Posts Tagged ‘Pain’

A Messy Divorce (Short Story Excerpt)

January 18, 2017

1.

Happy birthday to me, James Jefferson Ruddock—“J.J.” to his friends, “Jimmy” to his family, and “James” to his soon-to-be-ex-wife—hummed to himself, setting a small cake on his kitchen table. Happy birthday to me—

Scowling, J.J. let out an awful belch.

Haaappy biiirthday, dear J.J….

Another pause, this time to let out a long, mournful sigh. J.J.’s wide chest rose and fell with the effort. His shoulders twitched. His chin drooped. He stood there, all alone. A great big bear of a man, half drunk, feeling every wretched moment of his age, trying like hell to find one thing—just one—to feel happy about. Anything at all.

Happy birthday…to meee!

“Alright,” J.J. grumbled, clapping his large, calloused hands. He reached for his half-full—or half-empty, in J.J.’s current state of mind—bottle of Wild Turkey, swallowed a good-sized knock, and belched again.

“Another year older, J.J., ol’ buddy! An all by yourself on your birthday. How fantastic is that?”

Quivering with rage, J.J. cast his eyes to the dark ceiling and ran his free hand through his thick, black, forelocks. He wore his hair long, and at the end of its swoop J.J.’s hand closed around the rear length and tossed it from his shoulders. That felt better. Not much, but less disheveled. The wayward hand then swung around and smoothed the front of his beard. He kept that long, too. Long, but well-manicured. Not bushy. J.J. couldn’t stand the sight of wild facial hair.

Huh! Call me an animal, after all I did for her!

J.J.’s left hand tightened around the bottle. His right hand curled into a white-knuckled fist. His jaw clenched. His lips twisted into a feral moue. At that moment he would’ve given anything to have his soon-to-be-ex-wife there with him, bound and gagged, just within arm’s length.

Sneering at his own pain, J.J. grunted. “Damn you, Brenda.”

Sighing, the bitter celebrant lowered his chin, took another swig of whiskey, and paused to admire his dessert. A plain, round, German chocolate cake, frosted with coconut. He’d bought it at the grocery store along with a pack of blood-red birthday candles, then arranged the candles to show his age. It had taken eight of them to form the 3, and another eight to form the 9. With the lights out, the flickering flames spelled out the exact number of years he’d been alive to the shadows and anyone else who cared to know:

39

And beside that glowing cake sat a plain business envelope, addressed to James Ruddock, with the words:

OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS

stamped in red ink across its face.

J.J looked from the cake to the envelope, then back again. “Some birthday present,” he muttered, raising the bottle to his lips. The whiskey stung the tip of his tongue, creating a shaft of pleasant heat which ran from the top of his gullet to the depths of his large belly. He took in half a mouthful, but didn’t swallow. Relishing the flavor. The sting. The heat. The approaching stupor.

Damn that woman, anyway…

Standing there, swaying on his feet, J.J. stared into the candles on his birthday cake. Their hypnotic glow soothed him almost as much as the whiskey, leaving him oblivious to the surrounding shadows. Beneath his beard, a grin formed. The urge to spit that cheekful of Wild Turkey at the flames came on strong, and in his mind he pictured a majestic fireball erupting from the wanton act.

But, no; that wouldn’t do anything except ruin the moment and the cake.

Flicking his eyes back to that loathsome envelope, J.J. felt another wild urge. Why not just snatch the damned thing up and hold it over the candles until it caught fire? Why not just stand there and watch his troubles go up in smoke?

But, no; that wouldn’t do anything except delay the inevitable.

Pondering those sad facts, J.J.’s eyes began to glisten. From the whiskey, of course. Not the searing heartbreak. Not the dull pain in his uncompromising heart. Not that.

No way.

Screw it! J.J. thought, throwing his head back and gulping the whiskey into his stomach. “An screw her!” he finished aloud, slamming the bottle down beside the envelope—

Thunk!

J.J. grimaced from the knock, then leant forward, planting his rough palms on each end of the small fold-up table. The ring on his left hand glimmered in the candlelight.

Whoo-eee! Strong stuff!”

It took a moment for J.J.’s mind to clear. Eyes shut, face bunched, he shook his head, causing hair and beard to splay as if hit by a sudden gust of wind, then belched again, causing the miniature flames to dance as if hit by the same gust. “Now,” he said with all seriousness, his glassy eyes open and alert and fixed upon the blazing 39…

“What should I wish for?”

J.J. lived in a doublewide trailer home, parked in a shabby trailer court. He’d lived there since dropping out of college due to a severe meniscus tear. Up to that point, from the age of six, football had been his entire life. He’d played all through elementary, middle, and high school. How he’d loved slamming his shoulder pads into the wannabe tough guys at every high school in the state. And he’d found it even more satisfying on the college level. The rush of adrenaline, the roar of the crowd, the thrill of victory after battering everything in his path; it all made him feel like a winner. A gladiator. A true beast among men.

Then, on one cold autumn night many years ago, another beast had slammed into him at a bad angle, causing him to fall the wrong way. And with all that weight toppling down…

“Son,” Dr. Tolbert said after the surgery, “you’ll be able to play again, but you won’t be as fast. And another injury to that same knee might leave you with permanent damage. Get me?”

Yeah. J.J. got him, alright. When a man’s forced to swallow all his pride in one gulp he’s always afraid he might choke. But J.J., in true bestial fashion, chewed his up real well before turning in his helmet and cleats. And there went his football scholarship, too. Still, he couldn’t complain. The construction business had been good to him over the years. He owned his trailer free and clear, owned his truck, and felt comfortable knowing that he had no debts.

Except one.

Brenda Rose Galway. He owed her a broken heart.

So. The time had come at last. What the hell should he wish for?

Still leaning over the small table, still staring into the ornate row of hot, orange-yellow tongues lapping the air, J.J. sighed, trying to focus his beer—and whiskey—addled mind. Brow furrowed, lips pursed, his cold blue eyes took on an odd gleam; catlike; reflecting a fire within, and the fire below. He looked deep into those tiny flames, past them, and into the murky haze of his dying marriage…

J.J. remembered the moment he first met Brenda Galway; walking into the Quickie-Mart near downtown to buy a six-pack and fill up his truck. She’d worked there as a cashier, and smiled as he came in. How young and sweet and innocent she’d seemed back then…

J.J remembered one night in the throes of passion when, quite to his surprise, Brenda had made a strange and unnerving request. “Bite me, lover!” she’d whispered, clutching his thick neck with both arms and burying his mouth into her shoulder. “Bite me hard!” At first, he’d been reluctant…but her insistence overcame his timidity. So he’d bitten her. Just hard enough to leave marks in her pale flesh for a day or so. And from then on that strange act became a semi-regular part of their lovemaking.

An what a sucker I was for not bitin’ her throat out when I had the chance!

Shaking his head, J.J. remembered the day when it all began to unravel. The day he’d found out what Brenda had been doing behind his back. The day he’d found those pills in her purse and confronted her in the very kitchen in which he now stood. Oh, God, that long, miserable, contentious day when he’d found out what a lying, conniving, heartless, woman he’d married all those years ago—

“Yeah, I found out, alright. Found out a lotta things. I found out what you really are. An I found out what I really am, too. Nothin’ but a big goddamn dummy.”

The bear grunted, bared his sharp shiny teeth at the birthday cake.

“Yeah, Brenda, why don’tcha come on over now? I’ll be more than happy to clamp my jaws on your…warm…throat…”
J.J. paused, letting his words drift off like the smoke trails from the candles below. A moment passed, gravid with possibility, then he grinned.

“That’s it! That’s my wish!”

