Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Last Reich: The Killing Kind - Ch. 6

There were twelve small beds lined up in two rows and eleven of them were empty. Twelve children crowded on and around a single bed, kneeling on their knees with thin wool blankets shrouded around their shoulders and heads. The children’s eyes were wide in the darkness which was disbursed by quick lightening strikes and the moon shrouded in its blanket of clouds. Outside the stone windows, across the grayish green lawn and beyond the beyond the tall, black, rod iron fence, the world creaked and groaned in the eerie, evil silence of nighttime. Trees creaked and whined with the salvo of heavy rain. Somewhere distant but also close, there was a rabble of wheels atop of uneven cobblestone sounding like broken-throated laughter. The wind was catching the heavy iron gate, forcing it creak and forcing a sign to clang, metal against metal, that read: Low City Home for Orphans and Wayward Youth. Back inside, the eleven children stared up, with their mouths open, at the twelfth who was standing on the bed and telling stories.

The twelfth child was named Alfred and was completely called Elf. The boy had black, prickly hair, a skinny frame and eyes that might have belong to an old man. Elf had gotten the Elf because a younger child had difficulty pronouncing Alfred. The child’s eyes had grown glossy with frustrated tears as he tried to make his words obey him. The best he could do is, “Elf-Head.” He had told the child, whose name was Murphy, that he like the name “Elf-Head” because it reminded him of the king of the elves.
“The King of the elves?” Murphy asked.
“Yeah. The boss of all the elves. The Head of All Elves. You know how he got to be the boss?”
“Elves aren’t real.” Murphy said, apparently old enough to know skepticism.
“They are too. Who do you think slue the dragons?”
“There aren’t any dragons.” Murphy reminded Elf.
“Exactly. They’re all dead and they died before they could gobble everything up. Who do you think did that?”
“The elves?” The child had bitten and Elf began to reel him in, slowly.
“That’s right, the elves and the king of the elves had showed them how. Elves aren’t very big, hardly any taller than you.”
“How’d they kill dragons, then?” 
“Well, all sorts of people tried to slay the dragons. There were really big guys who showed up to kill them and they didn’t. They got the giants from the end of the world to try and they were turned away. They got vampires and wizards and all sort of people and they all failed.”
“Then how did they kill the dragons?” Murphy urged.
“Well, the problem was that they were all too big. None of the people who tried had attacked the dragons from below. The king of elves, before he was actually the king, came forward to kill the dragon and everybody laughed at him. He ignored them and went for the dragon with a sharp stick.”
“A stick?”
“Yeah. A sharp one. You know what he did with that stick?”
“Killed the dragon?”
“You bet he did. He pointed that dragon in his belly, which was really soft. Everyone else was too big and nobody could get at their bellies. Everyone was attacking from above and they were all beaten. The king of the elves killed the dragon and everyone was cheering and applauding and they put the king on their shoulders and they made him king. I really don’t mind being called Elf-head. It makes me feel like a dragon slayer.” Elf had said, smiling down to Murphy. Murphy had smiled back, his tears forgotten. Elf had made the story up on the spot, but Elf heard Murphy retold the story over and again.
Now, amongst the eerie night sounds and the rain, Elf was telling the other children about vampires. He had started the tale mostly because Murphy and some of the other children had been harassing him for a new one. He would have rather closed his eyes and slept, but he gave in and beckoned them close. He figured that he’d give them a scary one. Like the one about the elves and the dragons, Elf pulled the story straight out of air, closing his eyes and actually seeing how it was supposed to start. In his mind’s eye, he saw a boy in the woods. The boy had shaggy, black hair and ragged clothes made from burlap. The boy didn’t look exactly like Murphy, but the image put Elf in the mood for a little prophecy. He locked eyes with the small boy, who had curled up at the edge of his bed and gave a crooked, cracked smile.
“Yeah, Elf?”
“Do you know about the dark men?”
“No.” Murphy said. Elf’s eyes swayed across the faces of the other children.
“Do any of you know?”
“Do you mean Africans?” A small, ginger haired girl chanced.
“No. I mean bloodsuckers. Night walkers. I’m talking about vampires. They’re out there.” Elf said, pointing out the window and into the stormy darkness. The children peered out the window and at that perfect moment, lightening flared through the night.
“Out beyond the city limits and among the trees, they’re out there, looking back toward us. You know what keeps them from coming over?” He swayed his eyes across the children, their eyes wide and glowing. No one ventured a guess as to why.
“Because the watchmen, of course. They hide in the shadows waiting for the vampires and turn them away. How will do you think they can in this weather, though?” The iron gate whined aloud and the Low city  sign clanged against the gate. Possibly, the sound of someone slipping past the gate and across the grayish green lawn.
“Ever heard of what vampires do to people?” Elf asked. “Drink blood, of course. But they also crush bones and rip up throats. They squeeze all of the blood out of you like water out of a sponge.” Elf made a ringing motion with his hand for the effect. Elf’s eyes had been narrowed and his smile curled up the side of his face.
“Vampires are fast and they’re strong and they love to eat little children like you guys. You guys are little snacks to them.” There was a crash in the hallway and the children breathed in shocked air.
“And if they don’t drain you dry, you become just like them. You can’t go out into the sunlight and the watchmen come after you.” There was another crash and this one was closer. Elf’s face began to crack and curl into a ghoul’s face and he began to issue a fizzy laughter like tar pit bubbling. At the end of the row of beds and beyond the tall wooden doors, there was a fleeting scream. It sounded like Mistress Song, one of their more beloved caretakers. The children had stopped listening to Elf talk about vampires. There were heavy footfalls thudding against the old, hollow wood of the outside hall. The children could hear ragged breathing like some colossal beast. All their eyes shone in the darkness and tears stole down some of the children’s tears. They stopped listening to Elf’s story, even Elf, because the story had become real. Fingers rapped and drummed against the wood of the door leading to the hall.

