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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

BLOOD - The First Victim and the Three Friends: An excerpt from "Big Cat" by Bowie Ibarra

Bowie Ibarra
An excerpt from the opening chapters of BIG CAT BY BOWIE V. IBARRA

Copyright 2010 Bowie V. Ibarra

Outskirts of San Uvalde,

just off Highway 55 on the way to Campwood

South Texas
Late October, 1987

            Voiceover video of floats on the San Antonio River –
San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros attended the Halloween parade on the Riverwalk Monday….”
            Video of Henry Cisneros taken from a concert at the Joe and Harry Freeman Coliseum -
“The only thing we have to fear is budget cuts.”
Voiceover video of mariachi group playing over one of the bridges on the San Antonio Riverwalk -
“And it was clear he was having a good time….”
Stock footage of Vikki Carr at a New Years event -
“I’d never seen anything so outstanding.”
The satirical video package that was the final segment of the news program quickly cut to a newsroom in San Antonio, Texas.  A large and stylized number 5 sat in the background over a skyline view of the San Antonio cityscape.
“Because Mariachis are hard to find in San Antonio,” declared the smarmy newscaster sarcastically into the camera.  He flashed his million-dollar smile as he said, “I’m Craig Marou and that’s the newsreel.  Thank you for making Eyewitness News the most watched news show in south Texas.  Good night.”
The guy running camera two began his slow pan of the news anchors.  Don Koch, Gilbert Flores, and Marou were staples of the San Antonio news scene.  And every night at ten o’clock, Jake Perkins tuned in for the news from the humble comforts of his simple ranch house.  Jake had watched Eyewitness News all his life.  The newscasters said it was the most watched news show after all, so it must have been the best.  Eyewitness News owed Jake a cosmic debt for his loyal devotion.
Saturday night, however, was what Jake, or “Old Man Perkins” as the townies called him, looked forward to all week.  On Saturday night, the looney Eyewitness Newsreel, a gag reel of local celebrities and stock footage, signaled the end of the news and the beginning of the weekly World Class Grappling Alliance pro-wrestling television program.  For one hour a week, Old Man Perkins was able to unwind with the stars of the Dallas Sports Gladitorium.
With a cold can of Falstaff in hand, Old Man Perkins was seated in his favorite chair ready for ‘rasslin’.  The cold aluminum nuzzled against his haggard hand like a snowball from a rare snowfall.  The chilly beer was a simple gift to his body after another day of work on the ranch.  The solitary four acres was far removed from the hustle and bustle of San Uvalde, and Old Man Perkins liked it like that.  So did his pet German Shepherd, Larry, who lay obedient and content at the feet of his master.
His ranch was dubbed “The Perkins Homestead”.  The noble western title was etched on a long piece of wood that hung from a bar attached to a set of discarded wooden telephone posts standing on either side of an old rusty aluminum gate.  It resided on the dusty and brush-covered landscape between San Uvalde and Campwood.  It was isolated and quiet, and a perfect spot for the reclusive Perkins.
It was as if the fall of the quarter hour cued the weather to act up.  The cold front came quickly, dropping the temperature several degrees, reacting to the humid afternoon.  Meteorological phenomena twisted, melded, and transformed the night air, just as the weatherman Gilbert Flores predicted.  Positive ions clashed in the cloudy night sky, creating bolts of white lighting that danced across the clouds like a skeletal phantasm.  It was the slow rumble of a transitional storm, the clashing temperatures, the seasons changing from fall to winter.
As the storm rumbled in the sky, the television began a drumroll of its own.  The familiar pounding of the classical kettledrums, the music for the opening sequence of the World Class Grappling Alliance show, resounded around the room like the clarion call of a theatre attendant bringing the audience to their seats.  Old Man Perkins was already in his front-row seat, ready for the show.  The virile beating of the drum and triumphant sound of the horns soothed Perkins, almost like a kind of climax, a release of built-up anticipation.  Questions would soon be answered.  Punches would be thrown, holds would be placed on opponents, and rivalries would resume.  Would the von Kaiser brothers exact revenge on the dastardly trio from Georgia that made up Badstreet?  The answer to that question was about to be revealed.
But as Brad Mercer, announcer extraordinaire of WCGA, began his intro to the upcoming matches, Larry the dog began to bark and snarl at the open screen door.
“Larry!  Shhht!”
It was a simple command, a short combination of syllables and sounds that typically calmed Larry down.  And for a brief moment, it did.  But not for long.
Larry began to snarl again, looking into the obscured darkness beyond the screen door.  It was a bitter snarl, as if something was defiling the most sacred landscape of Larry and his master.
Old Man Perkins looked out the screen door.  Moths and other foolish flying bugs danced hypnotically around the porch light like drunken revelers at a mid-flight bacchanal.  The 40-watt bulb wasn’t much for illumination, and did just enough to light up a small segment of the front yard.  Through the screen door and in the illumination, nothing threatening was evident.
In spite of the lack of visual evidence, Larry the dog continued snarling at some mysterious shadow that was somewhere beyond the light, hiding most knowingly in the darkness, brush, and Mesquite trees.  It was a danger only Larry instinctually knew.  He could smell it.  It was there.  The scent had drifted in the coming wind and infiltrated his nose.  It was a scent he could not ignore, and was ready to face.