Then he laughed. Long, loud, and hearty. A cruel, vengeful, satisfied sound which shook his massive frame and brought tears of a different sort to his eyes. The culmination of eight years’ rage and regret. And when the last chuckle and snort passed over his lips, J.J. Ruddock closed his wet eyes and made his thirty-ninth birthday wish:

“Hey, uh, God? It’s me, J.J. I prayed to you a lot as a boy. I prayed before every game, remember? But seein’ as how it’s my birthday an my wish ain’t too holy, an seein as how it’s Halloween an all…well, I guess I better direct this prayer to the other guy. The guy with the horns an the pitchfork, ya know…

“Please forgive me. Just this once…”

An now, here’s goes nothin’.

“So, uh, anyway. Devil, can ya hear me? I’m callin’ out to you tonight, an it ain’t the whiskey talkin’, neither! I’m aimin’ to get your evil, undivided attention. You hear? It’s your night, ain’t it? Halloween? Spooks an ghosts an witches an vampires, an who knows what all roamin’ around?

“Well, it’s my night, too, goddamnit! My birthday! An I want my wish!

“Do ya hear me, son? I WANT MY WISH!”

Coughing, shaking from the fury in his words, J.J. squeezed his eyelids as tight as he could, afraid that if he opened them even for a second the feeling would be lost and the spell would be broken.

“Alright, Devil. I’m sure ya got my point so I’ll get on with it. What I want, what I need, is to somehow get Brenda back in my clutches…so I can bite her one last time. So I can sink my teeth deep into her fleshy ass an chew it up to my heart’s content. Raw an bloody, just like that steak I ate tonight—”

Again, this bear of a man laughed. Again, he belched. And with each exhalation the flickering flames danced ever higher, as if reaching for J.J.’s breath; as if wanting to be extinguished so his wish could be fulfilled.

“So let it be written, so let it be done! Be it known that on this day, October thirty-first, All Hallows Eve, my birthday, The Year Of Our Lord, Two Thousand an Thirteen, beneath a full moon, I, James Jefferson Ruddock, do hereby wish for vicious, awful, blood-drenched vengeance upon my soon-to-be-ex-wife, Brenda Rose Galway-Ruddock!”

Another pause, but no laughter, no belch. Just silence. Solemn. Dreadful. The sound of judgment passed; of verdict given; after the gavel falls but before it strikes the pad.

“Amen,” J.J. finished. “Amen.”

And with that, this great big bear huffed, and puffed, and blew his whiskey-breath over the cake, over the shimmering 39, flexing his belly, straining his lungs, trying with all his heart to extinguish every last flame in one symbolic act.

But J.J. needn’t have worried or strained. The candles went out with ease, one by one, as if they wanted to die. As if their deaths had been ordained by some higher—or lower—force.

And…as the last candle shuddered out, a single tear fell from J.J.’s left eye.

2.

With the candles extinguished, J.J. found himself in darkness. Not total, unrelenting darkness, but shadowy, phantasmal darkness. The glow of a streetlamp bled through the kitchen window, and pale moonlight shone through the cracks in the blinds in the living room. Just enough radiance to make out shapes of things around him, yet just enough to play endless tricks on his whiskey-burdened mind.

But darkness didn’t scare J.J.

Never had, never would.

Still leaning over the table, the big bear shook his head as if he’d just been whacked on the jaw. Gotta be the booze, he decided, blinking the sudden grogginess away.

That, an gettin’ myself all worked up…

Thin tendrils of smoke wafted up from the spent candles. J.J. coughed, then straightened to his full, monstrous height. In silhouette he looked like a great, hairy ogre standing in the kitchen of an ordinary man’s house. Indeed, the top of his head almost touched the ceiling.

“Well,” J.J. grumbled, snatching his Wild Turkey from the table, “here’s to gettin’ all worked up!”

He took a slug from the bottle and grinned as sweet flames lit up his throat.

“Goddamn, that’s good! An now, nothin’ left to do but cut the—”

Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump!

J.J. jerked and jumped at the jolting sound. He wheeled around, swaying on his bare feet, and faced the living room. Whiskey sloshed in the bottle at his side. His hand tightened around the neck.

“WHAT THE—?”

Thump-thump-thump!

And then he understood. Halloween night. A tiny fist knocking at his abode. A tiny fist attached to a tiny boy or girl craving something sweet and good to eat. Trick-or-treaters! J.J. realized, grinning a more satisfied—and malicious—grin than when he’d cursed his soon-to-be-ex-wife…and began creeping toward the front door.

3.

Ugh!” Colin Ryerson sighed, knocking for the second time—

Thump-thump-thump!

—and suppressing a yawn. How had he, of all the rotten luck, gotten stuck chaperoning his younger sister and even younger cousin? Easy. Lame parents. Lame parents who insisted he come along to visit his grandparents at their ghetto trailer court, and, oh, gosh, wouldn’t it be great if he’d take the girls around while the grownups sat around yapping about nothing?

Yeah, great. I could be home right now, making out with Audrey “B.J Queen” Lang and actually enjoying life. But nooo. Mom’s gotta have a shit-fit over the girls’ costumes and go see Nanny and Poppy.

“Maybe no one’s home,” Nina Ryerson said, turning to her brother. She’d dressed up as an 80s glam-rocker; frizzy pink wig, big yellow Elton John sunglasses, a neon blue leotard, and to complete the ensemble, a plastic guitar; hot pink, hanging from her shoulder by a rainbow strap.

“Duh!” Colin answered. “That’s a good bet since the lights are off, geekazoid.”

“Well, you don’t hafta be mean about it! You’re just mad cuz you couldn’t stay home and play kissy-face with you’re bimbo girlfr—”

“Audrey ain’t my girlfriend, dork.”

“God! I swear, you think you’re sooo cool just cause you’re fourteen.”

Colin shook his head. “Aw, shut up. Let’s go.”

Gertie Torino, Colin and Nina’s seven year old cousin, frowned at them. Why did they have to fight so much? The little girl had worn a tutu and dancing shoes, her soft auburn hair in pigtails, and at that moment looked like the saddest ballerina in the world.

“Come on, guys. Stop arguing. There’s only one more house left on this row, anyways.”
Nina turned to her cousin and smiled. Both girls clutched orange plastic bags decorated with cartoonish vampire bats, and looked forward to sharing their bounty once they got back home.

“Okay, Gertie. Let’s go.”

“Great idea.” Colin stepped between them, left hand falling upon Nina’s left shoulder, right hand upon Gertie’s right shoulder. “Now move it.”

But just as they turned to leave, the front door swung inward and something leapt from the darkness onto the porch—

RAAAHHHWRRR!

Perched on the bottom step, all three children flinched, screamed, and fell backward. Going down, the girls flung their precious bags into the night and wrapped themselves around Colin. The boy hugged them close, still thinking of their safety despite his own panic, and tried to cushion the fall for all of them—

Thud!

The startled children landed in a heap. Colin felt the impact on his tailbone, both girls scraped their elbows, but nothing serious. The resultant cacophony of squeals, shrieks, and yells echoed down the dark street.

“Jesus, girls! Run!”

Nina and Gertie scrambled to their feet, both now bawling in terror. Poor little Gertie had almost wet herself from the shock. That growl hadn’t sounded human! So bestial, so sinister; something like the buzz of a chainsaw crossed with a lion’s roar. Enough to send two small girls scampering for their very lives.

Holy shit!

Eyes wide, heart hammering, Colin rolled to his knees, scuffing up his designer jeans. He saw the shape on the porch, outlined in shadow, standing very still. A man, after all. A big man. Either wearing a wig or possessing quite a mane of hair. Getting to his feet, the boy’s temper exploded:

“Hey! Just what is wrong with you, mister? You just scared the crap outta my sister and cousin!”

