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.

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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.

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Child’s Play (fiction)

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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.”

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Night March (fiction)

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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.

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The Ringer (fiction) by Jenn Whittaker

sugar-shanty-2667506_640On a long, winding, flat, snowy dirt road through the woods two boys walk in the afternoon. Andrew “Stitch” Haider, sixteen with black, wavy hair, and dark green eyes stands 5’9 and is well built for his age. His twin brother, Devon, walks with him towards a cabin somewhere in the woods of Canada. The motor of a school bus churns away in the distance.

“So, it’s inherited. That means it’s ours now,” Stitch says to his twin brother with authority.

They walk in silence for a while until they make it around a bend in the road that barely brings an aged cabin into view. It’s a clear day. The land has been in the family for generations. Off in the distance the cabin stands shifted on its foundation. It is timbered all around, but an additional metal roof with grooved sides sits on top now so the snow glides off easily. There are some modern epoxies patched around the edges with a lacquer sealer, but they were made by unrefined hands with a careless foreman.

Upon seeing the cabin Devon breaks the silence. “You know, I’m glad that bastard’s finally dead, but we need to take the summertime to make reinforcements and repairs. And to clean the godforsaken place.”

“I agree. Maybe the Batcher’s will let us take some of their extra sheet metal to re-tin the roof.”

“The Barkley’s could lend us their backhoe so we can dig a new outhouse. Could there be a better time to make a fresh start?” Devon smirks at his brother sideways as they both burst into laughter. As it dies out, Devon continues, “Do you really think we gave him a proper burial, though? I know, it’s in the family plot and all, but should we have left his jersey and the rings like that, just to rot away?”

“It was proper enough. Why shouldn’t they rot with the old man? It’s all he ever cared about anyway, except for the whisky and smokes. Even Mama could remember that.”

“Don’t talk about Mama like that. You know, just because he’s gone doesn’t mean my love for the game is, too,” Devon challenges, remembering the tough times of pond hockey.

“What about your love of scars? Do you want the ring he wore on his left hand because that one was for you? And do you think I want Righty so I can match it to the indentation under my chin? Isn’t it funny that we’re all ambidextrous?” Stitch pauses.

“Runs in the family,” they shout together.

“You don’t have to be a dick about it. It’s over. It’s finally over,” Devon proclaims with a skip into the icy air, turning and sliding gracefully onto the path ahead of his brother. Now walking backwards in sync, the two momentarily look like a moving mirror surrounded by the whiteness of fresh fallen snow.

“Look, we still have to be smart about this. If anyone finds out that he’s dead before we turn eighteen, they’ll take us, separate us, and we might end up in an even worse situation.”

“Really? Worse? Different, okay. But worse? Who are you kidding?” Devon quickly retorts with a hop in his step. He lets out a sigh of relief. “Uh, he’s just gone. Just like that. Poof. Finally, freedom. Fuck you, Jim Beam,” Devon flicks off the sky, “and thank you kindly, Cirrhosis,” then takes a dramatic bow.
Stitch watches his antics with stoicism. The forest jets from the ground towards the sky surrounding the unkept road as far as the eyes can see. Evergreens seem like a mirage of paradise cast upon a white, snowy ocean.

Devon continues, “Besides, how is anyone going to find out? The Barkley’s are twenty-two miles east, the Batcher’s thirty west, and town twenty south.”

“He did tell Dr. Bartholomew to shove it two years ago; he was the last one to ever come around at that point,” Stitch adds while thumbing the bottom of his chin.

“But how are we going to get any money? Did he stash his somewhere? The bastard was loaded, but never bought a damn thing, except liquor and cigarettes. God, how are we ever going to get the stench out of that cabin?”

“We’ll just throw out that rickety recliner.”

“Oh, lets burn it and cook moose meat over it. It’ll be smoked, smoked moose!” Devon impresses himself with his wit and wears a goofy grin. His dark, green eyes sparkle as his wavy, black hair wafts in the light wind.

“As far as money goes, we’ll make it the way we always have – odd jobs or stripping timber and selling or trading it. It’s not like the bastard ever went to the store or gave us anything. We picked up his liquor and stogies because everyone in town knows he’s a miserable shut-in. That reminds me. We have to keep doing that or people will definitely get suspicious. But don’t you dare drink a drop. We’ll just use it for target practice. Besides, we hunt almost everything we eat, except for the chickens and your stupid garden. We don’t need that much money,” Stitch calculates.