 The door creaked open on whining, rusted hinges and again, the lightening struck at the perfect moment. The lightening strike threw a man-shaped figure into view, head lowered and arms hanging slack. He stepped forward, making those heavy footfalls. Another lightening strike illuminated his face, porcelain white skin shocked with a goatee of tacky blood. The children screamed, the sound slapping at the walls. Elf did not, his mouth went slack and his face went pale. A number of children scurried toward the door and the man-shaped figure snatched up two of them. The rest filtered around him, only to see the door swing close. There was a man that might have only been a shadow. He stepped into view and slammed the door shut before the children could get out. They battered at the door, screaming and crying. Soon, even that was gone.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

No Magic For Luke Peters Ch. 5

Lowell rolled by in washed-out grays and creeping, litter strewn lawns. The houses were marked with swoops of graffiti and narrow alleyways that Luke subconsciously kept an eye on. Luke’s hands shook mildly on the stirring wheel and he worked a fine layer of sweat into the cracked leather that encircled the wheel. His wrist hurt, but he didn’t want to say anything to the old man riding next to him. The day hadn’t been exactly normal, but it had gotten a whole lot more weird since Luke had met Perkins. Now, he was driving down back roads in the old man’s truck; keeping one eye out for the police who would stop him for having a smashed in tail light and keeping the other one open for the young man who Luke had to knock stupid with a frying pan.

Perkins kept quiet in the passenger seat; his head bowed and his hands splayed open in his lap. Luke had the thought that he was driving around with a crazy, old man but that crazy, old man had nearly been killed helping Luke. There was something going on and Luke thought his best chance of figuring it all out was that old man. Perkins was muttering softly to himself and occasionally he’d make a sudden jerk in one direction or the other. Periodically, he would breathe hard and hotly, sounding more like a wolf’s snarl. Luke didn’t know what Perkins was doing but it had something to do with the dog. Perkins would snarl and jerk in his seat and then Cesar would whine and yelp from the backseat. Beads of sweat rolled down Perkins’s temples and Luke thought he saw flashes of something from the corner of his eye.

Luke couldn’t have been sure, but he thought he might have seen the old man’s gun-metal gray eyes turn a fiery yellow. Luke thought he saw the old man’s hands hook into claws. He thought he saw the old man’s jaw jut out, showing little white fangs. Honestly, Luke didn’t know what he saw, but he didn’t quite believe Perkins was a crazy, old man. Cesar’s yelping grew softer in the backseat and after long, the German Shepherd fell asleep on the bench of the old Ford.

When Cesar’s breaths were long and deep, Perkins stopped his muttering, suddenly grasped his side and winced. His breathing grew irregular and he leaned forward, pressing his head up against the dashboard. Luke pulled to the side of the road and stared at the old man.

