Amazonia (flash fiction)

frog-1530803_640Such Such sorrow I feel for man. He may never live within the realm of Amazonia, only dwell within her pleasures. For he is firmly footed to earthen concerns with roots held tight by Nature. In this truth lies the desire of man to conquer Her. Yet he is so earthbound that even in the realization that his desire can never be quenched, it only adds to his heated anger until his resentment turns to oppression. For he, reigned over by no Lord more than his own loins, is only guardian to that which can create. For creation is never his, forever Hers in all ways. This majesty he cannot touch, only wish to emulate. For if his seed were no more, She, being Nature, would turn half her species into amphibians. For that, be it my guess, the true origin of Princes. For Nature is of such a cunning trickery that She bestows all blame to Fortune.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Advertisements

Cliche Horror (creative nonfiction)

hand-525988_640

He must have seen me in the crowd after the hockey game, but by being fixated on the players that were making their exits and signing autographs for kids, I hadn’t noticed him. Distracted, I missed anyone taking a special interest in me. Being alone, I certainly didn’t do anything to draw attention to myself. Completely amused by a group of grown men geeking out like teenaged girls, giggling and bouncing around while taking turns getting their pictures taken with the visiting team captain, I wasn’t on guard.

I left the arena late. I was that lone woman walking toward her car in an empty parking garage that sent a chill up my spine. Looking over my shoulder, my steps echoed against the concrete. Nothing was there, except the fluorescent lights overhead. Only a few steps to the sanctuary of my car, parked near the elevators, I quicken my pace. But, if horror flicks have proven anything over the years, it’s that the inside of a car provides only the illusion of safety. Once inside, just to quiet my inner paranoia, I glanced into the backseat. All clear. My relief brought with it a sigh and, then, a nervous giggle. Since when was I so high strung? I chalked it up to my imagination. That was a classic bad horror movie mistake. So, I started the car and drove up the spiral center ramp of the arena garage and washed it all out of my mind in seconds. Another misstep.

Ten seconds later, two levels up, and just inside my peripheral vision, I saw the figure of a guy coming toward me. White t-shirt. Red shorts. I had plenty of time to make it by him. The fact that he was out there registered, but I didn’t really focus on it. But, then he sped up. He practically jumped out in front of my car. I slammed on my brakes. He threw his hands onto the hood and the crash sent a jolt straight to the core of my bones. Our eyes met. I knew I hadn’t hit him, but just barely. The look on his face was blank, but I got the feeling he wanted to talk.

He looked like he recognized me. He looked down at me and started to make his way from the front of my car to the driver’s side window, holding my gaze.  With his motive unknown, in the few precious moments I had left before he reached my door, my mind went into fight or flight overdrive. But, something different about this encounter stood out. I wanted to roll down the window and ask him if he was alright. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. But what about the bad horror movies?

Now, face-to-face with possibly a deranged, kamikaze stranger in a deserted parking garage, I felt trapped.

I held his gaze, watching for the second his body stepped past the hood of my car. The moment he did, I gunned the throttle. The car whisked by him and up the next concrete ramp. I clipped his wrist with my driver’s side mirror. As I reached the top of the ramp, I glanced into my rear-view mirror expecting him to be gone because everything about this was creepy. To my surprise, he was standing at the bottom of the ramp with his hands thrown up into the air. I stopped, again. I still wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Yet, I couldn’t risk an open confrontation and drove off. I wasn’t about to die in some sort of awful parking garage horror flick cliché. Perhaps, I overreacted. If it hadn’t been his intention to frighten me, he realized a moment too late. It all went wrong. I escaped and no one followed me out of the garage.

I can’t remember the face of the man who jumped out in front of me that night. But, driving home, I thought that, perhaps, the man was actually a stranded fan. Chances are his car battery just needed a jump. Under the examination of that possibility, I suddenly felt ridiculous for my hysterical reaction.

But, then, again, maybe that was the set-up. Cliché horror movie murder averted.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Hitchin’ (fiction) by Jenn Whittaker

truck-2663163_1920A semi engine turns over and the air brakes release. Dylan’s eyes open to see the shady underside of the tractor-trailer moving on either side of her. As the truck pulls away, she’s left lying in the middle of the asphalt parking slot between two slanted yellow lines with her head on her rucksack. She squints into the noon sun. She closes her eyes, turns her head, rolls her rucksack onto her shoulders and stands up in one fluid motion. She groggily makes her way inside the truck stop Quickie Mart. She buys a honey bun and three large bottles of water. She walks towards the highway. A car comes out of the rest area and slows down beside her, it’s driver’s side window rolling down. The driver is a middle-aged man and a young boy is in the front passenger side of the car.

“Howdy, there! It’s a scorcher today. You need a ride somewhere, hun?”

“How far are you going?” Dylan asks as she surveys the on-ramp to the highway, never meeting his eyes. Wavy lines of blurred heat already make their way above the highway asphalt.

“Damn near all the way across Texas. I’m taking my son to spend the summer with his mother. Where are you headed?”

“Biloxi. Mississippi.”

“Woo-ee. You got a ways to go. I’ll take you as far as I’m goin’. I’m Gary and this big man over here is Robbie. Hop on in the backseat,” Gary says with more pep in his voice than Dylan can rationalize. She knows not to pass up on a free ride. She gets into the backseat of the old gold sedan and buckles her seatbelt. She mutters, “Thanks,” once she tosses her rucksack next to her on the worn cloth seat in the air-conditioned car.

“So what’s your name?” Robbie inquires.

“Dylan,” she says.

“That sounds like a boy’s name.”

Gary slaps Robbie hard on the back of the head. “Don’t be rude, boy. Mind your manners.”

Dylan interjects. “That’s alright. My parents didn’t want to know whether they were having a boy or a girl so they picked a name that would work for both,” Dylan replies.

“How the hell did they know what color to paint your nursery?”

“Green. They painted it green.”

“Huh,” Gary muffles.

“Daddy, can we please listen to the radio?” Robbie whines like a typical child.

“Sure. Hope you like country, Dylan, cuz that’s all they play ‘round here.”

“It’s your car. But if you don’t mind, I might take a nap for a bit.” Her disconnected depression is best suppressed by black, dreamless sleep. It’s addicting. No matter how much sleep she gets, she always wants more.

“Sure thing. Get comfy. It’s a long haul.”

