Bad: A Memoir of Good & Evil
Couldn't Call It Unexpected
Cyn & Tangents
Lead Paint Double Date Set Diaries
Moving to Mars
New Roman Times
Saint Red
Suspension of Disbelief
What Fools


New Roman Times
Part 3 - Homeless

By Joshua Corin

"Ok, I gots the shit, but you gotta promise me you ain’t not gonna tell nobody who gave it to you, amen?"

"Booboo," I replied, "you have my word."

He slipped the rolled parchment into my pocket and went on his way. His services had cost me $75. Punchy would pay $100 for proof Booboo was back on the streets.

$25 would buy me some new shoes.

The easier route, of course, would have been to just steal them off another soul’s feet while he was sleeping, but so few of my new comrades wore size 15. Thank you, Mother, for passing on your gigantism. Sometimes, when the half-healed blisters pocking the bottoms of my feet ripped open while scraping against filthy street, I didn’t feel as guilty for decapitating you and Father.

Before heading down Punchy’s way, I took the crosstown bus to the Crowley College stop. I made sure, as I lay across the handicap seats, to belch and fart and mumble so everyone would stare. Some days, a guy just needs some attention.

The ride to Crowley College was a scenic twenty minutes. I hopped off the bus, handed the driver a sodden piece of my coat as a tip, and ambled up the green hill. I knew the way.

The philosophy department was housed in a stout brick building near the south quad. No security guards impeded my journey. No professors accosted this raggedy redhead marching through their academic wonderland. I entered the building and descended the stairwell and approached Jessie Juniper’s office door without a single obstacle.

Everyone is invisible on a college campus.

As I raised my fist to rap on Jessie’s door, I noticed the knuckles of my fingers had become dirty again, as if I spent my days like an ape, walking to and fro with a humped back and dangling arms. Did filth grow on me now? Would I soon sprout weeds from my scalp? Would filth begin to randomly dot my body like acne?

I knocked twice before she opened the door. Her twenties had not been kind to Jessie Juniper. Her short, little girl body had bloated to almost two hundred pounds, stretching her floral print blouse taut not only across her amorphous chest but also along her weighty arms. Only her hair had loss mass; what once had been a pompous afro had been reduced to a dark, oily crew cut.

"Go away," she rasped, and pushed close the door.

I blocked it at the frame with my long bony foot. "You know why I’m here, Jessie," I said.

Her eyes refused to meet my stare. Yes, she knew why I was here. Ten years ago, we had both been so callow, dipping our toes into the pool of magic arts. Had we only been aware of the beasts waiting for us underneath the water’s lip.

"I’m not interested," she lied.

She had made our first successes. While I had emptied myself into tome after tome, failing to decipher ancient texts, Jessie had gone to the streets to find the real juice. The night she’d returned to our apartment with the orange tattoo, everything changed.

I shoved my way into her office. The college had given her cramped quarters, but she had prettied it up with candles and decorative sashes.

"Very nice," I said. "Very ‘Bedouin witch.’"

"I won’t ask you again."

"Good." I smiled down at her black scalp. "Because you sound so silly when you do."

Finally, her gaze lifted. As much as her body had swollen, her blue eyes had become feeble; what once beamed now barely flickered. I felt momentarily sad for the old girl.

It passed.

"You couldn’t have done this at my apartment?"

I sat down in one of the room’s two chairs. The wood squeaked under my lanky weight. "You would never have let me in the front door. This way, we get to see each other. Have you missed me, Jessie?"

She took the other seat, behind her desk. No doubt she wanted the desk between us, not to keep me at a distance but to hold her own temptation at bay. Oh, Jessie, you poor soul.

"Let’s get this over with. What have you got?"

I withdrew Booboo’s parchment and tossed it across the desk.

Naturally, she didn’t unroll it.

"What is it?"

I shrugged.

"What is it?"

I sighed.

"What. Is. It?"

"Jessie," I replied, "you know I can’t read it."

The night of the orange tattoo, she had come home late. I knew what she’d been doing, and half-wished I had joined her. Instead I had opted to study for our mid-terms. When she’d slammed open the door at 3:46 a.m. and bellowed out a name I had never heard before, I knew something had happened.

I found her on her knees on the living room rug. Her hands were digging like a gardener’s at the carpet. With her shirt half-open, I could easily see the mark painted over her left breast. It was the chalk-orange palm print of a child…only the four fingers were bent at strange angles and the thumb seemed abnormally long, almost phallic. What in the name of God had happened?

Jessie lay herself down flat on the carpet and began to sob. I bent down to caress her shoulders and she flinched away.

After that night, she could read the ancient texts. She could now do other things, too, but I wouldn’t find out about that until much later. I also wouldn’t find out until much later what price she’d had to pay.