“Where do you want me to go?” Luke asked after allowing Perkins’s ragged breath to fill the cabin.

“You got a cell phone?” Perkins asked, sounding tired and raw. Luke did have one, which he had left hooked to its charger back at his house.

“No.” Luke said, turning his head back to the road.

“What type of teenager are you? Find a pay phone or a gas station or something. I got to make a call.” Perkins said.

“What did you just do?” Luke asked after another long pause.

“Something stupid. It’s sort of a specialty of mine. Just drive, damn it.” Perkins said and Luke pulled back onto the road.

Luke had experience driving a truck because he had learned on his father’s Chevy, but the Ford was still unwieldy. The wheel would buck and jerk in Luke’s grasp and the it’d shutter and gasp like wound animal seizing before death. Even still, Luke kept it on the road, driving slow down the narrow car-lined streets. Luke had a convenience store in mind. The aptly named On the Run. There’d be a yellow and red pay phone out front. Typically, the receiver would be dangling from its chord rather than properly hung up. The average users of said phone commonly had a temper and on more than one occasion the pay phone had to be replaced due to ripping out the receiver or the entire works and spilling it all out into the parking lot. Luke pulled into the sparsely occupied parking lot of the On The Run and put the truck into park.

There was more graffiti etched in permanent marker to the left of the pay phone and the entrance to the store and the likely other of the graffiti stood to the far right of the door with one hand in his pocket and another holding a cigarette. He was a tall, thin, scarecrow-like man in his thirties or forties, but he wore tight blue jeans and a black hoodie with the hood drawn up over a Boston Red Sox cap. In short, he was dressed to look a few decades year younger than he actually was. The man eyed the truck as it puttered to a stop.

“There’s a phone right there.” Luke said, pointing a finger out the window.

“Yeah and I’m going to need you to go over there and make a call. You might’ve gathered that I’m a little banged up.” Perkins said, sounding annoyed. Perkins opened up the truck’s glove compartment which housed random fast food napkins and pieces of paper. He rooted through the paper until he found a red-inked plastic pen. He then selected a crumpled, yellow napkin and jotted down a phone number.

“Take this. You’ll probably get a girl on the line. Her name’s Sadie. Tell her to tell Sheila that I’m coming and I’ve got somebody with me. Got it?” Perkins said, handing the napkin to Luke.

“Yeah. Tell Sadie to let Sheila know you’re coming and that I’m with you.” Luke said, popping the driver’s side door open.

“Good. You’re not as simple as you look. Hurry on, Pecker-wood.” Perkins said. Luke stepped across the parking lot, digging his hands into his pockets, searching for loose change. He’d failed to clean out his pockets more often than not and that proved fortunate. He found fourteen dollar bills and eight-six cents in change. He deposited two quarters into the pay phone and stole a glance at the man standing to the far right of the door. He’d been staring at Luke, bouncing his heel off the storefront’s wall. Luke punched in the phone number and put the receiver to his ear.

The man in the hoodie flicked the cigarette out into the parking lot and then stepped toward Luke, shoving both his hands into his jean pockets. Luke could see the man had a pencil thin, blonde mustache and had greasy blonde hair creeping out form underneath his baseball cap.

“Yeah?” A girl’s voice said from the other side of the line. She sounded tired and raspy, but also young like she might have been his age or maybe a year younger.

“Sadie?” Luke asked.

“Uh…Yeah.” Sadie said.

“Excuse me, man. You got a dollar?” The man had asked Luke.

“No.” Luke said to the man.

“No what?” Sadie asked Luke.

“Nothing. Let Sheila know that Perkins is coming and I’m coming with him.” Luke said to Sadie.

“How about fifty cents?” Then man asked Luke. The man had yellowed fingertips and he stank of nicotine.

“I don’t” Luke said, lying to the man.

“You don’t what?” Sadie asked, sounding mildly amazed.

“Nothing. Can you tell her that we’re coming?” Luke asked Sadie.

“Yeah. How’s Perkins? How’s Cesar? I haven’t seen that old dog in so long.” Sadie asked.

“Uh…Perkins is…I think he’s hurt. Something happened, but it probably can wait until we get there.” Luke said to Sadie.