Dylan leans her body against her rucksack and closes her eyes. The Moonlight Sonata playing in her head lulls her to sleep, drowning out the twang coming from the car speakers.

Dylan wakes to screeching tires as the car summersaults. Glass, blood, bodies and soda splash around the interior. As the car rocks to a standstill upside down, Dylan unlatches her seat belt, hits her disoriented head on the roof, and gathers her rucksack. She tosses her rucksack out of a shattered window and crawls her way out behind it. Gary and Robbie are in various states of injury and consciousness.

“Go get help,” Gary’s voice shivers.

“Someone will be here soon.”

Gary turns his attention to his son and his voice trails off as Dylan makes her way to the other car on the now scrap-metaled road.

“Robbie? Robbie? Robbie!” she hears in the increasing distance.

Dylan doesn’t feel a thing as she leaves Gary and Robbie to fend for themselves. Of course she has a phone, but she can’t risk putting a helpful call in to the police. She can already see that the driver in the other car didn’t survive. If she calls there will be two unanswered questions: where is the female voice that made the call and why did she flee the scene? She can’t afford to have any more people looking for her and she sure as hell can’t stick around. She can never stay put for long. It’s either her survival or theirs. She manages her own; they can wait for the next car to come by. They’ll make the call.

The other car has its front end smashed in from the head-on collision. A woman, contorted and mangled, is crushed in the driver’s seat, where the engine block now resides. Dylan slows a bit to look at her as she walks back in the direction of Mississippi. Picking up a side mirror that lies in the road, she evaluates her face, which is only slightly cut. She wipes the blood off with the long sleeve of her sopping black shirt, takes it off and ties it around her waist inside out. Underneath, she has on a blue tank top; her bra straps show. There are no cars in either direction. Dylan drops her rucksack and digs for something. She pulls out a black umbrella, opens it and walks down the road under its shade.

As Dylan walks, she wonders if the accident should encourage her to reevaluate what’s still important to her. Then, she wonders why she still wonders. The road has changed her, jaded her heart and drained it of all its compassion. She’s as hardened as the pavement beneath her feet. She figures that’s what a year on the run would do to anyone at her age, even as a sixteen-year-old. She could afford to buy a car of her own. She has plenty of cash, but she can’t afford risking a paper trail, regardless of the fact that it would end at her false identity, “Dylan”. She could switch or steal tags, but that would only open her up to more risk.

She’s stayed off the radar this long, living a hobo’s life, drifting from one highway to another. She feels no compulsion to change her ways. Besides, she’s not done mourning. She wonders if she ever will be. She doesn’t have to live like this, but she can’t seem to muster up enough care to care. She has no real destination. She just keeps moving.

When Dylan was eight, her parents died in car accident, too. Her father was drunk. Her mother let him drive anyway. When she was fifteen, the uncle that took her in died from his second stroke. Supposedly. She knows that she’s too smart for her own good. Savant they say. Genius they say. Brilliant they say. Elegant they say. But she underestimated them. She should have known better, too, but she was naive then. There is nothing they won’t do to get her back into their clutches.

Dylan hears a truck as it slows down behind her. It grinds its gears to a halt next her. Dylan closes her umbrella and steps up onto the shiny, silver platform on the passenger side of the cab. A man with blonde, straggly hair under a camouflage hunter’s cap sits in the driver’s seat. He spits tobacco juice out of his window. He has yellow stained teeth and a few days of stubble with juice stains down the corners of his mouth.

“You hitchin’ or trickin’?” is the only thing the man says, raising his voice to ask Dylan outside of the window.

“Hitchin’.”

“Too bad. Go on, now. Get off the truck.”

“I can pay you.”

“Is that right? How much?”

“How far are you going?” Even through the window Dylan is repulsed by the musty odor from the cab and the pit stains under the trucker’s armpits. But, then again, she probably doesn’t smell much better.

“Pensacola.”

“Drop me off in Mississippi?”

“How much?” He asks again, looking at her with beady eyes.

“A hundred bucks.”

“Up front.”

Dylan takes the rucksack off and uses her knee to stabilize it against the truck. She digs inside while the man perches up in his seat to watch her hands. She counts the bills and pulls out the cash.

“Well, hop on in. It seems like we have us a deal.”

Dylan opens the door and gets in, putting the rucksack between her knees as the man notices her spread her thin legs. She hands him the cash.

“What’s yer name, girl?”

“That doesn’t come with the cash.”

The trucker stashes the wad in his pocket as he thrusts his hips up toward the steering wheel while watching Dylan. “You know anything about that wreck back there that had me jammed up?”

“Neither does that,” Dylan states plainly. Someone made the call.

“Just awonderin’ how a hitcher has that kind of dough. You rifle through some wallets?”

“I wasn’t there. I’ve been walking for a while. Heard it behind me though.”

“And you didn’t check up on it?”

“Wrong direction.” Dylan surveys the inside of the cab. Greasy purple velvet curtains fall behind the seats, separating the sleeping quarters from her field of vision.

“Ya ain’t got much to say, huh? Hell, that’s alright. If ya ain’t suckin’ me off then there’s no reason fer yer mouth to be open anyhows.” The man twists off the cap of a Budweiser bottle he gets from a square cooler between the seats and tosses it onto his dashboard. He takes a long swig of beer. He doesn’t offer Dylan any even though she looks parched. She doesn’t ask.

“Are we going or what?” Dylan looks out the rearview mirror as the truck starts off. She thinks they can make it to Mississippi before sundown and she needs to get across that state border. The wind blows through her hair and she ties it back. He drives and they don’t speak. Country accents are heard over the CB. The man occasionally responds to ASS-SMASHER-101.

At the Mississippi state line sign, the grimy man pulls the truck off onto the shoulder of the road and turns on his hazard lights.

“A deals a deal,” he says with a smug grin.

“Pretty literal, huh?”

“I found ya on the road. You get out on the road. I need me a workin’ girl at the next stop.” As Dylan starts to gather her rucksack, the man puts his hand on her arm in a strong grip, “unless you got some more cash in der.”

“Not for you. Remove your hand.”

“Guess that answers my question. Too bad you’re such a dumb little bitch.” The man moves fast and pulls a sawed off shotgun with a pistol grip up from the side of his seat closest to his door and points it in Dylan’s face.

“You’re not going to shoot me. That’s a mess to explain to the next girl.”

