Tales of the Bearded Toad

Short stories and the occasional true tidbit devised in the life and times of the Bearded Toad

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Author's note: This is my submission to the "Lonely Moon" contest hosted by Jason at Clarity of Night. It's entry #84, so there has been quite a lot of interest in the competition. Please check out some of the other great posts there as well. He has posted all of the stories entered. Thanks for reading.

From the top he didn’t hear the shouting anymore. The raucous drivers below couldn’t see him, so none of their unwanted jeers were directed his way. That didn’t mean the same were true in the other direction. Leaning on his right leg, he placed the flyer underneath his left as padding from the bolt head digging into his skin. His hands were raw from the climb, and his feet burned still from the asphalt below. The summer heat made it difficult to walk barefoot on the black surface until a couple of hours after sunset. At least the river had provided relief. His clothes lay on the banks, waiting, stinking from the putrid water and weeks of sour body odor. His pills were there too, the ones he stopped taking two days ago. There was no reason to take them if he were still going to live this way, wandering the shadows, horrified of his own mind. The flyer said it didn’t have to be that way anymore. It said he could be a new man; if only he cleansed himself, he would be reborn. Stroking his matted beard he knew he’d been unsuccessful. Shining upward the spotlight reflected from his ass giving company to the lonely pockmarked face hovering in the sky. The bullhorn screeched as the blue clad man coaxed him from his perch. Beginning his moonlit descent he clung tightly to the paper, hoping that the cop could tell him how it worked, how to be cleansed.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


In one smooth motion he pulled the blade across. His hand was no longer shaking as it had been, but the small beads of sweat remained on his forehead. Typically it helped if he vomited before he began, and tonight was no exception.

It helped too, if had had a few drinks. Strengthened his hand, he often thought. Made it steadier. And that was how he found them. At Bars. Waiting, waiting for men with fat wallets. But he was waiting too, and his waiting was a lot more pleasurable. Now that the deed was done, he felt a stirring, a sense of elation, not unlike the feeling of an athlete at the end of a winning race. He wiped the perspiration from his forehead. Wiped the blade of the long scimitar-like knife on the grass and proceeded to cover the body with rocks.

He set the last one in place, then surveyed the scene. A job well done flooded him with satisfaction. He didn't have long to enjoy the feeling. Fingers clamped his ankle in a grip as unforgiving as a pit bull's jaws. He stared, uncomprehending, at the hand jutting from a gap in the rocks. The fingers increased their pressure until he heard himself whimpering. The knife glittered, just beyond his reach. Her voice was cold and dark as wrought iron, nothing like the breathy warble she'd used earlier. "Dolt! My kind is not so easily killed. Remove these stones ere I grow truly angry."

For a moment he thought he was hallucinating: this wasn't possible. The cut he'd made into the carotid artery was always fast, always fatal. He made to move away, but found he was pinned to the spot, like a butterfly stuck to a board. The grip on his ankle increased, threatening to break it. Then, a hideous scraping noise at the rocks as filthy fingernails clawed their way to the surface. He looked down and saw rock after rock being dislodged. A second, almost feral hand emerged from within, dismantling the carefully arranged mound. He pulled away even harder, but the grip never faltered. At the back of his mind he could hear alarms wailing, growing closer, more insistent.

He awoke with a start, his alarm clock wailing its plaintiff cry of morning. Sweat clung to his body like shrink-wrap on a piece of meat. A nightmare. He'd had a nightmare.

He went into the bathroom and splashed his face with cold water. The night terrors he'd been having lately had never been as vivid as this one. This was a whole new level of nightmare.

Could he manage work? He’d have to. They’d noticed a fair bit at the office. Nervous stammers, glazed looks and the odd clammy palm. It was only a matter of time.

He thought of her now in the fading darkness. The bed felt cold and silent. She and the baby. They had been so happy together. Why didn’t she tell him? Why did she keep her secret? Of course, he would have understood. Of course, he wouldn’t have stopped her.
That’s what he'd told her softly in those frozen final minutes.

