‘poH

I had a weird dream about working on a series of kid’s books. They were illustrated and I wish I could draw like that. Some of it looked a lot like Brad Guigar’s art on Evil, Inc.

One of the books was about a young owl discovering things. It was called, “Nobody Really Likes Liver.”

The back cover had an illustration of the owl holding one wing over his stomach and making a face. Along the end of the branch are two other owls doing the same thing. It was like a poster and the title of the book was the caption.

Another part of the book was about the negative emotions adults never tell you about. The little owl says, “They always want you to understand and believe about things like Love and Hope and Faith. But, they don’t talk about the negative emotions like ‘poH which is that feeling you get when you realize that not only is Mom serving liver again tonight, she’s going to go on doing that every Thursday and nothing you can say or do will stop her.

“You’re going to have to eat liver for dinner on Thursdays for the rest of your life. That’s ‘poH. It’s Hope spelled backwards but with an apostrophe because you don’t pronounce the e.”

Part of the book was about superheroes. One of them wore a costume that was sort a cross between Fighting American and Nova. It had FG on the chest plate in sort of squishy letters. He was called “Fightin’ Guy” by the other heroes but he should have been called “Whingeing Guy”.

All he did was complain. He complained that he had to keep fighting the same villains over and over. “What’s the matter with the court system? Can’t they keep these guys locked up for more than two issues? Are there no prisons, no concentration camps built inside of hollow mountains? Why can’t we send these guys to the Negative Phantom Zone? Nobody ever escapes from there.”

He complained about his costume. “I used to have a costume, it had little shorts over the leggings. It was really comfortable, man. This new costume is tights all the way up and I’m a T-14 hero so when they say tights, they mean really tight, man.” He makes a face and tries to pull his pants out of the crack of his ass. “Some of those guys in the Max and Piranha titles, they’re rated M and they get to wear some cool stuff. And some of the girls don’t hardly wear no costumes at all!”

He complained about the superhero games and how he could never seem to get ahead. “I thought I had enough points to upgrade my punch so I could knock Cockroach Man over a building instead of just through a wall, that would be cool. But it’s just like Green Stamps, you always need another 1000 points.

“I’ve got 40,021 points and an upgrade from Atomic Punch to Thermo-Nookyular Punch costs 50,000!”

And this girl dressed like Miss Match from Evil Inc says, “That’s almost 10,000 points, not 1000 points.”

“It’s the principle of the thing I’m talking about,” says FG. “Not the math.”

“Well, let’s look in the catalog and see what you can get for 40,000 points. Hey,” she says, “You could get flight, you can’t fly now, you could get a level of flight and then you could fly twice as fast as you can run. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

And FG holds his stomach with the same expression as the owls who don’t like liver and says, “No thanks, I get airsick.”

He looks over her shoulder. “How much does it cost to upgrade to Cosmic Punch?”

“150,000 points.”

“That would be cool, I could knock Cockroach Man into orbit if I had Cosmic Punch. And you know what I’d say to him before I hit him?”

“What?”

“I’d say, ‘To the moon, Alex! To the moon!'” He thumps one fist into the other glove. “To the moon, Alex!”

“Is his real name Alex?”

FG shakes his head. “No, it’s Manfred. He always ruins my best lines.”

She turns a page. “But that’s not Cosmic Punch, that’s Satellite Punch. Cosmic Punch is the one where you knock the guy into next Thursday.”

“I wouldn’t want to do that to him!” says Fightin’ Guy. “The have liver for dinner on Thursday in prison.” He makes the same expression as the owls. “Nobody Likes Liver.”

Then the scene shifted to a sewer and this guy in a black and brown set of tights with padded shoulders and epaulettes is pushing two kids in front of him. The boy looks about 12 and the girl looks about 8, little blonde thing with pigtails. Both kids have their wrists tied together in front of them with red and blue bandannas and the girl is wearing another one like a gag.

The evil guy has a cockroach in a white circle for an emblem on his chest and he’s carrying his helmet with the big antennas on it under his arm. “Where is that Guy? He’s always late,” he says.

“W-what guy?” asks the boy.

“Fightin’ Guy. Who were we talking about? He’s supposed to come rescue you but he’s always late to these things. We used to be on the same bowling team and sometimes we had to forfeit the first game ’cause he’d be late. It’s hard to win the league trophy if you can’t win two out of three games ’cause you always have to forfeit the first one.”

