Tagged: free

19 Puffs of Smoke

19 Puffs #11

19 Puffs of Smoke #11

Copyright James Crawford, 2014

“Whoa. Wait. This stuff is legendary!” I bobbed up and down slightly. “I have to write a review.” I giggled. “That is, if I remember it later.”

Katsu took the opportunity to speak up, by possessing me.

“I don’t know about the smoke, but I like the thing we’re smoking from!” He used my hands to pull the thing to my lips, and licked the glass orifice before taking a huge lungful.

“Hey!” Tina, the First Femme cried. “You just spoke Japanese! I didn’t know you were fluent! That was the best Kansai accent I’ve heard outside of Kyoto!”

“You lesbians aren’t as uncultured as I thought,” Katsu said through me.

I thanked my lucky stars that Tina thought that was the funniest thing she’d heard in years.

My spirit guide let me back into my body just as we pulled up to the house. My ass. Stan Jingle lived in a fucking mansion with a metal gate around the property! The reality of that hit me through all the pot vapor in the limo. That little dapper man was loaded.

Somehow, he’d arrived before us. He orchestrated our procession into the house, probably for the photographers, after he used a fan to blow all the smoke away from us. We tumbled out of that limo in a cloud of burnt weed.

It was a stately parade into the cleanest room I’ve ever seen, and one of the largest, too. It was all white, with pale peach accents that matched the marble floor. Insane, just insane. The buffet line seemed so far away!

Stan gave us a little formal welcome to his home, explained that the tables were set up on the veranda beyond the buffet line. The bridal party would be the first to proceed through the catering extravaganza, and tables would be called one by one after.

“Oh,” Stan pointed to a nook on the opposite side of the room, “please avail yourselves of the bar. It is complimentary, but please tip the bartender! Okay, everybody, let’s celebrate!”

“This is some spread, you secret queer.” Katsu whispered in my brain. “I hate to give you credit, but you were right, lesbians know how to party.”

My only complaint is that the music leaned so heavily on The Indigo Girls.

True to Stan’s plans, our table (or two) was the first to run the gauntlet of impressive food. As much as I wanted to know how much all of this cost, I really didn’t want to know. There’s something about eating very pricy food for “free” that bothers me.

Once in a while, I feel like a sham. Then I get a blast of clarity from the universe and I’m right as rain again.

“What’s that thing that looks like a little round pie?” Katsu asked me, and I told him I didn’t know. “Well, as the serving girl what it is, and get her phone number while you’re at it.”

I ignored the last part. “Hi, miss! Could you tell me what these adorable little crusty things are?”

“Certainly, sir! They are baby brie en croute, with a warm berry reduction on the inside of the crust. Would you like one?”

“Please,” I said.

“I want to sleep with the cute gaijin girl. Get her telephone number.” My spirit guide urged me on, and I blatantly ignored his ass. He was sulking until we got to the beef tenderloin.

The plate that I carried back to the head table required both my hands. I spent so much time at the buffet that I missed the first toast to the happy couple.

Shannon’s father, who had been drunk before, was nearly catatonic, but he had enough presence of mine to catch me before I reached the table.

“Le’ the Rabbi shay a prayer fore we eats,” he slurred to the assembled merrymakers. “Got to than God fore eatin’!”

I didn’t expect a round of applause from the room. My wrists were starting to hurt from the weight of the plate, and I did a quick calculation in my head. I’ll get to the table faster if I pray right now.

“Would everyone bow their heads for a moment, and pray with me to the universe, or to whatever great spirit holds your heart?” Every head dropped, and Shannon’s dad passed out. “We thank you for this beautiful day, these tender people, and for the love in the union we witnessed. Bring joy and blessings upon all of us here, and really, really, pretty stuff. Amen.”

I tanked at the end, but the plate was becoming a painful challenge. As soon as I hit “Amen,” I rushed to my seat at the table and put my dinner down. Everyone clapped and took their seats, too.

To me, that had been one of the worst impromptu prayers I’d ever uttered, but you would have thought I’d been spouting William Shakespeare from the way everyone was acting. Maybe they were all high, too. Considering what Karlye’s family did for a living, it was completely possible that they were as baked as we were. It certainly made me feel less paranoid.

The food was awesome. Really, awesome.

“This would have been a 400,000 Yen dinner in Tokyo,” my ghost commented, “and it would have been worth it. I didn’t eat this well when I was alive, and I was a movie star!”

“Really, I thought you would have had feast, after feast, after feast.” I responded in my mind.

“No, I had to watch my weight for the movies.”

“Oh, I never would have known that. You’re such a portly fellow, after all.” I don’t know where that came from inside me, but I delivered it deadpan.

