Hot Stuff 

Here comes the Sun
By Gary Morton, 3,700 words.
 
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Flakes couldn’t clean the grime from his window with the palm of his hand, so after a moment of intense thought he pulled out a flowered handkerchief and rubbed a buttery circle on the pane. Circles were lucky, and this one was perfect - it had magic. He stood still and admired it, then drove his fist through it. Glass tinkled to the gravel chips below, healthy blood welled in the tiny gashes in his knuckles. He grinned at the rolling summer day, his hair lifting in the breeze spilling in through the hole.

Cloying odors from a sugar factory carried in the lakefront air. His back yard was a large vacant lot. The skyscrapers of downtown Toronto and the CN Tower showed like monuments at its end. Flakes loved the tower, one of the largest in the world. Some people said it was perverse. Old Sally called it a materialist god. For Flakes, it was some engineer’s way of giving God the finger. He lifted his own finger, and he felt solid, being there with the tower, saying “Up yours God.”

Weed islands, abandoned autos and junk heaps made the lot almost a dump. Yet it was the sort of homey back yard Flakes preferred; a cabbage patch that could fill his every need. Everything, even bottles of booze appeared there; the lot was good for a half bottle of sherry when he needed some for a special occasion. They came from the sun, the bottles. If there was one thing that bothered Flakes it was the way the sun was always spilling broken glass everywhere. Of course the sun put out other junk as well, especially candy and gum wrappers. The sun loved fluttery things like wrappers. Flakes knew of no one else with the power to catch the sun at work. He'd catch it now and again, working furtively at the corners of his vision.

All was aglitter in the lot, then a dark cloud turned Flakes’ mind to nebulous thoughts. It wasn’t a cloud exactly; it was really the figure of Sally appearing on the far side of the lot. Sally's limp and weird mixture of overlarge clothes were unmistakable. If Sally were to stand still on a mound he'd make a fine scarecrow. Only Flakes saw him as a sinister scarecrow and a bad omen. Sally was threatening to put complaints in against him. Tuesday Sally had put a complaint in against Aunt Jane, about her raving. It wasn't a fair grievance since it involved Aunt Jane's handicap, or talent, depending on how you looked at it. She'd take to flailing her arms and going on like a drugged bard. Long involved raving about dragon flight, princesses and Lord Ulrich's singing sword. On the record, Sally had accused Aunt Jane of telling loud stories after lights out; telling them to evil beings in the lot. And it was an outright lie. There were no evil beings in the lot at night; there was only an angel with a crippled wing, who watched over the drunks.

Sally moved across the lot like an old three-legged dog, dodging here and there where a flash of light might be a returnable bottle or can. He didn't have his cart so Flakes knew he'd just made a cash-in. Sally supported himself by roaming the garbage-day neighborhoods, using his years of experience in his selection of salable junk. He was one of the few co-op members who paid rent, although he didn't have a real job like Flakes, who worked in plumbing eleven days a month. Flakes felt that Sally lacked proper pride. While Flakes would show his rent stub around and boast, Sally would side with the misfits and say that rent was for those with the means to pay. He'd shake the wheat-yellow yarn he had for hair, tip his neon-green baseball cap, and with eyes as fat as boiled eggs say, “Housing is a human right. Supposed to be our agreement with the United Nations that guarantees it. That's why the government sent over fat Joe Steiner to help make this old warehouse into a co-op for the homeless.”

It was certainly true that everyone was proud of River Road Co-op - spelled RIVER ROAD COOP on the sign - and if fat Joe Steiner had been red-faced on the days he brought people through for a tour it had been forgivable. Flakes had never lived in a better place, and there were toilets coming in next month - real toilets! If they didn't get canceled. The problem being that the old government had been voted out of office and now instead of jolly Joe Steiner coming by, they had a new red-neck welfare minister touring through – and red in the face because he wanted to demonstrate how welfare money was being squandered and that was hard to do in a building with no toilets and people so obviously unemployable. Sally said it was all a diabolical plan. They intended to cut all social benefits, yet still run up a debt, so that the citizens would keep paying high taxes. Down the road, one hundred percent of every tax dollar would be paid as interest to international moneylenders. People would be paupers; government would be shut down, except for the tax department. Sally called it the trickle-up bankster conspiracy.

The thing about Sally was that after talking-up rights he'd get to complaining and trying to form committees to kick people out. Sally was a born committee man; he'd take charge with that dumb-horse serious look of his and have Jackie, Moons, King Kasbah and the others believing every silly thing he said.

