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Story by Robert J. Bradley (Read author interview) September 15, 2007

Hugo’s been practicing this posture for weeks. That of the crucified one: arms outstretched, chin to chest. Just like in the pictures. Relax the shoulders, he tells himself.

Peter is searching for a point of entry, testing the flesh of Hugo’s palm with a nail.

“This is going to hurt,” says Peter.

There’s a dull thrust and pounding sensation in Hugo’s hand and wrist. He watches the blood pool around the head of the nail and drip onto the plastic mat below.

“Fuck you.”

“Now, the right.”

He feels some trepidation, a pang of desperation and regret, begins to sweat.

“Hold your breath.” Peter hammers, one, two, three, a long, silver nail into Hugo’s other palm. “How’s that?”

“It fucking hurts, you asshole.” He catches his breath. “Once you nail someone’s hand to a crossbeam you don’t ask, how’s that, okay? You don’t say anything. You just step back. Make room. Go sit somewhere and try not to annoy the person. Let him just be.”

“Relax, I’ll get us a beer.”

Hugo tries to focus his attention on a point on the wall across from him. He feels a throbbing sensation in his ears, his eyes. It’s everywhere, the throb. It’s in the walls, the floor, the ceiling, even the furniture; his hands, his arms, his chest: Bump, bump. Bump, bump. Bump, bump.

Peter returns with a beer for both of them, cracks them open, realizes immediately that there’s a problem. “Do you have any straws?”

“Drawer under the sink.”

Peter retrieves a straw from the drawer, puts the beer bottle in the big pocket of Hugo’s starched white pajama tops. He places one end of the straw in the bottle and the other against Hugo’s lips.

“Sip it,” he says.

Hugo sips.

“So, what about the feet?”

“Just the hands.”

Peter swings the hammer back and forth on his index finger. “You sure? I’m not getting the full effect.”

“What effect are you looking for, exactly?”

“The anguish, the heroic suffering and shit.”

“My arms are killing me.”

“I’m not surprised.” Peter guzzles his beer, nods. “I do nice work, I have to say.”

“Do you really want to be congratulating yourself about now?”

“I’m just saying.”

“Can I get some peroxide for this?

“I’m on it.”

Hugo clears his throat. “Let’s film first. Pick up the camera.”

“Got it. Ready? Action.”

“Don’t say, action.”

“Okay, fine. What should I say?”

“Just turn the camera on. That’s all you have to do.” He does.

“Thank you.” Hugo clears his throat. “Your gods have enfeebled you. Ignorance and cunning run the show. You’re all on notice, you sad, forsaken motherfuckers.”

Just then the clicking of the locks brings Talia home, carrying a bag of groceries.

“Oh, shit. I thought you said she wouldn’t be home till later?”

“What the hell? Come down off there. Is that real?”

“Hon, you’re early.”

“Is this a joke? What are you doing?” She drops the bag by the door.

“I have to go.”

“Oh, no you don’t. Get him down off that. Whose idea was this?”

“Wasn’t mine,” Peter says.

“You morons,” she says. Peter steps toward the door. Talia grabs his collar, “Stay right there,” turns to Hugo, “and you, explain this.”

“It’s an austerity. It’s an indifference to the fucked up world we live in. I’m alone up here. And nothing can touch me.”

“That’s right,” says Peter.

“You’re alone? What’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know,” Hugo says. “Something.”

“Hugo?” She raises her hands.

Hugo’s eyes roll, and his chin falls forward. And there’s a sudden glare.

About the Author

Robert Bradley has a story in the 2007 anthology The Apocalypse Reader, which is taken from his novel of linked short stories, tentatively titled These are Dark Times In a Dark Time of the Year In a Dark Year. His stories can also be found at taint, SLQ, and The Angler.

This story appeared in Issue Eighteen of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighteen

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