“A quarter. You got to have a quarter. I’m just trying to get some money together to get something to eat.” The man said to Luke. Luke decided to ignore the man in favor of the girl on the line.

“Sure. How long until you’re here?” Sadie asked.

“I don’t know. I’m just driving. Perkins will know. I should be going. We’ll get there soon.” Luke hung up the phone.

“Come on. A quarter? Got a quarter.” The man asked.

“I really don’t.” Luke lied, starting back towards the truck.

“I can tell you your future.” The man said.

“No, thank you.” Luke said.

“Luke, it’s something you’ll want to hear.” Luke stopped and turned. His morning was only getting weirder it seemed. This man knew his name.

“How do you know my name?” Luke asked.

“Got your attention.” The man said. He cracked a yellow toothed smile and took his hands out of his pockets, placing them on his narrow hips.

“How do you know my name?” Luke asked again.

“Calm. Calm. I have my ways. You wanna hear the future or not?” The man asked, beginning  to rock on his heels.

“What are you talking about?” Luke asked.

“That Perkins, he told you that you’d cause more damage dead than alive. That sound weird?” The man asked.


“Luke, you’re smart. Think about who you’re with and what’s happening around you. You might just survive this.”

“What do you mean? Are you saying that Perkins is a danger to me?” Luke asked.

“That’s some thing for you to decide. The future is nothing, if not uncertain.” The man said.

“Then, why did you offer to tell it to me?” Luke asked.

“Well. The future could’ve been made more certain for somebody with a dollar. Too late now. Keep your eyes open, Luke.” The man smirked and cocked his head. With that, the man swaggered away, turning the corner of the On The Run.

“Luke. How’s your stomach feeling?” The man yelled as he disappeared around a corner and he was gone. Luke touched his stomach, remembering how Perkins had struck him there. Luke considered following him, but something told him that the man wouldn’t be around the corner when Luke turned it. The man would be gone like a puff of smoke. He started towards the truck, spying Perkins leaning his head up against the dashboard. Luke opened the driver’s side door and climbed inside.

“You talk to Sadie or Sheila?” Perkins asked.

“Yeah.” Luke said.

“What took you so long?” Perkins asked.

“You didn’t see the man?” Luke asked.

“What man?” Perkins asked.

“There was…” Luke started. Are you  saying that Perkins is a danger to me? Suddenly, Luke wasn’t sure if he should say anything about the random, greasy man.

 “There was a bum hassling me for change.” Luke said. Luke started up the truck  and moved it back onto the street, rolling on toward the rising sun. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

No Magic For Luke Peters: Ch. 4

Chapter Four: Look At Your Boy Now

There were too many voices swimming around in Bobby Bland’s head. He’d been bashed in the face, both with a wooden cane and a metal frying pan, but neither pain had been as concerning as the lack of vision in his left eye. Bobby didn’t think the vision loss would be permanent or at least he hoped so. He could make out little, white snakes of light rising and sinking into a sea of black. The white snakes grew dull and harder to make out. He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. The entire left side of his face throbbed. His throat felt like it was swelling shut, trying to choke him alive.  He thought there were tiny, hard-shelled things crawling beneath his skin and that the ground, beneath him, was rolling like a washing machine set on its agitation cycle.

The dark man demanded that he stand, that he pursue the two that had injured him and Bobby was trying, but his body was too heavy. He thought that the hard-shelled things were connected to hooks cemented into the ground. They dug into his skin whenever Bobby tried to pick himself up. He’d get to his knees, a Herculean effort, and then he’d come crashing back down to the dry, cold grass, his muscles protesting and misfiring. It was a small, vague thought like a tiny bird flitting through the forest. He might be dying. He could have some severe internal bleeding from the cane strike or the frying smashing into his skull. There was another fear. The dark man might not let him die. That might imply that Bobby wanted death. In reality, Bobby actually wanted an end to pain.  

That want was illusive because there were voices like little bees stinging away at his mind. There was the dark man who was like a blaring horn in his head, cracking and shattering his skull. Then there was his father. His father was dead. Bobby knew that, but his father was also somewhere close, looming with a pair of closed fists. After his father, there was his mother who wasn’t dead, just long gone. She was a whisper, begging him to stop, to lay down, and to give in to the urge to sleep. There was a fourth voice that was outside his head, but it also hummed like a phantom passing through the foggy, purpled-leafed forest inside his mind.

