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Second Chances: Simple Simon was published in Necrology Shorts Literary Magazine and was an Honorary Mention in Allegory. It is now part of the new Future Eyes anthology. The Process and Dear Susan will soon be available in future publications.

Second Chances: Simple SimonBy, Justin Zipprich Simon had no idea where he was. The house seemed very familiar, he just couldn’t place why. A beautiful voice emulates from an upstairs bathroom, he is drawn to it. As he climbs the stairs, they seem so foreign to him, has he climbed these same stairs all these years? As he walks he admires the hanging pictures that line the hall. The people in them, he recognizes them. A smiling woman, a young boy holding a fishing pole, a stunning woman and her son posing under an amusement park sign. Suddenly it begins to come back to him. The woman is his mother, the smiling boy is Simon. This was his home. Sometime he seems to get lost in his own head, but like they always do, details start coming so vividly to him now. The beige walls, white carpet, the way the warm sunlight used to fill this hall. He stops when he reaches the door to the bedroom he occupied as a child. Curiosity overcomes him as he turns the rigid knob, slowly pushes open the door. It’s just as he remembers it, the room hasn’t been changed after all these years. Few items fill the room; his small bed, side table and bookshelf still contain the few books that he would read over and over again as a child. Dark memories fill his mind, mostly the many beatings that took place in that small room. A boy’s room is supposed to be his refuge, but no place seems welcoming when your father comes hoe, drunk and angry. No time for reminiscing, he has a job to do. He knows what’s next as he arrives at the bathroom door. He opens it a crack, inside his mother brushes her hair. Smiling and happy, she sings to her reflection in the mirror. His mother is everything to him. She was always there to take care of him and keep him safe, she was his whole life. She’s as amazing and loving today as she was the day he was born and he loves her so very much. Simon opens the door a little further, his mother notices him standing at the threshold, she smiles at him. “Hello my sweet Simon”. Simon goes to her, unveiling the kitchen knife from behind his back. Before she can react, he strikes the single blow to her chest. She makes the slightest peep, her mouth twitches and she falls to the bathroom floor, dead. He looks down at her motionless body; she is so beautiful, like an angel. He loved his mother more than anything in the world. Something isn’t right in his head. The reporters dubbed him the serial killer known as Simple Simon. The name came from his method of murder, one stab to the heart. Clean and simple. The authorities had finally caught up to him after fifteen years of searching. It wasn’t that difficult, after all, he turned himself in. Throughout the court process, Simon tried to pinpoint how his compulsion to kill began. It’s very possible that the source was his hateful father. As a boy, Simon rarely laughed and never felt love. Fear was the only emotion he knew and he was filled with it every moment of every day. His father was scarier than any villain he’d ever seen in the movies he feared as a child. Dad had always set impossible standards for Simon, standards that his father couldn’t even meet himself. With a low paying job, a wife he didn’t love, and a child he viewed as weak and unsatisfactory, his father had nothing to be happy about. He had never seen his father smile; his default expression was that of anger and distain. Simon’s mother did the best she could. To make up for her husband’s terrible attitude, she tried to keep a smile on her face at all times, even when it got really bad. Of course it was always bad, his father never stopped yelling, and when his throat was to soar to continue he turned to physical harm. He beat his wife and son so often that Simon was in a never ending world of pain. When he would try to retreat to his bedroom, it was only a matter of time before his dad would arrive, beating on the door. He would eventually break the latch and the abuse would resume. His father’s anger wasn’t only reserved for family; he took his rage out on the animals as well. As an avid hunter, he spent every weekend with his gun, killing everything that moved. Simon was fine with that, anything as long as it kept his father out of the house for a while. When Simon turned 10, his father decided that it was time for him to become a man, he was taking him hunting. Simon had no urge to kill innocent animals; however, chances to make his father happy with him were few and far between, so he agreed. Perhaps it was his desperation to share something, anything, with his father, to finally make him proud. While it started with innocent intentions, the real thrill soon became the control and violence of it all. The first time he pulled the trigger he was hooked. The way the blood spurted, the complete stillness of the deer, but what most excited him was the power. The power to decide when something or someone’s life should end, he had absolute power. From then it just got easier. He had plenty of time to think things over during the last year. His new home was not foreign at all to him, a six by six jail cell. Complete with concrete walls, metal bars and a dirty toilet, it’s the place where people like him come to die, and today was his day. The guard hands him his last meal. Usually the inmate gets to choose his last meal; Simon didn’t care what he ate. They took it upon themselves to prepare him steak, mash potatoes and corn. He eats the meal, but it has no taste, nothing tastes good on the last day of your life. He barely has time to digest his food when the guard returns and tells him that it’s time to go. He obeys, leaves the cell and begins his long walk to the electric chair. There’s no fooling himself, he knows he deserves the death that awaits him. His dearest mother was only one of 26 people Simon murdered over the last decade. 18 women, five young men and two children died at his hands. After all these years he finally begins to feel remorse. Although he would never admit it to anyone, he is sorry for what he’s done. If given the opportunity he would turn back time, try to reverse what he did to all those innocent people. If he could do it all again, things would be different. If he was just given the chance he would try it again as a gentle and happy person. He would be a man of the people, a friend to the masses, someone to look up to. Yep, if just given the chance, he would redeem himself for all of his wrongdoings. He would go back to when he was 10 years old. An innocent boy that was in awe of the world and everything in it, it would be a different story the second time around. Halfway down the hall, Simon notices a bright light, a beautiful woman emerges. She looks like an angel, long flowing hair, large welcoming eyes. She is completely out of place in the dark corridor; the guards pay no attention to her, as if she doesn’t exist. She smiles at him and puts out her hand, welcoming Simon towards her. He would go to her, if not for these restraining cuffs and armed guards. The angel comes to him and places her warm hand on his arm and pulls him towards her. Who is this beautiful aberration? Is she the angel of death or something more? Suddenly he feels at ease with the world. He looks around, again cursing the cuffs and guards, who suddenly aren’t there. He is alone with the woman. She embraces him and whispers gently into his ear. The words flow so smoothly and they are exactly what he wants to hear. One simple sentence, “now you are given a second chance.” He awakes in a bed. No longer encased in concrete but surrounded in bright colors, sunlight paints his face. He is back in his bedroom, in his childhood home. He throws off the covers and jumps out of bed. He feels lighter, healthier, more energetic, he feels like a kid again! He is a kid again! The years of fear, sin and anger that once marred his features have been replaced with a face of youth and innocence. He understands what has occurred. He got the second chance that he had hoped for, a chance to do it all again and this time he will not mess it up. He sprints down the stairs, into the kitchen, where his mother has finished cooking breakfast; she lays it out on the table. He is so happy to see his mother, this time he’ll give her the love that she deserves. The last thing he would ever do is hurt her, he will love her forever. From the other room, he hears the front door slam; he listens to the sound of heavy footsteps approaching the kitchen. He remembers the distinct footsteps and he knows that sound is his father, as he returns from a long night working at the factory. His father enters the room, angry as always. His voice is as deep and frightening as Simon remembers. He gets right to the point. “I’m goin’ huntin’, you comin’ with me boy?” Without thinking, Simon almost instinctively says ‘yes’ but then gives it another thought. He promised himself that things would be better this time around and this is the first step to keeping a happy life. He knows his father may punish him for disobeying but it seems like a fair trade for the life he deserves. “No thanks dad, I’m going to stay in with mom.” A risky answer, he feels his voice crack. His father gets defensive. “Why the hell not?