Dashing from the feet of his master, Larry shot out of the house, throwing open the screen door with his feet before running headlong into the darkness.
“Go get ‘em, Larry,” shouted Old Man Perkins.  He was not about to give up his spot on the chair.  Larry was capable of taking on whatever was bothering him.  The event was not uncommon.  Larry did it several times a week with no real consequences.  It was the intensity that was so curious.  In spite of the peculiar circumstance, he took a swig of Falstaff and tried to tune back in to what Mercer was talking about.
“… Gary Hernandez, The Halfbreed Hero, is on the card tonight facing the British Invader Steve Adams…”
Larry had covered ground quickly, and by the sound of his angry barking, was now some distance away.  Clearly, Old Man Perkins assumed, chasing the wild animal away.
“…Tag team action from The Highwaymen taking on the Texas Studs…”
The barking continued, culminating in what was clearly the snarls of a dogfight.  Larry was mixing it up with the interloper.  Lightning danced across the sky like they were sent from the hands of gothic magicians fighting a battle of supremacy in the night sky, perhaps casting their spells for the beastfight on earth.  Several seconds later, the night rumbled, signaling the approaching storm.
Old Man Perkins began counting at the next skyshock of lightning.  The seconds from its heavenly manifestation to its rumble was an informal measure of the distance the storm was from his house.
“Six miles,” whispered Old Man Perkins.
Larry was still fighting in the distance.  The barks and snarls of the initial fight, though, were transitioning to yelps and whines.  Perkins took another swig of Falstaff, looking out the screen door, bewildered.  His calm disposition gave way to concern.  His wrinkled and leathery face shifted as the finger of fear tapped at his heart like the woodpeckers that had made the telephone poles at his gate useless for their initial purpose.  He was so distracted that he missed the announcement of the strap match main event between Kyle von Kaiser and Billy Roberts of Badstreet.  It was the resolution he was waiting for from last week’s show.
Old Man Perkins gulped again.  There was no beer traveling down his gullet after this gulp.  No.  He was swallowing fear as he looked into the darkness outside his screen door.  The approaching storm, the collision of two weather fronts, was bringing a total calm to the land.  Moments earlier, a warm breeze was puffing through the screen.  Now it was just a silent stillness.  Soon, a cool wind would blow, but not yet.
            It was in this short moment, as the television advertisement was sharing promotional information about Stowers Furniture, that Old Man Perkins was expecting Larry to show up.  He knew the silence would most certainly break at Larry’s happy panting.  He might even show up with a piece of the animal he just mauled in his mouth.
The thirty-second Stowers commercial finished up and an Orsinger Buick commercial began with no sign of Larry.  There were great deals at the car dealership as the commercial described some of the nice prices that were available at the San Antonio auto business.  It was no distraction to Old Man Perkins, who was suddenly filled with doubts about Larry’s safety.
“At Orsinger Buick, San Antonio’s number one auto dealer, you’ll get the best deal in town.  Guaranteed….”
Old Man Perkins stood up in his chair and walked to the door.  “Larry?” he called out, breaking the silence of the night outside his screen door.  “Here, boy,” he called out again, the words a definite guarantee Larry would and should return.  Surely Larry would reappear in just a few moments.
“…this 1987 Buick LeSabre only twelve-nine, with T, T and L…”
“Larry!” shouted Old Man Perkins in an angry voice.  Larry would always appear as a penitent and humble dog when he used his angry voice.  He could almost see the dog walking into the light, head down and reverent to his pack leader, slowly trotting to the door cowering like a contrite servant.
The image was only in his mind, though.  There was no dog, only another flash in the night sky.  A ray of lighting crossed the sky like a celestial fork.  The fork shifted into a demonic claw.  Then the rumble came.
“Four miles,” thought Old Man Perkins.  “This storm is moving fast.”
The thought was a brief respite to the fear he was feeling about the journey into the trees and brush he was considering making.
“… come test drive a V6 Power Regal at Orsinger Buick, 4500 San Pedro…”
The commercial ended as Old Man Perkins made his choice.  As the Astroworld commercial began describing the newest water raft ride at the Houston amusement park, Perkins chugged what was left of his beer.  As the last sour drops fell into his mouth, draping his tongue with its marvelous malted magnificence, he grabbed the can by its aluminum waist and squeezed.  The can crumpled at its center, shifting its shape helplessly under the elderly might of the rancher.
“…Get ready for an assault by nature’s most fearsome force…”
Perkins tossed the can aside.  It slid across the wood floor like a drunk Texan trying to dance the schottische.  He grabbed the flashlight that was set near the door.  His shotgun was also set nearby.  He secured the shotgun in his hand and pushed open the screen door, walking into the night.
“…Your heart will pound and your pulse will race as you feel the raw power of a force of nature at Astroworld….”
The wooden screen door slapped shut, bouncing against the doorway.  The thin spring played its discordant theme before pulling the door completely shut.
“Larry,” called out Old Man Perkins.  “Get over here, boy!”
The night was still.  No wind.  No sound.  Even the bugs and crickets had shut up for the evening.  Old Man Perkins clicked on the flashlight.  The white beam cut through the dark south Texas night, slapping away the darkness like a barfly in a slap fight with her friend at a local cantina.
The silence was broken as the Via “buppets”, mascots for San Antonio’s mass transit bus system, began their cheery song in praise of the Alamo City busline.