At the halfway point of the lot, Sally stopped to pluck a loose spring out of the bent-up frame of some long dead machine. Golden beams were fanning down from the sun and in them Flakes could see the future. The faces of the co-op members twisted and deceived as Sally led them against him. It would happen; it always happened that way. Men of Sally's breed spun silver tongues and turned close friends into whisperers and back stabbers.

Blood began to rise, his head lightened and he saw gossamer membranes pulsing in the air. Trembling hit his fingers and there was a taste of bile. He knew he'd never be able to rest while the problem had him agitated. The insecurity had to end; only there wasn't much he could do if Sally was determined to get him. Deciding on a showdown, he grabbed the length of pipe he kept under the counter and marched out the door to the stairs.

A few weeks back, the city had sent truckloads of rock chip over from a demolished building and Sally and Flakes had worked together raking out a parking lot. That friendliness had vanished and now the gravel drew a line between them. Sally stepped up close, waving the spring ridiculously, already cursing about the broken window.

“Yeah, I busted my window,” Flakes said. “I needed air and it was rotted shut.”

 Sally raised his child-scolding finger. “You can't break nothin’ without the assessment and approval of the Reconstruction Committee.”

“But I'm the captain of that committee.”

“Okay captain Flakes, tonight you can answer to the Fairness Committee.”

“What's that?”

“A little committee we formed yesterday. You weren't invited. Those members that have been disrupting the quality of other people's lives weren't invited. New Fairness rules have been established. If you don't follow them you'll be out on your ass.”

The ground rumbled though there wasn’t a subway underneath. Flakes looked down and saw his legs rubbering. A hot lick of acid shot up from his belly and his bum liver developed an ache, then his kidneys opted for temporary failure and released a splash of urine. Heat showed on his face like a hot clay mask, and a red explosion of veins and clamminess crawled over him like a molester. He could smell the sun and it was like a meltdown at the city dump. Sally seemed pleased by the effect of his words and he took out a flowery handkerchief and blew his raspberry nose. The blow didn't disturb Flakes. What disturbed him was the sunlight leaking out of Sally's ears. It was gold light and he could see what had happened - too much time spent in the junkyard sun. Sally was possessed, filled with sun-bright pools of wickedness and smart-ass fairness.

With numbness and squirming working in his innards, Flakes swung the pipe. It connected and Sally's head rang like a bell. Bronze sunlight spilled out, so much sunlight that it flew as blinding liquid into the air. Dents appeared in the pink, plastic, doll-like flesh as more blows rained over Sally's body. Then cracks began to open. Fuchsia blooms and bluish buds of blood appeared in the wounds at first, and were followed by bits of glass, foil, sand and springs that spattered and flew. Many tiny cogs were inside and when his skull cracked open, it was full of sherry. The battering carried him to the ground, where he twitched violently before falling limp and blue.

The slurred roar of a drunk broke the silence and Flakes turned. It was Moons; he'd been passed out on an old mattress. Flakes knew he wouldn't get away now and he hoped that Moons had seen it – he’d killed Sally, but Sally hadn’t been human. The sun had fashioned Sally out of beam-ends and junk.

 The CN Tower spiked a sky of gloom, beams strobing down from its Cyclopean eye; from their position in the lot, it was the god of rusty railroad tracks. Tracks that might’ve been made of silver, so high was the value of the land around the materialist god. Preacher Bob was a man of the spirit; he turned the people around so they were facing away from the tower and looking past Sally's grave at their home - River Road Co-op. The members of the Fairness Committee were present. Also at the forefront was the knowledge that Sally's death was being kept secret for the good of the co-op. It was their home, their only home, and any negative news reports would draw the attention of the new government; a government looking for any excuse to cut projects and money from the poor.

Flakes had his hands in his back pockets. He stared at the dirt with a face of sad leather. King Kasbah stood guard, his red-feathered head held high, proud, and in stark contrast with Moons' drooling and weeping. Jackie, Aunt Jane, Cinder Eddie, all of the others were solemn-faced, staring at the white cross Preacher Bob had painted on the rusted-out truck that marked Sally's grave.

Sally had been planted underground in a roomy coffin made of crate boards. Roomy because Jackie believed the spirit wouldn't wander if it had plenty of space. Flakes was feeling bad, and it was because the others said he was nuts. He took the odd glance at Preacher Bob's doorknob nose as he ran through the eulogy, but he couldn't shed tears for Sally. Sally had been a junk man, and so what if he was sleeping the sleep of rust.

