SmokeLong Quarterly
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by Robert J. Bradley

Hugoís 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 Hugoís palm with a nail.

"This is going to hurt," says Peter.

Thereís a dull thrust and pounding sensation in Hugoís 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 Hugoís other palm. "Howís that?"

"It fucking hurts, you asshole." He catches his breath. "Once you nail someoneís hand to a crossbeam you donít ask, howís that, okay? You donít say anything. You just step back. Make room. Go sit somewhere and try not to annoy the person. Let him just be."

"Relax, Iíll 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. Itís everywhere, the throb. Itís 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 thereís 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 Hugoís starched white pajama tops. He places one end of the straw in the bottle and the other against Hugoís 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? Iím not getting the full effect."

"What effect are you looking for, exactly?"

"The anguish, the heroic suffering and shit."

"My arms are killing me."

"Iím 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?"

"Iím just saying."

"Can I get some peroxide for this?

"Iím on it."

Hugo clears his throat. "Letís film first. Pick up the camera."

"Got it. Ready? Action."

"Donít say, action."

"Okay, fine. What should I say?"

"Just turn the camera on. Thatís all you have to do." He does.

"Thank you." Hugo clears his throat. "Your gods have enfeebled you. Ignorance and cunning run the show. Youíre 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 wouldnít be home till later?"

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

"Hon, youíre early."

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

"I have to go."

"Oh, no you donít. Get him down off that. Whose idea was this?"

"Wasnít 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."

"Itís an austerity. Itís an indifference to the fucked up world we live in. Iím alone up here. And nothing can touch me."

"Thatís right," says Peter.

"Youíre alone? Whatís wrong with you?"

"I donít know," Hugo says. "Something."

"Hugo?" She raises her hands.

Hugoís eyes roll, and his chin falls forward. And thereís a sudden glare.

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2015 by its authors.

Robert Bradley has a story in the 2007 anthology, The Apocalypse Reader, that is taken from his just completed 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.

Read the interview.
Issue Eighteen (September 15, 2007): When the Toasts Stopped Being Funny by Steve Almond «» Nailed by Robert J. Bradley «» Raymond Carver by Dan Chaon «» The Sound of Success by Terry DeHart «» Ethnic Lego Girls Carry Spears by Heidi W. Durrow «» Mole Man by Stuart Dybek «» Party by Emily Fridlund «» From Halliville To Grice's Town by Jason Jackson «» Starfish by Jeff Landon «» Insomnia of an Elderly French Designer by Sean Lovelace «» Display by Davin Malasarn «» Little Bones by Kuzhali Manickavel «» Stigmata by Susan O'Neill «» Inroads by Dominic Preziosi «» Bachon by Teri Davis Rouvelas «» Voc Rehab Vignettes by Jessica Schantz «» Neighbors by Curtis Smith «» Caging the Thing by Beth Thomas «» Interviews: Steve Almond «» Robert J. Bradley «» Randall Brown «» Dan Chaon «» Terry DeHart «» Heidi W. Durrow «» Stuart Dybek «» Emily Fridlund «» Jason Jackson «» Jeff Landon «» Sean Lovelace «» Davin Malasarn «» Kuzhali Manickavel «» Mary Miller «» Susan O'Neill «» Dominic Preziosi «» Teri Davis Rouvelas «» Jessica Schantz «» Curtis Smith «» Beth Thomas «» Cover Art "Repression of an Open Mind" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor
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