OCCULT GENERATION: Gladys’s Story — “Widow Zone” Part 1

The first chapter in a new prequel series to our upcoming graphic novel The Occult Generation set in 1927 New York - a hard-boiled thriller featuring Gladys Spencer, the indestructible woman from Harlem.

by Stephen Harber

I’ve gotta be at work in less than two hours and I still have three fucks left to kill.

One I’ve got pretty torn up already. He’s grasping his arm, he’s crying. It’s out of socket, probably fractured or something. I can’t tell because it’s too dark. His nose is still smashed though.

The other two are hiding behind the counter of this closed diner. We busted open the window so we could continue our little dance in here. Broken glass covers the floor, making it extra crunchy. I stop to think about how pretty it looks under the light from the street lamps outside. I see small tide of fluid crawl towards the debris and I realize the fuck with the hurt arm is pissing himself.

“Where is Wesley Eugene?” I ask the counter.

All I hear back are the sobs below me.

“Y’all are bad at playing stupid.”

Sobs and moans and slow piss.

I count to five Mississippi and reach into my pouch to pull out the last few smokies that Dice gave me last week. I’m tempted to force one down the sobbing mess’ throat to shut him up. But I’m a compassionate woman.

His cries hide the small noise that winding them up makes, so it all levels out.

A shadow nearby has a gun, it leaps up and shoots.

I drop to my side, falling down on the fuck on the floor like he’s a bag of potatoes. I toss the smokies over the counter and pick the gun up off the floor.

The room reveals itself in a flash as I shoot back at the second fuck. Smoke is spilling up to the ceiling. I hear the third fuck cough.

Meanwhile, the one underneath me howls and tries to get me off of him.

I make his day and roll off onto the diner floor. I feel little glass pieces dig into my back. This means I’ve gotta make time before my shift at the club to bandage myself up now, and I think that’s just gravy.

Turns out I have good timing because the two fucks start shooting at the ground where I was - and their friend too. What are friends for, anyway?

The smoke’s filling up the room and the two fucks are shouting at each other.

I stand up, grab two ketchup bottles and fling them across the room as hard as I can.

One of them busts open on the closest fuck’s skull. Blood mixes with the ketchup, flying out in all directions. The other bottle hits a pile of dishes which fall over and make a noise that startles even me.

There are gunshots about to be fired my way so I drop back down again. I want to shoot the last fuck but I want to ask him questions he probably won’t answer before I do.

I’m wearing gloves so it’s okay to pick up a handful of broken glass. I throw it up towards the last fuck’s face. I hope that it winds up there, because I’m starting to not be able to see well in this smoke either.

The screaming and cursing I hear tells me that it did.

I shoot him before he can recover. I aim upwards, at an angle.

I think the bullet went through his throat because I hear a wet gurgle as he slips to the ground.

Sirens begin to howl a from a few blocks away.

I need to get out of here.

I check back on the first fuck. He’s real quiet so I’m pretty sure he’s dead.

I look around for the second fuck. He’s knocked out on the floor behind the counter from the ketchup bottle. Or maybe he’s dead. I can’t tell. He’s such a mess.

I want to question him about Wesley Eugene (not to mention the others) but I don’t have time.

Instead, I search to see if he has any of that weird pocket machinery on him like all the other evil white fucks do. I find a flask and some crushed cigarettes. That’s about it.

I check the other one I just shot. He has a stack of what feels like business cards in his jacket. I take them all without looking at them.

I’m outside in the alley now and there’s nobody around. I take a breath of fresh air. It tastes cleaner than I feel. I probably have close to an hour before work now.

I start walking.


When I get to Club de la Croix, I find out that we still haven’t gotten that shipment of hooch from our supplier. I’m more pissed off about it than I want to be because of the glass stuck in my back. I tried removing some of the glass from my shoulders when I was changing but I think there might still be a few bits stuck in there. No blood, of course. I don’t bleed. It’s not my thing.

