tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:/posts fingerpuppet raygun 2017-02-24T17:23:04Z fingerpuppet raygun tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/1133958 2017-02-24T17:23:04Z 2017-02-24T17:23:04Z Auto Squad Vol. 2, Iss. 4

Gavin on the other side of the car flings open his door. Throws his feet to concrete. I slide round the back bumper and kick him in the gut before he spots me behind the trunk. He groans out his breath, drops Sure Shot’s gun. I snatch it. Run away from the main road. Never learned how to drive stick so I don’t bother driving the foodstain yellowbox.

We’re in the parking lot of a boarded-up Piggly Wiggly that stands in front an older neighborhood. Look like mostly ranch houses. Neighborhood sits familiar in a vague way, like shaking someone’s hand when you recognize maybe half their face and remember the first letter of their name.

I reach the potentially familiar houses before Gavin get back to driving, I got a solid chance. Can’t hear him over my breaths and my pounding footsteps but I’on’t think he gonna stay down long. That kick was weak. All shock and surprise, not enough connect. Momma always tried to get me to master my followthrough but it never stuck.

I reach the corner of the store as a car door slams. Gavin’s back in the yellowbox. Engine dead so he tries to crank the key. When it doesn’t kick over I know I can breathe—first house not that far from me now. Thank whoever own it it’s got no fence. Engine kicks over and roars as I reach the first yard below the back of the parking lot. Rubber starts running Piggly Wiggly concrete as I swoop behind the house.

Backyard empty except for a sagging oak in the corner opposite me with my back pressed as far into solid brick as I can push it. God damn it, both neighbors got fences—second batch of fences snuck up on me today. Maybe I need glasses. Or maybe I ain’t adjusted to the hazelight of the late world.

I ain’t got time to figure it out. Gavin gonna be down in a sec. I race across the yard behind the oak and thank no one the tree’s close enough to the fence I can shimmy up the tree and the fence and get to the top. Might fall and break my ankle but I’ll take that over being shot. I reach the top, then lower myself onto rolling ground.

Yellowbox engine grumbles by down the street front the yard I just left. Gavin and Sure Shot gonna figure out where I went pretty quick but I got a minute to space. Only thing occupying this backyard is a storebought wood swingset with a fake treehouse attached. No trees here to build on, but there is a stump kinda near the patio. Probably cut down in one of the hot summers eleven or twelve years back.

Once when I was a kid my cousin and me went exploring his neighborhood. Neither us told anyone where we was going. Walked a ways and got lost in a yard like this one. We had no fucking clue where we were. Thank god (well, back then we did) homeowners was home and unscared and Shawn remembered his momma number. She and her husband and my momma were all a-panic and ready to run out and then we call. Momma never was so relieved or so angry before or again.

This yard’s gateless so I walk to the front easy. Dart across the narrow street. Way down left is the Squad folk in the yellowbox. I lose my footing in the next yard, then scramble to the back. Chainlink fence round this one—short and easy to climb. Squad car too far for me to hear the engine but I gotta assume Gavin and Sure Shot moving with me. Cross the next street and—down left there’s that fucken Squad car again. I don’t know how I’ma outrun them.

Just keep my distance for now. Thank no one the streets I cross aren’t crossed by other streets till way far down and the yards ain’t got too many fences. Still the Squad goons keep pace with me the next few streets until I come to a main road. The parish been doing construction on it for years. Slowest widening I ever seen. For Louisiana, that’s saying something. They all slow here.

Logical choice would be to go back through the neighborhood, keep hidden from the yellowbox as long as possible. But instead something pulls me across the main road, all tear-up and concrete chunk and tar patch and pothole and hole-hole, over to the other side where there’s nothing but a YMCA building and a two-story church. The church is Baptist. Momma and I drove past it once when I was a kid, its pale brick burned into my brain like a spotlight in an old TV camera lens. All the rest is open land—parking lot or dirt or stuff claiming to be grass.

Squeal of tires down left tells me Gavin spotted me. I run my legs faster. Soon that car gonna be on me like a cop on my old Acura. Probably they’ll try to run me down. Front of the church is close enough I could read its name if the letters hadn’t fallen off. My legs pounding fast as they can. Probably I’m gonna win the race to the building—but fuck what if it’s locked I’ll be screwed guaran-fucken-teed getting car-smashed gonna hurt more than getting shot.

I reach the solid wood doors before the car gets to the church. Locked. God damn it. Still time. I take a few long steps back and run toward the church. Set my mind to the task of breaking down, lead with my shoulder. Gavin drives into the lot too fast and too far. Tries to correct but wheels lose their grip and the foodstain yellowbox slides past me into the wall.

Soon as I hit the doors I’m transported through them. Car doors open behind me—outside the church—and feet hit ground.

“Fuck!” Gavin says. “I think she phased.”

“What, like what happened to Antonius?”

“Yeah. But we still gotta go in and check.”

Everything silent but for footsteps. Then pounding at the seam between the doors. Then the doors crack. I bolt up the stairs and find myself in the balcony in the main sanctuary. Front doors splinter and footsteps flood in. I freeze.

“I’ll head upstairs, Angie! You take the downstairs.”

More footsteps rushing. Nowhere to hide up here. I don’t move.

Gavin finds me at the balcony railing. “Got her!” Raises a pistol at me and as he does I get a starting run, fire a blind shot at him, leap over the balcony. He lands a bullet in my shoulder. Heat and I groan. Heat and wet and heat and twist and heat and muscle-pull and I shut my eyes, brace for church floor.

I open my eyes to the sound of cicadas ooh-zee-ooh-zee-ing outside. Somehow I must be back in the dying world. Late Lafayette sounded weird and now I know why: cicadas was always buzzing in Lafayette’s dying summers. My shoulder locks up and blood runs down my back. The cross behind the pulpit other end of the sanctuary commands my gaze. The cicadas slow my frantic neverstop internal rhythm.

Swear I could hear Momma calling. I see myself rising to answer and then collapsing, her running over and asking where I been, where did I go, what happened. Almost feel her hand on my face. “Nowhere, Momma,” I want to tell her, “I been nowhere.” I’m going nowhere. “Nothing happened.” Nothing will.

The sanctuary sits silent. Outside the cicadas still gently zee. Interstate traffic a little ways behind the church faintly rumbles and whines into the empty spaces. No one come to me.

I guess I’ll find a soul in the morning.

13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.

Well-crafted e-books of the stories will be made available at payhip.com/Matador as each story is finished. We promise they’ll look as nice as “Great Northern Houses.”

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/1131472 2017-02-15T07:42:00Z 2017-02-15T14:23:01Z Auto Squad Vol. 2, Iss. 3

Momma leans over me and presses her soft, warm wrist to my hard, clammy forehead. She talks but I can’t hear what she says. She grabs a washcloth and lays it on me. It sits cold and wet across my eyes and my forehead. I already know what happens next and it’s not déjà vu.

More like watching a movie again for the first time in twenty years since the last time you watched it: as a kid who thought everything would always work out, thought staying close to your parents would always come easy, thought you’d never disappoint anyone close to you. Who never thought disappointing yourself was even possible.

I know what happens next. Can’t stop myself from saying Momma never made me less sick. She smacks me and I wake up on my back to a numb gut and a dead leg and stains in the ceiling above me. They look like barbecue sauce. This car woulda been better off with Momma owning it.

She never let me eat in her car growing up. “Food’s for restaurants and for houses. You need space to respect it and they both got space,” she said. “You can’t give due in a box rolling down concrete and tar. Just spill it. Then you got stains you never get rid of.” Never understood till I got my own car and ate every meal in it as I wore my nerves down to dust. My coupe never stopped smelling like old beef and every new stain trained me to hate its fabric even more.

Wherever Gavin and his sure shot are taking me, it ain’t close to the Oil Center. No clue what car we’re riding in but I wouldn’t be less comfortable even in the trunk of an old Beetle. Hands cuffed under me pressing into a seat with shit padding. No seat belt round my waist—thank god Gavin ain’t stopped on a dime or yanked a turn yet.

Apparently they not in a hurry, which—fine by me: I’m not sliding round, so I’m not stressing my wounds. Thigh and stomach have stopped burning. Whether that’s just me gone numb or some sort of treatment Gavin or Sure Shot administered, I don’t know. Can’t lift my head to examine my unfeeling gut, never mind the damn thigh. A dull pinprick run, settled in above my belly button and stretching halfway down my leg, throbs every few seconds.

Wait. Am I stretching my foot down like I’m trying to separate it from my leg?

My answer comes immediately: calf locks up and the muscles clamp down on themselves all updown. First sleep in death and I’m already copping anxious tics from my dying life.

Something like an electric cramp sparks all under my skin. The fix is simple: massage the calf. But that’s a whole bitch with your hands tied behind your back. So the electric creeps past my knee and shoots through my thigh and that bullet pulls on my tendons like it’s been shot all over again and I can’t stifle an agonized groan.

“Welcome to the late world,” Sure Shot dicks out her mouth.

“Welcome?” I say. “I been here.” First sleep in three weeks and I only had to get shot to earn it.

“I don’t believe in bullshit,” Gavin says, like he’s making a declaration.

“Me neither,” I say.

“Don’t fucken interrupt me,” Gavin throws up a hand. “There’s no way you been here. There’d be some record of it. Government here always finds new late folks.”

“You two the first to find me in the three weeks I been dead.”

“Three weeks.” Sure Shot shakes her head. “We did ok,” she mutters. “Considering how things been since that incident with Antonius.”

“Wasn’t gonna broadcast how the Squad’s less good, Johnson,” Gavin mutters. “But sure.”

“Oftentimes we find suiciders before the late government does,” Sure Shot explains.

“Especially someone as high profile as you, Beatrice Richard.”

“High profile? I was a video director at a local TV station.” High profile my ass. They must have good drugs in the late world. I would correct him on my name but I don’t like fuckshits calling me Bice.

“Profile doesn’t mention directing,” Sure Shot says.

“Then it’s wrong.”

“Our profiles ain’t never wrong, Ms. Richard,” Gavin says. “You killed six men—”

“Fuck you talking about?”

“—got convicted—”

“You outta your goddamn mind.”

“—and killed yourself in prison to avoid a life sentence.”

“The fuck I did.”

“Sooner you admit it, sooner you’ll be—well, not free. You definitely won’t be free. But you’ll be settled in a more comfy space in jail.”

“I ain’t killed no one.” I wriggle a bit and the cuffs dig into my wrists. “Just myself. All strung up on anxiety.” Before I can groan the cuffs pass through the outside of my wrists, then slide back in place and dig into my spine again. Like they made a mistake. Like they angry I caught it. Groan escapes my mouth before I realize it’s coming.

“Stop your fucking groaning,” Sure Shot says to the windshield.

“You want me to shut the fuck up, take the cuffs off me.”

Sure Shot clicks her teeth.

The numbness stays gone. Regaining feeling, I flex my leg. Immediately behind my body a soft clack bounces off the gently sloped seat and something rolls down against my leg. I shuffle my arms, feel around. When my hands finally find it, I fight back a gasp. It’s the bullet. A second soft clack—this one next to my gut—gets followed by a pinprick thud in the carpet. The bullet from my stomach now sits on the floor.

“Holy shit,” I mutter.

Sure Shot whips around and catches the bullet on the floor with her eye. “Shit. You healed early.” Pulls out a handgun. “No worries.”

Gavin catches her gun with his eye and shouts “No guns while the car moving!” and slams the brakes. Sure Shot hits the dash and I fall off the back seat.

Soon as I hit the floor the cuffs pass all the way through my arms. I jump up and punch out the window. Pull the outside handle to open the door. Gavin throws the handbrake. Then he realizes I’m free and grabs Sure Shot’s gun. I’m out the door before he can line up a shot.

But there’s nowhere for me to run.

13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.

Well-crafted e-books of the stories will be made available at payhip.com/Matador as each story is finished. We promise they’ll look as nice as “Great Northern Houses.”

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/1129165 2017-02-06T22:23:03Z 2017-02-06T22:23:03Z Auto Squad Vol. 2, Iss. 2

Firing a warning shot is probably the worst way to convince someone not to run away from you, but the Squad man does it anyway. Cee-bop told me you can’t die here but I’m not stupid. I keep running. I’m sure I can take any shot but I’m even more sure I don’t wanna feel it. Momma raised me to endure a lot of shit but never got my nerves to settle. Adrenaline dulls nerves only in small bursts and my body practically sustained me on adrenaline alone, so I always felt everything. I’m not looking for my first strong sensation here to be pain.

What I am looking for’s a better spot to hide. Just two smallish office buildings here and they both locked. Never learned how to pick locks. Electrical substation across the street wouldn’t provide much shelter but I could probably get Mr. Warning Shot to trip over something there. But he’s between me and that side of the road. Hell—for all I know, he came from that side.

Stalking along the back of the first building, there’s nothing else for me to run to. Empty grass and empty road for way farther than I can outrun anything. Come to the gap between the office buildings, stop, peek around the corner. The hallway running away from me is long, dark, cavernous, empty. Footsteps come up the building side I just left and I bolt down the thin expanse between the two buildings. Echoes of my feet slap wall to wall like a ball between two racquets.

There’s no way the Squad man doesn’t hear me but no other way makes sense to run. I don’t breathe out till I reach the street side of the first office building. It’s closer to the road than the second but still farther away than I thought. No cover to run. My feet won’t keep me upright if I zig-zag. Squad man’s footsteps run fainter and fainter. I guess sticking with the same building wasn’t too obvious. Maybe wasn’t obvious enough.

I could bolt across the street but guaran-damn-teed Warning Shot—probably still along the front of the other building—would hear my feet slocking that grass, that concrete, be on my ass like makeup on news anchors. Probably I could catch him off guard waiting here—crouch down a bit, hope I can line my hand up with his throat. I press flat against the wall. Practically flatten my nose against the stucco. Burnt smell fills my nostrils like the building’s baking.

First strong scent I’ve noticed in three weeks. Guess if I work hard enough I can smell things. Maybe if I work hard enough I can also get to sleep. But forcing down my anxiety’s a waste. Never worked when I was dying—why would it work now I’m dead? Breath comes rough and loud and goes rough and loud.

A groan of a yell shoots along stucco, around corners, latches onto my ears. “I work for a hell of an agency!” Squad man’s words sound like they coming from anywhere behind me. “We always get our mark!” Dumbshit thinks I’m gonna answer him. “Especially when they run after killing six men, Beatrice Richard!” Fuck is he talking about? He trips somewhere I can’t place and I have to hold back a laugh.

Question isn’t should I run. Re-evaluating the distance between me and that substation, I still don’t think I’d make it in time unless that shitbird keeps tripping. Question is which way he’ll come. My answer: His running footsteps echo ahead of themselves, slapping all around down what’s gotta be my hallway.