He remembered her startled __expression when she saw him. Making his way to her in the crowded bar. They were playing La Bamba. She looked like she was waiting for someone he didn’t know. Waiting, sipping a cocktail and swinging her legs. “Darling, what on earth?” She appeared shocked but had smiled quickly. She had tried to fix her lipstick, adjust her skirt. Her hair looked straggly and grey. Once she had been a stunning blonde. Once she had promised only him, her kisses in the moonlight. He had been adamant. Perhaps if the baby hadn’t come…Perhaps.

But no matter how she had changed, no matter her dark secrets, everyday he saw her smile on other women's faces, saw the light of her eyes in theirs. She haunted him. Tormenting him from her grave. All he wanted now was to be left in peace. To move on with his life. To create some sort of new beginning for himself. But it was as though she was holding him back – a hand from a grave.

"Damn you," he muttered, trying to push her insistent memory away.

He gazed at his reflection in the mirror. A haggard face stared back at him. Eyes bloodshot and ringed with grey. He splashed more water on his face and watched as it trickled through his stubble.

He shook his head. "Get a grip," he told himself.

He turned away from the mirror and stopped. He stared at the knife lying in the bath. How had that got there he wondered, bending down to pick it up.

The rock smashed down hard on the back of his clammy head, and he fell dazed and disorientated into the tub. Momentarily he thought it was filling with warm water but quickly realised it was blood oozing from his damaged skull.

He laughed. So this was how it felt. This is how it felt to be killed. He’d watched so many die close up.

As his eyes cleared he saw her face. She was blonde again. Young and pretty like she used to be. But it couldn’t be. She was dead. He'd made sure of that all those years ago when he buried her beneath the garden rockery. An angry, drink-fuelled rage when she told him the child wasn’t his.

She leant forward and picked the blade up from the bath. She smiled at him like she used to. Long before the child had changed everything.

He felt the blade cut slowly across his throat.

She pressed her face up close and sniffed his fear. He could smell the cigarettes and vodka on her warm breath. There were tears in her blue eyes.

Blue eyes? Hers had been grey, like her name, Sky. And then he realised. Finally, dying, he realised his mistake after all these years. The child should have died too.

Blog Owner's Note: This is the final product of the collaboration between the seven authors in the order listed in the previous post. I'm very pleased with how well it turned out. Thank you very much for contributing! I really enjoyed reading the additions as they came back, which happened well in advance of the Monday deadline I so arbitrarily set. It came in at 999 words, and I only tried to correct any paragraph breaks that looked as though they were corrupted in transition. Wonderfully done everyone.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Challenge Order

The order of writer's fell as follows:

The Wandering Author
Amin - I need your email address
Susan - I put you in, because I agree with the rest that you should participate. You can still object if you insist.

And, so that we can have a little more freedom to maneuver let's make it between 1000 words or less.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Collaborative Challenge

I’d like to issue a challenge of sorts. It’s not really a competition, but a small experiment in collaborative writing. Maybe it’s a means to connect to each other a little further too.

I’d like to see who would be willing to add a bit of their voice to a story that I begin. I’ll write the first paragraph then send it to the next person for paragraph two, who will return it to me to send it to the next person for paragraph three and so on. The difficult part will be to create a story that has some semblance of meaning within the following guidelines:

It must be all fiction.
The end result must be between 500 and 750 words.
No one can alter what was written by the previous contributors.
It has to be back to me no later than Monday, August 27, 2006.

I know it may not sound very difficult, but the first people to contribute have to keep in mind how many people follow. I would start the process by sending the first paragraph to the next person in line on Friday morning around 9:00 am EST (that’s per the US east coast). When it’s complete, I will post the result here on Tales of the Bearded Toad. It will not appear anywhere else and all those who contribute will be listed in an accompanying statement.

So if you’d like to participate, please send your email address to me at bhorne2x@yahoo.com or leave it in a comment below. I promise that I won’t use it for any other purpose but this exercise. I won’t even bother unless we get at least six participants, so invite your friends to join in. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

You'll Know

The worm wriggled faster when he pierced it the first time. Reddish brown fluid squirted onto his fingers when he pushed it through as his papa told him how. It was sticky almost immediately making it easier to hold onto the hook, but not the worm. A mildew smell wafted in to join with that of the dark earth encased in the white plastic cup. They had bought it at a roadside stand near the entrance from a fat man whose loud breathing had scared him. The man had looked like a heaving monster behind the counter getting ready to breathe fire onto his little blonde head poking up just over the rim.

