The Line – a story

Creepy story about one-sided infatuation of the nastiest kind. Fair warning if that’s a trigger for you. 

 

The Line

 

It was her smile.

That was what first drew me to her.

That partial smile that seemed to say more than words could ever hope to.

It was a moment.

An instant.

It was enough.

Enough to carve itself into my heart.

And here we are.

Me standing on her doorstep, ready to make a fool of myself.

 

We met at the grocery store. I was there to pick up some dinner when she got in line behind me. I wasn’t in a hurry and stepped aside to let her go ahead of me. She had more items but for me, chivalry never died. She was short, blonde, I guess you’d say a little chubby, though I liked ladies with a little health on their bones, it makes them look like real women, ya know? She had tattoos down her arms and while I don’t really care for tattoos her smile won me over, starting in her brown eyes and pouring down over her face until it pooled at her lips. I smiled back and nodded and let the kid at the register ring her up. I resisted the urge to stare at the short skirt and what it barely hid and instead looked at the left bra strap that stuck out bright and red from her white tank top. I felt a smile form and it remained when I got up to the register jockey, who was also smiling. He nodded towards the young woman and smiled as he started nodding.

 

“Damn. Am I right?” His smile widened and as his grew, mine shrank. I put the microwave dinner down on the conveyor belt and looked around and, seeing no one, leaned towards the kid, who couldn’t have been eighteen.

I smiled.

I reached forward and grabbed the kid’s hand in my own and started squeezing, and squeezing, and squeezing and the harder I squeezed the wider my smile got until he cried out. Once he did that the girl that was supposed to be register jockeying at the next register over stopped doting on the asshole kid standing in line and rushed over and I quit the scene and beat it out of there, content that I had made my point.

Manners matter.

I didn’t go back into the grocery store.

I didn’t like their lax hiring practices and rudeness.

I started parking in their parking lot just the same though, taking my work breaks and lunches there and even my off hours and making a point to keep an eye on things just because.

I am a bachelor, my last, uh, relationship, having ended abruptly a few weeks earlier and I needed a hobby so the young lady became that hobby, I suppose. That smile, that smile she gave me meant something. I knew it did so I wanted to make sure that we met again. There was one night I decided to follow the register jockey home just to, you know, see that he got home safely. Wed had a conversation about manners.

I’ll leave it at that.

Then it was back to her.

The young lady had been on my mind since I saw her that first time. She was with me like an infection and no matter how hard I itched at it, closing my eyes at night and thinking of her, concentrating on her as if she were a piece of my furniture to be possessed, but it wasn’t the same.

Her.

I wanted her.

I saw her again three weeks after that first time. I was halfway through a beer, listening to talk radio and laughing to myself every time I saw that loud mouth kid hobble out for a smoke break in his leg cast. Accidents. Shame they happen so often.

Accidents.

She looked different this time, not done up, more like beat up. Scrubby. Wearing those goddamn yoga pants that too many women wear these days and a half shirt and covered in sweat. She had walked there and she was only in long enough to grab a water from what I could tell and then she was out again, earbuds in and walking off down the street.

My hands got itchy on seeing her.

My heart started to race.

I started my car and decided to follow her, to make sure she got home safely.

There’d been some nasty business a few weeks back with a girl, a teenager, just a few blocks from the girl’s home.

Nasty business.

I didn’t want to see the same happen to this one.

No.

Not this one.

The sun was setting and traffic was light so I slow-rolled it to keep up with her without her seeing. No reason to spook her. Besides, dad always told me that a good deed that hit the air carried the scent of an old turd. So low and slow, like good cooking, that was how I let this trail simmer.

When she went into a familiar apartment building I peeled off and headed for home. I had taken the last of my vacation keeping an eye on the store and needed the job so I went home and went right to bed. I thought of her as I started nodding off, the faint smile fading as I thought about how she had looked today.

It wasn’t going to cut it.

No.

I didn’t get a chance to see her for several days. Work was calling me early and keeping me late, though I did keep tabs on her. I worry, as I said, for a young woman such as her. Another local girl had been picked up, well, about eight months ago and had disappeared. Just gone. There was fear that she wasn’t the only one and that there was trafficking in the area. I wasn’t sure about all that, just that there were sharks out there and if a young woman didn’t have someone looking out for her that they might just disappear into the deep, deep waters of the night.

When I did get a chance to see her I saw her with someone, a man, older than her, and dressing to impress. Trying to hard if you asked me. I didn’t like the look of him so I followed them from her apartment to a bar, then a restaurant, then the movies. The bar was a dive. The restaurant was too expensive. The movie was stupid. I saw what he was doing and knew she was probably still buzzed. I saw how his hand moved from her shoulder, to her hip, then lower. Her laughter and smile had dried up by the time they returned to her apartment building and when he tried to make a move and she slapped him he grabbed her wrist for a moment, just a moment, but she raised her hand again and he let her go and she left in a hurry and went inside.