In her office, the candlelight cast thousands of tiny shadows across her scarf-lined walls. I leaned back in my creaking chair and watched her, waiting for the inevitable. She would open the scroll. She would read the spell. I would find out what I wanted, and then by nightfall deliver the parchment to Punchy for my $25.

So imagine my surprise when instead of unrolling the document and returning to the arcane world in which she belonged, Jessie Juniper picked up the spell and lobbed it into her wastepaper basket.

"Anything else?" she asked. "Because I’ve got office hours."

I felt my dirt-stained knuckles scratching up and down the legs of my chair. How could she so casually – so callously – have thrown away this opportunity? True, she wasn’t aware of my personal stake, but even if she had been informed, would her initial reaction have been different?

So I changed the topic:

"How have you been, Jessie? How is your life?"

"My dissertation is finished." She leaned back, smugly. "I go before committee next week."

"Right. Your dissertation. ‘The Influence of David Hume on Contemporary Satanic Philosophy.’ Well, congratulations. It is spectacular to see that all your ducks are in a row. No wonder you have no need for my meager offerings."

I lifted erect my tall frame. A hole in my coat caught on one of the chair’s arms; threads parted with ease, barely even making a whimper.

"Jesus…" she muttered. "When was the last time you ate?"

"It’s been a pleasure, Jessie. Truly."

I shrugged my coat away from the chair and headed for her office door.

"Just like that?" She rose her substantial mass from her seat. "That’s it?"

My hand rested on the cold brass doorknob. "What else is there?"

She reached into the basket. "Don’t forget this."

"Keep it," I replied. "After all, what good is it to me?"
I turned the knob slowly.

I opened the door.


Ah. There it was. The unmistakable crisp sound of centuries-old parchment unrolling.

I closed the door.

Painting innocence on my face, I turned to see her. The paper trembled in her hands. No – her hands were trembling and the paper was merely along for the ride. Gagging noises erupted, as if a swarm of cockroaches had suddenly lodged inside her throat; that plump tongue of hers slithered out and whipped left and right, left and right.

Finally, I spoke:

"Am I now addressing the spirit of Torath-Gol?"

"I AM TORATH-GOL." Her voice-box struggled with each word. I could only imagine the long term damage. Well, I needed a medium.

"Torath-Gol, you are great and mighty. I will not waste your time. Surely you already know the reason I have summoned you."


A small red patch, no larger than a dime, suddenly appeared under Jessie’s left eye. I noticed several more on her hands. Those would be the blood vessels bursting. I didn’t have much time.

"Then omniscient spirit, I beseech you. Is there an answer to my longing?"

Her eye whites were filling with blood. Thin scarlet trickles, like tears, ran down to her jowls. "I HAVE CONTACTED THE GATESMAN. HE WILL ACCEPT YOUR TRADE."

"That’s wonderful! Thank you, great and mighty Torath-Gol." The candlelight circled around the room in incandescent jubilee. "For your services, I offer you this woman’s soul. Enjoy."


Jessie Juniper, quite dead, collapsed to the floor.

The Gatesman had accepted my trade! I felt like dancing a jig. Quickly I maneuvered out of the dank brick building and bussed back downtown, hopping off at Cider Street. Surely some hapless freshman, arriving to discuss his term paper, had by now discovered Jessie’s crimson corpse.

Jessie and I had met during a postmodernism class our first year of grad school. She’d come from Alaska, while I was a homegrown New Roman. I showed her around, highlighting the cool night spots most Crowley students frequented and the cooler alternative night spots I preferred. While riding the Cobra down at Bayside Thrill Park, she kissed me. She was young, intelligent, lithe. I was clean cut. Back then I had money in my wallet. Back then I had a wallet. We would head down to New Roman Tomes and browse for hours, trading tales of the occult with the shop’s old owner, Edgar Cleeman.

After the night of the orange tattoo, however, she refused to join me on any more visits to New Roman Tomes. She also refused to tell me why. One evening, not many weeks later, she sat me down on our pink sofa and held my hand and told me she was moving out.

"We’re too different now," she’d said. "It’s not something I can put into words. There are some things I’ll never be able to explain to you now."

"So show me," I’d replied. "Show me."

Strolling down Cedar Street, I fingered the stiff parchment, once again rolled up and safely tucked inside a pocket. Booboo would be torn apart for dealing curses again, but he never should have shorted me in that Belasco trade. Before visiting Punchy, though, I paid a quick stop to my cart, secured beside a dumpster down a nameless alleyway, and sucked down some stolen pudding. My decayed teeth couldn’t handle anything more substantial.

The Gatesman had a distinctive aura. That was how he would be recognized. I had to remember to buy some cheap aura-divining tools from Punchy. So went my desire for new sneakers, but I had older dreams to fulfill.

If all went right, my parents would soon be back home.

Go to Part 4