Russell Helms




by Russell Helms 





Claude thought it was neat to have a head on the back of his head but not an entire human being.

“The Leffler twins…” said his brother Lawrence. Lawrence knotted his face and screwed his eyes sideways into the closet.

“Yes, I know,” said Claude. “Debbie, the one with floppy legs, has become parasitic. They’ve strapped her to a wheeled device that Karen pushes like an IV pole.”

Lawrence, the strongest, leaned forward. Claude’s foot lifted from the carpet.

“Let’s not wear the black t-shirt,” said Lawrence.

Claude grimaced. “But the black lights look good on black. It makes us look nebulous, like we’re suspended in a cloud of squid ink.”

“What are you reading at the open-mic tonight?” asked Lawrence. He tilted his head forward again. The strain of skull-bone felt good.

 “Hey,” said Claude. “Cut it out.” He was going to read a compilation of feedback comments from beheading videos on YouTube, a kind of list poem.

“Are you taking the Valium today?” asked Lawrence. Otherwise they had awful spasms in their backs and necks.

“Maybe you should start taking your own Valium,” said Claude.

They crab-walked to the bathroom.

“So, what are you reading tonight?” asked Claude.

Lawrence was going to read a compilation of feedback comments from Leffler twin videos on YouTube, a kind of list poem. Usually he and Claude alternated lines, improvised and all that jazz. The small but intimate crowd that gathered once a month at the Pianotown fire station open-mic loved it.

“I hope the Leffler twins are there,” said Lawrence.

“I hope al Qaida is there,” said Claude.

They had a good laugh and brushed their crooked teeth.



A metallic car pulled into the Dearborn’s driveway. Special Prosecutor Sparks, gloved in red, touched the car’s nose to the Dearborn’s garage. A man named H preceded her to the door and unbuttoned his dark blue jacket, exposing a nine-millimeter Springfield XDm, a striker-fired pistol, double-action only, which was such a smooth shot that even an expert such as H might be tempted to note in an email (to a friend who worked at Stouffers managing their refrigeration technology) that the gun should be reclassified as single-action.

Canon A.E. Baker Dearborn Jr. opened the door. His daughter Claire Elise Bradley paused at a piano recently tuned by a blind man who smelled of parakeets. Canon’s wife Rebecca St. John Alba wiped her hands on a dishtowel patterned with three-leafed clovers.

H, followed by Special Prosecutor Sparks, pushed past Canon into the tan living room.

“What’s this?” asked Canon A.E. Baker Dearborn Jr.

“Probably just another one of your porno schemes, Carlotti de Franco!” H pounded his good fist into his other fist. “There are two PCs in this house, now where are they?”

“Do as he says,” said Special Prosecutor Sparks.

“What’s this?” sasked Rebecca St. John Alba.

“A dishtowel bearing a trefoil pattern, common in Anglo Saxon religious architecture,” said Claire Elise Bradley. “I gave it to you for Mother’s Day.”

H barged into the back rooms.

Special Prosecutor Sparks produced an album with pictures from her summers at Bald Rock Church Camp in Chula Vista, Alabama, and gathered everyone around to kill time.

After forty-seven minutes, H reappeared. He looked pale. He’d never before seen such an extensive archive of beheading videos. He hitched his thumb at Special Prosecutor Sparks. “Let’s go,” he said. “We’ve made a terrible mistake.”


Thursday Afternoon

Near the tiny island of Sindup, in the San Blas Archipelago, located off the Caribbean coast of Panama, Kuna Indian “dive guide” Moco shook the wallet out of the gringo Phil’s dive bag and counted out nearly two grand in US dollars. He dumped a bucket of fresh alligator chunks over the side, hand-hauled the cement-block anchor up through aftershave blue-green water, and fired up the jerry-rigged engine. Sand sharks with their awful under-bite smiles swarmed. Forty feet below the 25-foot Bertram hardtop, which had washed up after Hurricane Mitch, Mary and her parents gazed at seahorses and fan coral.



The usual crowd of experimental teenagers and retired faculty from the community college milled and slid around. The firemen were out tackling a juicy blaze-up at a chain motel, probably a grease fire someone said. A scratchy record from France played.

“I can’t see,” said Debbie.

Her sister Karen, known as K, shifted the pole thing that cradled her parasitic twin in a canvas sling. “Let’s keep it real, okay?”

“Twenty-four seven,” said Debbie.

“Shush. Lawrence is up,” said K.

“Who’s the guy with the chainsaw?” asked Debbie. A thrill ran from an imaginary line connecting her throat (A) to her pubis (B).


Lawrence tugged at the turquoise collar of a thin sweater made for two heads. He rolled his neck and made Claude tilt. He took the microphone. “I’m Lawrence. The other voice you will hear tonight is that of my brother Claude, a man often known as Dangereux on YouTube.”

Some kids said, “Cool.” An elderly gentleman whispered, “What’re ewe tubes?” On a hunch, Special Prosecutor Sparks sat in the back row. She knew the man with the chainsaw. Lawrence strained his eyes at the list poem. Claude cleared his throat.

Debbie scratched the back of her neck. Canon A.E. Baker Dearborn Jr. yanked the cord on his chainsaw, a Dolmar 7900, “the best in the business” according to the blind piano tuner. “Cool,” said one of the teenagers. He wore a t-shirt with a pop-art frozen biscuit on it.

“What’s this?” said Lawrence. He recognized the man with the chainsaw as Carlotti de Franco. He tried to run but there was a man attached to the back of his head.

Special Prosecutor Sparks saw that her job was done and left.


An Hour Earlier

At the orphanage across town, an aquarium bubbled. Mary reached into the warm salty water. The seahorses’ eyes grew wide. Their pipette mouths made tiny O’s. Mary placed each one on a clean white washcloth. She said, “Your name is mommy and your name is daddy,” and watched them die. Uw



Russell Helms has had stories in Sand, Drunken Boat, Litro, Versal, Bewildering Stories, The Moth and other journals. He writes, designs books, and holds a lectureship in English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His novel The Ground Catches Everything (2015) is from Roundfire Books. His MFA in creative writing is from Bluegrass Writers Studio. Find him at and on Facebook.

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