           “It’s another fine day to go and play…”

Perkins found traces of Larry’s tracks in the dry dirt and followed them.  Lighting laced the dark sky once, briefly illuminating the landscape.  The rumbling resounded only two seconds after the electrical skybolts started.
“It’s close,” whispered Perkins, trying to take his mind off the mystery as he followed the trail.
The wind suddenly picked up.  The clean smell of the approaching rainstorm hit Perkins in the nose.  A cool breeze caressed his arms and face like a French assassin seducing a Nazi officer.  The wind used to bring a kind of comfort.  When a storm approached and the wind permeated through the screen door, it was a heavenly blessing.  It pushed out the heat of the day and made for a nice few moments in the house.
But tonight it was as if the face of death had breathed the essence of its cold heart across the land.  Goosebumps rose on Perkin’s arms.  He inhaled, taking in a teaspoon of snot from his nose and spit it out on the land.
It’s so easy when you take the bus.  Via!  Via!”
The TV was becoming a distant beacon of home, an indication of how far he had truly walked away from base.  From safety.
The wind was delivering a message to Perkin’s ears.  It sounded like a snarl.  But clearly became the sound of something eating.
The Mesquite trees and Purple Sage brush moved to the whims of the whirling wind, mocking Perkins.  Ignoring his call.  Withholding information.
Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw movement.  The flashlight twisted in his hand, sending the beam toward the movement.  The brush and trees cast odd and kinetic shadows at every shift of the light.  He thought he saw a tail disappear around a bush.  But the shadows of the light and brush cast doubt.  He slowly approached, leveling the shotgun at the bush.
At first, he saw Larry’s tail.  He breathed a short sigh of relief.  Then, when he saw everything else was exposed red gore, he stood back, aghast and engulfed in sadness.
Lightning lit the land and skies once again, rumbling instantly.  Cold raindrops pelted the dry ground.  Splotches of dirt bounced up from the ground around the dead dog as the rain hit the land before being totally consumed by the water.  As he became soaked, he groaned, “Larry.”
The sight of his dog mauled out of existence paralyzed him.  So much so he never had a chance to repel the sneak attack by the same creature that killed his canine companion.
Old Man Perkins was shocked back into reality by a set of razor-sharp claws digging into his shoulders.  A cruel set of sharp teeth gripped him by the back of the neck almost simultaneously.  The weight of the assassin knocked him to the ground with ease.  Old Man Perkins fell face first into the gore of his dead friend, choking on both his and Larry’s warm blood.  His screams were lost in the flesh, fur, and blood, gurgling with futility in the red remains. 
With the powerful jaws of the beast secured around his neck, the killer yanked and pulled violently, snapping the old man’s neck like a kid snapping deadwood from a tree.  The beast wrenched and twisted, separating the head from the body.  Blood spit from the divorced segments like a Water Wiggle on a front lawn in the summertime.  Lightning laced the sky once again as the red blood diluted in the rain and mud.  The beast snarled and ate his meal in the October rain.