Good girl.

The man stayed in his car, parked at the curb for about twenty minutes after that before he finally put it into gear and started to drive away.

He didn’t live far.

Not far at all.

And he left his door unlocked when he got home.

He should be more careful.

There’re sharks out and he had swum out a little too deep.

 

The next day I called in sick and went by her apartment early and followed her to her job. An office job. Nothing special but work was work. Nobody knew that better than me. I stayed through to her lunch, which she took in her car, on her phone tap-tap-tapping away and not eating.
She should eat.

She could use some weight on her.

All that running she does has slimmed her up.

Her bones don’t look good on her.

When she went back in I left to run an errand and made sure I had dropped the flowers onto her doorstep before she would be home. I hid in the stairwell and watched as she got them, frowning, dropping them onto the hall floor before slamming her door.

I guess she didn’t like flowers much.

The infection that she was was starting to get out of control.

She was all I thought about.

I liked her all made up for work.

She was pretty.

Like I had seen her that first time.

When she was home, just home by herself, she was a slob.

I had seen her go out for snacks or take out and it disgusted me.

She could be so pretty if she’d try.

I would have to set her straight.

I looked at the calendar back at the house and circled a date.

That was the day I’d introduce myself.

That day.

I practiced what I’d say.

I picked out what I’d wear.

I got my supplies together into a plastic bag.

I even went to her apartment a few times to get over the nerves.

It was the night before I was going to go finally make her mine when something happened.

I was at the movies just wasting time, watching something to get my mind off of her and the counter girl was so nice, so sweet, and she looked so, I dunno how to say it, fresh, that it was as if I had never seen the other girl.

It was as if the infection was gone, the fever dream had cleared and I saw the other woman as the disgusting slob she was.

She was nothing like this girl.

This…Wendy.

No.

Wendy was different.

You could tell. She even gave me a large pop without charging, a wry wink shared between us when she did.

She was a little young, that’s what they’d say, but age means nothing to the heart.

I know that it may not work, that she may not feel the same but, that’s love.

It’s about making a fool of yourself.

It’s about deciding if you are ready to cross that line and when you do, knowing that whatever happens next is up to you.

Standing on someone’s doorstep, heart in hand, and making a fool of yourself.

After that…it’s up to fate.

I suppose I should break it to the other girl easy, let her know I have moved on.

Then, well then, I suppose I’d have to circle a date on the calendar and pick out what I was going to say to Miss Wendy.

Love.

It really does do the heart good, doesn’t it?

…c…

 

Dusting Things Off

As I have found myself with time on my hands of late I have decided it really is time to get back to The Damned Novel, which, I think I honestly call any of the books that I have put out that were novel length. This particular one has been a pain in my biscuits for a bit though, I have to admit. It began life as something I wrote as a teen, written in a spiral bound notebook as one whole story. In my mind it’s a novella but frankly it was probably more like a short story, maybe longish.

I have to revert back to remembering what it was because it’s gone.

Long, long gone.

You see, once upon a time I was carrying the notebook around and foolishly put it on top of my mom’s car – who knows why we do these things? – and then it was just…gone.

I was heartbroken.

I still sorta am.

I remember what it was, what it essentially was, and in there was a germ of something that has stuck with me. Many years ago I decided I wanted to ‘clear the decks’ as far as stories go. Just so any stories I had hanging in my mind I’d get into the world. This is really the last of those. It’s not a story that I felt needed to be told but one that’s been stuck in my craw. I started it, man, years ago, and keep putting off getting to it. It’s weird because there’s not a reason to keep me from it but I just keep putting it off.

Well, that time has passed.

It’s time to get to it.

And I am, finally.

I know how it ends, and have known it for a while.

What’s interesting is the story has changed not just since I wrote the first version, but it has changed and hopefully evolved since I first started re-working it. The mystery of writing is that between your mind and hands there is some weird creation process that takes these stories from one thing into another. To me, it’s what writers mean when they say a work writes itself. It obviously doesn’t but the process of creation happens so quickly that it feels and seems like a sort of lightning that you can only hope to catch on the page.

So the work has begun anew.
And it’s a lot of work.

The story is still surprising me but I know what I want it to be, I just have to see if that’s what the story wants to be.

Time will tell.

Let’s just hope I can keep myself on this thing so I can finally get it done.

…c…

Wanderer – a story

This is a wee tale. First draft. Very rough. Me working out some ideas and seeing what is there. There’s the seed for another story planted here if I ever have time to swing back to it. We shall see. 

He wasn’t sure when his choice had become his fate.

He wasn’t sure when the distant hum in his head became a voice and then a chorus.

He wasn’t sure when the bottle stopped being a party and became a sentence.