“D-do you think he’s coming? To rescue us?”

Cockroach Man laughs his evil laugh which sounds sort of like a fat dog choking on a biscuit bone it tried to eat all at once. “No, he’s not going to come. Why should he rescue you guys? He doesn’t even know you exist!”

“But you said…” starts the boy.

“I expect you’re feeling a lot of ‘poH right now,” sneers CM. “I’m going to feed you to the alligators in the sewer, you know.” He looks at his watch. “Where the heck is he?”

The little girl pulls down her gag and says, “He’ll come. Fightin’ Guy is a hero, he’s not late. He always arrives just in time!”

“Tell that to the other two guys on the bowling team,” snorts Cockroach Man. “You kids are going to be Alligator Brunch in less than two minutes!”

FG is suddenly there. “Those alligators are just going to have to eat liver, like everyone else on Thursday,” he says.

The kids scream for the hero and CM recoils and says, “Fightin’ Guy!”

FG poses and says, “Cockroach Man!”

“Wait, wait,” says Cockroach man as he tries to put on his helmet. “Last time you punched me through a wall I got a neck injury. The prison chiropractor said it was the worst case of neck torsion he’d ever seen in someone who could still wiggle his toes!”

FG waits while sewer workers take the kids up through a manhole cover.

“You still bowl?” FG asks CM.

“Nah, those cocksuckers in the prison league are all cheaters,” says CM.

“This is a T-14 comic book!” says FG. “You can’t say cocksuckers!”

CM has the helmet on but it’s sitting crooked. “Can you–?” he says. “I can never reach that last dog on the right side.”

FG snaps the last fastening which straightens CM’s helmet. “You need to upgrade your costume to an autofit helmet.”

“That costs like, 20,000 points. You know how many liquor stores and ice cream parlors I’d have to knockover to get 20,000 points just for a helmet that I don’t need anyone else to help me put it on?”

“How come you never rob banks? Aren’t they worth a lot more points?”

“They’re never going to let me into a bank wearing this costume!” He waves at himself. “I look like a cockroach! Did you get that upgrade to Thermonuclear Punch?”

FG shakes his head as they get into position. “Nah, didn’t have enough points. And you’re only worth 500 points this week. I’d have to catch you like 100 times for that upgrade, Cocksucker Man.”

CM points at his chest. “Cockroach Man.”

“What did I say?”

CM shakes his head. “I think this issue is going to be rated M for Mature.”

They pose. “Let’s get it on, Cockroach Manfred,” says FG. He punches one fist into the other hand. “You’ve got a date with the prison cafeteria. They’re serving creamed liver tonight just in your honor.”

CM makes the same face as the owl. Which is hard to see since his helmet covers most of his face. “Even supervillains don’t like liver.”

“You should have thought of that before you took up a life of crime,” says FG. “I’m going to make the world safe for ice cream parlors and convenience stores run by guys named Pavel by knocking you through that wall!”

“This wall?”

“That wall.”

“Oh, man. That’s going to hurt. This wall is three feet of steel-reinforced concrete and we’re under the East River here. I could drown, you know.”

“Don’t kid me, CM,” says FG. “I know your helmet has an oxygen supply built-in.”

“Okay, okay. Look, I already let the kids go, can’t I just give up and let you take me in?” He holds out his wrists like they’re tied together.

“Are you trying to get us canceled? You’re my arch-nemesis, the leader of my Rogues’ Gallery. You can’t just surrender without a fight.”

“I guess I just don’t feel like fighting. I’m feeling a lot of ‘poH here and now, Alex.”

“Aw, Manfred. Don’t be like that. Look, I’ll just punch you down the hallway like fifty feet instead of through the wall. And you can threaten me with a death ray.”

CM looks around. “I don’t have a death ray. I’m just a guy wearing a suit of cockroach-themed armor.”

“I can lend you a death ray. I took it off of Liver-Eatin’ Lady.” He rummages in his utility backpack while reaching behind himself and making a funny face.

“Horrible,” says CM. “Does she really eat liver? Like right in front of you?”

FG hands the death ray gun over. “Nah,” he says. “She uses this here death ray. Nobody Really Likes Liver.”

Cure for a Loser

Joel Dowd looked out from between the bars of the Death Row cage he had lived in for seventeen long years. “Somebody has to do something,” he told Carlson, the guard.

Carlson shrugged. He’d heard the complaints of convicts for even longer than Joel had been in prison. He’d heard Joel’s for the last six years since he took over as night guard down in the Pit as they called Death Row in this state lockup.