I edge to the corner. Crouch slightly. Slow my breathing—one thing I can control well and quick. Saved me from getting fired probably two or three times. When you work for a pasty paperskin snowflake you quickly learn what sets ’em off (most things) and avoid much as you can. Never thought it’d help me fend off—

shoe scuffs sidewalk behind the corner and I hold my breath. Shitbird peeps round the corner and I lodge my palm in his throat. He tries to catch his breath. His grip goes slack. I wrest the gun from his hand. Fire a shot into his thigh and bolt for the street and the substation behind it. Warning Shot goes down in a groaning heap.

Concrete shocks my ankles and knees when I reach the road and I never wished more that adrenaline numbed me to pain. Each step a chore worth doing, brings me closer to obstacle shelter. Warning Shot behind me forces himself to his feet and yelps. Starts after me but limps slow and heavy, drags one leg almost entirely behind him.

My ankles and knees already adjusted to the concrete so I’m running faster, hand gripping the pistol, other side of the road always in my—shit. There’s a fence? Of course there’s a fence. Major utility installation, why wouldn’t there be a fence? Can’t see if it’s locked up. No gate on the side facing me and the road.

Fence too tall to climb. No gate anywhere near me even on other legs of the fence either. No cars driving nearby. Not one person to run to for help. I swear everyone here can sleep except me. Not sure I ever felt this exhausted in my dying life. Not sure I’m not just seeing things in the fevered sleep of a migraine topside. But then I barely knew Cee-bop when I was dying.

I spot a car way down the leg of the fence to my left. I round the corner and it’s the longest straight shot I ever seen, direct line to hopefully a full tank and a ready engine. The car sits yellow. Breathes no smoke out its exhaust. Gives up no growl or gurgle.

Squad man behind me’s way closer than I’d like. Than I’d expected. I run my feet faster. The car sits like it’s waiting just for me and I break into my fastest run when Shitbird’s bloodstained shout crashes through my ears. He is not happy he’s running on a shot leg. Is there a person moving in the car?

I get my answer when someone swings out the front window and fires two shots at me. One punctures my thigh and the other sinks into my gut and I collapse. Course I run from getting shot only to get shot. Can’t tell if the heat and sear boiling up my center is the bullets—or my determination not to feel them.

Whoever’s in the car stays in there. Shitbird finds me after either a minute or an hour. “Beatrice—Richard,” he pants, pulls out a pair of handcuffs, “I’m—Gavin—from the Auto Squad—and I’m—placing you—under—arrest.”

God damn it. He did come from this direction.

13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.

Well-crafted e-books of the stories will be made available at payhip.com/Matador as each story is finished. We promise they’ll look as nice as “Great Northern Houses.”

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/1127497 2017-01-31T17:23:00Z 2017-01-31T17:23:00Z Auto Squad Vol. 2, Iss. 1

I wish I could tell every schmuck who told me I’d get plenty of sleep when I was dead to kiss my ass. Three weeks since I lodged that bullet in my brain and I haven’t slept once. My great-grandpa—my oldest cousins called him Cee-bop—tells me no one needs to sleep here but I been so exhausted I think he’s just telling me that to calm me down. He sleeps no problem and I don’t see crowds of late folks running around in the middle of the night like me, so it’s not calming me down.

Maybe I have to train myself to do it. Maybe I missed some sort of orientation when I woke in the stenchsmoke of gunpowder staring down the old brick wall behind the station where I worked. As if with lead for brains and a headache that might as well have been an aneurysm the size of a football I could figure out why someone built a wall to guard nothing.

I don’t think they make TV here. Cee-bop watches plenty but it all looks like what I watched topside. It brings up my heart rate and my old anxieties about wasting time and I start to antsy after watching with him just a few minutes and that’s always what kicks me out of Cee-bop’s house near the city end of the Old Breaux Bridge Highway.

Lafayette now looks a lot like Lafayette before but almost like an inversion—except most objects here that aren’t people are colored somewhere between night black and navy blue, but still pale as hell like they all been scrubbed down by someone trying to erase any evidence of hue. Every line and border and edge is solid white. Looks almost wireframe. It’s not, but my dying friend who was big on classic games like Battlezone would be in heaven if she were here.

Not that this is heaven. Or hell. Or purgatory. Not that I woulda guessed purgatory. Momma raised me Baptist and if Momma hadn’t Meemaw would’ve. We mighta been surrounded by coonasses answering to Rome but Momma said we weren’t Cajun enough to betray the Word of God. But now that I know God and Jesus and heaven and hell don’t exist here I’m Cajun enough, in a way.

Sometimes I feel like Momma’s watching me, somehow, but Cee-bop told me it can only be the other way around. He said dead eyes see better than dying ones, because the dying ones can’t see the truth. Not that he’s told me how I can put my eye to dying folks. Not that he’s even got a book or a goddamn flyer on it. So I spend most my daytime—

at least I think it’s daytime; the light here doesn’t change much, it’s just a slightly brighter unsourced ambient glow that shifts into a slightly dimmer unsourced ambient glow like everything’s illuminated by fluorescents but without causing so many splitting headaches—so I spend most my days wandering the city on foot, checking over both shoulders for Momma’s face as I go, re-learning this by eye and by foot, imagining how I’d shoot it different dead than dying, wondering if I’ll be stuck here in familiarity for too many years.

Momma named me Beatrice cause she loved reading Dante in high school. Me, I never liked the name and when I learned it meant “traveller” I thought Momma had played a cruel joke on me. Sure I studied production in school and sure I was the main director at KATC and sure it was supposed to be my ticket to directing the Super Bowl and the Emmys but no one was looking to help a black woman move on out of Lafayette to more prominent gigs. Especially in that political climate. Too much orange dust making everyone hallucinate “reverse” anything everywhere.

So when I was in middle school and I learned I was named for the one thing I’d never done—never even left Acadiana till college—I started using the Italian nick for it: Bice. Bee-chay. Never mind I got no Italian in me. That’s what makes me like it.

So many of Momma’s stories come so much more alive now that I’m learning all this city. Today I’m out toward the Oil Center, walking along a road that even on foot looks way too damn narrow for four lanes of traffic. But the parish made it four lanes anyway. And fuck them if they were gonna widen it. But that’s what accidents are for—show bad design. Tell people drive more careful, then fix it after they forget.

I’m telling myself now I should be looking more. Swear to God—if God were here—there’s a set of eyes burning into my back, so I’m looking more. No one. Some cars running—all old, all mechanical, not sure I seen any with computers yet—but no one walking but me. Calm in a way no road ever was when I was dying. Calm in a way my job never was.

Which isn’t hard, since the job was concentrated nerve-fry. Never got more than a day off at a time, and still answering calls all through that anyway. Always getting called in for unscheduled shoots. All the sudden the GM gets a bug or a fucking hornet’s nest up their ass and I gotta direct a one-camera crew to tape a fucking no-movement, no-cut promo we never gonna run.

Five years there and I never had more time off than what I needed to sleep. All I wanted was a breath and a break and now I got plenty of both. Be better to spend it with Momma a while. Never thought I’d miss her cause I was always around her. But then you don’t learn much when you’re dying. You earn your wisdom when you’re late.

I could swear I hear Momma calling my name. My full name, like she’s scolding me. Part of me thinks she’d kill herself just to find me and scold me for killing myself, but I know she wouldn’t. Which is one aspect of her strength I didn’t inherit. In that way I’m more like Cee-bop. But I’ll be damned if I don’t hear some motherfucker shouting my name like I tore off his leg and beat his mother to death with it.

Now I’d swear they’re shouting “stop.” I don’t stop but I do start looking around again as I go. No one near me but I guess someone could be hiding in that parking—

“Beatrice Richard! Don’t fucking defy my orders again!”

Is this dude serious?

“I’m here from the Auto Squad and I’m placing you under—”

I start sprinting.

13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.

Well-crafted e-books of the stories will be made available at payhip.com/Matador as each story is finished. We promise they’ll look as nice as “Great Northern Houses.”

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/1125418 2017-01-23T22:23:00Z 2017-01-24T19:31:35Z Auto Squad Vol. 1, Iss. 4

I react too urgently, Watson will know he’s got something to use against me. “You said he appeared out of nowhere?”

“Never saw him come in. Never saw him go out. Always left as quick as he came.”

Someone’s definitely been phasing back. That’s how it look for dying folks: person comes out of nowhere and then goes back into it. “Wha’d he look like?”

“I don’t remember. We never talked long.”

Bull shit he doesn’t remember. “Never? Meaning you talked multiple times.”

Watson squares his brows and nods. Barely.

“So you talked to the ghost man regularly,” I hook my thumb into his throat wound, “but you can’t even say if he was tall or short or fat or skinny? I wasn’t born”—jam my middle finger into the hole in his chest—“yesterday.” Pull him up by my thumb and finger. Old boy shrieks. “I died before you lived.”

Watson looks at me. Down the stairs. At me.

“You think you wanna adjust your answer there, Jermaine?”

“Did you hear anything?”

“Nothing but your gurgle and shriek.” Never mind that I actually heard something. “But I did hear I can run out of patience real quick.” Sometimes late folks stumble onto squats by accident. Or cause they’re curious. Or nosey. “So I’ll ask again.” Just show them my badge and they stay out the way. They got no sympathy for the shitbags we go after. “Wha’d your ghost man look like?”

Watson closes his eyes. “Average height, I guess.” Re-opens them. “He wore a mask every time we—”

“A mask.”

“A black ski mask. Swear to God.”

“Swear to no one. You sure it’s a him?”

“Sounded like a he.”

I click my teeth. “Don’t correct my grammar.” A thud travels up the stairs. “Sound doesn’t count for shit. What a man’s voice sound like?” Better make my badge handy. “You at least see if they were white, black, brown?”

“He always wore long sleeves.”

“So, no?”

Watson nods.

I punch him in the throat. “Don’t fucken make me fish for answers again.”

I turn around, look for anyone coming up the stairs—probably that ranger to bitch me out—but there’s no one. Not a sound but old boy’s wheeze and blood and gurgle. And that fucking birdsong again. I don’t care if it’s Dave or Devon or any other chucklefuck in the squad, whoever is doing this, I will throw them out the goddamn window.

No one comes up the stairs and the bird noise cuts out like someone yanked a needle clean off a record. “Swear to God I heard—”

“Swear to no one.”

“I swear,” I swoop down and yank Watson up by his throat wound and stand him up and pin him against the wall, “to whoever—the fuck—I please.”


“You at least get a name for your ski-mask aficionado?”


“The letter M?”

“I think so. I never got an answer.”

“Stand for something? Like Murph?”

Watson shrugs. “If you want.”

“If I want.” I grab his bony shoulders and rush him across the landing. “I told you don’t give me any shit and yet—” I break a window with his pinprick skull. “You done giving it?” Where the fuck did that gnome go? Push his head further out the window.

Watson’s mouth surrenders a yes and I drag him back through the window and stand him straight up. I look all over the room half expecting that gnome to be standing in a corner, half expecting Murph to be throwing it at me—but nothing. Just me and old boy and the walls and the floor. Then comes the shortest flash I ever seen.

Now there’s someone standing four feet away from me. Clothes look like the gnome’s. And they’re wearing a ski mask.

“Right on time,” Watson hoarses out.

Course it’s old boy’s Ski Mask. “You really think they’re gonna help you after this? Whoever they are, they ain’t gonna let you free.” Especially if it’s Murph.

“You don’t know our bargain.”

“No he’s right, Jermaine. You’ve got nothing to hold me to our deal.”

“Doesn’t sound like Murph’s voice,” I mutter.

That’s who you thought I was?” Ski Mask laughs. “I’m not that incompetent. Or vindictive. All he can do is make your job less enjoyable.”

Don’t think I gotta worry about them running. Save the shots.

“I used to be someone who made your job easier. I made the squat profiles.”

Former Squatter’s the only thing that makes sense. “Sorry, never got close with the profile builders.” No one else keeps tabs on us. Close ones, at least. “So I don’t know your voice.” Shit. I can’t feel my toes. Perfect time to starfish.

“Nothing personal, I know. Just like my work in the squad wasn’t. Just like this isn’t. I just got a better offer from some folks who don’t care for the justice you all bring. Never got invested in it myself.”

“Cause justice isn’t worth investment.” I take a step, I’ll fall.

“How’s your foot, Antonius?”

I shove Watson out the window and drop my badge and pull out my Security Six and fire three shots. Land one in Ski Mask’s shoulder before they vanish; the other two land in the wall behind. Ski Mask reappears right next to me and snatches my spare clip off my belt. I grab for them but they vanish before I can get a grip. I have never heard of anyone phasing this quick.

One shot left. Ski Mask flashes in off to my right and I aim as they start running toward me. They flash out again, then flash back in beside me with all their momentum behind them and crash into me and launch us both through the window. In our arc we’re somewhere over Moneybags wallowing on the patio when I finally manage to swing my arm around and stick my gun in Ski Mask’s side and fire.

They shudder and groan and in their hesitation I yank off their mask with my gunless hand. The woman’s pale white face looks familiar but that doesn’t mean I remember it from the Squad. She manages to twist both of us in a way I’ve never quite fallen before. I feel infinite space in my head, my fingers, my toes, creeping to my center. I black out when we hit ground.

It’s a bird’s song wakes me up.

Ski Mask is gone. I’ve got to get back to the late world, tell Murph and them someone knows us in and out and is gonna fuck up our justice distribution but—but that bird’s song floats to me so soft it’s like it’s meant only for my ears. The pure calm invites me to lower my gun. I do. The thought of running back to Murph turns my fucken gut. He’ll shoot me down immediately, tell me I’m being paranoid. Why the hell would I trade bird music for that shit?

Maybe I can start over here—always made something of myself in my first dying life. I don’t know if I will do it again, but that bird’s song tells me I can. So I stand up and holster my gun. Don’t know why the woman didn’t take it. I ever need to get back, I could easily find more cartridges—but I’ll never shoot myself back to the late world. I’ll start trying to find out how to phase instead.

Pre-sight and phasing? Shit. No one could cross me. But I’ll let Murph sweat a good long time first.

I could stand to die for a while.

The newest project from Matador the First, 13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.

Well-crafted e-books of the stories will be made available at payhip.com/Matador as each story is finished. We promise they’ll look as nice as “Great Northern Houses.”

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/1123749 2017-01-17T14:23:04Z 2017-01-17T14:23:04Z Auto Squad Vol. 1, Iss. 3

Whether Watson fainted when I shot him in his chest or his neck or his foot, I don’t really give a shit. I got no clue if he knows he can’t die and I don’t need him figuring it out before I can interrogate him. Gotta wake him up quick, before his wounds start healing. No furniture up here to secure him to so I prop him up against the back wall, cuff his hands behind his back. Let go and his head drops. I let him be and survey the space.

Maybe a couple rooms up here. Big windows stare at the back yard like the purpose of the landing is to show off all that empty Saint Augustine out back. Why the fuck would anyone want to show that off? Any schmuck willing to spend too much on water could keep that shit up.