“Hey…don’t make fun of my garden! You like carrots and potatoes as much as I do. It’s not like you help me in the root cellar, anyway. Besides, we always have left-over eggs to take up to the feed store to sell. And we can always sell the cigarettes at school and turn a profit,” Devon contributes.

“True,” Stitch agrees.

“Hey! What if we just tell them all that we’re getting home-schooled now? You know how Mrs. Birch is always complaining about the bus ride.”

“Don’t be a fool,” Stitch scolds sharply. “The school would have to get a signature for that. Mama’s been gone for eight years. Everyone knows that. And exactly who would believe that pile of shit would teach us anything, but hockey? Why would you want to invite anyone to look in on us?”

“Don’t talk about Mama. That wasn’t her fault and you know it,” Devon stops and stands proud against the drooping branches heavy with snow.

Stitch walks around him without missing a beat. “Yeah, well, when they took her, they didn’t want anything to do with his sons. They just left us here knowing that he wouldn’t stop. The first time we ever met them and they took her and left us behind. Is that family?”

Devon turns back around to walk on the other side of Stitch than he started. “We’re the only family we’ll ever need. Even Mama doesn’t understand that.”

“That’s because he beat her until she was so brain damaged they had to come and take her away from us,” Stitch fumes as his sweat steams against the frigid day.

“They took her when we were the same age as she was inside. We would have been taking care of her then. How could we do that? We were eight,” Devon protests.

“We always had. Once we got big enough he stopped picking on her.” Stitch’s jaw clinches shut.

“I’d rather it us, than Mama. You know that’s not her fault. And we just got a letter from her last week with a new drawing. At least they let her write us,” Devon encourages.

“It’s probably a good thing the old bastard wouldn’t pay for the postage for us to ever write her back when we were little, not that her parents let her put a return address on the letters anyhow,” Stitch reminisces.

“But, at least she’s warm in Brazil. I’m sick of chopping firewood. One day, I’m going to leave all this behind and go play hockey in the big leagues and have a house with a fireplace that has a remote control. The forest can take back this piece of shit cabin for all I care.”

Upon the first creaky step up to the cabin, Stitch stops and looks seriously at his whimsical brother. “The big leagues, huh? What? You want to be like him someday?”

Devon punches Stitch in the arm. “We’ll never be like him.”

“You literally just hit me, dumbass.”

“Ah, shit. Habit. So what?” Devon retorts.

“So, if you want to go play pro hockey, keep it on the ice. I’m sick of it at home. You said freedom. Let’s start with that,” Stitch demands.

“You ‘re not going to quit playing hockey, are you?” Devon gasps.

“Hell, no! When we’re on the ice, we’re on the ice, but when we’re not, just, no more hitting. I don’t want to be like him. That’s why I don’t care about those stupid rings or jersey. If you want them, go get them. It’s only been a week.”

“Not without you,” Devon states plainly.

“You’ll be waiting a long time.” Stitch kicks a few gravel rocks off the frosted porch.

“How about eight years?” Devon bursts out.

“Why of all numbers would you pick eight?”

Devon leans against the railing, which whines as though it may give way under his tall, wide athletic frame. “I was thinking it could be our lucky number.”

“Why?” Stitch asks perplexed.

Devon pleads his case. “It’s for infinity. All or nothing.”

Stitch opens the unlocked door and walks inside the dark cabin, which is the same temperature as the outside air. The only light that breaks through comes from two small windows and misaligned cracks in the walls. “Sixteen years too late, if you ask me.”

Still in the brightness of the porch, Devon snatches at the opportunity. “Okay, then. Sixteen it is. I’m going to change my number to 16 and you change yours to 61. In eight years, when we’re twenty-four, we’ll go back to his grave and decide then if those rings mean a damn thing to us or not. Besides, I plan on having my own ring by that age. How do you think the old man would like that looking up from hell?” They both chuckle.

“That’s a good one. You better do it,” Stitch encourages.

“I will, if you will,” Devon insists.

“Promise?” Stitch asks.

Devon stands in the doorway facing his brother inside converting day into night with his shadow. He puts one hand in the air and another over his heart, “On my father’s grave.”

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Flying (fiction) by Jenn Whittaker

model-2425700_1920She’s not the kind of girl to ask for help. She can solve this equation on her own, although the unpredictability of adjusting for windage is throwing her off a bit. She should be able to precisely calculate the arc needed to hit her target. Her long, blonde hair is swept around in front of her face by the winter wind. She sits on her twelfth-story balcony, tiny as it may be, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. There is nothing above the balcony but sky thanks to the district ordnance that no building can be higher than the U.S. Capitol building.

