Posts Tagged ‘Tears’

Driftwood (Short Story)

March 13, 2015

March 4th, 2016.
Stark City, Oregon.
7:33 a.m.

Last night, Lareyn fell asleep with her hand on my back. Lareyn, of course, is my wife. My beautiful, elegant, gracious wife. I say this as if I’m just now finding out how beautiful, elegant, and gracious she is; as if I’d somehow forgotten and have only begun to remember. Well, rest assured, I have always known. Since the first time I looked into the bewitching pools of her eyes, since I first heard her sultry voice, I have known. But I must now confess to at times being a rather dense man, easily distracted, which causes this knowledge to lose its way. Like lonesome driftwood upon a frothing sea. Simply put–and much to my discredit–my appreciation often wanes for my dear, tender wife. I can, at least, honestly say that I’ve never neglected Lareyn, nor have I ever treated her badly. It’s just that I don’t always express my admiration for her as much as she deserves.

In this respect, I suppose, I’m a typical husband.

But last night…that hand. Her hand. My wife’s warm, gentle, reassuring hand upon my back. The simplest of gestures, which nonetheless brought my regard for Lareyn back to the fore–not just of my brain, but of my very being. Do you know that mental contraction you feel when something or someone you see and experience every day suddenly seems brand new? Like a picture with a new frame, an orchestra with a new conductor? Well, that’s what I felt last night. That’s what I feel right now. That’s what compels me to write these words.

Once again, my view of Lareyn has sharpened, narrowed, and I feel the same way I did the night we first met. Only now my appreciation is tinged with nostalgia; a deep layer of warmth and intimacy which spans two decades.

What can I say?

The driftwood has returned to shore, and I love my wife.

I love Lareyn as she lays on our sofa in the den of our home, still asleep, curled up on her side. Her dark hair tangled around her soft cheeks. A slight smile on her lips as if she’s in the midst of some contented dream. Sunlight streams from the window above our sofa, giving her olive skin an angelic glow. During the night, Lareyn must’ve gotten up and slipped off the thin black skirt which now lies on the carpet. One bare leg has slid from beneath the blanket, revealing her shapely and manicured foot. If only she could see herself lying there through my eyes. Then, Lareyn would understand the true meaning of beauty.

Ah, if only…

Our get together last night was nothing special. Just a few friends who’d come over for dinner, drinks, and relaxation. Lareyn had wanted to cook, but I insisted on ordering takeout. Had a craving for Indian cuisine, and felt Lareyn deserved a night off. Our friends arrived in due time, and I opened a bottle of Pinot Noir to go with the curried feast. One of our guests brought homemade cheesecake, which topped everything off nicely.

After dessert, Lareyn and I cleared the coffee table and set up the Monopoly board. The game lasted well into the night, with Lareyn going bankrupt second. She didn’t seem to mind, though, and curled up beside me as I continued to roll the dice and renovate property. Around ten o’clock, two of our friends left, leaving a merry band of five. Shortly thereafter, Lareyn leant back, closed her bewitching eyes, and drifted off. Her hand, which she’d slipped under my shirt to massage my lower back, became still…but didn’t fall away. As if some part of her, though fast asleep, still craved to be in contact with her husband. Of course, I was in the midst of a financial battle with three of our friends, and couldn’t let on how touched I felt at that moment; how I relished the warmth of her soft, unmoving hand. It was with a heavy heart that I rose an hour later to hug two more friends goodbye, then sat back down to finish the game. It had come down to me and a bright young man named Mark, whom I work with.

The spot on my back where Lareyn’s hand had been tingled and felt naked, and I craved its return. But I soldiered through the rest of the game with the proverbial stiff upper lip.

Well, Mark finally won when I had the misfortune of landing on three of his highest priced properties in a row. But he was gracious in victory, and left quietly so as not to disturb Lareyn. For that, I was grateful, and returned from seeing Mark outside with a growing sense of desire for the beautiful creature lying before me. For a moment, I pondered waking Lareyn to make love, but decided against it. That would’ve been selfish. So I just sat there for a long while, admiring her in the bright moonlight. She lay so still, so calm, so comfortable. Her earrings sparkled. Her lips glistened.

Finally, I began to nod off myself.

Now, a decision had to be made. Though I longed for the warmth and solace of our bed, I also longed for the warmth and solace of my wife. To have the best of both worlds, I would’ve had to rouse Lareyn, thereby ruining her tranquility. That, I could not do. So I slipped upstairs, peeled our comforter from our bed, and returned to the den. Lareyn hadn’t moved, and looked more gorgeous than I could ever remember.

Outside, it was cold. Inside, it was perfect. I stripped to my boxers, left my socks on, and draped the comforter over us. I confess that the couch barely contained us, but I held Lareyn close to prevent her from slipping off. Her soft flesh melted in my arms. Our breathing fell into a steady rhythm, and her scent–not her perfume, mind you, but the smell that is specifically Lareyn–left me more intoxicated that the wine ever could.

And that’s how I fell asleep last night. With my wife, Lareyn, in my loving embrace. A satisfied grin on my face. Tears pricking my eyes from the memory of her hand upon my back. I did not dream, and it was the best sleep I’ve had in years.

When I woke, Lareyn was still in my arms; exactly where I wanted her. Reluctantly, I rose and stretched in the morning light. A slight chill pervaded our home, but it felt refreshing. I don’t work today, so I took my time brewing a pot of coffee and making ready everything I’ll need to cook. When Lareyn wakes, I’ll surprise her with a long kiss, a steaming cup, and the declaration that breakfast will be served shortly. If all goes to plan, we’ll spend most of our day on the sofa, laughing, loving, and dozing.

A perfect day.

But for now…

For now, I’m content to sit here. Just sit and write and gaze upon Lareyn. My beautiful, elegant, gracious wife. Lareyn, who is also my life. My love. My heartbeat. I’ll sit and watch over her until she awakens. ’Til then, there’s no place I’d rather be.

What can I say?

The driftwood has returned to shore, and I love my wife.

–March 12th, 2015


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JLR

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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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