was
beet red, eyes bugging, and eyebrows cross. He was
He was looking at Lola at the far end of the isle. Well,
I swiftly turned to see, and there was Lola, bent over
to grab a drink off the bottom shelf of the cooler with
greasy handprints on her short, white skirt. One on
her left hip and one on her right hip.
I was in shock! Holy crap!
When she turned around, Joe demanded, “You
fucked him.”
Stunned, the look on her face, and I just wanted to
disappear, but instead I froze in my stance. Not sure
what to do.
“You fucked him, didn't you?” He demanded as he
reached under the counter.
My eyes shifted to hers. She looked scared for about
an instant, then replied arrogantly, “You would have,
too. Have you seen them abs? Have you seen how
ripped he is? And his dick! It's this big!” Her eyes lit
up as if she could see it between her hands stretched
wide in front of her face.

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My heart stopped as my eyes shifted back to Joe, who
had pulled a scatter blaster out from underneath the
counter. My nerves lit up like a Christmas tree and
as if it were in slow motion I yelped, “Nooo...”The
blast left my ears ringing as the blinding light flashed
the walls.
I didn't dare look, but I heard the carnage thud
against the back wall as I watched Joe's facial
expression go from anger to horror over the thing that
he'd done. A look of terror filled his eyes and I heard
him say faintly through my ringing ears, “I... I... can't
“Nooo...,” I said again in slow motion as he put the
blaster under his chin and looked at me and cried
out, “I can't live without her.”
Blazzzt! Rang out, as the wall went from product, to
flash, and then red in an instant. His body fell back
slowly, gun still in his hands, knocking over the
Marlboro man gushing on its way down. I watched as
Joe’s body hit the floor.
I looked up and the security camera behind the
Marlboro man was staring a hole right through me.
Its lens was like an eye piercing my soul.
I stood there for a moment in shock and disbelief
I'm busted.
I turned and saw Teresa's pink roloball pulling up. I
turned my head the other direction and followed my
line of sight straight to the new shoes. I grabbed them
out of the printer and ran as fast as I could toward
the front door. Teresa was opening it inwards and I
grabbed her and carried her out backwards, straight
to her ball.
“No, no, no!” I said. “You can't go in there.”
She looked at me and said something that sounded
like, “Une tago la tortilla um gonnroe?”

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“Go home,” I said, shaking, crying, and trembling
with fear, as I grabbed her shoulders. Then I pointed
towards her trailer.
She was mortified. She could see I was deeply
She said, “punta alah peeete dios Lola un amaeeyah
el toro?” as she burst into tears. Looking at me.
A few people were running across the street to see
what was going on, and I knew I had to get out of
there fast.
I told my love, “I am a fugitive, fugitive-o! El-fugitive-
o, I have to go.”
I knew the highway patrol would be there within
seconds. I have to get out of here. I ran and ran. I
kissed Teresa passionately on her lips and with tears
and terror all over my face, I left her standing right
there, crying hysterically and it hurt me badly, but I
had to go. I ran and ran.
I ran back to Lola's old trailer. Heart beating out of
my chest, I took a deep breath and put my new shoes
Just then, I heard the familiar sound of a dispose-all
truck warning. I ran to the front door and looked out
and it was loading the stuff I'd thrown out the day
before. I looked up at the cameras and timed their
blind spot and grabbed one of the big truck’s garbage
grabber arms and held on as tight as I could. The
jaws opened up, dropping the contents into its bin. I
held on, closed my eyes tightly, and watched my
eyelids turn pink, as the flash of the incinerator’s
electrodes reduced the trash into pebbles.
Then I dropped myself in, and in an instant,
everything went dark as the lid slammed mere inches
from my face. Bam! My heart stopped as the noise
ran through my body.
I was in shock. I must've laid there in shock for miles.
Holy fuck. Holy fuck what just happened. I'm going to

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I laid there until my breath returned to my lungs.