“An you, too, I bet,” the giant shadow replied in a deep, truculent voice. Then it began to laugh. A big, satisfied, belly-laugh; too loud; too long; the guffaw of a dumb redneck who’s had way too much whiskey.

Maddening to the indignant boy’s ears.

“Yeah, real funny, jerk! I oughtta call the cops on your retarded ass right now!”

“Jerk?” the ominous shadow repeated, snorting more laughter. “Cops? You really need to get a sense of humor, kid…”

Okay, moron.

Smirking, Colin reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone. He had two numbers on speed-dial: Audrey “B.J. Queen” Lang, and 911. “Oh, I got your sense of humor…right…here…”

But the threat—which he’d meant to enforce—never left Colin’s mouth. Because the man had just stepped forward into the light, exposing a face Colin wished he’d never seen.

Oh, shit!

“That’s right, kid. Just what I thought. Now get on home before I jerk you up by the throat an spank your narrow ass. Hear me? An tell your ol’ man he better not come a-knockin’ or else I’ll do the same to him, only ten times worse.”
Then the savage man smiled. An awful, demonic smile which Colin never forgot.

“Trick-or-treat, huh, kid? Whaddya say?”

Oh, screw this!

With an odd exhalation—not quite a groan, not quite a whimper—Colin Ryerson forgot about calling the cops and started running. What he’d just seen had frightened him to the marrow and he couldn’t get away fast enough. Away from that crazed, evil-looking man who liked to scare little kids. Whose eyes had glittered like yellow diamonds in the moonlight; like a feral cat he’d once seen in his backyard. Whose teeth had looked like razor sharp fangs; not fake vampire teeth, either. And whose hands looked more like claws, capable of cleaving him in two with one swat.

4.

Aw, hell! J.J. thought, feeling a sudden pang of regret at his cruel prank. Poor little girls lost all their hard-earned candy…

Nice move, jerk.

The big man had taken one step down his porch when it began. His bare right foot emerged from shadow, looking very much like a mastiff’s paw; twice as much hair as before. But J.J. didn’t notice his foot—or the extra hair which had sprouted on his forearms—because he’d begun to itch all over. A deep, burning itch, far beneath the skin. J.J. wanted to scratch, to tear, at his own flesh as a sudden dizziness came over him.

“What the…?”

J.J. groaned, staggered, and caught himself in the doorway. In his newfound agony he also didn’t notice the extra length of his fingernails.

“Christ!”

Now a fever set in to compliment the burning itch, as if J.J.’s internal temperature had shot up into the danger zone. Much hotter than he’d ever felt before. Like being roasted from the inside out.

“What…what’s happening?”

The bear took a deep breath, felt his stomach clench as if rejecting the crisp night air. He grunted, falling to his butt in the threshold of the doorway. For a moment J.J. thought—and hoped—he’d puke up whatever had caused the pain.

I’m screwed here! Royally! Gonna need an ambulance!

But screwed didn’t quite do J.J.’s situation justice. Every bone in his body ached. The muscles in his arms and legs burned. He itched from head to toe. Pain stabbed at his eyes. His teeth throbbed. His tongue felt thick and useless. Every inch of the big man suffered in some way; steeped in misery, right down to his very soul.

Oh, for Christ’s sake! What in God’s name is…?

But the thought died away, replaced by a dreadful certainty. J.J knew what had happened, and why. After all, he’d called out to the darkness—

Do you hear me, son? I WANT MY WISH!

—he’dmade that vengeful plea—

Raw an bloody, just like that steak I had tonight.

—and he’d blown out the candles, sealing his own fate.

“Oh, no! No, no, no! I’m crazy but I ain’t that cra—”

Again, J.J.’s stomach clenched, cutting off his useless appeal for mercy and making him scream.

“JESUS! Please stop this! I-I cant take no mo—”

Another spasm. Another scream. Another worthless prayer.

“Naw! This ain’t how I meant it! This ain’t even—

GRRRAAAHHH!

This time, J.J. rocked back, falling into the shadowy recesses of his home. Snarling. Whimpering. Tearing at his clothes and writhing like a rabid dog. But before he collapsed, J.J. saw the last thing he’d see with human eyes on this soon-to-be-gory evening:

The moon.

Full and bright, peering at him from the darkness like some lidless, alien eye. Silent. Stoic. Not passing judgment, yet working the malignant will of hell.


“A Messy Divorce” is part of the collection: Living The Nightmare.

Available for digital download @ https://books2read.com/u/4NR629

Available in paperback through Amazon.com @ https://www.amazon.com/dp/1986415325

Thank you for reading!

JLR

As If Nothing Ever Happened (Short Story Excerpt)

January 17, 2017

December 26th, 2017.

Stark City, Oregon.

1:11 p.m.

“I don’t care who you are to anyone else,” he said, fists clenched at his side. Restraining himself. “You’re nothing to me anymore.”

She looked hurt. Once, she’d been the world to him; everything. His eyes sparkled when he looked at her. Now, his eyes looked hollow; reflecting something she couldn’t understand. “But…it’s been three years.”

“I don’t care if it’s been ten. Or a hundred. Or a thousand.”

They stood on the vaunted Stark City archway. Above them, the dismal sky threatened rain. Below them, Stark Boulevard pulsed like an artery through the heart of downtown. This chance meeting had ruined an otherwise mellow day. He’d seen her on the archway and averted his eyes, determined to pass without a word. But she’d called out to him in a jovial tone. Called his name and walked over to him.

Grinning.

As if nothing ever happened.

He exhaled. Not a sigh, but a sharp, sudden eruption. Almost a warning. Just the sight of her brought everything back.

All the angst.

All the anguish.

All the anger.

“Look,” she said, offering a conciliatory smile, “I’m sorry about how things ended between us.”

He glared at her. The her from his dark, sordid past. The her which almost every man has once known and left behind. The her he associates with pain.


If you enjoyed this excerpt, please subscribe, like, and share.

Show support on Patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/jesselynnrucilez

Thank you for reading!

JLR

Delirium Tremens (Short Story Excerpt)

December 20, 2016

author-3January 4th, 2017
Stark City, Oregon.
5:53 a.m.

“JESUS CHRIST!” Daniel Jax screamed as four large security guards began strapping him to a hospital gurney. Lightning cracked the air above him, and black spiders swarmed beneath his dirty clothes. Each of the guards had seized a limb, applying hard rubber cuffs for Daniel’s—and the nurse’s—own safety. “I HAVE TO SAVE ZOEY!”

“Easy, sir,” the guard securing Daniel’s right arm said. “We’ll be done in a second.”

“IT’S GONNA EAT HER SOUL!”

Daniel convulsed, turned to the guard with bulging, bloodshot eyes. He wanted to scream, I’m not crazy! but couldn’t find the words. He wanted to tell him about his family, about the beautiful Cape Cod home he’d bought by becoming one of the top insurance salesmen in northern California.

But most of all, Daniel wanted to tell him about the lightning.

“Man, he stinks!” The guard securing Daniel’s left ankle shook his head. “Gotta be wearin’ at least three layers!”

“Okay,” a tired, gray-haired nurse said. “What’s the story here, guys?”

“Looks homeless,” the guard securing Daniel’s right ankle said. “Medics found him in an alley downtown, screaming about demons. Seems very dehydrated.”

“Uh-huh. Name and age?”

“I.D. says, Jax, Daniel. Forty-three years old.”

“Daniel.” The nurse laid her gloved hand on his shoulder. “My name’s Blanche. There’s no demons. You’re having a psychotic episode brought on by severe alcohol withdrawal.”

Having screamed himself hoarse, Daniel turned his bulging eyes to Blanche. The guards had finished strapping him down and he felt helpless. Unable to sit up. Unable to reach out. Unable to do anything but gape and shudder beneath the pale overhead light.