Sitting on the edge of the county lake the boy listened to papa explain how the smell helped to attract the fish. He wondered how fish could smell anything in the water, but he didn’t ask. Papa made the first cast as an example he said. The red topped cork plopped down a foot away from the worm, which made the small waves roll against each other. How do you know when the fish has eaten the worm he asked. You’ll know papa responded. They waited.

Papa picked up his coffee cup and grunted when he realized it had gotten cold. The boy knew that’s what the sound meant. Ooh, can I have a sip he asked. He’d taken to the bitter taste after he started living with papa, after his mom was arrested. There had been no one else that he knew of. He smacked when he put the cup down, making papa smile. Has a fish gotten it yet? You’ll know.

He picked up the pole again and pulled the cork a little closer to him. Reeling in the slack of the line he asked papa how long he’d had the rod. Fifteen years. He’d bought it on his birthday with a gift certificate they gave him at work. They were nice people the boy thought. They were the same ones that had given him the jacket and pants he was wearing after his clothes burned up in the fire.

Look over there papa said. He followed the old finger to see a crane standing on one foot in the shallow water. It had its beak tucked under one wing. Why does he do that the boy asked. That’s how he sleeps. He has to block out the world somehow just like you and I turn out the lights at night. Mom had always left a night light on for him, but he never asked papa to do that, not after papa told him he was going to have to be a big boy now.

Reel it in papa said. Let’s try different bait, for catfish maybe. Papa pulled a container of chicken liver from the cooler as the last bits of worm came bobbing up out of the water at the end of the line. Now take this piece. The boy gently tried to take the little blob, but the slimy tissue shot out of his hand and onto the ground. That’s alright papa said pulling a piece of ladies panty hose from his pocket. What’s that the boy asked wondering why he’d have that in his pocket. Insurance papa said rapping the now dirty liver in the sheer nylon fabric and placing it on the hook. He thought about how mom used to hang them over the rod in the bathroom. She’d sit on the toilet while he took a bath. He’d ask her questions and play with his toys. How do you get money? From games she’d said. I look for games I can win. How do you know which ones you can win he’d asked. I just know she’d said.

The cork disappeared under the brown water. The boy grabbed the pole and started to reel without even asking papa. That’s it boy. The fish pulled hard bending the old pole into a wide U-shape. He drug the flopping fish onto the bank and giggled as it came. That worked better than the worm he said. How come? The insurance papa said. That’s what mom told me. What do you mean papa asked. When the men took her away, she told me it was because of the insurance. It was a game she’d said.

Author’s request: Please comment on the lack of punctuation along with your other thoughts on this one. In some stories I’ve found this to be a distraction, but I wanted to see what others think about it. Thank you for your time and suggestions. They mean a lot to me.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Flashing in the Gutters-New Post

I have a new post on Flashing in the Gutters, that I personally like a lot more than the last one. Have a look and let me know what you think. Thanks and have a great day!

Friday, August 18, 2006


It didn’t make the same sound. Usually it rang with the same resonance every time, a nice ting that reverberated in his ears. He would position the stock for the next piece; the sheer would move downward with its hydraulic hum, slicing off the end with a seemingly effortless motion; and then, ting. Repetitively he slid the cool metal bar into position for the next cut and awaited the reassuring sound. This time though, it was a thud, a dead knock with none of the metallic quality he was used to hearing. Whatever this was, it absorbed the impact.