Thought that gnome was further back from the house. Then again they’re creepy fuckers who don’t subscribe to the laws of physics and I don’t stare too long at them. Then again I’m not wearing my glasses anyway. Haven’t in weeks, since Murph clocked me with that goddamn typewriter case.

There’s that birdsong again. Swear to god if Devon or fucking Dave is pranking me I will literally piss in their corn flakes every morning. Since we gotta eat all our cereal with water, that might improve the flavor. Not that I eat cereal. Not that we need to eat anything in the late world. But Dave eats cereal and so does Devon and they’re both annoying as shit.

I saunter back to Moneybags. Old boy’s chest expands and shrinks slow. The air leaking out his neck sounds all blood and gurgle. Even if Mr. Track Star can talk fine, that sound’s gonna grate on me. I squat down, rest my arms on my knees like I’m about to dress down a kid for stealing. Old boy is definitely out. Wouldn’t be right to punch him.

So I settle for a slap. Two, three. He doesn’t stir. I shout his name, flick his eye, his temple, his nose. Fingers land like fifty-pound bags of sand. He starts to antsy.

Might not be the most intimidating thing to do, but it fucking works. Once when I couldn’t get some shitbag to confess to framing young boys in a small town—we know what people did and died to in their dying lives, but we gotta get them on record in the late world so we can send peace to victims and families—I got the idea I could break him by flicking his face constantly. Figured it’d work like a water drip, but more painful.

I made the mistake of telling Murph. He said it was undignified. I told him when you’re the one with the upper hand, you decide what is and what ain’t dignified. He still wouldn’t let me do it. So I told him get JT in, cause I’d be fucked if I was gonna waste my time. JT failed three days straight before I went back and flicked shitbag’s nose so hard I about broke it. He went on record immediately. Murph never talks about that one.

Old boy here flinches every time now. Just gotta keep it up for—his eyes flutter. “Jermaine!” Flick! two, three. Nothing. Shout, flick, two three. No answer. I ain’t letting this asshole make me wait any longer. My foot’s all swollen pain now. I don’t have time to coddle him back awake. So I take a pair of leather gloves out my coat, dress my hands, breathe. Ain’t gonna like this. Can’t show it.

“Jermaine Fucking Watson!” I stick a thumb in the hole in his throat. “Wake—the—fuck—up!” Each word I pull on the wound. I practically shriek to cover the sound of blood and gurgle.

Old boy’s eyes shoot wide open faster than I can blink and he lurches forward. My thumb in his throat stops him short. He shouts and flings his head back against the wall and groans.

“Welcome to the late world, dipshit. Hope you feeling rested. I’m Antonius and I’ll be your tour guide.”

Watson starts fiddling his hands behind his back.

“You’re not going anywhere, Jermaine.”

He knocks his head around a bit.

“You’ll get to fill out a customer survey afterward.”

Watson locks eyes with me.

“I know you know where you are, so don’t play any shit.”

He jiggers the cuffs again, sinks back. “Is this heav—”

“Mother. Fucker.” I jam my thumb into his neck and grimace. Play it off as a scowl. “Wha’d I just say! I know you know where you are! Don’t give me that ‘Is this heaven or hell’ Hollywood bullshit.”


“I know you know. You looked for me when you showed up.”

Watson looks past me down the stairs.

“No. We’re done with those. When we finish here, I’m jumping out the window with you. Maybe even use you as my landing pad.”

Watson looks back at me. “I don’t suppose I could—”

“Change my mind? No.”

He coughs and stares at my arm clutching his throat. “Could you maybe—?”

“Maybe,” I stand up. With my thumb I drag him across the room. He’s somewhere between a yelp and a whimper when I stop. “Sure thing.” Pull my thumb out, but keep my hand over the hole. “Not sure you’re done paying for my toes yet. Stay jumpy.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? I’m—”

“In the shit if you don’t stop giving it to me!” I jam my middle finger into his chest wound. He did not expect that—gives up the highest scream I ever heard. Amazing what people can bear when they expect it. And what they can’t when they don’t.

“Jesus Christ!”

“There’s no Jesus here.”

“But this is the—afterlife, right?”

I nod. Can’t stop a grin forming.

“What the fuck, man? I’m bleeding out here! Do you even have a first-aid kit?”

I laugh. Whoever snitched ain’t snitched about starfishing. “You’ll be all right.” Pull my finger out his chest. “Long as you don’t pull any shit on me, you’ll be all right.”

Watson bobs his head like a buoy in choppy water.

“How’d you know I was coming when you got here? Or anyone?”

“You wouldn’t believe—”

“This is the place that creates every ‘you wouldn’t believe’ in the dying world. I’ll tell you what I believe.”

“So this guy appears out of nowhere in my office one day. Tells me he knows what I’m doing with my secretary—and her sister. He tells me he knows what waits for me on the other side, that I won’t have anything.”

“Well he was right about that.”

Old boy glares at me like I insulted his mother. Or maybe his secretary’s mother.

“How’d you recognize me?”

“He told me what you looked like.”

Did this fucker just say someone described dead old Antonius to him?

The newest project from Matador the First, 13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday. (Auto Squad 1,3 is an exception to this, due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017 falling on Monday 16 January.)

Well-crafted e-books of the stories will be made available at payhip.com/Matador as each story is finished. We promise they’ll look as nice as “Great Northern Houses.”

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/1121683 2017-01-09T14:23:01Z 2017-01-09T14:23:01Z Auto Squad Vol. 1, Iss. 2

Immediately, at least. No one ever runs as soon as they hit wireframe ground in the late world. But then along came this fucker, up and running like he was born to get away from me.

Someone snitched. I don’t know how, but someone snitched. We got the worst PR in the dying world and that’s exactly how we want it. How we supposed to do our jobs if every shitbird and asswipe know about us? People believing in Saint Pete and the Pearly Gates or nothing or anything in between means we almost never gotta pull our guns.

That’s a big part of why I like this job. In my dying life I shot off my cousin’s pinky in the woods with a gun we found hugged by the smoke of a recent campfire outside an abandoned tent. In my later years I shot down caskets dropped off ships like depth charges being tested. I don’t like guns, but I know how to use ’em.

Why don’t we use stun guns here? Electronics too complicated. Late energy and dying energy fight a lot and late energy always loses. So that’s why I’m pulling the same Security Six I’ve carried forty-two years as I lean against the corner of the ranger’s garage and aim for Moneybags’s knees. I don’t miss. I never do. Sure aim and good mechanics make sure my shot gets where I want it, every time.

Moneybags scurries into the neighbor’s open garage before I can line up the knee shot. I start across the gap between the houses when he smashes a garage window and blasts two shells at me. I drop to the ground. Bite through my tongue. What the hell kind of squat is this? Motherfuckers are never armed. If all financial district jobs were like this I woulda volunteered for carting off the money changers years ago.

Moneybags across the way reloads and fires two more shells at me. There’s no way he lucked into someone’s ammo cabinet that fast. He knew it was there. Had to. My luck is not that bad that late energy conspires against me. Doesn’t mean anything good, though. Double-check my chambers. I haven’t checked in weeks. Maybe months. All six loaded. Another six hanging on their clip and waiting.

Who the hell would be leaking anything? Moneybags reloads again. First question I should ask is How. Fires two more shots and I leap to my feet and bolt for the garage. Jeffrey Crust I hope these shots get off. Been carrying these cartridges since the early ’90s. Didn’t have to shoot once the business types laid off their Reagan coke. I stop hard against the corner of the neighbor’s garage. Knock my skull against the brick. Stop myself from tripping forward into twelve gauges of agony. Strain my ears. No click, no cocking, no—

Holy fuck! Blood leaks out where my pinky toe and its neighbor once lived. Now I know how my cousin felt. Foot must’ve slid past the corner. Sure I been shot. But I never lost a digit. Then again, my toes’ll be back.

Footsteps run fast into the house. Door slams behind them. I know I can still hobble faster than he can sprint. If the Squad’s profile is accurate—and all our profiles are—my legs are longer than his. But god damn, I am not gonna like it.

“Jermaine Watson! I am here from the Auto Squad, and I am gonna fuck you up! Wherever you run, I will find your ass and I will tear it a new one. Might as well stay calm and wait, dipshit, cause the longer it takes me to find you, the more I’ll make you wish you were alive again when I do.”

Alive again. As if I know how to phase back into the dying world. Fuck me if he knows. And I sure as hell wouldn’t teach him if I knew. Not that anyone knows how. You gotta get a permit to teach it, and the government doesn’t issue them. Only way anyone learns how to phase back into the dying world is by lucking into it. Twist the right way when you fall and you might find yourself burning under the midday sun again.

The clever ones phase back. But there aren’t many clever ones. I stamp my foot and stomp across the garage. Whoever owns it been stocking up on shotguns and shells. Definitely not for hunting. Nothing here to kill. The unclever accidental shifters find the first gun they can and shoot themselves. Surest way to go. I reach the door leading inside, check behind me, brace. No one wants to stay in the dying world if they end up back there. Start over with no money? Yeah, sign me up.

I kick the door in. Laundry’s empty. Door to the kitchen’s already open. I walk in. The house is dead quiet. No windows open. No doors ajar. No one out back. Looks like there’s a yard gnome out there, though. Never liked those creepy fuckers. Of course that’s when I think I hear birds. Creeps always ruin what you like.

Chunk of handrail’s gone from the stairs outside the kitchen. Watson must’ve scrambled upstairs. I hope I scared him into hiding. Don’t wanna deal with someone coming out fighting. My body starts starfishing, my foot’s gonna go numb. Bad news ain’t something I want more of right now. Two footnotes is good enough.

I look up the top of the stairs. Open. Empty. Time to practice my catwalk. Thank god these steps are carpeted. They’re still gonna—Watson pops up from the floor of the landing and before he can hesitate I land a bullet in his chest and another in his throat. God damn it. It’s gonna be a hell of a time trying to understand a single fucking word he wheezes out.

Watson’s shoe peeks out over the stairs. I debate lodging a bullet under his big toe. Decide against it. The one thing Murph likes about me is how little I spend on ammo. Already wasted one shot. I sit down, lean up against the wall. Catch my breath. Watson ain’t going anywhere.

First fucking thing he did when he got here: He looked around for a Squatter, found me, and ran. Now how the hell did he recognize me? It’s not like we have a uniform. Not like I have my job fucking tattooed on my forehead. Saw me, ran, shot, made me bite through my tongue—nope, that’s still all there, must’ve just bit through a small corner—

Fuck it. He recognized me and I have too many questions.

I drag myself to the top of the stairs and grab his foot. It’s gonna look better with that hole through it.

The newest project from Matador the First, 13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.

Well-crafted e-books of the stories will be made available after each story is finished at payhip.com/Matador. We promise they’ll look as nice as “Great Northern Houses.”

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/1119846 2017-01-02T14:23:05Z 2017-01-02T17:45:02Z Auto Squad Vol. 1, Iss. 1

People miss dogs the most. Or cats. Never cared for either myself. They couldn’t sing for shit. I miss birds the most. They might be terrible pets, but the free ones, the ones sleeping in oak trees in city parks, those were the ones I liked. Woke up to birdsong most days in Atlanta. Now there are never birds near me.

When my mouth gets me, I’m hunting jumpers in New York, or searching carbon monoxide clouds in gated garages for disoriented late people. But fuck everyone else, I’m the best the Auto Squad ever hired. I don’t give a shit who I insult, I’m too valuable to squander on obvious shit like the financial district. We know three quarters of ’em are gonna off themselves in the next five years, or ten, at the rate they’re automating work in the dying world.

I told Murph that’s where we should train the newbs and retrain the incomps, in the financial districts, and Murph cackled and said if I had more experience I’d know why my idea was shit. Literally called it “shit” to my face. So I told him the ratio of years to inches has to be 1:1, because I could see the stick up his ass running another seven feet past his head. He threw a musty typewriter case at me and said I’d be hopping financial districts the next two months, agency efficiency be damned.

Forty-two years experience ain’t enough for any kind of seniority. Least not for me. No one takes you serious till you hit eighty. Or that’s what I been told. Unless your super likes you. And Murph doesn’t. So instead of training new folks I’m sitting here in the last nice Chevelle in late America, watching a middle-aged white man shake hands with himself in half the rooms in his house in the dying world, waiting for him to grab his car keys and close his garage, start the car, breathe deep, and join us.

The money man’s house is occupied here in the late world. Now if in the dying world you knew someone was gonna off themselves and you couldn’t stop it, you’d maybe try to get anyone else living with them out the house, right, try to prevent even more trauma. But here in the late world, we’re all born by dying. So the Auto Squad never evacs unless psych profiles recommend it. Not that people can die here—but imagine five straight weeks of razor blade to wrist and tell me that wouldn’t fuck you up. We’re all starfish here but regeneration and healing don’t mean the pain stops. Sure someone could sit and slit for ten thousand years and be physically fine, but that’s not a scenario we want to trigger.

It’s a former ranger lives in that house. She threatened me when I knocked, told me to keep my ass outside till the white money man appeared in a cloud of exhaust, so I’m sitting here in my Chevelle, staring at the garage, Mr. Moneyed & Unfaithful flickering in and out of my sight. Just get it over with, god damn it.

I guess now’s as good a moment as any to tell you my name. I guess I should’ve started with that, but I swear to God I heard birdsong and that got me first.

I didn’t hear birdsong, of course. There aren’t any birds in the late world. No dogs or cats either. No animals. You sentient but don’t have a soul? You don’t make it to the late world. Plants? Sure. Cars, typewriters, books, houses, rocks? Yup. But no Fido. And no birds.

You come here as you were in the dying world. The government makes it easy to change your name and gender—hell, at your intake when you first arrive, they ask if you want to change either—but we’re none of us miracle workers here. How your body was there is how your body is here, forever. That’s why I had such a hard time relearning how to walk here. In the dying world I never moved for anyone. Got into several fights that way—cause why the fuck should a black man be anything other than deferring, right?—but here, phased into the late world, I had to learn how to walk around the energy of every person in the dying world.

The name’s Antonius. Not Antonio, not Anthony, and sure as fuck not Tony. In my dying life I let wrong names slide with a gentle correction—but since I gotta walk around every slow dipshit from the dying world, I insist folks get my name right now. Some assholes think they’re clever, swap out the “us” for an “o,” and I remind them they can’t die in this life. Bust their lip open, break a couple fingers. Watch ’em writhe till they go numb and their body starts starfishing. It’s always people who look like that money man. They never get my name wrong again. Don’t you get it wrong either.

Moneybags is steady in my vision now. Translucent, but steady. Means he’s not backing down. Means he’s gonna go through with it. It’s just a matter of when. That’s what makes me the most valuable member of the Auto Squad. I can see people in the dying world before they kill themselves. Some Squatters have good intuition, most the older ones run on experience, but fuck ’em. My eyes make me the best asshole in this agency. I’m the only person ever able to do it. It’s why the guy before Murph hired me without anything. It’s why Murph’s never liked me.

