Advertise | Newsletter | About/Subscribe | Submissions | Art Walk | Books | THE2NDHAND Writers Fund

**PRINT: A GAME I ONCE ENJOYED, by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, is THE2NDHANDís 32nd broadsheet. Somerville's work previously appeared in No.24 in 2007, and this Somervilleís second broadsheet since the release of his short-story collection, Trouble, in 2006 marks the first since his novel The Cradle launched into the cultural imagination with coverage in the form of reviews in places as high as the New York Times Book Review. Donít let that turn you off, though; Somervilleís work is viscerally humorous and elegantly dramatic as the best out there, as evidenced in this epic story, about a chess game whose stakes might well be higher than its players know. Also in this issue: a short from Ohio scribe Daniel Gallik.

**WEB: An excerpt from the novel HEARTLESS Eric Durchholz
MR. C.I.A. Gretchen A. Van Lente
PICKY and BLACK MANTA Quincy Rhoads
WING & FLY: MILAM, WIRTHLIN w/ mobile fiction; also: EDGAR MOLLERE, ERIC DURCHHOLZ | Todd Dills

an excerpt from the novel of the same name
Eric Durchholz

Durchholz lives and writes in Nashville, Tenn. This piece is excerpted from his experimental psychological literary horror Heartless, which begins in medias, er, line. If you missed his September East Nashville pub crawl attendant to the book's release, he has designated Nov. 11 as official Human Declaration Day.... Say it: "I AM NOT A ROBOT."

HEARTLESS beginning

The psych tech laughed. She was a black woman. Geraldine was her name. "Ain't gonna be none of that business 'round here."

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

Corazine lifted his head. "Is it true they put saltpeter in the food to make us not wanna fuck?"

"Hush that language," she said and looked down to her magazine. "That don't work nohow."

I stood up to go to another day room. That's all there was to do. Shuffle from room to room.

"Where you think you're going?" Geraldine asked.

"It's cold in here," I said.

She looked at her clipboard. Every Psych Tech had a clipboard that had a chart that told who was in what room at what time. "You only been in here ten minutes. Sit back down."

I complied.

"This is bullshit," Corazine said. "I may as well be back in jail." But I didn't believe him. He had tried to hang himself with a bedsheet in his cell. That's why he was here.

The chill was almost agonizing. I couldn't get my hoodie much tighter without the drawstring, and cold air danced around my frozen earlobes. I glanced at the television mounted in the corner. The news was on. It was almost 9 a.m. Almost time for meds.

The door swung open again. It was a female patient. Mrs. Moody. I'd seen her on the unit a few times since I got in. She didn't look real. Like a CGI character from a movie. Each of her boobs were as big as a watermelon and they hung down about where her belly should be. This upset her posture and she walked like a -- how can I say this without sounding racist? -- a gorilla. And she was black, too. Blacker than any black person I'd ever seen. But parts of her were white. An island of white skin spread from her ear to her chin and a crest of white poked from her shirt and up her neck. She had that disease that Michael Jackson said he had. And the name of it escapes me, now. Vertigo, I think.

I had been in Unit I for nearly 24 hours and had only seen Mrs. Moody from a distance. Mostly sitting by herself on a bench in the enclosed courtyard area. But now she was here in front of me and the chair next to me was empty and she sat down next to me.

"Whachaws name?" she said. A deep southern dialect, almost Cajun, but deeper south. A hidden south.

"Dustin," I said. Her eyes looked like they had been removed from her skull and then replaced haphazardly. One swung wide to the right. The other trained on me. Almost looking through me.

"I's Mrs. Moody," she said, offering her hand. It was ashen, like it was made of burnt wood. Fingers like twigs. "Whachoo doon heah?"

I took her hand and made a mental note to wash mine later. She gripped it tight. I looked to Corazine, who had passed out in his chair. I really didn't want anyone to know why I was here.

"Same as all of us," I said.

"Sadniss," she said, removing her hand from mine and placing it with the other in her lap. "Gits us awl in da end."

She looked at my hoodie and then my pants and then down to my shoes. "Dems awefull nise shoos," she said. "Whachoo doo foh wuk?"

They were cheap Target shoes I had gotten on clearance. I think I paid five bucks for them. "Nothing much anymore," I said. "I lost my job." I didn't verbalize the rest, but she knew. She looked right through me. Saw that nest of emotions. Saw that faucet. The one that spilled a steady stream of negativity across my skull and into my brain. The voices that told me it was all futile. That I would never amount to anything, no matter how hard I tried.

