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    Johnny and Mini

     

    CHAPTER 1- Downtown Madness

     

    A two hundred year old oak tree rattled like a rusted tambourine as an unwanted tide of cold wind rolled in. The chilled air stroked Johnny’s bare neck, sending chills down his spine strong enough to straighten his curved back. The downtown madness was pushing his patience to the limit. Mini, his new fiancée, stood ten feet behind him in the warm, glowing hotel entrance, strutting as if her beauty was on full display for the people walking in the dark gutter. In her mink coat, dolled up, she relished every moment that Johnny struggled in the street for her comfort.

    “God dammit. Hey, can’t you see me waving my God damn hand. God dammit.” Johnny leaned into the road and yelled at passing cabs. The locals and tourists whispered and pointed at him as they walked by. A trolley creaked down the middle of the street, its bell ringing and the lit, enchanted eyes of the riders locked on Johnny.

    “Jesus Christ,” Johnny grumbled to himself and turned around to Mini. “Hey, I’ll be right back. I’m going to get the damn cab.”

    Mini waved and smiled, posing for absent photographers.

    Johnny turned and stormed out into the street. Horns blared out and curses were tossed like finished cigarettes from the windows of swerving cars. In a swarm of heavy traffic, Johnny walked north up Canal Street, half hoping that a vehicle would flatten him and preemptively end his pre-honeymoon trip. He hated what his life had become, what it was about to become. The further up the street he walked, the more the idea seemed to strangle him. Where had his youth gone? His freedom?  His fight? His libido???

    Taking a reckless cut through traffic, Johnny lunged himself ass-first in front of an old cab— a 25 year old, box shaped Chevy Caprice. Horns blared and street walkers gasped, the cab’s brakes squealed. Johnny’s body thumped on the hood.

    “Hey man… what the fuck’s your problem!?” The driver yelled and slammed on his wheel. He was overweight. From the sides of his wool cap, his coiled silvery hair dangled and bounced like dancing snakes.

    Rolling off, his ribs aching, back tight, Johnny stuck his face against the glass of the passenger side window and grunted, “You going to give me a ride?”

    “Excuse me?” the man growled, misty eyed. He churned down the window. The car was piled high with laundry— an oozing, moldy scent swirled out through the cracked glass.

    “I need a ride. None of the damn cabs will stop.” Johnny threw his thumb back at traffic. Wrapped in a long coat, Johnny was wearing gray corduroy pants and a thin, white long sleeve shirt. His full head of brown hair looked pulled and strained with anxiety. The bright green coloring and the wild red veins that ran through Johnny’s eyes created a camouflaging effect with the back drop of the city.

    “Yeah. Okay,” the driver said, entertained, half in disbelief.

    Limping back—his scuffed black boots cracking on the wet asphalt— Johnny creaked open the door and slid into the back seat, happy to be out of the cold and off his feet. His hip felt bruised and his fingers cold, like jagged melting icicles. Inside, the warm air fired out from the vents and the driver’s body odor souped up the air, the windows clouded. Johnny nearly gagged.

    “Hey, could you do me a favor and not slam the door, buddy?” The bloated cabbie sneered. He seemed to have no qualms about the stink. He looked like a city native, completely calm in the hustling downtown metropolis, comfortable with his own futile position.

    “Here, drive up there.” Johnny slid his hand down his sleeve and covered his mouth. “My girlfriend is waiting to be picked up. There, over there in front of the hotel.” Johnny reached into his pocket and pulled out a prescription bottle of Benzos. He rattled it to make sure it was full and popped one into his mouth.

    The cabbie jingled his keys and turned the ignition, firing shots out of the muffler and bringing the engine to a haggard roar. He pulled a quick turn into traffic without looking. Just as quickly, he made a strong turn towards the curb in front of the hotel and slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a violent halt. Johnny’s forehead slammed into the seat in front of him. He raised his hand to check for blood, but didn’t see anything.

                “Hey, Jesus, man. What’s wrong with you?” Johnny yelled from the back seat.

    “Don’t worry about me.” The man’s neck jiggled in retaliatory anger. “I’ve been driving these streets for twenty years.” Satisfied with his comeback, the man smiled; ice rattled as he grabbed his sweating drink from the cup holder in front of him. He reached into a crumpled fast food bag and shoveled a handful of fries into the gaping hole in the middle of his face.

    “Hmmph,” Johnny grunted and turned towards the window. He wanted to let some of the stink out. “Does this thing roll down any further?”

    “Nah.” The cab driver belched.

    Johnny grunted and popped open the door. He stood up onto the curb, and his back got tight and nearly caught a spasm. He didn’t notice too much, though. It was just an old injury he had gotten playing college ball fifteen years back. Through a swarm of drunks and tourists, an undercurrent of buzzing, Johnny yelled, “HEY MINI. COME ON, NOW.”

    Hearing her name ring out, Mini put down her antique handheld mirror and waved to Johnny. From the car, she looked plastic, like a mannequin being displayed in a downtown shop window. Her large, pale breasts were pushed up to her throat, and her pasty make-up made her appear lifeless.

    “Hey, come on. Let’s go. I found the cab,” Johnny yelled again from the curb. When he saw her moving, Johnny slid back inside and mumbled angrily as the cab driver watched interestedly in the rearview.

                Mini gingerly cut in front of a couple of gutter punks, drawing predatory looks as she did so. “Excuse me,” she said, oblivious to any danger. Mini— in her six inch heels— could barely walk and talk at the same time. To help keep her balance, she kept one of her jeweled hands out, gently holding onto a non-existent steel railing. Beneath the heavy mink coat that lay across Mini’s shoulders was a red dress that matched her thick lipstick.

                 “Alright now, hurry up. I’m dropping twenty bucks on this cab. Let’s not have it cost any more than that,” Johnny snapped from the back seat as he watched Mini struggle to bend in through the cab door. Clanking her door shut, the sharp, pungent smell of her citrusy perfume quickly mixed with the driver’s stink, creating a toxic combination. The cabbie hacked uncontrollably and reached for his drink.

    “So, where you two heading?” The driver slurped.

                “The Spotted Cat.” Johnny said through the side of his mouth, his noise pointed up towards the cracked window. “You know where it is?”

                 “It’s in the Quarter,” the cabbie hacked again, spit flying onto the dashboard. “Like I said, I’ve been driving around here for twenty years.”

                “Yeah, okay, I hear ya,” Johnny said. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his money clip, and began flipping through a stack of twenties and fifties. There was about 800 in cash, nearly everything that he had in his bank account— a fact that stressed Johnny. It was just a couple months ago that he actually had upwards of ten thousand dollars in the account. However, in a moment of extreme fervor and passion, he decided to donate it to the church as a sort of insurance policy for his soul. Johnny could never bring himself to truly believe all of the church teachings, but the thought of hell, the possibility of its eternal existence, was enough for Johnny to take precautions. He sometimes wondered if he had made the right decision.   

    “How much is this ride going to cost?”

    “Probably about 30 if I had to guess,” the cab driver said as the car sat purring on the side of the street.