“ He asks. “You some kind of pussy son?” Simon says nothing, slowly backing into the corner. “Well that’s fine, but when I come back, I’m gonna whoop your ass!” He grabs his gun from the counter and storms out of the room. His mother waits till her husband exits then slips Simon a smile. He smiles back at his beautiful mother; this is the beginning of a wonderful new life. As the years went by, Simon had nothing but joy and love in his heart. He said hello to everyone he passed on the street, volunteered at the homeless center every Christmas and even helped out at the local YMCA. There he became the lead swim instructor for children five through fifteen years of age. He really loved his job; he got such a rush from giving children the ability to swim. As time went by he was recognized as the best swim instructor at the Y. He saw himself as a role model, a man that the young kids could surely look up to and he encouraged them to talk to him about anything they had on their minds. He went to every length possible to ensure that every one of his students was always healthy and happy. There was one boy that he enjoyed teaching the most. Ten year old Charlie Benning was a slender kid with sandy blond hair and a permanent smile on his face. Awkward and scrawny, he was the kid who was always bullied and targeted, yet he always kept his youthful optimism. In addition, he was also the poorest of all the swimmers in the class. Simon worked with Charlie every day, even after hours. The YMCA looked down upon that kind of thing, but Simon knew he wasn’t hurting anyone, just trying to help a boy that needed it. He must have spent 100 hours trying to teach young Charlie to swim but the boy never seemed to get any better. Every time he would venture more than a few feet from the pool wall, struggling, awkwardly flailing his arms and legs, he would go into a panic and retreat back to the safety of his instructor. During breaks they talked a lot, mostly about Charlie’s classes and the few friends he had, but he would never shed much information about his home life. Simon suspected the reason. It was no secret that Charlie’s father was the notorious town drunk, with a tendency towards anger. There were a couple occasions when Simon noticed the slightest bruise on Charlie’s arm or neck. Due to Simon’s relationship with his own abusive father, he felt for Charlie and had a special place in his heart for the young boy. He sometimes wished that he was Charlie’s father; he would give him the life he deserved. One evening when class was over, Simon waited on the front stairs with Charlie. His dad usually came to pick him up but he was late as usual. Class had been over for hours, no doubt his father was spending his free time at one of the local bars; beer was all that mattered to him. It was starting to get dark when Simon suggested that he should drive Charlie home. Dismayed, tears streaming down his cheek he finally confessed how angry and violent his father got after a few hours at the bar, he was afraid to go home. Simon had no choice, he offered Charlie the chance to stay at his place, but only for tonight, Charlie happily agreed. Simon was no idiot; he knew how taking a student to his home would probably be frowned upon. What choice did he have? Leave the boy freezing on the steps all night, alone? He couldn’t do that, in the morning he would drop Charlie back at home and explain to his father what had happened. With that Charlie happily hopped in Simon’s car and they drove back to his place. Simon lived in a small studio apartment in a complex that housed hundreds. It wasn’t the definition of elegance but it suited him just fine. There wasn’t much room inside but he tried to make Charlie as comfortable as possible. He put some spare blankets and pillows on the couch and made Charlie a small dinner of soup and a microwaveable meal. Charlie ate the food like he hadn’t eaten in days, leaving not a crumb. They watched a little television until Charlie fell fast asleep, Simon retired to his bedroom. The next morning Simon woke up bright and early and drove the boy home. The house was old, plain and unkempt. Even on the sunniest day the place looked dark and ominous, the source not only the bland colored siding but the dark shadow that emulated from the man who lived within. Simon couldn’t blame Charlie for fearing his own home. Perhaps he connected so much with the boy because he reminded him of the similarities he faced in a former life. Charlie thanked him for the wonderful evening, gathered his backpack and started towards the house. He reached the front door, knocked and waited a moment. After a few moments Mr. Benning opened the door, looking dirty and disheveled, he peered out at Simon in the car. The man gave him an angry look, roughly ushered the boy inside then slammed the door. With no time to confront the father, Simon drove to the Y, late for work. When he arrived, he went to his locker to set down his things. Brad, a fellow swim instructor greeted him. “You’re late”, he said with an arrogant smile. “It’s nice to see you too Brad”, Simon replied, pulling his swim trucks out of his locker. Simon didn’t really care for the man. While his outlook in this new life was to treat everyone he met with respect, it was difficult to do around Brad. He always seemed to have something negative to say, he had an aire that shouted, ‘I’m better than you’. Still, Simon tried his best to avoid negative people like Brad and focus on better things. “Keep in mind”, Brad continued, “just because you’re getting minimum wage doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to treat this like a real job.” Simon shut his locker. “Thanks, I’ll try to remember that. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to balance the pool.” “Don’t bother”, Brad interjected, “we do that at ten o’clock remember, it’s now ten thirty”. “Look, I said that I already know that I was late, give it a rest.” Simon replied, trying not to get angry. “Yeah, ok, speaking of half-assing it, are you still wasting your time trying to teach that Benning boy to swim?” Simon immediately became irritated when he heard the negative talk about Charlie. “Lay off of him, he’s a good kid.” “I’m just sayin’ you can’t turn a lump of shit into gold” Simon looked intensely into brad’s eyes, unblinking. “Brad, knock it off, I’m serious. Why don’t you go do something useful, last time I checked, you were the same pay grade as I am.” With that, Brad put up his hands in the defensive and turned the other way. “Whatever man, it’s your life.” Simon decided to let it go, it wasn’t worth it, besides his first class was about to start, no point losing his job over an arrogant coworker. Morning quickly turned to afternoon; time flew by so fast that he hardly realized that it was time to start the children’s swim class. He hoped that Charlie would show up, he hoped taking the boy home the previous night hadn’t caused him too much trouble at home. Finally it came, his favorite part of the day, the two large doors opened and in ran the children, smiling and laughing. Charlie lagged a little behind the group, instantly breaking into a smile when he saw Simon. A feeling of pride swelled inside of him, this was the first moment when he realized that he really was making a difference in his new second chance of his life. Everything was going to work out just fine, what an amazing feeling. One thought occurred to him however. If he really wanted to step it up, he should try to do something for Charlie that no one ever took the time to do, he would succeed in teaching Charlie to swim. Charlie was nervous but finally ready to learn. For the next couple weeks Simon used every trick and lesson that he knew, but to no avail. Charlie just never seemed to even begin to grasp the concept, he never made any head weigh. This really started to frustrate Simon. He was the best swim coach in the place, maybe even in the whole district; he should be able to teach Charlie to swim in half this time. Failure was not an option. He’d never failed before; there wasn't any reason to start now. He had a plan, his last ditch effort to teach the boy. Next session, he would push Charlie harder than ever before. The next day, when little Charlie came into the gym, Simon informed him of his intents. He told him that today was the day that he would learn how to swim. Charlie was thrilled to hear it, however, his smile faded when Simon told him how it was going to happen. Charlie would have to do it alone. In fact, Simon wouldn’t be in the pool with him at all. He would guide Charlie from the poolside. Charlie would have to learn to swim by his own ambition, find symmetry between him and the water, gain an understanding and make it to the other side of the pool. Charlie became very fearful and started to tear up, ‘I can’t do it alone!’ he cried. Simon knelt beside him and reassured him that he had equipped the boy with all the skills he needed, finally Charlie gave him his trust. Slowly and cautiously, Charlie stepped into the pool. As he hung onto the side, Simon knelt next to him. “This is it, take all the skills I’ve taught you and apply them to this very moment. You can swim Charlie; you can swim like a fish!” Simon exclaimed with great excitement. Clearly no other person had ever had confidence in the boy, never gave him a reassuring word of advice because Charlie smiled wider than he ever had before. The innocent boy put his complete faith in his teacher. Charlie turned, his back to the pool wall, facing the ocean of water before him. He was scared, but he was determined to make Simon proud. With a great boost he used his legs to shove off the wall, thrusting himself into the water. Using the ‘doggy paddle’ style that coach had taught him, he stroked the water with his hands, arms and legs. He couldn’t believe it, he was doing it! He was moving across the water, now almost five feet from the pool wall. He was staying afloat, he was propelling himself forward, and he was swimming! He hoped it wasn’t just luck. At ten feet in, still moving his arms and legs at the same intensity, his body began to sink below the water line. He flailed his arms even faster, struggling to stay above the water. He began to get very tired. Water began filling his open mouth, swallowing half of it; he spat water as he begged Simon to come help him out of the water. Simon watched disbelieving from the pool side as Charlie suffered in the water. He just didn’t understand, what was happening? Charlie was doing so well at the beginning, why would he give up now? He watched as Charlie’s hands began to flail faster and Simon hoped that it was the boy getting his second wind. However, after an instant, the boy began to move more slowly, falling deeper below the surface of the water. Breathing in as much chlorine tainted water as oxygen, Charlie mustered as much energy as he could and weakly screamed from the pool. “Help me Simon! Simon help!” The boy’s head and face began to disappear below the water as the boy started to drown. Simon wouldn’t just stand by and watch poor Charlie drown, after all, he had the skills and knowledge to rise above the water and swim back to safety. All he needed was a little encouragement. Simon yelled to the boy. “C’mon Charlie, swim! You can do it! Don’t give up now, don’t be a quitter! You’re not a quitter are you?! Don’t be a loser like your old man! I can’t help you; you have to do this on your own! Swim damn it! Try harder!” Simon was so focused on the boy and his own frustration that he didn’t even notice when Brad came running into the room. Now Simon really didn’t like Brad, he ignored him and continued his verbal assault on the drowning boy. The boy in the pool had completely stopped moving, he lied motionless in the still water, his whole body now completely below the surface of the water. Simon watched as Brad ran up to the side of the pool, prepared to dive in and try to save the boy. Before he could reach the edge, he was completely caught off guard as Simon came from behind. Simon grabbed him by the waist and used all his strength to throw Brad away from the pool. Brad fell hard to the concrete, rolling while trying to protect his head. “What the hell is wrong with you Simon? He’d dying!” Brad screamed. Simon turned toward him, his face full of rage, “Brad, stay back! You never cared about him, you don’t know him! He can do this, I’ve taught him well, he can do it!” “Jesus Christ!” Brad screamed back, “it’s over, he’s dead!” Suddenly it hit him like a wall, Charlie was no longer moving, he wasn’t breathing or begging for help, he was limp and motionless, dead in the water. He had failed, he failed himself and Charlie. He didn’t know what to do, so he sat. He sat down next to the pool, his legs crossed, and put his hands on his head. Everything was becoming a blur, the world before him began blending together. The events unfolded around him like a distorted collage. Brad diving into the pool…Brad giving the boy mouth to mouth…Brad running out of the room…the police picking him off the ground and putting him in handcuffs. Simon didn’t care what was happening; he just kept thinking the same thing over and over. He had spent close to a year training Charlie and this is how he repaid him? The boy clearly had no respect for his instructor, maybe he deserved to die. Simon had his day in court. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. What Simon had thought was a nourishing friendship to a lonely boy was conveyed as stalking, kidnapping and child abuse by hungry prosecutors. There was no talk of his years of helping the youth of the world, his dedication to treating everyone with respect or any of the good things that Simon had strived to achieve in this life. No one in this courtroom knew of him in his previous life, yet they conveyed him as the same evil man with a penchant for pain. They didn’t know that he knew a life where many innocent souls perished at his hands, yet they portrayed him in the same way for the death of one. He could never erase the scowls and anger in the eyes of the jurors when they looked at him. In a world where one couldn’t even turn on the news without seeing a story of death, theft, kidnapping or worse, there wasn’t room in their hearts for the murderer of an innocent child. The opening statements alone turned Simon into a blood thirsty monster, things could only get worse. Charlie’s father testified, of course this was the day that he cleaned himself up, speaking as soberly and elegantly as he could muster. Presentation was everything. He told the jury how Simon had taken Charlie to his home without consent. He claimed that Charlie complained about being tired from being out to all hours of the night training. He said that Charlie would come home in a defeated state, arms aching from the constant repetitive motions he was forced to learn. The lush continued by telling the court that he suspected that Charlie was being beaten by Simon. Of course this was just a story so that no one would suspect that the sources of Charlie’s bruises were caused by the father himself. However ridiculous these claims were, the jury bought it. When Simon was brought up to the stand, things got exponentially worse. Everything he said was spun and twisted to make the jury believe that Simon was completely to blame. When he mentioned how special a boy Charlie was, it was spun by prosecutors to say that such an intimate and special relationship was inappropriate for a man and a 10-year-old boy who weren’t family. When Simon pleaded again and again how it was an accident, the lawyers twisted to prove that such an ‘accident’ could only occur is Simon had indeed been working the youth too hard. They went on to say that a sometimes difficult skill such as learning to swim should never be as stressful as to induce fear and death to an innocent child. While Simon tried and tried to think of one, he could never come up with a reason of why the courts were coming down so hard on him. If only everyone cared so much about children as Simon cared about Charlie then the world would be a perfect place. Apparently he was the only one who saw it that way. The final straw was when Brad took the stage. Brad gave a moment by moment testimony of the events that occurred from the instant he ran into the pool area till Charlie’s final breaths. “He was like a crazed maniac”, he began. “Charlie was clearly in danger, he couldn’t even keep his head above the water, but there was Simon, screaming taunts at the boy, even when it was clear that there was no hope of saving him. I attempted to dive in, try to save him but Simon pushed me back with what seemed to be inhuman strength, his rage was fueling him. Then Simon turned his attention back to the boy in the pool and continued his fuming rant.” “I took the chance, pushed past Simon and dove into the pool. I got the boy in my arms and began swimming him to the edge. Suddenly Simon stopped screaming; he stopped doing anything, just sat down there next to the pool and watched me struggle with the kid. There was no emotion in his face, none what so ever, he just sat there with his head in his hands. I tried my best to resuscitate Charlie but there was no hope, he died there in the water.” There were no further questions, he had said it all. Now Simon hated Brad, he hated the jurors, the judge, the lawyers, hated everyone. He was filled with disgust and there was nothing he could do but stew in it. The jury deliberation lasted only minutes, and then the unforgiving judge sentenced Simon Whitfield to death by electrocution. Simon felt lost again. Just as in a previous life, still not fully understanding where he was and how he got here. He tried to lie to himself, convince himself that he was in a good place, alas when it all came clear he was back in that familiar place, resuming his long walk down that same cold dark hall to his true fate. As he passed the cold metal bars, the dampness of a prison, he knew what was waiting for him. Not for the murder of 26 innocent souls in cold blood, but for the death of one young boy. A boy he thought the world of and had let down. He’d never understood where the rage had come from. In his second chance at life, he had tried his hardest to be a different person but it seemed his soul had always been dark. He has the same sick mind, just in different wrapping. A second chance at life ends in a second failed attempt. In his mind he hopes that the beautiful goddess will appear again, take pity on him and give him just one more opportunity. A third chance to get it right, is that so selfish to ask for? Of course it is, he knows, that she won’t be coming. So few are given a second chance, his has come and gone and now he is lead to his fate. The electric chair stands, waiting.