Everyone keeps looking at my face as I walk by them, like that’s where the glass shards actually are. I run into the bathroom a couple times just to make sure they’re not. I guess my face is just telling more than it should.

Keep moving, I tell myself. You’re gonna sing tonight, you’re gonna show everyone under this here roof a good time. This whole club is yours, baby. Just like the lives of those men you took down earlier.

Those fucks. I think of them some more as I dash from the back of the bar to the front again and again, the noise of the crowd getting louder around me. I’m not here tonight. That is to say, my mind isn’t. I’m back at that diner, making small cuts on the fuck I hit with the ketchup bottle until he tells me where his friends or gang or whatever they are took Wesley Eugene.

The kid’s face pops up behind my eyes as I remember the day I first met him back at the mansion. He was one of the more advanced initiates, displaying these incredible clairaudience skills that were starting to impress even Augustine, our leader.

I didn’t talk to him much, but we said how-do often. For most of this year he was around the mansion, learning what he could do with his potential. Wesley Eugene was exactly the kind of boy Augustine wanted in our Harlem Secret Society of mystics- respectful, reserved, responsible. The three unofficial R’s.

I’ve got at least two of those. I think.

I’m lugging an empty barrel of ale into the storage below when Marshall walks up to me.

“What happened earlier?” He asks.

I set the keg down with a soft thud before I answer. “I tailed ‘em.”

“Did they say anything?”

“They weren’t very chatty.” I hate to tell him the same thing every time.

Marshall takes each one of our supernatural group’s losses personally. I felt like I had been having the same conversation with him week after week. I would tail these mysterious white fucks, trying to find out who they are or why they’re abducting us, and I always came back without much info besides what I stole off their corpses.

“I’ll tell Augustine.” Marshall looked tired now. I couldn’t afford to.

“All I need to do is get my hands on one of them,” I said. “One who’s in good condition, so I can bring him back here and we can have a chat.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t kill them all next time.”

I’m not offended by this. “It’s a reflex, Marshmallow Man. Wait, hold up. I did find some business cards on one of ‘em. For a flower shop in Brooklyn of all things.”

“A flower shop?” His huge muscled back turned away from me.

“Yeah, here, give this one to Augustine,” I said as I took one out of my pocket that I meant to give the boss man myself. “I heard he’s not coming in tonight.”

“The Flower Shop,” Marshall repeats off the card, like it’s a secret answer someone whispered to him. “Phh. Definitely a front.”

“Uh huh.” It was obvious. “I think this is our way in. I’m stopping by there tomorrow.”

“But you have to be here at two in the afternoon for…”

“Yes, I know. I will. And I’m also going to go to the flower shop in Brooklyn. Tell Augustine if you see him before I do.” I grab the handle of a new, unopened keg. It was a little heavy.

“He’ll want you to take some backup. Especially if they’re holding Wesley Eugene there. Or Bennie.”

Augustine’s son. He’s also missing. Wesley Eugene is just the most recent, snatched up in the past week.

“Aug knows I am my own backup. Besides, I don’t want to bring any more attention to myself than I have to.”

“The men tonight, they were all white again, weren’t they?” Marshall asks my eyes.

“You know it.” I laugh. “They kept calling me spade like it would ward me off.” I took a shot out of nearby bottle of homemade whiskey.

After I hand it to him, Marshall takes a shot out of the bottle too. “I read the paper today. Still no mention of Wesley Eugene or anybody else.”

I think about taking another one. “You tell me that every day. It’s not going to change and you know it. It’s all written by white folk for white folk.”

“But guess what was on the front page, Gladys? An animal. A lion that went missing from the zoo.” Marshall looks up at nothing in a quiet rage. “And what about us? Each week one of us goes missing. Every week. Because we’re special. Because we have abilities they can’t even comprehend. Who will it be tomorrow? ”

“Not gonna be me, I know that.” I go ahead and take a second shot. It’s a big one - burns all the way down. “Now help me get this keg out to the bar. I’m workin’ here.”