V   V   V   V   V


            “Hill Giants are stronger than Frost Giants.”
            “No, no.  Frost Giants are stronger because they get plus three to damage in cold environments.”
            The small gaggle of geeks gathered at the concrete table near the cafeteria at the San Uvalde Junior College campus.  It was Friday afternoon.  And soon, Friday night would arrive, and each member of the group knew Friday night was game night.  But with a few hours left of classes, it was back to the standard debates of the details of their jaunts into the world of Dungeons and Dragons.
            “If you would put any of the campaigns we’ve ever gone on in environments outside the cold weather landscapes you’ve picked, we might actually find out who is stronger,” complained Ryan Benson.  Ryan could not have weighed more than a hundred pounds.  He was pale white with thin blonde hair falling over black glasses.  The prescription was so strong, the cheap lenses made his eyes look like an Anime character.
            “Yeah.  Why are we always playing in Upper Volkhoven anyway?” asked Sergio Cantu.  Sergio wore a Motley Crue shirt and stylish torn pants.  It was his effort to look cool in spite of his nerdy pastime.
            “Because you still haven’t found the Chalice of Gunter yet.  We started it about a month ago,” stated Harlon Custer, getting a kick out of how flustered he had made his friends.  “Look, guys.  I’m the Dungeon Master and say your characters leave Upper Volkhoven when you find the chalice.”  Harlon was tall and slender.  His pale complexion sat under freckles peppering his face like the spicy powder spread across ranch sauce at a fancy restaurant.  His arms were long and bony, like his fingers.
            “Hi Harlon,” came a sultry female voice from behind him.  By the ‘deer in the headlight’ looks on the faces of his friends, he knew it was a girl.  He turned around to face the girl, gulping.
            It was Stacy Chapa, decked out like a doll from any ‘80’s rock video.  She was a guaranteed libido jumpstart.  She had the sex appeal of Tawny Kitaen in the tanned brown body of a south Texas latina.  Her bangs were set up perfectly over her forehead, courtesy of Aqua Net.  She tied a portion of her almond brown hair in a ponytail, stylishly pulled up solo on the upper right side of her head.  Devil-red lipstick laced her thick Hispanic lips.  She made sure there was enough cleavage peeking from behind her modern mangled ‘Ratt’ shirt that hung off one shoulder, revealing her black-as-sin bra.  Her denim miniskirt stood over sculpted legs.  Red heels and lacy ankle socks reeled in all males in her vicinity like catfish in the Frio River.
            For the Junior Geek Patrol (as the people on campus called them), Stacy Chapa was masturbation waiting to happen.  Stacy was one of the J.G.P.’s top five hottest girls on campus, at least by their official list they made the second week of school.  She was also one of the dumbest.  What she couldn’t get with her mind, she easily gained with her body.  And she loved using her body.
            It was even more advantageous when she didn’t really have to work to get what she wanted or needed.  Hence, her visit to the hapless Harlon.
            “Oh,” exclaimed Harlon, stammering.  “Stacy.  How’s it hanging?” 
            Idiot! he thought to himself.  It wasn’t a good start.
            Like, what an idiot, she thought to herself in spite of her smile.
            Hi Stacy, thought Ryan and Sergio to themselves, making a practice run in their heads of what they might say to her.  Hopefully, not now.
            “So, Harlon,” stated Stacy, breaking the awkward tension.  “I was hoping to compare notes with you from Mr. Gordman’s Biology class this morning.”  She shifted subtly, seductively, invading Harlon’s space.  “You think I can borrow them?”
            Harlon was already fumbling with his backpack.  “Oh, yeah.”  He tried to act cool, but the submissive desperation of his feeble play for attention from Stacy was not garnering any brownie points he could exchange later for sex.  “I feel pretty confident about the test Monday,” he acknowledged.  He was.  He loved Dr. Gordman’s class, and was a bit of a teacher’s pet.
            “Good for you,” she said, moving closer to him again.
Though his hands were in his backpack, his eyes were glued to her cleavage.  It took a Herculean effort to raise his eyes to hers.  He had never been this close to breasts, at least not in a while and never in a bedroom situation.
Ask for a study date, he thought to himself, trying to muster the will to ask.  C’mon, man.  Study date.
He found the notes and pulled them out of the bag.  Without a thank you or any kind of manners whatsoever, she took the notes from his trembling hands.
Stacy turned and looked at his friends.  “Who are they?” she asked, grimacing arrogantly, as if their eyes were not worthy to stare at her like they were still doing.  Ryan and Sergio had no business taking in her glamorous goodness.  Only the hot boys were.  Ryan and Sergio were in no way hot boys in her mind.
“Oh, I don’t know them,” he declared, since ‘not knowing them’ was now clearly defined as being their friends since the 5th grade in the San Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District.  Ryan and Sergio shifted awkwardly at the impolite sleight.
Dumbass!  Dumbass! thought Harlon.  He turned and chuckled nervously at the friends he had just wounded.  + 5 damage.  They stood, helpless.
As Harlon turned around, Stacy was already walking off.