He leaned over to see what had caused the abnormality. At first he couldn’t tell, but there was a red streak on one of the pieces, that much was certain. Bending down he moved the pile with his left hand. There it was. A finger lay there amongst the steel as though it belonged; it was even the right length. The small puddle of blood beside it was a different story. The bright red contrasted harshly with the grayish blue of the pieces. He looked back on top of the platform to see another, larger pool. The skin of his face beaded with sweat, and his mouth began to water. Raising his digit-deficient right hand in front of his face, the smell of iron rushed into his nostrils with a vengeance. That’s funny; I never noticed that smell before, he thought as his nerves went back to work sending their electric pulses to his brain.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Post Elsewhere

I submitted a story to Flashing in the Gutters, and it was posted yesterday. It's a great site that has new flash fiction daily, with a criminal, gritty feel in most cases. I wrote this one specifically for submission to the site, so it's a little harsh compared to the others. Please take a minute, that's all it'll take, to give it a read and leave a comment.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

White Wall

The turmoil in his head seemed akin to the sea during a hurricane, with thoughts swelling quickly only to subside and become eclipsed by another. He couldn’t seem to latch onto any of them as they rolled through his consciousness, so he just quit trying. He began to enjoy these short glimpses of his past. Jumping on the trampoline as an awkward little kid, he imagined being swallowed by the black round mat, only to land on the couch in his friend’s basement where he first felt the warm suppleness of a teenage breast. Her hair had smelled of vanilla as it gently tickled his neck, and her mouth had tasted of peppermint. This wonderfully juvenile erotic sensation gave way to a thought that one would wince upon having if they were only conscious and aware of it. He imagined himself alone, not just sitting alone but completely devoid of companionship. For him, the thought rolled by without much consideration. The following tumultuous remembrance was of his father, of the last time he saw him. He held him hard by the shoulders and peered into him, not at him. His father’s eyes were narrow and accented by lines that fanned from the corners like petals on a flower. That was the only appearance of softness he could remember. He felt his father grip him tighter, and with bourbon breath he said, “The world is cruel, son. Be cruel back.”

The words of his patriarch drew him from his mind and into reality. His stark cell was devoid of character. It housed only him, his toilet and his bed. The small glass window in the door gave him a view of nothing, only a white painted cinder block wall. He was alone in a captive world full of harsh cruelty, a world created to shelter those who couldn’t understand or tolerate it, and all he could see was nothing.

Friday, August 11, 2006

'06 4 Ever

It called out to him. It glared at him. It stuck in his head to the point where he would lose concentration during sex. How could it be ‘06 4 ever? It didn’t make any sense, but he wished it were true.

Apparently he wasn’t the only one. Someone had felt so strongly about it that they had painted it on the pillar of the bridge, the railway bridge that sent the tracks just past the school. He could hear the trains from class everyday after lunch, first with the blaring horn and deep rumble of the diesel engine, followed by the rhythmic clicks of the steel wheels on the uneven joints. He had come to rely on it to carry his mind away from the drudgery of instruction for most of high school, but this year was different.

Stephen was an “early sprouter” as his dad liked to say. He sprouted hair on his chin and previously barren scrotum at the age of 10. He was a handsome kid about six feet tall with a writhe muscular build. His dad couldn’t have been more proud. Never mind that he was about as astute in a classroom as a chicken in flight. “The wings look good, but there damn near worthless.” His dad was fond of country sayings, even though he had never set foot on a farm. His dad spent his days behind the counter at the filling station up the road from his house, and that was about all he did.

Sports were easy for Stephen with his athletic build, as long as his role wasn’t very complicated. The football coaches tried putting him at quarterback once, but he couldn’t remember what all the other players were supposed to do, which hurt his confidence significantly. Wide receiver was a much more suitable role. He had the height, he had the speed, and he had just the right swagger after a touchdown. Of course, with this ability and his good looks, he was quite popular.

It was his senior year when he saw the crude graffiti. It was February, so football season was already over. He had decided not to play basketball that year, just so that he could take advantage of that popularity for a change. What good was it to be envied if you were always in class, at practice, or at games? He cashed in on it full force. “Why not,” he’d thought. “After this it’ll all change. I’ll be just like my dad with no action, no friends, and no life.”

He started skipping the class just after lunch. It was history taught by Coach Krebs, the assistant football coach. He knew that Coach Krebs didn’t care that he was gone; he didn’t believe history was worth remembering either. Besides, he was a football player.

