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Grim Tombstone

Hi, y’all! I’m Cole Tunningley, a senior Creative Writing major. I work for Impact 89 FM as the news director. This is a nonfiction essay. All of it is true.

Grim Tombstone told absurd lies.

Last I talked to him, he was getting a new car and a job by next Saturday.

Brandon kicked him out of our house with a strongly worded post-it note on the coffee table one morning. Waking up on our comfyass couch to an eviction notice, sun streaming in through the windows, I can’t imagine. Besides a momentary sighting one day, him on the sidewalk, me in my car, on Kalamazoo St., I haven’t seen him, or talked to him, since he left. I drove on past him, but I swear to God, my toes hovered over the brake for a second. Not that it matters much.

I was always high as shit around him. By design, I’m sure. Because Grim Tombstone always appeared on the scene with two blunts in the breast pocket of his red varsity jacket, one to share, and one for himself.

The first night that Grim came over, we were winding down from a party we threw in our basement. One third of the people there were comedians, one third musicians, and one third strangers. Everyone milling about. No noise complaints. No fights. A success. We all felt safe and warm with nothing left to worry about.

I first spotted Grim lounging at our dining room table with his legs spread wide, a stranger to everyone, even the strangers. He was alone. I ended up seated next to him with my fake-Russian cohort, Zahar, on my other side and we, a trio, became united as Grim’s pocket blunt burned down. We both listened carefully, on our elbows leaning in, bloodshot eyes like rose tinted glasses.

Zahar was one of the biggest liars I’ve ever met. He likes to tell people that he grew up in a swamp, or in a Russian village, even though he grew up in a McMansion in an affluent town thirty to forty minutes away from where I grew up.

I’ve lived my whole life surrounded by people who lie for whatever reason, desperate addiction, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, boredom, greed. But Grim lied like art, like a river flowing, like a dream does before it fades.

Me and Zahar had to keep each other from laughing. It all sounded so ridiculous.

The first thing is that he went to federal prison at age six. Not juvie. Prison. He invented the PlayStation. The very first one. Or at least, helped develop it, whatever that means. He could be my age. Or forty. And he worked on a Call of Duty game. The best Call of Duty game, but he forgets the title. Went to federal prison for two years at age six. Born in Cuba. Loved Fidel Castro, maybe even said something like, “My Man Fidel!” He joined some country’s Army. Shot a bullet across the Russian border, the Siberian border, into Alaska? And he’s excellent at guitar, really fucking stellar, and looking for a band to jam with and wants to know if there’s anyone in the room that he could talk to about jamming, but we handed him a guitar and all he did was hold it in his hands for a few minutes.

I know that he told me and Zahar even more of his autobiography that night, but I can’t remember anything else. He was a maximalist, and probably told us enough to fill up ten lifetimes.

You could never tell what he was thinking. Zahar, the only other person who ever even tried to listen to him, agreed with me on that. Grim disguised himself well, in his weed smoke and his low, fast, easytoswallow voice. It could slip in and out of your brain undetected. He talked. We listened. Grim held our attention in his hands and squeezed it until it crumbled to dust.

We’d never met him, but he stayed over at least three nights, seamlessly transitioning from the role of “party guest” to “guest.” Brandon was pissed and Zach was scared and I was neutral because, well, squatters gotta squat, and that’s the truth. No need to throw anyone out in the street. All Grim ever wanted to do was sleep and play video games and talk.

One day, before I left for work, he smoked me down in exchange for a box of offbrand macaroni and cheese. We ate together on the couch. He played Brandon’s Playstation. I wondered, was he thinking, I invented this shit, when he played, when he held the controller, when he saw it resting in our entertainment center? He never brought up his lies after the first night. I could never confront anything that he had said. There were no opportunities. But if Grim ever worried that we would find him out, it never showed on his face. He was always still and calm.

Even the end of his stay was anticlimactic. He was just gone one day. All I have left him now are the few words of his that I remember, and the image of him walking down Kalamazoo Street, adrift.

I don’t like to describe his appearance to people. I don’t like to talk about him to other people. I like to sit around and think about him. Because I am obsessed with liars. Or maybe I meant to say that I am an obsessive liar. Maybe both. I blame it on a lifetime of immersion in bullshit. Grim was a man made entirely out of lies, and for me, lies are as comforting as oxygen.

Could Grim Tombstone have invented the Playstation? If not, does it matter? I ask myself these questions and I am reminded of a story about home.

(In the year of Our Lord 1945, America defeated Adolf Hitler in a fight to the death over the particulars of how fascism should be executed on a mass scale. They haven’t stopped talking about it since. About 30 years before that, America invented gas chambers. A germaphobe El Paso politician, Thomas Calloway Lea Junior, wanted to delouse Mexicans coming across the border, all an excuse, of course, to treat people as cruelly as possible, supposedly based on fear generated by less than forty cases of typhus in the area. Belongings were destroyed, people were burned, stripped nude, abused, and riots came after, the Bath riots, initiated by Mexican women on January 28th, 1917. Carmelita Torres. She wouldn’t get in the showers, wouldn’t take off her clothes and step in front of the white men who leered and snapped her picture for later. An hour later, 200 others had joined her. Four hours after that, thousands had gathered. Hired goons and the Army crushed the uprising, and years later, a German science journal decided that the Americans came up with something pretty useful, cue Holocaust, delousing turned fatal, Zyklon B nightmare potential realized. That’s the truth. Though Americans would have you believe the Nazis crumpled under our boots, they truly assembled themselves from parts designed here. After all, who invented eugenics? Who dreamed up Manifest Destiny? Not Hitler. It is now seventy years after this whole mess, and people are still confused about who is the winner and who is the loser. Setting the story straight feels like telling a lie, but I am telling the truth.)

I am determined to pit Grim Tombstone against America in a battle for the ages. A fight between the two best liars I ever met in my life.

“Get ready for it folks! The inventor of the Playstation against the world’s foremost champion of human rights and democracy! Who will win?”

I imagine America and Grim Tombstone facing off in a boxing ring. America seven hundred billion pounds with blood dripping from its mouth and guts trailing off behind it intestines wrapped around its ankles. Grim one hundred and sixty pounds wearing his red varsity jacket and blue jeans and smiling.

I would bet it all on the one who has nothing to lose.

Could Grim Tombstone have invented the Playstation, or gone to federal prison in first grade, or killed those folks in the name of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, or solo’d like Jimmy Hendrix, or existed? I could make sifting through these lies my life’s work and Grim’s mysteries would outlive me. That’s his power. No one is as fake as Grim. Not even the best bullshitters in human history could match him, weightless as he is, he would disappear if anyone ever tried to grab ahold of him.

Let it say on my grave, “Never met a Tombstone that he didn’t read.”

My memory is become Death, and as this all fades away from me, I find myself eager to seek Grim out again, or see him on the sidewalk, or the internet. The savior of the whole planet. Anything to hear him lie again, to see him, to make sure he exists.

But of course, I looked up Grim Tombstone on Facebook and of-fucking-course there was no one because, it goes without saying, but Jesus, that was not his real name.


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