I was joking around with a friend on twitter today and the subject became darker and darker until I had to stop and shift gears…to something even darker. All I’ll say is that it had something to with a head. For those who’ve read The Book of Paul, you will find this either as disgusting or amusing or some combination of both as you did the first time. For those who haven’t, it’s a heady (ba-doom-boom!) mix of the humor, thrills, chills and horror awaiting you, should you choose to push the magic button on the right.
The first two chapters are less than one page, but help to set up the finale, called ONE-WAY CONVERSATION. It’s one of my favorites. I’ll post the intro as an excerpt, then you can read on for the punchline. Enjoy!
JUST ONE KISS
Rose groaned with disgust and the effort of pushing the splattered corpse off Martin. After she helped him up, he put his arm around her, looking in all directions for any sign of witnesses. Nothing. This is weird. After all that shooting, there must be someone. Then, assuming they were all alone, he did the most unexpected thing. He bent his head down and kissed Rose tenderly on the top of her head.
It was a beautiful sight. Even I had to agree. Tony, the fifth young punk, didn’t find it the least bit endearing. As it turned out, he wasn’t that big a coward after all. Yes, he ran away, but not very far. He was catching his breath at the far end of the street, tucked under his own shadowy stoop. And surprise, surprise: Tony also had a gun, which he was now pointing squarely at the crown of Martin’s lowered, kissing head.
If Martin had known, he might have not waited so long before raising his head again. Even that little movement might have saved his life. Because that little punk Tony had him dead in his sights. And to make matters worse, he was a really good shot.
Tony squeezed the trigger long, slow and even, just like he’d been taught by Carlos, the very man Martin had just delivered from a lifetime of white canes and Braille Hustler magazines. His aim was perfect. Martin lingered with his kiss to make it even easier. Nothing in the world should have been able to save Martin from that long, slow, squeeze and the speeding bullet that followed.
Nothing at all. Except, just maybe, for a wee bit of luck.
Tony couldn’t see him. Neither could Rose or Martin.
Paul was coming like a great black ghost, his hair glowing under the streetlight. He was moving fast, but there wasn’t the slightest sound from his footsteps. He snapped the sickle open and it locked into place, its chrome engraved death’s head emblem gleaming under the street lamp. Tony turned around at the sound, knowing it had to be some kind of knife or switchblade, guessing the newcomer must be in league with the tall guy and his rabid girlfriend. As he turned, he continued the slow squeeze of the trigger, his gun thrust out at eye level, gripped tightly in both hands for steady support.
Tony decided he would start firing as soon as he fully turned around. At this range, any hit will slow him down. Then I’ll have time for a follow-up shot. And that’s exactly what he would have done. If he still had a head.
“C’mere! C’mere! Quick!” Paul hissed at Michael, trying to remain unobserved by Martin and Rose long enough to delight in one of his most trea- sured indulgences. When Michael didn’t move fast enough, he grabbed his hand and dragged him over, under the shadow of a barren tree.
There it was. It could have been mistaken for a half-deflated soccer ball, if it weren’t for the ears. “Look!” Paul hooted, practically bouncing with excitement. It was still alive. “Quick! Bend down, there isn’t much time!” Paul commanded, squatting in front of the…thing. He pulled Michael down with him. Up close and personal. The eyes blinked. Paul raised a finger between them and moved it from side to side. When the eyes followed the movement of Paul’s finger, Michael shivered so strongly his head shook.
“Neat, eh?” Paul said, nudging Michael in the ribs. “Go ahead, ask him a question!”
Strangely enough, Michael didn’t hesitate. It was as if the question had always been inside him, waiting for the opportunity to be asked. “Did it hurt?”
Michael almost shit himself when the mouth opened horribly, struggling to reply. Thankfully, no sound followed, except a barely audible gurgle accompanied by a pool of black blood spilling onto the asphalt below. Bean took an involuntary step backwards when the mouth moved again, slowly, maybe even calmly, mouthing out the words. Michael was no lip reader, but even he could make out the message.
“Not much,” said the head.
“Whoa!” Michael’s Whoa! seemed to shock the head formerly known as Tony into a state of confusion, or perhaps despair. He closed his eyes and blinked them slowly open again, hoping his intrusive audience had lost interest and gone away. When he saw Michael was still gawking at him, he closed his eyes again. They didn’t reopen.
“Well, that’s it, kid. Show’s over!” Paul said happily, slapping Bean on the back, shaking his head with a rapturous sigh of pleasure. “Pretty impressive, eh?”
Michael was so overcome with the madness of the moment that he didn’t know whether to nod or faint. Paul understood. It was, after all, his first time. Paul looked down the street to see whether Martin and Rose were out of earshot. He watched as they approached an apartment building more than fifty yards west, and satisfied they had some measure of privacy, he picked up the headless body and stuffed it into an empty trash can as easily as he was tossing out an oversize bag of kitty litter. He shoved another plastic bag of garbage from a neighboring can on top to cover the crumpled legs, then pushed down the lid so tightly that the lazy sanitation workers would have to screw it off when they carted the trash away two or three days later.
Michael’s legs were so wobbly he almost collapsed in the street. Paul walked over and gave him a hug that almost brought him back to the edge of sanity—then he robbed him of that fleeting equilibrium by picking up the head by its blood-oiled hair, speaking to both the head and Michael like an anatomy professor.
“Here’s a little-known fact…little known, that is, to anyone who wasn’t around during the Reign of Terror,” Paul began, sucking in a huge draft of air while he planted his oak-thick legs a yard apart. He cradled the head gently, then tossed it softly from one hand to the other as he continued. “There’s enough oxygen left in the brain after a particularly swift decapitation, let’s say from a guillotine during that aforementioned terrible time, or my own modest invention here, that the head remains not only conscious for a considerable period, but also acutely aware of its surroundings. You can look into their eyes…and they look back. Better yet, you can even ask them questions, as you’ve just witnessed yourself.”
Paul paused and chuckled, then opened Tony’s eyelids with his thumbs. With this latest desecration, Michael felt more giddy than nauseous. He was beginning to acclimate himself to the Dada-esque absurdity of his circumstances.
“And here’s another little secret that I daresay you couldn’t learn from any other person on the planet.…” Paul paused and Michael’s heart might have stopped beating in response. “They almost always answer you.”
“Whoa!” said Michael. What else could he say?
“Oh, the things that I could tell you, m’boy,” Paul said, shaking his head in wonder. “The things that I have learned!” Then he drop-kicked the head across the street and over a chain-link fence into a vacant lot.
Michael half expected Paul to yell out “Goaaal!” but he casually wiped his bloody hands on his overcoat, wrapped a burly arm around Michael’s panicked shoulder and whispered, “And you know something else, Michael?”
“What?” Bean gulped.
“No matter how many times I’ve been lucky enough to witness that little miracle, I just never get tired of seeing it.”