He decided on a goal, to convince a different girl for every day of the week to skip with him. “Convincing three chicks to skip once a week should be a breeze,” he’d told his friends. They didn’t think he could do it and told him so, but he brushed them off with his usual brash demeanor. He was right too, and it wasn’t even hard to keep them separated. He used what he learned with each one to do even more with next, always pushing it a little further. It couldn’t get any better than that, which is why that little phrase bothered him so badly. ‘06 4 ever. Why did things have to change? Why couldn’t life stay that way forever?

The obsession started interrupting the sex, of course, when he couldn’t concentrate on it. He decided to do something about it; he would try to make things stay the same. He had heard rumors of an old woman from New Orleans who had moved up after the big hurricane. People said that she practiced voodoo, that she could do things to change your life. Most of the stories that he heard were about curses and hexes she’d cast. “I heard she made this one dude’s hair fall out in clumps just ‘cause he said something she didn’t like,” one guy told him. He started to reconsider when he thought of himself with bald patches all over. But what if she could make it true? The prospect was too tempting to let a little bit of fear get in the way.

He asked around and found out she lived by the river past the north side of town. He didn’t know the area very well. There wasn’t much there, only trees, a swamp and the river. Driving at night, he got lost twice down dirt roads that nearly dropped off into the rushing water. Eventually he found it. He knew immediately when he saw the shack appear in his headlights. The tiny one-room building stood straight, but somehow looked as though it could fall at any moment. The tin roof was red with rust, and the siding was just old rotting wood that had never carried a coat of paint. The din of the crickets and toads was louder than the city he’d thought. Smoke lazily rolled from the single fireplace laced with the smell of fried food, which made his stomach growl with hunger.

When he knocked on the door he heard her grunt inside. “Who it is?” The sound of her voice made him nervous, and he felt a shiver roll up his spine. After too much time had passed, she said, “Jus’ op’n da dow.”

Reluctantly, he gripped the handle and slowly pushed it forward. She was sitting in a rocking chair next to the fireplace. She was eating what looked like a frog’s leg with a plate full of them in her lap. She put the plate aside and stood up slowly. He was so nervous at this point that he couldn’t speak. He didn’t have to.

She walked over to him. With her greasy hand, she led him into the room and shut the door behind them. She sat him down on a stool next to her chair and looked him over for what seemed like hours. He just stared at her wrinkled grimacing face, too afraid to move. Her black hair was braided into locks that fell around her aging features. The parts of her eyes that should have been white were yellowed. She smiled at him finally parting her lips coated with grease, exposing a mouth that was missing nearly half its teeth.

She pulled an old wash tub from the corner of the room and placed it in front of him. She took her plate of frog legs and picked up six of the severed limbs and dropping them individually into the basin while murmuring something in a low growl he couldn’t understand. Shuffling around the room she gathered the fixings. One after another she added ingredients until she hiked up her patchwork skirt, squatted over the tub and filled it nearly to the brim with piss.

The strong ammonia smell of it dismayed him so badly that he couldn’t regain control enough to object when she pulled him up, spun him around and sat him down in the concoction. The warm liquid overflowed onto the floor and soaked into his clothes. He felt his testicles begin to tingle, a sensation that finally jolted him from his catatonic trance. He jumped to his feet with a quick gasp for air and bolted to the door without saying a word.

As he drove back into town wet to the core with urine and shivering in the wind to air out the smell, his cell phone beeped with the notification of new voicemail. The normalcy of the sound calmed him, but only momentarily. As he listened, the voice of each of the three girls erupted in consecutive unnerving messages through the tinny sound of his phone. They all said the same thing. “Stephen, I’m pregnant!”

Monday, August 07, 2006



Eyes narrow, brow furrowed, head slightly down, and arms folded she steamed down the sidewalk. The small crowd of twenty-something men all stared as she came closer following the sidewalk that they blocked so obliviously. As she got about fifty feet away she stepped out into the street to go around them. That’s when the words came. “Hey baby. Where you goin’?” “Damn, honey, you fine.” “Ain’t she though?” She rolled her eyes and kept the same pace past the moronically catcalling bunch.