“Damn sure, will. Don’t ya worry ‘bout that. Just leave the sack and get out.”

Dylan looks out of the corner of her eye at the barrel of the gun and up to the redneck that holds it while still leaning over her rucksack. In a flash, she leans back as far as she can in the seat and knocks the shotgun barrel forward toward the windshield with her forearm, which pulls the man over towards her. She head-butts him and rips the shot gun out of his oily hands. She twirls it back on him.

“I’d like a refund.”

The man smirks and his nasty, misaligned teeth show, while he ignores the blood that drips out of his broken nose. He spits a pool of bloody tobacco at Dylan, but misses. It drips down the dashboard.
“Go on then lil’ girl. Pull the trigger. It ain’t even loaded. Besides, ya ain’t got it in…”

Dylan pulls the trigger, but it only clicks. The man’s eyes open wide and a sinister laugh escapes him.

Dylan smiles back. “Too bad. That was the easy way.”

“Damn, bitch. Now yer gonna pay fer dat.”

The man lunges at Dylan and she flips the butt of the gun into the man’s chin which cracks his teeth as others fly out of his mouth. She twirls the shotgun like a baton into his temple. He groans as his head starts to fall in-between the seats. Dylan smashes the back of his head with the grip of the gun and he falls face first into the middle of the cab on top off his cooler. Dylan bashes the back of his head repeatedly with the butt of the gun. Every time she pulls back more blood splatters until squishy noises calm her. She gently lays the gun across her lap looking forward and falls back into her seat out of breath, but relaxed. She looks in the mirror and takes the shirt off her hips, turns it right side out and wipes the blood off her face. She washes her hands over the man’s corpse with a bottle of beer from the cup holder. He twitches. She puts the bottle back into the cup holder, picks up the shotgun, takes an annoyed breath and slams it one more time into the back of the man’s head. His body twitches one last time. Dylan drops the shotgun onto the floorboard.

The trucker’s body is wedged sideways between his seat and draped over the cooler. Dylan kicks the man’s body aside. Dylan pulls out two bottles of beer and washes off her hands again using one bottle. She takes her cash out of the trucker’s jean pocket. She quickly snatches a lighter out of the ashtray that has the image of a naked woman on it, with boobs used as a gauge for the lighter fluid level.

She digs in her rucksack and pulls out a spray-bottle of ammonia. She rolls up the windows. She splashes the man’s body and sprays the entire cab with the ammonia. The ammonia makes DNA unviable and the oil film of fingerprints run.
Dylan opens the door of the cab and gets out with the remaining bottle of beer. She knocks the door shut with her hip and then sprays it and the platform step with some more ammonia. She places the spray bottle back into her rucksack.
Dylan puts the lighter in her pocket. She turns her shirt inside out again and ties it back around her waist. She takes out her umbrella, the one she held at her uncle’s funeral, opens it and starts walking down the highway into Mississippi. She takes a swig of beer.

After the sun gives way to the night, Dylan closes her umbrella and walks. Eventually, she walks down a grassy slope next to a highway exit towards a Motel 6 with its VACANCY sign flashing.

Dylan rings a bell on the counter and a pale, freckled receptionist with red hair comes from behind a partition, leaving a cigarette to burn in the ashtray. Her false teeth whistle.

“You got a major credit card?” she asks, wasting no time.

“No.”

“No credit card, no room.”

“Can’t I put down a deposit?” Dylan asks politely.

“Look, kid. We don’t do runaways here, nohow.”

“I’m not a runaway. I got left behind during a bathroom break on a greyhound ‘bout 10 hours ago. This is the first motel I’ve seen. I’ve just been walkin’. I didn’t want to get to hitchin’. You never know what kind of nuts are out there.”

“Ain’t dat da truf. Hell, a trucker got kilt by one jest today in broad daylight. I jest seen it on the night news.

“Damn. So can I use a deposit?”

“How many nights you stayin’?”

“Three. I have to wait for the next bus.”

“Welp, it’s $49 per night plus tax times double fer da deposit. That’s…” The receptionist reaches for a calculator. Dylan waits. The clerk punches in the numbers, has to start over a couple of times and exclaims, “Darn thang,” to herself several times.

“Ah, hell, I’ll just round it up. Three hundred all in. If you ain’t stole nothin’ or broke nothin’ before you go, you’ll get some of it back. You got that?”

“I think I so. Let me check.” Dylan digs in her rucksack for the money. “$275 is all I got,” which is a lie. She lies all the time.

The woman looks her up and down. “Dat’s close enough. Can’t have you sleepin’ out back for free. I need yer license,” Dylan reaches in her back pocket and hands over her forged I.D., “Dylan, huh. Sounds like a boy’s name.”

Dylan doesn’t respond. She waits for the receptionist to take down all of her information, gets the room key and directions, picks up her rucksack and goes to her room. Dylan heads directly into the bathroom and puts her rucksack behind the door and locks it. She relieves herself and takes a shower, using only the small rectangular stick of soap left by the sink. She gets out of the shower and feels only slightly cleaner than when she got in. She finishes off the bar of soap by washing all the clothes she has on with it.

It won’t be long before the cops start canvassing tonight. The motel is too close to the state border and too obvious. Fucking dumb-ass trucker. She gets dressed in her wet clothes, grabs her rucksack and heads for the door.
She’ll end up squeezing herself into a crack in the seam of an overpass somewhere for tonight. Between water erosion and the poorly maintained infrastructure of America’s highways, there are usually little caves behind those cracks. Most caves stay relatively cool during the day so she’ll sleep tomorrow away and head out during the night. Dylan hates walking at night. That’s when the real weirdos pull over.

She doesn’t have to wonder why she always gets in. Something will happen, something that will make her stop running. She won’t walk away, like she has from life, like she does on the highway. She’ll be ready to defend herself, not from perverts and petty thieves, but from an entire apparatus designed for her defeat. She’s doesn’t know how much farther she has to go, so she keeps hitchin’, searching.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Herbie (flash fiction) by Jenn Whittaker

wolf-spider-1509051_1920The wolf spider, perhaps better known as the barn spider, terrorized my youth. Growing up my father insisted that these disguising tarantula-like, hairy beasts were a household contributor. They ate bugs that didn’t die despite the pest man’s best efforts. My father always kept one inside and named it Herbie. I don’t know if he actually went to the barn to collect Herbie, but I find that hard to believe since the barn had been long overgrown with weeds and ivy since the divorce. I think, more likely, that the spider just popped up one day and he felt the need to give it meaning. However, he did corral it into his room for safe-keeping.