The superior expression came off his face and was replaced by puffy, purple, cheeks, and fiery red eyes. Steam rose from the crown of my Bhodisattva’s head. I anticipated a tirade of furious Japanese, but it never came. All I heard was a rapid tweeting noise as his lips moved, fluttering like red sparrow wings at sunset.

Feeling pleased with myself, I drank some of the really nice red wine that had appeared in my glass. I don’t know wine like I know weed, but this stuff did things to the brie en croute that turned it from amusing into sucking on the boob of Mother Earth joy. I forgot about the pissed off spirit in my head, and got down to some serious exploration of viticulture.

Honestly, I felt amazing. I don’t think puffing on my Buddha had ever quite lifted me to the loving, floaty, heights that the food did. The same for the wine. There was bliss. Then there was an attack of the munchies, piercing in intensity.

It seemed like seconds before my plate was empty and I was trotting back to the line.

Somewhere in the back of my brain, I noticed that I was not the only one feeling this way. I was awash with a feeling of loving kinship, and hugged everyone of the people who were returning for more food. Some of them kissed me. I kissed them back.

Touching people felt so good and so right!

When I got back to the table, the brides were making out. That sort of thing seemed to be spreading around the room. Where people weren’t sucking face, little knots of people were cuddling as though their lives depended on it.

Name ( a short “Blood Soaked” prequel)

Name (A short “Blood Soaked” prequel)

©James Crawford, 2014


I think I’d known Frank for about two months by then. He’d set himself up in the hardware store next to my garage, and was rapidly putting together a tiny trading empire. Look, I was a tiny bit jealous, but that don’t mean a thing.

Everyone wanted into that hardware store, but it was fenced, locked, and generally secured beyond our methods to get inside. Then Frankie Boy comes along, does a deal with the owner, and ends up cornering the market on nails. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t the only jealous person in the neighborhood, but I tried better than most to keep it under wraps.

So, look, dude was a bit of a freak. I saw it in his eyes. He’d seen way too much for his age, and regularly popping zombies—that used to be people, still looked (mostly) like people, and could bitch you out for bothering them—was taking a toll on his mind. Still, I’d been watching him long enough to see that he didn’t mean any of us harm. If he had, I’d have put a bullet between his eyes myself, and not thought another thing about it.

That particular night, I decided to make an effort to get to know him better. Everyone else was ahead of me on that, and had been bugging me about it.

“Hospitality,” Siddig, our neighborhood Imam, told me, “is an excellent way to judge a person. Do they receive it well? Do they offer it easily? From what I have seen, Frank does both.”

I mumbled a “thank you,” and tried to formulate my next move.

It was Springtime, and the nights were getting longer. I passed by my stash of Jim and Darcy’s apple brandy on my way into the garage, and held up for a moment. Booze is often called “social lubricant,” and it seemed like a decent way to open up a conversation with my neighbor.

I grabbed a small bottle, a repurposed glass Listerine bottle, and made my way next door. He was already outside, kicking back in a lawn chair as the sun started to fall. He looked smug. I thought it would be nice to wipe that expression off his face, for about twenty seconds, and decided a fist fight was poor behavior on my part.

“Hey,” I said, “How’s things?”

He rolled his head towards me, all shaggy hair that was trying to grow back after he lopped it all off. Having a zombie use your pony tail as a leash will do that to you. My hair was long, and I was fine with it, because I never let them get close enough to give me whiplash.

“Hi, Shawn. What’s up?”

“Not much, I just thought I’d come over and share a drink with you. Jim and Darcy, you’ve probably met them, do homebrew.”

“Cool! Pull up a chair, they’re right inside the door.”

That’s exactly what I did, the I passed him the bottle. He took a generous swallow, and gave it back to me.

“Foowheeooo! It tastes like Cognac, apples, and the bottom of a leaf pile in Autumn!”

“That’s our brewmaster, all right. Their apple brandy is second to none, in my opinion.” I couldn’t help smiling. We were justifiably proud of our friends’ products.

“I’ve had English cider and brandy from the Cotswolds, but this stuff gives those a fierce wedgie.” He smiled, and I took a swig from the bottle.

The burn was lovely, and it reminded me of the Fall back home in North Carolina. I missed home, but not all that much. My mother was a harsh matriarch.

“Why are you sitting out here by yourself?” I had to ask.

“I’m trying to think up names for my zombie extermination service, and all I’m doing is drawing a blank.”

“Well,” I took another drink, “what ideas have you come up with so far?”

He shook his head, pulled on his little soul patch, and motioned for me to hand him the brandy. This time, he drank more than a tipple. I don’t think he realized how strong that stuff is. I’d heard from our mutual friend, Marvin the bartender, that Frank’s a lightweight drinker.

“The last thing that came to mind was ‘Frank’s Amazing Problem Elimination.’” He grabbed the bottle back.