After many such occurrences during her teenage and now adult life, she had learned to have a hard, unapproachable stature in an effort to ward off the aggressive, disrespectful and hormone charged men that she inevitably had to encounter. Alone or in groups they had no problem yelling out invitations and what they considered compliments. Of course, it was much worse when it was a group. There seemed to be a competition between them to see who could get her attention and break her stride. Sometimes they would even run up beside her and start talking, so close sometimes she could smell the cheap cologne. She refused to respond, never wanting to give them the satisfaction after treating her that way.

The problem with her developed defensive technique was that it didn’t work. The buffoons continued to eye her and call out obscene gestures no matter how mean she felt she looked. To them, she looked like a collection of parts that was such a magnificent development that if they did get her attention it would mean bragging rights for weeks. Her dark hair and smooth tanned skin framed and encased a face and body that anyone, including the jealous women at her office would call stunning. What they all wondered though was why she never had a boyfriend. They never heard her talk about dating anyone. They would speculate and make jokes that she was a lesbian. She knew that’s what some thought, but it didn’t bother her. She felt that was no reason to feel shame.

It wasn’t as though she didn’t want to date. She craved companionship and good conversation. She wanted to feel the warmth of a man’s touch against her skin, to feel held and cared for by someone she trusted. She tried going to bars and clubs, but she encountered the same sort of purposefully one-sided conversation and bad lines that she did walking down the street. It seemed to her that everyone had lost their minds after the age of twelve.

To fill the void created by her lack of human company, she volunteered. On Saturdays twice a month, she would go to the animal shelter and volunteer to bath the dogs and cats that had been picked up that week. The cute little fur balls, looking frazzled after a good lather would shake and wiggle once she let them go, getting her wet from belly to toe. In the afternoon she would sit with a few of the no longer musty dogs individually playing and cuddling with them so that they would learn to trust people and become good pets for another affection-deficient individual.

The other weekends of the month she volunteered to have calls routed to her phone from a poison hotline. She was comfortable with this human interaction, because she couldn’t be seen. No one ever ogled her through the telephone line while frantically trying to determine if there son was going to die from drinking a pint of paint thinner that had been diluted by white paint. “He thought it was milk! Should I make him puke? Ugh, too late.” In a calming voice she would tell them exactly what to do. She felt good about herself for helping, for making someone’s discomfort dissipate.

On the corner near her building was a small bookstore that she sometimes visited. She would buy a coffee from the little café next door and browse until she found a cover that caught her attention. She wouldn’t pick one up or read the jacket liner unless it pulled a particular reaction from her when she read the title and saw the cover art. Unless she let out an audible “Ooh!” she wasn’t even bothering with it.

On one such occasion, she picked up a book with a picture of a woman from the waste down wearing striped red and white stockings to her knees, a pleated skirt and fabulous shoes. The title evoked a warm happy feeling too. With a deep breath, inhaling the oddly pleasant aroma of old paper, she headed straight for the cash register. There was a guy behind the counter with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye happily waiting on a man in his fifties who was buying a couple of plastic wrapped magazines. She knew what was coming, so she put away her excitement and put on her “don’t talk to me” expression. When the man reached to put his wallet back in his pocket he caught a glimpse of her, which gave him a bit of a start. He turned and said, “My! Aren’t you a pretty young thing?” Without waiting for a reply, he turned for the door. “I guess they never grow out of it,” she thought.

She placed the book on the counter, not looking at the attendant, who said, “Good morning,” so pleasantly that it took her by surprise. “Oh, good choice! I really enjoyed that one. When the cover and title are germane to the content, it makes the first few pages so much more satisfying. Don’t you agree?”

She felt her guarded posture begin to release. She looked up thinking about what he’d said. A few seconds passed before she responded, well past the normal time for a person to respond. “You know, I’ve never really thought about that.”

“It’s just that I feel when the title seems bright and cheery and the words on the pages seem dark and ominous it’s completely confusing.”

“That really does make a lot of sense. The last book I read was like that,” she said nodding her head and contorting her mouth to show that she was truly considering it. She unfolded her arms and picked up a magnet from a stack on the counter. It read, “A book is a window into the mind of the author. Please open your shutters.” She let out a short laugh. She could sense that it made the cashier smile and looked up to see it.

