Posts Tagged ‘Prologue’

Death’s Avenger Volume 1 Complete!

February 8, 2018

 

I’m happy to announce that I’ve completed Volume 1 of my serialized story: “Death’s Avenger.” “Death’s Avenger” is the story of Blaine Myers, a man chosen to be an avatar of Death Itself. With no choice but to kill, Myers decides to use his dark powers to fight crime.

Volume 1 chronicles Blaine’s descent into near madness as Death invades his life. It’s comprised of a prologue, and seventeen episodes.

Below is a preview of The “Death’s Avenger” Prologue.


PROLOGUE: SKELETON MAN

January 28th, 2018.

Stark City, Oregon.

1:01 a.m.

Here I stand on the vaunted Stark City archway, looking down on Stark Boulevard. The street has grown dark and quiet; few cars, and even fewer pedestrians. From my perch I can see the edge of Bartholomew Park, where no doubt there are drug deals and illicit sex taking place. I should be there, but I’m taking my time.

What can I say? I’m still pretty new at this.

The sky above is a dark, swirling gray. A light drizzle gives everything an oily sheen. The winter wind bites deep, but I hardly feel it. There’s a coldness inside me that no earthly wind could ever touch. That means no shivering, no chattering teeth as I lurk on the concrete arch. All I’m wearing is a cheap skeleton man Halloween costume, with a matching skeleton mask, skeleton gloves, and black sneakers. I look ridiculous. I feel ridiculous. But it’s partly what I’ve chosen to do, and partly what I’ve been ordained to do.

I’m not caped, and I’m not a crusader. All I really am is a harbinger of Death, trying my damnedest to be a hero at the same time.

If that’s even possible.

All I know is that, up until New Year’s Eve, I was just an ordinary guy named Blaine Gregory Myers. An I.T. associate at Fortress Engineering and Structural Design. Thirty years old. No kids, but living with my longtime girlfriend, Joan. A nobody, really. Nobody special.

Try as I might, even after all that’s happened, I still can’t understand why Death chose me.

Me, of all people…

Ah, well. Doesn’t matter anymore. At this point, nothing matters except what I have to do—which feels about as safe as juggling chainsaws while blindfolded and doing a tap-dance. I’m somehow supposed to unleash Death in my own discriminate manner and save my soul at the same time. Even now, I can feel my humanity slipping away. Morbid thoughts creeping in. Urges I’ve never felt before rising in my heart. I feel utter contempt for the living; driven to murder, to kill. The same way a junkie craves his junk, I guess.

But I won’t let Death turn me into a total monster. I’ll fight it ’til the bitter, bloody end.

Still, I have to admit, this power isn’t all bad. I should be freezing my ass off, but I’m not. I used to fear the darkness; now I welcome it, wrap it around me like a blanket. I can do…things…that no one else can. I don’t even know my limitations yet. And the strength! I’ve never felt so strong before; like nothing can stop me.

Maybe that’s not true, but that’s how I feel.

And tonight, I’m looking for trouble.

The drizzle fades as the breeze strengthens. I look around, gazing through my skeleton mask at the dark, dirty street and the bright traffic lights at each intersection. Will I kill tonight? Will I again bring terror to Stark City? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

In the distance, I hear a loud, thrumming engine. Looking north, I see a pair of headlights racing down Stark Boulevard. Much too fast for this street. Behind the mask, I smile. What could it be? Someone in need of help? Punks out for a joyride?

Or maybe, just maybe, trouble has come looking for me.

Silent as a shadow, I glide across the archway and descend the stone steps on the west side of Stark Boulevard. The car begins to slow, and my instincts guide me into a nearby alleyway. Waiting. Watching. Hoping the night has brought me something tasty.

I stand motionless—not even breathing, I think—as the car coasts to a stop before the alleyway. It’s a compact, four-door car, the color of coagulated blood. I hear the thumping of club music and it fills me with hope. The rear passenger door swings open with a burst of laughter behind it. A young man lurches out with bulging eyes. Clutching the door and the frame, he vomits violently onto the sidewalk. A hand clutches the back of his coat, preventing him from falling forward.