“They tricked me,” complained Joel. “I’m going to die and they tricked me.”

“Hmm,” said the guard. The state had a mercy clause in their death penalty statute. No one could be executed unless they actually confessed to the capital crime they had been convicted of. Carlson thought it seemed like a good law.

No more worrying about the state sending an innocent to be legally killed. Only a small class of criminals ended up in the Pit and only those who confessed to their crimes made the final trip to the Glass Room where they would be tied down on a gurney and injected with a lethal combination of pain relievers, sedatives, paralytics and heart-stopping poison.

“I’m going to die,” said Joel. “Somebody help me because I’m going to die.”

“You confessed. They can’t kill you unless you do.”

“They tricked me,” whined Joel. “They said they had a treatment that would cure me of why….” He stopped to swallow bile. “Why I killed those people. I’m going to be sick again.”

“Keep it off the floor,” said Carlson.

Joel threw up into the rimless stainless steel bowl of the jailhouse toilet. The same bowl he had used everyday of his seventeen year stay in the Pit. Piss, shit and vomit went into the bowl and were flushed away.

Joel Dowd had led a takeover robbery of a large suburban bank. He or one of his men had shot a security guard. The police arrived before the robbers could escape. Fourteen customers and bank staff were trapped inside. Joel threatened to start shooting hostages if he and his men did not receive a million dollars and safe passage to a country that promised not to prosecute or extradite them.

To demonstrate the seriousness of his demands, Joel shot the bank manager in the thigh with the intent that the man should bleed out if the police did not concede quickly. Hostage cellphone and bank security cameras caught the shooting on video.

The governor made an immediate appeal to the international community on CNN. Belize promised to feed the bank robbers to alligators without waiting for a trial if they would only visit the warm tropical country. Joel cursed Belize. Libya offered crocodiles. Mongolia suggested that they could be trampled to death by rare Przewalski’s wild horses. It would be the hit of YouTube for months. Joel damned Libya, Mongolia and YouTube to hell, too.

The SWAT team came in shooting and Joel killed five hostages before being wounded. Almost a miracle, he alone survived of the robbers and after a lengthy hospital stay and a trial, he had come to live in the Pit. No one doubted his guilt, most of his killing spree had been seen on the internet by millions. Finding twelve people who were not virtual witnesses proved the hardest part of getting him convicted.

But state law said he could not be executed unless he confessed after he had lost his automatic state appeal. He’d held out through five more appeals, three at the federal level. The Supreme Court had refused to review his case.

“Why did you do it?” asked Carlson.

“I don’t know,” muttered Joel. He stood to rinse his mouth out at the stainless steel sink. “They were all losers. People who believed in the rules. Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not steal. Though shalt not lie or covet or dishonor God.”

“No,” said Carlson. “I meant why did you confess.” Carlson knew why but he wanted to hear Joel’s explanation.”

“I told you!” Joel wailed. “They tricked me!”

Carlson turned away. “It can’t be more than another hour before they come for you. Sure you don’t want something to eat?”

“I couldn’t,” said Joel. “I haven’t eaten all day. I’m going to die and my last meal will be that slop you served me last night.” He sat down on his bunk and stared at the one picture the guards allowed him in his cell, a woman in an old-fashioned swimsuit posed against the background of a waterfall.

The guard turned back to Joel and found a comfortable seat himself. No other prisoners lived in the Pit currently. Joel and Carlson were alone.

“Anything else you want to say?” Carlson asked, pouring himself a cup of coffee from the two liter thermos his wife sent with him every night.

“They tricked me,” said Joel.

“How did that work?” asked Carlson.

“They told me,” Joel had to stand up and pace. “They told me that if I took the treatment, I could leave the Pit. That I could go into a regular cell. Go outside for exercise. And in another year, apply to have my sentence reduced to life which would make me eligible for parole.” He grabbed the bars and stared at Carlson drinking coffee.

“Want some?” the guard offered, waving his cup.

“No, I’d just throw it up.” Joel paused. “Thanks, anyway,” he said. He sounded as if he really did want coffee.

Carlson poured a cup and put it into the serving trap, pushing the triangular hinged cage through the slot where Joel could retrieve the cup in his cell.

Joel did take the cup, holding it in his hands as if warming them with its heat. “Thanks,” he said again. He began to cry.