“Dude…are you okay?” The voice asked over the shuttering pulse pounding away in his head. The things ferreting beneath his skin were slowing, but he couldn’t see any bulges underneath his skin. They weren’t real. Telling himself that they weren’t real helped. The weights slid from his back and the vision in his left eye was clearing. Pinpoints of scummy, red light bled in through the darkness. The pain in his head hadn’t let up and neither had the voices.

Up, Bobby. Get up, Bobby. Now, Bobby. The dark man said. Each one was accompanied by a bolt of pain. The dark man was trying to drive him like a stubborn mule.

“Dude…you’re bleeding a lot.” The phantom voice said to him, somewhere above his head.

Bobby. Baby, stay down. You’re hurt, You could die. Lay down. His mother told him.

That’s right, boy. Stay down. Take a knee like you always have. Your mother left me with you and I can’t stand the sight of you. I tried my best to make you hard, but you’re soft. Stay down, boy. Bobby just heard the voice, but he saw the image that would have accompanied it. He saw his father; sitting in his easy chair, clutching a cold, sweating Coors. His voice wafted over the tuned down sound of football announcer rattling off statistics. The lights were off in the living room while his father told him how weak he was. Bobby’s hands landed on either side of him and Bobby found his feet.

“Dude… No. No. You probably shouldn’t get up. You’re hurt, man.” Bobby was looking down at a skinny, green eyed boy and it took him a small while to place him. Concentrating on who the boy was, detracted from his balance, but he caught the memory and his balance at roughly the same time. He was a little, black-haired skater boy Bobby had sent to pound on the front door of the Peters house. The boy had been happy to help, flashing Bobby a dark smile before disappearing around the side of the house.

The boy doesn’t matter. The dark man whispered in Bobby’s ear.

“Yeah.” Bobby said into the morning air. Bobby was noticing more and more that his face was sopping wet and his lips tasted coppery when he ran his tongue along them.

“What were you trying to do, man?” The skater boy asked, looking up to Bobby with his wide green eyes. Bobby ignored the boy, moving past him and gathering up his baseball bat. The ground was still swaying beneath his feet and Bobby adopted a drunken sailor’s stagger.

Lay down, Bobby. You’ll hurt yourself. Bobby’s mother cooed in his ear, but Bobby shook the sound away like it was an annoying mosquito. Where was she now? His mother was on the other side of the country. She’d left Bobby with his father. How much could she have really cared? Bobby stumbled into the lonesome street, preventing himself from crashing into the middle of the road by catching hold of the tall, knotted gofer wood fence.

“Where are you now?” Bobby said to no one in particular. It had originally been intended for his mother, but he wasn’t thinking of her when he said it. That thought and every other thought was slippery like slimy fish in from the Merrimack. His father had a truck, a rusted out fishing truck. Ultimately, that truck was repossessed, but Bobby’s father had taken him fishing one summer afternoon. Bobby thought of it as fishing, but in reality it was Bobby’s father getting drunk in close proximity to fishing poles. Bobby had looked down into the cloudy brown water and could actually see the shiny scales on fish that his father was making no attempt to catch. Why was he thinking about that now? He was making a connection between his father’s repossessed fishing truck and a rusted Ford pickup parked far down the street. There was an old man and a young man. Both of them were climbing into the cab of the Ford. The young man had a frying pan and was climbing into the driver’s seat. The old man sparked his memory. The old man had a crimson colored cane. Luke and the Old man. The old man’s name didn’t really matter. Neither did Luke’s name. Bobby was supposed to kill them both. He didn’t know exactly why. Bobby started running. 

Somehow, running was easier for Bobby, charging down the uneven, cracked street with the metal bat clenched in his hand. Running, for Bobby, meant falling without ever hitting the ground. He just had to make sure one of his feet was under him. Even still, he would need to steady himself with his hands from time to time. The skater boy was yelling after him, but Bobby barreled forward. Jimmy, the neighborhood terrorist, looked down the street at the bleeding, abused Bobby Bland as he disappeared across the corner.