I found out about Herbie shortly after I killed him with a broom in the living room. My father was distraught. This is when my father shared his knowledge of wolf spiders being bug filters, regardless of their tendency to jump. I quivered at the thought of one catapulting itself onto my forehead as we squared-off, it deceptively still, me with broom in hand, deceptively still. I told my father to keep Herbie in his room. The consequences of noncompliance being certain death at the blue handled broom we kept in the pantry. Mother would have never allowed this…Herbie, not the broom.

With each death, my father’s face went red as he shared his disgust…with the killing, not with Herbie. But no matter how many of the endless killings occurred, my father kept his conviction of Herbie’s necessity. There were eight Herbies before my father did give up his collection thanks to me. He gave up on the marriage, the barn, my murderous path, and finally, Herbie itself.

Long after I’d moved away I encountered yet another wolf spider. I did not name it Herbie. I did not keep it in my room. I killed it. In my victory came resolution. I let go far easier than my father.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Child’s Play (fiction)

klee-1949981_640

The day Mrs. Yarborough arrived a child came with her. They were to live in the guest house on a grand estate. She certainly wasn’t going to leave her daughter with distant relatives while she tutored another man’s prodigy, Lilly. This was the day that Lilly met Aisha; and, so a bond was born. So strong was this bond that time, space, money, age, or indiscretion couldn’t touch it, much less tarnish it.

Aisha was French-creole, originally growing up in Louisiana, except during her stay with Lilly. Immediately, Lilly and Aisha shadowed one another. One could not be found without the other sternly in tow. If someone was up to no good, everybody knew they were both in on it. If caught, they were equally punished. They both devised schemes, but Lilly was usually the planner while Aisha the executioner. Lilly spent lots of time on look-out so their plans could unfold. They were in a constant war with the boys that played street hockey in Lilly’s neighborhood. Their favorite activity was to prank those wretched creatures.

The day the war started the boys, who were only a few years older than the girls, were playing street hockey during the summer. Otherwise, during the rest of the year, the boys were preoccupied playing ice hockey for their school. But the boys would not let Lilly or Aisha play with them in the summer, even though they both had inline skates, sticks, and protective gear. The boys said the girls were too young and too little. The boys laughed at them and their protective gear. Then, the boys started setting up their goal net in the street in front of Lilly’s gated driveway. The boys wanted to rub it in and it worked. Never had two girls so hastily agreed upon revenge than on that day. If the girls couldn’t play street hockey with the boys, then the girls would make sure the boys couldn’t play, either. And, so the summer war was on.

“We should tell your uncle and get him to make them move that goal,” Aisha adamantly proclaimed.

“No. That would take all the fun out of it. Let’s see how much we can get away with first,” Lilly suggested.

After a momentary pause to go over it in her head, Aisha replied, “I like the way you think!  Okay, I’m in.”

They pinky swore on it and the summer’s fate was sealed. That day sent a rush through Lilly that she’d never felt before: the warm companionship of a best friend.

Lilly was great with numbers and devised a point scale based upon successfully executing missions without getting caught red-handed. The girls decided to prank each boy, but make him think his buddies did it. How much trouble they could get the boys into once the prank was pulled counted for bonus points.

However, if the boys managed to gain substantial satisfaction by pulling any jokes of their own, the girls lost their points for the week. The boys would learn what was in store for them soon enough. The girls hoped that by being hockey players, the boys might catch on to the point system, but never did. Stupid boys.

The girls’ command center consisted of Lilly’s tree fortress, as they called it. It was wired with electricity and plumbing and was more like a condo built around a majestic tree than any kind of home-spun tree fort of old wood. Instead of a rope ladder, it had a spiral staircase that wrapped around the tree leading to a back porch. Bean bags riddled the interior floor. Video games and big screen TVs centered the main living area. Lilly, also, had a separate room she referred to as the “laboratory” where she worked on special projects for her advanced electronics and computing tutor, Mrs. Yarborough. Lilly even had an art room with a window as a wall overlooking a lake to inspire her creativity. She had a baby grand piano in there, too, which she played beautifully. Yet, the girls renamed this the “war room” and they drew up schematics of the neighborhood on top of the baby grand while planning their raids on the boys.

The girls were serious about reconnaissance and would watch the boys in the street by duplicating and, then, rerouting the estate’s security feeds to Lilly’s tree fortress.  They also used sonic laser targeting, one of Lilly’s “special projects”, to get audio from outside the gates. They watched and listened to what was happening during the street hockey games on the living room screens. They knew what the boys argued about and what made them celebrate. They even knew which boy would get mad if anyone talked smack about his momma. But Aisha believed in first-hand intelligence, too.

Six boys comprised this “boys only” hockey team. Drew was a defenseman and their Captain. Nick rounded out the defensive pair. The triplets, Ron, Tom, and Jon, made up their offensive line. Andy was the goalkeeper. The “penalty box” was Lilly’s driveway: the boys’ choice, but a perfect one for the girls’ efforts. Stupid boys.

Aisha showed Lilly how a master of manipulation went to work. She wanted the boys to think they were safe outside the confines of Lilly’s gate. Aisha would strike up conversations with her little head pressed against the bars proclaiming that she was bored while Lilly studied. The boys tried to ignore her, but Aisha was the kind of girl that could make you feel like spilling your guts. They fell for it every time.

Aisha wanted to unearth what the boys would never talk about during a game. She managed to get most of their dirty laundry – their fears, the names of the girls they liked at school, their favorite foods, their birthdays – pretty much anything Aisha wanted to know. All one boy had to do to reveal another’s secret was to take a bad hit or penalty. Then, they sat in the penalty box steaming mad, chirping away in Aisha’s ear. She discovered that Drew’s parents were going out of town, which, finally, set the pranks in motion.

Drew’s parents traveled from time to time and left him without a sitter since they considered him old enough to be responsible at fourteen. It was Drew himself that told Aisha about the party but was quick to point out that only girly girls were invited, which did not include her or Lilly.

On the night of the party, the girls “borrowed” Mrs. Yarborough’s satellite phone. Instead of calling the real cops, they called Drew’s parents pretending to be the cops. They wore voice modifiers that Lily built to make them sound like adult men. The “officers” gave Drew’s parents the opportunity to keep them from going over to the house if they could have a neighbor handle the situation.