Study date!  Study date!

“Hey Stacy….”
She turned back, smiling like a French spy who was ready to suck and fuck her way to even more secret documents, except without having to suck and fuck.  “Bye, Harlon.”
“Yeah,” moaned Harlon, plastering a smile on his face to disguise his shame.  “I’ll see you later, huh?  I’ll give you a call.”  He didn’t have her number.
Harlon turned back to his friends.  There they stood, upset at the friend they looked up to and admired.  But they knew they would have been just as flustered and inconsiderate.  As friends, they did what they had to do.  Heck, Harlon was the only one who had even kissed a girl back in the 7th grade.  They had to give him a chance.
Sergio spoke first.  “It’s O.K., man.”
Harlon puffed a deep breath, nodding his head.
“You should have asked her for a study date,” suggested Ryan.
Harlon harrumphed.
Sergio chimed in again.  “I don’t know if I want to play tonight.  Maybe tomorrow.”
Ryan joined in.  “Me, too.”
Harlon was embarrassed.  “Listen, guys.  Let’s meet tomorrow night at my dorm.”
Sergio and Ryan were still a little crestfallen.  Harlon took a moment to think, then made a move to win them back.  “And tomorrow, everyone moves up two levels.”
The two boys were elated at the unexpected generosity.  “Yes!” they hissed with joy, simultaneously delivering a high five.
Harlon smiled.
They said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.  Harlon had to meet with his roommate at the cafeteria.

