Available as an epub download for your phone or e-reader.

The sun lit up the surface of the water. Its light bouncing right into Paul’s retinas, causing his optic nerve to fire signals into his brain. In turn, those signals caused the muscles around his eyes to contract. The higher functions of his brain allowed him to recognize that the sunglasses on the dashboard would be handy right about then.

The end result of that chain reaction was the vibration of his vocal cords as the pattern matching units in his cortex broadcast a sentence that his language centers had constructed specially for an event like this.

“Harriet, can you hand me those sunglasses?”

Harriet flipped open the glove box.

“No, they’re on the dashboard. There.” He nodded toward the far passenger side of the dash.

“Oh, sorry.”

Harriet handed them over. Paul uncrinkled his eyes as he slipped the glasses on. His optic nerve calmed down. His neocortex interpreted that as a feeling of relief.

Harriet asked, “How far are we from New Orleans?”

“Not too far, just an hour or so.”

“It’s getting dark.”

“Yeah, I’d have liked to have gotten in before sundown but that’s how it goes.”

Harriet nodded. That always bugged Paul. Nodding in response to something a driver says. It’s not like he can keep an eye on her to register the nod. He’s got to keep his eyes on the road, straight ahead. Paul harrumphed under his breath.

Harriet was kind enough to avoid the fight. “So how crazy was that science show last night?”

The tension in Paul’s chest let up as he sensed that the harrumph would be overlooked. “I love that stuff. It’s amazing how much we know about the universe.”

“Eh … How do you really know all of that stuff, though? I mean, that business about dark matter and a fifth spacial dimension?”

“Lots of dudes smarter than you and me have made intense models. I guess the math just points that way.”

“I don’t know. It sounds like hocus-pocus to me. Eleven dimensions curled up into subatomic particles? Infinite numbers of universes? Hell, even quantum theory seems weird too.”

“It is. That’s what they all say. Apparently, when they came up with the theory it was just too preposterous to be believed, but all of the tests verified their conclusions. The parable about Schrödinger’s cat is meant to demonstrate how insane the theory is, not to show that you could literally have a cat in a half-alive/half-dead superstate.”

Harriet sucked on her teeth and exhaled. “Still sounds like magic.” She drummed her fingers on the arm rest for a few seconds, then let go with it. “Y’know, science is just another religion.”

“Ugh. No. That’s totally not true.”

“How do you know? You’re just taking all these scientist’s words for it.”

“I know because my fucking mobile phone works. I know because this car ignites motherfucking gasoline inside a metal engine and uses the energy to turn the wheels of the car according to basic physical laws. I know because of the freakin’ Internet, Harriet.”

“Right. And you know exactly how your engine works? Or your phone? Ever crack open a phone? What do those chips do?”

“Um, those are processors. What are you trying to get at?”

“I’m saying that you have no idea what a processor does. There could be little spirits inside it that make it work.”

Paul opened his mouth in disbelief.

Harriet continued, “Bear with me. I’m saying that there’s no way for you personally to know that physics, for example, is not just a massively complex series of superstitious rules based on dubious numerology. Like Kabbalah and such.”

“Right. And where’s the CPU manufacturer that uses the Kabbalah to plan microchips?”

“Could be all of ‘em. You don’t know for sure, do you? Personally. You.”

“That’s absurd.”

Paul hated it when Harriet went on like this. She’d pick some basic piece of knowledge and then use bad logic to chase it to its most absurd conclusion. Spirits in microchips, indeed.

Just before Paul could begin a tirade about how the notion of spirits making microchips work was a completely ridiculous and unfalsifiable hypothesis, the engine made a horrible sound. It was like ball bearings being crunched into gears. Harsh, mechanical, and worst of all—whatever it was, it sounded irreversible. The car drifted forward on inertia. Paul steered it off the road, down a patch of dirt next to a bridge. They came to rest in a flat spot near the water.

“Shit, Harriet. I think you killed one of my engine elves.”

She didn’t bite. “I might have. Better check.”

“For a dead engine elf?”