    “Jesus.” Johnny breathed through his mouth. “Alright, go on. Let’s go.” He leaned back into the soft back seat and slid the money into his coat pocket as the car once again swerved into traffic. Johnny looked out into the streets, his nose pointed up towards the cracked window and in the opposite direction of Mini.

                Mini, sitting upright and proper and in her own misty cloud, examined the car, her eyes bouncing. It was a filthy cab, loaded with sweaty towels and the driver’s sickening green bomber jacket— which was decorated with rings of scuz and holes in the underarms. Below that, his groin sat swelled underneath a pair of thin, crusty grey sweat pants. Mini moaned in disgust.

                “Can you believe that?” Mini rasped her voice, barely holding her queasy stomach in check.

                “Believe what?” Johnny asked impatiently.

                “The look of this car. The man has dirty laundry sprawled about as if it was a pigsty.” Mini pointed to the damning evidence. “Does he think that we’re animals? Johnny, I nearly threw up into my purse.”

                “He’s a cab driver; he’s supposed to be a slob,” Johnny growled, turning back into the window. Complaints and judgments. Non-stop gossip. When did this woman ever stop?

                 “Will you keep your voice down?” Mini looked up into the rearview; the driver wasn’t looking back. Posture tight and fixed, Mini stared through the smeared front windshield as they turned off of Canal Street and started to move away from downtown. She turned towards Johnny and slid up close to him. Lifting his arm over her shoulder, she placed her head softly on his shoulder.  “Hey Johnny, I don’t know if I told you already, but I’m so glad you took me down to New Orleans. It’s been amazing,” she said, waving her hand across the skyline. “I think that this was the perfect place for a romantic week.”

                “I don’t know if romantic is the right word to describe New Orleans,” Johnny snapped.

                “Sure it is; we have the music and the shows and each other. What would you call it?”

                “I don’t know; I just wouldn’t call it romantic.” Johnny scratched at his beard and twisted his neck. “Sexy, alluring, maybe something like that.”

                “Oh, don’t say that Johnny, don’t ruin the mood.” Mini playfully slapped his shoulder. “I can’t wait to go out to this little club with you. We’ll have some drinks and maybe dance.”

                Johnny hated to dance; he couldn’t even count the number of times that he had said that. But she never would stop harassing him. She’d make dinner reservations at Latin clubs and sign them up for classes at the community center without even asking. Then, when he didn’t want to go, she’d freak out and cry, starting one of her “are you sure you even love me?” type rants. That’s the type of stunt she’d pull with everything, not just dancing, either. Johnny couldn’t understand why they always had to have the same fights over and over. He couldn’t determine if she didn’t listen, or if she was just dense. Evidence pointed towards dense, though. Around the house, she couldn’t handle doing the laundry; she couldn’t follow a simple recipe and cook dinner; she couldn’t remember not to flush fucking paper towels down the fucking toilet. How many times did he have to say it? It was like living with an invalid, an animal, he would yell.

    Out of nowhere, though, in moments of disarming lucidity, Mini flashed moments of brilliance, knowing how to use her womanly charm to make Johnny feel just guilty enough and sorry enough and horny enough to stick around.

                “I’m not dancing,” Johnny snapped for what he hoped was the last time.

     

    *****

               

    Johnny and Mini had been together for nearly seven months now. At 35 years old, Johnny’s dating history before Mini was lackluster, at best. Typically, he stuck to one night stands and detached, meaningless sex— which was not as difficult to find as one might think. Especially for a young guy that knew how to work the scene. Black girls, white girls, yellow girls, young, old, fat, thin, crippled, or spry… Johnny had no preference.

    As an ambitious writer, the freedom that came with his turn-and-burn outlook was ideal as it helped to deliver quite a bit of success during his late twenties. In fact, at just 29 years old, Johnny had already published two different novels that actually sold fairly well, enough that he didn’t have to pick up another job, anyway. Based on your source, one was even well-received, sort of. Johnny was hoping, however, that with his next book he would be catapulted into an even higher level of prestige. He wanted a bestseller. He wanted a Pulitzer. He wanted to be interviewed by the gangly and revered Charlie Rose.

    It had been nearly six years since his last publication, though. Too much sex and debauchery, too much partying. His work ethic and desire were running dry. No matter how hard he tried, spending hours in deep snoring meditation at his antique, mahogany desk, he just couldn’t think of anything to spew onto the paper. He had reached the limits of his consciousness, or so he worried constantly. In a few months’ time, the growing isolation and his clogged imagination morphed into paranoia and panic attacks, into crippling delusions.

                Everywhere that he went he felt as though the people around him could hear the thoughts in his head. The lack of mental security made him contentious, both internally and externally. Inside, his thought patterns began to become more aggressive, especially towards women. If he felt that one was trying to read his face, his thoughts, he would pinch his mind into a gruesome direction, hoping that the images would scare them off. Thoughts of rape and murder, theft and sexual assault, violence and sickness, disease and rape again would wildly bounce through his rotting brain. It was a constant stream of senselessness.

    People at the grocery store and the post office and around the neighborhood, they could see the pain in his contorted face, the anguish that continued to rip at his ulcerated stomach. There goes the freak!” the children would yell, and the housewives would whisper from their stoops. Johnny could hear it.

                How had he fallen so far? Johnny would wonder. He was a literary savant!

    How could it be that he was now being mocked by Irene Dunne— an eighty year old neighbor that wore a diaper and was bound to her wheelchair?  Johnny was willing to try anything, anything to find some relief. After a few months of therapy sessions, a couple grand flushed away, and a prescription of Benzos, Johnny walked by the neighborhood church and decided to stop in.

     

    *****

     

    Mini leaned over and kissed Johnny. It was a dry, tight-lipped kiss that Mini felt made the night all the more romantic. Johnny, however, saw it as an opportunity for something more. As her lips started to pull away, Johnny placed his hand on the back of her head— weaving his fingers into her hair— and held her in place. He slipped into her mouth and tickled her hesitant tongue. Then, he slid his hands up Mini’s legs towards her crotch, keeping one eye on the peeping driver. Before he reached her panties, though, Mini broke contact and playfully slapped Johnny’s hand.

                “Johnny, we don’t need to do that now. I already have my makeup ready for our night out; I don’t want to ruin it,” Mini said, looking into the rearview, seeing the cabbie’s curled eyes watching in pleasure, his hand fidgeting with his crusty sweat pants.

                “Jesus Christ, Mini. I’m just trying to have some fun. Don’t you know how to have any fun?” Johnny and Mini had been together for seven months, and they still hadn’t slept together, minus the one time that Johnny had convinced her to let him try anal, telling her that it wasn’t really sex and that she would still technically be a virgin. Surprisingly, she agreed to the proposal. The plan, however, ended somewhat miserably when Mini began a whimpering moan just seconds into the act right before releasing a bubbling puddle of brown excrete out onto the sheets. Quickly, knowing that she had made a faux pas, Mini rushed into the bathroom, while Johnny lingered behind and finished himself off before getting up to make sure she was okay. After that, Mini was convinced that she wanted to wait for marriage and do it the “normal” way. Lately, though, the lust had been burning inside of Johnny’s corduroy pants. Actually, it was all he could think about, and he had even taken to pleasuring himself in public bathrooms whenever advantageous opportunities presented themselves, stumbling across buildings, nurturing his hard-ons and craving his moment of release inside of the bathroom stalls. Now, knowing that their day of consummation was just around the corner, Johnny’s libido was fired up to an even higher degree, blinding him from any real thoughts of what he was signing up for.