He wasn’t sure of much anymore, just that some days it felt as if the fog had cleared from his head and he found himself in a place he didn’t recall and he wasn’t sure where he had been, where he had come from, and how he had come to be where he was.

And it shook him.

To his core.

To his faith.

To the bottom of himself

To sobriety.

But it never lasted.

The fog came back.
The voices returned.

And both seemed to be at the bottom of the bottle.

And they helped, the smiling faces, the nodding heads, and the open wallets.

Helped as much as they could.

But he wasn’t able to return their gestures.

Unable to repay their kindness with the truth because the truth was a sea he had not sailed in how many days, or weeks, or months, or even years.

He couldn’t even remember his age.

So he’d lie.

He lost his job.

He lost his family.

He lost his love.

He tuned out, he gave up, he walked on.

It was different every time, his earnest responses met with a pat on his shoulder and a knowing nod.

On and on and on he went, never sure where he was going, just that it was forward.

He has always seen himself cast in the part of victim in this play, as the man slighted by god, by society, and by his fellow man.

The truth of that lie though was revealed to him one day when the clouds cleared for him as he lay next to the bodies of two dead teenagers.

They couldn’t have been older than fifteen.

They could have been his children.

His daughter and son.

Their heads had been caved in, presumably with the shattered cinder block he was holding in his hand, their blood thick and sticky on his hands and face.

Their wallets were still on them.

There were no drugs around that he could find, and no booze.

The only clue he had was the change that was scattered around the bodies.

He looked around and saw that he was at the end of an alley full of piles of trash and burned out lights.

He wept beside them as he it slowly dawned on him that this probably wasn’t the first time he’d hurt someone.

He just couldn’t remember.

His left arm was itching and he looked down and saw there were two fresh cuts in the skin that were red and inflamed.

Two fresh cuts to go with four other cuts that were scarred over.

He took the boy’s wallet and the cash from the girl and covered them up with some boxes, the best burial he could offer them.

It wasn’t fair.

This wasn’t fair.

But if there was someone who understood how unfair this world was it was him, so maybe it was fitting that he was the one to usher them into the darkness.

And the clarity would fade, and the voices would get louder and they would drive him forward, telling him where to go and what to do as he slept deep within.

Trapped within the madness.

Trapped within his cage.

But as he shambled out of the alley and down the darkened city sidewalk a chilling thought came to him, a question that asked if these moments of clarity were not his true personality, his true face.

The face of the killer.

The face of the monster.

The voices were the lie, the sweet whispers to lull him back to sleep to keep him safe.

To keep him buried.

To keep him dead.

 

…c…

That Novel Affair

Sometimes I still have to stop and blink my eyes a few times to realize that I have put novels out. When I first started writing I didn’t have an interest in writing novels. My ideas were to write short stories that were like punches to the face or stomach. Something that made an impact and HOPEFULLY left you breathless in one way or another. I am not sure if that ever happens or not but I just never thought I’d write a novel.

The first, A SHADOW OVER EVER didn’t start as a novel, something I got into when I released it, but it ended up that way. Like the Meep books, I just couldn’t leave a story hanging on a cliff. That’s a crummy thing to do. Sure, you can write a story in a way that leaves things with more to say, with unanswered questions, but there should be an ending. A proper ending. Even if there is more after a story ends, like life, you should answer your questions and leave the reader satisfied.

SHADOW wasn’t going to be more than one story but I kept leaving him in spots where there was something unfinished and then POW, a novel.

CEMETERY EARTH always had the potential to be something larger and darker. It’s a novel of short stories but there’s a throughpoint, a connector, and that’s Hunter, the lead character, who is joined by a second lead. Writing it story by story it was easy to look at it that way and not as one larger piece. It didn’t become that larger, interconnected piece until I started editing it and filling in holes in the narrative and the timeline.

That book, my zombie novel, sat abandoned for a good many years as I waited for the zombie craze to pass. I knew I wasn’t going to get the book done before the fad was over so I sat on it. The last thing you want to do is be the last one at the party and I didn’t want to be putting out a zombie book when people had moved on to the next thing. Imagine my surprise when THE WALKING DEAD changed that and pushed the craze further than I had imagined. I finally reached a time when I had to finish the book.

I had to get it out.

With SHADOW I had the novel done but couldn’t figure out how to pitch it correctly when I had the opportunity and after that I couldn’t find anyone that’d put it out. I loved the book but if no one else did, what was I going to do.

Self pub.

That was what.

It’s a fun, and weird story. It’s the story of an angry hillbilly who ends up embroiled in a war for Heaven and Mankind. A story that starts small but becomes something larger than any one character in it. It is about everything and nothing as seen through the eyes of the man whose hate wouldn’t let him die. It’s silly, it’s mean, and it’s strange.

 

With CEMETERY it was a matter of waiting out a fad that never quite ended.