"I ain't nevah had noe job." She looked down at the book in my hand. "Dat a gud buk?"

I nodded and said, "Well, I read it in high school."

"Wishes I cud reed." She looked back up to me. At least one eye did, the other eye stayed on the book. The effect was unnerving, and if she was a CGI character, it must have taken millions of dollars and a team of 17 people working round the clock to bring her to life. Her short tight afro, matted in places. "I's wut dey calls a sloe lerner." She put an ashen hand to her temple where a scar was. It touched the edge of the white skin island. "Wuz hit en da hed bye a swang." She removed her hand and placed it in her lap. "Thangs mite has bend diffunt iffn I hadda nawt ben hit by dat swang."

Then her other eye moved from the book and both looked at me. "Lawts of thangs can be diffnt." And both her arms reached out suddenly and grabbed me.

Without warning the door to Day Room #3 swung open again, hitting my chair. It was Gilmer, the dude that kept calling Cory by his nickname.

"Wake up, Corazine!" He shook Corazine by his thighs.

"Fuck off," Corazine said, still half in slumber. And his fist found Gilmer's stomach. It was a weak punch, one that Gilmer capitalized on. He sat on Corazine and farted.

Gilmer laughed.

"Y'all boys knock it off," said Geraldine, rustling her magazine.

Corazine was too drugged to fight Gilmer and soon two psych techs were in the room.

"Y'all getting a shot," one of them said.

"I don't want no fucking shot!" Gilmer yelled.

The two techs wrestled Gilmer to the ground. The charge nurse, Amy, appeared and handed one of the techs a shot probably filled with Haldol. The tech shoved the needle into Gilmer's arm, and he kicked and screamed. Amy produced another shot and Corazine stood up and his scrub pants fell down around his ankles. He turned around, offering his eager ass, most likely not for the first time. The tech shoved the needle into one of his butt cheeks. Corazine bent over to pull his scrub pants up but ended the move in his chair face-down.

The fight drained out of Gilmer, and he was half-dragged, half-escorted out of Day Room #3. They left Corazine in the chair.

The whole time Mrs. Moody didn't let me go, her ashen hands squeezing me hard around my wrists. And when the commotion had subsided, she asked me: "Yew wants thangs to be diffnt?"

"Will you let me go if I say yes?"

She grinned. She was missing most of her teeth. "Sawwy," and her hands slipped off my arms, leaving a residue of her skin on the sleeves of my hoodie. And Day Room #3 was quiet awhile. Mrs. Moody had trained both of her eyes on the television. I opened A Separate Peace and read. The part where Phineas confronts Gene about what happened at the lake with the tree branch.

One of the psych techs came in. "Justin?" he asked.

I shook my head. "It's Dustin," I said.

He looked at his sheet, perplexed. "Ah yeah," he said. "It's time for you to see your social worker."

I stood up and made my way for the door.

"Thangs goan be diffnt, boy," Mrs. Moody said, not taking her eyes from the television. "Imma goan pray fohyuh. Imma goan pray."

Unit 1 was laid out a lot like a roach motel. It consisted of three Day Rooms, all of which had semi-comfortable fake leather chairs pressed against both walls. Between the Day Rooms were hallways where the patients were not allowed to linger. There was one bathroom that had to be unlocked by a psych tech. There was room for thirty patients, but the unit was normally filled with about twenty. All of the patients had either tried to commit suicide or had expressed an interest to do so. Some wore bandages on their wrists; others, like me, had a bright band of red skin around their necks, the sign of an almost-hanging.

I was ushered into a narrow hallway filled with offices and meeting rooms. The tech knocked on a door, which was answered by a woman with painfully bleached blonde hair. Her sharp nose held up a pair of glasses that had no doubt been pulled off again and again amidst sighs of frustration. She looked at me, her face a question mark.

"This is Justin Conners," said the tech.

"Dustin Conrad," I said.

"Yeah," said the tech.

"Come in," said the woman. Her office was strewn with paperwork. Pictures of her children bloomed from every surface. "I'm Ella, your social worker," she said. "Sit down here." She motioned to a stained chair right beside her desk. I did so. She opened a huge black binder with my name on the side. "OK, I'm gonna ask you some questions, some you've already answered, so just bear with me." She turned to a page, smoothed it out and grabbed a pen from on overstuffed cup on her desk. "Have you ever been involved in counseling?"