D.C. has not been kind to her. It’s claustrophobic. The balcony is her only escape, positioned on the inside and in the middle of a squared, u-shaped building. Yet, it feels more like a cage. The black, metal bars are only three feet tall. The balcony is so tiny, in fact, that even slumped in her chair, working on her calculations, she can see the ground below.

Who is she, she wonders sometimes when she peers across the city after lifting her head out of her notebook? It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t even like her name; she might as well not even have one. Does she disappear among the lights to onlookers from the buildings to her left or right? The only thing they have in common is their tiny balconies anyway.

As she stares at the ground through the spaces in the metal bars on the balcony she can see the pool, closed for the winter, surrounded by surprisingly still lush bushes. There is a wrought iron fence that creates the enclosure. Each of those black bars has a pointed tip, as if they’d been cut short from Spartan spears. Hard ground surrounds the outside of the enclosure, but not concrete. Her equation still needs work.

She could eyeball it, but if she misses, she may end up in a soft pile of bushes. That’s just her luck and her greatest fear – survival. She wouldn’t want to end up with a simple flesh wound, or worse, impaling only a limb and then needing to have said limb amputated. How would she explain herself if she survived? She couldn’t. They’d know. They’d all know she tried and failed, and that would be worse than death.

It’s all she can focus on. She stares at her calculus equations and their counterparts of height, weight, and air resistance ratios. How can she be sure, sure enough to take the leap? The leap. How could she forget about the leap? Does she need to take one? Definitely, yes. The iron spears aren’t directly beneath her. But what kind of leap: just a springy step or a swan dive? Perhaps she’ll just crawl over the bars, plant her feet on the inch of cement balcony remaining past her tiny cell and just let go backwards. She discards the thought immediately. She must face outward. She’ll lean forward as if carved into the bow of an old Viking ship. Yes. That’s it. It only saddens her to know that she hasn’t a long, silky, white robe to billow in the wind as she plunges from the sky.

The sky. The sky directly in front of her is a plank of death. It is her electric chair, her gas chamber, her oncoming traffic, her razor blade, her shot gun. It’s her way out. How beautiful it is devoid of all physical substance. The aether of her demise.

There will be no note. There will be no calls or long goodbyes or cries for help. She has left no hints. Her success only depends on her landing. Granted, from twelve stories up, any landing has a high potential for getting the job done, but she’s not one for potential. That’s how she’s ended up here in the first place. She needs a spear through the chest.

Each night as she pines away at the idea of execution, she wonders how long it will take to convince herself that it’s time. Time. That’s the factor in her equation that she couldn’t resolve until now. She has settled on the eve of daybreak. She wants to see the earth moving up to meet her.

***

God damn it. I hate my fucking name. Sure, the cops let me off the D.U.I. charge and escorted me back to my place, lights blazing, but that’s only because of my father’s name. Senator Sol. I haven’t done anything with my own name yet, so “Anthony, you must stop riding my coattails.” I can already hear the words coming out of his mouth before I get the call. It’s not my fault the cops ran my license and plates and realized I’m his son. But the lecture is going to be hell.

I guess I should feel lucky. Anybody else would have to spend the night in the drunk tank with prostitutes and full-fledge alcoholics. Their car would have gone to impound and they’d have a criminal record for the rest of their life. They may even get their license taken from them. But why should I stop drinking? I’m only twenty-three and that’s what twenty-three years olds do. I’m hungry. Got to love the drunk munchies. The sun will be coming up soon and I still have to go to class. Maybe I can still get some sleep. I need to smoke some loud. That’ll settle my nerves.

As I walk onto my seventh floor balcony, the day is just starting to wake up. It gets bright so early or maybe it’s just that late. Who cares? I light my blunt, one that I already had on-hand, pre-rolled, inside a cigar box, and out of the corner of my eye I see a girl. She’s just standing on her balcony at the top of the building. As I turn my head to get a better look, I see the look is amazing.

She’s completely naked, free as a bird. She must be on some good shit. It’s not snowing, but the wind has a bitter chill. I can see her hard nipples. I start to get hard myself. I can’t stop staring, but who could? She hasn’t moved a muscle, but she must be shivering. Then, she climbs over her balcony’s railing. I want to yell. I want to cry out for her to stop, but I’m afraid I might startle her and she’ll slip. But then she takes a spring and her body lays out flat, perpendicular to the balcony. Everything slows down.