“Pussy can’t hold his liquor!” a deep, jovial voice calls from within, followed by another burst of laughter.

My smile fades. Just kids; not really worth the effort. They are, however, probably underage, and driving drunk. Either way, I should probably put a scare into them.

Might be the only thrill I get tonight.

Concentrating, I extend my malefic aura; the inner entropy which seems to seep from my pores. I don’t disable the engine, but it dies just the same. I hear a confused murmur as I glide toward the sick young man.

“What the fuck?” the driver yells.

“Start it back up, dumbass!” the passenger says.

Click! Click! Click!

Nothing.

I don’t want the car to start, therefore it doesn’t.

“Aren’t you boys out a little late?” I say, emerging into the dismal light.

The sick young man looks up, shakes his head as if trying to clear it.

“Who the hell are you?” the young man holding his friend’s collar asks.

“Me?” I reply, drawing closer. “I’m just a ghost.”

The two young men in the front are squinting through the side window at me. I look at them, resisting all sorts of nasty ideas.

“Hey, Halloween’s over, jackass,” Driver says with a condescending smirk.

“You seen any hookers around tonight, man?” Passenger asks, chuckling. “It’s our friend’s birthday, and he really needs to get laid. But I guess the rain drove ’em all away…”

For a moment, I say nothing. I was just like these guys during my college days. I don’t want to hurt them, but at the same time, I do.

“Just take me home!” Drunk Kid mutters, collapsing back inside the car.

Click! Click! Click!

“Fuckin’ thing won’t start!” Driver says.

“But the headlights are still on!” Passenger replies.

Drunk Kid reaches for the door, and I grab it as he pulls.

“Hey, man! What the—?”

Ker-thunk!

Relishing my newfound strength, I rip the car door free as easily as if it was made of paper. The old Blaine Myers would’ve been hard-pressed to even lift a severed car door, but I, Death’s Avenger, press it over my head without strain.

“HOLY SHIT!” Drunk Kid screams.

“Fuck!” Driver screams.

“Start the car!” Passenger screams.

“I’m trying, I’m trying!”

All four faces look panicked and afraid as I retract my aura. The engine comes alive with a loud vroom!, and I toss the metal door onto the car’s roof—

Clunk!

I chuckle as the car speeds off, spinning out and burning rubber as the drunken kids make their escape. Kind of a petty thing to do, I think, stepping off the curb. But maybe they’ll go home and sober up. Maybe they’ll think twice about boozing it up next weekend.

At least now they have an inkling of how dangerous life can be.

With a swift, casual motion, I snatch the car door up and toss it into the dark alleyway. The street is dead, so I begin strolling south down Stark Boulevard, walking the solid yellow line. The wind still blows and I still don’t feel it. Passing dark building after dark building, ennui begins to set in, and I begin to ponder going home. There’s always later tonight if my bloodlust isn’t satiated.

Another block drifts past and I find myself standing before the Stark City Mall. Three stories of puerile consumerism. Clothing shops, jewelry shops, and, of course, the food court. Never in my life have I questioned the existence of such a place. I’ve always just taken it for granted that humans have material needs, America is capitalist, and business is business. But now, imbued as I am with Death, I can’t help but feel contempt for that which seems so unnecessary. I visualize all of the humanity—of which I used to belong—streaming in and out and through this place on a daily basis, and I see nothing but waste.

Wasted money.

Wasted time.

Wasted energy.

An insect colony with no hierarchy, no purpose; accomplishing nothing. They deserve what they’ll get in the end, I think. They deserve Death. They deserve me.

But, no. I must not believe that.

It isn’t true. Of course. It’s just the dark force within, driving my thoughts into a deathly spiral.

Yeah…time to go home.

I turn, intent on leaving downtown, but a faint whimper catches my attention. I turn back to the mall, and from the courtyard I hear scuffling footsteps coming toward me. Intrigued, I wait and watch as a woman emerges from the shadows behind one of the large concrete columns. A streetwalker, wearing a faded pink hoodie, black leggings, and black high-heels. Hunched against the icy wind. Hair hidden by the pink hood. Hands thrust into her pockets. A black purse dangles at her side, the strap draped crosswise around her chest and shoulder.

