Summer Cannibals

You are in a maze of twisty cubicles all alike. The coder behind you is named Benjamin, and he hasn’t seen the light of the sun in seven days. They have no windows here, no windows at all. The coders to the left and right are falling asleep, nodding off, their drooping heads rattling calendars with kittens on them. It’s been so long since you’ve slept or ate, but you can’t drift off, not now. Not while you’re working, if Mister Lynn knew you slept ever slept ever at all he had would have you fired or destroyed or eaten alive by the software lions they keep in coded cages. Your screen flashes, begging to be fed some algorithms from the command line. 

What do you do?

>Stand up

I don’t understand that command.

>Talk to Benjamin

I don’t understand that command.

>Quit my job.

I don’t understand that command

>Quit this game.

I don’t understand that command

>Scream and howl and scream and howl


Rob wakes up and sees he’s drooling on his keyboard and his head is imprinted with keys and he wonders where he is. For a moment he thinks he’s at work and panics again because sleeping at work is bad. Shit, bad, shit. Then he looks up and he laughs and almost pisses himself laughing because he’s at home, yeah, and his Commodore 64 is dialed into some BBS, and he thinks he must’ve fallen asleep playing Red Dragon again.

From the stairs he hears Ben shout down, “Hey come on man, you’re killing me.”

And he goes up and looks up the basement steps and calls up, “What are you talking about?”

How could you log off like that? We were so close, you know that? So damned close, and now you know what?  Jen and those punks are going to get those experience points before we do. Is that what you want? We quit that job for a reason, right? Right? This is part of it, so don’t you dare back out on me now.”

Look, Ben, I don’t care, okay? I don’t. I fell asleep playing again, and I can’t keep doing that.”

So what. Even half awake you were kicking ass, giving our team all the points. BOOM! We were rocking it.”

Rob scratches his head for a second and heads up the steps, pushing Ben aside. Ben shoves him against the kitchen wall. Face against face. “Don’t push me.”

Come on, I was just going to take a piss.”

Don’t push me or you’ll be pissing your pants.”

All right man, all right.”

We’re going out, come on, let’s get out of here.”

Rob doesn’t want to leave, doesn’t want to follow Ben anywhere. But he knows he has no choice, he always has no choice. That’s why he quit working for InfinteGames, they both quit and now he’s got nothing anymore. Why does he do what Ben says? Why is it always that way?

Ben yanks on his arm and off they go they’re going off and running again, outside, to the car, taking off Dukes of Hazzard style. Overhead the moon is plump and hungry and the stars are cowering behind clouds. It’s moonful night alright, the kind of night with a light shutting out shadows of all sorts.

They’re in a field one of those long rows of cornfields outside of each interstate, waiting for people to go and get lost in them and never be found again. He’s there with Ben and they stand there, guns in hands, small black guns all shiny and full of death. He knows why Ben brought him here, why Ben always brings him here.

Come on you ass, show me what you got. Point that gun at the fucker.”

Guns raised up and for a moment Rob thinks of swinging it over at Ben and pop pop Ben’s head bursts in red. But he doesn’t because it’s just a thought. Thoughts have no weight in reality, not in his reality. Here, all his thoughts float away and go up and up are eaten by that hungry greedy moon. No, he clears his head and points that gun at the scarecrow.

It’s got a black bag over its head, and arms bound around its back. For a moment, just a single moment, Rob thinks it’s moving. It’s moving and someone is trapped in there. He knows it, he feels it in his gut, that this scarecrow is just a person, trapped. He thinks of people being stolen away with black bags over their heads and shoved into white vans. Part of him wants to scream and cry but instead he just fires the gun. It sounds like a canon and his arm jerks back and he realizes his eyes water up. Not tears, but something else, something like tears.

The scarecrow moves back with the blast of the bullet. Arms break free and straw scatters around them. For a moment Rob lets out his breath. Not a person. Not a person at all.

Nice shot cowboy, nice shot. Don’t think it’s good enough though. Don’t ever think it’s good enough.”

Rob laughs, wipes his eyes with his sleeve.

Yeah right, never good enough. Come on, you go. Let’s see how good you are.”

Ben smirks with moustache smirking and laughs. “Oh boy, come on now. You know what I got. You know it.”

He pulls his hand up and doesn’t even aim, doesn’t move doesn’t twitch. Rob watches him and thinks this is like painting. Like Ben is painting the air with smoke and fire and bullets and death. He holds his breath as Ben pulls the trigger so fast, so many shots, and doesn’t even blink or twitch or anything.

He holds the smoking gun up to his lips then and blows on it. “Bad ass. That’s what I am, bad ass. Come on junior, let’s keep going. We need to get you good. Come on now.”

Don’t call me junior.”

Laughs, pats him in the back.

I’ll stop it when you grow the fuck up. Now come on, show me some more, lay it down. Give that scarecrow another whallop.”

For a moment Rob pulls the gun up, right up to his mouth, his hands folded around it like he’s praying, like he’s asking for some Saint some angel some god of some sort to come down and take the gun from his hands. Or to just have the gun go off in his face and stop it all for once, just stop it all.

