haunted shelter


Gustav Holst plays in the dim gymnasium
—the gentle decay of orbits

I pass through the gym with my eyes on the floor
for there are monster faces in the shadows
of this old and long haunted church

then comes the two-way Narcan(!) crackle
someone dials 911

the face of the man on the washroom floor is blue when I arrive
the first two naloxone injections haven’t worked, and I
see flap in the faces of my unflappable coworkers
we wait on the third dose then hear
the fabulous deep inhalation

it’s raining outside
a trivial detail
but it fascinates me
after the ambulance has gone







Noah Bones, chapter 2: Rachel

It wasn’t dawn.

*    *    *    *    *

“It happens in small rooms like this,” she whispered, sitting up in bed hugging her knees. “Fatal stanzas spoken in low voices.” She lit a fresh cigarette, a pale-skinned undernourished woman, next to a man in a shabby room. “All of us being fragile and prone  to surrender, how could it be otherwise?”

“What was that?” Noah rose up from beneath the sheets and onto his elbows. A candle burned and spat on the nightstand.

“When they come,” she said, “their faces will be blank. Don’t look at them hoping for reason. The Greater Plan will have wiped them clean.”

Then she looked at him, and said, “Listen to me,” as though it was critical that he did. “This isn’t infatuation or about the sex.” She paused and slowly shook her head. “It’s not about your little gifts of contraband. It’s about who I am, in fact. In fact, I may be your exit. That’s what this is about, and I think you’ve figured that out in your own way.”

“Exit?” he said.

“You’re trying to get in, become a member of the Greater Plan, by being one of their assassins. We’ve discussed it, you and I, in passing.”

“Yeah, so?”

“You don’t know me,” she said. “Even after all these months.”


“That’s not your fault.”

“But I don’t want to know you,” he said. “You’re right. This isn’t about love.”

“The first two chambers of the gun weren’t loaded.”

How could she know that? He lit his own cigarette, and lied, “What gun? I don’t have a gun.”

“People like you never do,” she said, “or say they don’t. That’s smart, but when they give you a gun to do a job, a disposable one, one would think you’d check to make sure it was fully loaded. That’s what a professional does.  But you didn’t this time. You trusted them, and you nearly botched the kill as a result. You shot his balls off first, by accident. Then you apologised like an idiot before you killed him proper. It was a test, the empty chambers. They tested your trust in them, and you passed. They made you look like a damn fool, but you passed the test because you didn’t inspect the weapon, because you trusted the Plan, and because of your lust to belong. And they know that you’ll return when called. That means you’re closer than ever to being invited in.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment. She was Rachel, no? An ageless gaunt woman he’d meet on a street corner two days a week, and take home. They’d share a meal, government canned meat, stale bread. He gave her cigarettes. Sometimes there was a bottle of mysterious clear liquor. Once a warm coat. And they’d sleep together. Bland sex. Dull conversation afterward. Then she’d leave, without saying good-bye. He’d watch her back as she left his room, into the hall. A stranger in a worn dress, no stockings, weathered shoes and the coat he’d gifted her.

“Who are you then?” he said, finally. “What are you?”

“Your salvation, so far. Your roomful of remaining days,” she said, poetically, but with a misty hint of menace. She even nearly smiled for the first time since they met. “Originally, my people sent me to kill you, but I convinced them that you might be useful. That we might infiltrate the Greater Plan using you, by following you in. You’re one of the Greater Plan’s darlings, you know? As it turns out. You don’t know it yet, but you’ve been placed at the top of their list.”

“Your people?”

“Never mind that.”

“You’re the Faction, aren’t you?” He sounded hurt.

“There is no Faction,” she said. “It’s a myth.”

“But if there was, if the Faction were real, your people would be it, or a part of it, knowingly or otherwise.”

She put her feet onto the cold floor and got out of bed, naked. “I suppose you’re right,” she said, then pulled a gun out from under her pillow. It was the first time he’d ever seen one in her hand. Their eyes met for a moment, and she looked sinister in a way he’d never seen before. “It’s getting serious,” she said.

“Why would I ever work for you?” he said. “Risk everything?”

“Because people I know want you dead. Because you’re the sort that thinks he’s clever, or wants to. And a man who thinks he’s clever never is. I’ve kept you alive so far, and I’ll continue to do so as long as I can make use of you. You’re an asset in a bank, placed there for withdrawal, later on. And since you hold your life dear like everyone else in this dirty world, you’ll play along.”

“And you intend to make this dirty world a better place this way, is that it?”

“That’s the idea, or a small part of it.” She stepped into her dress, and then checked her hair and refreshed her lipstick in a mirror on the distressed sideboard.”

“That’s the real myth,” he said. “You’ve delusions of justice, righteousness.”

“They’ll test you again soon,” she said, putting on her coat and taking five packs of cigarettes out of the nightstand drawer, and placing them in her handbag. Her gun having disappeared somewhere else in the secret folds of the coat. “It may be your final test. If it is, it will be the most complex and dangerous. To test your cunning, which I’m not sure you have in adequate supply. But we’ll see. No more juvenile ticks with partially loaded revolvers, though. Please don’t do anything stupid, like getting yourself killed. You may be an valuable to me soon, in spite of your lack of guile in the face of what has so far been mild treachery. And don’t come to the corner anymore. I won’t be there. Someone will contact you when the moment is right.”