“Hey, mister!” she calls, hurrying toward me. As she nears, I see that she has a black eye.

Probably in her early thirties, but she’s lived a hard life, and looks fifty. Her bottom lip is also swollen; grotesque as she smiles suggestively.

“Yes?” I reply, as if a man in a cheap Halloween costume, standing in the middle of the street, in the dead of night was completely normal.

“You just leave a costume party or somethin’?” Then, before I can answer, “You lookin’ for a date? Maybe a little company?”

“What are you doing down here?” I ask, ignoring her questions.

Her smile fades. “Look, I got in a fight with my friend, and he left me stranded down here. I’m cold, mister. I need a place to stay for the night, ya know?”

Eager, shivering, she stops at the edge of the curb, and I walk toward her, smiling behind my mask.

“Been a rough night for a poor girl like me.”

Looking into her eyes, I know that she’s lying. The old Blaine wouldn’t have known, but I do. In fact, I have no idea what the old Blaine would’ve done in this situation. He certainly wouldn’t have wanted to kill her. He wouldn’t have known that she was anxious because her pimp had beaten her up, and because she needed a fix that only he could provide. He wouldn’t have known that her pimp was actually in a car one block over, waiting for her to pick up a John. And he wouldn’t have known that the unlucky John would’ve gotten a hell of a blowjob, but also would’ve awoken to having everything of value in his place stolen, including his wallet.

But I know, simply by drinking in the fear coursing through her gaze.

“So how ’bout it? Promise I’ll make it worth your while…”

Without a word, I seize the hooker by her pockmarked throat and squeeze. Her eyes bulge with surprise, then anger, then fear as she feels the weight of my grip. My skinny arm shouldn’t feel like an iron vise, but it does. Choking, crumpling, she slaps and pounds at my face and outstretched arm; all just a waste of time.

“Call him!” I command. “Call your loser pimp!”

Left hand clutching my wrist, she fumbles for her purse with her right. I ease my grip and allow her to breathe as she finally unbuckles her purse and reaches inside. Her mortified eyes never leave mine as she raises her phone and presses the screen.

“Wh-what do ya want me to say?”

“Just tell him the truth as you see it,” I reply, giving her throat another squeeze.

She gags, then jerks as a voice streams through: “This better be good news, bitch.”

“Help,” she utters. “I need help, Stevie. Some freak’s got me and he won’t let me go…”

At this, I can’t help but chuckle.

“What?” Stevie says. “You in trouble? Be right there!”

The phone blinks, and I see a photo of a young girl in pigtails on the screen. Must be the hooker’s daughter. The wind rises as I stare at her, contemplating breaking her worthless neck.

“I called him, mister! Now please lemme go! Stevie’s gonna be pissed! You better run—NOW!”

A rather convincing speech, but I refuse to let go. She begins to panic, again beating at my face and arm, forcing me to apply my strength. She stiffens. Her knees buckle. Her eyes look hurt and confused as she sinks to the cold ground. An engine roars. Tires squeal as a big sedan takes a sharp right turn onto Stark Boulevard.

I turn, still gripping the hooker’s throat, and watch as the sedan lurches to a stop next to the curb. The door flies open, and a large man in a heavy coat slides out.

“What the fuck’s goin’ on here, Nilah?”

The man shuffles around the front end and steps onto the curb with a giant stride. His hair is slicked down, and a large overcoat hides what I assume is a rather portly frame. His scowl becomes an expression of shock when he sees me, then he rushes forward, right finger thrust out like a gaudy hood ornament.

“Hey! Let her go, jackoff! Or I’ll bust your kneecaps!”

Laughing, I shake my head.

After a short sprint, Stevie halts; stalling as he catches his breath. Out of shape bastard. His eyes reflect rage and frustration as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a large switchblade—

Snick!