“Couldn’t hurt.”

“Well it couldn’t fucking help, could it, Harriet? I’m not going to pop the hood and find some mechanical dryad strangled in the fan belt.”

“Pop the hood.”

He did. Of course he was going to pop the hood. Not to look for elves. To look for some clue as to the mechanical malfunctioning of the engine.

They both leaned in under the hood. Paul was jiggling hoses and smelling around for some indication of the problem.

Harriet’s voice broke Paul’s concentration. “Got your problem right here.”

“Where?”

She leaned over and dug her hand underneath a tangle of wires. “Here.”

In her hand, Harriet held the limp body of a tiny man. Maybe six or seven inches tall, lithe with pointed ears. Its head was lolling to one side, like its neck had been snapped.

She said, “See? Looks like you did kill one of your engine elves.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah, Mr. Science.”

“Well fuck. What do we do about it?”

“Jesus, have you read a book in your life? Or are you just one of those types that gets their education from television shows?”

Paul stuttered, but no coherent words escaped his mouth. Had he really been so ignorant? Science merchants with their narrative based on mathematics and formal logic systems, on so-called empirical evidence—had they been fudging the numbers all these years?

“Shit. I really don’t know.”

Harriet softened a bit, like maybe she could forgive his ignorance if he’d pull up his boots and get with the program. “Well, it’s a lucky thing that we’re in the swamp. Lots of little critters around. You’re going to have to get one so that we can sacrifice it.”

“Um, sacrifice?”

“Yeah, man. One life force for another. You science guys got the gist half right with thermodynamics but it’s way more nuanced than that. I don’t expect you to understand.” She looked around for a few minutes before picking up a stick, which she broke in half, leaving a sharp point. “Just go out there toward the water and see if you can spear something.”

Paul took the stick and hefted it. The night was closing in and he didn’t want to get stuck out here. There was no mistaking that the little elf that Harriet pulled out of the engine was real… . He wandered toward the water, trying to muster the will for murder. His entire world view taking a beating in the process.

A ripple in the water caught his eye and he moved toward it, slowly, like he imagined a hunter would. His eyes were beginning to adjust to the twilight and he saw the outline of something like a large fish in the water. He hoped that fish counted. Killing a mammal would be a whole different can of beans… . Paul took a lunge forward with the stick.

There was a splash. And a great gnashing of teeth. Paul felt his leg being crushed under sharp spikes. His bones broke as the vice grip twisted and he realized that he was being eaten by an alligator. The beginning of a scream escaped his mouth, but was quickly silenced by brackish water and the jaws moving up his body. Fear dulled his pain and panic led him to fill his lungs with water. Then the panic gave way to blackness.

Harriet stepped into the car and turned the key. The engine kicked over with a satisfying purr. She made it into New Orleans just after sunset.

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Cruising out of New York in a rented mustang convertible was pretty sick. Just a few hours down the road was Baltimore, and my friends Russ and Sarah who I hadn’t seen in ages. The drive was fun and easy with only the minimal fussing about with New Jersey tollways, inbound audio jacks, and car lighter to USB adapters (that rented Mustang was super stock. No USB port. What is this, the fifties?) Not to worry, fifteen minutes at a truck stop was enough to set us rolling south guided by the wisdom and calm robotic lady voice of Google’s maps app.

The lady voice directed me seamlessly to Russ and Sarah’s townhouse. It’s in that one part of Baltimore, the gentrified part. It’s right by that place and that park and it has nice views. That’s as much as I know, really. I knocked on the door and was greeted by the nanny. Sarah was out and about, running errands. Russ was walking their new puppy.

I introduced myself to the nanny and saw Ajax, Russ’s little boy. He was happily eating some form of toddler-feed. I believe it involved crackers or soft bread. Not sure what goes into toddler-feed, but it resembled that. While I was marveling at the existence of small humans (Manhattan is mostly devoid of children, save for those being wheeled around by West Indian au pairs), I heard the front door opening.