“From ashes to ashes and rust to rust,” Preacher Bob said as he addressed the mourners “. . . and yay, though he walked through the shadow of the valley of death, the comforting waters of Babylon have stilled him. We cast his head upon the waters, praying that it will return many times again. Thy rod and thy staff have thrashed him to death, and the night of his roaring has sobered in the mourning dew. Open thy bosom and pour out skies of sackcloth and ashes, take him unto you in peace, earth and heaven.”

A group prayer ended the service and a chunk of stratus cloud drifted darkly over the grave to certify the burial. It was now time to deal with Flakes. King Kasbah was the first to speak. “What do I do with the prisoner?” he asked. 

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for an eye,” Preacher Bob said, a gust of wind billowing in his shabby suit, adding authority to his words.

“You mean we pull his teeth and put out his eyes?” Moons said.

Cinder Eddie raised a wrinkled hand and looked up, giving the impression he was about to speak hypocritically to a being in the sky. “As his lawyer, I demand my client get a hearing.”

“He'll have a hearing,” Aunt Jane said. “It's his eyes were putting out.”

“He's right,” Preacher Bob said. “We'll call a hearing of the Fairness Committee and decide on punishment. Get a chair, King, and tie him down. We'll incarcinerate him for the present.”

King Kasbah strolled over to the burial heap and was about to disturb it to remove a chair when Preacher Bob ran up and swatted him across the back of his head with the Bible. Taking King by the hand, the preacher led him over to another rubbish heap. Sinewy black arms flashed in the grayness as he dug out a bleached chair. Flakes offered no resistance, passively letting King bind him to the chair with hemp string and plastic garbage banding. A small plane buzzed over from the island airport, trailing a banner through the gloom as the procession moved out of the lot. They headed for the co-op warehouse with Flakes and his chair held up high. He might've been the monarch of some tropical island, or more accurately, someone about to be slain at the feet of an idol on some tropical island.

Flakes didn’t attend his hearing. He was kept bound and placed by the window in a dark room on the upper floor of the warehouse. Beyond the cracked glass he saw another vacant lot; one that was becoming a pit. A truck run followed a semicircle through it and there were big portcullis gates for entrance and exit. Monster rigs would enter and get filled by the loader and sealed. Men wearing white protective suits were waiting on the exit scaffolding to spray the trucks down with decontamination powder they had in beetle-green tanks. As the trucks entered and left in purgatory clockwork, a strange understanding gathered in Flakes' mind. Preacher Bob had ordered this whole operation. He’d commanded the sun to contaminate the soil in the lot, and brought in the rigs and earth rippers to dig a pit - a pit to hell! The Fairness Committee was waiting to throw him down and seal him in the brimstone. Flakes' whole body shook, and he heard laughter - the laughter of the sun.

Time took shape as creeping numbness, and Flakes wasn't sure if it was twilight or rain falling outside. The door creaked open and light, cobwebs and Moons' death-tinted face rushed into vision. Some of the others followed him in, including Flakes' lawyer, Cinder Eddie.

King Kasbah removed Flakes' gag and turned to Preacher Bob.

Preacher Bob's eyes were shark cold and beady. “A sentence acceptable to the Lord has been passed. Prosecutor, read the details.”

Cinder Eddie stepped forward and popped on glasses as thick as ice cubes. The sentence was written in green marker on the back of a Pizza Prince flyer. “You are to be punished corporally with the said punishment device obtained from Aunt Jane. Namely, a Nova stun gun that she purchased from the Spytech store on Yonge Street. You shall be electrocuted until you are not dead and then set out in the back lot and tormented by the demons of night and conscience. Have you any last words or confessions?”

“I thought Cinder Eddie was my lawyer?” Flakes mumbled.

“He is,” Preacher Bob said. “And since he's also the prosecutor, he got you a lighter sentence.”

It didn't seem right that Cinder Eddie should be both his lawyer and the prosecutor. A flush of anger rose and seemed to fly straight away in a heat wave, leaving his cheeks dead meat. He chewed on a dry lump of tongue and contemplated the sentence. His crotch felt like a heap of wet dishrags. Other than that, he could feel nothing. It was the right moment for punishment. He'd have to fake it, not just because he was numb, but because what Aunt Jane thought was an electric gun was probably a lawn ornament. The idea of setting him out back to be tormented by demons was ridiculous when there were no demons after sundown. No doubt the preacher was the sort of holy man who could see devils but not angels.