It’s why I’m sitting here, tracing the seams in the front seat of my car, waiting for the 400th or 4000th ripoff finance man to breathe his last—this one to avoid suffering the consequences of fucking his secretary and her sister while his wife at home took care of their four daughters.

Motherfuckers never stop, so the Auto Squad will always be in business. Us Squatters will always be ready for the next convicted cop to shoot himself in his five-bedroom McMansion, waiting for the moment to tackle his ass and cart him off to jail. We also help people escaping persecution, famine, war zones, impossible situations, bad brains—but we don’t advertise it. And you didn’t hear it from me.

Moneybags is full solid now, fallen on his back in a pale mist in the ranger’s garage. I slide out my car. Walk quiet and sure across the street. Moneybags doesn’t seem disoriented like most people and—he’s turning around. He saw me. Now he’s… running?

But they never run.

Today we begin Matador the First’s newest project: 13 Tales from the Auto Squad, an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.

Well-crafted e-books of the stories will be made available after each story is finished at payhip.com/Matador. We promise they’ll look as nice as “Great Northern Houses.”

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/946805 2015-12-09T18:37:00Z 2017-01-02T07:48:06Z Never Took

  • Reading time: three minutes
  • Word count: 409
  • Published: 9 dec 2KXV
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2015

“People have all ripped me off long as I been breathing. I figure why not do the same. Keep things balanced.”

“You’re just—all it is is you’re keeping that cycle running.”

“Madam.” He smiled. “Please. Not like they know they getting ripped off. Think they doing me a favor, a solid, giving me a good turn or a leg up. They got no reason to feel cheated.”


“That’s the difference. They feel good helping me.”

“Bull shit.”

“Bullshit nothing, ma’am. Those four phrases I tossed out I got from four different people the last day or two. Shit. Like I’m helping them. Cheapest therapy they’ll ever get.”

She crossed her arms.

“Not like it’s a total lie, neither. You see my car. These my clothes. Yeah I got money. Just enough I can’t tell it’s keeping me floating or trying to drown me.”

“Those people might have more or better stuff, but it’s not like they can actually afford it. They miss a check, they miss a payment. They’re boned. And you’re asking them for gas you don’t even need.”

“I got a car, right, I drive it, right.”


“So I need gas.”

“Could you pay for it?”

“Not the issue here. I need it, I ask. This how I spend Saturday and Sunday. This how I’m staying up. Yeah I could pay. Couldn’t afford, though.”

“You just ask different people, is all?”

“I never pressed on anyone. Some say no, I leave ’em alone. Never took from someone didn’t think they could afford it.”

“The ones who can’t won’t say no.”

“They should say no. I’ll talk someone else to help me being independent, not riding the bus two hours to go what should take half one.”

“The ones who say no probably can afford it.”

“Yeah. And the ones who say no probably call the cops. They do. That’s how I run out of gas one week.”


“I got another why for it. You wanna hear?”


“See who say no. See who say yes.”


“I wear this polo every day. That’s why it’s black. Hide the stains.”

Her eyes burned a bit as they picked up the wobbling white salt patches of sweat pooling under his arms and on his chest.

“I got two pair khaki shorts. Me working outside all the time, I gotta spend clothes money on socks and underwear and shit shoes. So don’t say I take advantage.”

“Never Took” is a poorly titled deleted scene from “Eighteen Gallons to Freedom,” the first short story published on fingerpuppet raygun. Why did I cut this scene? A couple of more technical reasons: (A) I couldn't figure out how to start or end it, so I didn't know how to fit it in to the story; (B) it really didn't add anything to the story and didn't move it forward in any way.

But my biggest concern when I was writing and revising the story was that this exchange would cast the protagonist—Daniels—in a negative light, and I wanted to make sure readers knew that he was someone to root for. Reading this exchange now, it doesn't make me see Daniels negatively—but I still think it would slant many readers’ minds in that direction.

Hope you enjoyed this short, non-canon exchange between Daniels and a random woman at a gas station.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/850994 2015-05-04T05:32:02Z 2015-05-04T05:32:02Z Nerves Warming

Quick staccato breaths stac—ca—to—breaths, and my nerves are warming.
Warning? This is my warning, three seconds out.
If I could pray, I would thank God
that my lunch break starts now.

If I could beg, I would beg for silence.
Quick staccato breaths stac—ca—to—breaths, and my nerves are warming.
Warming—have the fans for the dark bright-lit tape decks and camera heads
always run so loud so hot to keep everything cool?

Car door slams behind me and my ears rumble.
And rumble, and rumble, have I always shut that door like I slapped my brother one time?
Quick staccato breaths stac—ca—to—breaths, and my nerves are warming.
I’m suffocating for air worse than when I almost drowned under the float in my aunt’s pool.

Hands gripping the steering wheel, cool and stiff, engine sleeping and vents off,
I search my memories for where I stashed my box of earplugs.
I won’t come back after I eat my fill, if I even eat at all, stomach full of wires.
Quick staccato breaths stac—ca—to—breaths, and my nerves are warming.

[ 20150429 ]

Austin’s Coffee. Winter Park, FL. Viator poem. Written for the Ultimate Roar, a fun slam Curtis X hosted wherein each poet represented a specific form or mode. In order, I roared “Why the Hate for Rain,” “Sunset,” and “Nerves Warming”—and won! Now to get a chapbook together.

“Nerves Warming” is the tenth poem I’ve written for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/850993 2015-05-04T05:31:46Z 2015-05-04T05:31:47Z Why the Hate for Rain?

Why the hate for rain?
Quiet accidents in rapid succession dripping on tin roofs
and sploshing in steam columns on the hot blacktop it’s cooling.
White noise cascading down from grey clouds, a soft lullaby for the afternoon.

Water, ever safe, never suffocated anybody at six in the morning.
Why the hate for rain?
It doesn’t collect itself in valleys to flush out the poor.
It didn’t put the poor down there to suffer the wrath it doesn’t possess.

I’ve found comfort in driving through walls of rain, worrying only for my window—
my brain can slow down when I can see only my windshield and grey forever.
Why do so many drivers hate the rain?
I guess 50 miles an hour is too slow.

If there are more accidents on stormy days, none of them have happened to anyone I know.
Why so little hate for the night? The only person I know who died in their car
died in an accident in the dark of night, when the streetlights get shut off.
Why so much hate for rain?

[ 20150429 ]

Austin’s Coffee. Winter Park, FL. Viator poem. Written for the Ultimate Roar, a fun slam Curtis X hosted wherein each poet represented a specific form or mode. In order, I roared “Why the Hate for Rain,” “Sunset,” and “Nerves Warming”—and won! Now to get a chapbook together.

“Why the Hate for Rain?” is the ninth poem I’ve written for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/845318 2015-04-23T08:05:02Z 2015-04-23T08:05:03Z Sunset

Your voice sounded like the lazy creak of a rocking chair facing west at sunset
and I suppose that’s what got me to listen to you the first time.
Your timbre showed me the lattice folding chairs outside my grandparents’ shed
and offered me the smell of my cousins’ cigarette smoke and the taste of Coke in cold aluminum cans.

I never thought I’d up and leave the crawfish capital, but you were able to convince me
in your voice that sounded like the lazy creak of a rocking chair facing west at sunset.
We went up to Long Island, like you were following my father’s journey when he got drafted,
and when I met your family, I learned how alone blood can be in a house-shaped centrifuge.

In Valley Stream I learned you’d left your spine in your childhood closet
when you declined to stand for me the first time your mother jabbed me.
But your voice, sounding like the lazy creak of a rocking chair facing west at sunset—
I suppose that’s what got me to stay with you, as you pretended to search for your backbone.

Years later, three months after our third son was born, you gave up the pretense of your pursuit.
In our arguments your creak turned to a chainsaw roar, raised as our boys slept in their beds across the house.
Now I can’t sit in chairs, I can’t smell my sister’s cigarettes, I can’t drink Diet Coke out of iced cans, without wincing because I always hear
your voice, sounding like the lazy creak of a rocking chair facing west at sunset.

[ 20150422 ]

Austin’s Coffee. Winter Park, FL. About a month before I wrote this, Spencer and I started what I’m dubbing the Shitty Simile Soundoff, wherein we try to come up with the worst similes we possibly can. Maybe a week after we started it, Spencer failed. He spat out a simile that actually sounded good, and after we tweaked it a week or two later, it became the travelling in this piece.

This is a form poem. Curtis X introduced me to the viator—a form comprising four four-line stanzas, with the first line repeated as the second line in the second stanza, the third line in the third, and the fourth line in the last—a few weeks ago, and its similarity to pantoum intrigued me. I struggled for a while to write a viator, because I kept getting stuck on the form. Spencer kept bothering me to use the “sunset” line in a piece, and I decided it was strong enough to repeat.

To keep myself in form, I wrote the poem in Excel—I would’ve probably screwed it up otherwise. Much like in pantoum, I manipulated the travelling line here to fit context as needed. It’s the same line, only tweaked slightly in each repetition. Call it a game of telephone, if you like.

“Sunset” is the eighth poem I’ve written for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/843215 2015-04-19T21:37:43Z 2015-04-19T21:37:43Z Wherefore the Circles?

I hated Scooby-Doo
for the laugh track
and the repeated sound effects
and the lack of movement
and the repetitive head bobs the characters did while talking,
which I knew were for the illusion of movement.
But I especially hated
the background cycles.
You ran past that same vase four times!
How has the creepy coin collector (laugh track)
not caught you yet!
To keep my sanity, I did not stop watching the show—
I easily could’ve, we only ever watched it on VHS—
I told myself they were running in circles
to eventually disorient their masked pursuer
and lose them in the recovery.
But though I convinced myself I’d convinced myself,
I would sit there, tape playing,
gritting my teeth over my wrestling arms.
I should’ve welcomed the repetition—
I watched Back to the Future start to finish every Saturday morning;
I listened to the same songs and the same albums;
I painted the same paths in the same area
on the playground at school during every recess,
Mom’s refrain of “You bring the playground home in your shoes!”
always echoing in my skull;
I maintained the same hesitation in talking
to whoever my crush was then—
but I never could stomach that running in circles.
I saw it for a cheap trick
and was insulted Hanna–Barbera thought they could trick me.
I was too smart to fall for their bullshit.
But I watched the show anyway.
I watched it on a format I controlled!
We all do things we don’t like doing—
or so I’m told—
and I’m told it’s a mark of maturity
and maybe I felt more mature—
teachers and parents and grandparents all claimed I was,
I was advanced? I was smart? for my age,
which years later I’ve realized
was their way of absolving themselves
from having to instruct me whenever they felt
I should have Just Known whatever I needed help with—
but I hated those background cycles so god damn much
I’m surprised I didn’t yank out more of my teeth.
Running in circles is always more frustrating
when you watch other people do it,
because you know how they can fix it
and you assume they want to.
I’ve been circle-running since high school, and—
don’t touch me! It’s not that bad, I kind of like it!
It’s easier to run in a circle,
over ground I’m very familiar with,
than chase after unseen ground, far and away.
And after ten years,
my stomach has learned to deal with all the sloshing.
Have I told you how much I hated Scooby-Doo
when I was a kid
and had yet to learn
that maturity was accepting your rut
until it finally got too late to get out of it?
Those shitbirds ran in circles,
they always did,
and I never could figure out why.

[ 20150415+19 ]

Austin’s Coffee. Winter Park, FL. Across two different days.

“Wherefore the Circles” is the seventh poem I've written for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/839972 2015-04-13T07:59:43Z 2015-04-13T07:59:44Z Reconnoiter

In high school
I was commissioned to do reconnaissance.
My equipment was the digital camera—
thick brick of a silver Fuji,
it even took video but without sand—
my parents gave me for Christmas.
The year was 2003.
Nine months into the U.S.’s occupation of Iraq,
Mission Accomplished for seven months at this point—
I remember buying every line we were fed
and sweating at the possibility
they’d bring back the draft,
bring it back like somebody told me
those killers would sing about next year,
and supporting it anyway,
I wasn’t selfish and I hate freedom fries and I loved America—
Americans encouraged to be patriots and act
to report “any suspicious activity,”
to spy on their neighbors,
and there I was,
in the house my mom would have to sell off
in the divorce in the months after
the Christmas I was commissioned,
getting charged by my father
to circumvent proceedings that had yet to start,
proceedings that would determine how much “wealth” Mom possessed.
It was Mom who took all our family’s photos
and instilled in me the fascination with lenses and gears and film
and orange dates in broken-bar monospace fonts
in the bottom right corners of 4×6 prints
that littered our cabinets and boxes and photo albums,
all shot on her point-and-shoot black Fuji camera
that somehow reminded me of the Ford Taurus we used to have,
on Fuji and Kodak film—
oh the oily plastic smell
puts me at risk of falling
into childhood with every canister I open.
My field:
(1) the wood china cabinet with mirrored back
and glass shelves and true keys with old-style locks
and a power cord appearing somewhere out the back
to power the lights in its roof,
controlled by the upper hinge on the right side,
pre-aged golden brass,
tap it and play God,
cycle through the three brightnesses and Off,
endless amusement for me in my elementary days,
and (2) the master closet with built-ins to organize,
built in by the organizers Mom brought in to organize
all the bedroom closets,
oddly sturdy pressed-wood shelves and drawers
and hanging spaces that cost and cost but helped and helped
and helped (I’m sure) sell the house.
My target: silver china that we had never used,
that we would never use,
that we had never opened
and that, like our hearts, we never would.
Supposedly worth a good chunk—
a handful of hundreds, at least—
worth more than my trust,
worth more than Mom’s trust,
worth more than every hug he’d ever given me.

[ 20150411 ]

Austin’s Coffee. Winter Park, FL. At the day change, forcing myself to write a crappy first draft.

“Reconnoiter” is the sixth poem I've written for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/836891 2015-04-06T22:21:29Z 2015-04-06T22:21:29Z I Don't Care Who

I don't care who's doing the tying
if it's you and me who are lying
together in bed,
our flesh as our bread.
I can wait. No I can't! I'm lying.

[ 20150406 ]

Home. Windermere, FL. Walking between rooms and sitting in different spots. Limericks are usually funny, so I wanted to try on that wasn't.