Mario and Luigi VS. The War on Drugsby: Justin Zipprich Word Count: 3,402 It was no secret that the Mushroom Kingdom was swiftly losing the war on drugs. The narcotic known on the street as “turtle shell” was becoming very popular amongst all inhabitants of the kingdom. Koopa’s, Birdo’s, even Boos were all recreational turtle shell users. Known for its relaxing and sleep inducing properties, shell was the perfect way to forget the stress of the day.Of course turtle shell had its negative side effects as well. When used to excess, the drug could do major damage to the throat and skeletal system. There were even several cases of the drug shrinking people to a shorter, more helpless version of their former selves. Add to that the loss of fireball throwing abilities and you had a serious drug on your hands. But, that being the 80’s, no one worried about issues of that sort, they all just went on with their lives the best they could.It wasn’t until Princess Peach became heir to the throne that things began to change. Soon after Peach came into power, her sister Daisy was a victim of turtle shell. Known for her more rebellious lifestyle, Daisy could often be found at grimy clubs and hanging with unsavory characters. Her most infamous friend was Tatanga, an alien sleazebag from Sarasaland with a bad reputation. The story goes that Daisy was riding in Tatanga’s spaceship after a long night of partying and tube sliding when he drove the spacecraft directly into a mushroom hut. The impact killed Daisy instantly. Tatanga was alive but unable to move, he was rushed to a hospital in Easton where Dr. Mario, the chief surgeon, concluded that Tatanga’s body had dangerously high levels of turtle shell. The drug had caused him to fall asleep at the wheel. Tatanga was brought up on charges of 3rd degree manslaughter and ordered to death by Venus firetrap.Princess Peach was completely shocked and saddened by the events. With the advice of her primary advisor, lawyer and Washington rock thrower Monty Mole, a full scale anti turtle shell campaign was launched. Laws were immediately put into place making the use or possession of the drug illegal. In a famous and controversial decision, Peach enlisted the help of the Hammer Brothers who formed an army to patrol the streets for potential users. In an attempt to sway children from use of the drug, anti-drug classes were taught in schools. Millions of posters were hung on school walls boasting the popular anti-drug slogan: “Jump the Shell”. Within the first year alone the hammer brothers (with the aid of the Thwomp Union) had imprisoned over 10,000 distributers and issued over 50,000 citations to anyone seen using the drug. It was the beginning of a bright and happy era for the great Mushroom Kingdom. IIToad was a good natured, intelligent and polite 13 year old boy who lived in a small village in the kingdom. At two years old he was adopted by Mario and Luigi, who were his fathers. It was an odd arrangement for sure but the brothers did the best they could. Just two years after adopting Toad, Mario was offered the position of lead physician in Upper Easton where a deadly virus had broken out. Mario’s leave left Luigi as Toad’s primary caregiver. Being a single father was difficult on Luigi but even harder for young Toad. Growing up without a mother left a void in Toad’s heart, causing him to act out in mostly negative ways towards his father. On top of that, Toad had a very rare growth disorder. The illness left him at a permanent height of three feet tall. A blot clot in both legs called for an immediate leg shortening surgery. The surgeon left poor Toad with no legs, leaving his torso attached directly to his feet. After a few years of intense physical therapy, Toad learned to walk very well despite his disability. However, being three feet tall with no legs and an obtusely round head left him a continuous target for bullying.Every day at school was a constant struggle. If it wasn’t the Chain Chomps depancing him in gym class, it was the Wigglers stealing his lunch money. It was a tough time for Toad but he always tried to stay positive.One Friday, as he was on the lawn studying for his big test on ‘advanced raccoon spin tactics’, he heard some excited voices around the corner of the athletics building. He got up and went to the source of the excitement. When he turned the corner he saw a small group of Shy Guys all huddled together, talking and giggling amongst themselves. The shy guys were just another group that loved to torture Toad, so he decided to retreat. Before he got the chance, one of the guys poked his head up and saw Toad attempting to escape.“Hey guys”, Snifitis, the leader of the group announced to his friends, “check out the little toad! Don’t run away toady-poo, it’s not like you’ve got any legs anyway!”With that the whole group burst out in mean laughter. Toad wasn’t up for a losing fight so he just lowered his head and tried to go on his way. Snifitis wasn’t going to let him go and run to the principal and tell on them. He rushed over to Toad, grabbed him by the shoulder and walked him back to the gang.Snifitis got right to the point, “you ever try turtle shell before?”“Ahh, no, my dad says that it’s bad for me”. Toad replied.The group again exploded into laughter. “You’re dad?” A fellow Shy Guy asked. “You mean that goofy bastard Luigi? He ain’t your real father. Besides, he is useless without Mario!”“Whatever”, Toad replied. “You know that turtle shell is bad for you.”Snifitis wouldn’t let up. “Come on, don’t be a scaredy cat like Luigi, try some and you’ll be cool like us!”“I’m not doing it and you can’t make me!” Toad was getting scared.“That’s it little toad!” Snifitis grabbed his arms, “you heard him guys, let’s make him do it, grab him!”Just as the Shy Guys had Toad by the arms and legs, he was saved by Professor E. Gadd, a tenured instructor for the school who just happened to be turning the corner at that moment. "Just what do you boys think you're doing?" He asked.The boys acted quickly. Snifitis hid the shell behind his back and he and his gang put on their most innocent faces, they let their leader do the talking."Oh nothing professor, we were just hanging out with our friend Toad here.""Don't be silly", the professor replied. "We all know that Toad doesn't have any friends, why he..." That's when Gadd noticed the large object behind Snifitis' back. "Hey, what are you hiding back there?""It's nothing, I promise."Gadd wasn't having it, "come on young man, hand it over."After a brief hesitation, Snifitis displayed the drug in its full glory. Gadd was shocked. "Oh dear, turtle shell! You are all in big trouble! Each and every one of you is to report to Principal Kamek immediately!"This was the first time that Toad had ever found himself sent to the principal’s office. He didn't like the feeling of being in trouble and he knew that when Luigi arrived the real trouble would really begin, so he just sat and waited. When Luigi finally arrived, Toad expected the worst but Luigi kept his cool, gave Toad a mean look and the two got into the car. The drive home was miserable, neither of them said a word, it was the worst ten minutes of his life.When the finally arrived home, Luigi mumbled "why don't you go to your room and finish your homework."Toad couldn't take the silent treatment anymore. "Aren't you going to ground me?"Luigi took a deep breath, "I really don't know what to do with you."Toad pleaded with him. "I didn't do any shell; you've got to believe me!""I don't know if I can trust you Toad.""Why not?" Toad asked, getting angry. "Parents are supposed to trust their children! Mario trusted me! My school mates are right, you are nothing without Mario!"Toad knew just what to say to get on Luigi's nerves and it worked."Look", Luigi answered, "I know it's been difficult without Mario but I'm trying my best god-damnit!""Well your best isn't good enough", Toad screamed back. "You'll never understand me! I'm going to live with Uncle Bowser and you can't stop me!"And with that the little toad ran out the door into the street. Luigi yelled after him to come back but Toad's stubby legs could not be stopped. Toad had always liked his Uncle Bowser. His uncle was always there to comfort him and always had good advice to give. Toad always wished that Bowser had raised him so he spent as much time with his dear uncle as he could. Bowser lived in a small trailer park near the Banshee Boardwalk, with dreams of someday moving to Rainbow Road.Toad knocked frantically at the door until finally Bowser opened the door and welcomed him in."Thank God your home uncle; I've had such a terrible day!" Toad exclaimed, out of breath.Bowser sat down in his favorite chair. "Let me guess, you were sent to the principal's office today.""How did you know? Luigi called you didn't he?""Yes he did, but I don't have to worry about you. You'd never do turtle shell, would you?"Toad avoids Bowsers eyes. "I don't know. I'm not exactly the coolest kid in school. Maybe more people would like me if I did."Bowser gives him a comforting smile. "I had a feeling you'd say something like