“I have no last words,” Flakes said, “but I want a jug of Gatorade before punishment begins commencing.”

“Very well,” said Preacher Bob.

As it turned out, Cinder Eddie had also been voted executioner of the sentence. He stood by with the said punishment device cradled in nicotine-stained hands. Flakes washed the Gatorade back slowly, making sure to dart his eyes fearfully. He certainly wasn't afraid of the stun gun, which looked like a hair dryer that’d accidentally been struck by a brick thrown from the top of the CN Tower. For a final touch, Flakes bit his lip, kicked up his feet and begged for mercy. King merely frowned as he took the empty jug from him.

Then Flakes was touched between the eyes with 60,000 volts of stun electricity. A King Kong sucker punch. No hole had to be excavated for him as he was driven straight through the earth into Hades - where he was suddenly on fire with pins and needles. His nerve ends crackled like sparklers and a wailing wall of flame encircled and engulfed him.

Flakes saw mostly billowing smoke as he shot out of the lake of fire and back into the dingy room. A demon eye became a naked light bulb, and then all went cold. His scorched bones were now fleshed with an enormous sensitive bruise, and like another bruise, Cinder Eddie's face appeared. He was approaching with the stun gun and was about to plant it down between -

The crushed thing lolling on the road was him, and in spite of the veins throbbing in his eyes he could see a hammer foot pounding down from the sun, grinding him into hot blood-sticky asphalt. He couldn't quite remember how he'd fried his brain, but it now seemed to slosh in his skull like a boiled cabbage. His fat tongue slipped in his throat and he fell into silvery darkness.

And awoke in the silver of moonlight. He was still bound in the chair, and the stun gun was in his lap. Seeing that his body wasn't crushed gave him some relief, like coming out of a bad dream, but it was temporary because his nerve centers reported extreme pain. The reports from the area of his navel spoke of a small chewing creature with a probing tongue. Other messages from his legs and testicles told him that a very hateful person was somewhere driving knitting needles through his likeness. He replied by falling into a spell of moaning, punctuated by weird cries.

Demons of night tormented him as had been predicted, then sunrise pinked the horizon with a veil of slightly bruised tissue. Waves of golden light spilled onto the lot. Pain as sharp as slivers of ice formed in his chest, and his face lifted. Mad hope shone in his rheumy eyes. Maybe his angel had come. But his hope turned to terror when he saw that it was the sun.

Vibrating like an ancient gong, the sun continued to rise. Flakes had to shake his head to stop the light from pouring into his brain. Pools of light were in his eyes. He could see bright fragments shooting over Sally's tomb, then the heap tumbled and a figure stepped out of the wrecks. A sunbeam kissed the man’s face with glittering gold and he saw that it was Sally. His cloak was brilliant and it flowed to a train of litter, cans and wrappers. Teeth of broken glass showed on a face of hardened clay and blood. One eye was a black marble, the other a spring, and the front of his hair was braided with bits of foil and candy. Whitened bird skulls hung from his ears. Stripes of blue-black scar tissue composed his cheeks. A necklace of rodent tails decorated his chest hair and red mud had been kneaded into his hair at the crown.

Flakes tried but he couldn't shake the vision. Sally kept coming like a bizarre priest of the sun god. When Flakes screamed, a sunbeam emerged and burned his throat. His whole being had become light; beams spiraling up into the corona of the sun.

Later in the morning, the residents of River Road Co-op emerged to collect Flakes. Red feathers were in the lead as King Kasbah led the people through the gravel. He saw Flakes slumped in the chair and assumed it was only a matter of carrying him inside for first aid. Then, as they drew closer, they saw that Flakes was green and swollen. He was as dead as dead could be.

“Oh-no! He's dead!” King said, bringing the crowd to a halt.

Immediately Moons cut over into the lot and faced Flakes straight on. He choked, the big whites of his eyes rolling as he stumbled back. There was a gouge in Flakes' chest, rimmed by a crust of gore, purpling spleen, and lung tissue. Resting in the gouge like a junk heart was Aunt Jane's stun gun.

“He - he's been murdered,” Moons stuttered.

Preacher Bob hurried forward, and to everyone's amazement, checked Flakes' pulse. He was just in time to hear an electric whir. Flakes' stunning new heart had started and his eyes fluttered open, showing only blood and whites. Then his fingers curled around a pipe as he began to rise. The preacher threw up his arms and shouted blessings to the sun and the CN Tower, blessings the other residents of River Road Co-op heard as they fled in terror.