“I Don't Care Who” is the fifth poem I've written for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/836453 2015-04-06T05:58:53Z 2015-04-06T05:58:53Z Why We Flew

I did not unbolt my feet from my base
to flee from children in martial-arts uniforms.
I have seen far worse
than eight-year-olds walking neatly in line
with the parents they’re trying to impress.
I don’t think you understand
just how difficult it is to separate metal from metal
when you yourself are metal
and cannot bend or move your arms yet
for being locked into a ridiculous pose
that I know the person I stand for
never stood in.
I would not exert myself
to run from tripping uncoordinated tykes
begging their mothers to buy processed process
from the hot-dog vendors in the park square
or their fathers for lip-painting blueberry slushies
from the fuel-free convenience stores
littering every corner around here,
dotting intersections like i’s on social contracts.
For me it started years ago
when the old men decided to start dropping their dead-
tree table and chairs three feet from me
to argue over cigars and chess figures
and faded papered-over lovers from ancient years
and bitch about the public services
they claim their paychecks pay for—
their paychecks, as if they still work,
though they both talk about their ongoing retirements—
services they wanted in the years when they were young
and bitched about the cost of their kids’ little-league matches—
and moan about the city’s blending complexion
and wishing death (though they would not call it death)
on the other orientations and colors
and proclaiming to each other and their like-minded friends
the love of their Savior.
Once they paid to fly a banner shouting
while the homeless sat starving in its shadow,
glancing up at the sound of propellers only
to hit their eyes to the ground immediately
and I knew I felt they wondered where His love was,
where were the five loaves and two fish that fed the five thousand
and the wrinkled-over ancient men congratulated each other,
in between complaints and curses,
on a job well done sharing love,
they had done their part,
and I shifted my feet and the hairline fractures
between my feet and my base grew deeper.
It wasn’t the birds stealing “a few more crumbs from the poor,”
it was the folks who egged them on
with pointed laughter and pointed fingers.
Years before our exodus I shared my plans across the city
over vibrations and through whispers
and by carrier pigeons and dogs and cats—
first for my siblings to keep close watch
on the people in their quarters.
Some reported back that they’d already seen
what I’d seen, and then worse:
cops shooting black men for costuming on the park green;
preachers spitting on gay passersby begging for acceptance in their faith;
men feeling up women over and under their clothes,
in the broadest of bright daylight,
when no one cared to acknowledge the assault
happening right afront them;
parents yelling at their children
for complaining of heat and thirst in the summer years;
church groups arrested for passing out
sack lunches and cleanliness Ziplocs to the park residents;
contractors swapping out full flat benches
for ones split down their middles by immovable steel armrests
and drilling in ridges and spiked nubs to “improve area aesthetics.”
We knew from our first castings
the histories and lives of the folks we stood for
and were born knowing that every hero
was a fake fraudulent lie.
That is not why we fled.
We had our own purposes and desires.
Immovable does not mean unmovable.
We hold more heart than any of you water-filled featherless bipeds.
We have always looked on and wept
for the people who made us
and for the people who admired us.
It was not the heat or the cold that cracked us,
nor was it the rain that rusted us,
nor was it the exhaust that eroded us,
it was not the weather that chipped away at us—
it was our groaning cries and our deep low-register mourning.
You heard it. You heard it and called it the bustle of the city:
street vents belching steam from underground;
sirens sounding for crimes and fires and heart attacks;
slow-running trains rumbling too hard and too heavy
on too-decayed rusted-out rails;
a quarter million gas and diesel engines and rubber tires
in ceaseless grumbling movement;
too-loud concerts;
ecstasy hidden behind the facades of pool halls;
too-little-heard tears of mothers mourning children
shot for running too quick and dreaming with eyes too big;
old buildings blowing up and falling down
for new ones to claim their spaces;
heavy construction cranes
and dinosaur dump trucks
and bouncing, growgling jackhammers
and drills piercing wood and concrete
and hammers wailing on nails in boards—
did you notice the bustle,
the deep low-rumble hum,
went dead
when we went missing?
The winds and rains and hot sun and cold snow did not spook us.
Unlike you, we always welcomed them.
We had hoped to model better life.
You ignored us except
to take pictures or paint murals
or sing songs or write poems
or gather round to protest the ills we told you to address.
But you never changed.
We were supposed to be conservative.
You were supposed to be risky.
Unless someone wanted to move us or demolish us—
always sent you into a panic—
you never heeded our presence.
So we shifted.
We shifted to crack our foundations.
We shifted and we cracked and we lost patience.
And when the last of us finally freed itself from its moorings,
we said our final farewells to each other,
and in the hottest afternoon we dismounted
and journeyed in every direction,
and never looked back.

[ 20150405 ]

Austin's Coffee. Winter Park, FL. In the parking lot in the passenger seat of my car. In response to Billy Collins's poem “The Flight of the Statues.” Probably inspired by Curtis X's prompt for persona poems written as someone or something in a song.

“Why We Flew” is the fourth poem I've written for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/836026 2015-04-05T07:31:46Z 2015-04-06T05:59:36Z Reminisce: A Lament

I remember the days when
men were men
and women were women
but secretly
we wanted the women to be men.
Truth is they actually were.
We just called it womanhood
and motherhood
and never gave them their due.

[ 20150404 ]

The street afront my home. Windermere, FL. In the driver's seat of my car.

“Reminisce: A Lament” is the third poem I've written for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/835815 2015-04-04T17:55:39Z 2015-04-04T17:55:39Z Eight Minutes

The sun is hurtling toward the earth and we have eight minutes to live.
I will not call my family or my friends
to tell them I love them
or any of the other declarations I have yet to declare to them or never declare enough.
The circuits will all be lit anyway, burning earnest and solemn like Easter candles.
I will not think of whoever I have unrequited love for
or the ways I've contemplated announcing it to them.
There won't be time enough to rush across the country or the county or even the city—even the city, have you seen how little traffic moves here on a good day? The sun is crashing into the earth and we have eight minutes to live. That is how I will die. Not a car crash—
to find them confused and crying in their coffeehouse of choice or on their living-room couch
and sit down beside them,
put one arm around their shoulder
and use my free hand to take one of theirs
and spit out whatever words I've rehearsed.
I'd forget whatever I've always been too chickenshit to say.
I can't put words together with no pressure
and a bright globe of fire would only exacerbate my gaps in thought.
Besides, whoever I'm crushing on
will undoubtedly have a queue of sudden lovers by the time I show up.
I have good taste.
I will not talk to God because in eight minutes I will have his face
before mine, and I know I'll want to speak my piece to it.
Usually face-to-face exacerbates the gaps in my thought,
but I can jump them in this case.
I will not recount my unstarted and unfinished projects.
I've spent years regretting them already
and I hate doing the same thing twice.
I hate doing the same thing twice.
I will realize that eight minutes is no time for anything.
So I will sleep, wherever I am, and stretch out the clock into infinity.
It's still not too late to dream.

[ 20150403 ]

Austin's Coffee. Winter Park, FL. In the bathroom and on the trunk of my car. Title and repeated line taken from Lauren, which she blurted out after dinner that night.

“Eight Minutes” is the second poem I've written for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/835637 2015-04-04T06:26:42Z 2015-04-04T06:30:50Z Don't Call It Shelter, Call It Pergola

Don't call it shelter, call it pergola,
the invisible framework standing between the surface of the earth
and its last gasps of breath,
growing clouds and choking birds
and clotheslining jetliners
and hanging angels till God frees ’em.
Once it was a solid translucent shield
till God angry-cried so long so hard—
he walked the stumbling surface then,
believe nothing different—
and the floodwaters rose and rose purely as aroused
and raised as their point their fist Noah's cruiseliner
and cracked the roof
and shattered all the filled-in fresh-lost tensile strength.
And though God planned on reconstructing it after his angry waters subsided,
he realized for the first time since the end of his previous eternity
just how goddamn beautiful the stars were—
beautiful and shy, blinking when spied—
so instead he patched the born-from-destruction arbor
where it leaked down to its base,
dug out the rot and filled it in with concrete and sealed it off,
welded on inch-thick steel plates to uncrook the bows
where Noah's great big boat had bombarded the pillars,
and finally scooped out all the leftover glass.
So when you stare out, or up, or down, into the sky at night
and you catch the stars between their blinks
and feel the weight of every step it would take
to walk the lightyears and lightyears between your home and theirs—
the security of obscurity clutching hugging you tight—
don't call it shelter, call it pergola.
The sky doesn't protect you.
Nor does it attack you.
It simply gives
It's never protected you a day in your life.
You ever seen it stop a meteor?
You seen the shit that falls from the beautiful terror
that gets your guard down and then strangles them dead?
Don't call it shelter, call it pergola.
Anything that ever burst into flames
before bursting into the seams
simply got too shy to kiss the earth you were made from,
and blushed itself into oblivion.
The sky ain't got your back.
The sky ain't got nothing but itself.
Reduced to a cracked-out patched-over crumbling concrete-filled frame,
it has got one more thing past its existence:
the inevitability of its collapse.
Too bad it ain't got a mind to care.
Lost that when Noah's ark dislodged it and God, in his teary stupor,
missed something for the first time in his third eternity.
Don't call it shelter, call it pergola.
And since you've jumped to pergola,
jump a little farther.
Call it purgatory.
It's not a place off earth.
It's not just a place on earth.
It is earth.
Start praying,
and never forget to look.

[ 20150402 ]

Austin's Coffee. Winter Park, FL. Jazz night as my backdrop. Title and repeated line taken from a photo I posted to Instagram and my mother's comment on it on Facebook.

“Don't Call It Shelter, Call It Pergola” is the first full poem I wrote for NaPoWriMo 2KXV, the goal of which is to write thirty poems in thirty days. Follow the fprg tag NaPoWriMo 2KXV to see what I write this month.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/643674 2014-01-20T14:37:03Z 2017-01-02T07:49:14Z Shoot the Messenger

  • Reading time: five minutes
  • Word count: 1000
  • Published:20 jan 2014
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2014

Just once I’d like to deliver good news. At my job bad news can get you killed.

Let’s say your only physical memory of your dead brother—a car you’d shared before your late brother went off and died in battle—has been sold off. Tell me that’s not bad news.

“You go back there and tell David Eccleston I want my brother’s car back.”

“Whatever problem you have,” I reach into my bag and feel for my baseball bat, “it’s between you and the mechanic.”

“And you.”

“I’m just the messer.” Years ago a law was passed saying basically, you can shoot the messenger.

“Just?” The man feels his pocket. Probably a dagger.

Shoot the messenger, or stab them, or beat them. “I know what you want to do.” Any physical attack except rape. I whip out my aluminum bat. “But I’ll win.” You can’t attack messers unless you’re getting bad news. “So don’t.” This man definitely got some.

The man charges with a long-blade dagger. I slide off to my right and as he rushes past me I clock my bat’s fat end against the base of his neck. He collapses onto the gravel.

I drop a packet on his back. “Your receipt, and your copy of the message.”

He doesn’t move. Won’t for hours.

♣ ♦ ♥ ♠

After walking the messeree’s mile-long driveway and then standing next to his mailbox for a half hour, finally I hitch a ride. The woman who picks me up isn’t happy I’m a messer, but because I’m a woman she doesn’t kick me out.

In four years not one of my messerees hasn’t tried to kill me. Almost like my disper Vito’s trying to get me knocked off. People who’ve been at the Mick twenty years haven’t seen anyone get as many death drops as me. And today Vito has my drivers park me twice as far from the drop as normal—and tells them not to pick me up afterward. I didn’t find out till they parked me.

The woman driving tells me I’m talking too loud.

“Can I make a phone call?”


“I need to make a completion call.”

“You’re going to do it any—”

“No. I wouldn’t. But thanks for saying yes.”

“Messer Co. Dispatch, Fourth and Alaméda, Ms. Vinny speaking.”

“This is Staley.”

“Staley! You’re working? Haven’t seen you today.”

“Early morning. Didn’t know why, but then Vito has Cowl and some new guy park me five miles out.”


“Had to steal a bike to make the drop.”

“The bike you put in my car is stolen?”

“And hitch a ride back. He had Cowl head out for another drop.”

“But there should be—”

“No replacements.”

“But company policy dic—”

“Any disper can override company policy if he wants to, and Vito wanted to, so the son of a bitch did!”



“Is this a com call?”

“Yeah. Then I’m patching back. Got paper?”


“Drop A3FB698. Messeree: one Mr. Chris Johnson. Messeree received message from Dave’s Fix-Up; understood message. Messeree signed for message, got copy of it and receipt. Messeree attacked messer; messer took care of messeree. Add violence to his file.”

“You took care of him. Oh boy.”

“See you at the patch.”

“Vito’s gonna love this.”

“Vito can shove it.”

♣ ♦ ♥ ♠

Messering isn’t a job you quit. When the Mick takes you on you sign for say five years, and basically you can’t leave unless your disper fires you. In that way it’s like the army, but no one knows what happens if you quit before your years are up.

The job might be dangerous, but the benefits are good enough. Decades back some Mick higher-up got the government to give a Mick message the same legal standing as Certified Mail. That’s why it’s technically illegal to kill a messer. It’s not normally enforced unless it affects a legal case, but regardless, when a messer is killed or maimed or has their memories screwed with—what we mean when we say wronged—the Mick will sue the wronger into oblivion. If you’re alive, you see most of that money; if you’re not, your family gets what you would’ve.

Not that I’d consider quitting. I’ve wanted this job since I saw my friend’s older sister doing it when I was twelve. But if Vito has it out for me, I might be boned. I can’t transfer. I’ve tried. I’ve talked to Vito. Says I’m imagining it.

♣ ♦ ♥ ♠

“You took care of him.”

Vito’s office has a window looking into the common area below, where assisters sit behind their desks taking calls and scheduling drop times and messers get the skinnies on their drops from the assisters and the drivers stand around waiting to walk messers into the loading area outside. It’s like a taxi dispatch, except there are no cars inside.

“He came at me with a knife, Vito.”

“I told you not to retaliate. There was a note in the file.” He stops pacing next to a sign bearing the first Messr. Co. logo, commissioned in the 1980s when the American Messenger Company officially changed its name to Messr. Co.

“I didn’t kill him.” No employee calls it the Messr. Co. “I didn’t shoot him, I didn’t stab him.”

“You were supposed to run if you had any trouble.”

“Weren’t any drivers nearby. Thanks for that.” For a while people called it the M.C. but they eventually shortened that to the Mick.

“You’ll have them on your next drop. Don’t deal with the messeree. You have a problem, you leave.”

♣ ♦ ♥ ♠

You can complain to headquarters, but they rarely respond unless you show up in person. To show up in person, your disper has to approve time off for the trip. If you’re going to complain about your disper, you don’t tell your disper why you’re leaving. But if your disper knows what you’re doing, they won’t give you time off.

You can just go. Which they’ll see as quitting.

Just reach headquarters first.

“Shoot the Messenger” is a flash-fiction condensation of a story and concept I’ve been working on, off and on, for about a year. The plan was to write a novel, or something like it, comprising four or five novellas, each with a different protagonist but with Staley (and the Mick) being the thread connecting them all.

I’d left the concept alone for a while until Unstuck announced their 1000-word flash-fiction contest in October 2013. “Shoot the Messenger” popped immediately into my mind, and I decided I could shrink the first StM story I’d outlisted down to 1000 words. Unstuck declined it, so y’all get to read it on fprg!

I might lengthen this story to a few or several thousand words, but I think the project’s concept and scope is shifting to shorter stories featuring more protagonists at different Micks in more different regions and cities. It might be more suited to TV. We'll see how developing the concept goes.