The blade shimmers beneath a nearby streetlight, and I begin to imagine all of the places I’d like to stab this flabby pimp; blood pulsing from each slick wound.

“Ya know, you’re more trouble than you’re worth!” Stevie says, pointing the switchblade at Nilah. Then, turning to me, he smiles, waves the knife like a magician with a magic wand. “And what’re you supposed to be, buddy? Some kinda cosplayer? Think you’re a superhero or somethin’?”
Staring into Stevie’s hard gaze, I shake my head. What he doesn’t know is about to get him killed.

“Watch out, Stevie!” Nilah says, lips quivering. “He’s stronger than he look—”

My grip tightens, strangling her final word.

“Shut up, bitch,” Stevie says. His smile melts back into the hard scowl which is probably his usual expression. “Now listen, asshole. You let her go right now and I’ll just smack ya ’round a little. If not, I’m gonna carve ya into little pieces for the cops to find come daylight. Understand?”

Another laugh as I shake my head.

Stevie’s scowl falters for a split second. He’s obviously not used to having his bluff called, and though he doesn’t care at all about Nilah, I know he’d rather die than lose face in front of her.

And Stevie’s about to get his wish.

“Alright, dude. If that’s the way ya want it…”

The big man steps forward, hunched, ready to slice me to ribbons with his beautiful switchblade. I don’t move, just apply more pressure to Nilah’s throat as he circles and draws near. Lips pulled back, yellowish teeth grit, Stevie executes a half-ass football shuffle and rears back. But before he can swing, a sound stops him up short.

Another engine, roaring in the distance.

“Fuck!” Stevie hisses, drawing back. Turning to the street as he warns, “You better hope it’s the cops, asshole…”

Enjoying Stevie’s predicament, still choking Nilah as she flails and fights, I wait for the swelling engine’s approach. I know it isn’t the cops because there’s no siren. But it’s definitely someone in a hurry.

Let’s see what else this night can bring.

I turn as the approaching car screeches to a halt. Heading north, it crosses into the southbound lane and roars toward the curb. Its rear end collides with Stevie’s sedan’s rear end—

Boom!

—and Stevie jerks in surprise.

“Hey, shithead! What the fuck are ya doin’?”

Indeed. What is he doing? I wonder as I gaze toward the street. It’s the same car I’d encountered near the archway, but now only the driver and the passenger remain. Drunk Kid and his friend are safe in some warm apartment somewhere, I figure, while these two morons decided to come back for revenge.

Should be entertaining!

Both front end doors swing open as Stevie sprints toward the collision.

“There he is, man!” Driver says, jumping out.

“Yeah, that’s him!” Passenger replies.

“GET HIM!”

Right, I think as Nilah goes limp in my grasp. Come and get me.

“What’s your problem, Bozo?”

Driver’s eyes widen as Stevie rushes him, waving the switchblade. “Hold up!” he says, raising his hands. “We got no beef with you!”

“Fuck you!” Stevie replies, swiping at him.

Driver stumbles back into the open car door, which shuts behind him—

Thunk!

Stevie now has Driver pinned against the running car, and both are wrestling for control of the knife. “Hey!” Passenger screams, and by the glare of the headlights I see him scramble over the hood and onto Stevie’s back.

“Fuck ya both!” Stevie yells. “Cocksuckers!”

The sounds of huffing, grunting, and scuffling fill the cold night air as I look down at Nilah. Not quite dead, but unconscious. Pitiful, I decide, but the thought of the little girl’s face on her phone keeps me from breaking her neck.

A girl needs her mother, even if her mother is a pitiful hooker.

Fuck it.

I drop Nilah and turn toward the fray. Between the curb and the cars, Driver and Passenger have all but subdued Stevie. The big man is flailing, but the younger men have him in their grip, punching indiscriminately out of fear. His nose is bloody. Screaming, Driver rips the switchblade free and tosses it in my direction—

Clack!

Idiot.

“Fuckin’ punks!” Stevie blurts, his words slurry and garbled.

“Crazy fucker!” Driver yells, stepping back.