that, so I wanted to tell you a little story.""About what?""About me when I was younger. I wasn't the best kid. I'd always hang out with the bad crowd. Mostly Goombas, a few Koopa Troopas, it was bad news but they were the only friends I had. At that point turtle shell was just starting to become popular and when it started getting into the schools I was the first in line.""There you go!" Toad interjected. "You did it, so why shouldn't I?""Hold on young Toad, listen to what just a sample of turtle shell did to my life. Will you hear me out?'"Of course uncle, I love listening to your stories."Bowser continues. "You may think your uncle Bowser is pretty cool now, but before you were born I wasn't the nicest guy."Again Toad interrupts. "I don't believe that for a second! Not one second!"Bowser lets out a deep sigh. "Listen Toad, I will not be interrupted again. I'm trying to teach you something here, now shut it!""I'm sorry, not another word. Please continue." Toad makes a zipping motion across his lips.His uncle went on. "I decided to try turtle shell just once, just to prove that I could hang and I planned to never to it again. It was much harder to kick it than I thought, once you try it, you're hooked. After that day I began doing turtle shell anyway I could. I would snort it, inject it, hell I even shoved it up my rump one time just so I could get high." Bowser sat back deeper in his chair, reminiscing about those long ago days. "Those were the days; I had not a worry in the world. I could literally have any girl I wanted. All I had to do was offer them some shell. I would party till all hours of the night and get so wasted that I wouldn't be able to make it to work at the pipe factory, but it was worth it. Eventually I was fired which was bad because I had no money to buy more shell, and that was a problem. So I did the most logical thing my drug induced mind could think of. I decided to become a turtle shell dealer myself. It seemed like the perfect solution, I could keep doing shell and keeping my lifestyle while making some money on the side. So I hooked up with a friend of a friend, a guy by the name of Magikoopa and he got me started."Toad interjects. "You had your own business? I really respect that!""Yes, but that's when it started to get bad. Interrupt me again and I'm taking out the belt. So there I was, a full-fledged turtle shell dealer. I didn't expect it to be long term but within a year I was the biggest shell dealer in the Mushroom Kingdom. I was completely self-absorbed. I bought the largest castle I could find and started calling myself King Koopa. I wouldn't answer by any other name. I knew I was bringing unneeded attention to myself but I didn't care.” “A million things could have happened, I could have been thrown in prison, I could have even died from the stuff, but those all seemed like minor issues to me. Things went alright until it all came to a head one dark day in September, 1985." "It was that day that I got a bad batch of shell. It looked the same, smelled the same, but it was tainted with something terrible, a poison they called 'Mario Cookie'. I'd never been so high in my life. I was seeing things that weren't there and hearing things that weren't being said. It took such a toll on my lungs that I started breathing fire, it was a scary scene. That night was the worst of my life; the drug had driven me insane.” “I remember I was in this bar and there was this chick that I was really sweet on, went by the name of Princess Toadstool. In reality she was probably ignoring me but in my shell'd up mind she was totally in to me. So I went up to her and asked if she wanted to come back to my place. She knew I was drugged up so instead she slapped me hard across the face!"At that Toad shot up in his seat. "Oh man! Are you ok? Does it hurt?""Damn it Toad!" Bowser screamed. "It was 25 years ago, of course it doesn't hurt. I told you to stop interrupting; now your ass is really going to have a meeting with my belt!"With that remark, Toad slips back into his seat, ready to listen."Jeez, so you know I wasn't going to take any crap from her. So I took the princess, threw her over my shoulder and dragged her, kicking and screaming back to the castle. Unbeknownst to me, the bartender had called the police, as well as Mario and Luigi who were rushing to my great castle. I get to my castle, climb the stairs, throw the girl into one of the dungeons and I go to my bedroom. I was still feeling pretty good so I dumped a whole truck load of turtle shell onto my desk, Scarface style, and just went to town on the stuff.""That's when Mario and Luigi burst through the door. I knew they were just trying to help but in my mind they were both against me. They were screaming, 'where's the princess? Where’s the princess?' I came onto the staircase and told them to say hello to my little friends and I sent a couple Goombas after them. The Goombas didn't even seem to bother them, the brothers simply jumped on their heads, crushing them. The brothers had had enough, they started up for me. So I ran into the room with the princess. She's crying and freaking out, you know how dames are." "I hear Mario hollering and banging on the door but I figure that I'm safe at this point. That's when Luigi kicks in the door! It's a feat of strength that I've never seen from him and would never see again. Once they got into the room, they just stopped in their tracks, like they were completely stunned, and who could blame them. I mean there I am, an overweight dragon, breathing out streams of fire, jumping straight up and down like a crazy person. I'm telling you, I must have looked like a straight up mental patient. Anyway, Mario came up with a plan, it was pretty simple. When I jumped straight up in the air, Mario simply ran under me and grabbed the princess. It seemed as soon as he got to her, the floor gave out from under me due to my weight and I fell into the dark abyss below. That was when I passed out; I slept for just under two days. I woke up, checked into a treatment center and through hard work and dedication I got sober and I'm glad to say that I've been clean for 25 years."With that, Bowser gives a light pause; a big smile covers his face as he thinks about his dedication to sobriety. He continues. "You know Toad, there is really nothing in the world like the feeling that you're really..."Toad cuts him off mid-speech. "Wait Uncle Bowser! Whatever happened to Princess Toadstool?""What?" Bowser asks angrily."The princess, did she grow up to be something cool, like a ventriloquist?"Bowser has officially had enough, he starts screaming. "She died in '87 from an opium overdose! Jesus, what is your problem?! You can't even sit quietly for five minutes and listen to a story? Luigi is a saint for putting up with you!""But Uncle, I was just wondering, she seemed nice", Toad says innocently."I was trying to teach you something! This was a story about me and my struggle with addition, not about the damn princess!"Bowser is really fuming mad now. He gets up, throws over his chair and storms into the kitchen."What's wrong Uncle Bowser?" Toad asks."You! You are the problem! How is anyone supposed to deal with you? Damn it, I need some shell! I know I hid some around here somewhere!"Toad is confused. "But I thought you quit."Bowser spins towards him, his face as red as the sun. "I did, for 25 long years; all I needed was a snot nosed brat like you to ruin it all! He turns back to his task, roaring and throwing open cabinets. "Where is it? Where the hell is it?!"That was when Toad decided that he had caused enough trouble. He hobbled out of the house, away from the sounds of roaring and mayhem.When he returned home, he saw that Luigi had set out dinner for the both of them."So, how did it go?" Luigi asked."Not so good", Toad said as he sat down at the table. "I think Uncle Bowser has fallen off the wagon."Luigi gives him a smile and puts a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Well I hope you learned the dangers of turtle shell. After you start it's very hard to stay away from it. Do you understand that now?"Toad looks up at his father and gives his father the first smile in years. "I do dad, and I promise I will never touch turtle shell, as long as I live.""That's my boy” Luigi replies. "You're a good boy Toad and I'm very proud of you. Let's eat."After that day Toad stayed away from even the thought of turtle shell, or any other drug for that matter. He studied hard, received good marks and moved on to be the chief assistant to his other father, Dr. Mario.Luigi moved on and won a huge mansion at the out skirts of the kingdom. After expelling all the evil ghosts from it, he lived a happy and content life in that house.As for Bowser, he went on a month long turtle shell binge and died in a dumpster behind an 'all you can eat' mushroom buffet. He was 56.Toad never forgot the lesson that his late uncle had taught him and he's been spreading the anti-drug message throughout the kingdom ever since.The End

All material on justinzipprich.com is copyrighted by Justin Zipprich. Not to be used without permission.