For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of flash fiction.

fingerpuppet DOT raygun GMAIL dot COM

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/636760 2014-01-02T04:16:28Z 2017-01-02T07:49:22Z Run Cable Run

  • Reading time: one-and-one-third minutes
  • Word count: 261
  • Published: 1 jan 2014
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2014

“The power switch won’t flip. Of course you taped it down. Probably the only thing here you bothered securing.” Quickbreak felt around and found the cord for the power strip. He followed it underneath a display riser, one leg of which it coiled tightly around; out the front, where it ran completely exposed across a main footpath and up the leg of another dais, then wrapped up the base of a tree; scurried off across the rest of the tree section from treetop to treetop; scrambled catty-corner to the edge of the electronics section, then ran parallel to the main walkway, jogged along the edge of the foyer, and bolted out the front door, but not without first tracing the frames of all the doors there—but out the front door all the same—to one of the columns, which column it climbed up. The cord then clung to the overhang ceiling, which overhang it followed to its end.

Then the cable leapt over to the chainlink fence walling the garden center, climbed down, and sneaked up behind a register, strangled its cashier, suffocated its lightpost, slunk down from the top to the ground, sneaked into the main store through the garden center’s sliding doors, and darted toward the Christmas-tree display.

Finally the cord slid back under the same riser Quickbreak had started at, and shot out the left side and up to a socket hanging from a cord-retracting wheel suspended from the ceiling. “New plan.”

Our hero walked back to the power strip and yanked out every cord plugged in.

“Run Cable Run” is an alternate scene cut from QDX 2013, specifically “Authentic Fauxflakes.” In most of the earlier drafts of the story—possibly all except the last, I think; I cut it pretty late in revision—this scene comes after Quickbreak hears the power switch was taped down.

I really liked the absurdity of the cable run, so I didn't want to cut it. But it had been written in to allow me to make the Kmart employee Mitchell much more hostile toward Quickbreak. Originally Mitchell sort of got pissed off and there was a joke about how his behavior changed depending on whether he was wearing his name tag, but it was slow and didn't have any punch.

When I cut that, “Run Cable Run” had no right to stay. So it didn't.

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Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/634974 2013-12-27T14:37:04Z 2013-12-27T14:37:05Z Between Christmas and the New Year

Because I haven’t done a news post for fprg since the one in April for the blog’s launch (and because 2013 is almost over and people apparently like celebrating one year’s end and another’s start) I guess today’s an okay day to finally do another one.

In November I conceived Thirty Stories of Separation, a collection of thirty interrelated short stories, as my project for National Novel-Writing Month. I had planned on writing a story (or separation) per day in November, but I got a fairly late start with the project, so one per day became two per day, and soon the project fizzled out when I utterly failed to balance outlisting, audio-ing, and focusing on focusing. I did outlist seven or eight separations, though, so I made some progress.

Being a resourceful person, I can’t let work go to waste. Actually, I can (and often do)—but because the loose novel (or loosel, as I’ve dubbed it) is a concept that has refused to let me go since I failed to finish it inside of November’s thirty days, I’m making Thirty Stories of Separation my year-long project for 2014. I’ll post more information about it in January, but for now know that I’ve marked out each separation’s publication date on my calendar. These are hard dates—fixed points in time, even, as Ten would say—so they will be posted when scheduled.

But before the loosel launches I’ll be posting a standalone short story inspired by and adapted from a poem by Billy Collins. (I let slip elsewhere the title of the poem I’m adapting, but I won’t be announcing it here.) The plan is to post my adaptation on New Year’s Day 2014. I’ve already made an outlist and written a sort-of introduction for it, but I’m still trying to immerse myself in the story; I’ve started reading Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude again to help.

That’s all for now, folks. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas (if you celebrate Christmas; happy not-birthday birthday, Jesus!) and/or overall holiday season (if you celebrate any—or any other—holidays during the holiday season).

It’s going to be a good year round here at fingerpuppet raygun. I hope you’ll stick around. And maybe even bring a friend.

Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/630543 2013-12-18T14:37:06Z 2017-01-02T08:01:34Z Fall Breaks and Back to Winter

  • Reading time: five minutes
  • Word count: 987
  • Published: 18 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the FirstMatt Matrisciano, 2013

Seth smells the trees as soon as his dad opens the car door. They have parked at the end or beginning of several rows of Douglas-firs. Seth jumps out of the minivan and plants his feet on the ground with a thud, and not the crunch he wants. He smells ice in the air. His younger brother James stops at the door and steps out as if starting down a hundred-foot ladder he were climbing the first time. Their parents walk over to a small shack-like office to the left of their car. They come back a moment later, sometimes leading, sometimes following the only available employee.

“You see the signs every so often along the trees?” the employee says as he points to various disintegrating and faded wooden signs. He wears no nametag. Seth’s parents nod. “That’s how we number each row. Helps train new folk, helps know where the trees are, helps find people who get lost.”

“But they’re not consistent,” Seth’s mom says. “That sign says 2, that one says T, that one’s solid red, and another’s got IX on it in green.”

“We alternate each row.”

“Or use whatever they find lying around the side of the road,” Seth’s dad whispers to the kids.

“We also cut trees down only once they’re five years old,” the employee says.

“I can’t wait to cut the tree down,” Seth says.

“Keep waiting,” James says. “I’m going to cut it down.”

“I’m older than you.”

“You cut your palm with a butter knife last year.”

“Whichever of you’s quieter as we look, you’ll help cut it down,” the employee says.

“We’ll say Timber, won’t we?” Seth asks.

Timber!” James shouts. It’s loud enough to echo and almost escapes to reverberate, but gets captured by the branches.

“Sure we will. We all will,” Seth’s mom says.

“If you’ll come with me.” The employee swings his hand toward the trees ahead. He waits for Seth’s parents to step next to him and then they head down the path in Row T. “Y’all told me you had heavy ornaments.” The firs stretch on forever before them. “Trees the far end of this row have sturdy branches.”

The five of them walk quite a ways down the path. Seth and James lag behind and stop in front of a puddle. Their parents walk on with the employee.

James steps next to a tree and breathes out deep several times. “Why can’t I see my breath?”

“It’s not cold enough,” Seth says. “That’s why it never snows here.” He stares at the ground and swivels the toe of his sneaker into the dirt.

“Will we see our breath on Christmas?”

“If it snows.” Seth kicks the dirt back over where his shoe has been. “And it won’t.”

“Oh.” James takes off a blue cotton glove and dips his hand into the puddle. He shivers and yanks it back and shakes the water off.

Seth looks at a fir near him and tries to climb it, but the branches are too close together. “Let’s find a real tree. One we can climb.” He walks between the trees and James follows.

They cross several rows of Douglas-firs before they find a wide gap between the farm and a forest, covered by dirt and mud and dying yellowed grass. It’s still earlyish in the morning and a bit of frost has survived the night and sunrise. The grass crunches as the brothers trudge their way across. They walk into the forest staring at the ground and when they look up they see trees upon trees—mostly pines, some crowded together, some spaced apart. There are no paths but the scent of the Douglas-firs is still strong enough they can find their way back.

“Wow, are they all pines?” James says.

“I hope not,” Seth says. “We can’t climb those.”

“What about that one?” James points to a pine that has planks nailed to its trunk. Seth smiles and walks over to it.

He sees himself taking off his gloves and climbing the planks, one by one, with a strong grip and a steady pace, climbing higher and higher until he’s above all the other treetops. The trunk stretches farther up and he keeps climbing until, near the top, he comes to a small wooden platform. He stands up and looks down over the side. The ground is hidden, unseen so long it’s nothing more than a vague and fading memory, like the first day of kindergarten a few years ago. He scans the horizon and sees nothing but trees upon trees, growing any- and everywhere and without pattern. The air whispers a breeze and some pines sway like slow dancers. The tip of his nose sits swollen and heavy. A flake of snow lands on it. “James!” he shouts. “Jimmy!” He looks over the edge of the platform. “Snow, Jimmy!” Several axe-chops ring out and he feels himself falling and now he’s standing on the ground again, staring at the planks nailed to the pine.

“They chopped down the tree without us!” James says. Seth takes off his gloves and grips a plank. He looks up the trunk. A treehouse juts out about fifty feet above his head. He climbs to the second plank. The third, the fourth, the fifth.

“We didn’t get to say Timber!”

“You just said it,” Seth says. He climbs higher and higher and hears his mom shouting his name.

“Come see the tree we got!” their dad yells. “I think it’ll even hold the star up top!”

James walks to the base of the pine. “C’mon, Seth, we should go back.”

“You can have your tree,” Seth says. “I found mine.” He stares at nothing but the trapdoor above him as he climbs. He sees the ladder running on through the treehouse up to the treetop, and the cold and the snow up there will wake him up forever.

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Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/629063 2013-12-15T14:37:00Z 2017-01-02T08:01:49Z Cicero and Sons

  • Reading time: three-and-three-quarters minutes
  • Word count: 722
  • Published: 15 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2013

The overly black tar in the streetside corner of the shopping center lay in unwelcome contrast to the tent that stood there and the green Douglas-firs it sheltered. An idiot—by which the narrator of this story means the narrator of this story—might have suggested that at least the white lines marking the parking spaces could maybe represent thin strips of cold winter snow, to which Quickbreak would say he knew a snow-obsessed guy at a store just up the road and over on Turkey Lake and the idiot should go and chat him up, and that the store even had snow machines. But to our hero’s knowledge there was no idiot, or at least the idiot wasn’t talking right then, and so he slowly heroed his way among the pre-cut trees standing in the tent in rows so tight they would (and did) make ultra-skinny jeans worry that they just weren’t quite skinny enough. Eventually, after stumbling and falling in- and outside the too-crowded tent and also freeing a frazzled woman’s hair from a particularly angry-looking aggressive fir, he found the owner standing behind the register.

“Quickbreak! Back for another tree?”

“Yeah. I’ve been pretty un—”

“John!” She held her hand up next to her mouth. “That customer in the corner! Did you help her? You’re actually back for another tree? I was jo—”

“No he didn’t, I did!”

“Sorry. Barry?”


“Where’s your brother? Oh my God, you look horrible.”

“It’s just some gla—”

“Working on the netting machine!”

“It jammed again?”


“He can fix it?”

“Ma! Course he can. He’s fixed it a hundred times before.”

“Another tree, Quickbreak?”


“This’ll be, what, five?”



“Yeah. Bought an artificial tree, but—”

“You missed that strong, sharp Christmas smell.”

“No. Yes. No, but it—died. Like all the other ones.”

“A fake tree died.”

“Caught fire.”

“But when you said like all the others, you didn’t—”

“They all caught fire, yeah. Like a cold.”

“You just said you probably weren’t watering them enough.”

“Which was probably true. And not.”

“So you grossly underwatered them and then burned a bunch of candles in their branches or something?”

“I watered them plenty.”

“And not enough? Ok.”

“And I never put candles in Christmas trees.”

“Crappy wiring? Crappy lights?”

“I swear. With all that whiskey I look like an alcoholic.”


“Yeah. Whiskey. For my trees.”

“The hell for?”

“And some for me. It’s not like I can afford both bottled water and whiskey, Cicero. Sometimes I drink whiskey. But never naked water. Figured why not use what I drink for the trees?”

“I’m going to ignore the part where bottled water’s actually way, way cheaper than whiskey—”

“Not for me. I buy online so I get a big—”

“That’s great. Just use tap water for the trees.”

“I’m not using city water for my plants. Any of them. Ever. You must be out of your nuts.”

“Let’s accept for now that sloshing up your Christmas trees with bourbon is a reasonable—”

“Which it is.”

“How’d your fake tree catch fire?”

“They said it was flame-retardant, so—”

“You didn’t.”

“Held up great against a little Bic lighter—”

“I’m sure it did.”

“—but not so much against kerosene—”

“Course not.”

“—and an open flame.”

“They’re not supposed to be fireproof.”

“Believe me, I am now intimately familiar with the differences between ‘flame-retardant’ and ‘fireproof.’ ”



“If you get another tree, can you promise to—hang on.” Cicero dug in the back pockets of her jeans and pulled out her wallet.

“A man’s wallet?”

After tearing through the pockets and cards—“It’s a woman’s wallet ’cause it’s mine”—she handed our hero a white card bearing a green logo. “Won that in a game of white elephant last week.” Our hero looked it over and she put her wallet back in order. “It’s a gift card. Fifteen or twenty bucks on it.”

Quickbreak stared at it. “Publix?”

“Put it in your wallet.”

He did.

“I’ll sell you one more tree. Ok?”


“Just five bucks for this one.”

“Can’t argue with the price.”

“Now. Promise me you’ll water it with actual water.”

“Ok. Sure.”

“Good. Your tree’ll be a lot happier. And a lot less on fire.”

“Cicero and Sons” is the twelfth and final section in a twelve-part story. You can read the whole story by viewing its tag.

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Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/629052 2013-12-14T12:37:02Z 2017-01-02T08:02:18Z Blazing-Fast 3G

  • Reading time: six-and-a-half minutes
  • Word count: 1066
  • Published: 14 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2013

Quickbreak Donwood began to suspect there was a daemon that had it out for him, hiding in one of the universe’s processes somewhere, when he caught his fifth Christmas tree on fire.

“Had to buy the 3G model.” As the fake tree really burned in front of him he saw in every flame putting out warmth unwelcome in a warm month every single cent of the hundreds of dollars he’d spent on the 3G-enabled Christmas tree and its extended warranty. “Don’t think I would’ve bought it if Mitchell hadn’t slipped and fallen in a pool of my blood.” The money spent on the equally flammable four live trees before the 3G one appeared as well: hundreds of thousands of pennies rising and melting and falling now, pelting our hero on his head and toes.

But as the lights melted down so did our hero’s guilt because Mitchell had told him the tree’s default configuration, even without a firmware update, had a few different lighting modes. So did the manager when she got the tree from the back and so did the tree’s box. But when Quickbreak got home and set up the tree he couldn’t get the lights to turn on at all. The manual had no information so he searched online and found many other trees had had the same issue and users had fixed it by getting an interim firmware update that the manufacturer had pushed out without saying anything about it, which update was solely for (a slew of) bug fixes, and so he went to work and borrowed one of their spare never-used touch screens and when he connected it to his tree at home and opened the Web browser and went to get what he thought was the firmware update the tree’s operating system had him download a specialized update application instead, which application would download and install the actual firmware update and all future ones once it itself was downloaded and installed.