“Get outta here, man!” Passenger demands. “We came for the weirdo!”

Said weirdo smiles as I pass the car, again willing it to die. This time, for fun, I cause the seal around the oil filter to crack, and thick black goop begins to leak from under the hood.

“Guy in the suit?” Stevie asks, panting and staggering.

“Yeah!” Driver says. “He ripped off our car doo—”

Clutching the switchblade in my left fist, I backhand Passenger with my right hand as I pass him—

Thwack!

Stevie and Driver jerk toward me as I thrust the glimmering steel deep into Stevie’s potbelly—

Thuck!

Driver screams. Stevie gasps. Shock and pain contorts his bloody face as more blood begins to seep through his coat. I extract the knife as Stevie rushes me. Shoving him off, I spin, and the big man goes stumbling into Driver, knocking him to the ground.

“Hi, there, boys,” I say, driving the blade into Stevie’s left flank, just below his ribcage. Again, Stevie gasps, stiffening, falling forward onto Driver’s car. Driver scrambles to his feet, and before he can decide which way to run, I’ve got him by the throat. Just like Nilah. Except I lift him up, defying the size difference between us, and gravity itself.

“ACK!” Driver manages, eyes bulging.

Eyes which draw me in like swirling pools of crystalline water…

Seeing into him. Seeing everything. Driver’s name is Brent Hardwick. Last year, he raped a seventeen-year-old girl at a house party in Hinckley. He’d spiked her drink, and when she’d awoken the next day, she didn’t even know she’d been raped. Certainly had no proof. Brent had been gentle, using a condom and lubricant, cleaning her up once he’d finished. He’d enjoyed it…and planned to do it again with another girl as soon as he could…

Vile scum.

“STOP!” Passenger screams, slamming into me from behind. I stumble forward, tossing Brent down like a rag doll—

Thump!

“GET OFF HIM!”

Annoyed, I turn as Passenger connects with a sloppy punch to my gut. It hurts, but only in a dull, concussive way. Real pain—sharp, biting, pain—no longer exists for me. Still, I hunch forward, expecting a stiff uppercut. Instead, Passenger launches into a hysterical volley of punches and slaps, driving me backward toward Brent. I hear Passenger sniffing and gasping between punches. Obviously hurt and afraid, but pissed to the point of ineffectiveness.

Too bad.

On my left, I hear a deep groan. From the corner of my eye, I see Stevie yank the knife from his side as he collapses to his knees. The big man is all wet with blood, which gives me a perverse thrill.

Meanwhile, Passenger’s blows are beginning to lose their snap. I straighten, allowing him one clean shot to the face—

Thwack!

before I shove him onto the curb with my right hand—

Thump!

Wasting no time, I lunge to my left and plant a hard kick into Stevie’s left side—

Thwop!

Hearing and feeling his ribs crack beneath my shin is a perfect reward. Stevie groans in pain and flips onto his back, eyes shut, jaw clenched. Hands clasped over his stomach. Knees in the air, trembling.

“What in God’s name are you?” Brent says behind me, struggling to his feet. His voice sounds thick, pained; wavering with dread.

“You shouldn’t have come back,” I reply, turning. “Rapist.”

Massaging his throat, Brent jerks. His eyes, wide and bloodshot, radiate pure terror. It washes over me like a refreshing breeze; pulling me like a moth to a flame.

“What?”

I shake my masked head at the dumb kid. “Last September. You drugged and raped her, and told her nothing happened the next morning. She didn’t believe you, but she had no proof. That’s why she didn’t go to the cops.”

“Liar!” Brent screams.

“You liked it very much…”

“LIAR!”

“And you want to do it again.”

“YOU EVIL FUCK! I’LL KILL YOU!”

Brent’s right. I am an evil fuck. But he won’t kill me. He can’t.

“Try it. Please.”

But the tears on Brent’s face belies his hollow threat. I, on the other hand, intend to carry out that very threat, immediately.