A woof and a snarl and Henry charged. Ah yeah. He’s developed some aggression toward young male puppies and now he was greeting one with snarls as it entered its own house. Charming. I walked over and picked up my harmless snarling bundle of muscle and teeth, trying to assure everybody involved that he was really harmless, and that they’d be fine once they knew each other.

And they were.

I was staying over that night. As evening approached, Russ and I walked the dogs around the block, then went to a locals bar. It was one of those joints where the old neighborhood guys go. We sat at the end of the bar and ordered some whiskeys. The bartender was a short, curvy woman. Late thirties or maybe forty. A hard forty.

“Whatcha guys doin’?” She asked in a powerful Baltimore accent.

The accent was one that I had never really run across. Quick, google it. Yeah. It’s where Pennsylvania bleeds into the south. Utterly fascinating.

We told her that we were old friends. That I was in town from New York—a place that might as well have been Mars—and that we were catching up before I continued along the road.

Behind the bar was a bottle of blueberry pancake liquor. It was next to the 99 Bananas. I pointed it out to Russ.

“You game?”

“Yup.”

We left with the slick taste of chemicals and artificial vanilla in our mouth.

“That felt like a mistake.”

“The best kind. At least this time you’re not bleeding out of your face.”

He had a point. The last time I visited Russ, it was a couple years ago. Just as I was being emotionally shattered by a breakup. See, Russ is one of those friends. The kind that will literally give you the shirt off his back—as I was leaving town, he gave me his coat because mine had been covered in so much blood that I couldn’t wear it on the Amtrak.

So yeah, he and Sarah put in for a train ticket up to Boston to hang out with them and get away from the city.

I visited. Russ took me out to one of the most amazing dinners I’ve ever had—Craigie on Main if you happen to be in Beantown—afterward we walked to a bar for some post dinner drinks. I bumped into someone (or maybe I didn’t). He shoved me. Then one of his friends socked me from the side, just out of my view. Next thing I knew, I was covering my head, avoiding the boots coming from roughly six different people.

Wrong place. Wrong time.

The cops asked me what I did. I told them that my skirt was too fucking short. Then the cop got gruff and told me to stop spitting blood on him. I told him that he’d better back the fuck up then.

They walked off.

The next day I caught the train back, wearing Russ’s jacket.

I still have that jacket.

There’s a time for clowning around, a time for working, and a time for both. #clownwork (at Cafe Envie)

There’s a time for clowning around, a time for working, and a time for both. #clownwork (at Cafe Envie)

Henry and I suited up. The whole notion is a sort of cartoon fantasy. Strap some goggles and a silk scarf onto the dog. Drive a rented Mustang convertible because I’m neither able, nor licensed to drive a motorcycle, let alone afford one with a sidecar on short notice.

Parked outside of my apartment, Henry looks to the future, impatiently

I’m a terrible bohemian. The beautiful dog and car, the hastily purchased Ray-Ban aviators. All of it looks the part, at least.

But there’s something to it, underneath all of the affectations. The need to get out and travel, to see a bit of my own country that I’ve never seen. How much will it help my creativity? I’m not sure. Getting out and about is one of those secret sauce things, like corporate branding, that we’re all pretty sure works, but we don’t really know how effective it is. Buckling my arse to my couch and pounding out three thousand words per day would probably do me much better, to be honest.

But it’s not entirely about that. Part of it is about the other thing that I decided to do for myself when I left the startup world last August—spend more time just doing me. Traipsing around, seeing things, not staring at a computer screen all day, every day. Pause for the irony that you’re reading a tumblr post that I clearly made while staring at a computer screen—though one that’s got a lovely backdrop right now.

So this is equal parts getting out of the city to get some creative time and good old fashioned wanderlust. Accompanied by a pretty—but bitchy—little red dog. He looks great in the goggles, non?

We hit the road last Monday. Set out to see Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, Columbus, Mobile, and finally stop in New Orleans.

I’m in NOLA right now, typing this on the Esplanade, drinking the house wine at Cafe Degas, like a HUGE FUCKING WANKER. So [spoiler alert] I didn’t die on the way down.