I nodded.

She sighed. "I'm going to need you to say either yes or no."

"Yes," I said.

"OK, great," she made a scribble in the binder. "Do you currently use alcohol?"


"How much do you drink a day?"

"About five or six beers," I said. "Sometimes Jager Bombs if the mood is right."

She made a scribble and said, "What is a Jager Bomb?"

"It's a shot made with Jagermeister and Red Bull."

She made a gagging sound. "Yuck, OK. Next question. Do you use non-prescription drugs?"

I paused for a second. If I told her yes then they would invariably halt my Ativan, and I needed it while I was in here. But if I told her no and then they got a look at my past records then they would halt it anyway. How fast could they get medical records anyway?

"Not anymore," I said.

"So you've had treatment for substance abuse?"

"Not really," I said.

She sighed and put down her pen. "Let's just stick to yes or no answers, OK? I've got a lot of people to see today. So, do you use non-prescription drugs?" She picked up her pen.

"No," I said.

"Have you ever been physically abused?"


"Have you ever been emotionally abused?"


"And who emotionally abused you?"

I sighed and took a deep breath. "Me."

She rolled her eyes. "You emotionally abused yourself?"


"All right," she said, jotting down many notes.

"OK, is there a history of mental health problems in your family? This is a yes or no question, OK?"

"I was adopted."

She was getting aggravated. "Do you know your birth parents?"

"Sorta," I said.

"OK, let's just move on. Have you ever attempted suicide?"


"Have you ever been hospitalized for mental health reasons?"


"All right, finally. In a few sentences, can you tell me why you're here?" She didn't look up to me.

"I have this faucet above my head and it keeps a steady flow of negative voices--"

"--you hear voices?" She sounded excited.

"No, not voices... It's my voice, but it keeps telling me that I am worthless and that everything I do is futile and that I am never going to make anything of myself so I may as well not even bother. And yesterday I just couldn't take it anymore so we were out at Beyond the Edge--"

"What's that? The edge of what?"

"Beyond the Edge. It's a bar."

She nodded and wrote notes in the binder. "Your blood alcohol level was through the roof when you came in."

"There were Jager Bombs," I smiled.

She did not smile back. "So what happened after that?"

"Well, Sam -- that's my best friend -- he was gonna meet me, but he was late and I was sitting there drinking beers cause it was two for one and then at seven it was $5 Jager Bombs and Sam never showed up and the faucet was running pretty hard and I went to where I was staying and I--"

"You are staying with someone, you don't have a place of your own?"

"No, I am staying with... Her name is Meredith, but I doubt she wants me there now."

"Is she your girlfriend?"

"No," I said, looking at my hands. "She's just some girl that picked me up at 3 Crow."

"3 what?"

"3 Crow Bar. It's in East Nashville... 5 Points."

She shrugged. "So you go out to bars a lot?"

I thought for a moment. "Pretty much," I said.

"All right," she said. "Do you have any plans to harm yourself now?"

"No," I lied.

She scribbled something in her binder. "OK, well that's about it." And she promptly closed it. She stood up.

"You've seen your doctor...so I am going to recommend a discharge this afternoon."

"What?" I was not ready to go. I had just barely settled into Unit I.

"There's no need for you to stay here. I'll get your papers together. Do you need to make a phone call?" She picked up the phone and handed it to me. I called Sam. He was aggravated that he was going to have to take off work but he agreed to come get me. Once the arrangements were made, I was given a piece of paper with information on medication and follow-up appointments with a therapist.

And once Sam arrived, I was ushered out of Unit I, with its day rooms and people who saw things that weren't there. As I left, I turned back and saw Mrs. Moody staring at me. With both eyes.

**SUBSCRIBE TO THE2NDHAND if you like reading our our respective broadsheet and online series -- any donation above $30 gets you a LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION to THE2NDHAND's quarterly broadsheet. See this page or send a payment through PayPal here:

OUR FRIENDS AT The Left Hand make great soap, salves, balms and other natural hygiene-type stuff, in addition to publishing a zine and running a book swap, a performance series and more from their Tuscaloosa, AL, homebase. When they offered to make something for us, we jumped. We introduce THE2NDHAND soap, an olive oil soap with a quadruple dose of Bergamot, "for the readers we've sullied..." Price is $6, ppd.