Possibly, the dark man was propping him up, but it was as likely that Bobby had his father’s imagined words burning in the back of his brain. His vision hadn’t fully come back and he could have been struck by a car and killed without ever knowing exactly why he died. The way he was running , he could have missed Luke and Perkins all together, but he hadn’t. The two of them were climbing into a rusted Ford pickup truck with a back bumper secured on with long strips of black duct tape. The German Shepherd, Cesar had already been loaded into the backseat of the pickup’s cab. The pickup puttered away as Bobby charged forth. He kept running, surging after the flashing tail lights. He managed to bash in the truck’s left tail light  before it disappeared over the horizon.

Sweat pearled back the length of Bobby’s back only to chill in the cool morning air. There was something fundamentally horrible about losing these two men he’d been set to kill. He hadn’t been aware of them prior to that day, but his stomach soured at the sight of the truck’s tail lights speeding away.

“What do I do now?” Bobby said shakily.

What we do is wait, Bobby. The night shall fall and bare its teeth. The dark man told him in a low whisper. Bobby nodded, balling his fists and trying to hold back the roving pain that carved its way through his skull.

 Bobby hadn’t known a few very important things and those things were more similarities between Luke and Bobby. Neither teenager understood the world they were thrown into. Neither teenager understood the men who thrusted them into that world. Neither teenager questioned why they hadn’t run away. Bobby failed to question the attempted murders of an old man he’d never met and a young man he’d only vaguely knew from the crowded hallways of their school because of the pain and the purple leafed forest. Bobby had a measurable reason, but what’s Luke’s problem?    

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Excerpt: Beverly Wood

Beverly Wood had steel strings and he set himself to strum. His teacher had taught him not to grip the neck of his old, blue guitar, but he did anyway. His teacher had taught him that gripping the neck might interfere with his fretting and would slow it down if the interference didn’t get to it. His teacher was an old black woman named Martha Abigail and everything she did was slow with one exception. When she took the old, blue guitar from Beverly, she played like lightening struck. The first time Beverly saw her do it, he found himself split between two emotions, wide-eyed amazement at her towering talent and fear that the speed of her feverish picking would cause her fingers to work themselves apart. They hadn’t, of course. Martha just stopped playing and handed the guitar back to Beverly. Now Martha was gone and it was just Beverly, strumming as he walked down the empty streets of Ash Water, his hometown.
What had happened? Beverly had asked himself that again and again. Everyone was gone and all he had was his guitar to keep him company. He played it because he couldn’t stand the absolute silence that seemed to echo somehow. It felt like the silence was coming after him, eating up the sound his old, blue guitar made. Beverly would even have taken Todd Allen, who reminded Beverly that ‘Beverly’ was a girl’s name, almost daily. Beverly and Todd had gone through elementary and high school with Todd beating Beverly’s ass all the way. It had been the summer before college that the tables had been turned. His mother had called him a late-bloomer and he only began to believe when he found himself needing a whole new wardrobe. Everything he owned had become too tight. His pants choked at his meaty calves and his shirts exposed his flat belly button. He had transformed into a new man in time for his legal manhood. Todd Allen had recognized him and therefore didn’t understand why his nose had been broken.

Todd noticed some similarities between Beverly and this new man and Todd wondered vaguely if Beverly had sent a cousin after him. It was after this new man dislocated Todd’s jaw that Todd thought to start defeating himself. Beverly had won that fight by many accounts but he got a broken hand and a few bruised ribs for his trouble. He also got arrested for assault and battery.

Beverly’s uncle had defended him in court, but Beverly’s nonexistent police record and his pronounced limp did most of the work. His uncle had recognized this and had rolled up Beverly’s shirt sleeve and jacket to show off the cast on Beverly’s arm.
“Don’t ham it up, but limp when you’re in there. Let them see you got as good as you gave.”
Even that wasn’t absolutely necessary. Of the twelve jurors, six were a few years older than Beverly and Todd and knew the both of them from school. They remembered the time that Todd had pushed Beverly on a nature hike led by Mr. Wilson, the science teacher, Mr. Nope, the gym teacher and Ms. Sadie, the Vice Principal. Beverly tumbled down a rocky slope, slashing his jaw open and breaking his arm. None of the three adults had seen Todd do it, but nearly all the students had. The six jurors remembered Mr. Nope spilling down the slope after Beverly and coming back up with the sobbing, bleeding Beverly in his arms. They remembered that and Beverly didn’t even get community service for beating Todd unconscious.