As she walked toward the door with new book in hand, she felt open, unassuming. It was nice to be able to laugh in public. She looked back at the cashier and said, “Have a great day!” They both smiled as she pushed through the double glass doors into the white light of the day.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Security Guard (A Journey into the Halls Part II)

“I don’t really see why they won’t give us guns. I mean, what if what happened at one of those high schools happens here, and some kid comes in trying to shoot as many people as possible before he takes himself out? My friend Dave at the Sheriff’s department says it could happen anytime.”

“Marvin, don’t you think that if a kid was going to do that, he would plan on how to kill us first? He’d have to get by us anyway!”

“Yeah, but if I had a gun, I could shoot him before he shoots me. I’ve been practicing my draw with my tazer. Watch.” He squared his feet and whipped the electric stun gun from his hip slightly awkwardly but with surprising quickness.

“Put it away, you lunatic. Here comes a visitor.” Marvin swiveled the tazer and tucked it away in its holster. He crossed his arms to look as hard and diligent as possible for the first person of the day to visit the building. He thought it was important to look as though he was on the verge of arresting everyone.

“Good morning, sir.” Marvin was quiet as the other security guard greeted the patron, who looked a little funny pulling on his belt loops to keep his pants up. Marvin thought that it wasn’t usually the saggy pants guys that came to visit the state house, but mainly he just thought the pictures of fish on his boxers were ridiculous. He could see the design as he walked straight through the metal detector without taking anything out of his pockets. The contraption didn’t beep, so he let the man keep walking.

He waited until the guy was out of earshot, and then said to his partner, “I bet that guy’s mom buys all his clothes.”

“Why do you say that? He didn’t look bundled up and clean like he lives with his parents.”

“You didn’t see his kiddy boxers with his pants all sagging like that? Grown men don’t buy themselves underwear with cute little cartoon fishies on them, but moms do though.”

His partner shook his head. “You think you’re being smart, analyzing the minds and lives of all the people that come through here, but I’d bet that none of your assumptions are right. I bet that guy is just cheap, and he bought his boxers on sale at K-Mart, blue light special all the way. He won’t even spring for a belt for crying out loud.”

“Well, maybe, but I don’t think so. Here, hand me that catalog. I’m going to the can.”

“Every morning, just like clock work. Just wait till you’re my age and you have to drink a glass of dirty-looking gritty water your wife gives you every morning just so you’ll go at all that day.”

Marvin walked down the hall and around the corner, then left, then right into the men’s room. It was always a little bit cold in there, but he didn’t mind once he got that first shiver out of his system. It crept up his spine just as his skin touched down on the white porcelain horseshoe. He opened the catalog and stopped at the flashlights. He always wanted the big one, the one that took four D-size batteries. His friend who worked for the Sheriff’s department, Dave, told him that it was a great way to subdue a perp’ at night. “All the extra weight gives it more momentum when you swing it,” he’d said. He idolized Dave, and wished that he could only pass the tests to join the department too. Marvin knew Dave thought he was better than him, that his job was more important.

He leafed through the catalog for a few more minutes and absent mindedly played with the strap on his tazer holster before finishing up. He flushed and walked over to the sink, watching himself in the mirror the whole way, straightening up and pushing out his chest. Washing his hands, he never even looked at them; he kept making different faces at himself trying to figure out which one made him seem most stern. He started to dry his hands under the blower, but he didn’t have enough patience for the thing. He wiped his hands on his pants and headed out the door.

As the heavy door swung open on its hinges, he saw the visitor slide around the corner with his pants nearly at his knees. He jerked them up and kept running. Marvin’s eyes grew wide, and he shuffled his feet into his quick draw stance. The strap on his holster was already undone from playing with it on the toilet. The tazer slid out without a hitch, and as the guy flew past Marvin nailed him right in his back. His pants slid back down as he fell face first onto the floor, skidding to a halt.

Marvin’s stomach dropped when he thought about what had just happened. He didn’t even know why the guy was running. “Why would he be running? What if he hadn’t done anything wrong? Now I’ll never get into to the department?” His mind was racing. He called his partner on the radio and told him he’d better come and help.

He looked up and saw a dark suit come around the corner hunched over in pain. Marvin’s fear evaporated in an instant. It was replaced by the fullness of pride. What would Dave think now?