Photo by Jaunathan Gagnon on Unsplash



short story: M80


I remember telling my parents that I was destined to get along with Bud Lykke, with that prosocial name of his, but I didn’t expect such a character. Each morning, he pours a bit of coffee into the hanging plants. After dinner he spends hours inside chunky headphones with “Binaural Beats” blaring, engineered to trigger dissociative states. He grew up in Appalachia, some obscure county in Ohio, and blames his ills on the heavy fracking around there, radioactivity in the drinking water. Rural poverty, he tells me, is a pent-up life. His limbs quiver as he listens to hypnotic beats and when he’s finished he tells me the same story about a swarm of floating thumbs trying to stuff themselves in his ears. He recently blew off most of his own thumb with a cherry bomb in the park outside the city, which he calls “The Pines.” The wound was jagged and shocking but I wonder if he did it to himself. He’s the one who told me an M80 fuse lasts 3 to 4 seconds. He prounces M80 “matey,” as in “mate.” A great companion, Bud. We’re like brothers, though he’s hard to identify with. My friends from college love my tales about him. Bud grows mushrooms, which receive that daily dose of the old bean juice, for reasons not understood, and keeps a pet Colorado River Toad in a tank by the window. The toad, called Keith, is basically a skipping stone with eyes. Saturday mornings, Bud heads to The Pines to blow stuff up with illegal fireworks. He paints faces on them, little explosive craniums, and gives them all names. There’s something deliciously male about handheld explosives, he explains to me. I accompanied him once, clutching a fistful of gunpowder globes, marveling at The Pines and toeing the soggy heels of logs. When Bud found an old boot to disintegrate, it wasn’t all that delicious or male. The bundle of Bud’s faces burst and a peppery smog rose from tattered laces. He punched the sky in victory, his flathead thumb bookended by a white ring. I often worry for him—the imposing pile of “mateys” by his bed could detonate a real certified cranium.

The other thing about him is his loneliness. I email my old classmates about his gloomy habits. Like, at work he eats in the bathroom stall. He taps “mark as unread” on old messages to simulate new notifications, and if I’m out of the house with my gang, he takes himself out to dinner, usually for Ethiopian food. I even caught him arguing with the toad once, debating both sides of Coke vs. Pepsi. On sad occasions like these he smokes rolls of smarties. He waves his sugary toke and mutters about psychological distance—apparently the number of people with no close friends has tripled in the last decade. He’ll jab his fiery bonbon at me and accuse me of conceptualizing him as a list of traits and adjectives, “odd, lonely, risk-taker!” When I phone my old college friends they laugh and exclaim that I would find a character like Bud. It’s in my nature; I’ve always drawn an eclectic collection of compatriots. They urge me to help Bud, to introduce him to my workplace crew, since I’ve done so well for myself in the transition, to bring him around bars. Bud doesn’t drink often, but when he does, he chugs like a risk-taker. I suspect it’s no different than his coffee-fed mushrooms of strain “Penis Envy” that disappear every six weeks, or his Binaural Beats, or Keith the River Toad, whose cheeks (I’ve discovered through research) sport a poisonous gland containing an inhalable quantity of DMT. Bud disconnects. He’s petrified about losing his old friends by excision in a metropolis of strangers. I hear him call home, just his end, because he wears earbuds, stretching the wire like a child with old gum. He fabricates his whole life. It was he who taught me the best lies are so obviously untrue that they skirt suspicion. Imaginary friends and backstories come to life, maybe through his dissociation. He told me that you can tell a liar by the way they insist on their fiction, that truth skulks inside the falsehood. That said, Bud Lykke is a real pal, two thumbs up. My mates always told me I’d find great friends in the city.





James Cato has just completed his first novel, Litter of the Waste, which he plans to let loose this year. Look for him in Litro, Every Day Fiction, Atticus Review, Eunoia Review, Montana Mouthful, Crack the Spine, Penultimate Peanut, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. Connect @the_sour_potato