Stepping forward, I reach out. Screaming, Brent turns to run, then jump as he realizes he’s trapped between rear ends. But before his young, muscular legs can propel him upward, I snatch a handful of his thin blonde hair, and yank him back onto his heels. Screaming, he begins to flail as I reach around his face and cup his chin with my left hand.

“STOOOOP!”

With Brent firmly in my grasp, despite his pointless flailing, it’s a simple matter to jerk my hands in a short circular motion, thereby breaking the young man’s neck—

Crack!

You’ll never rape again, I think as Brent goes limp and crumples to the cold, wet, blacktop.

Dead as dead can be.

This is the fourth life I have taken in the last three weeks. With each one came a feeling of elation, of sheer, primordial power coursing through my bones.

Horrid, yet undeniable.

I can only describe it as…rejuvenation.

Shaking from this surge of energy, I turn toward Stevie and Passenger. Stevie still lies on his back, curled in agony. Passenger has rolled to his hands and knees, gasping for air. He looks like a kid who’s just been hit really hard for the first time. Shocked, and confused.

I turn to Stevie, and smile. His face is swarthy, grizzled, and, like Nilah, looks much older than he really is. The bloody knife lies on the ground beside him, and I grab it as I kneel down. The steel feels so light and balanced in my hand. I want to use it. I have to use it. On the other hand, I want Stevie the pimp to die a slow, tormented death.

I also want to leave a calling card for the rest of this damned city. A sign that dark justice awaits in the shadows…

When it’s done, Stevie lies on his right side, clutching his face. Blood, and a thick, milky fluid drips from between his fingers. He’s howling in pain, which is music to my jaded ears—mainly because I know how much it hurts to howl with his broken ribs.

Now…time to deal with Passenger. The pained young man is still on his hands and knees, crying and quivering. No doubt he’s heard everything that’s gone on behind him, and he’s too scared to even move. He looks like a Hinckley kid; blessed with rich parents. But he could be from Dibert—hell, even Proebstel for all I know. Doesn’t matter, though. Rich or not, I won’t kill him. Like Nilah, he’s more just a victim of circumstance than an actual criminal.

At least, that’s what I tell myself as I walk over to him.

“Go on home, kid,” I say, nudging him with my sneaker. “And try to stay outta trouble…”

Passenger takes a deep, wet breath, and begins to say something which I’m sure will be pathetic and infuriating. So I cut him off by throwing the souvenir in my hand down to the ground in front of his face—

Plop!

Other than a sick hallucination, I’ve never seen a severed eyeball before, and I’m betting neither has Passenger. It doesn’t roll, but sticks to the damp pavement like a glob of jelly. The pupil has contracted to a pinhole. The iris shines a bright blue. Scarlet streaks have stained the white around the iris.

“JESUS, FUCK!”

Screaming, Passenger springs forward, running on all fours like a dog, and collapses several feet away. Struggling to regain his feet, the poor young man vomits like Drunk Kid earlier.
Relishing Stevie’s agonized mewls and Passenger’s guttural moans, I turn and leap onto the hood of Brent’s car, arms held in a V. The night has been rewarding, and already I’m looking forward to the next murderous adventure.

Another leap and I’m standing on the roof, waiting. Smiling behind my ridiculous mask as the wind rises. But not just any wind. A dark, powerful wind from the center of the earth. Again, I leap, into the primordial vortex which bears me aloft like a black spear into the sky.

Into the swirling shadows of oblivion.

Into the very heart of darkness.

***

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Thanks for reading!

Evelyn Grimes (Novel Excerpt)

April 2, 2017

 

Prologue: Best Laid Plans

1.

January 14th, 1956.

Stark City, Oregon.

12:35 p.m.

“You guys ready?” Lenny Stern whispers through clenched teeth. His pale, thirteen-year-old face gleams with sweat; an odd mix of nerves, apprehension, and lust.

“I’m keen,” Billy Cooligan replies, giving his friend a pistol salute with his right finger. No exaggeration, either. The semi-erection in his pants proves it.

“Sure,” Johnny Pearl says, though the poor, conflicted teenager isn’t sure at all. Unlike the other two, he harbors real doubt about their foolhardy plan…yet not enough to intervene. Thus, Johnny follows their lead, playing perhaps the most villainous role of all.