That book began in 2000. SHADOW began in 1994 with a short story. Both books took over a decade to reach the end of their journeys and completion. It was never so much doubt in the story as it was doubt in me.

But I love Hunter. I love the world of the undead. I love that I twisted things and made my own lore, my own reason they came back and my own reason they remain. I had fun with the book and wrote ghost stories, and stories about fanaticism, and I tried to make this world different than any people had read about before. There is hope in that book but it’s bloody hope and it’s a damnable thing because hope can be jagged, like broken glass, and it can hurt you to have it.

Neither book has gone on to do much.

Neither has sold very strongly, but they have sold.

People have read them.

I love those books dearly.

I love all of my books dearly but those two took a long time to put together. A long time living with them and bringing them to life. I can’t say that either will do much of anything. They are awfully big and they are not inexpensive. They are an investment.

They are investments that I think are worth the time and money an effort though.

There is light in that darkness.

Pete, while a monster, is one with a heart. Even if he hates that he has it.

With my zombies I tried to do things that were at least a little different.

As I endeavor to put together another novel, another old story that sat abandoned long enough, I remember my novels. My lost babies that found their way home.

…c…

(Both books are available through links in my bookstore or through Amazon.com).

ROAD MAP – a story

So this is where they put in those trigger warnings, right? OK. This is a story about cutting. If that’s not a topic you want to read about then please turn away now. Otherwise, this is Road Map. This, like all my stories on here, is a first draft. Accept it as such. 

ROAD MAP

When I was young the setting of the sun meant an ending.

The end of the day.

The end of adventure.

The end of fun.

It wasn’t until I was older and was taught the magic of night, the mystery of the moon, and the dangers of darkness that I learned that the setting sun is just one part of a cycle of life and death, death and life, one stepping aside to give the other the stage.

I went from running in the street, playing in a yard, and screaming at a lake to smoking in the woods, drinking in the backseat, and fucking in a field.

Maybe the old me had to die to birth the new me.

Some days I like that, that transition.

Other days I hate it.

Today I hate it.

Today is a red day.

They aren’t all red, which is why I never go deep, but a lot of them are red, which is what leads me to the relative darkness of my room in the first place.

Privacy, something I was never really afforded as a kid, feels like it is everywhere as an adult. The places I can go that I couldn’t before. The things I can do. The fact that I can close a door and not have someone feel the need to open it because they can.

It was my door.

I paid the rent to have that door and even if I shared the apartment, that door was still mine.

As was the dark.

I didn’t always love the dark but red days I did.

Loved it as much as I hated it.

That’s why I started painting, with my skin as my canvas and a blade as my brush.

It was a friend that opened that particular door.

A friend long gone now, drowned in their paint, but someone whom I loved, and missed, and who helped form who I am.

For good or ill.

I saw the scars on her legs once, after we’d played a gig together, and I reached out to touch them, instinctively, without even thinking, and she recoiled from me, dropping her guitar over her thigh to hide it, not realizing her shorts had climbed high enough to reveal what had clearly been a secret.

“Why?” I asked.

And she answered simply.

“Because there are things that tears, and words, and music, and nothing else can speak life to. Only pain can. Only blood can.”

She looked around to see if anyone was near but we were sitting on the back stoop of the coffee house and no one was out here but us smoking heathens. She pulled out a tissue from her back pocket and opened it to show me a razorblade. I leaned in and saw the red on its edge.

I asked her to show me.

Fascinated by this.

Drawn to it.

I think she thought I was turned on at first but I wasn’t.

I am not.
But I was drawn to it like it was fire.

She pulled the blade out and looked around again before moving her guitar aside and sliding the blade against her thigh. I watched as her skin tore open and a thin line of red appeared and then wept gently down her leg.

She hadn’t cut deep but she had cut.

She went to do it again and I grabbed her hand.

As drawn as I was I was also scared.

She smiled at me.

“Oh, you never cut deep. Not unless you want to drown. This is just swimming for me. Not drowning.”

And it was.

I watched has her legs and then her upper arms became a roadmap of whatever she was dealing with.

I never quite knew what set her off.

Happiness or sadness or both.

Eventually she started to swim out deeper and deeper and I couldn’t keep up.

We stopped playing shows together.

We stopped going for coffee at all hours.

We stopped catching each other when we fell.

I watched the scars deepen.

I watched her friends change.

I watched her eyes change.

The last time I saw her I knew she was looking to drown.

We were booked to play the same night at a new bar. I hadn’t realized I had booked to directly open for her. She was the headliner, I was the middle act, and some guy who played Uke was booked first. She was the headliner. She booked the gig.

All of the songs she played were happy.

They were love songs, they were dance songs, they were things that she would pepper into her performance but never lean on. I watched her from the back of the bar, nursing a whiskey and sour about having to play the gig but I was in awe of her. She owned these people.

She owned me.

It was the best I had ever seen her play.