Once the updating application was installed Quickbreak had it search for the latest firmware but first it forced him to turn off the tree’s Wi-Fi and use its 3G connection, claiming this was done for security reasons and also saying the tree had to verify his 3G account status with AT&T, which took maybe thirty to forty minutes, which was when he was most tempted to go for a round or two or twelve of the old Lewee Routine and when he went looking for the bat and couldn’t find it he remembered his ex had accidentally donated it to Goodwill so he didn’t have a bat to use, which made him want to bash in the garage door even more, and before he burst a blood vessel in one or both of his eyes he checked the touch screen, which showed that hey the newest firmware had been found online and like did he want to download it or something? So he told the prompt to download and that prompt disappeared and then the app promptly showed another prompt, which new prompt informed him AT&T had imposed a limit on file sizes for downloads over their cellular-data network (which file-size limit was one megabyte shy of the firmware update’s file size) due to “High Holiday Demand” and would be lifting the limitation just in time for New Year’s Eve, which for our hero meant he’d have no Christmas-tree lights till after Christmas and that was unacceptable, man, so he called up the tree’s manufacturer, who told him they could upgrade the firmware for him if he sent it in in a prepaid box they’d ship to him but that due to how busy they were it was “very likely probable” he wouldn’t get the tree back till after New Year’s, so that option was right out, and he knew because the tree wasn’t technically broken Kmart wouldn’t replace or exchange it and their extended warranty didn’t cover “accidental” damage and also overrode their return policy, which meant he couldn’t return it to them at all, ever, and so because he wanted his tree to look proper he stormed back to the store’s seasonal section and bought Christmas lights aplenty to light up the tree at home.

Because he’d bought decorations four times before his last visit, the store had run out of regular cheap ornaments and was selling only expensive handcrafted ones from some village in France, which village Quickbreak was certain didn’t actually exist (or at the very least wasn’t actually in France) but he agreed the ornaments were handblown and -shaped and -painted. They cost four times as much as the old ornaments and our hero wouldn’t have bought them had the manager not said the store wouldn’t be getting any more cheap ones that Christmas season. What probably made seeing the ornaments go worse than seeing the lights and tree go was that the ornaments were exploding. But although it was scary and imposing, our hero didn’t yet feel intimi—

“Shit!” His hands flew to his face. “Glass in the eye! Glass in the eye!”


Quickbreak cursed the nine hundred dollars he’d spent on the 3G-enabled artificial Christmas tree. He cursed the lights he’d had to go back to the store for. He cursed the überexpensive handcrafted ornaments he’d inadvertently forced himself to buy. He cursed his overinquisitive and experimentatious nature. He cursed soaking the tree in kerosene and then soaking it again. But most of all, he cursed—

“Shit! My leg!”

—his leg’s being on fire.

Our hero flailed his arms (just a bit at first), moving them faster and faster and breathing louder and harder, as if circulating the flames’ fuel supply faster and in circles would help his cause. When he saw the fire on his leg hadn’t shrunk at all but had in fact doubled in size and tripled in brightness he abandoned his arm-flailing and took to running in a circle and not stopping till he got so dizzy he fell flat on his face whereupon instead of stopping and rolling he scrambled up to his feet and dashed toward and then through the glass sliding door at the back of his living room.

The closed glass sliding door at the back of his living room.

As the tree blazed in the living room behind him, our hero sat in the grass scooping dirt onto his fresh-burned leg.

“Blazing-Fast 3G” is the eleventh section in a twelve-part story. You can follow the story as it's posted to the home page or by tracking its tag.

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Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/629036 2013-12-13T12:37:06Z 2017-01-02T08:02:25Z Choose Your Choice

  • Reading time: six-and-a-half minutes
  • Word count: 1220
  • Published: 13 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2013

“You look happier than a re-elected president.”

“Hadn’t eaten since lunch yesterday.”

Quickbreak folded the chair and put it back under the riser.


“So what do you know about Christmas trees?”

“We talking about live ones, sir?”


“Oh. My cousin’s got a tree farm somewhere in Louisiana. Rows and rows of trees. Doesn’t know the first thing about numbering ’em. Big problem ’cause he’s got acres and acres of firs.”

“Fantastic. Now. Tell me about the fake trees right here.”

“I don’t know too much about them. Mostly I just pull them from the back when people buy them.”

Quickbreak flexed his bagged hand.

“But I do understand our product cards. So I can tell you what might maybe be good, based on that.”

Quickbreak flexed his bagged hand again. “So you can help me.”

Mitchell nodded.

Quickbreak relaxed his hand. It was warm and sticky. He walked toward a tree in the middle and handed Mitchell a product card.

“Now this tree”—Mitchell put his hand to the edges of the branches without taking his eyes off the card—“wow, that’s neat. This sucker makes espresso.”


“Says there’s an espresso maker in the first section above the very bottom one.” He dug through the branches and found it. “One-mug-at-a-time thing.” He pulled out of the tree. “Want to try it? We’ve got the cups in the back.”

“Why would you want a fake tree to make coffee for you?”

“Because it can?”

“How tall’s the tree? Is it pre-lit?”

“It’s, uh”—Mitchell looked at the card again—“it’s six-foot-five.” He looked up from the card. “It is pre-lit.”

“How much is it?”


“Are you out of your nuts?”

“It’s sold pretty well. A lot of people like coffee and they also like Christmas, so.”

“A lot of people like hiking and they also like eating too much, but you don’t see them going around gorging themselves while climbing Mount Rainier.”

“The bears would attack them.”



Quickbreak scratched his scalp and faked a cough. He walked along the perimeter of the area (Mitchell a few steps behind), occasionally hearing, or thinking he heard, a crunching plip, a sound he never was able to place or guess the source of. His hand and forearm, suffocating in the plastic bag, hung warm and sweaty and slick. His phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out and put it right back. “Worst thing about having a smartphone? You get to see everything you don’t want to see, but on the go.”

Mitchell stopped at a tree a few feet behind our hero. “Since you have a smartphone,” he said, reading a new info card, “you might like this one.”

Quickbreak shrugged. “Looks like a regular fake tree to me.”

“I didn’t know we actually carried this one! It’s got Wi-Fi built in. Someone makes a tree that’s Ready for Wi-Fi, but this is live.”


“For receiving firmware updates.”

“Firmware updates?”

“Also for downloading different lighting modes.”

“Can’t they just have the modes built in? You know, since they made sure Wi-Fi was built in.”

“It’s got a few modes already. The downloads are for new and totally different ones. Uses LEDs, so it can do a lot more than what it comes with.”

“They could’ve put the ‘a lot more’ on there.”

“They had to get it ready for the Christmas season.”

“Why’s it need firmware updates?”

“To enable the newer lighting modes they’ll release.”

“Of course, because why would anything be available on release day.”

“It’s got a built-in Web browser as well.”

“Does it have a screen?”

“No. But you can hook up an external touch screen.”

“What about a regular one and a keyboard and mouse.”

“That’s coming in the first firmware update.”

“Back up. A Web browser?

“For downloading firmware updates. Netflix works in it, too.”

“So you need a touch screen to get the first firmware update.”


“But it’s got different lighting modes already, yeah?”

Mitchell nodded.

“One thing going for it.”

“There’s also a 3G model, as well. Fifty dollars more.”

“I’ll pass.” Quickbreak abandoned the tree. “On both.”

Mitchell followed him. “What kind of phone you have?”


“There’s another tree I know of”—he grabbed Quickbreak and stopped them both—“this one, that’s got a built-in dock connector. The thirty-pin one, but it comes with an adapter for the Five.”

“Does it have speakers or something?”

“That would’ve been a good feature.”


“It’s just for charging your phone. Good place to keep it hidden from your kids.”

“I don’t have kids.” Plip. “I’m not married.” Plip, plip. “I don’t even have a girlfriend.” Plip, plip, plip.

“Maybe you’d like to reconsider the Wi-Fi tree, then? They’re integrating social networking in the next firmware update. Including dating sites.”


“This one’s a Samsung tree. Their first foray into Christmas décor.”

“Don’t care.”

“You have a Samsung TV with Bluetooth, you can pair this tree with it and when you’re watching something the tree will change its lights to match or complement what’s on your screen.”

“Great. Still don’t care. Tree and TV are in separate rooms anyway.”


“Got anything simpler?”

“Pretty much all our trees are fancy. At least all the pre-lit ones.”

“You have ones that aren’t pre-lit?”


“Show it to me.” Plip, plip. “Please.”

The glow in Mitchell’s face vanished as soon as Quickbreak asked to see the simple tree. “There’s not much to say about it. It’s six-five, it’s fake, it’s got no lights.” His voice sounded as if it had gotten in a bar fight for the fun of it and taken too many punches.

With their shoes squeaking on the floor half the time and sticking to it a bit whenever they took a step they walked to find the simple tree.

“I get the feeling you really don’t like this tree,” Quickbreak said. Plip, plip.

“I don’t. There’s not much to say or see about it.” Squeak, ckckck.

“Which would be why you’re leading me in circles.” Plip, plip.

“No, we’re going in circles because I can’t tell which tree it is.” Squeak, ckckck.

“It’s the only one that’s unlit.” Plip, plip.

“They’re all unlit”—squeak, ckckck—“because their power’s off.”

“Damn unprofessional.”

“You were the one who turned off the power strip.”

“But that was just for the snow—”

Mitchell shook his head.

“You had everything running into that one strip? That’s like plugging a shotgun barrel with your fingers and hoping they don’t get blown off!”

“Well I can’t find the tree now.”

“Just look for the one without lights.”

“Some of them are fiber-optic. Much harder to spot those unlit.”

“Turn the power strip back on.”

“Won’t come back on. That’s why I taped it down. It’s a testy little bastard.”

“So we look for the one that’s cheapest.”

“The non-pre-lit ones aren’t in demand anymore so some pre-lit models are cheaper.”

Eventually, after slowly circling the same overthick Slurpee-making tree for far too long like overtired geriatric vultures, they found the unlit tree.

“Looks a little—sparse.” Quickbreak was being generous. He could see the products lining the shelf behind the tree with no problem. In fact, it was harder to see the tree itself than the bright red boxes behind it.

“Choose Your Choice” is the tenth section in a twelve-part story. You can follow the story as it's posted to the home page or by tracking its tag.

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Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/629004 2013-12-12T10:37:04Z 2017-01-02T08:02:31Z Authentic Fauxflakes

  • Reading time: seven-and-a-half minutes
  • Word count: 1434
  • Published: 12 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2013

Inside Kmart Quickbreak stopped halfway to the men’s room. The store’s greeter had made him head back there to clean up his gash but when our hero eyed the flier that wrapped around the bleeding cut and was encased in a plastic grocery bag he decided it was good enough and turned around and headed toward the seasonal section.

Few stores smelled so plastic. This one drowned itself in it, and then drowned the unsuspecting customer: the only known suicide–murder. Few stores embodied and embraced must and dirt the way this one did. Few national stores hadn’t been remodeled between 1989 and 2012. This one bucked the trend. Quickbreak figured the old-plastic smell, must, dirt, and yellowed crooked shelves and chipped floor tiles formed the very core of corporate’s brand image. “Still,” he said, “at least it’s not Wal-mart.”

Kmart’s seasonal section had been transformed into a fake-snow faux-wonderland inhabited by dozens of trees. The plastic bag around Quickbreak’s arm crinkled whenever he scraped a tree branch or bumped into a shelf or a display riser. The store’s unsettling quiet meant he heard with intense and unfortunate clarity very poor versions of Christmas songs he’d hated even before they’d been bastardized. The song playing right now very nearly always threw him into conniptions, Santa baby, hurry down the chimney tonight, hit me with a hammer, and end my misery right now. He panicked, fearing his expressions and off-key lyricizing would draw the attention of some employee, but as he panicked and grimaced his way amongst the trees he bumped into no employees.

“I’m starting to hate shopping for Christmas decorations. It’s a real brick to the face.”

“But it gets better when someone’s along to help you,” a fellow customer said.

“It gets worse. Much worse. All you can think about is leaving soon as you can, or punching the other person in the face.” He sniffed. “Or both.” He scratched his forehead. “Or maybe at least ask yourself why you didn’t stop for a drink first. And then you realize it’s nine in the morning.”

“That’s just because the people you shop with don’t know what they’re doing.”

“No one knows what they’re doing unless they’re you.” He sneezed. “Which is terrifying because even you don’t know what you’re doing, when you think about it.” He rubbed his nose with his nonbagged hand. “Jeez. Lot of fake snow in here.”

“It’s a good touch.”

“You’re kidding.”



“So that’s actually a yes?”

“I have no idea how anything about the voice of my voice or the face on my face could make you think I like all this fake snow.”

“It’s the joy of winter, I see it in your eyes.”

“They’re watering.”

“Mine too. Childhood memories. You can’t have Christmas without snow.”

“Sure you can. I’ve done it here for years. So’s the rest of the area.”

“Out-of-towners want the experience, though.”

“Out-of-towners come here to get away from the snow. They complain every time we get a cold front and I complain every time they complain.”

“Corporate says snow’s festive.”

“How would you know what corporate wants for their Christmas setup?”

The faux-snow man pulled a small plastic rectangle from his pocket. “I work—”

“Oh good God.”

“—for corporate.”

“You’re wearing a torn red hoodie over a faded red polo, and beat-up black khakis and canvas sneakers.”

“Well. Not for corporate directly. For this store.”

“Since when?”

“Which is owned by corporate. Got transferred here from Colonial.” He attached his nametag to his shirt. Quickbreak didn’t read it. “About—no. Exactly a week ago.”

“Never seen you. Last time I was here was only—actually, more than a week ago. I think. I stand corrected. Probably.”

“At Colonial they said I talked too much about how great Michigan winters are.”

“Did you have snow machines there?”

“They wouldn’t let me.”

“You do know they make proper ones.”

“What I’ve set up works fine.”

“No it doesn’t. They’re shooting out crap that’s got the texture of petrified Frosted Flakes. Doesn’t really look like snow. Or even fake snow.”

“You know something better.”

“They make snow machines you use in a production environment. I mean in a theatre or something. They put out a foam or a soap that actually looks a lot like snow.”


“Though that would be pretty slippery, so you’d have to put some carpets down. But carpets would make this area look way better than the rest of the store, so you couldn’t put carpets down. Which means no proper snow machines because hey, slip hazard.”


“You could just put down some wet-floor signs, I guess. But that would clash with the aesthetics. Which you obviously don’t care about here.”

“You don’t like my setup.”

“It’s not your setup. They had this up on the first of the month.”

“But they didn’t have the snow machines.”

“Yeah. I could see back then.” He coughed. “And breathe.”

“That’s just the Christmas spirit overwhelming you.”

“I’m so overwhelmed I need safety goggles and a dust mask to survive it.” Quickbreak walked through the displays, following extension and power cords along their paths under rugs and piles of fauxflakes, cords knotted into each other, none of them taped down or ramped over or hidden very well or in fact intentionally.

“We have safety goggles in hardware.” The employee was following Quickbreak. “And dust masks. Just a few aisles over.”