“Good. Now shut up.”

Lenny edges away from the door, still peeping through the thin crack between it and the doorframe. He hears Sister Marie approaching. Her leather sandals echo on the hard tile…and the familiar sound makes him smile.

The moment of truth has arrived.

2.

Leonard Stern, William Cooligan, and Jonathan Pearl; the disgraced teenage trio huddles behind the large door, careful not to make any noise on the grate landing. The short flight of stairs before them spiral down to the humid boiler room; the place they’ve all agreed upon to perform their monstrous deeds. Down there, in the rusty bowels of Saint Peter’s Orphanage, a line will be crossed, and a crime committed which will come back to haunt them all.

“Here she comes,” Lenny warns.

Rubbing his thin hands together, Billy hisses in anticipation.

Johnny tenses. A chill races up his spine as he thinks: How did things ever get this far?

3.

Right.

How did things ever get this far…?

A fair question, indeed. And in those dreadful moments before Sister Marie reaches the door, Johnny relives the genesis of their crime. Last Monday, at lunchtime. He, Lenny, and Billy had sat together in Saint Peter’s mess hall, munching roast beef sandwiches and slurping milk, when their idle conversation about baseball shifted to something a bit more prurient:

Sister Marie, and her long, slender, legs.

Of course, the good Sister remained ever demure in her nun’s garb, but Lenny had enthralled Billy and Johnny with a fictitious tale about once looking up her dress. “No panties,” he’d assured his wide-eyed audience. “That means she’s always ready to go!”

From there, the conversation devolved into each boy’s lurid fantasy of getting Sister Marie all alone. It didn’t take long before they began to salivate like dogs in heat, and that’s when Lenny laid it out to his pals in the form of a dare:

“I betcha she’d love it if the three of us got her alone. Then we’d see just how ready she really is…”

Billy and Johnny had glanced at each other. Neither wanted to look weak in front of Lenny.

“So how about it? You dorks got the guts?”

Well. Of course, they did.

But truth be told, Johnny hadn’t wanted anything to do with it. He’d agreed because he didn’t want to be ridiculed by everyone in Saint Peter’s. And because Lenny threatened to have his other, older friends kick the shit out of him if he snitched to anyone about their plan.

Now, the timid boy stands before that stomach-turning edge, staring into the dark abyss of his own soul.

Waiting.

So. The rest of the plan had been easy. Just before noon, Lenny approached Sister Marie and asked with doe-eyed innocence if she could meet him in the east hall after lunch. “It’s real important,” he’d said, tugging on her sleeve for emphasis. “Honest.”

“Well, of course I can,” the good Sister replied with a tender smile, never suspecting his true intentions. Not for a moment suspecting the horrors awaiting her in that mirthless boiler room…

4.

“Leonard?”

Sister Marie stands just beyond the stairwell door, and Lenny hears the faint echo of her voice in the hall. “Over here,” he answers, opening the door enough to show his face. “I’ve got something to show ya…”

A moment passes.

The nun looks at the boy, frowning. The boy gazes back; nervous, hopeful. Grinning the disarming grin of a small but prodigal demon.

“Alright,” she says at last, her frown softening.

Thus, without thinking, Sister Marie walks toward her doom, reaching out, her young and beautiful face etched with concern.

5.

Everything happens fast:

Lenny snatches Sister Marie’s hand and jerks her across the threshold before she can react. Billy tackles the hapless nun’s legs, knocking her into Johnny’s waiting arms. Panicked, she shrieks before Lenny clamps his sweaty palm over her mouth. Together, they lift the wriggling, writhing, woman off her feet and carry her down the stairs.

“Don’t drop her, guys!” Lenny shouts.

“We won’t!” Billy replies.

Silent, Johnny grits his teeth, tightens his grip.

The three boys’ hurried footsteps echo in the dank stairwell. Once at the bottom, Lenny, Billy, and Johnny pin the terrified woman to the floor.

Intent on damning their very souls.


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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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