                “Oh Johnny, you just don’t understand, but that’s okay. Men never do understand about those things.” Both of them sat in silence for the next few moments. Johnny was angry about her unwillingness to let loose; Mini was happy because she saw Johnny’s advances as signs of affection.

                With no play in his immediate future, Johnny glanced around the cab trying to change his thought pattern. In the front seat, amongst the mess of clothes and crumpled bags of McDonalds, Johnny saw a couple of books scattered— including an Edgar Allen Poe short story collection. “Do you like to read?” Johnny asked the cabbie.

                “Yep.” The cabbie belched.

                “I’m actually a writer myself. I like to write in a dark surrealist style. You know kind of like Poe.” Johnny pointed to the book seated next to the driver.

                “Huh?”

                “Don’t you read Poe? You have his book sitting up there next to you.”

                The cab driver looked to his side and picked up the short story collection with one hand as he wobbled the wheel with the other. “What this?” He laughed a hearty, drunkard’s laugh.

                “Yeah.”

                “I’ll read, but not this shit. I read the newspaper, maybe a magazine. Somebody just left this in the car.” The cab driver tossed the book against the passenger side door like a dog’s toy.

                “Hey, what do you think you’re doing? Don’t you have any respect for literature?” Johnny strained his face in contempt.

                “For what?”

                “For knowledge, man, LITERATURE.” Johnny leaned over the seat and picked up the book. The driver shot him a look before he quickly pulled the book back over. “Jesus Christ, man.”

                “Johnny, will you leave that man alone. He doesn’t want to be yelled at,” Mini interjected. She was checking her make-up, only half-listening to the boys’ argument.

                “What would I care about literature for?” The cab driver scoffed.

                “Because the answers to life are in literature. If you weren’t so foolish, you’d realize that.”

                “The only place you can find the answers to life is the Bible, buddy,” the cab driver sneered. He pulled up on his cap and scratched his head before pulling the cap back down. Outside, the city was dark, except for the changing streetlights and the pools of light that puddled on the sidewalk from restaurants and nightclubs. On every corner, groups of people huddled, laughing with drinks in their hands.

                “That’s because the Bible is the only place you ever looked, you fool. Answers are everywhere,” Johnny snapped back, poking the Poe book like a wild street preacher.

                “Johnny, don’t say that. Don’t demean the Bible,” Mini chimed in.

                “Nobody is demeaning the Bible. I’m just saying that you can find answers everywhere.”

                “Well, it doesn’t seem like you’ve found too many answers, buddy,” the cab driver snarled.

    Both Mini and the cabbie were against him; Johnny could sense it. The car had suddenly turned blasphemous. “What the hell is that supposed to mean. You’re just a cab driver.”

                The cabbie ignored the comment and turned up the old blues station that he had on the radio. Blind Willie Johnson’s voice rained over the interior of the cab, washing away the intense conversation, while his guitar plucking struck down like sharp bolts of lightning. The cab pulled up through the narrow streets of the backend of the Quarter. The bright blue lights of the Spotted Cat shined through Johnny’s window, lighting the Edgar Allen Poe book that he was now holding. Mini was looking into her phone once again, posting to Facebook. The cab driver turned around and held out his hand. His wavering fingers were calling for his payment.

                “How much?”

                “Thirty-one fifty.”

                “Jesus Christ.” Johnny pulled out his money clip and threw thirty-five at him. “Keep the change.”

     

     

     

    CHAPTER 2- A Single, Hypnotic Note

     

    As the cab pulled away, Johnny and Mini stood on the sidewalk. The air was even colder in the Quarter, each breath crystallizing instantly. In front of the club, there was a group of young kids, twenty years old or so, maybe.  The smell of their cigarettes hung in small lingering clouds that lowered the ceiling of the sky.

                “Honey, why don’t you smile? Have a good time,” Mini said. She wrapped her arm through Johnny’s and pulled herself tightly against him. “You’ve been so uptight since we’ve gotten to New Orleans. Is everything okay?”

                “I am smiling.” Johnny forced out a strange, contorted smile. “Let’s go.” Johnny grabbed Mini’s hand and pulled her past the group of people and up to the front door of the Spotted Cat. Inside, he could see people congregating and musicians tuning their instruments. There was a faded, glass covered chalkboard that clung to the outside wall. In bright blue chalk, a message read: “Live Music. Open to All Styles and Forms.”

    Johnny ran his hand over his head, pulling his hair back tightly as he looked around at the people entering the bar. They looked like clubbers, not the typical New Orleans crowd. The men were wearing hats, flipped backwards and skinny New York style jeans. They were all well-groomed, even more than the women: plucked eye brows and clean, sleek tattoos. The women wore tall high heels, heavy perfume and make-up.  Ignoring the cold, their shirts dangled down their arms, exposing bra straps that tightly gripped their shoulders and screamed to be yanked off.

    “I told you I picked a good place to come to. It looked really cute on the website. It should be fun. In college, a group of us would always go out to clubs and dance and go crazy,” Mini said.  

    “Yeah, I don’t know about the place. The building and the set-up looks kind of hokey, like a place you’d find in Vegas. The people look like morons, too.”

    “Why do you have to be so negative?”

    “I’m just saying.” Johnny looked in through the door, past the bouncer and saw a band setting up; they looked like a wild bunch. Thank God, it wasn’t one of those electronic DJs or whatever they were called, he thought. Johnny tightened his grip on Mini’s hand and pulled her closer to the door. He looked up at the bouncer and asked, “How much?”

                The bouncer was 6’8”, about five inches taller than Johnny, and weighed upwards of 300 pounds— all muscle. He wore black sunglasses that seemed to melt into his dark skin. He also wore heavy, black boots, dark pants, and a tight black shirt. The only thing that stood out from his shadowy appearance was his right forearm, which was wrapped with a white ink tattoo of 4 squirming snakes being pierced by a single sword. In a deep, rumbling voice, he growled, “15 dollars apiece.”

                “Jesus, okay.” Johnny reached into his coat once again and pulled out his money clip. He counted out thirty dollars and handed it to the bouncer.

    The bouncer swallowed up the cash and placed a red stamp of a leopard on each of their pale white hands. He held open the door and the two walked in underneath his arm. Johnny was the first one in. He was greeted by a warm current of air that blew out from the heaters above. It instantly melted away the rest of the stiffness that had been clinging to his hands and his feet since going out to hail the cab.