When it was done the bar had made her do two encores because the crowd demanded it. I went to see her, to talk to her, to see if she was better, had changed.

I caught sight of her as she was getting into a cab with a couple other women who’d played backup with her, she waved at me and was gone.

And then she was gone.

She drowned a week later.

They found her in the tub of one of the girls.
She was drunk.

She’d done a sloppy job.

There was blood everywhere.

She became the new posterchild for tortured artists and suddenly people wanted her bootleg tapes and CDs. Her last performance became the stuff of legend. The stuff of masturbatory prophecy.

But I was there.

And it was legend.

But it was also tragic.

And it broke me.

It was painting that saved me.

Painting lead to where I am.

A map to a road I had never taken, to a roadmap I needed to write.

A story written as song.
A song written as prose.

So I dove into the red water to see how it felt.

The first time I went too deep and just barely made it to the ER before it was too late. I struck a vein with my pocket knife but was able to stumble the fourteen blocks to safety. I was embarrassed but they were scared.

An Attempt, they called it.

They knew who I was, that singer that knew that other singer, so they nodded and patted my back. It was two months after she had died.

I wasn’t famous but in the city,  I was known.

I was patched up, I was given the card of a Professional, and I was sent home to rest.

‘No partying’, they said, seeing me as a typical artist with an addiction.

My addiction though was my disconnectedness.

I wanted no one.
Nothing.

Being a performer there were always people wanting to talk, play, touch, kiss, fuck, or take.

There were always drugs.

Always drinks.

Always something.

I wanted nothing.

The music had been my refuge.

I wasn’t me on stage, I was a performer hiding behind an acoustic guitar.

I was a second name on a bill.

But now that she was dead the spotlight had tipped my way because I had been so close to her.

I was the next hot falling star.

I hated it.

I stopped playing.

I picked up shifts at a diner downtown.

I hid in my room.

But they wouldn’t stop calling, or writing, or coming by.

And I needed to play.

So I painted to build a bridge between me and the performer I pretended to be night after night.

I was lucky in that I made enough performing that taking these side gigs could just be for extra dough or for a break. I wasn’t rich, by any means, but I was lucky, and I was good, and I had the zeitgeist, at least for the moment.

And it felt dirty, but I didn’t abuse it.

I didn’t write some fucking opera about her. Or make anything about her or my pain over her loss.

No.

I sang.

I just sang.

My songs.

Other songs.

Once in a while one of hers, when it felt right.

And I missed her.

But the painting helped.

 

After that first dive I realized that that was my bottom, or close.

I had been pulled under and had to be careful not to go under again.

I wasn’t ready to die.

I just wanted release.

So I didn’t go deep.

I sat in the dark, listening to one of her tapes, the first one she made, she and I splitting the cost to record, she getting one side of the tape while I got the other, and it was there, in the dark, engulfed in her memory, that I started making my map.

I started on my thigh, like she had, but over time the map changed as I changed.

Relationships guided it.

Heartbreaks.

Successes.

Failures.

The record contract that never got signed.

The one that did.

All of it chronicled across my legs, my stomach, my chest, my arms.

Tiny slices that stung as the blade dipped into the ink and burned as the air hit the cut.

It didn’t make me feel good, doing it, no, but it was release.

It was focus on something other than me and the bullshit that I was.

I would look into the mirror and see the failures and fuck ups.

In the darkness I could make my own red dawn, a crying sun that would burn into my skin and create another piece of the roadmap of my life and one day I would be able to run my fingers over it all and know where I was and who I was and what had made me.

I was lucky, like I said, in that my gigs allowed me to cover up anything that I didn’t want seen.

Sure, I liked to fuck, who doesn’t, but I did it at clubs, or in cars, or anywhere it was dark and where there was no need to talk.

I didn’t want a relationship.

I didn’t want more heartbreak.

I had had my fill.

I just wanted release.

I never cut too deep, just deep enough to leave a scar.

Deep enough to carve more of the map.

Sometimes I went too far, carving at myself like I was a pumpkin, stabbing and gouging behind a veil of rage filled tears.

I hated those times because it meant recovery, and rest, and it meant me reflecting on what the fuck I thought I was doing.

I knew what happened to my friend.

Is that what I wanted?

No.

I wanted a sunset that lead to a night that lead to the day again.

I didn’t want one or the other.

I wanted the cycle.

The cutting let me live through a red night while the scars were my dawn, my reminder that I survived with the knowledge that if things got hard, there was always darkness to hide within.

Maybe it was sick.

Maybe it is.

But it’s me.

It’s my addiction.

My release.

My red bliss.

I don’t want to die.

I just don’t want to live like anyone else.

I want to live like me.

And the only way to do that is with a roadmap.

…c…

Bunni – a story

Bunni didn’t like her name, though that seemed fair because her family didn’t like that she told everyone that listened she was a girl. 