Next up: Baltimore and the Carolinas.

"Hell is just Bible fan fiction." Jules said that with the tone of a man who was very pleased with himself. Very.

Melissa stifled her eye roll. “I suppose.”

"Seriously, dig this: all of those bored monks and priests in the middle ages were thinking, Man, this Satan character just doesn’t get enough play. And what about the Inferno? That’s straight up fiction, but it’s treated like canon by most Christians these days.”

"Okay." This time it was a yawn that she had to swallow, but Melissa was a trooper. She had no patience for this sort of pretentious bullshit, but she kept the rage waver out of her voice. "Sure, maybe it is, but isn’t the entire fucking New Testament just Old Testament fanfic? And the Torah, isn’t that just some deep riff on Zoroastrian shiz? Keep that line of thinking and it becomes absurd."

Jules sat there with his jaw opened, prepared to quip back. Nothing came.

"But let’s get back to Hell, Jules. That is some serious fiction, alright. But it served a purpose. Both as literature, then as mythology. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the majority of our mythologies started out as good campfire stories. Some of which might have been satire, like Inferno, and some might just have been good old fashioned fables meant to keep naughty children in line.”

"I guess. I was just pointing out that it was arbitrary fiction." Jules was sounding testy now. It should have made Mel happy, but it just ground her gears even harder.

"Fucking shit, Jules. How can it be arbitrary? It clearly served a purpose." She was getting sucked in. If Mel had any flaw, it was that when her powers of bullshit swallowing gave out she went right to bullying. Melissa took another sip of her coffee. It was over-extracted. Not done well at all. One thing after another kept annoying her today and she couldn’t quite figure out what it was. She choked down another sip of coffee and looked around for a waitress to complain to.

Jules looked up from his drink, and for the 116,935,492nd time he said, “Hell is just Bible fan fiction.” With the tone of a man who was very pleased with himself.

The conversation began again. As it would continue to, every four minutes for all of eternity.


Creative Commons cover photograph from Trevor Blake’s Flickr stream

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Co-pilot strapped in and ready. All systems go.

Co-pilot strapped in and ready. All systems go.

So this is happening. About to embark on a road trip to New Orleans. Henry will be accompanying me, and as you can see, he’s prepared.

You know how it is. Just hanging out on a sexy ass Thursday night. Nobody’s really around and there’s nothing going on outside. Just a hot summer evening and you can feel the humidity begging you to take your clothes off.

Then you hear a hiss, and you’re not alone anymore (like you ever were). And you’re like, “What’s up man?”

"Sshit. Ain’t nothin’ up, tonight." He lingers on the s way longer than he should.

They all linger on the s. Fucking house eels.

"Why don’t you invite ssomeone over?" One of ‘em asks.

Because now there are quite a few of ‘em, filling up your living room.

It’s tough though. Nobody to call off the top of your head. There’s that one from last week, but she gave off a vibe like she might steal shit—and she stepped on Julius without apologizing. She also might have been on heroin. She’s definitely off the list.

The smoke in there is starting to get thick because Julius—what is it with Julius?—just lit up a fat jazz cigarette.

"Can’t think of anybody."

"What about that Harlem teacher?"

You look around, it’s Bernie. You reply, “She’s nice. Big hands though.” Julius hates girls with big hands so that ought to put her out of the running, regardless of what Bernie thinks.

"I like a sstrong woman." Even Bernie is on the s more than usual.

"If I invite someone over, are you sure it won’t get weird?"

Julius snickered a bit. “It alwayss getss weird”

"Suppose so." Now you’re really wracking your brain. "What if it’s not a chick?"

"What are you trying to ssay about Bernie?"

"Please quit talking about yourself in the third person, Bernie. Besides, what’s wrong with just hanging? It’s not like you always have to be getting inside of something."

"Sspeak for yourself." Bernie slid between the couch cushions and popped his head up around the armrest, eyes bugging and grinning like a maniac.

You knew what it was coming to this whole time. It always ends like this. You tap out a quick text and wait.