    Inside of the large chamber like room, the decor was pretty tacky, as he expected. He never should have let Mini pick the club, he thought. There were red and green and purple lights that shot out in wild directions from the stage, glimmering off of the freshly waxed black and white checker floor. Johnny squinted his eyes as he tried to get a better look at the band. There were four of them, and they looked like an old 60’s group, out of place and out of date for the club they were about to play. The drummer was the smallest of the four and was the only white one. He had long, messy hair and a long handle bar mustache. The man on bongos was very dark skinned with eyes that carried an African intensity. On the bass was a chubby black man that wore circle rimmed sunglasses and a long dashiki. Most of Johnny’s attention, however, was drawn to the magnetic lead singer/guitarist. He was a lighter skinned black man with wild hair that wasn’t exactly an afro but not straight like a white man’s either. Electrified, his hair shot out in different directions: untamed. He wore red leather pants and a black, unbuttoned vest, and his arms were long and lean like a praying mantis. The other band members talked and looked to him for direction as he set-up a variety of fuzz pedals and made sure his guitar was tuned.

    “That guy looks like a wild man,” Johnny said.

    “Who?” Mini asked, still holding onto his arm.

    “The lead singer up there. The one with the vest. I actually can’t wait to see what he does.” Johnny stared up at the stage. The man looked confident, ignoring the murmuring audience. He erotically rubbed his hand up and down the neck of his guitar as it swung in front of him. A cigarette dangled dryly from his upper lip.

    “I think he looks absurd,” Mini responded. “Look how he’s dressed,” she said. Mini pulled off her mink coat and slung it over her arm; it was far too hot.

    Johnny didn’t say anything back; he didn’t even look at her. Instead, he continued to look around the building, noticing the people that had come. Standing closely, Johnny heard a few girls arguing about whether or not they should leave and find a place that played some better music. They were young, 23 or 24 maybe. They had bleach blonde hair and small, compact bodies that lacked curve. Across the club, on the sides of the room, there were girls standing against the black walls. The lights from the stage fused their shriveled torsos against the dark walls, making their skin pop like electric paint. Everybody stood uncomfortably looking at the stage. They wanted what they came for, nothing else; with this guy, the lead singer, none of them seemed to know what to expect.

    “Johnny, that man just looked at me and licked his lips. He’s disgusting.” Mini pointed to the singer. “He’s all about sex.” Open eyed, Mini stood staring and pulled herself closer to Johnny’s body. “I hope he plays some music we can dance to.” With Mini draped on his arm, Johnny stepped forward and started to walk across the club. “Where are we going?” Mini clung.

    “Jesus Christ, Mini. I’m just going over there to take a seat in that booth,” Johnny snapped. Against the back wall of the club, in the darkness, there were booths lined up. They were the furthest seats from the stage, but it would allow them to see everything. Cutting through a few groups of people, Johnny led the way. Over the amplifiers, a voice rang out.

    “Hello everybody. How y’all doing tonight?” It was the lead singer, the praying mantis. An exasperated wave of stirring and shuffling swept through the crowd. “Alright then,” he laughed. It was a light laugh, more to himself than anything else. Johnny and Mini reached the booth and sat down. The plastic cushion circled around a black hardwood table. Red lights shot out from under the seat, illuminating their feet while keeping their faces concealed with darkness.  “Let’s see… I don’t know what y’all are expecting, but we’re going to do a little something different this evening, try and blow y’alls minds,” the singer laughed. “Or something like that.” Instantly, he broke into a wild, looping guitar sound, altered by a rough, primitive fuzz pedal. The amplifiers roared, smoothly distorted and mesmerizing; Johnny could feel his body and his thoughts folding inward and then bending outward, his equilibrium off, massaged and stupefied by the sounds. For the next three minutes, everybody in the club stood still, sipping from their cups and staring wide eyed up at the stage. The lead singer swayed his body and his hips like the flames of a fire. Some of the people whispered amongst themselves and made faces. They didn’t know what to do; surely, they couldn’t dance to this. Only a select few— a group that stood directly in front of the stage and seemed to be with the band— were captivated, feeling their bodies swaying and their minds unrolling.

    Johnny leaned back against the plastic booth and relaxed his body for the first time all night. Sounds were weaving together and echoing inside his consciousness. Mini sat uncomfortably, not knowing what to do. She inched over to Johnny. As she was about to say something, though, the waitress walked up and interrupted.

    “Can I get you two something to drink?” she asked, leaning into the table so she could be heard over the music. Johnny could feel the moisture of her breath on his neck as she spoke. Johnny leaned back to take a better look at her. She was wearing a black miniskirt with black suspenders that came up over her shoulders and a white button-up shirt. Her skin was milky, and her hair was jet black: longer bangs in the front, short in the back. Looping through her nose was a ring with a chain that attached to her ear and dangled like a snake.

    “Mini, do you want anything?” Johnny yelled out over the music. She couldn’t hear him; she didn’t even look at him. The wild lighting from the stage didn’t reach the back of the club, and the lights from underneath the booth only crawled under the table; Mini’s face was left darkened. Johnny leaned in closer, put his arm around her side, and asked, “Did you want anything from the bar?”

    Mini looked at the waitress surprisingly, then back at Johnny. “I’ll have a white wine.”

    “Are you sure?” Johnny said, still leaning in. His hand was rubbing up against her pillowy side.

    “Yes.”

    Johnny turned back to the waitress and leaned in close to her. Perfume crept from her body and into his face. “She’ll have a white wine.” The waitress looked at Mini and then back at Johnny. He nodded. A guitar howled out from behind her, twisting a pair of notes together like the wild roots of a jungle tree.

    The waitress put her arm on Johnny’s shoulder and asked, “What about you?”

    Johnny thought for a second. Returning her touch, he placed his hand on the waitress’ hip and said, “Surprise me.” Mini was oblivious to Johnny’s touching; the music was making her uncomfortable and nervous.

    The waitress smiled and walked away towards the bar. Johnny leaned in close so he could see Mini’s face; it was tight, her red lips puckered and her foundation too thick and too pasty. Johnny looked down at her body, noticing the large curves of her breasts. He slid over and wrapped his arm around her back and under her arm, grabbing at her chest. She instantly broke contact with him and slapped his hand.

    “Johnny, come on. We can’t do that here.” Johnny stared at her. His hair was still strained, and he could feel a headache coming on. “I don’t like this music. I wanted to go dancing,” Mini continued.

    “Jesus Christ,” Johnny yelled. Johnny’s stress shot to an evening high. “What do you want me to do? We can’t leave. We just ordered our drinks.”

    “We can get drinks somewhere else, too.”

    Wildly, Johnny slammed his hand on the table, and said, “Look, I just was out in the damn cold for ten minutes trying to get you a cab. I came to this bar because you wanted to. I took you to New Orleans to make you happy. I think you should be a little bit more fuckin’ appreciative.” Johnny had never spoken with such intensity to Mini before. Normally, he was very calm and collected. But ever since they had gotten to New Orleans, he was getting headaches again for the first time in months. He was outside of his normal routine, and the stress of being on his first vacation with Mini was getting to him.