Bunni wasn’t born a girl but she was fourteen now and she figured she knew better than them, didn’t she? Yes, she did. 

Mom and dad had been living with Bunni, who her parents had named Tomas, for eight months now and while they didn’t like the way things were they also knew well enough that if they fought her on it they’d just entrench her deeper. That was how they saw it, not seeing that maybe instead of a weed, Bunni was a flower that had just now blossomed. Mom had been in a band when she met dad, who had been managing a store in the local mall. They wouldn’t tell anyone that it was love that brought them together but it was, well, something, and it was enough, and when Tomas came it was just barely enough. It was when Tomas’s sister Carly was born that they realized that love may not have brought them together but it was what kept them together. 

Carly was different. 

Bad different. 

Different in the way that she was never going to be in a public school. 

Different in that she’d never have a first date, or dance, or kiss. 

Different in that the doctor said she wasn’t going to make it to ten. 

When Carly came the fractured family became whole as they rallied together. 

That was why they learned to live with Bunni. Not because their punk rock pasts has opened their minds more than other people, because as they aged they realized how false that flag was, no, it was that they knew there’d be a day when Carly was gone and they didn’t want to lose Bunni too. 

The rest of the family hated Bunni though. 

Freak, that was the big word they used, though there was another one she had heard as well that started with the same letter but was directed at her interest in who she wanted to kiss. 

What they didn’t know is she didn’t want to kiss anyone. 

Boy or girl. 

All she wanted was to just be herself.  

To wear dresses and makeup and cute shoes and pants and tennis shoes and whatever else struck her. She didn’t want to be girly all the time but she wanted the option to be girly when she felt it. Sometimes she was just happy wearing jeans and a baggy t-shirt but sometimes she wanted to look cute.  

That was what she wanted.  

What she really wanted.  

But how did you tell your family that when they didn’t want to hear it? 

Let alone the teachers at school.  

The funny thing was how much mom and dad would tell her to be careful, and to not be too showy at school when the kids gave her the least trouble. Sure there were some that would bother her but most of them knew she was a girl before she did.  

It was the adults that gave her the trouble and her family that gave her the most.  

Grammy and Gramps were the worst.  

They had been hippies once upon a time, and supported everyone’s right to be who they were – be you, baby, was a popular phrase they would say to one another when asking for suggestions on where to eat or whether to buy some new slacks. The thing was, their little Tomas wasn’t a girl and they weren’t going to stand by and let him follow the herd of sheeple and ruin his life by denying who god had made him.  

Bunni disagreed but Grammy and Gramps were joined in chorus by auntie and uncle and her other auntie. And they were joined by cousins. It felt like she was surrounded by all sides.  

Holidays were worst of all.  

It was always – What would God think of how you are denying and desecrating His gift.  

She got that a lot.  

What would God say? 

What would God say.  

Only…she liked to think that the God she prayed to would still hold her in His hand and that His Son would still embrace her for who she was.  

Her family didn’t feel that way.  

Which is really how she got the idea.  

Grammy liked to talk about His message and portents and how He spoke through deeds and signs.  

Bunni smiled thinking about that.  

Deeds and signs.  

 

Bunni had met Nathan when they were in tee-ball together and while they weren’t close anymore they still said hello to one another in the halls at school. Nathan’s family had a farm where they raised chickens. Bunni hadn’t been out to the farm in years but she still remembered when Nathan’s older brother had shown them both how you checked the eggs to make sure they were safe to sell.  

 

“Nobody wants a scrambled egg with a beak in it, ya know?” He had said, and Bunni and Nathan had laughed until Chuck-o had grabbed an egg he had put aside and cracked it open and showed them a half-formed chick inside. That image had stuck with her for years and when she was lying in bed a week before Easter she thought of it, out of the blue, and shivered. She had been glad she’d never found one of those eggs, though Nathan told her that Chuck-o would slip him one of those almost every time the family sat down to have eggs. It was a cruel prank that had lost its humor and even its edge and was now just something he did, their parents not even bothering to cluck their tongues or correct him and Nathan not even bothering to acknowledge it outside of throwing it out. Casual cruelty was something Bunni was very familiar with. The kind that was deeper than habit but was more of a truth that refused to be hidden, like a weed that could never be pulled completely free. She had lived with the casual cruelty of her family for her entire life so she had always felt close to Nathan in that way, the two of them survivors on a liferaft that was leaking. She didn’t think he’d survive. He was too soft, too weak, and a day would come when he would want to turn the joke back on them. She saw it in his eyes and his shoulders, which had slumped more and more over the years. Not her though. They would never break her. And as she lay thinking about those eggs and about Nathan a nasty smile formed and she went to bed with a purpose and woke the next morning seeking to fulfill it.  