Carlson had seen a lot of prisoners cry. Some of them could turn it on and off like a faucet, complete with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Joel cried silently, letting the tears run down his face and drip from his cheeks onto his orange prison uniform.

He did not drink any of the coffee but raised the cup up to sniff of it twice before putting it back in the serving cage.

“You were telling me how they tricked you,” Carlson prompted.

“I took the treatment. Then I confessed and now they are going to kill me,” said Joel.

“Some kind of truth serum?” asked the guard.

Joel shook his head. “Drugs. Surgery. They implanted some stem cells in my brain, in just the right place. Made new connections there that I didn’t have. They said it would cure me. Make me like other people.”

“Yeah?” said Carlson. He knew he would enjoy hearing Joel say it. “So you had a get-out-of-the-Pit-free card. They couldn’t execute you unless you confessed. Did you confess? Did you tell them you did it?”

Joel stumbled away from the bars, going to the toilet bowl for more dry heaves, coughing and choking and tasting bile and ashes in his mouth. “I killed them. I killed them all,” he moaned. “I’m sorry, I wish it had never happened.”

Carlson laughed, a short, mean sound like a dog barking.

Joel looked up at him. “They cured me. I had to confess.”

“Only a couple more hours to wait,” said Carlson. “Feeling guilty?”

“It’s been a year,” said Joel. “How can anyone live like this?”

“Most of us don’t kill seven people in front of cameras,” said Carlson. “And the law says they have to wait a year after your confession to — you know.” He didn’t like to say it, that soon the warden and the technicians would come and strap Joel Dowd to a gurney and take him to the Glass Room where he would be executed in front of cameras.

“I know,” said Joel. “I know I’m going to die. They tricked me. They turned me into a loser like the rest of you. I’m guilty and I have to die. They gave me the soul I never had and now they’re going to take it away.”

He looked at the guard again, pleading. “Can’t they at least be on time?”

A Dream of Winter

The aisles of the warehouse store wound around like a worm committing self-abuse. High up on one shelf sat a fifty-five gallon drum. All frosty white and silver on a midnight blue and black background, letters spelled out “Winter” like that was the name of a new energy drink.

“Why would anyone want a can of Winter that big?” asked little Jodie.

“Suppose you wanted to make it winter all over the world, all at once?” asked his father.

“I think you’d need a lot more than one can,” said Jodie’s older sister, Miranda.

“Well, yes,” said their father. “You’d need a lot of cans all over the world, hundreds or thousands of them, probably. Then you could open all the cans at once.

“Normally, it’s only winter at the north end of the world, or the south. But if you had enough cans of Winter, you could make it freezing cold, north and south, and even in the middle.”

The children nodded. Their father was wise, if a little strange. They remembered when he had taught them how to use tiny demolition charges to blow up their toys. Little pieces of Transformers and Bratz blown sky-high, while they watched wearing their safety goggles behind barriers made of steel-reinforced Legos.

Then he’d shown them his collection of extra-terrestrial lifeforms in plastic polymer solutions that carried more oxygen than water ever could. The tiny, teddy bear flower fish had been Jodie’s favorite, so cute and pretty, all mauve and gold and kiwifruit green. Miranda had preferred the bigger dart fish, pulling in its prey on a poisoned needle at the end of a line it shot out of its own body. When it ate the teddy bear flower, of course, little Jodie had cried.

But now, the idea of winter all over the world, all at once, had them fascinated and horrified all over again.

“How cold would it get, Daddy?” asked Jodie.

“If you kept opening more cans of Winter,” said his father, “it would just keep getting colder. Cold enough and the air would begin to freeze. First the water vapor would fall out as snow, several feet deep. And the oceans would freeze from the top down, though there might be liquid under the ice for a long time.

“Then the carbon dioxide would freeze, a layer of another kind of snow on top of the water ice and frozen oceans. Then the nitrogen would freeze out, making a slush mixture with liquid oxygen. And aliens would come in big ships to buy the frozen air, taking it away in cubic-mile-size sno-cones.”

“What flavor?” asked Miranda.

“A sort of salty raspberry, I expect,” said her father.

Cat and Dog

The Cat woke up in her tree and took a long stretch before looking around. The sun rose over there and that was right. Birds, delicious birds, flew over there, and that was right. The Dog was sniffing under her tree, and that was wrong.

She sat on her branch and cleaned first her paws and then used her paws to clean her face. She looked again. Yes, he was still there, snuffling and whuffling like a dog-shaped vacuum cleaner. She shuddered to think of it. And so she washed some more.