LifeBy, Justin ZipprichThe business meeting had gone on for far too long. As a matter of fact, Jim knew that he had been working for this company for far too long and he wanted out. Unfortunately his options were limited. With the continuing recession and a scarce job market, there was really nowhere else to turn. There certainly were not any careers that he would truly enjoy. To Jim, all jobs were in essence the same old routine: clock in, complete mind numbing task, repeat this task hundreds of time, clock out then pray for the weekend.He had come to the full realization that once college was over, the rest of your life consisted of meaningless work, day in and day out until your life expired. Any minor accomplishment would be forgotten soon after. He saw it all as a terrible waste of time and there was only one way to escape. Sick of his job, with no easier route to happiness, Jim leaned back in his chair and died.

Life, Apathy and ExtraterrestrialsBy, Justin ZipprichI was at work, gazing out the window when I first saw the spaceships. There were three of them and to be honest, they were a little boring. No bells or whistles, no fancy lights, just plain metallic flying saucers. They simply sat there, high in the air for at least three hours. I know for sure it was that long because that’s the amount of time that I spent at work just staring out the window.I have a pretty boring job so I never really feel like doing any actual work. It’s a mundane job specializing in life insurance. And no, I’m not an insurance salesman. I don’t go door to door and bug you while you’re eating dinner or anything like that. I work in an office, supporting those that bug you during dinner. I complete checklists, verify licenses, scan documents and blah, blah, blah. I don’t get paid very much and the management doesn’t appreciate me so I basically walk in every day with the intention of slacking off.At the age of twenty-nine, I thought I’d be making more than thirty thousand dollars per year. They say that we’re still deep in a recession and some people have to decide between buying food and paying rent some months. I’ve heard all the stories but I don’t always believe them, most people I hear about are making plenty of money.Take my friend Pat for instance. He works at a retail store and makes almost one hundred thousand dollars a year. I see annual incomes for a lot of our clients on their life insurance applications and I’ve rarely seen any of them making less than fifty grand per year. All I’m trying to say is that there is money out there and I just need to find a way to get it. But I digress. The spaceships had multiplied by the hundreds and soon the sky was filled with these flying, silvery orbs. All at once they descended. A ship had landed in every city across the globe. In no time the aliens had exited their ships and had begun to introduce themselves to planet Earth. Walking down the metallic ramps of their ships, they resembled the beings from those invasion flicks of the nineteen fifties: small grey bodies, large oblong heads and black oval eyes. They utilized a small slit of a mouth to speak and to absolutely no one’s surprise, they did not speak English. As they spoke their gibberish to the world leaders, the rest of us sat at home, glued to our television sets as we watched the life feed. Apparently the aliens had a lot on their minds because they spoke for hours. Bored to tears, I found myself falling asleep on the couch.I woke up a few hours later to the sound of static. The television seemed to be on the fritz again, it did that from time to time. I remembered the aliens and wondered what new developments had occurred while I’d been asleep. I tried to flip through the channels but all I could watch was snow. No big deal, I’d just call my friend Big Mike later on to get the details. Big Mike was usually up on these things. As I heard my stomach gurgle, I decided it was time to make myself some dinner.I walked into my small kitchen and almost had a large heart attack. There in front of me, holding a box of generic cereal stood one of the alien beings. Up close I could more clearly see the details of the interstellar traveler. His gray skin was greasy and slicker that it appeared on the television. It also had two short antennae atop its head and what appeared to be a deep pouch on its belly which housed God knew what. While the alien and I engaged in a staring contest, I couldn’t help but think about the ways that people on our planet thought about aliens. They could be split up into two groups and it all depended on what alien movies they enjoyed more. Group one was the fans of the ‘mean alien’ movies, partial to films such as Independence Day and Signs and hence was terrified at the prospect of extraterrestrial life. They knew that there were monsters in space whose only intention was to exterminate all life on Earth. They were here to suck our brains out and rip us from limb to limb, all while stealing all of Earth’s natural resources. After which they would go back to their planet, leaving ours in ruin or to be defeated by actor Will Smith, whichever came first.I personally felt that I was a member of the second group or fans of friendly alien movies. We were fans of Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-terrestrial and Super 8. We believe that aliens have come to our planet simply to explore and ultimately to be our friends. Sure they would be misunderstood by the members of group one but us few believers would soon create a friendship with the creatures. Hell, they might even give us special powers that we would use to help those in need.I always wanted an alien friend like that and now I had the golden opportunity. The plan was to slowly approach the being as if approaching a cat. I would outstretch one hand so that the alien could sniff it and see that I meant no harm. Once it was used to me, we would create a special language that only we could understand. Then we would tour the country under the state name: AI: Absolutely Incredible! We would perform magic tricks for all those young at heart. I quickly realized that I had included myself in the wrong group as I was ripped from my fantasy by a squid-like projectile which had emerged from the alien’s pouch. The smaller creature launched itself at my head. With no chance to duck, the squid made contact and used its tentacles to latch onto my skull in a uncompromising death grip. A long umbilical type chord connected the squid to its alien host. In a panic I shook my head as hard as I could in every possible direction. I slammed my head against the refrigerator, the cabinets, anything to dislodge the grotesque creature. Finally I exhausted myself and sat down cross-legged, letting the creature do its bidding. I heard a slurping sound and felt a sharp appendage shove itself through my skull. I felt it drill deeper as it forced itself into my brain. Surprisingly it didn’t hurt as much as you might think.Now under the alien’s control, I lost all free will and was forced to move where the creature wanted me to move. It forced me to stand, turn around and head for the front door. Once outdoors, I realized that I was not alone. As I was forced down my street, I was joined by hundreds of others. Each victim walked in a zombie-like fashion, an alien-squid combination tethered to them. The creatures spoke through us, what came out of our mouths was gibberish, sounds that our vocal chords could never of had the capacity for without the alien’s aid.In the distance I could see the skyscrapers that made up the inner city. I had a feeling that it was our destination and I was apathetic. On one hand, the city was a fun place to visit when friends came to town. There was a bunch of different bars, museums and other sights to see that were of some interest. On the other hand, I didn’t like how dirty the city had gotten over the last couple of years. The mayor had made all of these campaign promises about clean streets and pollution laws. Unfortunately all of that had gone out the window when he was elected. These days the streets were covered in trash, the homeless ran rampant and gangs controlled most of the city. If you didn’t watch your step, a brief visit could very possibly end in death.Now that I thought about it, perhaps the aliens were here to clean up this crumbling city. These aliens have probably been around for centuries and have seen all the negative changes that our beloved city has gone through. They’ve seen the glory days when the city was a beacon of hope and they’ve seen it decline into the awful place it had become. I bet that must be it! I am now optimistic that the aliens have come to our planet in order to use us humans to clean up the city! I bet they’re also going to teach that rotten mayor a thing or two about how to treat his citizens. This is why they’ve come and I am thrilled to be a part of the revolution! It has been two months since the aliens landed on Earth and life as we know it has come to an end. Giant robots were brought in and they reduced our city to a pile of rubble. Any building that ever resembled our modern architecture has been destroyed and replaced with a thousand foot statue in the shape of one of the alien leaders. On top of that, they’ve made the mayor an honorary member of their race, the guy is like a king to them. Almost every human being has been eradicated from the planet. Only a small group of us has been left alive. We spend most of our time building statues and praying for sweet, merciful death. They whip us constantly, forcing us to fall asleep in a pool of our own blood. Of course I don’t design the statues. I work in the fields supporting those who do. I carry heavy stones, slave for sixteen hours a day and blah, blah, blah. I don’t get paid much and the alien management doesn’t appreciate me so I try to slack off. When I do, I’m beaten within an inch of my life. It’s a hard life but I guess somebody has to do it. Someday maybe I’ll make my escape from my alien oppressors. If I do I’ll run off to France, I heard there is a safe house there for escaped humans. Speaking of France, whatever happened to those striped shirts they used to wear?