“I know it hurts, but I need you to hold still while I insert your I.V.”
With a sad groan, Daniel shut his eyes, still squirming as thousands of spider legs pricked his flesh. “It took her!” he whispered. “I saw it!”

Nodding, Blanche slid the needle into Daniel’s arm. Daniel hissed, looked up with fear and pain etched into his face.

Another whisper: “I have to save Zoey!”

Blanche shook her head. “Alright, Daniel. Now it’s fluids, fluids, fluids. I’m gonna order a Thiamine boost, and a heavy dose of Diaxepam to help you sleep.”

Fists clenched, Daniel strained to sit up. “I have to save her!”

“You’re gonna be here for awhile, so just lie back and ride it out. Once these DTs pass, we’ll get you evaluated and outta here. I’ll do everything I can to help you, but right now I’ve gotta go check on my other patients.”

Daniel flinched from another crack of lightning as Blanche left, shut off the light, and closed the door. They’d put him in one of the rooms reserved for psychotic patients. No T.V., no sink; nothing which could excite or harm him. A beam of light shone through the observation window onto his face. Already, the shadows in the corners had begun to writhe and swirl. But they didn’t know. Medics, security guards, nurses; normal people. They couldn’t see the true horrors which lived in darkness. Daniel knew because he used to be like them—used to be normal. Then the lightning came, shattering every bit of normalcy he’d ever known.

“I’ll find her, goddamnit! Before it sucks the life out of her forever!”

Still squirming, Daniel took deep breaths. It didn’t help. The lightning still cracked. The spiders still swarmed. And he craved alcohol as never before; like a cramp in the center of his being. If not for this mission, Daniel would’ve killed with his bare hands for a sip of beer. But he couldn’t save Zoey drunk. To save her, he had to bear this agony.

The agony of Delirium Tremens.

“Great news!” Blanche said, pushing through the door. “Got your meds. How are you feeling?”

Gasping, Daniel looked at Blanche. How long had she been gone? A minute? An hour? Daniel had no clue.

“Still riding it out, I see. Well, this’ll help…”

As Blanche injected the Thiamine and Diaxepam into Daniel’s I.V., Daniel again closed his eyes. The Thiamine didn’t matter, but the Diaxepam would be his savior.

God’s mercy, coursing through his veins.

“Alright, Daniel. Nothing left to do but lie back and try to rest.”

As Blanche left, Daniel twisted in his restraints. Lie back and rest? No way. Not when he had a life to save. A life more important than his own.

I’m coming, Zoey! Just hold on a little longer…

Propelled by his racing pulse, the Diaxepam slammed into Daniel’s brain with locomotive force. All at once he ceased writhing and his eyelids began to flutter. His sharp exhalations dulled, becoming deep, almost contemplative sighs.

Hold on…Zo…ey...

One last sigh, then Daniel went slack. Head turned, eyes closed, lips parted. Not quite snoring. Several minutes of blessed nothing passed before Daniel began to dream. The same dream he’d had for the last twelve years: rummaging around his attic on a muggy March evening. His daughter, Caroline, has found a large black widow spider in her room, and he’s vowed to cleanse the house of all insects. Outside, the sky has darkened and the wind has risen; very apropos for the impending holocaust. Bug spray in hand, he’s found a small infestation of creepy crawlers in a dusty corner. As he advances upon the large, silken web, Daniel hears a clap of thunder. A storm, he thinks, taking aim. And as he pushes the spray button, a bolt of lightning strikes the roof above his head. So fast, so sudden, Daniel doesn’t feel the jolt, but collapses beneath the dry explosion—

BOOM!

“Shit!”

Daniel’s eyes snapped open. Leaving his sleeping form behind, the homeless drunk’s ethereal self sat up and slid off the gurney. He always felt the same after the dream; anxious, drained…and in serious danger of slipping into the bad place. The realm of spirits, shadows, and demons.

But this time, he wanted to go.

God help me.


If you enjoyed this excerpt, please subscribe, like, and share.

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Thank you for reading!

JLR

Lucifer In High-heels (Short Story Excerpt)

May 2, 2016

August 16th, 2017.
Hinckley, Oregon.
4:23 p.m.

Disgusted, Lance Felder held Ursula’s hips as she gripped the oak headboard. Moaning, the thin, oversexed woman ground her pubic bone into his upper mandible. Painful, but not unbearable. Ursula had wanted to make love—again—but Lance hadn’t been able to muster the strength for another mattress rodeo. So he’d begged off, claiming fatigue—not mentioning the half bottle of wine he’d polished off after lunch—and offered her what he called “his specialty” instead: a Felder Tongue Ride. With a sigh and a roll of her Botoxed eyes, Ursula had shrugged off her silk robe and shoved him onto her king-sized bed. Then she’d climbed aboard, straddling Lance’s face while he forced his tongue onto her flesh.

Not that Ursula tasted bad. Not at all. She groomed and took care of herself. She just didn’t taste young. She didn’t taste fresh.

“Oh, honey!” the enraptured woman moaned, rocking her hips to and fro. “Oh, Lance, baby! Oh, yeah! Just…uh!…oh, yeah, right…THERE!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Ursie. Just get off already.

When she had, Ursula slid to Lance’s right, collapsing in a sweaty heap. Hands pressed to her face. Lips sputtering. Legs quivering. Bleach-blonde hair a mess. Lance couldn’t help but notice the graying roots, the veins in her weathered hands.

“God, Lance! You do that so well!”

“Thanks, babe. You know I love getting you wet.”

With an inner sigh, Lance rolled over and gave Ursula an obligatory kiss. She thrust her tongue in his mouth. He winced but reciprocated.

“What a day. Think I’ll take a nap.”

“Sounds good, Ursie.” I guess fucking and lounging by the pool all day is pretty tiresome.

“Wanna join me?”

Lance sat up, hoping his desperation didn’t show. “Uh, I’d love to, babe, but I got some work to do.”

Ursula grinned. “The novel, eh?”

“Yeah…the novel.” Just another piece of my heart. Destined to be ignored.

“Is it as good as the first two, you think?”

You mean the first two that were rejected by every publisher on both coasts? “Oh, it’s even better.”

“That’s great, darling! I can’t wait to read it…”

“When it’s finished, babe. You know that.”

“I know.” Ursula yawned, exposing capped, bleached teeth. “But you know I get impatient.”

“Oh, I know,” Lance replied with no trace of sarcasm.

“Hey, would you be a doll and mix me a rum and Coke.”

“Yeah, sure.” And I’ll be sure to take it easy on the Coke.

Another yawn. “Thank you, honey.”

Lance climbed over Ursula—enduring another kiss—and strode into the hall. Barefoot. Shirtless. His upper body toned and tanned. Dark hair jouncing on his shoulders. A thick beard hiding his forlorn expression. He wore a pair of ripped designer jeans, slacker style; low on his hips, top button undone. At thirty-two, he still looked twenty, but felt much older. A Bohemian soul, no longer young at heart.

All that money, and all she does is drown her troubles in booze day after day…

 

Hands thrust in his jean pockets, Lance turned left, walking down the wide staircase.
The day had gotten off to a bad start, and promised to end even worse. Lance had awoken next to Ursula, slipped out of bed without waking her, and crept downstairs. The maid, Louisa, had wished him a good morning and started a pot of coffee. Outside, Lance had gone through his morning workout of push-ups, crunches, and twenty laps in the pool. Then, coffee in hand, he’d opened his e-mail to find two rejection notices from two different publishers:

Dear Mr. Felder,

Thank you for your recent submission. Unfortunately, this doesn’t meet our publishing needs at this time. Feel free to submit again. Good luck publishing your novel elsewhere.