Now, he was playing his old, blue guitar while he walked the streets, wishing that a wind would kick up. He wished that the world would make some noise, but it didn’t. He working through the chords of B.B. King’s “No Sunshine When She’s Gone  and the melody fell died like shot birds in the air. Beverly’s feet hurt, back he didn’t want to stop walking. He had a subconscious fear that something was coming for him and if he stopped to rest, it would pounce upon him. It would stand to reason that playing B.B. King’s old standard would attract the thing stalking him, but felt as though the thing was repelled by the thing. His fingers hurt from the vibration of the steel strings, but he played even still. He had a sub-subconscious fear about what would happen when his fingers were ran too raw to play.
No Sunshine When She’s Gone” gave way to a somber, mournful “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” It sounded like the kind of song someone would play at a funeral. Beverly couldn’t play as fast as Martha had and he didn’t want to try.  He walked down Ash Water’s Main street, moving past darkened store windows and clay brick doorways. The Beatles love song never made it to the bricks to bounce or to the glass. His subconscious fear suddenly because a conscious one. The moment he realized that he was afraid of something following him, he heard a trashcan crash onto its side. Glass bottles clinked and broke and it sounded like something had clamped down on one of the bottles. He had feared the thing before he had any possible proof that it existed and he didn’t even have that. Not really. A few broken bottles didn’t make a monster. It did make something and Beverly was afraid that it made something awful.

When his subconscious fear rose to his conscious mind, his sub-subconscious fear rose up one level as well. His fingers started dancing across the steel strings, moving faster and faster. His footsteps started giving way to heavy footfalls. He wasn’t quite running, but he wasn’t walking anymore. It became difficult to play the guitar and hurry along at the same time, but he kept up with both of them. There were new sounds raining down from the gray stone, one-story buildings like hard stones and rotten vegetables from a jeering, hateful crowd. The world was suddenly noisy and Beverly wished for the silence that had terrified him before. Beverly remembered the old saying: ‘Be careful what you wish for.’

Something funny happened. A new fear flooded up to his vacant sub-subconscious. He didn’t know that he was thinking it, but he wouldn’t have been surprised if he saw Todd Allen looking to pay him back for the ass-kicking he had dealt. The two of them had gone to two different colleges, but Beverly had gotten word that Todd spent the first semester of his freshmen year passing notes instead of being able to speak. His jaw had been wired shut and the jaw had healed badly anyway. A year after college, Beverly walked into Mr. Walter’s general store and Todd was there, speaking with a lisp that must have been embarrassing for Todd. Beverly remembered thinking that Todd Allen had become the white Mike Tyson, big as hell with a ridiculous voice. Beverly walked back out the door and went to the seven /eleven door the street, knowing that he would laugh at the thought, Todd would know Beverly was laughing at him and then there would be a fight. Beverly had remained strong and didn’t fear Todd anymore, but he didn’t want a repeat of the arrest that had occurred six years prior.

Beverly thought that Todd would come walking around a corner, his face twisted up in some crazed glee. He imagined Todd coming to settle up with him, possibly brandishing a wooden baseball bat, possibly the one he used back in high school  for baseball in the spring. Todd wasn’t exactly an athlete. He smoked too much in high school for that. If he didn’t hit the ball out of the park, he was almost always tagged out. He was a big, lumbering thing, but he was meant to hit. When he swung his bat, ball flew like bullets and god help any birds flying overhead. When Todd had broken Beverly’s nose in a bathroom, senior year, Todd had been kicked off the baseball team. The broken nose had been a large part of the reason why Beverly had gone off on Todd in the summertime before college.

Todd hadn’t turned a corner with a baseball bat, but Beverly kept hurrying along, sweating and breathing hard. He ran as though Todd Allen was chasing him, calling after him, reminding him that Beverly was a girl’s name. He had ultimately grown taller than Todd, but Beverly couldn’t help but remember a time when Todd was a juggernaut knocking him down a rocky slope. He couldn’t help but remember a time when Todd broke his nose, a time when Todd had kicked him in the balls and drove him into a wall headfirst, a time when Todd had pinned Beverly down and popped in the face, over and over again. Todd Allen had been a terrorist in Beverly’s life and Beverly couldn’t remember what exactly started it. As long as Beverly could remember, Todd beat the hell out of Beverly, until Beverly beat the hell out of Todd.

Beverly changed chords into “A Boy Named Sue” and he suddenly wondered where was his father.