---The End---

Flakes couldn’t clean the grime from his window with the palm of his hand, so after a moment of intense thought he pulled out a flowered handkerchief and rubbed a buttery circle on the pane. Circles were lucky, and this one was perfect - it had magic. He stood still and admired it, then drove his fist through it. Glass tinkled to the gravel chips below, healthy blood welled in the tiny gashes in his knuckles. He grinned at the rolling summer day, his hair lifting in the breeze spilling in through the hole.

Cloying odors from a sugar factory carried in the lakefront air. His back yard was a large vacant lot. The skyscrapers of downtown Toronto and the CN Tower showed like monuments at its end. Flakes loved the tower, one of the largest in the world. Some people said it was perverse. Old Sally called it a materialist god. For Flakes, it was some engineer’s way of giving God the finger. He lifted his own finger, and he felt solid, being there with the tower, saying “Up yours God.”

Weed islands, abandoned autos and junk heaps made the lot almost a dump. Yet it was the sort of homey back yard Flakes preferred; a cabbage patch that could fill his every need. Everything, even bottles of booze appeared there; the lot was good for a half bottle of sherry when he needed some for a special occasion. They came from the sun, the bottles. If there was one thing that bothered Flakes it was the way the sun was always spilling broken glass everywhere. Of course the sun put out other junk as well, especially candy and gum wrappers. The sun loved fluttery things like wrappers. Flakes knew of no one else with the power to catch the sun at work. He'd catch it now and again, working furtively at the corners of his vision.

All was aglitter in the lot, then a dark cloud turned Flakes’ mind to nebulous thoughts. It wasn’t a cloud exactly; it was really the figure of Sally appearing on the far side of the lot. Sally's limp and weird mixture of overlarge clothes were unmistakable. If Sally were to stand still on a mound he'd make a fine scarecrow. Only Flakes saw him as a sinister scarecrow and a bad omen. Sally was threatening to put complaints in against him. Tuesday Sally had put a complaint in against Aunt Jane, about her raving. It wasn't a fair grievance since it involved Aunt Jane's handicap, or talent, depending on how you looked at it. She'd take to flailing her arms and going on like a drugged bard. Long involved raving about dragon flight, princesses and Lord Ulrich's singing sword. On the record, Sally had accused Aunt Jane of telling loud stories after lights out; telling them to evil beings in the lot. And it was an outright lie. There were no evil beings in the lot at night; there was only an angel with a crippled wing, who watched over the drunks.

Sally moved across the lot like an old three-legged dog, dodging here and there where a flash of light might be a returnable bottle or can. He didn't have his cart so Flakes knew he'd just made a cash-in. Sally supported himself by roaming the garbage-day neighborhoods, using his years of experience in his selection of salable junk. He was one of the few co-op members who paid rent, although he didn't have a real job like Flakes, who worked in plumbing eleven days a month. Flakes felt that Sally lacked proper pride. While Flakes would show his rent stub around and boast, Sally would side with the misfits and say that rent was for those with the means to pay. He'd shake the wheat-yellow yarn he had for hair, tip his neon-green baseball cap, and with eyes as fat as boiled eggs say, “Housing is a human right. Supposed to be our agreement with the United Nations that guarantees it. That's why the government sent over fat Joe Steiner to help make this old warehouse into a co-op for the homeless.”

It was certainly true that everyone was proud of River Road Co-op - spelled RIVER ROAD COOP on the sign - and if fat Joe Steiner had been red-faced on the days he brought people through for a tour it had been forgivable. Flakes had never lived in a better place, and there were toilets coming in next month - real toilets! If they didn't get canceled. The problem being that the old government had been voted out of office and now instead of jolly Joe Steiner coming by, they had a new red-neck welfare minister touring through – and red in the face because he wanted to demonstrate how welfare money was being squandered and that was hard to do in a building with no toilets and people so obviously unemployable. Sally said it was all a diabolical plan. They intended to cut all social benefits, yet still run up a debt, so that the citizens would keep paying high taxes. Down the road, one hundred percent of every tax dollar would be paid as interest to international moneylenders. People would be paupers; government would be shut down, except for the tax department. Sally called it the trickle-up bankster conspiracy.

The thing about Sally was that after talking-up rights he'd get to complaining and trying to form committees to kick people out. Sally was a born committee man; he'd take charge with that dumb-horse serious look of his and have Jackie, Moons, King Kasbah and the others believing every silly thing he said.