Sincerely,

Publisher-at-large.

Two of those in one day. Talk about heartache.

Lance had sat, head in hand, for awhile, then plunged back into his current novel. The story of a man traveling cross-country by train, en route to see his dying father one last time. A good story. A worthwhile story. A story he had to finish. Lance had gotten a few strong sentences down when Louisa appeared to inform him that Ursula had awoken. Of course, he didn’t have to drop everything and rush to her side…but he did, anyway.

Gotta keep the bread buttered.

Ursula always slept in the nude; said it made her feel young. Looking at her naked form, Lance couldn’t help but notice the wrinkles and creases creeping into her flesh. She tried, though. Oh, how she tried. Personal trainers. Weird diets. Plastic surgery. But Father Time had grabbed hold, and wouldn’t let go. She had twenty years on Lance; old enough to be his mother. Still, he’d climbed back into bed as he had so many mornings and reassured Ursula as best he could. Still beautiful. Still desirable. They’d begun in the normal way, but after growing tired of her desperate kisses, Lance had flipped her over and vented his frustrations at not being published with every thrust.

And Ursula had loved it.


“Lucifer In High-heels” was published in Ramingo’s Porch Issue #1, now available @ Amazon.com:

https://www.amazon.com/Ramingos-Porch-Issue/dp/0998847658/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511617834&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Ramingo%27s+Porch

Thank you for reading!

JLR

Appleton’s Abode (Novella Excerpt)

September 28, 2014

Prologue: A Storm In Oak Park

1.

My Dearest Baxter,
Ah, Bax! Ah, my boy! How art thou? Now there’s a good lad! If you are indeed reading these words, then it can only mean that the inevitable has happened and I have passed into the Great Beyond. And not a moment too soon I trust. For the way my life is going at present, I cannot conceive of myself possibly dying from anything other than old age. I have no enemies to speak of, so who would want to kill me? I do not travel much in the conventional way, so the likelihood of an accident is also rather slim. And that is why I place my bet against The Grim Reaper’s that when the bony fellow comes a-knocking, he will stamp my ticket with “NATURAL CAUSES” in bright red ink–
Ah, but was I right lad?
Was I quite right?

2.

Donald Baxter Page looked up from the letter in his hand. Clad in a gray parka and tan mittens, Baxter stood by the front window of his suburbanite home in Oak Park, Illinois. Pain engulfed him as he stared outside. Looking past the oil-mottled driveway, he saw no children in the street. No traffic. Just an empty gulf of black asphalt; gritty and lifeless. Across it, the neighborhood trees shook in February’s brittle wind. Waving at him. Perhaps expressing their condolences.
It didn’t help.
Although Baxter had known about his friend’s death for over a week, he’d never expected a posthumous letter from the man. Never in his wildest dreams. So just imagine Baxter’s initial shock upon finding that missive in his mailbox. Then imagine the high tide of emotion as he’d dashed into his house, ripped open the envelope, and rushed to the window–anxious as hell to read anything his dead friend might have to say.
And, man, what an opening paragraph! Jaunty, effusive, and colloquial; everything the man had been in life. Everything Baxter had loved about him from the moment they’d first met. It read, felt, and sounded as if the man now stood before him, striking up a conversation like the old days.
An effect both comforting and cruel.
Damned cruel.
As the wind gusted, Baxter returned to the letter. Faded black ink on elegant, unlined stationary. Words gleaming from the glare in the window. A ragged sigh escaped Baxter’s lips as his eyes searched for and found the spot where he’d left off. The grieving man cleared his throat, then pressed his lips into a thin line. A single tear fell from his right eye. You were right, he thought. You were right, Corny…
But God damn it, anyway.

3.

Ah, no matter. I am sure that dreadful day is far off. Presently, as I write this confounded letter, it is my 85th birthday and I feel utterly vibrant! Fit as a fiddle! Healthy as a horse! Tip-top condition! Why, I am almost certain that I could even beat you in a footrace, Bax!
At any rate, I know that my inking these thoughts down is long overdue. I should have set myself to it perhaps ten years ago, but even now I don’t feel it overly urgent. I just want to get the blasted thing done for my own peace of mind. I mean, the way I feel just now, I am certain that I shall live to see a full century pass before by aged and sparkling eyes!
But! I must now confess, my boy, that a rather morbid sensibility does accost me from time to time, causing me to wonder just how far I will make it. At 85, I would be a fool not to at least pay lip service to the fact that I might hear that fateful knock upon my door at any moment.
At exactly what age do you suppose I will expire, Bax?

4.

“A hundred-and-one,” Baxter muttered, grinning as another tear fell. “You made it, you old coot. You surely did…”
Outside, the wind settled. The trees ceased waving. Taking a deep, steadying breath, Baxter glanced up again. Gray clouds now mottled the sky like the oil stains on his driveway. A storm descending upon Oak Park. A storm for sure. A nasty one. Both within, and without.
“Yeah…” Baxter said, lowering his eyes, hearing the crinkle of elegant paper in his trembling hands. “A hundred-and-one, Professor Appleton. That’s how far you made it.”

5.

Dear me, lad! I wrote that down as if I were talking directly to you, didn’t I? As if you could somehow respond, when in all actuality that dreaded event must have already occurred. Otherwise, you would not be reading these words right now.
Sorry, Bax. Forgive a foolish octogenarian for lapsing into whimsy from time to time…
And now, dear boy, like Odysseus lurching into Ithaca, I come to my grand destination. The real point of it all!
But first, I must ask that, if you are at present standing, you must seat yourself, Bax. Please. Sit down before you read any further. Take a deep breath–perhaps a stiff belt of your favorite libation, as well–and gird yourself for what may come as quite a shock.
Trust me, lad. It is for the best that I ask you this…

6.

Tearing his gaze from the letter, Baxter sighed and turned to the mauve couch in his living room. If the old man wanted him to sit down, then he’d sit down. Simple as that. Cornelius Appleton might’ve put on theatrical airs from time to time, but when he got serious and changed his tone, all theatricality melted away. That’s when you wanted to shut your mouth, open your eyes, and listen with both ears–
Because you just never knew.
“Okay, Corny. Gimme a second to get comfortable.”
Baxter set the pages on his coffee table, then donned the reading glasses he’d been too manic to remember when he’d rushed inside. Peeling off his mittens, he used them to mop the tears from his face before tossing them down. Next went the parka, revealing a navy blue turtleneck sweater beneath. All set to sink into his couch and continue reading, Baxter paused, turning toward the kitchen.
Perhaps a stiff belt of your favorite libation…
Another sigh. The grandfather clock hadn’t even struck noon yet, but a drink did sound excellent. Even his mouth agreed, beginning to water in anticipation. He liked cognac; his wife liked Schnapps; they both liked spiced rum and Cabernet Sauvignon. Right now, the kitchen had all four. Right now, either of the four sounded good and warm on a cold and miserable day. And with Rita and the twins out running errands, Baxter had the whole house to himself.
Well…tempting, damnit. But, no. It’d be too easy to get started and keep going. Besides, if Rita came home and found him smashed–or even just smelled booze on his breath–she’d come unglued. Then the never-ending questions would begin, followed by her constant bitching and moaning and needling. But Baxter didn’t have a drinking problem. Far from it. Rita just had a habit of seizing upon anything she didn’t like and turning it into a major ordeal. And Baxter knew from experience that Rita didn’t like him drinking without her. Lord knew why, but she didn’t. He also knew that, once enraged, Rita would follow him around the house, unleashing her discontent at every turn. Nowhere would be safe; like living in a war zone.
Then he’d have to hear about it all night.
“Okay, scratch the drink for now, Corny,” Baxter muttered as he sank down, preparing for whatever news lay ahead. “But I’ll be sure to toast your memory after dinner, old friend. I promise.”