Drew’s parents called Nick’s parents, who caught the entire team of boys with liquor, weed, and girls. They were all grounded for a week. Lilly and Aisha were free from the boys outside of the gate for seven whole days. When the boys were finally allowed to play street hockey again, the girls rode their bikes down to the end of the driveway. With a toot of their banana seat bike horns, police sirens played and the girls giggled. The boys didn’t get it. Stupid boys.

It didn’t take long for the hockey boys of a small town with large mansions to get a reputation for being the bad boys on the block. The boys loved it, which kind of back-fired on the girls. So, they lost their points for the week and set out to make things right again in the universe.

Next on the girls’ hit list were the triplets. They were the oldest of the bunch, turning fifteen at the end of the week. They couldn’t wait to get their learners permits so they could learn to drive. The day of the written test came and all three boys passed with flying colors. Their father agreed to take them all for a spin the next day.

Knowing this, the girls prepared. Aisha watched internet videos on how to build a homemade “Slim Jim” and, then, did it. She practiced using it on some older model cars owned by the mansion staff, but always locked the cars back up before scampering off. Lilly designed and built a device that gave off a small-ranged electromagnetic pulse (EMP). This device would temporarily disable all electronic devices within its range. All Lilly needed was one that would disable cameras and alarms for five minutes at a time. It was a lot to do within a week, but the girls were ready when the time came. They waited until the night after Ron, Tom, and Jon passed their tests and, then, at the witching hour, the girls slipped out of Lilly’s compound estate to go to work. Lilly’s EMP device worked well enough to disable the estate’s security feed, so they could slip out. The girls followed the tree line, up the hill, toward the triplet’s house.

The EMP device also worked on the security system for their estate grounds and the used Volvo the boys were going to take for that spin. Aisha was quick with the Jimmy. They were in. Out of Aisha’s knapsack came the biggest bag of glitter the girls could get at the town craft store. They dumped all of it into the air conditioner intake vents. They worked quickly and were back home in time to get in a good night’s rest.

In the morning, the girls heard fighting at the end of Lilly’s driveway. There were the boys, the triplets covered head-to-toe in glitter fist fighting the other three glitter-free boys. By the time the girls managed to ride their bikes to the end of the driveway, all six boys had enough glitter on them to be mistaken for a woodland fairy. The boys stopped fighting just long enough for the girls to roll up to the gate and each toss a handful of glitter into the air with giggles. The boys stood there dumbfounded. Points earned.

This time, there was no doubt about it; the boys finally knew that war had been waged.

That night, the boys tin foiled Lilly’s entire gate, for what they thought would keep them hidden from the girls’ prying eyes. But, the girls just watched them on TV, instead. Stupid boys. That day, the stubborn boys didn’t take the tin foil down even though it was reflecting the heat of the sun right into their faces. Their bodies dripped with sweat and their eyes squinted. The remaining glitter from the day before still sparkled on their uniforms.

Finally, the girls quietly made their way down Lilly’s driveway. Their arms went crashing through the tin foil like caged zombies, grabbing at the boys as they sat outside the gate drinking water. The goalie nearly choked. The girls ripped down the rest of the foil and made silver snowballs to throw at the boys, which they immediately swatted back at the girls with the end of their hockey sticks. The silver foil, snowball fight went on for a while, until the girls announced a truce at sunset. Particularly suspicious, the boys waited for the trick.

“Hey, Drew,” Aisha started, “You know, I think you’re kind of cute.”

“Me, too,” added Lilly in an innocent voice, “in that Tomato Head kind of way.”

“It’s Potato Head, silly,” Aisha corrected with a smirk.

“Tomato, Potato,” Lilly responded. “Whichever.” Lilly and Aisha slid mirrors and moisturizer in between the gate grates, turned around and whistled while they held hands and skipped back to the tree fortress.

Drew picked up one of the mirrors. In the dimming light, he could finally see the purplish sunburn starting to blister around his lips. He looked at the other boys. Their own tin foil master plan had done them in. Another week went by without any street hockey and the girls kept their points.

The girls knew they had to step up their attacks now that the boys were in on the war. Lilly used her lab computer to hack into the boys’ cell phones. Not only were their voice calls and text messages cracked, but so were their pictures and music files. Lilly sent a picture of Nick flexing naked into his mirror to Andy’s mom with a “bow-chicka-wow-wow” song in the background. Then, Lilly sent a duplicate message to every boy on the team. After that, Andy wasn’t allowed to play outside with the team anymore, and Nick couldn’t be coaxed out of his room. The team was two down, one of which was the goalie, Andy. Drew was forced to step in as the only defender against the triplets for their games. Yet, again, the girls rolled up on their bicycles and began showing each other their phones and laughing hysterically. The boys called it a day and didn’t finish their game. Points earned.

The four remaining boys, led by Drew, tried fast to retaliate. They hatched a plan to fill water balloons with rubber cement to chuck at the girls if they came anywhere near the driveway gate the next day. The boys didn’t consider that the girls were still tapped into their phones. In their defense, not one of them knew that Lilly and Aisha, together, may have been evil geniuses. Still, stupid boys.

Territorial, to say the least, Lilly was quick in the lab mixing chemicals and plant mash into a funnel as Aisha held out their balloons while wearing rubber gloves and goggles. They were ready for the boys’ ambush.

As bright as any other summer day, the boys stopped playing street hockey as soon as they saw the girls coming. The girls, however, wore hooded raincoats with slickers and had a stack of water balloons of their own in their bicycle baskets. They stopped their bikes well away from the gate.

The boys did not retreat, but instead, continued with their rubber cement strategy. They threw their cement-filled balloons high into the air, over the gate at the girls, but none had an arm good enough to reach them.

The girls used slingshots to skyrocket their balloons at the boys. The balloons exploded on the street and splashed upwards, others rained down right on their targets, although Aisha was a better shot than Lilly. The girls dowsed the boys with Lilly’s green concoction. Satisfied, the girls rode back to the tree fortress.

The boys wiped themselves dry with their sports towels and resumed their game. However, within the hour Ron was the first to scratch his neck. Then, within minutes, every other boy was driven mad by itching. Lilly had used liquid poison ivy in her balloons. To this day, Aisha doesn’t know how she came up with that one. But if there was one thing Aisha really loved about Lilly, it was her ability to improvise.