“FAPE.” I rolled it around in my mouth. “It sounds like you do more than kill things. Do you really want somebody coming around, asking you to artificially inseminate their pigs?”

He nearly spat out the brandy he was holding in his cheek, that would have been a sin.

“What about “Frank Kills Pesky Undead?” I asked, after he swallowed. There’ll be no spitting fine liquor in my presence. I grew up in a family that made moonshine. Mama would sling a rolling pin if you couldn’t take it.

“FKPU?” He didn’t look convinced. “It sounds like ‘fuck poo,’ and that isn’t an impression I want to leave with people.”

“Yeah. Got any other ones?”

“Um. ‘Frank Kills Zombies?’”

“Well, that’s accurate,” I commented, “but it lacks a certain zing.”

“A ‘certain zing?’” Frank leaned back in the chair, and I noticed his movements were a little wobbly. “What are you, a Madison Avenue marketing professional?”

“No, but you read car part slogans long enough and you develop a,” I found the word in my head, “discernment for what’s shit and what isn’t.”

“You know, for a blond gorilla, you’ve got a good vocabulary.” He was still drinking from the bottle in his hand. I guess he liked it.

“Now, now, there’s no call for calling me names.”

“It was totally affection. I like you, man.” Another drink. Gracious, boy was going to feel it any second. “You’re a solid…solid…water-filled bag made outta skin.”

Yep. The drink had started to talk.

He went on, head wobbling to and fro. “I was also thinking about ‘Very Obnoxious Frank’s Zombie Whacking Service,’ but it just didn’t resonate with me. Then it was ‘Frank’s Undead Killing Service,’ but the acronym sucked shit.”

I thought, “Please don’t take another drink,” but he did. I looked across the way, and something moved across the light I always kept lit in the garage.

“Hey, Frank, you stay here. There’s something I need to take a gander at.”

“Dude,” he replied, and I took that as permission to excuse myself.

I used to carry a .45 in the small of my back. My hand found it, and I racked a round as I walked towards the corner of my place. By the time I got there, I could hear somebody rattling around in my tool chests. That meant one of three things: an intruder, a zombie, or a neighbor who needed a screwdriver at night.

The gun came up, but I left my finger off the trigger, because killing neighbors isn’t nice. I rounded the corner, and hollered at whoever it was to stand and deliver.

Did he? Nope. He dove between the garage wall and Frank’s minivan, effectively out of sight.

That was fuckin’ annoying, but it did limit my choices. I had an intruder who might be a thief, or a zombie who might be a thief. As a group, we took a dim view on thieves of any kind. People we might let go with a stern warning, but zombies were killed without delay.

Martial law was over by then. Local justice was the way of things. We were a little more merciful than some of the other groups in our area. Some of them lynched thieves, others shot them, and one group in Falls Church (a religious commune) beheaded them.

Also, we were still a little unclear about how the zombie virus spread. People generally kept to themselves, or hung out in their little tribes, so thieves and squatters were unusual to begin with…at least singly. We’d had one or two tussles with other groups that wanted to acquire our resources, and it didn’t go well for them.

“All right now, you can come out right now, and I might not kill you. If you make me come in there, I’ll pop you between the eyes,” I yelled into the concrete cavern.

He did, right over the top of the minivan, almost too fast to see. We went to the asphalt in a tangle, with my pistol between us, pointing at my balls. His breath smelled like week-old fish. Zombie.

Any other doubts I could have had about that vanished when he raked those damned giant fingernails across my chest. God, it burned!

I noticed he had a handful of screwdrivers in his other hand, so he had been intent on stealing. Asshole.

I barely moved my head in time to avoid claws to the eyes. He hit the road instead, and I heard some nasty cracks right beside my ear. Brittle nails.

“You’re not eating enough collagen, are you? Unhealthy nails are a terrible thing,” I said in his ear, and then I bit it off.

He dropped the drivers and grabbed that side of his head as he rose up off my chest. I spat the ear back at him, pulled my .45 up, and aired out his chest. That got him all the way off me, and I put one between his eyes.

By the time I got on my feet, ¾ of my neighbors were running towards me, guns drawn.

“It’s okay, y’all. Go on home. Thanks for comin’ though!”

Like any armed mob, they dispersed, but not after cheery greetings and hugs. Gotta love it when people love each other. Instead of joining in, I strolled back to my drunk neighbor, and grabbed the bottle out of his hand. There was a little left in it.

I took a pull, swished it around to get the thick taste of blood out of my mouth, and spat it out. I poured the rest on my scratched up chest. It didn’t feel good, but alcohol might ward off bacteria, and it would leave me smelling tasty.

Frank rolled his eyes up at me, and I realized I had something to say.

“Look,” I sat back down in the lawn chair, “don’t name your business. Just be yourself. People will find you if they want you. Besides, all those names were awful.”