This is stupid.”

No it’s not, come on now. You know what we’re doing. You know it’s right.”

No, this is stupid. I’m not getting anywhere at all. Come on, let’s go, let’s get out of here already.”

Ben isn’t cross, Rob was worried that Ben would punch him and then one of them would fire the guns and it would be over. For a moment he felt death and wanted it. “You just need confidence, okay? That’s it. You need to trust it, to stop being afraid of yourself.”



Okay already, okay.”


Later that night they stop by the 7–11 and get some orange juice. They stand outside, smoking, drinking the juice, pretending that they’re not doing anything but bullshitting. But in reality they were looking across the street. Looking at the large towering building, filled with computers and software disks on large floppies.

You sure this is right?”

How could it not be right, Robert?”

Don’t call me that.”

Oh shut up. I’ll call you anything I want whenever I want.”


You know it’s right.”

They stop for a moment and a breeze picks up, and Rob thinks of the scarecrow again. Baghead scarecrow shot up and twitching. And he thinks back to the news, about seeing people being taken from their homes in white vans, taken away to who knows where.

The gun feels so cold in his pocket.

I just don’t see the need for this, you know? I just don’t see how it’s necessary.”

Well, how is anything necessary, huh? How is any of this necessary? What’s the point in anything? I say, we make our own points, we do what we want and we make the universe take care of us, take care of us according to our own rules.”

Man, you’re not making any sense.”

Ben stops and stands still and he breathes in the air and Rob wishes he was somewhere else, somewhen else, something else, anything else. He just didn’t want to be him anymore, he didn’t want to exist anymore. He just wanted to become the void, to become nothing and be nothing and all things at once. Maybe in death his life would have meaning? Or maybe in life death has meaning, or maybe there is always meaning and non meaning, a fluctuation between void and matter, always dipping and dancing.

Ben closes his eyes. Does Ben want the void as well?

I’ll just pretend you didn’t say that.”

Then the breathing slows and they finish their smokes and orange juice and walk back to the car. As they drive away Rob looks up and sees the moon caught in the telephone wires and part of him wants to reach out and untangle it. And maybe the moon will fly up then, like a balloon moon, fly up and flitter among the stars.


A week later and he’s drunk in an arcade. He’s got the gun in his back pocket and a bottle Jack propped up on the cabinet. He screams, yells, puts in more quarters. His hair is greasy and in his eyes and he feels like the world spins and then stops and spins again. Puts in another quarter, drinks some more. With each second his pixel avatar on the screen dies, and with each quarter he is brought back to life. Life and death and void and time. Quarters gain more, get more, extra lives, extra seconds, pushing back the inevitable.

He drinks some more and feels the gun in his pocket. It’s cold and heavy and weighs on him like everything else. Like the cycle of the universe, weighing on him, so heavy with each repetition. A crushing weight, an elephant on his chest. His character dies again and he’s out of change. By time he goes to the change machine and gets some quarters for this dollar he’ll be dead and dead and he’ll have to start over again. The game again, from the beginning again, and he will have to perform the same actions again and again.

Futile, futile, he is about ready to pull out his gun, to end this game forever, when he feels a warm hand on his shoulder. He turns around and sees Jen there with a quarter in her hand. He takes it, quickly, muttering a thanks, plopping it in, playing again and again and again.


It’s pitch dark. You smell something in the air, like exhaust, and hear the sounds of cars driving by and two people talking in the front seat. Man and woman talking, that you can tell. You realize you have a black bag over your head, and that someone had shoved the bag over your head while you were walking down the street. And then you felt something hard and sharp and next thing you know you were out like a light. Now you’re awake. You hear the car radio playing Patti Smith’s “Summer Cannibals.”

What do you do?

>Try to take the bag off.

I don’t understand that command.

>Call for help

I don’t understand that command.

>Try to remove my bonds.

I don’t understand that command.

>Scream and howl and scream and howl


Rob’s at Jen’s apartment, they’re on the couch, laughing and watching television. They’ve talked and talked, and now he realizes it’s been so long since he’s felt this. Since he’s felt light enough to float away and he wonders how his life got so dark lately.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What did you want to be when you grew up?”

A cowboy.”

Really? A cowboy.”

Yeah, really, no shitting. My dad was a huge John Wayne fan and loved reading those old paperback westerns. He used to read the shit out of them to me when I was a kid, and so that was it. I wanted to be a cowboy.”

What kind of hat would you wear?”

What’s that supposed to mean?”

You know, white hat, black hat?”

He thinks about the gun he left in her car when she wasn’t looking. He thinks about shooting that scarecrow, about wanting to shoot that game, about wanting to shoot Ben. He feels a pain welling up inside of him, knowing exactly which hat he was going to wear.

Instead, the subject changes quickly, quickly. On the television flashes an image of a man being shoved into a white van, a black bag over his head. The picture is grainy and from a distance, and you could tell the camera caught this whole thing on accident.