     

    *****

     

    Like a straining, six foot tall turkey, the pale white skin that loosely hung from the pastor’s skull would loosen and tighten and jiggle– morphing into geriatric shades of purple and blue— as he haphazardly propelled himself into tyrannous, religious-minded rants.

    “Those who do not subscribe to these beliefs will be condemned to eternal punishment,” the pastor would bluster unmercifully, his neck throbbing, his face tired and sagging. “Jesus set the example; he did his part; he provided his body and his blood. Now, it is time for you to do yours, to adhere and study the scripture, to avoid the pitfalls of life, to live for the church and the way of God.” The members of the Sunday morning Bible class would nod and “ooh” and “aahh” at the proclamations, their mouths opened wide for their weekly feeding.

    Johnny had been going to the church for about thirteen months, reading his Bible daily and attending church weekly. The self-discipline and the introspection helped to pull him out of his psychoses. The study helped him to find and focus on different truths. Unfortunately, those truths never seemed to match up with the church as his disagreements always surfaced most in those late Sunday morning Bible classes.

    “So, are you telling me that you believe that if a person doesn’t believe that he’s really eating the actual body and blood of Christ, he will be going to hell? There are no exceptions?” Johnny would sometimes ask from his front row perch. His classmates always stared in horror— eating packaged cookies and dry pastries, drinking bitter, chalky coffee— as they sat and waited for the pastor’s rebuttal.

    “Absolutely, without a doubt. The Lord died for our sins, and he is to be given the proper amount of respect.”

    “But, what if…”

    “Enough!” the old pastor would always interrupt. “We will not compromise the integrity of God by discussing what ifs. This is a place to learn about God, not question him!” From the back of the class, A-MENs and Mmhmms would always ring out in agreement.

    Johnny first met Mini inside of these classes. Mini had been going to the Land of Redemption church for years, attending each service and every Bible class with her girlfriends. Even if she couldn’t bring herself to agree with a lot of what Johnny said and asked (mostly, for fear of eternal punishment), Mini was still attracted to Johnny’s exotic ideas. She came to the classes early and stayed late, hoping that she could talk to Johnny. She stalked him. She put herself in positions that would open up conversation. After finding out that he was an author, she even hunted out both of his books and read them voraciously. Even though she didn’t really understood them, she loved that Johnny had the power to create entire worlds; she could see that he was brilliant. Obviously wounded and disillusioned, but still brilliant.

    One day after her hinting and flirting and caressing— Johnny asked Mini out on a date.

    Johnny was attracted to Mini’s physique (nice body: large breasts, firm ass), which is why he decided to ask her out. That and she was a Christian— his current obsession. After a few dates, though, he realized there wasn’t much of a cerebral attraction. Sure, Mini was book smart. She had gone to a private, Catholic college and had been homeschooled all the way through high school. She knew the capital of nearly every country in the world, and she had half the Bible memorized word for word. She even liked literature, loved it actually. She was in awe of it. But she didn’t understand a damn word of it. Not the way Johnny did. She was shallow, an idiot savant, a pain in the ass on some days, and too needy and clingy on others. She lacked worldliness, common sense, insight: the things that Johnny valued most. She was spoiled by her parents and never really had to earn anything in her entire life. She was tacky and the way she dressed was nauseating. Mini was a good girl and a good person, though. She was good for Johnny, too. She didn’t drink; she was disciplined and had a good job; she had money and was stable; and she would keep Johnny from trouble. She was the type of girl that Johnny needed, even if she wasn’t the girl that he necessarily wanted.

     

    *****

     

    A single dark, bluesy, hypnotic note bent and reverberated over the clubbers for what seemed like a lifetime. Johnny looked towards the swinging front door of the club; patrons were walking out. In front of the stage, a small group of five women hungrily watched the singer as he moved his hips and his guitar, back and forth, just a few feet from their faces. Down in front of the stage, two of the women had primped hair that was long and wild and held together with a head band; they were wearing flowing, robe-like dresses that were tight up top and left their chests exposed. Two others wore dark make-up outlining their eyes and their lips, while also wearing black, checkered skirts that barely covered their asses. The other woman wore a short, tight top and a long, thin skirt that hugged her hips and thighs and calves tightly; she wore her hair in long, twisted dreadlocks, and her caramel stomach was lightly checkered with muscle. All of the women whispered amongst each other and nodded and danced and excitedly laughed. They didn’t care what anybody else thought; this man was a God, an artist. They clutched their chests as they stared up onto the stage. The sweat forming on their bodies glistened.

                “I have to go to the bathroom,” Johnny said to Mini, leaning over. Her perfume still hung thick and choked him when he breathed it in.

                “What?” Mini asked. She couldn’t handle the disorienting music; the sounds were foreign, and she couldn’t make sense of them.

                “I have to take a piss.”

                Mini gave him a look for being so vulgar and pulled her cell phone out from her bag. The angled light from the phone accentuated her worst features. Without looking up, Mini yelled, “Don’t take too long. I don’t want to be here by myself.”

                Johnny stretched himself up from the tight booth in the back of the club. He walked across the floor, nurturing and stroking his hard-on, and headed towards the tunneled bathroom hallway to the left of the stage. The heaters above were blowing warm, moist air on top of his head. He could feel his body sweating underneath his jacket, while his muscles loosened into rubber. As Johnny walked closer to the stage, the dulled, colored lights that usually lit the dance floor cast a veil over the singer’s face. It didn’t matter, though. Johnny could feel his primitive, animalistic energy the closer that he got to the amplifiers. He could feel the women, too. The sex and lust drifted from the edge of the stage, and Johnny sucked it in, gathering mental pictures, as he walked by and opened the door to the adjoining hallway.

    In the hallway, outside of the bathrooms, the energy instantly shifted. When the door snapped shut, the music deadened and a bright, fluorescent light buzzed and flickered overhead. The floor stuck with urine and spilled liquor, and the chipped walls were etched with violence and titties drawn in permanent marker. Loosely hanging on grime covered hinges, Johnny creaked open the wooden bathroom door and began to pleasure himself.

                About a minute and a half later, he re-emerged into the hallway, his coat flung over his arm, his muscles loose, his heart slowed and thumping. Caught off guard, he was met by two of the girls form the edge of the stage, the two girls with long, primped hair, the girls that he just made love to in the bathroom stall.

    “Hi,” the blonde girl chirped. Her voice was gentle and raspy all at once. She smelled sweet. Her face and chest were coated in sweat.

    “Hey,” Johnny replied, staring at her glistening chest, wanting to rip her clothes to the ground. Paranoid, Johnny worried that the girls had heard his pleasured grunts from inside the stall.

    “Hi,” the second girl also chirped. She was just as gorgeous. Her coiled red hair mirrored her flowing red dress, and her ass sat up with a smooth curve to it.

    Both girls looked at Johnny, smiling and half giggling.

    “We saw you walk in and we were wondering if you knew where we could get some…,” the blonde girl drifted off, embarrassed and nervous.

    “Some what?” asked Johnny anxiously.

    The girl looked to her friend and then back to Johnny. “Some you know…weed?” the blonde girl blurted, laughing as if she were already stoned. Johnny hadn’t been around girls so young or vibrant in years. He missed their recklessness; he missed the effect that girls like this had on him.