“I’ve got a simpler idea.” Our hero stopped at a power strip that had way more cables plugged in to it than it had sockets for. “Cleaner—my God—more eleg—I’ve never seen so many tri-taps in one—”

“What are you—you’re not gonna—I mean that took a lot of time to—”

“Nah.” Quickbreak turned around and patted the employee on the shoulder and then faced the power strip again. “Just going to find the switch. I wouldn’t—there it is—I wouldn’t dream of ruining—what kind of swi—of ruining such a—what is with this switch?”

“I taped it down.”

Without hesitating our hero tore off the tape restraining the switch and snapped off the power strip. The machines’ motors hummed slower and fainter till they died. The employee’s face faded somewhat but Quickbreak was fine murdering a bit of Christmas spirit since he could “breathe again. I can think. Now what can you tell me about your trees?”

Before the employee could answer a manager holding a clipboard walked up to them, probably stopping the employee from making a comment he’d regret. “Mitchell, you know where the spill station is?”

“No. Haven’t seen it in—”

“Ahp, that’s lunch for you.” The manager looked up from her watch. “Closing’s going to be a bitch tonight.”


“Unless you’re fine not eating.”

“I’d rather eat.”

“Then get lost.”

Mitchell sprinted toward the other end of the store.

“Make sure to clock out this time!”

Still jogging, Mitchell spun around and saluted and faced forward again and kept running.

The manager turned to Quickbreak and smiled. “What can I help you with, sir?”

“Well I was looking at the trees you—”

“Ahp, that’s lunch for me, too.”

“What about the eye thing?”

“Corporate’s inspector won’t be here till tomorrow. Plenty of time for me to find the station and get rid of it.”

“Aren’t you required to have those things?”

“Nope. Costs too much to have them, so corporate says we have to get rid of them.”

“Wouldn’t it cost more to get rid of them?”

“Not all our stores have them. People see them at one store, they’ll expect them at all our stores, and we can’t afford to put stations in all our stores so we’re taking out the ones we do have.” She looked at her watch again. “I’m terribly sorry, I’ve got to go.”

“What about me? Christmas trees?”

“Feel free to look around. We’ve got a good selection.”

“The labels don’t make any sense.”

“I’m sorry, no one’s available to help with those.”

“I’ll just pick the cheapest one, then.”

“Mitchell’s still got to get it out of the stock room for you.”

“I’ll buy the display.”

“That’s against corporate policy.”

“Great job keeping your customers happy.”

The manager shrugged. “Corporate’s designed our policies based on years of research and focus groups. We’re still in business, so they’ve got to be doing something right.”


“Mitchell will be back in half an hour.”

Our hero sat in a rusty metal folding chair that had been hiding under one of the display risers. “I’ll be waiting.”

“Authentic Fauxflakes” is the ninth section in a twelve-part story. You can follow the story as it's posted to the home page or by tracking its tag.

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Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/628987 2013-12-11T12:37:02Z 2017-01-02T08:02:44Z Sit-Still Getaway

  • Reading time: three-and-three-quarters minutes
  • Word count: 718
  • Published: 11 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2013

The long unmoving line of cars on the Sand Lake exit ramp was made longer and its motionlessness made stiller when Quickbreak spotted his old frienesis Lew one car back in the next lane. Our hero wished he’d bought himself a helmet to hide his face. Maybe even a respectable rough-cut ski mask. He’d had enough run-ins with Lew for even the universe’s lifetime. The last thing he wanted was to get in a fistfight with the leader of an atom-sized mafia that threatened meter maids for the lunch money the meter maids threatened downtown drivers for, and he most definitely—

Someone tapped Quickbreak on the shoulder. He closed his eyes and faced them.

“Don’t get so excited to see me.”

“I would but I can’t.”

“You can’t see? Why you driving?”

“Struck blind just moments ago.”


“An encounter with God. Big flash of light. My eyes feel thick.”

“Huh. Let me take a look.”

“I—Lew I don’t think you’re qualified. You’re not a doctor. Or a Christian.”

“I’m Catholic.”

“You’re Catholic?”

“How’d you know I was Lew if your eyes are closed?”

“ ’Course you’re Catholic.”


“Why’s it everyone’s got to talk to me in the middle of the road? Or right next to it?”

“Because you’re begging to be run over?”

Our hero laughed, lost his balance, and slid off his seat toward Lew, who kicked him. Quickbreak opened his eyes.

“Wanted to do that for four years.”


“Yeah. Five.”

“You wait five years to kick me?”

“And to catch up.”

“On what? We played chess a lot, you tried to kill me once, we also played chess a lot, I won our last game.”

“Hm.” Lew scratched his hat.

“Not much else to it.”

“Well when you put it that way—”

“You realize you were kind of obsessing?”

“No. I realize, anything happens to you in the future, I shouldn’t feel guilty.”


“Gotta get gone. Got a reluctant client down I-Drive I got to talk to.”

“What’s it this time, a tutoring group?”

Lew’s eyebrows almost met. “Yeah.” A distant look of pained worry settled on his face.

“Stone-cold killers, tutors.”

“That’s how I got this.” He pointed to a longish white scar on his face.

“You’ve had that for years.”

“They’re clever. Cut me deep in the center that scar. I’d walk closer and show you but if I did that, I might just punch you. Plus I’ve got to jet. Looks like traffic’s moving and Marty’s holding it up waiting for me.”

“God you’ve gone soft.”

“If I’m late—well. I got a reputation to keep. Gotta be punctual and intimidal.” He hopped in the back of a red Prius.

Quickbreak fixed himself on his mosco and seeing that his lane wasn’t moving at all and that the left lane had just stopped, surveyed the shoulder and the land around him. The grass stretched out forever till it met a retention pond, which it actually encircled, and beyond which it continued till it crashed into a parking lot. Specifically, the parking lot for Kmart. More specifically, the Kmart Quickbreak had been going to this month. So our hero drove his mosco onto the shoulder for a few seconds before gunning it onto the grass, which grass was too slick with pesticides for any cop to be dumb enough to chase anyone there. In fact the cops figured if someone survived without crashing, or walked away from a crash there, they probably deserved to get away.

Quickbreak crashed halfway to the pond. He didn’t deserve to get away but since there were no cops nearby, he got away. Until the fence tackled him. He rolled on his back a bit and righted himself and shimmied his multitool out his pocket and used it to cut an our-hero-sized hole in the fence. He pushed his mosco through before him, careful not to scratch it, and walked through behind it, careful not to cut his arm. Which he ended up doing. He told his brain to tell his feet to stop walking but instead it told them to keep on, and less steady, and faster. The cut became a gash that spanned the length of his forearm. “Should’ve worn the Oxford. But it had to be ninety-three today. Didn’t it.”

“Sit-Still Getaway” is the eighth section in a twelve-part story. You can follow the story as it's posted to the home page or by tracking its tag.

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Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/628775 2013-12-10T14:37:03Z 2017-01-02T08:02:50Z Hostility Compromise

  • Reading time: five-and-three-quarters minutes
  • Word count: 1099
  • Published: 10 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2013

“Hartman here tells me you’re being—belligerent?”



“Ceiling boy here definitely called me hostile.”

“How exactly was he being hostile?”

Hartman pulled the manager aside and talked with her for a few minutes, pointing and waving. She nodded occasionally, like she didn’t take him seriously. Eventually they walked back.

“Hartman says—”

“His nametag says Carlson.”

“Corporate policy mandates that we print employees’ first names on their nametags. He protested, but we couldn’t make an exception. But he has us all call him Hartman.”

“Carlson Hartman?”

Hartman nodded.

“Yeesh. Two last names.”

“Just means I’m distinguished.”

“Or that your parents were bad with names.”

“Doesn’t matter. He’s the one who damaged the Christmas tree on display here, Kay.”

“Looks ok to me.”

“That’s kind of what I told him.”

“Wha’d you tell him?”

“That I didn’t damage it.”

“But he did, Kay. It’s a whole foot shorter than it should be.”

“I think I would’ve noticed if the tree suddenly got a foot shorter, Hartface.”

“You’re one of those people who goes around stealing sections of fake Christmas trees until they’ve got enough to build one for themselves at home.” He looked at Kay. “It was on the news last year.”

“Who ground your brain into dust and forced you to snort it?”

“Sir. Please.”

“Look at the tag for the tree,” Hartman pointed. “Says it’s a five-footer. But look at it now, it’s just—”


Hartman nodded.

“So someone put the wrong tree there.” Quickbreak took a step back. “Or the wrong tag.”

“Maybe you damaged part of the tree and panicked and hid that part.”

“Hartman. Could you step off for a moment.”

“God praise the Lord.”

“Now I’ve known Hartman to tell ridiculous stories—”

“I’m getting that vibe.”

“But there’s normally some truth to them.”


“Maybe not this time.”

“You think? I mean, partially disassembling display trees?”

“But aside from being horribly unpersonable he’s my best employee. I can’t afford to lose him.”


“Which means sometimes I have to make him happy. So I’m asking you to buy the tree.”

“Make him happy? I’m your customer, what about me?”

“You can return the tree to another store within seventy-two hours.”

“All to make your wannabe sergeant happy.”

“And not piss you off entirely. Yes.”

Hartman announced his return with a slow clap.

“Stuff it, ceiling boy. I’m not buying the tree.”

Hartman threw a shoe at Quickbreak.

“And I’m the one who’s being hostile?”

“He damaged the tree. He’s got to buy it and take—”

“Sir, please put the tree in your—”

“Like hell I’m buying the—”

“That’s the rule. You broke it, you—”

“Sir, would you please ever so kindly put the damn tree in your cart and—”

“I don’t understand why you’re being so—”

Hartman threw his other shoe at Quickbreak. It missed and hit another customer in the eye. “We’re not being hostile!”

“There is a difference between hostile and forceful, sir.”

“Sure. But you can be hostilely forceful.”


“Slackjaw speaking gibberish.”

“And you’ve been the sanest one among us, ceiling boy.”

“We keep him in the ceiling to observe the—”

“Don’t you have camera—”

“They’re not as good as me. I can intercede, not just—”

“Observe. Observe me, Hartman. Observe how I’m not insulting this man.”

“And observe how I’m not throwing anything at anyone.”

Hartman shut up.

“Observe me asking this gentleman to please kindly put the tree in his cart and buy it.”

“Observe me telling this nice lady not to hike off but rather, simply, I’m not buying the tree.”

“Is this the part where you two kiss?”

“Shut up, Hartman.”

“Could be.”

Hartman chuckled. “She’s going to kick you out for that one. She’s married.”

“I’m not going to kick him out if buys the tree he damaged.”

“I didn’t damage it.”

Hartman threw a ’biner at Quickbreak.

“And we’re back to the hostilities.”

The three stared at each other for half a minute. But for the din of everyone else in the store and the fact that there were no pins nearby, you could have heard a pin drop.

“I’ve bought set after set of Christmas decorations from you guys. No fewer than four times this month. But at the word of some guy I’ve never seen here you’re ready to throw me out?”

Kay squinted. “Four times this month?”

“At least. Bought a tree’s worth of decorations every time. I was going to buy a tree on top of more decor—”

“Four times.”


“Are you unsure?”


“I’ve been here every day this month pulling eighteen-hour shifts.”


“I don’t remember seeing you at all.”

“I’m easily forgotten.”


“I haven’t seen him before today either, Kay.”

“Sure he hasn’t. How much has—”

“He’s worked the same shifts I’ve worked.”




But for their still sitting secure in their sockets—“I did it again”—Quickbreak’s eyes popped out of his head.

“Did what.”

“Had a mental block.”

“A mental block.”

“One that made me mistake Target for Kmart.”


“That’s like mistaking a Hummer for a Humvee.”

“Haven’t been in a Target in at least six months.”

“Is that why you got so confused you bumped into all those people earlier?”

“He bumped into a bunch of customers?”

“Yeah. A guy in the greeting cards—”

“Yeah but I helped him back up. He told me to fuck off.”

“—a woman by the digital cameras—”

“His exact words. Hey, she was in my way.”

“—a couple near the Christmas lights—”

“They were literally glowing. Disgusting.”

“I agree. Love-fueled bioluminescence isn’t suitable for public display.”

“Thanks, Hartface.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store, sir.”

“We’re not going to talk about ‘love-fueled bioluminescence’?”


“I don’t have to buy the tree?”


Quickbreak wanted to hug her.

Hartman waited to decide what he wanted to do.

“I don’t want your money anymore. The store doesn’t want your money anymore. We want your I.D. It’s going to be another six months and then some before you’re allowed to come here again. Come with me.” She looked back at Hartman, who had just started his shimmy back up to the ceiling. “Would you please”—she held her hand toward Quickbreak—“hand me your I.D.”

“Let me just dig it out, here.” Quickbreak was already several feet away from her, and walking as fast as he could.

Kay ran after him, and Quickbreak bolted out the front door into parking-lot cross-traffic.

“Make It Right” is the seventh section in a twelve-part story. You can follow the story as it's posted to the home page or by tracking its tag.

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Matt Matrisciano
tag:fingerpuppetraygun.com,2013:Post/628187 2013-12-09T14:37:04Z 2017-01-02T08:02:56Z Hartman of the Drop

  • Reading time: two minutes
  • Word count: 306
  • Published: 7 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2013

Undeterred by the realization that Ms. Tahoe had in fact given his own number back to him, our hero pressed on and eventually bumped into a platform.

A tile in the drop ceiling above him slid over, its home space now empty and black.

“Fairly good-looking tree.”

A face peered out over one of the space’s edges and stared down at Quickbreak.

“Not for five hundred dollars.”

The face squinted, relaxed its eyes, squinted again, and disappeared, after which someone in a red shirt and khakis crawled out of the hole and along the drop-ceiling tiles, clinging to them as naturally as cinderblocks cling to the ground. The ceiling dweller stopped crawling, attached two carabiners to a cable (one at each end), clipped one ’biner onto the frame and the other to a belt loop, and lowered himself down.

The ceiling dweller unclipped himself. “You broke it, you bought it.”

“I broke something?”

The ceiling dweller pointed.

“The tree?”

The ceiling dweller nodded.

“The tree’s fine.”

The ceiling dweller shook his head.

“I just bumped the platform it’s sitting on.”

“So you admit you damaged our merchandise.”

“I admit nothing. I didn’t damage the tree.”

“You’re being hostile.”

“It was just a love tap. I guarantee you I’m not.”

“Please cease being hostile.”

“Who’s being hostile? I haven’t done or said or threat—”

“Please cease being hostile and put the tree in your basket.”

“Put the—or what?”

“Or I’ll have to get my manager.”

“You’ll get your manager.”

“Cease being hostile and put the tree in your basket or I’ll have to get my manager.”

“Listen, ceiling boy—”

“I’m thirty-two.”

“Listen, ceiling boy. I didn’t damage anything. I’m not buying the damned tree.”

“Since you’re still being hostile, you’ve forced me to go get my manager.”

“Good. I’d like to file a complaint.”

“Hartman of the Drop” is the sixth section in a twelve-part story. You can follow the story as it's posted to the home page or by tracking its tag.

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Matt Matrisciano