While the boys’ parents were in a frenzy to find calamine lotion anywhere they could, Lilly explained to Aisha that she sometimes she walked around the property lakes and woods to pick poison ivy and poison oak. She was already doing experiments with it in her laboratory before the fight but still insisted on lecturing Aisha on the dangers of making chemical weapons. But, Aisha was hard to convince when another ten days went by with no boys and no street hockey. Points earned.

With the boys locked inside, stripped of their cell phones and dignity, the girls finally felt the freedom to venture beyond the front gate of the property. They rode their bikes to the top of the high, steep hill, pedaling hard, only to race each other down as fast as their banana seat bikes could carry them. At the bottom of the hill, the girls skidded to a stop in front of Lilly’s gate.

Lilly said, “You know, Aisha, maybe we went a little hard on the boys.”

“What? Are you crazy? This has been the best summer ever!” was her reply.

“Yeah, but it’s not like the boys really have a choice about where they can play street hockey. We live at the bottom of the hill. They can’t play at the top, in case one of their balls rolls all the way down here,” Lilly said with some practicality in her voice.

“Forget them,” Aisha protested, “All they had to do was let us play, too. They brought it all upon themselves.”

“Is that, right?” called out a voice from in the distance. “Fire!”

Aisha’s eyes focused like a hawk’s, but before she could warn Lilly about the snipers in the window, the paintballs started buzzing by their bodies. The girls fell off their bikes and landed on the hard pavement. They screamed as the fast-moving paintballs exploded against their bare skin. They were scratched and slightly bloodied with welts forming red swells all over their arms and legs.

“Hold your fire!” yelled out a single voice. Drew and Nick walked around from behind a tree. When the girls looked back in the direction the paintballs had come from, Andy and the triplets gave a little wave, and, then, refocused their sights on the girls.

“So, you think you can just run around and do whatever you want? Now, it’s about time we taught you a lesson about messing with a hockey team,” Drew threatened.

“What team? You’re dreaming! You’re just five barely pubescent boys and a fat goalie!” Lilly shouted.

“Hey, I’m gonna grow out of that,” Andy defended from his window perch.

“Alright, you asked for it,” Drew replied.

“What’s going on down here?” came the voice of sweet relief from Lilly’s Uncle. “What the hell do you boys think you’re doing to my girls?”

Nick stood by Drew in shock and could barely stammer out a response. On cue, the girls huddled and started crying. They held on tightly to one another to keep the other from turning her crocodile tears into bursts of laughter.

“Get the hell out of here and don’t let me see any of you down at the bottom of this hill, again!” Lilly’s Uncle yelled out and, then, proceeded over to the girls, who pulled themselves together.

“Young Ladies, that’ll be quite enough out of the two of you – glitter, hacking, and poison ivy balloons? I’ve had enough phone calls from these boys’ parents to last a lifetime.”

Lilly tried to break in, “But, they started it!”

“No, they didn’t. They just wouldn’t let you play a game with them. And they were right. You are too young and too little to play with them. Now, you got hurt, anyway. Are you happy, now?”

The girls looked at one another. “No, Sir,” they said.

He continued, “Now, both of you go to the study in the main house. Consider the tree fortress closed for the rest of the summer and you’re both grounded.”

“But, what are we going to do all day?” Lilly whined as Mrs. Yarborough approached. Aisha stiffened up.

Aisha’s mother told them, “Grammar – in English and French. You’ll be learning proper grammar rules for the rest of the summer. Maybe that will teach you to be proper, young ladies.”

The girls looked at each other defeated. Points no longer mattered. The summer war was over. There were, now, causalities on both sides.

Lilly’s Uncle continued, “Lilly, Aisha, you’re both too smart for this. Now, move it.”

The girls walked back to the house.

Mrs. Yarborough turned to Lilly’s Uncle when the girls were out of earshot and said, “Don’t worry, Harry. I’ll teach them – gloating only gets you caught.”

Harry looked at Mrs. Yarborough. “That’s always a tough lesson.”

She replied, “Not half as tough as grammar, though.”

They both laughed. Harry continued to chuckle as he spoke, “Well, you’ve got to admit, they make a great team.”

Mrs. Yarborough smiled and said, “They do.”

Return to JennWhittaker.com

 

 

Night March (fiction)

monkey-2074082_640

I don’t know who started the nightly march, but the idea seemed to be working. We all walked back because there wasn’t enough room for adults. We remained in our huts, taking our chances, after escorting the children to town. If the children didn’t go, the rebels had more reason to attack the village at night. Then, they’d steal the little ones in the darkness to man the rebel army. Too young and traumatized to know to run, they were led away compliant. Why didn’t they scream, the little ones? They’d start to cry, but get beaten for it. Instead of crying more, their tears dried up.

We marched the children every night for hours to a town that had a building with a gate that locked. They had lights, too. The wrought iron didn’t seem like much of a deterrent to me. Weren’t they just gathering all the little ones into a farm ripe for the picking? It was hard, the march back, leaving the little ones behind. In the black jungle with the mothers, no one talked.

The rebels had machetes and guns. We had them, too. I also had my M4 with an adjustable butt-stock to accommodate my short arms. So, we marched.

I didn’t speak whatever language I heard them use, but they didn’t speak our language either. I know the look of tired terror and grief on any face. We understood all the same. A woman with no French pointed to the man, angry that he was with us. She had no trust for him. I motioned a little circle around us with my hand, pointed to him and, then, my heart. I pointed at him, again, hit my gun and, then pointed into the forest. She understood, but kept beside me, never fully assured. No one spoke English, except for the Aussie man.

I knew it was about more than just the children. A mother would come, with the children she still possessed, to the camp when the husband abandoned her for shaming him. The gang rapes weren’t enough to conquer these women. Broken they came, but not conquered. They must be the strongest women on the planet.

The scars were the worst. They were torn inside and out. I wasn’t the doctor, but stood guard as she examined them. She spoke French, too. New women arrived daily. Rebels used sticks on them, others penetrated them, and, still, others liked to use the barrel of their handguns. Sometimes they fired. Even some of those women lived. You’d tell me it wasn’t possible and to come home, but I stayed.