    Instead, he was getting old and complacent. Even worse, there was nothing he could do about it. He woke up with back pains, and fat was collecting on his thighs, his gut… the back of his neck! Hair was growing everywhere, and the only thing he could do to stop it was to beg Mini to shave him. He had to plead with her; he had to tell her that he needed her. He was disgusting and old and inflexible, and he couldn’t reach his back. She had to do something, anything, to stop it. Pull the razor, the razor. Or better yet, give him his youth back! That was all he really wanted.

    Looking at the girls, Johnny wanted to suck the life from them. He wanted what they had. Their bodies, their outlook, their hope. Fuck, he wanted to get inside of them, and he wanted them to understand him. He wanted them to tell him everything was going to be okay.

    “Or something stronger than that, if you have it,” the red headed girl added.

    Stunned, Johnny looked them up and down, still fixated on the sweat trickling down their breasts. He was fairly certain that he could see their nipples pushing through their thin, tantalizing tops.

    “I’m here with my fiancée,” Johnny blurted out. The girls looked at each other confused. They turned back to Johnny and nervously waited for Johnny to say something else. After a few agonizing seconds, Johnny continued, “What are you asking me for?”

    “Because you looked like you were cool. You know, with the coat and the whole look and everything,” the red headed girl smiled, a twinkle in her eye.

    “Oh,” Johnny said, looking up and down at their bodies, his eyes bulging. He could feel himself growing anxious and tight, his pants already filling up again. Their lips were full, and their eyes were big and bright. Underneath the red head’s flowing hair, her green eyes were dilated; they were blinking and singing out like perched canaries. He raked his hand over his hair, anxiously pulling it.

    “So…Is that something you can do?” The blonde girl interrupted his train of thought.

    “What are your names?” Johnny asked.

    “My name is Alice,” the blonde one said, holding out her hand. Johnny took it and shook gently. Jewels and metallic loops clung to her wrist, her arms rang like a wind chime.

    “My name’s Kiara,” the redhead added, holding her hand out. Johnny took that, too, lightly. “What’s your name?” she added.

     “I’m Johnny Renaut. I’m a writer,” he said still holding the redhead’s hand. Kiara turned to her friend, and they both smiled, nearly laughing when their eyes met. Kiara turned back to Johnny and pulled her hand back slowly, brushing her skin softly against his palm. “So, you’re a writer? That’s cool. What do you write about?”

    The lights overhead flickered, and the amplifiers outside rattled against the hallway like muffled thunder. Inside of the dirty tunnel, the smell of the girls’ sweat twisted around Johnny’s head.

    “I guess if I had to call it something, I would say it’s a sort of dark surrealism,” answered Johnny. “I like to think that all of life is surreal.”

     “Really? Surreal?” Alice winced.

    “Well, I guess I mean that life is just one big dream. A dream that we have a bit more control over, a dream in which we can make all of our fantasies become a reality; of course, if you lose control of this dream, it can very easily become a nightmare, as well,” said Johnny as if he knew something.

     “I don’t know if I agree with that. Life is about being in the moment, being present and not worrying about control and losing control. It’s about enjoying all of the things that happen to you. What’s a life if you’re worrying and stressing all of the time,” Kiara cooed. She slowly ran the tip of her tongue over the edge of her lips. The music continued to thunder against the walls of the hallway, causing both girls to look at the exit.  “Well, we have to go back out there and watch our friend perform. I guess you can’t help us out with our little predicament.”

    “Whoa, wait. I never said that.”

    “So, you do have something?” Kiara asked, tilting her head puzzled. Both of the girls were staring at him waiting for an answer.

    “Of course I do… some tranx,” Johnny said, fingering his bottle of Benzos. “I’m not going to be walking around carrying it with me, though.”

    “Ooooh, I could take some tranx,” said Kiara dreamy-eyed.

    “Do you think you could bring it to us?” Alice asked. She looked to Kiara to see what she thought; she nodded. “Actually, there’s a party that we’re heading to after this. You could bring it to us there. Here, let me write you the address.” From her small black purse, Alice pulled out a pen and a card. On the back, she wrote an address and a small crude map. She handed the card to Johnny. “It’s here in the Quarter. A huge house just a few blocks from here.” She pointed to the map she had drawn. Johnny flipped the card, seeing that it said the band’s name: Gypsy Child. “Do you think that you’ll be able to make it?”

    Johnny looked down at the card once again, glancing at the directions. He looked back up and said, “I’ll be there.”

    “Good,” Kiara interjected. She and Alice started to inch towards the door. “Well, we gotta go, but we better see you tonight.” The door swung open and the music filled up the boxed hallway as the girls were sucked back out to the side of the stage.

     

     

     

    CHAPTER 3- House Party

     

    Oh my goodness, it’s too cold outside for this,” Mini wailed as she swayed back and forth, nearly toppling over. The wind whipped, her hair slashing her face. In her three inch heels, she stumbled forward hoping to stick by Johnny’s side.

                “Toughen up,” Johnny snapped over his shoulder.

    Frustrated and having trouble interpreting the crude map drawing, Johnny chopped his legs quickly and led them out of the Quarter. With each step, the fog grew denser. The greens and golds that dominated the Quarter and downtown began to vanish, giving way to varying shades of black and gray.

                “I can’t. I’m so cold,” Mini panted, trying to catch her breath.

                “Hey, you wanted to get out of there, right?” Johnny looked like a madman. His hair was now standing straight up, held by the grease that collected from his nervous pulling and raking throughout the night.

    “I did, but where are we going? I just want to know where we’re going.”

    “A couple of people from the bar invited us to a party.”

                “What people?”

    “Fuck.” Johnny grunted in exasperation.

    “Look Johnny, I don’t want to go to a party where I don’t know anybody. Why can’t we just spend time together? Alone.”

                “Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Mini.” Johnny dug his feet into the ground and turned. He grabbed Mini by her shoulders, wanting to shake her violently, wanting her head to tumble to the ground, her mouth to finally snap shut. He had been listening to her— her complaints, her demands— for too long. He could care less if the toilet seat was up or down, or if a pair of his dirty underwear was on the kitchen counter one time, ONE TIME, after work. Couldn’t she just let some things go? He got tired, too. He worked hard. When was it his time??

                And to think, Johnny had agreed to be in charge of taking care of Sassy, that stinking feline. He fed her because Mini couldn’t stand the smell of her tuna fish food; he brushed her because Mini’s allergies were too sensitive; he scraped that damn litter box clean THREE TIMES A WEEK because that was more of a man’s job. Plus, it’s not like she could carry the heavy litter bag out to the dumpster at night, in the dark where all of the rapists and perverts hung out— Johnny could fend them off, if they even wanted him. Johnny should have just drowned that loudmouth cat months ago— the fur, the fleas, the begging… oh, the scratching of his cherished, leather barcalounger. Who the hell did that cat think she was?