Now it’s tomorrow, four in the afternoon. I’m just getting to the flower shop in Brooklyn. I can’t tell if it’s open.

It’s okay. I’m going to break in if it’s not.

Turns out I didn’t have to be at the club for too long to pick up the shipment of giggle juice that finally came in. I was able to get at least six hours of sleep last night too. I’ve got energy. It’s true.

I walk towards the front door of the flower shop and look through the glass. I see movement inside, shapes shifting around. I wait exactly three seconds before I open it and walk in.

The first thing I notice is that it smells like bleach in here. Not what a flower shop would smell like.

Yeah, there’s flowers everywhere - posies, hyacinths, tulips, baby’s breath, white roses - but for all I can tell their smells have been taken away. The strong chemical odor bothers a deep corner of my gut, one that doesn’t want to be bothered.

I look towards the counter. There was someone standing behind it before I walked in, I saw their movement. They must have gone through the doorway to the back, which is probably where I’ll be going pretty soon.

I walk right up to the counter and ring the bell. I don’t have a lot of time today. Gonna try and make this quick.

A man walks out through the doorway. He’s wearing a suit and a hat, both grey, with a brownish yellow tie, a color that almost disgusts me as much as the bleach smell.

And of course he’s white.

He looks like he’s trying to keep his composure, like he didn’t expect to see someone like me. “Good afternoon, ma’am,” he asks in a deepened voice. “How may I help you today?”

I clear my throat and pull my shawl over my shoulders tightly. I always wear it when I try to look harmless. “Yes, hello there sir. I’m here to inquire if you had any peonies in stock?”

The man looks around the store as if he’s the one who just got here. “Um…peonies.”

“Yes, peonies. They’re for my sister, you see.”

He face is still blank.

“Her twelfth wedding anniversary is coming up, and, well, being a florist, you know that peonies are the blossoms you use for such an occasion.”

I look around the shop with him. I’m starting to notice there’s no paintings or pictures on the wall. It’s all blank except for a big exit sign to the right.

“Erm. But of course.” The man opens a door to a closet behind him.

“The peony is also big in China I guess. They say it’s a symbol for good luck or something, I dunno,” I say as I glance at the doorway behind the counter for any movement. “Also, did you know they’re the king of flowers?”

“You don’t say.” The man is getting flustered. I‘m starting to think he has a plan and me coming in wasn’t a part of it. “Looks like we’re fresh out of peonies, miss. May I ask you something?”

“I don’t see why not,” I answer.

“How did you find out about our shop? We’re very new, just opened up less than a week ago.” He’s sweating like a pig under that hat, I can just tell.

“Oh, a dear old friend of mine told me about it. Maybe you remember him? Name’s Wesley Eugene?”

The man’s eyes are dropping the act. He starts to glare at me like the roach that crawled into his grits this morning.

“Say, you haven’t seen him around in the past couple days, have you? Did he come in and buy an extra bouquet or two? Maybe he’s the one that bought up all your peonies.”

His eyes continue to stare me down. He calls to someone from the back. “DEWEY.”

I don’t want to make a mess today, but it’s starting to look like it’s in the cards for me anyway. “Dewey? That your friend? Does he know where Wesley is by chance?”

“DEWEY.” He calls again, trying to sneak a glance to the back room without taking his eyes off of me. (It’s tricky.)

“What about Bennie?” I ask, blowing my cover even farther away. “He back there too?”

“DEWEY GET OUT HERE NOW. DEWEY.”

“Yeah, Dewey. Come say hi. I wanna ask you why you ain’t got no peonies in this here flower store.” I raise my voice too. I’m not playing games. Don’t got the time, remember. Got another shift tonight plus some errands to run beforehand. (I’m hoping to get my eyebrows plucked.)

For a long moment, nothing happens at all.

The fake florist stands there, staring at me, stuck in time. Dewey doesn’t come out, whoever the hell that is.