7.

Now, if all has gone to plan, buried beneath these pages you should find an exact duplicate of my Last Will & Testament. Knowing you, Bax, you will be sorely tempted to begin reading this document at once–

8.

“Bet your ass!” Baxter erupted, eyes wide, digging into the thin stack of pages. Sure enough, toward the back, he found it:
~The Last Will & Testament Of The Late Professor Cornelius Appleton~
And began reading:
“I, Cornelius Appleton, being of sound mind and body on this day, do hereby decree that the following represents, in toto, my final thoughts, wishes, and words upon this mortal coil…” in a low whisper before regaining his senses–
HOLY SHIT!
–and flipping back to the sentence he’d left behind.

9.

–but I must beg of you; please, lad, read the entirety of this letter before doing that! Just exercise a bit of your dogged determination, and I assure you, all will be revealed, Bax.
All will be revealed.
Now, prepare yourself for yet another shock:

10.

“Another shock?” Baxter said, rattling those frail pages. “Another shock?”
The incredulous man leant back, bellowed laughter.
“First, you go and die on me! Granted, you were over a century old, but still, Corny, you caught me by surprise on that one! Then you send me a letter from beyond the grave! Are you kidding me? Only you, Corny! Only you could, and only you would do something like that to a person! Then you tell me you’ve sent me a copy of your fucking will? And now I suppose you’re finally gonna tell me what this is all about, huh?
“Well, go right ahead, Pop! Lay it on me, Daddy-O!”
Teeth grit, hands clenched around the pages, Baxter snickered to keep from screaming.

11.

Simply put, Bax, I’m leaving it all to you.
Everything!

12.

“WHAT?!”
Leaping to his feet, Baxter’s jaw dropped. He looked like a game show contestant who’d won the grand prize. And in a very real sense, he had.
“Oh, no! No way, Corny!” Baxter gasped between sobs and barks of near-hysterical laughter. “This…this has gotta be a joke, right? I mean, you can’t…you can’t do this to me, Corny!”

13.

That is right, my dear boy! I’m leaving the house, the land, the library, and all of the trinkets I have amassed over this past century (of course!) all to you! Ah, but more importantly–most important of all–I am bequeathing unto you all of the magic that is “Professor Appleton’ s Whimsical Abode Of Curiosities!”
Every. Thing.
The entire legacy.
The whole ball of wax, Bax!

14.

Still clutching the letter and will, Baxter turned, right hand running through his thick brown forelocks. Now he faced the kitchen. Sweat stood out on his brow. More tears slipped from his eyes as his troubled gaze fell upon the pantry door.
Perhaps a stiff belt of your favorite libation…
Cognac. Schnapps. Spiced rum. Cabernet Sauvignon. Each of them beckoned, but one in particular sounded perfect:
Screw Rita! Baxter decided, heading straight for the unopened bottle of Bacardi Oakheart.

15.

Yes, sir! That is how I want it, and therefore, how it must be. For you, Bax, have been like a son to me all these years. In fact, you are the closest thing I have, and shall ever have, to a son. Surely, you can see that.

16.

“Sure,” Baxter said, shaking his head. “Like a son. Even though I haven’t been back to the Appleton Woods in almost twenty years…”
Choking back more tears, the unnerved man retrieved a short glass from the cupboard with his shaky right hand…and almost dropped it.
“Haven’t written you a letter in ten years…”
Baxter set Professor Appleton’s letter aside and gripped the rum with both shaky hands. Though his right hand slipped on the first attempt, the cap came loose with little effort on the second.
Thank God.
“Haven’t even called you in over five years, Corny…”

17.

’Tis of no matter to me that we haven’t stayed in close contact as of late, either. I am a grown and elderly man. You are a grown and stately man with a wife and children. It is thus only natural that we should drift further and further apart in this vast ocean we call life. As such, I will not tolerate any self-deprecating nonsense from you! You are worthy of this gift, dear boy. Most worthy!
So be sure to do me the courtesy of honoring one of my last requests, and please refrain from marveling at the pitiful generosity of my will.
Agreed?

18.

Tink!
Tink!
Two large ice cubes now sat in the short glass, waiting to be bathed in alcohol.
“Aw, hell,” Baxter said, grimacing at the letter as he tipped his bottle. “I wouldn’t even presume to question your infinite wisdom, sir.”

19.

I am sure I needn’t remind you of the boon you once did for me, Bax. But since these are my last words, I think it would be rather uncouth to pass over this final opportunity to give hearty thanks and appreciation to you, my talented friend. I think you would agree; ’tis not every day that someone writes an award winning play about your life, now is it?

20.

“Award winning?” Baxter wheezed, half choking as a healthy dose of rum warmed his throat. “Award winning, did ya say? Right, Corny. The Life and Times Of Professor Appleton didn’t impress hardly anybody except you and a few small theater companies in L.A.”
He paused, letting the alcohol soak into his gut.
“Okay…maybe a few small theater companies in L.A. and Chicago. And Portland. And Seattle. One, that I know of, in New York…”
Baxter took another sip, coughed, shook his head.
“Still…I don’t think Shakespeare’s rollin’ over in his grave, Corny. Besides, that was…Christ, twenty years ago.”

21.

And don’t kid yourself, lad; your other plays were every bit as brilliant. More so, even. ’Tis a shame that they were not recognized as such. But no matter. I have the utmost faith in not only your writing abilities, but in you as a person. I feel very strongly that one day you will write a fabulous novel that both young and old can enjoy. Then your talent will be fully recognized.

22.

“HA! A novel, huh? That’s a laugh…”
Frowning, Baxter drained the glass. His belly now felt like a furnace; his gullet, a chimney. But already the tears had stopped, and a pleasant fog had settled in. For some men, alcohol just intensifies whatever emotions may be fueling their desire to drink. For Donald Baxter Page, however, it acts as a barrier between mind and heart, dulling–even numbing–the pain.
A very good thing, indeed.
“Ah…maybe several years ago, Corny. Maybe. But now, at forty-one, with a full time job, two teenage daughters, and an ever-cranky wife? The Great American Novel? No way. Ain’t happenin’, sir. I, uh…I just don’t have the time.”
A lie. Baxter knew it; knew that Professor Appleton wouldn’t buy it, either. In fact, no one would except Rita, who’d never cared for his writing in the first place.
“Oh, well,” Baxter moaned, reaching for the bottle. “At least the old man died believing in me and my work, eh?”

23.

Now, I don’t mean to write my very own novel with these pages, Bax, but before I conclude this document, I have a few more things to discuss. Things of the utmost importance, I assure you. They pertain to the property I am bequeathing unto you, so please pay close attention. The orchard, the house itself, the library, and the stuffed animal zoo; all of them come with their own special set of instructions that absolutely must be followed, especially by he who owns them.
Understand, to shirk this responsibility would be dangerous to both you and your family, Bax. So be sure not to rush through or merely skim over these next few paragraphs. Read them only when you know you will not be disturbed. Just sit down, relax, and take your sweet time–

24.