At the halfway point of the lot, Sally stopped to pluck a loose spring out of the bent-up frame of some long dead machine. Golden beams were fanning down from the sun and in them Flakes could see the future. The faces of the co-op members twisted and deceived as Sally led them against him. It would happen; it always happened that way. Men of Sally's breed spun silver tongues and turned close friends into whisperers and back stabbers.

Blood began to rise, his head lightened and he saw gossamer membranes pulsing in the air. Trembling hit his fingers and there was a taste of bile. He knew he'd never be able to rest while the problem had him agitated. The insecurity had to end; only there wasn't much he could do if Sally was determined to get him. Deciding on a showdown, he grabbed the length of pipe he kept under the counter and marched out the door to the stairs.

A few weeks back, the city had sent truckloads of rock chip over from a demolished building and Sally and Flakes had worked together raking out a parking lot. That friendliness had vanished and now the gravel drew a line between them. Sally stepped up close, waving the spring ridiculously, already cursing about the broken window.

“Yeah, I busted my window,” Flakes said. “I needed air and it was rotted shut.”

 Sally raised his child-scolding finger. “You can't break nothin’ without the assessment and approval of the Reconstruction Committee.”

“But I'm the captain of that committee.”

“Okay captain Flakes, tonight you can answer to the Fairness Committee.”

“What's that?”

“A little committee we formed yesterday. You weren't invited. Those members that have been disrupting the quality of other people's lives weren't invited. New Fairness rules have been established. If you don't follow them you'll be out on your ass.”

The ground rumbled though there wasn’t a subway underneath. Flakes looked down and saw his legs rubbering. A hot lick of acid shot up from his belly and his bum liver developed an ache, then his kidneys opted for temporary failure and released a splash of urine. Heat showed on his face like a hot clay mask, and a red explosion of veins and clamminess crawled over him like a molester. He could smell the sun and it was like a meltdown at the city dump. Sally seemed pleased by the effect of his words and he took out a flowery handkerchief and blew his raspberry nose. The blow didn't disturb Flakes. What disturbed him was the sunlight leaking out of Sally's ears. It was gold light and he could see what had happened - too much time spent in the junkyard sun. Sally was possessed, filled with sun-bright pools of wickedness and smart-ass fairness.

With numbness and squirming working in his innards, Flakes swung the pipe. It connected and Sally's head rang like a bell. Bronze sunlight spilled out, so much sunlight that it flew as blinding liquid into the air. Dents appeared in the pink, plastic, doll-like flesh as more blows rained over Sally's body. Then cracks began to open. Fuchsia blooms and bluish buds of blood appeared in the wounds at first, and were followed by bits of glass, foil, sand and springs that spattered and flew. Many tiny cogs were inside and when his skull cracked open, it was full of sherry. The battering carried him to the ground, where he twitched violently before falling limp and blue.

The slurred roar of a drunk broke the silence and Flakes turned. It was Moons; he'd been passed out on an old mattress. Flakes knew he wouldn't get away now and he hoped that Moons had seen it – he’d killed Sally, but Sally hadn’t been human. The sun had fashioned Sally out of beam-ends and junk.

 The CN Tower spiked a sky of gloom, beams strobing down from its Cyclopean eye; from their position in the lot, it was the god of rusty railroad tracks. Tracks that might’ve been made of silver, so high was the value of the land around the materialist god. Preacher Bob was a man of the spirit; he turned the people around so they were facing away from the tower and looking past Sally's grave at their home - River Road Co-op. The members of the Fairness Committee were present. Also at the forefront was the knowledge that Sally's death was being kept secret for the good of the co-op. It was their home, their only home, and any negative news reports would draw the attention of the new government; a government looking for any excuse to cut projects and money from the poor.

Flakes had his hands in his back pockets. He stared at the dirt with a face of sad leather. King Kasbah stood guard, his red-feathered head held high, proud, and in stark contrast with Moons' drooling and weeping. Jackie, Aunt Jane, Cinder Eddie, all of the others were solemn-faced, staring at the white cross Preacher Bob had painted on the rusted-out truck that marked Sally's grave.

Sally had been planted underground in a roomy coffin made of crate boards. Roomy because Jackie believed the spirit wouldn't wander if it had plenty of space. Flakes was feeling bad, and it was because the others said he was nuts. He took the odd glance at Preacher Bob's doorknob nose as he ran through the eulogy, but he couldn't shed tears for Sally. Sally had been a junk man, and so what if he was sleeping the sleep of rust.