Once during the day after the return march, the children played with a soccer ball a little low on air. I had to go behind the hut and out into the bush to vomit. The sight was unbearable and the truth that they’d be alone without us, like they’d been in their villages when the rebels came for them, was a heavy burden. Sometimes, I just couldn’t keep the food down. I rested on my knees next to the putrid puddle and cried, trying not to wail for them, for all the inhumanity because no one greater came. They had no resources to encourage international armies to land on foreign soil, nothing to plunder for themselves. The civil war raged for years before I got there. I usually get paid for jobs, but this was pro bono. I’d collect myself and return to camp or not. That’s when the Aussie stood guard.

I’d take my days to the jungle. I waded through the lush vastness crouched down waiting for a shot. The homemade silencer worked well enough after the manufacturer one broke. They were always close-by, sitting, waiting for the March to begin. They’d try to break it up and run-off with the little ones that they could grab. You remember the woods, the draws, the spurs, the hills, your knuckles. In these parts, the birds stopped chirping. They’d be close then. It wasn’t me. The birds knew me.

In the neck. That’s the spot. Painful, silencing, and efficient enough. They always stood then, gasping. The others’ heads popped up. Easy enough. One, two, three, four, like whack- a-mole. You remember that, surely. I’d empty the magazine every time. They’d retreat, but they wouldn’t know which way to go. I had spares. You remember when they taught us that: attention to detail, back-ups for the back-up. But I’d be solo there on the daily hunt. The Aussie’s excursions alternated with my own. He remembered. But I always found them first. I could smell them; it was in their blood, their crimes. It was a stench different from my own. That’s when I bathed with water, so they couldn’t smell me. I’d stay downwind that week. Remember that?

I was more effective than the Aussie.

“Watch for the broken sticks or flattened leaves,” I’d tell him.

“From their inexperience in the arts,” he knew.

“Makes for easy pickings, but they spread out’,” in case he didn’t know.

“All lookouts,” he’d say.

They watched.

One at a time. That’s how it was. The deeper I’d go, the closer I’d get to the commander of that band. He’d never return. My scope still worked fine. I’d save him for last. Remember, no prisoners. No mercy, they taught me that. I boiled from the inside out. The sun was no match for me. Land nav. I was the best back then. Couldn’t run worth a damn, but I never got left behind, never got us lost. But, I didn’t need to run. I didn’t perch, either. Too obvious. They aren’t’ deer and their meat is worthless. There wasn’t any deer anyway, just chimps and birds. They perched and I protected them, too, making the rebels starve. I’d leave them to rot. Theirs would come to gather them when the stench found them. That way I’d find them, too. Too easy, but slow. They had only numbers on us, few skilled. They’d been the little ones once, but lost and assimilated now. Rebels, every one.

No blood on my hands. I’d return with some rabbits for stew. Everyone was excited. The ladies smiled and the children more. I don’t know how. Dinner was by the fire. They’d dance, those that could. The others clapped. I’d sit and clap, too, before the march. My knees were fine. Finer was the hunt.

Return to JennWhittaker.com

Day Labor (creative nonfiction)

construction-646914_640

A friend suggested that I go down to the job pool, which pays daily, even if only minimum wage. I arrive at a rundown warehouse on the wrong side of town at about 4:30 this morning where the black of night still prevails because of burnt out street lights and potholes. The large structure reflects the gray in these days. It bustles with activity. You would never know it’s this early in the morning. I have to register along with my fellow laborers looking for work today at a wooden counter which appears taller than necessary. The man behind the counter has a bald head and also appears taller than usual. I wouldn’t usually notice except I don’t have to look down at him, which is the norm for someone our height. His voice booms over the intercom as he calls out the names of the individuals who registered before I arrived. I fill out the application and take a seat.

Work comes in and the workers shuffle their way out. Have I come too late? Yet, the room still crawls with new arrivals entering through the thick, shabby, metal door. The news, which I find too peppy for mornings, bounces in the background on a TV that hangs in a rusty cage. Wooden and metal chairs riddle the vast space inside the dim, dingy warehouse. I sit watching the news. I’m a first-timer here and it took all the humility I could muster to show up. The longer I sit and wait the more my humility simply turns into pure humiliation.

I once thought, I am better than this. I am better than people who have to find work this way. I am not anymore. I have no one to blame but myself for where I am. As I try to reclaim some small scope of dignity the tall, bald man calls out my name. I am one of the lucky ones because I got on a job today.

Six of us are called to the same job site, but not everybody has a car. Fortunately, I do. Unfortunately, that makes me the designated driver. I pack the rest of my new crew into my red, beat-up car. We head off to the subdivision to work new construction. I feel the stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots in this particular moment of life. Of my five passengers, by far the most vocal is a woman by the name of Gina in the front seat. She’s a heavyset black woman with braided hair and full of bubbly personality. I can’t help but wonder where that bubbly personality comes from this day. I resist the urge to ask her how she keeps herself together. Perhaps joy fills her life. Perhaps she finds satisfaction in her daily work. Perhaps the morning news isn’t too peppy for her. She doesn’t even bother hitting on me. This is one of the worst days of my life and I have one of the happiest people I’ve ever met sitting next to me giving me directions to the job site. This day feels long already.

Upon arrival we receive our instructions from the foreman running the subdivision construction site. He issues us each a wheelbarrow, broom and shovel. They represent the tools of my trade now. If I stay with it, I might get to trade in my broom for a hammer. Being on a skilled crew pays more, but I don’t know a thing about carpentry.

I just want to keep my head down and stay silent. I don’t want to share the normal niceties that accompany polite conversation with the individuals I’ve just met. I don’t want to be rude, but some days it takes all the energy I have just to remain focused on the task in front of me. Some days it takes all I have just to remain sane. Worlds away I reminisce on the life that could have been mine. It evaporated into the aether, permanently. The best I can hope for is a short-term memory of that life, that life that must’ve been only a dream. How I wish I could go back to sleep. How I wish I could be satisfied going back to sleep and never waking up. I’m not many steps away from that kind of sleep. It’s all I can do to hold onto this waking reality, this new reality that I find myself within today. What have I done to myself? These futile thoughts certainly won’t get any of my work finished so I lay them to rest in the back of my mind, locked far and deep away so that I can live this day without the overwhelming desire to kill myself off.