But for Baxter, time had run out.
The familiar throb and thrum of the Page family minivan jerked his attention from the letter. Shit! he thought, looking up. They’re home already?
With haste, Baxter raised his glass in a half-assed salute to his deceased friend, tipped it back, and swallowed the rum. The furnace within roared as he turned, again setting the papers aside. He rinsed the glass with cold water, then placed it back on the shelf. Then the incriminating bottle of Bacardi returned to the pantry with a dull thunk!
“There, now! All ready for company!”
The rattle of loose pages filled the kitchen as Baxter gathered the letter and will. Catching a glimpse of Rita and the twins lifting grocery bags from the minivan, the panicked and disheveled man hurried into the front room and plopped onto the sofa. For a moment, Baxter considered rushing outside to help–
But, no. That’d just make Rita suspicious. Better to sit here and let her discover me on her own…
Face flushed and wet, nose running, Baxter knew he looked both upset and guilty–which Rita would seize upon as soon as she walked through the door–but hoped it would add to the effect when he explained. He didn’t know how she’d take it, but more than ever, he needed her sympathy; needed his wife’s loving support.
For a change.
Thus, heeding Professor Cornelius Appleton’s advice, Baxter refused to read any further. Instead, he returned to the beginning of the letter, and sat hunched over the pages with a look of intense concentration. Awaiting the moment when the door opened, Rita emerged from the cold, and the real storm began.


“Appleton’s Abode” is available in digital and paperback here:

https://jlrucilez.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/appletons-abode-official-page/

Thank you for reading!

JLR

Bobby’s Fight (Novella Excerpt)

August 21, 2014

bobbys-fightPrologue: The Twilley Restroom

1.

October 9th, 1992.

Hinckley, Oregon.

12:03 p.m.

Gotcha! Clint thought as he pushed through the restroom door. The husky ten-year-old had been awaiting this moment since he’d awoken that morning. Payback for what happened yesterday. His prey, a third-grader named Bobby Williams, stood at the center urinal, wearing a tee-shirt and jeans. Clint glowered at the thin, dark-haired boy. Following him here had been the easy part. Now, he had to finish it before anyone could stop him.

Just you and me, weirdo.

To his left, Clint saw a metal lunchbox on the counter. Bobby’s lunchbox; the one he loved and brought to school every day. Clint’s heavy gait echoed off the tile floor as he walked toward it.

“Hi, Clint.”

Mid-step, Clint froze.

How could he know it’s me?

“Why don’t you leave me alone today? You’ll just get us both in trouble again.”

Clint looker over, grit his teeth.

You’re lucky I slipped yesterday. You won’t be so lucky this time…

Sneering, Clint walked to the counter and seized the lunchbox in his grimy hands. The lid bore the logo of Bobby’s favorite movie, Void Hunter, and the face of Bobby’s idol, The Almighty Ve’yn. Most kids liked Void Hunter—an outer space epic—but few idolized Ve’yn, its main villain. Half man, half dragon, Almighty Ve’yn looked quite sinister. Scaly green hide. Cold obsidian eyes. Curved black horns. A ridge of dark green fins atop its skull and down its spine. A lipless, skeletal mouth.

Very demonic.

Not that Clint cared. He didn’t like Void Hunter or the character Ve’yn. Clint liked sports and hotrods and playing in the dirt; not reading all day like the creepy little kid zipping up his pants and turning toward him.

Let’s see how you like this, Bobby-wobby.

The angry fifth-grader stiffened. His blue Seattle Seahawks jersey reflected:

GAULT

00

in the mirror behind him.

2.

Clinton Otis Gault had always been a problem child. To Roger and Christina, his stable and affectionate parents, it seemed as if he came out of the womb contentious and dissatisfied, and his long, difficult birth foreshadowed the next ten years. At age two, Clint specialized in catastrophic temper tantrums. At age three he showed great skill in throwing his toys at whoever annoyed him. Roger and Christina knew they had a monster on their hands, but didn’t realize how big a monster until much later.

At age four, Clint found himself playing second fiddle to his newborn sister, Leslie. From the moment she arrived—in Clint’s mind, at least—Leslie became the undisputed star of the Gault family. Aunts, uncles, grandparents; everyone gathered around her, laughing and making gah-gah noises, which always made him furious. Leslie this and Leslie that, he’d think. But all she does is make splat!

Then Clint started grade school, and his disposition went from bad to diabolical.

3.

“How’s it goin’, dipwad? I found this by the sink. Ain’t it yours?”

Clint never forgot the moment Bobby turned to see him holding the lunchbox. The little weirdo had sounded so calm, so assured when he’d first walked in, but now—now Bobby looked frightened to tears.

“Yeah,” Bobby replied, his voice soft but firm. “Let me have it.”

Clint’s sneer became a menacing smirk. “Come and get it!”

Bobby blinked. Desperation shone in his eyes as he struggled to remain calm. Then, much to Clint’s sadistic delight, he stepped forward, reaching out with both hands—

Whoops!

Still smirking, Clint let the lunchbox slip from his grasp—

Clang!

The lunchbox unbuckled and sprawled open, spilling out a half-eaten sandwich. Bobby winced from the sudden clatter.

Whoops!

Teeth grit, Clint raised his size nine-and-a-half sneaker and stomped on the lid—

Thunk!

The thin metal—as well as Ve’yn’s demonic face—crumpled beneath Clint’s thick rubber sole.

Come on, dipwad! Let’s see what ya got!

Gaping at the spectacle, Bobby froze. His tender face slackened with disbelief. He shivered, almost weeping, and took a deep, shuddery breath.

Payback time!

Relishing the moment, Clint ground his heel with the cold intent to destroy that which Bobby loved. He did a good job, too. The lid squeaked and grated against the tile floor, and when he lifted his foot, Clint saw a deep, crescent-shaped dent in Ve’yn’s face.

Good! Now he’ll cry…

But Bobby didn’t cry. The frightened boy just stood there, trembling. Proud of himself, Clint stepped back. Then, pretending to be the star kicker for the Seahawks, the bully reared back—

Whoops!

and kicked the dented lunchbox with all his might—

Thwack!

The tin box skidded across the tile—

Eeeeee!

bounced off of Bobby’s right shoe—

Smack!

and came to rest by the toilet stalls. The clamor echoed for several moments—music to Clint’s freckled ears—then stillness returned, broken by the two boys’ soft, unsynchronized breaths.

4.

Children can be cruel. Sometimes, that cruelty spreads like a social disease. Husky and big-boned, Clint wouldn’t outgrow his baby fat until his late teens. So the teasing began in kindergarten. One little smartass branded him pudgy and the term stuck like a fresh coat of paint. Pudgy this and pudgy that, everyday, until the boy snapped.

But being husky and big-boned had advantages, Clint discovered—once he’d shoved a few kids around. And by age nine, Clint had earned an enviable reputation on the Twilley playground, much to his parents’ and teachers’ chagrin.

Then he met Bobby Williams, and everything changed.

5.

Fuckin’ weirdo…

Clint shook his head. Bobby stood there; the ache of seeing his prized possession lying stomped and ruined on the floor evident on his soft face. When would the little weirdo lose his temper and fight back—or at least try? How much more pathetic could he be? Watching him, Clint laughed, baring pizza-stained buck teeth.

“What’s the matter? Is wittle Bobby-wobby gonna cwy?

Bobby, pale to begin with, now looked very ill. He turned to Clint with an expression of utter devastation, beseeching him with wet, flickering eyes. Crying now. Hard. Struggling to speak, his voice became a soft gurgle. A whine. A whimper of defeat which fed Clint’s savage hunger.

“How about a black eye, Bobby-wobby?

Bobby gasped. Clint curled his grimy hands into grimy fists.

Too bad, dipwad!

Bobby flinched, stumbled backward:

AAAHHH!

Rage surged through Clint’s veins as he raised his right arm. His moment, at last! His moment to teach Bobby Williams a lesson! Remind the little weirdo that he ruled Twilley Elementary! That books and straight As and strange eyes meant very little in the big boy world of muscles and pain! And as he stepped forward to throw a wild haymaker, Clint growled like some vicious, feral animal, envisioning blood and bruises and broken teeth—

But the punch never landed, and Clint’s triumph turned to tragedy.

6.