 

Nathan had been surprised to see her in the morning but he didn’t seem upset at the surprise. He was a lonely kid who liked having a visitor. Bunni asked to see the chickens and he shrugged and they headed out to them. As they stood looking at them she looked around and then leaned in to him.  

“What if I had a way to get back at your brother? What if I had a way and all it’d cost you were some of those eggs…” She pointed towards a box where they kept the bad eggs, Chuck-o using them for pranks and target practice with his hunting rifle. Nathan turned his head to the side and she smiled.  

“What if I told you that we have the power to exorcise our demons?” She said this with a laugh and told him her plan.  

 

The plan Bunni had for Nathan was what she called the ‘long con’. It would take time and patience but she assured him it’d pay off. When they were still kids Chuck-o had had a period where he had wet the bed for about a month straight. No one knew why, he just did it and for a seventeen-year-old to do that, well, it mortified him. Nathan was beaten up once as a warning to never mention it to anyone but he did, to Bunni. Now was the time to revisit that past ghost. Chuck-o had become a fan of malt liquor and every night he’d drink three forty-ounce beers and pass out about midnight. Nathan was going to go into his brother’s room and start slowly pouring a cup of water on his brother’s crotch and the bed beneath him. If he did it slowly Chuck-o shouldn’t notice. Once or twice he’d shrug off but when it happened for longer he’d get worried. As that worry spread he could up the ante and start pouring his own pee on his brother to convince him that he wasn’t just spilling water onto himself. And then, then he would tip off mom and dad to it. Nathan wouldn’t say anything, no, he’d let his parents do the heavy lifting, and when it was all over, Chuck-o wouldn’t be the same person as he had started. He’d be humbled. He’d be shrunken. And Nathan, Nathan wouldn’t be the whipping boy any longer.  

Nathan liked the sound of that.  

As for Bunni’s side of things, well, that was a shorter con.  

A nastier con.  

A better con.  

 

Easter came for the family and she was up early to dress for Easter service. She was warned not to make a show of things, meaning to dress like Tomas, not like Bunni, so she did as she was told, though she wore a hat she’d bought herself for Easter. A pretty blue thing that had a small mesh veil. Her parents grumbled and the rest of her family refused to sit in the same pew as she was in but that was fine. She sat in the back with a smile and a held tongue. After Easter was the family Easter party and egg hunt, culminating in a ham dinner. Grammy left the church early to set out the eggs but Bunni had made sure to help her with it. She had used her mom’s spare keys to go out to Grammy and Grampy’s car and swapped the eggs out with ones she had brought, then slipped back into the church and into her pew and bowed her head and gave thanks for the Resurrection and the Glory.  

“You shame our Lord, Tomas. You shame your family.” Aunt Petra hissed, after the congregation was released.  

“But what if I don’t? What if it’s intolerance that shames God?” Bunni asked.  

“If that’s the case then why does he not show us a new way, eh?” 

“Like a portent? Like an omen?” Bunni had to hide her smile as she said this.  

“That is how the Lord works – in Mysterious ways!” 

 

With the extended family there were fifteen kids lined up and ready to go. The hunt was an old family tradition and the kid with the most eggs would get a prize, this year it being a large chocolate bunny so the kids wanted it. Badly. Grampy raised his arm, Grammy gave a whistle and the kids were released. The children became a blur of colors, a broken rainbow running to and fro through the grass of the property Bunni’s family owned. The laughter that filled the cool afternoon air made Bunni reconsider what she had done but then she remembered how her little cousins would tease her and spit at her when their parents were looking, these apples not having fallen far from their trees. Bunni smiled again.  

The first egg was found, then the second, and third, and the eggs were found in a flurry. Screams cutting through the laughter as each one was found. The eggs mirroring the bright dresses the girls were wearing or the equally bright ties the boys wore. The first egg was broken just as the kids were heading back in, their arms loaded up and balancing their findings to turn them in for counting. Cousin Patrick stepped on the long legs of his passed-down pants and fell forward and landed with an eruption of exploding eggs. The kids all laughed and the adults joined them, despite Patrick’s tears. His tears turned to screams as he realized what were in the eggs and his screams were echoed by first one, then another, then finally all of the other kids. The eggs the children were holding all dropped in piles to the grass and broke apart revealing the dead bodies of half-formed chicks, an army of the dead sliding forth into piles of colored egg shells. Grampy ran forward and when he saw the mess of dead bodies and the grandchildren that were covered in their mess he crossed himself once, then twice. Grammy ran forward and did the same. The rest of the adults ran forward and crowded around and Bunni ran with them, marvelling at the horror she had wrought as her little cousins rose, and fell, rose and fell, as they slipped in the slop of the dead chicks. After the kids were able to get free of the mess they latched onto their parents and began to sob quietly as the adults considered things.  

 

“A portent.” One voice whispered.  

“A sign. ” Said another.  

“A reckoning.” Came a third. 