The sun cannot penetrate the gray of my day. Finished homes are for the upper-class built with only the finest materials for multiple stories. Plastic sheets still cover the newly installed imported tile kitchen floors and marble counter-tops. Each bedroom has a private seating bay window, walk-in closet and bathroom. Cedar floors throughout make it smell of fresh spice. Working within this neighborhood I see all that I have never attained for myself, comfort being the most apparent. Coming off a nervous breakdown isn’t the most comforting of experiences. Today I want to keep my head down, shovel debris and sweep the unfinished floors. I don’t want to talk to anybody, but Gina is quite the chatterbox. When I speak I fear all my shame will fall out in between my teeth, my tongue incapable of preventing it.

The hardened concrete sends out echoes from under the broom bristles in a disagreeing, repetitive, scratching noise. Plywood, electrical wiring, exposed framing and insulation speckle the subdivision. Sweeping up the debris after the new construction can be a daunting task. This dust is the gray, fine remnants of drywall that manage to escape my best attempts to rally it. I make pass after pass and still I am unsatisfied. Then, Gina gently informs me to slow down and ease up on the perfectionism. After all, if we get all of our work done today then there will be no reason for the foreman to request our crew tomorrow. I didn’t know he could do that. She has a point and I don’t argue.

As we take a break in the back corner of an unfinished home to smoke a cigarette and waste some time Gina gathers all the crew together and reiterates the importance of our work pace. “We all got selected in the order we showed up today. But now that we’re here, the crew chief can request us specifically for tomorrow so we won’t have to wait in the pool again. This job, if we time it right, could take all week.”

And so it did.

I never thought I’d find myself malingering here today, but I have to eat. Pride can empty any stomach. I’ve starved before and have no intention of trying it again. I imagine the feeling remains the same. The agony of it stays with me to this day.

Am I so different from Gina? I fear I may become her; I’ve never been a masculine man. I don’t want her experience. I don’t want this minimum wage life cleaning up before the privileged move into their new gated community. I must have too much pride, still, and this my penance realized.

Gina is quick to share her amusement about the Mexicans working. She calls them ‘scatterbugs’. Whenever immigration service shows up to the site they disappear like magicians. Gina so amuses herself that she can’t keep her chuckles concealed. She tells stories about watching grown men dive into bushes or into the back of flatbed pickup trucks to cover themselves with tarps and two by fours. Others just run. And while I smile along as she tells her stories I can’t help but relate to them on some level.

These are everyday men and women who are just trying to feed their families. Their goal here today is no different than mine. If my family appears on the job site I might find myself in some obscure nook trying to prevent discovery. I know this shame is not justified. I know that I should be proud of the fact that I take care of my responsibilities and feed myself. I can’t see the shame in that, yet I can’t help but feel the shame in that. At least I’m not running from immigration services, too. I wonder if the stock broker moving in next month feels the same way? After all, all this work is for him. We eat today because he decided to buy a sparkling new home. That’s opportunity cost and that’s capitalism. That’s the system. It’s as simple as that.

I tried and the system ate me up. Now look at me. Stupid enough to try again. It takes more than hunger to make it in this life. While others strive, some skate on by. It’s a bullshit system rigged for the rich, yet dumbed downed so the “educated” can waste their energies pursuing their pop culture civil agendas. They don’t see the prize is a dollar sign, not a protest sign. The honest workers carry the burdens of the rich floating heads because they fall for it. Does that make it their fault? I was an economist and I’d rather push this broom than try to weasel through any more of their secret funckin’ handshakes. The blackmarket isn’t any better. My fingers don’t bend in enough intricate designs to get my beat in for gang money either. One hand greases the other and I’m sick of the sludge. I’d rather breathe in this gray dust. Maybe I shouldn’t even bother with that anymore since I cannot catch mesothelioma. Pity. I would go that way. I’m not picky. I fantasize about cement trucks with their rolling bellies running me down at high speeds. That would do it.

Upon returning to the warehouse we receive our checks. I am, again, designated to take the majority of our crew to the check cashing establishment literally across a set of railroad tracks. It’s not too far from where the job pool headquarters is located. Even in this microcosm almost everyone gets their cut. No one chips in for gas.

Gina has taken a liking to me and tells everyone in the car to look out for me. Sometimes people are robbed as they exit the building with their cash. It’s emasculating, but I haven’t the energy left for a fight anyhow. I have my reservations about trusting her intentions, but what choice do I have? I am in the same boat as my new found day labor buddies. But they did keep an eye out for me, the only white boy in sight without tracks or tats to cover them. Once we all have our cash, two of my passengers say their goodbyes and head across the street to the liquor store. Gina offers to hook me up with some weed to take her home. I have a feeling the quality will be less than I’m accustomed to, but we smoke a pinner on the way and I drop her off at her place. My body slumps in the worn driver’s seat on the ride back to my trailer. I had it all and then I lost it. I lost my mind. I lost my friends. I lost hope and hate the word.

All I know for sure is that I can’t show up for another week of day labor. I think there’s only one true solution to my problems: I have to join the Army. I’m half crazy but they won’t even notice at the recruiting station. There are two wars on and they need another warm body for now. People are coming home every day in body bags or wooden coffins covered by American flags, still concealed from the lenses of an inquiring press corps. I cannot bring myself to kill this body, but I can certainly live just long enough to earn my plywood and flag. At least there is a ring of Honor in that. I tried to join the day after dropping Gina off.

I thought I would show up and then ship out. To my dismay, it’s quite the process. There’s aptitude testing, medical testing and fitness testing. I had to choose a job. I could have been an officer with my advanced degree, but that would leave me insulated. What is the most likely job to get me killed? The answer is easy. I am a male and want to be at the frontline. I join the infantry and after basic training I get assigned to a special operations unit. I ship out in May.

I don’t expect anyone will ever understand. I am too ashamed to work at the day labor pool. Who do I think I am? I am too cowardly to end my life on my own so I decide to attempt suicide by enemy fire. I am no hero. I can’t even call myself a mercenary. I am completely selfish. I don’t believe in anything.

I guess all I can hope for is a rouge grenade to pounce upon. Otherwise, I will stick it out. As twisted as my reasons are for joining the Army, the structure actually brings me some unexpected peace. Not the most inspiring story I realize, but the longer I stay in the Army the more I realize that stable and balanced are rare characteristics, particularly among Soldiers. After all, we’re trained killers or willing, able, locked and loaded.

Maybe it’s best to just keep the truth to myself. I’ve never claimed to be a patriot. This realization is my most striking, yet not the most grotesque. Unlike day labor, I finally made it onto a skilled crew.

Return to JennWhittaker.com