Finally, the Dog did not seem to be going away so she jumped down to a lower branch and inquired politely, “What are you doing?” She didn’t expect any sort of sensible cat-type answer but some kind of doggy nonsense.

The Dog looked around to see who had spoken but didn’t see anyone so went back to his snuffles and whuffles.

The Cat snickered on her perch. One of the most delicious things about dogs was most of them never learned to look up. “Up here,” she said, smiling with a purr. “I’m talking to you.”

The Dog sat down and looked up. “A cat!” he said. “You’re a cat!”

“Yes,” said the Cat. “And I was asking–”

“A cat!” exclaimed the dog. He stood up. “You’re a cat!”

“Yes, said the Cat. “I–”

“A cat!” shouted the dog. “You’re a cat up inna tree!” He ran in circles, excited by this discovery apparently.

“Yes,” said the Cat. She twitched her tail and reminded herself to be patient.

After a while, the Dog calmed down and said, “Hello, cat-up-inna-tree.” He smiled with a wag.

“Yes, said the Cat. Contrary animals, dogs are, she thought. “What are you doing so industriously whuffling and snuffling under my tree?”

“Your tree?” said the dog. “Did you mark it as yours? I didn’t smell any marks with your name on it.”

“Um,” admitted the Cat. “I’ll take care of that later, after you leave but yes this is my tree.”

“Okay,” said the Dog, “but you really ought to mark things that are yours so that, you know, other people can tell.”

“Yes,” said the Cat.

The Dog stood up, wagging his tail like a small dog-shaped reciprocating fan. “I can show you how to do it and we can go around the neighborhood and mark things as ours!”

“Uh, no,” said the Cat. “I just want to know what you’re doing sniffing around my tree so busily this morning.”

“Oh,” said the Dog, sitting down again so he could more easily look up. “It’s a long story.”

The Cat yawned. “Well, in that case–”

“I could tell you all about it,” said the Dog.

“Don’t bother,” said the Cat, tail twitching. “I’m curious but not that curious.”

“Last night,” said the Dog, “we had a party at our place.”

“Mm,” said the Cat, not hiding a yawn. The Dog lived in the house on the front end of the Cat’s property where a fence marked off the Dog’s territory and kept little people from falling into the swimming pool.

“A barbeque party, out by the pool, with a fire and meat burning and all kinds of wonderful things to eat,” said the Dog.

“Uh, huh,” said the Cat. She had attended a few such parties. Not too bad as long as you didn’t get your tail stepped on. “I was invited but I didn’t go.”

The Dog looked up, wagging his tail. “Next time, I’ll be sure not to invite you so I’ll know that you’ll be there.”

“Huh?” said the Cat. Was the Dog making a joke? Dogs are always funny, the Cat knew, but they don’t know how to tell a joke.

“Anyway,” said the Dog. “My master lost a contact lens at the party last night. I’m hunting it for him.” He got back to the business of sniffing every inch of the ground under the tree.

The Cat knew the Dog’s master, he was one of her slaves and sometimes left exceedingly tasty morsels for her on a shelf high enough that the Dog could not reach it. She looked at the house, at least three leaps, a bound and a scuttle away beyond the rosebush.

“Where did he lose this contact lens? Up by the house, near the pool?” asked the Cat.

“Yes,” said the Dog. “That wasn’t that long of a story after all, was it?” He wagged his tail like a dog-shaped Buddha if Buddha had a tail.

“Not nearly long enough,” said the Cat. “If your master lost his lens up there by the house, why are you hunting for it under my tree?”

The Dog sat down so he could look up again without straining his neck. “It’s clear that you’ve never tried to hunt for anything.”

The Cat twitched her tail. “I hunt birds. I’ve even made your master a present of a few I’ve caught.”

“Birds,” sniffed the Dog. “You wait till someone shoots one and then you go get it.”

“That’s not how I do it,” said the Cat.

“Well, I’m hunting a contact lens and no one is going to shoot one of them for me,” said the Dog.

The Cat paused to clean herself and so she would not spit angrily at the Dog. Finally, she asked. “So, if your master lost something down by the pool, why are you hunting for it up here under my tree?”

“Cats,” sniffed the Dog. “I’m hunting up here because you can’t smell anything next to a swimming pool except chlorine!”

Did I mention that the Dog was shaggy?