And the bleach smell turns my stomach around again.

“DEWEY.” The man calls again, turning his head to look through the doorway.

“Dewey, Dewey, you’re starting to hurt my fee-”

I hear the loud bang before I see the shotgun stick out from the side of the doorframe. I’m not sure how that happened, but I’m on the floor before I can get hit. I hear glass vases shattering behind me.

I reach into my bag and pull out my pistol. I tuck and roll on the floor.

Dewey, the shotgun man, jumps up on the counter and aims at me. He’s all teeth and trenchcoat.

I pull the trigger first and then aim.

I hope to hit him in the stomach, but I get him in the inner thigh. That’s what I get for not being careful.

He screams and falls off the counter onto his face, his shotgun clatters on the floor.

I glance around. Looks like the man in the grey suit ran off in the back room.

I pick up Dewey’s shotgun and leave him on the floor screaming like so many other fucks before him.

I head towards the back holding the shotgun and my pistol.

I duck in quickly, pointing my guns in both directions. I don’t see anything except for a few crates, a folding table and a thin chair.

There’s a closet door that’s open just a little bit. I bet he’s hiding in there.

But I also bet that it’s a trap.

I move towards it anyway.

My hand’s on the nob. I pull the door open.

And I see the fake florist standing there in he dark, holding a gun to young boy’s throat.

Wesley Eugene.

I’m so stunned that he’s actually here. I didn’t think he’d actually be here. His face is cut up and bruised. He’s gagged. He’s wearing what looks like baggy soiled bed linens. His eyes tell me that he has lost a piece of himself that he will probably never get back. But he’s here.

It feels like a miracle for a second.

Then I know it’s a trap.

“Don’t move. Do not. If you want Wesley Eugene to live, stay right there and put those guns down, bitch.”

“What happened to ma’am?” I put down the shotgun slowly.

“The other one down.” He says. He sounds more desperate than I do, which I find funny. “Put it down.”

I crouch down slowly, my eyes on them. I can see Wesley Eugene’s gaze looking behind me at something. I think he’s trying to tell me something.

“Put it down. I’ll kill this boy. I’ll do it.” My instincts tell me that he really won’t, otherwise it would have happened a long time ago.

My pistol is almost to the floor. But I take a big risk - I look over my shoulder to see who’s creeping up behind me.

It’s that guy I shot in the leg. He’s coming at me with a big knife.

“Don’t - “ the other man starts. I turn around and shoot the him square in the face. I ain’t got time for him.

The bullet gets him in his eye socket. The side of his face bursts open like there was a firework inside.

Blood and juice and brain and bone scatter everywhere, even all over poor Wesley Eugene, who yells out through his gag.

Dewey lunges at me with his knife. I kick him in the leg that I shot and he yelps like the beaten dog that gave birth to him.

I wait til he’s on the floor and I shoot him in his face too. His vocal chords manage to say something I can’t make out, like he’s mumbling in his sleep but he’s dead already. His eyes start blinking too somehow, so I shoot again.

I figure I don’t need him alive now that I have Wesley Eugene back.

(But what about Bennie? I wonder. And the others?)

I look at the boy. He’s trying to wipe off parts of the fake florist’s face from his own. He starts vomiting through his gag. I rush over to help him.

“Let it out, boy.” I tell him. “Hurry, we gotta move.”

Suddenly the door behind us slams and we’re stuck in the dark closet.

I hear Wesley Eugene cry out.

Something heavy drops down on my head and shoulders and the whole world leaves me behind.


Coming soon — Part 2 of “Widow Zone”, plus more stories featuring characters from the world of The Occult Generation, created by Ryan Fukuda and illustrated by James Zark. Click on the link to find out more about this project! (And feel free to visit my site here, too. =)

PLOT SUMMARY

While investigating the murder of a notorious drag performer during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, a private investigator uncovers a secret war between remnants of the confederacy equipped with strange technology and a secret society that fights for justice through magick.”

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