V   V   V   V   V

“So I told them… and I pointed like this, I told them, ‘I don’t give a goddamn who you and your friends are.  I’m getting my Happy Meal and I’m going to eat it.”
“Really?” groaned the blonde bombshell sarcastically.  “You really told off four members of the Dire Armadillos… who were at McDonalds?”
“I know, right?” stated Mario Alonzo.  “It’s totally awesome, isn’t it?” Mario beamed with pride.  He pushed his black-rimmed glasses up on his pudgy nose.  His round brown cheeks puffed as he smiled with pride under a head of black curls.  He wore a solid red imposter Polo shirt over blue jeans and white sneakers.  The shirt fit a little tight around his bulbous waistline.
“You know what’s awesome,” came a voice from behind Mario.  “A fat slob who thinks he could pick up my girlfriend in front of my face.”  Every syllable was laced with an angry condescension.
“That’s awesome, though, Chippy,” came the smart-ass reply from Mario.  He knew Sandra Vaught, the blonde he was talking to, was never going to give him a chance.  So it was fun to annoy her and her boyfriend anyway.
“My name is Chip, Mario.  Get it right.”  Chip McCleoud also wore a light blue Polo with an off-white cardigan tied around his neck.  Khaki slacks and Hush Puppies rounded out his outfit.  He took Sandra into his arms.
Mario held up his hands.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  Why don’t I just call you Charles?  We can go play croquet and have scones.”
“Because my name is Chip, not Charles.”
“Your mom really named you Chip?  What kind of mom gives her son such a shitty name?”  He chuckled, knowing he was getting under Chip’s skin.  “Seriously, that might be one of the stupidest names to ever name a child.  A dog, maybe.  Or a gerbil.  But not a child.  Chip?”  He scoffed.
Chip was fuming.  “Listen, fatso.  My father gave me that name.  It’s a family name.  I’m Chip McCleoud the Fifth.”
Mario did not let up.  In fact, he escalated.  “I don’t know how you or your forefathers got laid with a name like Chip.  You had a whole family of dumbfucks named Chip who actually got laid and had kids.  Like, girls fucked them?  Pretty girls?  Well, maybe not pretty, I guess.”
“Maybe because we’re not fat,” said Chip, keeping the insults personal.  “And actually having money helps, too.  But your family probably doesn’t know anything about that.”  Taking Sandra into his arms, they turned to leave.
“That would make sense, because it couldn’t be your cock.  You’re from a long line of tiny cocks.”
Sandra turned to Mario, flipping the ‘boney-maroney’ at the chuckling pest.  Mario pointed and laughed.  “Ah, a little anger there, Sandra?  I guess I was right about the tiny cock, huh?”
He called out again before they could get too far.  “Hey, you know what you call it when your forefathers are all in the same bed?  A bag of chips.  Ha!”
The power couple did not respond to the lame joke and walked off as Harlon approached.
“Hey, Mario.  What happened?”
“Ah, just messing with Sandra and Mr. Pringles over there.”
“They’re such pricks.  If Chip’s rich, why the hell is he coming to SUJC?”
“Because he’s stupid,” stated Mario, plainly.  “
“Probably inbreeding there, with the Chip family.”
“A bag of chips,” chuckled Mario.
“Huh?” asked Harlon.
“Ah, forget it.  Let’s go eat.”
The boys moved to the lunch line and picked out their portions.  Mario made sure to get a cheap laugh from Harlon by sticking the carrot sticks in his nose before actually eating them.  They picked their five portions allotted by their meal plan, then had their meal cards punched.  Walking to the cafeteria seats, they discussed the latest in video game rumors.
“It’s the same code as in Gradius,” stated Mario.  “Up, up, down, down…”
“…left, right, left, right…” chimed in Harlon.
            Then the boys sang together in a kind of dorky harmony the final bits of the code, “… B, A, start!”
            “Seriously?” asked Harlon.
            “Totally.  I just played it before class.”
            “When did you get it?”
            “Yesterday.  You were at the Library all night.  Just come back to the room and play it.  It’s a lot of fun,” said Mario, taking another bite out of the carrot stick.
            “Is that one of the sticks you put up your nose?”
            “Yeah.  Why?”
            “You’re nasty, man.”
            “Hey.  It’s my mocos.”
            “Still nasty.”
            They chuckled before a voice joined in.  “Hey guys.”  Distinctly female, they turned to look who would dare visit their domain of dorkiness.  It was their friend, Ashley Marquez, walking to their table with her tray.  She was the epitome of cool.  Flaming pink hair cut short and spiked stood over her regal blue eyes under matching pink eyeshadow.  Her lips were laced in red lipstick and gloss.  Her blue bra could be seen strapped tight on her shoulders.  Her ‘Sex Pistols’ shirt hung loose on her arms.  Acid washed jeans revealed patches of the tan flesh of her legs.  White lace gloves covered her hands, and black Chuck Taylors rounded out her outfit just below her pant legs.