The room’s been hotboxed by now. You can’t see where Julius starts and Bernie ends. Forget the others, half of them don’t even speak to you but slide around the place like they live there. And they sort of do. It’s been a while and they’re pretty persuasive, so you take a few hits off the joint. Good stuff. Not west coast good, but good.

"I hate it when you guys make me do this."

"Sshit, it always ends well."

"Sure. For you guys."

There are ssnickers all around.

The door buzzes. You get up, a bit wobbly. It’s that girl that you know from the kickball league. The one you joined when you were lonely and sick of hanging out with eels all day. Fucking disaster, right? Still, you remember how fun she was and how she wanted to get a drink and how she lived in your neighborhood which was weird because there aren’t a lot of trains around and she looked like she had a much better job than you or at least she talked that way. But then she responded to your text. And she said she’d stop in and meet for a beer or something.

So you open then door, wary but optimistic because optimism is your strong suit.

"Breanna, hi!"

She coughs a bit. “Hi. Um, wow. Having a bit of a party in here?”

"Something like that. Want to come in for a bit?"

Defying all sensibility, she steps inside. Not without caution. Not with caution, but not entirely without it either.

"Sit down, I’ll grab you a beer."

You can hear Julius. “There’ss room right here.”

You can’t see him, you just know there’s probably a couch in the direction of that smooth ass voice. God it’s hot. Why not open a window? Because they always complain and you always end up closing it again anyway. Not worth the effort.

"Oh, I didn’t know you had people over."

"They’re kind of like my room mates."

"Sshit. We’re sso much more than that." Bernie was over by the turntable and you can hear the hiss of the record as he queues up some Mose Allison.

Breanna perks up a bit. “Oh, I love jazz.”

"Well hot damn, sso do we. Sso do we." You can’t tell which one is talking now. They blend. And you’re a bit high.

You’re finding a beer and grabbing one for yourself and now you can’t remember where the opener is because—did Julius just say something about you?—no, probably not. You walk out with the unopened beers and then have to walk back in like an idiot but Breanna wasn’t paying attention to you anyway. Fuck.

Finally the bottles are open and you come out into the living room to see them all on the couch.

"Here’s your beer." You set it down and look for the recliner.

She’s giggling a bunch now. At some point Julius offers her the joint. She snatches it up without hesitation.

"So glad you finally stopped by."

"Me too! You should have told me you had eels. I love eels!"

"Oh, honey. Talk like that will get uss all in trouble." Bernie was ssnickering again.

The next morning, Breanna is in her underwear on the couch. Covered in eels. You’re just kind of in your chair, where you started.

The last volume of Purgatory, NY— “Labor of Love” was just published. You can pick its sweet ass up on Amazon

Big thanks to Jeff Beatty for editing, and the always amazing Aaron Morgan for the artwork. There will be a digital omnibus version published in the next few weeks, as well as print versions in the next month or two.

There’s something amazing about this for me on a personal level. I wrote my first novel. Some of you even like it. Some don’t—hell, I’ll be honest, I hate pretty much everything that comes out of the ends of my fingers.

But I do like some of it. And your encouragement keeps me truckin’ along, improving my work. So thanks Tumblr weirdos. Thanks sweet ass girlfriend who keeps telling me she likes the stuff I write. Thanks Internet friends. Thanks sexy strangers.

And there’s another book in the works. Some forty thousand words of drafts and notes flying around the 1s and 0s of my laptop’s brain, slowly taking shape into something that you might like to read. In the meantime, I’m going to keep putting out shorts and doing my best to hold your interest.

There will be times when I go a bit silent, mostly because my freelance work as a 21st century plumber (software developer) can monopolize my mental bandwidth occasionally. Still, I’ll keep cranking stuff out until there are enough friendly strangers buying my books to keep me out of the digital crack den.

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Scotty Weeks

I write stuff. I am a bit silly at times. I live in New York, but I'm from a tiny little town in Alaska. Somewhere along the way I picked up an Australian passport. I also have a dog. Sadly, I think that's it.

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