     “Will you just fuckin’ stop? Will you please just fuckin’ stop?” Johnny panted; his breath clouded into her face and smeared her pasty make-up. “Will you just please shut the fuck up for a minute? I don’t know the fuckin’ peoples’ names, and I don’t know where the fuckin’ house is. But they gave me this map, okay? OKAY?”

                Mini nodded. She was crying, typical. Her hair was flipped wildly, and her coat was hanging, dragging on the ground. Johnny looked down at her chest; it was rhythmically and sexually heaving up and down. His legs cramped in frustration. He turned and continued to walk down the cold, vacated street, now pulling Mini by her hand.

    After a few minutes in silence, Mini whimpered, “Johnny, do you love me?”

                “What kind of question is that Mini? Can we save this for later?” Johnny snapped. “I just want to go and have a fun night, okay?”

                “I just wanted to make sure Johnny. You don’t have to rip my head off. I keep thinking about the future. Last night, I had this dream that we were getting married in this big cathedral and all of our family and friends were there.”

    “Jesus.”

    “The minister was there, and he blessed us and ordered our first kiss as a married couple. But when you leaned in, your eyes rolled into the back of your head, and your skin turned gray and dust started to pour from your mouth. It was frightening.”

                Johnny grunted and continued to look down at the directions on the card, the names of the streets. The air outside was biting, now more than ever. The oak trees rattled. A group of men sat on their balcony watching and smoking silently. Inside of their home was darkness. The only light was coming from the ends of their cigarettes and the reflection off of their wolf like eyes.

                “Why aren’t you saying anything? You couldn’t stop talking about how you wanted to marry me just a couple weeks ago when we were planning this trip,” Mini complained. “Now you don’t want to talk about it?”

                “Can’t you just enjoy the City here? I mean Jesus Christ. We’re here and we’re supposed to be having a great time, but you can’t seem to enjoy anything. Always with the questions. New Orleans is not the place and now is not the time to talk about this anyway. We need to go out and meet some people. You know, enjoy life. God dammit,” Johnny snapped back.

                Neither of them said anything. Mini whimpered.

                “Look, I’m sorry. I guess I’m just a little stressed out,” Johnny added. Mini looked up at Johnny; his eyes were manic. “Now come here and give me a kiss.” He waved his arms and flickered his hands wildly for her to come closer. She leaned in and kissed him. Johnny was detached and Mini was cold. The kiss was frigid.

                Johnny looked back down at his card and said, “Here. This is the street.” They both turned; the house was directly in front of them, about two hundred yards up. It was on the corner of its block, and the windows were covered with tattered, warped plywood like it was ready for a heavy storm. Bright neon green and pink lights escaped from underneath the doors and from the cracks around the windows; the juxtaposition against the ashy, achromatic surroundings was hypnotic. In a matter of seconds, Johnny and Mini floated up the sidewalk that led to the wrap-around porch that led to the front door.

                “Johnny, this place doesn’t look safe,” Mini whined. “Can’t we just go back to the hotel?”

                Johnny shot her a look telling her that she better not ask the question again.

     

    *****

     

    After two years of going to church and a few months of dating Mini, Johnny had forced himself to morph into an upright Christian. He was attending church, and he was no longer questioning the minister’s philosophies. He no longer had fits of uncontrollable thoughts of rape and assault and murder and inflicting harm. He simply was. He was in a monogamous, celibate relationship, building bonds and emotional connections that would be strong enough to last a lifetime. His new friends said it was something to be proud of.

                But with the disappearance of negativity, Johnny felt that a part of him had also gone missing. He had become completely submissive to an ideology.  He felt like he had stopped living, stopped taking chances, stopped evolving. The church and its members would have said that was a good thing. Johnny tried to convince himself that it was good, as well.

                On a Sunday evening about a month before heading to New Orleans, Johnny sat at his dining room table, waiting for Mini to bring out the dinner she had prepared. They very rarely ate out anymore. The dull lights from the cheap, dusty chandelier lit the room from above, and Johnny could smell the Ragu and frozen meatballs cooking in a pot from inside the kitchen. He could still taste the Parmesan in the corners of his mouth from the same spaghetti dinner they had earlier in the week. Across from Johnny was a cheap print of a Christ painting. In the picture, a young, bearded Jesus was acting as a shepherd, bringing his sheep down to the river for a drink. Johnny couldn’t stop staring at it. Finally, after five minutes of staring, Mini walked in with his plate, smiling. Johnny looked up at her and clutched at his chest, falling to the floor, his breathing shallow. Mini was convinced he was having a heart attack.

                Within minutes, Johnny was carted off to the hospital as Mini nervously stood in the waiting room, praying and hoping for a good report from the doctor. When the doctor finally came out to speak to her, she was relieved to find out that Johnny hadn’t had a heart attack. It was simply an extreme panic attack.

                Mini walked into the room while Johnny was hooked up to an EKG machine. His pulse was normal; his eyes were closed. He hadn’t shaven in a few days and dark circles were circling his eyes. Mini placed her hand on his arm, feeling his cold, swampy skin.

                “Johnny, are you okay? They said you had a panic attack. What’s the matter? What’s bothering you?”

                Johnny couldn’t handle any questions. They would only give him a blinding headache. He looked up at Mini. Her face was peering over her voluptuous bosom.

    “Mini, I can’t take any of this anymore. This life, these priorities. I want to go to New Orleans. I used to go there every year when I was younger. I want you to come with me.”

    Johnny paused to look around the room. Mini looked nervous. “We’ll let loose, okay?”

    Mini nodded. “Then, on the way back, we’re going to get married. You can call it a pre-honeymoon, honeymoon.”

                Mini, never expecting a proposal, nodded and started to cry tears of joy.

     

    *****

     

    A slot in the door quickly slid open and a man’s eyes looked out; his voice pounded like the heavy drum that was beating behind him, “Who are you?”

    “I’m Johnny Renaut.”

    The man stared confused and intense. “What do you want?”

    “Kiara and uh, shit… Alice. Kiara and Alice invited me.” Johnny felt at his pocket, checking for the Benzos. “They’re supposed to be here.”

                The slot quickly slammed shut, and a variety of different locks anxiously snapped loose. The door swung open and a man drenched in sweat appeared. His white t-shirt clung to his lean, muscular body and a charm necklace dangled from his neck. His skin was milky and his eyes were a bright sky blue. He had two beautiful women with him, one on each arm. The women were lean and sensuous and long legged; the neon lights glistened off of their wet skin.

                “Kiara and Alice sent you?” The man smiled knowingly.

    “That’s what I said.”

    “Well. Come in, then.” Biting and whispering something into one of his girl’s ears, the blue eyed man ushered Johnny and Mini in, forgetting they were there as soon as the door snapped shut. Johnny and Mini walked into a narrow hallway. There was a small group of people— possibly 4 or 5 couples— leaning back against the tattered, spray painted walls. They were all dancing intensely, grinding against each other’s bodies, men and women sweating and clutching. Johnny stared at one pair in particular; they looked like they were having sex, but he wasn’t sure. The room was dark, only lit by a single light bulb that swung back and forth above them. Legs and arms limply and mindlessly dangled out into the walkway, and the smell of weed and incense spun wildly.