            “Ashley, my sweet,” said the silly Mario.  “I can’t go in the custodian closet to make out with you right now.  I’m eating.”
            She placed her tray on the table and leaned in to hug Mario.  “Shut up, you idiot,” she chuckled.  Mario’s face lit up with a smile as they shared a safe side-to-side embrace.  Ashley was punk rock, indeed, but she was a glamorous punk who always looked nice and smelled nice.
            Ashley leaned in to give Harlon a hug, who gladly received her.  “What are you doing, Harlon?”
            Harlon adored Ashley, but never quite had the chutzpah Mario did.  “I’m cool, Ashley.  Thanks.”
            Idiot! he thought.
            Ashley smiled.  She knew Harlon got nervous around her, and found it a bit charming.  She playfully teased Harlon.  “Hey Harlon, why are you always giving your notes to Stacy?  You should be studying with me.”
            Harlon was at a loss for words, but tried to play it cool.  “Well, why didn’t you say something.  I’ll get them back.”
            “No, it’s too late now, you jerk,” she said, playfully slapping his shoulder.
            “You can always study with me, Ashley,” said Mario, purposefully dripping food from his mouth and down his chin.
            “Eww!” she exclaimed, laughing.  “There’s not enough beer in the world, Mario,” she said, taking a napkin and wiping the food off his mouth.
            “You’ve clearly never been to 6th Street in Austin,” said Mario.
            Everyone had a laugh.  Then Ashley changed the subject.  “Is it me, or is Mr. Foster a world class jerk?”
            “I thought that was common knowledge,” said Mario.
            “I don’t like him so much, either,” said Harlon.  “He took off two points on the last test because I misspelled trachea.”
            “How do you spell it?” asked Ashley.
            “With an ‘e’ before the second ‘a’.”
            Mario jumped at the chance for humorous sarcasm.  “C’mon, Harlon.  Everybody knows how to spell trachea correctly.”
            They chuckled as Ashley asked, “What grade did you make?”
            “Oh, God.  Harlon,” said Ashley.  “And you’re complaining?”
            They shared a laugh again when a cruel voice broke their friendly merriment.
            “Ashely,” came the voice.  Ashley’s smile fell from her face like a slice of bologna thrown at a hooker’s ass.  It was Duane “Fishbone” Graham, Ashley’s boyfriend.  The quintessential punk rocker, Fishbone wore a black and worn leather jacket with studs on the shoulders.  Torn and dirty blue jeans wrapped his legs in denim, covering his heavy biker boots.  He wasn’t ripped like an athlete.  Fishbone was just big.
            “Ashley, why are you wasting your time with these losers?  Eat your lunch so we can pack our stuff.”
            “Where ya’ll going?” asked Mario, countering the intimidation with confidence.
            “Nowhere with you, lardass.”
            Mario was about to smart off when Ashley defused the situation.  “We’re going camping at Crystal Bluff.  Listen, guys.  We’ll talk later,” she said, rising from her seat.  She hardly touched her food and was about to dump it.
            “Yeah.  In your dreams, dorks,” said Fishbone as the punk couple left the table.
            “We’ll take your food if you’re going to dump it,” volunteered Mario.
            “Let the fat pig eat it,” said Fishbone.
            As Ashley returned her tray to the table, Mario replied, “I was going to eat the mixed veggies, thank you very much.”
            “Dipped in fat, probably,” said Fishbone as they walked off again.
            “It’s fat-free ranch for your information, you walking dick,” said Mario.  Ashley gave a quick wave goodbye to her friends as she walked off with Fishbone.  “And the brownie,” whispered Mario enough for Harlon to hear it and giggle.
            The duo looked at each other.  Then Mario broke into song, coming up with a quick parody of a Dokken song in honor of Fishbone.
            “In my dreams, my dick was long.  But Fishbone came and now its gone.”
            Harlon started laughing, mouthing the subsequent guitar opening of the song.  They had a chuckle when Harlon said, “Hey, let’s hurry and eat so we can play ‘Contra’.”
            “You can’t hurry carrot sticks and ranch, young Harlon,” said Mario in a silly affectation.  “This is a rare dish.”
            “Shut up, dude,” said Harlon.  They both chuckled, eating quickly to get to the Nintendo Entertainment System waiting in their dorm room.


A single mother fights crime for money in an excerpt from "Codename: La Lechusa" by Bowie Ibarra

A FEMA camp is overrun in an excerpt from the Permuted Press zombie horror classic,
"Down the Road" by Bowie Ibarra


Bowie Ibarra is the author of the noted zombie series "Down the Road" from Permuted Press and Simon and Schuster.  His latest title, "Big Cat", is the story of three college friends who are thrust onto the deadly trail of a savage animal killing people on the south Texas countryside.

You can network with Bowie and learn about all of his written works at

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