Fred Rowe stares at his reflection. His face hides in the shadows, eyes the most visible. Not bright eyes, instead, jaundiced. Death’s foregone conclusion painting the whites of his eyes yellow. Eyes rounded with old age. Paunchy flesh bags. A few twisted grays snarl within his thick eyebrows.

Rugged splits train-track along his lips. He swipes his tongue along the chapped cracks, and uses his front teeth to rake away dead skin. It stings. When he’s finished, Fred Rowe chews and swallows the bits of dead skin he scraped into his mouth. No flavor, just the empty taste of a life not worth living. A life never lived. A life that tinkers with hell-throned fascinations.

Fred Rowe daydreams about taking his own life.

The old man understands he’s too chickenshit for actual suicide. This is why he just keeps all the suicidal thoughts daydreaming in his head. If he were a braver man, he would have no issue at all with ending his own weathered existence that carries pounds of misery in a backpack, and it’s really absurd to pretend that the pounding little skull nails are not dancing chaos in Fred Rowe’s mind.

He looks to his watch: 2:50 p.m. Five minutes. Fred Rowe only has five minutes.

He gasps, chin pointing up to the metal ceiling, bolts tracking along. He makes fists. Anxious and very shallow breaths. He gasps for air before

(less than five minutes)

he catches his breath.

Fred Rowe knows the pounding little skull nails never intend to kill him. Killing isn’t what these little monsters are all about. Their specialty is to attack his brain. To inflict as much damage as possible without crossing that deadly line. The pounding little skull nails need Fred Rowe alive.

Fred Rowe reaches into the darkness below his seat. He pulls out his backpack, hands trembling. He unzips the bag. Fred Rowe removes the

(REMEDY!)

plastic baggy. His tongue runs raggedly, trembling worse than his hands, over his liquor-dried lips. He opens the baggy. His shaky fingers reach into the baggy. He pulls out three or four or twelve of his little football-shaped pills.

Fred Rowe jams his little football-shaped pills into his mouth. He chews. He chomps. Chomps. CHOMPS! The pills’ bitter taste puts a burning iron to the many canker sores inside his mouth.

Fred Rowe keeps chewing. Swallows. Now Fred Rowe empties the baggy of his little football shaped pills into his mouth. He keeps chewing. He chews so anxiously that his severely chapped lips begin to bleed. Lip blood mixes with pill goop; strings of this pinkish blood-pill-paste connect his upper and lower lips. Frantically Fred Rowe swallows the

(REMEDY)

Rest of the pills.

Quickly, he looks back to his watch: less than three minutes!

Fred Rowe drops the baggy onto the floor below. He wipes his bloody mouth with the cuff of his flannel shirt. Now he takes the thermos out of his knapsack and unscrews its lid.

The pounding little skull nails are coming!

Vodka’s sanitary, rugged aroma escapes the thermos. Fred Rowe knows the pounding little skull nails are watching the clock, getting ready to beeline it to Fred Rowe to POUND! POUND! POUND! his brains out in that unsettling fashion that keeps him breathing just on the threshold of death, but breathing the same, enabling the pounding little skull nails to keep POUNDING Fred Rowe practically every day of his life.

Fred Rowe puts the thermos to his mouth. He jerks his head back and dumps in the booze. Vodka leaks in crystal clear lines down his face. He swallows the vodka hard. Many swallows. The vodka lands in his stomach like a hot brick. Tears run unevenly down the guzzling man’s face.

His gut knots. His gut screams in pain. He keeps swallowing. His right heel smacks, smacks, smacks the hard floor, over and over again. Fred Rowe’s free hand grips his pants, winding the work-blue fabric around his knuckles and into his palm. Tears. Swallow. Burn. Swallow. Pain. The pounding little skull nails.

Vomit races up Fred Rowe’s throat only to be pushed back down by this vodka. Vomit would result in an afternoon without his remedy. Fred Rowe takes the last gulp. This swallow of vodka chainsaws down his esophagus.

Strings of phlegmy saliva dangle from his chin. He takes a deep breath and twitches away the bad feelings. The twitching stops. The pain in his belly transitions into a warm, comforting burn. Fred Rowe stares at his steadying hand.

Less than a minute. LESS THAN ONE MINUTE, FREDDY! And the pounding little skull nails!

POUND!

Fred Rowe takes a steadier breath. He collects himself.

POUND!

He screws the lid back onto the thermos.

POUND! 

Fred Rowe puts the thermos away.

POUND!

He zips his backpack shut.

POUND!

He pushes the backpack back into the darkness beneath his seat.

POUND!

Just outside the narrow window to his immediate right, Fred Rowe sees the pounding little skull nails.

POUND!

It is time.

POUND!

Fred Rowe unlatches the lever with upward motion and pulls it toward him. The door opens. The pounding little skull nails can never find out about Fred Rowe’s truth, that is, the remedy. It’s just safer that way. Fred Rowe puts the Manor Elementary School bus into gear and drives away with the pounding little skull nails.

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