                Johnny’s eyes opened wide, watching and craving it all. Walking through the hallway, slowly brushing against the bodies, Johnny and Mini eventually came to a second wooden door, which Johnny swung open. Inside was an eruption, a mob of people all dancing to the same heavy drum beat. At the center of the dance were three drummers, all pounding in unison as a woman captivated the crowd with her dancing. Her smooth, flawless skin was the color of caramel; it was the woman from the club! She now wore a head dress paired with her long green skirt and the thin white top that left her tight stomach exposed. Around her neck, she had a yellow, five foot python dangling down. As they all grinded against each other, the mob of dancers seemed to mimic the movement and rhythm of her hips, and her hips seemed to be possessed by the pulsing drums.

                Along the exterior walls of the house were mystical looking men seated in booths. They were there to set the mood, more décor than anything else. Inside of their booths were charm necklaces and bracelets, dolls that had very distinct and life like facial characteristics. It was a voodoo themed party, apparently.

    “Jesus Christ,” Johnny said aloud, impressed by the entire setup. His eyes were still lit brightly. The house was dirty and exciting. Just a few feet away, inside of a booth, a man smiled a toothless smile and nodded for Johnny to join in the dance. He was wiry thin and had scarred dark skin; his hair was unkempt and patchy and he, too, had bright blue eyes.

    “Johnny, we shouldn’t be at a party like this. We’re supposed to be on our honeymoon,” Mini yelled out over the music.

    Johnny ignored what Mini said. He scanned the room, looking for the two girls from the bar earlier. There were women everywhere, and each of them was just as exciting as the next. Johnny could feel sweat running down his forehead and the drums pulling him in. Above him, the ceiling was lifted twenty feet high, which helped to echo and amplify the pounding drums. He looked up at the light skinned woman leading the dance; she was elevated on a podium or a stage. Behind her, she was lit by a bright red gleam, the only significant light in the room. Johnny wanted to touch her body; her stomach was tight and her body curved. He wanted to grab and swing from her dreadlocked hair.

                “Johnny, will you fucking listen to me!?” Mini yelled over the music.

                Johnny turned, surprised by her outburst. He had never heard her curse before. “What’s your problem, Mini?” yelled Johnny. He reached out and grabbed her arm, his hands clamping into her skin. “Who the hell do you think you’re talking, too?”

                Mini swung her arm back wildly and broke contact. “I want you to bring me back to the hotel,” Mini yelled.

                “Come on, baby.” Johnny moved closer towards Mini, grabbing her forcefully and pressing his stiff cock against her. “Why don’t you loosen up a little bit? This place is perfect. It’s the perfect place to let loose.” Johnny slid his hands on Mini’s ass and stuck his tongue into her throat. It was the closest that they had come to having sex in weeks.

                Everybody around was tangled with their partner. The only person that seemed to be watching them was the man in the booth, who stood over them like a priest watching a groom kiss his bride for the first time. Mini swung her arms and her legs trying to break free. When she did, she reached up and slapped Johnny with the heavy side of her palm. Johnny reached up and checked his lip for blood. The man in the booth smiled and laughed when he saw Johnny get hit.

                “Hey, son. Hey, SON,” the man in the booth yelled to Johnny. The spit from his toothless mouth was slurring his speech. “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you? You don’t know how to handle your woman, huh?” He started laughing wildly, choking on his spit.

                Johnny was stunned. He couldn’t believe that she had the gall. How the…She was a fu… After all, he had… he was doing her a favor by even being with her. Johnny swung his arm back and was about to hit Mini when somebody stepped in and pulled Johnny’s arm back, nearly snapping it.

                “Ahhhh. Jesus Christ. What the fuck!” Johnny turned around, slamming into a bare, muscular chest. Sweat drenched his nose. The pungent, salty smell of the man slipped up into his nostrils. Looking up through the darkness of the club, Johnny was immediately met with a straight right to his face, which sent him spiraling to the ground. From the floor, he looked up and saw the blur of a man towering over him. Johnny was disoriented and the ground was cold and wet and dark. Johnny couldn’t get a look at who had intervened; all he could see were the man’s red leather pants and a bare chest.

                Quickly, to dispel his confusion, he rolled to his side and reached into his pocket, grabbing his bottle of Benzos. He shook them to make sure they were still there; throwing a half dozen down his throat. He rubbed his temples. The room was spinning around him, and he felt like voices were going to start flooding into his head. He wanted Mini to go away; he wanted Mini to help him up.

                “Johnny. JOHNNY. Are you okay?” Johnny looked up and saw Mini. Her soft hands were rubbing his bicep soothingly. The white pancake on her face was melting, and her rosy cheeks were now blurring through. She was beautiful and ugly all at once.

    Behind her, the assaulter was still towering. From the side of the room, he could still hear the ugly voodoo man laughing. Johnny jerked his arm aggressively in an attempt to get Mini off of him; then, he pushed himself up. “Get off of me, dammit.”

    “Johnny! Where do you think you’re going?” Johnny walked away, stumbling into the dancing crowd. There was a gash on the rim of his eye socket and blood was flowing down his face. “You better not keep walking!”

    Johnny stumbled away, until Mini’s voice finally floated away like a raft in an ocean of misfits. Walking further into the dancing, Johnny could feel the bodies sliding up and down against him. He was getting soaked in sweat. He was so desperate for touch that he licked the collecting moisture from his skin. After a few minutes of pushing his way through the crowd, Johnny emerged on the other side of the house. In front of a crumbling flight of stairs, he saw a table of drinks— whiskey, vodka, gin, tequila— with black cups and a bowl of ice. Johnny went over and fixed himself a drink. He stood there drinking as the Benzos kicked in, losing track of the time. The room was spinning, and Mini was finally fucking gone. Her shrill voice silenced. Quickly losing his senses, the drumming and the woman with the snake kept him conscious and alive with energy. He looked around. Men and women were dancing and getting into each other’s skin. Sweat was dripping and clothes were tearing; like hyenas, people were clawing and biting into each other. As he drank and his vision blurred, he suddenly saw something. It was Mini! Or was it? She was in the middle of the mob, dancing with some man, the man that hit him, maybe. He couldn’t tell; the room was becoming too blurry. His head was spinning.

     

     

     

     

    About The Author

    tim

    Tim Snyder

    Tim Snyder currently works for the Public Defender’s office in Omaha and is working on finishing up his J.D. degree.  Previous to that, he worked as a full-time writer, managing and developing material for an online automotive journal.  More importantly, Mr. Snyder has completed and published a number of other short stories and poems.  Regarding his story, “Johnny and Mini” in this issue of aaduna, he states, “Written in a southern, black comedic style, blending together stylistic elements of authors like John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Kennedy Toole, ‘Johnny and Mini’ is the tale of two mismatched lovers attempting to plow head first into marriage. This plan, however, quickly falls apart as the enchantment of New Orleans begins to cast a spell over their relationship.” This story is an excerpt from Mr. Snyder’s debut novel Berserker, which he is currently shopping for publication.