She left his room without closing the door behind her.

Getting up, he watched her cross the empty road through his second story window, and get into a ramshackle automobile. A man was at the wheel, white as a ghost in the dim streetlamp light. Looking up, the man gave Noah a short wave and a shady grin. It made Noah turn quickly, and stand out of sight with his back against the wall.

 *   *   *   *   *

Author’s note: A new job makes for little time to write. Hence the shorter story length. In fact I intend to make this a very short novella, not quite flash fiction.

Read chapter 1 here.






Noah Bones, chapter 1: the moment

The time of day?

It was a thing to ponder as he waited. The ever-changing curfews and the random rotation of Commonwealth clock dials had done their work. Personal time pieces were forbidden. Time-Knowing was crime. He stood on a cold corner with the slow world nearly deserted, in what might have once been a 10am light filtering through the fog and coal smoke.

Waiting had been the greater part of the job, since the beginning. He waited and saw. Waited for the right moments to attack and retreat, always being careful. A moment wasn’t a minute. A minute was mutiny.

But he dreamed in moments like these, the dead immense moments before a kill, of doors opening into the Greater Plan. Of being offered a place within it, from which he’d emerge and be magnificent. But first, this. Always this first. This, wrapped in limitless moments.

Now his right fist clenched the smoky snub-nosed revolver in his coat pocket. Small and of indeterminate calibre. He hadn’t bothered to look, but knew it had the blunt blue character of a weapon that had killed before. A hand-me-down loaded by a stranger and slid to him across a tabletop, with an envelope of dirty currency. It was made of iron. It could kill forever. Been lost ten thousand years, like something precious, and found once more to kill again. A cheap ouroboros, an unwelcome eternal return.

There were a few ageing black automobiles parked at the curb, and the occasional pedestrian walking quickly past the dingy storefronts. Civil servants. There’d be permits in their pockets, allowing them to be out. They had that privilege, and the consequential dread held tightly somewhere inside. In the gut or wrapped tightly round the heart. Privilege was sedition, when one’s moment finally arrived.

He checked the action of the revolver’s hammer by pulling it back with his thumb, then gently easing it forward with his finger on the trigger. Stiff, gritty.

Then a man stepped out of a café across the street. Ugly but well dressed, familiar from a photograph. Suddenly the revolver felt unmanageable in Noah’s hand. He thought of running, as he always did at moments like these, but crossed the street instead, and met the man at the door of his car. And in a fluid movement, he drew the gun and squeezed the trigger—the sound of it surprising them both. Snap! it said. He cocked and squeezed the trigger again. Snap! Empty chambers? Impossible. Why hadn’t he checked? He was no amateur. A gun slid across a tabletop for an assignment was always loaded.

His target sneered. In seconds it might have been a grin.

Noah looked down at the revolver in his hand rather into the ugly man’s face. Then, desperately and without aim, he squeezed the trigger once more. “Bam!” it said this time, and the ugly man stepped back, eyes wide, hands grasping at the now bloody, empty space where his genitals had been seconds before.

“Oh shit,” Noah said, “I…. I didn’t mean….” …to shoot you there, he wanted to say. But then took more careful aim and, “Bam!” put a hole in the ugly man’s head, over the left eye, causing the eyeball to pop out at speed, and hang gluey from the socket by its optic nerve. Smoke swirled in the mist as the ugly man staggered against the car, falling dead onto the sidewalk. Right eye still open. The left looking away.

Privilege was sedition.

*   *   *

“The first two chambers were empty,” he said over the telephone in his room. “Was that some kind of fucking joke?”

“Are you laughing?” It was a woman’s voice. Familiar from nightmares and previous phone calls.


“Not much of a joke then, eh?” she said.

“Yeah, well fuck you.”

He nearly hung-up, but then heard the woman say, “You want into the Greater Plan, I hear. Your Assigned Intermediary says that he sees it in you.”

“The fat fuck who gave me the gun, you mean?”

“And the money, dear,” the woman said. “The filthy filthy money. The Fat One thinks that you might make a sound candidate. You’re just bustin’ to move up, according to him.”

It was true. He was.

“When?” he said.

“When your moment comes.”

“Well when the hell’s that, a week, a month?”

There was a pause, a hush. He heard the very faint sound of a man shouting on a separate, very distant connection.

Then the woman said, “Don’t push yer luck, boyo.”










graveyard shift at the homeless shelter

if I were a saint
I’d lay on hands &
change all the crack
heroin, rigs & fentanyl
into the pure cold orbits of stars
for all of us to see out front
on the 3am street, looking up

someone rejuvenated might say
like the word was sanctuary
beneath a childhood staircase

but the stars move too slow
to compensate for outrageous hurts &
saints should mind their own goddamn business
where were they when the first shit sample
hit the wall & a child mind found
that the real estate of refuge
had fences & gates