Lucky MikeBy, Justin ZipprichMike unknowingly ducked, dodging the bullet. He skipped work, avoiding the murderous, disgruntled employee. He never knew that the meal he skipped was poisoned or the hand he didn’t shake would’ve given him malaria. He was the luckiest guy in the world, not knowing that the world would end tomorrow.

The Devil Withinby, Justin ZipprichA light snow was falling as Charlie Reardon left the diner and made his way down Madison Street on a dreary Christmas Eve. Left the diner was one way of saying it, thrown was the better adjective. It had all gone downhill so quickly. At one moment he was simply enjoying his beer, at the next he was involved in the first fist fight of his life.When he was sober, Charlie was well educated, after a few beers he became a genius. Really it was the other man’s fault, didn’t he know that there were two topics you never talk about, religion and politics? If that man had never started spouting his mouth off about the latter, Charlie would have never have been forced to prove the man wrong.#The diner was what the kids called a dive, made unpopular due to its unkempt appearance, non-working bathrooms and outdated menus. A combination eatery and brewery where families enjoyed hamburgers, fries and shakes on one side while ten feet away, the town drunks sat at the bar grumbling about their hard lives while they got their nightly fix. Tonight the diner was emptier than usual. No families or children, just the regular line up of Christmas Eve boozers. Most heavy drinkers spent the majority of their lives showing love to the drink while alienating everyone else until eventually there was nothing but the bottle. Twenty years of this behavior and this is where you ended up on the day before Christmas, alone looking down into your glass.Charlie sat at the end of the bar on a rickety, uneven stool. He wasn’t usually a drinker but he still had one thing in common with these drunkards, everyone he knew was dead or gone and it never seemed to bother him. He never really liked people, they irritated him and he had always felt more comfortable being alone. Usually he wouldn’t even be found in a monotonous establishment like this but having been at the office all day alone, fixing the mistakes of his fellow idiot employees had stressed him to a point where he had felt that he should stop in and join the alcoholic losers for a few drinks. He was finishing off his third beer when a man sitting further down the bar was given his check. He was a small man with a beanpole frame, and angry grin seemingly his default expression. When the angry man read the bill he became enraged. He claimed that he didn’t have enough money and it was the governments fault. His paycheck had been reduced to “pennies” after the greedy government had taken their share. And on Christmas of all times!When the man’s voice continued to escalate to angry screeching, Charlie felt he had no choice but to convince the chap to relax. He didn’t intend to further anger the smaller man. He simply explained that it wasn’t the government’s fault that he had no money. The gentleman simply had a meager, low paying job and the income equal to a street beggar. If he wanted to make more money, he simply had to apply himself and he would find a worthwhile occupation.The plan, as anyone could have imagined, backfired miserably. The dirty little bastard became less of a mature adult and more like a violent and frightened ape, growling and poking Charlie in the chest with a bony index finger. It didn’t take long to figure out that no amount of verbal persuasion would calm the man down. Charlie was about to give up and walk away when the ape-man laid down the straw that broke the camel’s back. He raised that one skeletal finger and held it no more than an inch away from Charlie’s face and he made his final, ignorant point.Without hesitation, Charlie pushed the finger away, wound up and punched the man square in the nose. The drunkard didn’t stand a chance. The blow threw him off his feet and launched him backward. He crashed through a flimsy wooden table, landing on the hard floor with a loud thud. He turned his back to the fallen man and started for the exit. He had to get out of there and fast, before he faced any more trouble. His wish was granted as he was lifted off his feet by the largest bouncer he’d ever seen. It was funny how there was no happy medium in this place. Everyone was either as skinny as a twig or as large as a buffalo. The hulking man took no liberties. He carried Charlie outside and threw him as if he were a ragdoll. He landed face down on the sidewalk, which was already cold and wet from the falling precipitation.***Now here he was, feeling buzzed and sore as he walked down the middle of Madison Street. It was a quiet night with not a vehicle in sight. Dark clouds filled the sky while a chill in the air forced him to tighten the belt on his rain coat. His head had begun to throb. The result he assumed was a mix of the booze and his violent exit from the diner. He hadn’t walked too far when he discovered the woman. She was a beggar dressed in filthy rags. She ducked inside her ratty jacket as she cowered against the brick wall of the Madison Street Bank. He despised people like her. What was so hard about finding a job anyway? It was easy to find work when one truly applied themselves. He always tried to avoid these people like the plague. However, on this brisk night the elements worked against him. The wind seemed to push him towards the filthy woman. When she looked up at him, he was completely taken aback. Any resemblance of a female face seemed to have been washed away by disfigurement. The face that peered out at him was covered with bumps and boils of various shapes and sizes. Her other features consisted of a thin and lipless mouth and two small holes in the middle of her face that constituted a crude nose. Worse of all were those eyes. Underneath a flap of skin (a sad excuse for a forehead) sat the eyes of death. Sunk deep into their sockets, the eyes contained pupils as black as the darkest night. They seemed to gaze through him and into the deepest portions of his soul.Charlie was frozen in place as the ghostly presence in front him made its plea. “Spare some change for a poor lady?” Charlie tried to respond, utter a sound, even grunt but he was too frightened to speak. “Please, just the change in your pocket will do. Come on, it’s Christmas.” He was finally able to clear the cobwebs from his head and cough up the blockage in his throat, speaking in the coldest tone he could muster. “I’m sorry, I have nothing.” With his stiff legs, he turned and tried his best to walk in the other direction.“I know what you did”.The words brought him to a stop. He turned back to face her. “Excuse me?”The vagrant’s narrow slit of a mouth turned upward into a grotesque smile. “You like to hurt people do you? Does it give you some sort of thrill to knock poor drunks to the ground? I bet you feel like a real tough man.”Charlie’s inner monologue spun into overdrive. Was she talking about his fight in the diner? How could she know? Who was this sick woman and worse of all, what was happening to him? His head throbbed harder as the moments passed. He didn’t want to deal with any of this.“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re referring to,” he lied.Her deformed smile widened. “How’s your head? I bet it hurts like hell. I bet it feels like a million tiny hammers are banging away in there, splitting your skull.”This was too much, he had to get away. Using every ounce of strength he had, he forced his body down the street. The haunting sound of the old witches cackling behind him kept his feet moving. As he walked, a more intense pain suddenly hit him. In addition to the dull throbbing in the back of his skull, he now found it harder to breathe. He felt as if his lungs were working against him. Every shallow breath took all the energy he could muster as it tried to make its way out of a throat that seemed to be caving in. He was so distracted by the pain that he had little time to react when a young child burst out of a nearby alley, coming straight at him. Like an angry crab, the boy ran up and hugged both of Charlie’s legs, stopping him in place. He tried to keep his balance and stay on his feet but it was to no avail as he fell to the street like a falling tree. A sharp pain hit his chest as his entire body slammed to the pavement. He managed to turn from his stomach to his back as what he had once thought to be a child stared down at him. The child could not have been any older than six or seven years old. He was short and skinny as most youngsters were. What separated him from those other children was the face. The young boy had the same disturbing and disfigured face of the beggar. He could swear that it was the identical look: the slit of a mouth, the non-existent nose and those same fear inducing eyes. How could it