“A punishment for closed minds.” Whispered Bunni.  

After that there was a hush that fell over everyone. This could go one of two ways. Bunni knew it and accepted the risk. Better to risk it all than settle for nothing. She clenched her hands into fists and waited.  

It was her mother that spoke first.  

“This is our warning. This sign. This portent. This is His Mysterious Way. Remember His words well, we should – Judge not, lest ye be judged. We have been judged and we – are – guilty.” Bunni’s mom fell to her knees and turned towards Bunni.  

“Please forgive me Tom…Bunni. Please forgive all of us. And with your forgiveness shall God learn to forgive us as well.” 

Bunni’s mouth dropped open as her father fell to his knees and bowed his head, then some of the kids, and the aunts and uncles, and finally, last of all, Grampy and Granny slowly went to their knees and lowered their heads and raised their hands in supplication.  

Bunni raised her hands to the sky and closed her eyes.  

“Please, oh Lord, on this day of Resurrection, please resurrect the forgiveness that lives in your heart and forgive us our trespasses and forgive us our petty sleights. Forgive us!” 

 

Bunni felt her hands grabbed up and heard her family say ‘Amen’ after she had finished speaking and she allowed a small smile to spread across her mouth and gave thanks to small minds and large Gods.  

Amen.   

going to be ok – story

most days there is only screaming.
a white noise filling her head and crawling through her body like a thousand fire ants.
the world was so loud.
so angry.
so fast.
at school she would try to find a corner to go to and sit, away from everyone and everything, trying to grab hold of her thoughts and slow her heartbeat, which was booming away.
she would close her eyes and imagine herself as a rock with the waves of the ocean crashing upon her and drown, drown, drowning her.
the world would go gray and all she felt was screams wanting to explode from inside her. she felt cracks forming along her body and prayed to god, oh please god please, to not let her fall apart. to not let the screams escape.
to not let them see how scared she was.
home, she wished she was home, and in the dark, and alone in her room under the covers with her favorite song playing.
then the world would slow down.
then the world would let her breathe.
when it coudln’t see her.
she just wants her headphones.
headphones.
headphones.
she just wants to be little, tiny, and gone.
why can’t she be invisible?
she felt more cracks spreading.
she was going to fall apart.
it was going to happen.
it was going to happen.
it was…
a voice.
her name.
said softly, as if it was a secret.
and again, her name.
and again, and this time she opened her eyes
mr. ames was kneeling in front of her as the students worked on a project behind him. miss amy was leading the class as mr. ames was back here and no one seemed to notice.
maybe she had become invisible.
but mr. ames spoke her name once more so he must see her.
she must be here.
you are here, he said, you are safe, you are ok.
she was here?
she was safe?
she was ok?
but she didn’t feel like ANY of those things?
let’s slow the world down a little, ok? he said.
she wanted the world to slow.
she wanted everything to slow.
let’s take a breath, ok? a deep breath now hold it for three, two, one, and let it out, and with that breath will go all of the bad thoughts and feelings you have been feeling.
she wasn’t sure about this. she didn’t want to do this. she liked mr. ames though, he was always nice to her so she would try it.
she would try it.
just once.
she took a deep breath.
deep, deep. deeeeeeeep.
she held her breath and her chest started to burn and then she let her breath out and she felt the fire go out and the world did seem like it slowed down.
mr. ames smiled at her.
ok, good, now let’s try that again, ok? do it two more times in a row and let’s see how you feel. ok. ready? he asked.
she did as he said and took a breath, held it, then released it. then she took another and did the same.
she felt light headed afterward but she also felt good.
the roar in her head was almost gone.
most of the ants in her body were asleep.
and the world seemed quieter.
she smiled at mr. ames.
ok, great. that is great. now every time you start to feel anxious, like you need to go away then take a few deep, deep breaths to try to slow things down. i think this will help. i think there is more that we can do for you though. i think there are more things we can do to help you when you start to feel like that. do you think you’d like that?
she almost screamed and hugged mr. ames but didn’t.
of COURSE she wanted some help to stop feeling this way.
that was all she had ever-ever wanted.
she nodded and mr. ames smiled.
ok. when your dad comes to pick you up today after school i will talk to him about some ideas i have. about a person i think that can help and maybe you, your dad, and your mom can go see this friend of mine an7d maybe, just maybe…
the bell rang to signal the end of one class and the beginning of another and the girl started to get up, brushing dust and dirt from her pants as she did.
do you need me to call your dad or are you going to be ok?
she looked at mr. ames and thought about it a moment, biting her lower lip as she ran her hands down along the lines of her courdoroys. she nodded and smiled.
i am gonna be ok. breathe. just breathe. breathe. breathe. breathe.
mr. ames nodded and stood up and watched as the little girl went to her desk and grabbed her notebook and text book and walked out of the room.
she was going to be just fine.
…c…