Clint hadn’t liked Bobby from the moment he first saw him. The thin, reclusive boy had transferred from Dale Palmer Elementary; the ghetto school. His parents lived in Stark City, not Hinckley—which made them trash. The little creep just didn’t belong, and Clint—a shining example of the typical American bully—had vowed to make his life miserable.

It began with dirty looks. Whenever he passed Bobby in the halls or saw him at recess, Clint glared like a bull preparing to charge. Bobby just ignored him, spending more and more of his free time in the school library. Taking this as a challenge, Clint went out of his way to shoulder check Bobby here and there—accidentally-on-purpose, of course—just to see what kind of reaction he’d get. But Bobby always backed down. As one of the Big Kids, Clint’s natural bulk struck fear into the hearts of even the sixth grade boys, and he terrified Bobby. Which just encouraged the angry fifth-grader. Soon, Clint tried to corner Bobby every chance he got, hoping he’d get the nerve to fight.

And yesterday, he’d tried again.

7.

WHAT THE FUCK?

Pain, intense and sudden, caused Clint’s haymaker to arc downward. It felt as if a steel clamp had snapped around his throat, and he couldn’t breathe. Face red and bunched with agony, the bully lurched back, clutching his throat with both hands. Grappling with the invisible vise around his neck. Watching him, Bobby sighed.

HELP ME!

“I told you. I told you I didn’t wanna fight you.”

Clint heard Bobby’s voice, but the words held no meaning. Not then, anyway. Still struggling, he stumbled into the counter and fell to his knees—

Smack!

“I hope I never have to tell you again.”

Clint screamed in silent anguish as pain exploded in both kneecaps. Trembling, the bully collapsed, caught himself with one shaky arm. Help! he mouthed, eyes bulging. But the strange little boy just stood there, staring at him. Through him. As if he didn’t exist.

Like yesterday, a chill swept through him. But this time, Clint couldn’t deny the dark truth which lived inside Bobby Williams.

8.

Yesterday, while skulking about the Twilley Elementary playground, Clint saw Bobby by the fence, head down, hands in his pockets. A perfect opportunity, which Clint seized by sneaking up behind him. “Why don’t ya ever look at baseball cards with anybody?” he’d demanded after shoving the little weirdo down. “How come all ya wanna do is read those stupid books?” And Bobby, scared and crying, hadn’t been able to answer. He’d just lied there, refusing to fight. So Clint kicked him. Hard. Still, Bobby had refused to fight. And when Clint tried to kick him again, something odd happened. It had felt like being pushed; an invisible hand slamming into his chest. Then his legs had flown up and, for an instant, Clint hung in midair before crashing to the ground. Very embarrassing. And in the midst of scrambling to his feet, Clint had locked eyes with Bobby…and felt his blood run cold.

I slipped, that’s all, Clint later told himself. Slipped on the sand…

9.

OH, SHIT—HE’S GONNA KILL ME!

In a heartbeat, Clint’s life passed before his eyes. Not his entire life, of course, but the parts which seemed crucial to understanding the way it would end. He saw himself taunting and teasing the boy who now held his life in his hands. Staring him down. Calling him names. Shoving him. Being cruel for cruelty’s sake. Just because he’d felt like it. Because he didn’t like school or teachers or the other kids and needed someone—anyone—to abuse. And because Bobby seemed so different—not just to him, but to everybody. Nobody ever talked to him. Nobody ever sat with him at lunch. Something had to be wrong with him. Very wrong. And now, Clint understood that he’d been right about Bobby being weird and different, but wished with all his heart that he could take it all back. All the pain. All the bullying.

But he couldn’t; so now he would die.

PLEASE, BOBBY! I’M SORRY!

The room—or perhaps Clint’s brain—began to spin. Tiny sparks of light flashed and fluttered before his eyes. His trembling arm felt numb and ready to buckle. HELP! he wanted to shout. SOMEBODY FUCKING HELP ME!

Then, for some reason Clint never understood, Bobby said, “Almighty Ve’yn! What’re you doing…” And in the brief moment in which Bobby paused, the agony around Clint’s throat disappeared.

“…here?”

10.

After the altercation by the fence, Clint decided to work the system. Holding his scraped elbow, he’d ran to the yard duty teacher and told her that Bobby pushed him off the swing for no reason. But his plan backfired. Both of them wound up in after school detention. And after that humiliation, Clint endured a stern lecture from his father. He’d even had to apologize to Bobby and his bitch mother right there in the parking lot. Once home, his own mother had yelled at him, grounding him for the whole weekend. And worst of all, he’d been deprived of dessert. He’d watched in sullen resignation as Leslie ate his share of ice cream, and swore he’d get even the very next chance he got.

Today, of course.

11.

FINALLY!

A noise like the shriek of a rusted gate escaped Clint’s throat as he flopped onto his back, spasming as if electrocuted. His trachea felt bruised and swollen, his neck wrenched and stiff. Large black splotches clouded his vision; a grim reminder of how close he’d come to death. His skull ached, and he placed his hands over his face in a pitiful attempt to block out both pain and reality. I can breathe! he thought, thanking God and Bobby and—to be safe—The Almighty Ve’yn.

Just please don’t kill me…

Lost in agony, Clint didn’t see what happened next. Didn’t see the lunchbox rise and float over to Bobby’s outstretched hand. Didn’t see Bobby frown at the dent in Ve’yn’s face, sweep his hand across it, and make it disappear. He did, however, hear the resultant thunk! of the metal popping back into place. And as he laid there on the cold bathroom floor, he flinched. Like a frightened child.

“Thank you, Almighty Ve’yn!” Bobby said. Clint never understood that, either.

Please don’t kill me…

Tears now. Crying. Cowering. Everything the bully had once harassed and berated Bobby for doing. But Clint didn’t care. Afraid to move, he took shallow breaths and prayed that either Bobby would leave or someone would enter an end this nightmare. Even if it meant everyone finding out that Bobby had won, Clint prayed it would end. And his tears of fright became tears of joy when he heard footsteps moving toward the door.

Please don’t kill me…

Then the footsteps stopped, and Clint’s heart lurched inside his chest.

“I’ll tell you why I never look at baseball cards, Clint,” Bobby said, a slight echo behind his words. “Because I’d rather read than watch stupid games. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Clint shuddered at the sound of Bobby’s voice. Yesterday, he’d demanded to know why Bobby never looked at baseball cards, but now he didn’t care what Bobby did or didn’t do, as long as he didn’t go near him. As long as he didn’t have to look into those dark, wicked eyes.

Please! Don’t! Kill! Me!

“You’re dumb, Clint. And you made me hurt you. Remember that.”

I’m sorry, Bobby!

A moment passed. Silent terror filled Clint’s mind. Then the sound of footsteps again, followed by the opening and closing of the restroom door.

In the silence, Clint lay there all alone. Sobbing behind his grimy hands. Thankful to be alive. Terrified of even the thought of Bobby Williams. Not just beaten, but crushed.

Forever scarred by Bobby’s vengeance.

“I’m sorry,” Clint whispered, breath hitching as he rolled to his side. “Sorry…”

Sweaty and numb with dread—or shock, as Dr. Brix later explained—the felled bully struggled to his feet and lurched to the door. The teachers had all retreated to their classrooms and lounges while the kids frolicked outside for recess, so he faced a short, empty hallway, leading back to the cafeteria. Beyond the cafeteria lay the main hall, which led to the principal’s office. Which, for the first time in his young life, is where Clint wanted to go.

“Sorry, Bobby. Sorry…”

Thus, gasping, wiping his eyes, the disheveled fifth-grader bolted forward; away from the restroom; away from the library. And most of all, away from Bobby Williams.

Running as fast as he could on shaking, rubbery legs.


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JLR


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