be? Had he drank much more that he thought or was this some kind of waking nightmare?Charlie realized that it was far too real as the hideous child bent down, his disfigured face mere inches away. The child’s breath was hot and sour as he spoke. “I bet your feeling pretty bad right now,” it hissed. “The thick liquid running down your throat, the way your lungs feel like the hottest fire burning in your chest. It is exactly how he felt in his last moments.” While Charlie’s entire body was aching, the worst pain came from his utter confusion. How could this child know how he felt inside and to who’s last moments was he referring? What was the most disturbing was the gruesome face that both the homeless woman and this child shared. How could an old haggard woman and a youthful adolescent share the same grotesque appearance, the same harsh features? He could not take much more of this. He had to get away. He had to get home to his warm bed and the open embrace of a good night’s rest. The demon child slapped Charlie hard on the chest and chortled. “How funny and ironic it is that you will soon meet the same fate as he!” The demented crowing elevated as Charlie rolled back to his chest. Now on his hands and knees, he tried desperately to crawl to some sort of safety. The terrible child did not attempt to follow, nor did he attempt to hold Charlie back. He just hopped up and down in the middle of the street, taunting and laughing the most terrible laugh. Charlie felt like an infant, crawling the way that he was but the unfortunate fact was that he couldn’t stand if he tried. His body felt weaker by the second. Even the crude army crawl he was attempting took amazing effort. Add to this the fact that every ragged exhalation felt as if it might make his chest implode at any moment and he knew that stopping for even the briefest rest was mandatory. Slowly he dragged himself through the cold, mounting snow. His clothes were now drenched, adding a completely new layer of discomfort. Finally out of the street, he found a small alley that would possibly be his final resting place. His pillow would be the cold metal of a large, filthy dumpster. He positioned himself next to it, realizing that this may be his last few moments. He closed his eyes and thought back on his life. What differences had he made in this world and would he even be remembered? His life, his work, they were all mundane experiences and as he got older he realized that he had made very little impact on the people around him. On this holiday, of all times, he shouldn’t be picking fights with strangers; he should have been reaching out to those people who had once cared about him. The thought of leaving this life with few memorable accomplishments and no one to care about him both disgusting and empowering. There was still time, he still had a chance to make the differences that he sought. It was time to get up and show the world what Charlie Reardon was capable of. When he opened his eyes he instantly believed that his luck had changed for the better. Standing over him in full uniform stood a police officer. His hat hung over his eyes in an attempt to shield them from the descending snowflakes. The cop stood there, one hand in a pocket, a baton in the other. While Charlie had at first considered himself lucky, the sight of the officer now seemed to disturb him although he could not pinpoint why. He wanted the officers’ help but all he could muster was a desperate wheeze. “No reason to waste your breath,” the officer barked. “I’ll be doing most of the talking. After all, it’s time I’ve explained the little adventure you’ve had tonight.” Even if Charlie wanted to ask the million questions that came to his mind, a thick liquid seemed to fill his throat which rendered him unable to speak, only to listen. At least one of those questions was answered when the officer stepped forward into the light and raised his hat. For the third and final time, Charlie gazed upon that same hideous appearance that he was far too familiar with. The same grotesque look shared by the sick woman and the excitable child rested on this man face as well. Still the most disturbing features were those eyes. Only this time they seemed brighter, more intense. They glowed and pulsed, forcing Charlie to realize that these eyes were the essence of evil. The hope that he once had was now completely washed away, never to be seen again. Charlie tried again to speak. His words came out in hopeless fragments. “Your face. That face.” “Ah yes, my face. You’ve seen this face before, am I right? The explanation to this is simple. The others you’ve seen tonight are just a few of my various incarnations. You see, I thought I’d play with you a little before you found out the truth. After all it is what you deserve, don’t you agree?” “Please, it hurts, everything hurts.” Charlie pleaded. A nasty smirk came to the grotesque officer’s face. “Oh I know your pain. I am willing to bet that every inch of your body hurts very badly. But you see it’s all in the name of science. Let’s call it a special experiment in your faith. You see, I want you to feel exactly how others you have mistreated have felt. Such as that man that you had the altercation with back at the diner. Tell me, do you make it a habit to simply walk away from a man that you recently murdered?” Charlie gazed up at the oppressive figure in utter surprise. He could not be speaking about the man he had struck less than an hour ago. “Murdered?” The words gurgled in his throat. “Ah, the things you miss when you turn your back,” the vile man responded. “Had you stayed, you would have seen that the man you struck had fallen backward and hit his head on the ground precisely on that rare soft spot, knocking him unconscious. I’ve given you the privilege of feeling what he felt as his life slipped away. That thickness in your throat matches the blood that pooled in his as he lied there. Your labored breathing mirrors the poor drunkard as he struggled to gasp his final breaths. The weakness in your heart is exactly how that poor soul felt in his last dying moments.” Charlie was horrified by these revelations and he wanted nothing more than to explain himself. He was much too weak to say much of anything. All he could muster was a desperate: “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.” The officer raised his voice to a threatening level. “Of course you didn’t know, not one of you mortals has the slightest idea! You were all put on this earth by a God that trusted you would do what is right, follow his teachings and treat others how you would want to be treated. But do you do any of these things? Of course not! You treat each other like dirt. You inflict pain, you steal, you lie, you do everything possible to hurt one another and at the end of the day you get down on your knees and pray. You pray to your God to forgive you for all you have done. You assume you have been absolved and then you go out and do it all again. You put all this faith in God all while forgetting those sins you were frightened to perform as children. These are the reasons why I have returned. I have come back to this world to remind you all about the other half of the equation. “I am here to show you all that the devil still exists, has always existed. I used to watch from the distance but now I realize that I am sorely needed here. You people are no longer afraid of a Hell because you have created your own Hell here on Earth. You Charlie Reardon have not been the first. You will also not be the last who will have the privilege of feeling the pain of your victims. Rest assured that this is not a punishment but a reinforcement of who you truly are inside. In the end, I will reveal to the world that their belief in a higher power to deliver them from their sins has instead transformed the vast majority into reincarnations of me, thus proving that the devil is alive and well. You leave this plane now fully understanding the person that you have become. Merry Christmas Charlie.” Those were to be the final words that Charlie was ever to hear. The devil walked away, disappearing into the night and leaving him to die in the gutter, with not a soul in the world to save him. The light snow still continued to fall, blanketing him with a fine dust. He would die there, his last memory a sin that he had not realized he had committed. The last words he muttered were, “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.” There was no one there to hear him and no one to care as he felt his heart beat one last time.

My story The Devil Within is a gothic/horror story set on Christmas Eve. It will be published in the anthology Dark Light 3 in 2013.

All material on justinzipprich.com is copyrighted by Justin Zipprich. Not to be used without permission.

All material on justinzipprich.com is copyrighted by Justin Zipprich. Not to be used without permission.



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