Ashley Naftule

Dot Dash

We almost missed the dead body in the corner.

Nellie, Blotter, and I heard about this squat from a pair of crusties we met at a house show. They had a Laurel & Hardy thing going on: the thin one wore a faded Rudimentary Penii shirt with bloodstains on it while the fat one had Xs tattooed on his hands. We shared our beers and they told us about an abandoned house on 16th Ave that still had running water and electricity.

Hardy must have seen the weird look on my face when I saw him crack his beer open. Looking down at his straight edge tattoos, he shrugged. “It’s easy to hold on to an ethos when you ain’t homeless.” The wry grin on his face made his Hitler mustache bristle.

We rode our bikes over to the address Laurel scratched on Nellie’s palm with a Bic pen. It was a shitty neighborhood: bars on the windows, chain link around every yard, black guard dogs pacing in the moonlight like shadows with teeth. A perfect place to squat for the evening.

Blotter jimmied the windows while I kept a lookout. It looked like it was probably a nice house back in the day before this whole neighborhood cratered. Shingled roof, hand-carved window treatments, wild roses growing in the front yard: rustic and quaint. The kind of place my mom would have loved to put on the market before she got out of the real estate game.

We slipped in through the cracked window and fanned out, each of us armed with a flashlight and a homemade blackjack. Anytime you enter a dark house, you’ve always got to be on the lookout for other squatters. Most of our kind are pretty chill, but occasionally you bump into a junkie or fugitive that doesn’t like to share. Sometimes you even run into animals; I met a crust in Sedona who said she found a mountain lion sleeping in the living room of the house she broke into.

Satisfied that we were alone, Blotter plopped down on the couch and threw his rucksack on the table. He and Nellie started rifling through their sacks, pulling out snacks we lifted from our runs around town. I reached into my backpack, pulling out some citrus I fished from a dumpster, when I saw that still lump behind the loveseat.

Nellie’s the one who went over to the body while Blotter and I tried not to lose our cool. I heard fabric rustling; I didn’t have to turn my head to know that she was rummaging through the corpse’s pockets.

“Is it anyone we know,” I managed to croak out. “It’s definitely one of our tribe, but I’ve never seen him before,” she said. I heard a hard thwack— the sound of feet hitting the floor. She was taking off his boots. “Nice shirt, though.”

I set a few bruised oranges down on the table and went over to see the body. Blotter snatched up one of the oranges and bit into the peel. His grimy fingers slipped into the gash his teeth made and he started tearing the peel apart. Juice dripped from the wound and pooled on the table.

“It’s from Sniffin’ Glue,” Nellie said, pointing to the shirt. “My brother had a reprint of it. That’s how I learned how to do chords.”

The dead crust was thin and blue, clad in a white shirt with a diagram of guitar chords on it. Written in scratchy black letters next to the chords was a series of arrows and declarations: This Is A Chord. This Is Another. This Is A Third. Now Form A Band. In the spaces between the chords and lettering there were bloody puncture holes and slashes, a gruesome Morse code of dots and dashes.

“Definitely a knife,” Nellie said, holding up one of the dead crust’s boots. “I think this is a 12. Are you a 12, Rafe?” I didn’t ask Nellie if she was sure these were knife wounds; the certainty in her voice told me that would be a waste of time. “I think Blotter’s a 12,” I muttered, staring at the shock of green hair on the dead man’s head. “I’m a 9.”

“I’m a 10,” Blotter said from across the room, stuffing his face with chunks of dumpster oranges. “In every sense of the word.” He tossed the peels on the floor. It wouldn’t matter if they attracted ants or rats; we’d be gone tomorrow.

Nellie shrugged. “I’m a 7, but I’ll take ‘em anyway. Could make for a good trade later.”

I looked at the dead punk and thought about the stains on Laurel’s shirt.  Did he do this? And if that’s the case, why would he direct us to the scene of his crime?

“Guys, maybe we should go somewhere else,” I said. I imagined Laurel & Hardy sneaking in and stabbing us in our sleep. I could hear the heavy thumps of our feet hitting the tile as they stripped of us of our shoes. “Are you a 12, Ollie,” Laurel would titter, red dripping off his hands to turn the stains on the table blood orange.

“It’s not the first time I’ve slept in the same room as a corpse,” Nellie said. She rolled her sleeping bag out next to the table. Blotter was already curled on the couch, eyes closed and boots kicked off onto the floor. “He’s not going anywhere, Rafe.”

She was wrong.

When we woke up the next day, the body was gone. There was a fresh six pack on the table. When Blotter picked it up, we saw that it was covering up a jagged gouge in the wood that wasn’t there before. Someone had carved a T leaning at an angle on the table while we were sleeping. An old Hobo Code glyph; it meant Get Out Fast.

They didn’t have to tell us twice.

Ashley Naftule is a writer & performer from Phoenix, AZ. He's been published in Vice, Phoenix New Times, Ghost City Press, The Hard Times, Rinky Dink Press, The Outline, Under The Radar, Four Chambers Press, The Occulum, and The Dark City Mystery Magazine. He's a resident playwright and Associate Artistic Director at Space55. He blogs regularly at and Tweets about wrestling & movies as @Emperor_norton.

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