“From ashes to ashes and rust to rust,” Preacher Bob said as he addressed the mourners “. . . and yay, though he walked through the shadow of the valley of death, the comforting waters of Babylon have stilled him. We cast his head upon the waters, praying that it will return many times again. Thy rod and thy staff have thrashed him to death, and the night of his roaring has sobered in the mourning dew. Open thy bosom and pour out skies of sackcloth and ashes, take him unto you in peace, earth and heaven.”

A group prayer ended the service and a chunk of stratus cloud drifted darkly over the grave to certify the burial. It was now time to deal with Flakes. King Kasbah was the first to speak. “What do I do with the prisoner?” he asked. 

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for an eye,” Preacher Bob said, a gust of wind billowing in his shabby suit, adding authority to his words.

“You mean we pull his teeth and put out his eyes?” Moons said.

Cinder Eddie raised a wrinkled hand and looked up, giving the impression he was about to speak hypocritically to a being in the sky. “As his lawyer, I demand my client get a hearing.”

“He'll have a hearing,” Aunt Jane said. “It's his eyes were putting out.”

“He's right,” Preacher Bob said. “We'll call a hearing of the Fairness Committee and decide on punishment. Get a chair, King, and tie him down. We'll incarcinerate him for the present.”

King Kasbah strolled over to the burial heap and was about to disturb it to remove a chair when Preacher Bob ran up and swatted him across the back of his head with the Bible. Taking King by the hand, the preacher led him over to another rubbish heap. Sinewy black arms flashed in the grayness as he dug out a bleached chair. Flakes offered no resistance, passively letting King bind him to the chair with hemp string and plastic garbage banding. A small plane buzzed over from the island airport, trailing a banner through the gloom as the procession moved out of the lot. They headed for the co-op warehouse with Flakes and his chair held up high. He might've been the monarch of some tropical island, or more accurately, someone about to be slain at the feet of an idol on some tropical island.

Flakes didn’t attend his hearing. He was kept bound and placed by the window in a dark room on the upper floor of the warehouse. Beyond the cracked glass he saw another vacant lot; one that was becoming a pit. A truck run followed a semicircle through it and there were big portcullis gates for entrance and exit. Monster rigs would enter and get filled by the loader and sealed. Men wearing white protective suits were waiting on the exit scaffolding to spray the trucks down with decontamination powder they had in beetle-green tanks. As the trucks entered and left in purgatory clockwork, a strange understanding gathered in Flakes' mind. Preacher Bob had ordered this whole operation. He’d commanded the sun to contaminate the soil in the lot, and brought in the rigs and earth rippers to dig a pit - a pit to hell! The Fairness Committee was waiting to throw him down and seal him in the brimstone. Flakes' whole body shook, and he heard laughter - the laughter of the sun.

Time took shape as creeping numbness, and Flakes wasn't sure if it was twilight or rain falling outside. The door creaked open and light, cobwebs and Moons' death-tinted face rushed into vision. Some of the others followed him in, including Flakes' lawyer, Cinder Eddie.

King Kasbah removed Flakes' gag and turned to Preacher Bob.

Preacher Bob's eyes were shark cold and beady. “A sentence acceptable to the Lord has been passed. Prosecutor, read the details.”

Cinder Eddie stepped forward and popped on glasses as thick as ice cubes. The sentence was written in green marker on the back of a Pizza Prince flyer. “You are to be punished corporally with the said punishment device obtained from Aunt Jane. Namely, a Nova stun gun that she purchased from the Spytech store on Yonge Street. You shall be electrocuted until you are not dead and then set out in the back lot and tormented by the demons of night and conscience. Have you any last words or confessions?”

“I thought Cinder Eddie was my lawyer?” Flakes mumbled.

“He is,” Preacher Bob said. “And since he's also the prosecutor, he got you a lighter sentence.”

It didn't seem right that Cinder Eddie should be both his lawyer and the prosecutor. A flush of anger rose and seemed to fly straight away in a heat wave, leaving his cheeks dead meat. He chewed on a dry lump of tongue and contemplated the sentence. His crotch felt like a heap of wet dishrags. Other than that, he could feel nothing. It was the right moment for punishment. He'd have to fake it, not just because he was numb, but because what Aunt Jane thought was an electric gun was probably a lawn ornament. The idea of setting him out back to be tormented by demons was ridiculous when there were no demons after sundown. No doubt the preacher was the sort of holy man who could see devils but not angels.

