An excerpt here follows from the forthcoming JSH Book Club novel The Tract of Blood. It's a sequel to The Moleskin Checklist, in which Jack has become a compulsive gambler and golf club hustler in an Arizona resort town. Jack is traumatized by the theft of his precious "Tract of Blood" notebook. Sappy and his mysterious new exotic mail-order girlfriend aid Jack's quest to get it back, whether he wants their help or not. The book is part of my return to the long-form novel, which I've not assayed since my first opus, 714.
Like The Moleskin Checklist, the sequel is atypical JSH fare: it's full of sex, violence, grossness, and bad, bad, talk. You were warned.
We were led through a pitch black corridor into a room. As we were hurriedly pushed in, I heard the colossal scraping sound of an immense metal door sliding open, then shut behind us, followed by the clanking sounds of it being locked.
"Sit tight," one of them said. "Someone will be here in the morning to deal with you."
Immediately we felt insects crawling all over us. Flies. The room stank like death. Probably a good thing we couldn't see what was causing the stink.
And then Jack fired up his lighter. Thanks, Jack, I really didn't want to know.
We were in some kind of steel chamber painted in corroding off-white latex, with bloodstains all over the floor and walls. This must have been the place they slaughtered the livestock.
"I shoulda quit you baby, long time ago," mumbled Jack, "and went on to Mexico."
""Killing Floor". Howlin' Wolf. 1964."
"Okay, these flies are disgusting and they're driving me insane!" exclaimed Alhena.
The flies were desperate. They'd already just about exhausted the filth potential of the decaying blood, and we were the fresh meat. I swept my hand over my nose, as flies kept crawling into it. I looked over at Alhena. She was so covered in them. She'd wave a hand and they'd disperse for half a second before landing right back on her. Some stayed clinging to her the whole time. Reminded me of the cows on the farm growing up, and the futility of their tails trying to flip the flies away.
There was a moment of darkness as Jack's lighter got too hot in his hands, then he relit it. His face was covered in flies too. Alhena was having fits.
I knew what I had to do.
"Don't look, kids."
Resolutely I strode to the far corner of the room, pulled my pants down, and opened the floodgates on the diarrhea that was longing to breathe.
"SAPPY!" cried Alhena in disbelief.
"Awwww, no, Sappy! No!" said Jack weakly. "Aw, Jesus."
Like a Sumo wrestler, I walked forward while squatting, making sure I spread my mess across the floor's length along one wall.
"What the fuck, Sappy? Like it didn't already stink enough in here," said Jack. He kept staring at me, though, and kept the lighter held up, which I found kinda uncomfortable. Alhena just stood quietly and began to nod knowingly.
"There," I said, wiping my ass with a grocery receipt from my pocket. "Now stand back, watch and learn."
Within ten seconds, every fly in the room had left us and was completely preoccupied with my power-dump.
Jack chuckled. That weird, high-pitched nervous laugh of his.
"Shall we start the staff meeting now?" I said. "First order of business on the agenda, getting the fuck out of here."
Jack kept looking up at the ceiling like he was sure an exit was that way. Alhena was examining the hinges of the door. "Bring that light over here," she barked, and Jack meekly complied.
"These are small hinges for such a heavy door," she mused. "but we know the door has a huge sliding bolt on the other side. No good."
"What's Flimsy's number?" I asked, pulling out my phone. Jack told me. The phone struggled hard to get a signal, but ultimately it failed. Jack and Alhena tried too. Fail.
"I wonder how many animals have died a horrible violent death right here where we're standing," said Jack.
"Hundreds of thousands," Alhena proclaimed, as if she knew it for a firsthand fact.
"Their ghosts are probably lingering right here."
"There's no such thing as ghosts," she said. "Animals don't have souls anyway."
"But... in the casino you mentioned evil spirits."
"Spirits are not ghosts," she replied, looking at Jack as if he were a child. "There are spirits out there, but they are not the souls of dead humans. They were created before mankind."
"Hey," I interrupted, "When you bitches get done with this metaphysical argument, I have a plan."
"Your plans always suck," moaned Jack, as he let go of the lighter button again. Our phones were now illuminating the room a little bit anyway.
"Yeah, but they work, don't they? Let's give Alhena all our phones," I said, handing her mine. "Now, I'll get on Jack's shoulders, and Alhena can climb up to get on mine."
"To see if we can get a better call signal."
Jack sighed as he handed over his phone. It took several minutes and several tries, but eventually we succeeded in creating a human totem pole. Although it wavered and swayed like a palm tree in a hurricane.
"Straighten up! Straighten up!" yelled Alhena.
"I'm not really built for this," yelled Jack back. "And Sappy? You didn't wipe your ass good enough."
"All I had was a Whole Foods receipt," I said, "whaddaya want? I'm risking getting cancer of the ass here from all the chemical shit they put in those receipts."
"I think their receipts are BPA-free now, actually," said Alhena. She's sharp, boy, I tell ya.
"I'm not getting a signal," she said. "Move over that way."
"What are you going to say if you do get through to 911?" asked Jack.
"I'm calling Flimsy, not 911," she yelled. "The last thing we need right now are cops involved in this." I love her.
She tried Jack's phone first because it had Flimsy's number programmed in. I watched her face, dimly illuminated by the phone.
"Not getting a signal," she murmured.
Then she had to do some juggling to enter Flimsy's number on her own phone while still holding Jack's up to see the number. She twisted her body around on my shoulders, watching for a signal.
"We're in!" she exclaimed, like a computer hacker in some movie. "It's weak, but I have a connection."
I could hear the ring of the phone as we all waited. No answer. No voicemail. She dialed again.
I heard a muffled "hello?"
"*Flimsy!* This is Alhena; you just met us at the casino? Girl, we need your help big time. These weirdos locked us in a meat locker in Freberg's meat packing plant. Yeah. I'm serious. Do you know where that is? Okay. Yeah. Well, the front glass door is smashed in, so just be careful entering. Yeah. It's a long story. Okay, when you get in, you go right, then turn left down a long corridor, there's a giant wall-size mural of a happy pig in a chef's outfit holding a cleaver. I know, right? Anyway, go down that corridor and make a right. It's a big metal door with a bar that slides to hold the door shut. Okay. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. Okay. See you soon."
It was perfect timing for her call to end, because that's when Jack's legs gave out. The human totem pole came tumbling down. I landed hard on my hands and knees, and somehow Alhena landed right on her feet, like a cat.
"Sorry," mumbled Jack. Alhena responded with something in her own language that probably translated to "dumbass."
So we sat on the filthy floor, against the wall farthest from my diarrhea, waiting to be rescued. We talked and talked, about movies, music, politics, golf, wrestling, video games, and how hard it is to find a good Philly cheesesteak in Arizona. We'd gone just about stir-crazy by the time we heard Flimsy at the door, an hour and a half later.
"Oh. My. God." hissed Flimsy, recoiling from the smell. I guess we'd gotten used to it. We explained the whole thing to Flimsy, who provided us with something we didn't know: the Freberg meat packing plant hadn't been in businesss for over a decade.
"That blood in there is not a decade old," said Jack, "and obviously, neither are the flies."
"Most likely human," said Alhena, "and our blood would have been next to spill in the morning."