Earlier today a film crew spotted another kidnapping while shooting a movie. This is the latest in a large wave of kidnappings that some people are calling the work of a local Satanic Cult.”

Images on the screen of a pentagram spray painted over a bridge. Cut to the cover of a heavy metal album, being tossed into the flames at a church rally. Cut to the picture of a priest over top of a possessed little girl, who claimed to be an ex-member of the cult. Cut to pictures of corpses, of little boys and girls, of tall women, of short men, all dead, all dead, with bites taken out of them, with symbols carved into their bodies.

Jen shuts off the TV and holds herself. She is shivering and Rob feels like he should do something, put an arm around her or something to help her out. He never knows how to react to other people’s emotions.

Are you okay?”

Yeah… no… I don’t know. Why did you quit working with us? Was it me? Did you not like working with me?”

He looks out the window.

I don’t know, I just… I don’t know.”

Ben’s not a good person. You know that, right?”

Yeah. I do.”

She nods and he feels like he should go, he should leave.  He gets up and she looks at him with pleading eyes, eyes asking him not to go, not to leave her here. He stops, thinks he should stay, just a little longer. She needs him to stay.

But his hat is black and he goes out the door.


The sky is summer blue even in the thick of autumn and they’re sitting in a parking lot two blocks away. Their car is far away from the scene of the crime, making it harder to trace them and get caught. This was Ben’s idea, this was all Ben’s idea. Rob admits that. Rob knows it’s not too late to turn around, never too late to go back and do something else.

His breath is thick and heavy in his lungs.

You ready cowboy?”

He mumbles yeah yeah.

Louder cowboy, come on. You ready?”


Good. Let’s go and do this then.”

They pull out masks and slide them over their faces. Rob feels confined, trapped under the mask, like the mask is an elephant sitting on his skull, crushing the bones and brain. His breath slows and quickens and slows again. He feels the void everywhere, sees the void everywhere. The void is in the gun he pulls out, the void is the bullets and the barrel and the gun. Ben pulls out his gun too and now they’re walking. The pace is slow, as if they could just take their time, walking down the street with hidden faces and pistols in hand.

Nobody seems to notice them as they walk by. The crowd parts and nobody even looks at them. Each person a world in itself, floating by other worlds, never seeing outside of their own atmosphere, not even once. The guns don’t even register. No threat, no reality. Only voids and more voids walking. Voids not caring. No one caring.

Rob wants the void to stop. He wonders if Jen could somehow help him get this void to stop, to get everything to stop. He stands still. He is a stone now, a stone in a river of people.  Ben turns and looks at him. They stare, face to face, eye to eye, guns poised.

You sure?”

Rob nods.

Okay, maybe you’re right. Maybe this isn’t the way. Let’s not do this after all.”

They say nothing. They say not a word as a white van speeds past them, off and away. Cop sirens blaring as they take their masks off, put their guns back in their pockets. For a moment Rob thinks of running after them, maybe putting his white hat on, saving some person trapped in the backseat, setting them free from whatever fate awaited them.

But then he realizes his feet aren’t that fast, they will never be that fast.


Later that night he ends up at Jen’s apartment. He has no gun and no mask, he’s just shaking as he knocks. He waits for a response, knocks again, hears nothing. He listens closely to the door, listening for sounds of life. Her car was in the parking lot. Why wasn’t she there? Was she pretending to be gone? Was she pretending to be missing? He knocks again and again and again and now he’s pounding on the door and he screams and howls and then scrapes his hands and kicking and yelling some more and he wishes for his gun, he would just blow the lock off, just like they do on television, he would just pull it out and pretend the lock was a scarecrow in a field and blam blam blam the lock would fall off…

But his gun is gone at home and he’s got nothing here anymore. Jen, he whispers into the door, come on and open up, come on and let me in, come on I need to talk, come on Jen please I need to talk just open the door. Nothing, nothing, a void of sounds. He walks outside, down the street, looks at her car. He tries to find signs of life, like she’s hiding in the car, like she’s laying there waiting for him. All he sees are dirty wrappers from discarded fast food dinners. Nothing else.

He walks away and thinks about white vans and black hoods and now he’s running, running down the street. He can’t stop running, not with the sun in the sky, not with the cold wind biting his face and skin. He runs and runs and he wants to run away from everything. He pushes people aside, shoves them down as he runs, knocking them out of their voids, making them exist and be real just for once. He runs on and keeps running. He doesn’t want to think, he doesn’t want to know anything anymore. He just wants to stop, to stop existing all together.


You’re visiting a grave of an old friend. All the flowers are dead, and the granite is rain worn and crying out for upkeep. You want to clean the whole area, to make it so nice and clean for her. Like her whole life was defined by this grave, and if her life were to mean anything she should have a clean place to show the world who she was.

What do you do?


 I don’t understand that command.


I don’t understand that command.


I don’t understand that command.


About the Author

Paul Jessup

Paul Jessup is an award winning author, poet and playwright. He has appeared in many different magazines and anthologies over the years and currently has three books out (Werewolves,Glass Coffin Girls, and Open Your Eyes).



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