“I have no last words,” Flakes said, “but I want a jug of Gatorade before punishment begins commencing.”

“Very well,” said Preacher Bob.

As it turned out, Cinder Eddie had also been voted executioner of the sentence. He stood by with the said punishment device cradled in nicotine-stained hands. Flakes washed the Gatorade back slowly, making sure to dart his eyes fearfully. He certainly wasn't afraid of the stun gun, which looked like a hair dryer that’d accidentally been struck by a brick thrown from the top of the CN Tower. For a final touch, Flakes bit his lip, kicked up his feet and begged for mercy. King merely frowned as he took the empty jug from him.

Then Flakes was touched between the eyes with 60,000 volts of stun electricity. A King Kong sucker punch. No hole had to be excavated for him as he was driven straight through the earth into Hades - where he was suddenly on fire with pins and needles. His nerve ends crackled like sparklers and a wailing wall of flame encircled and engulfed him.

Flakes saw mostly billowing smoke as he shot out of the lake of fire and back into the dingy room. A demon eye became a naked light bulb, and then all went cold. His scorched bones were now fleshed with an enormous sensitive bruise, and like another bruise, Cinder Eddie's face appeared. He was approaching with the stun gun and was about to plant it down between -

The crushed thing lolling on the road was him, and in spite of the veins throbbing in his eyes he could see a hammer foot pounding down from the sun, grinding him into hot blood-sticky asphalt. He couldn't quite remember how he'd fried his brain, but it now seemed to slosh in his skull like a boiled cabbage. His fat tongue slipped in his throat and he fell into silvery darkness.

And awoke in the silver of moonlight. He was still bound in the chair, and the stun gun was in his lap. Seeing that his body wasn't crushed gave him some relief, like coming out of a bad dream, but it was temporary because his nerve centers reported extreme pain. The reports from the area of his navel spoke of a small chewing creature with a probing tongue. Other messages from his legs and testicles told him that a very hateful person was somewhere driving knitting needles through his likeness. He replied by falling into a spell of moaning, punctuated by weird cries.

Demons of night tormented him as had been predicted, then sunrise pinked the horizon with a veil of slightly bruised tissue. Waves of golden light spilled onto the lot. Pain as sharp as slivers of ice formed in his chest, and his face lifted. Mad hope shone in his rheumy eyes. Maybe his angel had come. But his hope turned to terror when he saw that it was the sun.

Vibrating like an ancient gong, the sun continued to rise. Flakes had to shake his head to stop the light from pouring into his brain. Pools of light were in his eyes. He could see bright fragments shooting over Sally's tomb, then the heap tumbled and a figure stepped out of the wrecks. A sunbeam kissed the man’s face with glittering gold and he saw that it was Sally. His cloak was brilliant and it flowed to a train of litter, cans and wrappers. Teeth of broken glass showed on a face of hardened clay and blood. One eye was a black marble, the other a spring, and the front of his hair was braided with bits of foil and candy. Whitened bird skulls hung from his ears. Stripes of blue-black scar tissue composed his cheeks. A necklace of rodent tails decorated his chest hair and red mud had been kneaded into his hair at the crown.

Flakes tried but he couldn't shake the vision. Sally kept coming like a bizarre priest of the sun god. When Flakes screamed, a sunbeam emerged and burned his throat. His whole being had become light; beams spiraling up into the corona of the sun.

Later in the morning, the residents of River Road Co-op emerged to collect Flakes. Red feathers were in the lead as King Kasbah led the people through the gravel. He saw Flakes slumped in the chair and assumed it was only a matter of carrying him inside for first aid. Then, as they drew closer, they saw that Flakes was green and swollen. He was as dead as dead could be.

“Oh-no! He's dead!” King said, bringing the crowd to a halt.

Immediately Moons cut over into the lot and faced Flakes straight on. He choked, the big whites of his eyes rolling as he stumbled back. There was a gouge in Flakes' chest, rimmed by a crust of gore, purpling spleen, and lung tissue. Resting in the gouge like a junk heart was Aunt Jane's stun gun.

“He - he's been murdered,” Moons stuttered.

Preacher Bob hurried forward, and to everyone's amazement, checked Flakes' pulse. He was just in time to hear an electric whir. Flakes' stunning new heart had started and his eyes fluttered open, showing only blood and whites. Then his fingers curled around a pipe as he began to rise. The preacher threw up his arms and shouted blessings to the sun and the CN Tower, blessings the other residents of River Road Co-op heard as they fled in terror.

---The End---