Her face. I can’t stop looking at her face. Her body is robust in all the right places and poised, but it’s her face that draws my attention. It’s so peaceful. She’s smiling. Her eyes are open and excited. I can see the weight, all her weight, simply lift off her body in that one fluid jump.

I’m jealous. Here she is, brave and carefree. She doesn’t struggle or flail at all. It’s like she’s floating on a quickly sinking cloud, evaporating all around her. Will I ever know that freedom?

I’ve fallen in love. This girl lives in my building, but I’ve never come across her once. How could destiny wait to make our meeting until now? It isn’t fair. Only two seconds with her will have to last a lifetime. All alone, she escapes from her balcony, and, me, I’m standing on mine like a coward. She passes me. Time lights up again.

The crash and whining metal only lasts a blinking moment. By the time I look down, she’s already on the fence, that twists and bends all around her. Now, my glorious maiden lies pierced through the chest, which has surely ripped apart the heart that I now call my own. How intimate; she shared the best moment of her life with only me. It’s enough.

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Axle (fiction)

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The dirty, white van screeched to a halt, just missing her. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The van had been mounted sideways on new axles. Why, she thought. There must be a rational explanation, but no. Out popped a fiery blonde with tangled waves in her hair that fell to her chin, her features pointy but appealing. She got out to inspect her van.

“Here. Put this on,” she said with no introduction as she handed the enchanted girl an eye patch. It wasn’t as small as a pirate’s patch, but a large, black post-surgical patch that came to a soft point in front of her eyeball so that she could still blink behind it.

“It’s the only way to see,” the blonde continued. She was his best friend. She knew it without any words passing between them.

One of the back doors fell open flat, like a tailgate, since it sat sideways, as the blonde popped the handle. The new girl peaked inside.

“Cool,” was her awkward response.

“Not really,” said the blonde. “We can’t eat at the table.”

The girl bent down a little more to see through the door and, sure enough, a small round table was mounted to what would have been the bottom in any plain, old caravan. No, this one jetted out of the left wall. She could see through the sparse, metal interior straight to the windshield. It looked like the driver and passenger seats had been remounted in a normal position. They sat with the windshield facing out. No, the van was just twisted in the middle, the front wheels mounted on their plain, old, regular axle. It was only the back axle that had been retooled. There was no glass in the skylight that sat on the right side of the van. The glass in the windows on the top and bottom were also missing.

“Sit up front. Hurry! Let’s go!” she commanded.

The girl did as she was told, maybe to get in the blonde’s good graces, but felt instant vertigo as she did. The blonde pushed the gas pedal to the floor and before she knew it, they were swerving back and forth as the velocity held the girl in her seat. She hadn’t bothered with a seat belt. It was a van that had seen a lot of gravity.

The lot they steamed through must have been measured in acres with flat, creamy cement. Only one tree stood off to the left side, somehow immune to the cement ground. Tall grass and whippersnappers demarked the line of sanity on all four sides ending the horizons. There he was watching, holding onto the chain-link fence with his tender hands.

“He’s a pompous academic, you know,” the blonde said flatly as she continued to dodge things only she could see. The eyepatch wasn’t helping the girl at all.

“I know. I kind of like that about him,” the girl stated with no emotion.

He hadn’t been so pompous when she laid almost naked on the four-post bed with a cushy down mattress. She wore nothing but his open robe. Another girl laid there, too, but she had her clothes. How funny, thought the girl.

“Why would you be here? Are you his girlfriend?” she said to the other woman.

The other woman began to explain, but the words coming out of her mouthed turned inside out, going back into her throat. So much so that her words became softer and softer until she was mute. Our enchanted girl felt like an intruder and got up, putting her clothes on, again. Then, he walked through the door to stop her.

Their ages matched perfectly, but his black hair was already riddled with salt. He shook it out and took the girl into his tight, muscular arms and wrapped them around her waist. They stood nose to nose because his grasp had brought her body up against his, making her feel taller. The other girl on the bed was plump and upset. Her black, moldy face crunched up and he shooed her away while never losing eye contact with the girl. He had been a rock climber once, which explained his muscles, before becoming a Ph.D., which came with all the benefits of student sex.

“She’s a graduate,” he protested to the other woman. The other gave up and collected her yellow purse from the ground and exited the wide-open space of the bedroom.

Once the other was gone, they kissed, the girl trying passion, as he remained tight-lipped, sucking. Her face was twirling, almost lost to a black hole. It wasn’t a marvelous kiss, so she tried again. Again, she was met with the same kiss, but he rubbed her close to him with a moan. He was trying passion and that meant the most.

He took her clothes back off and went down on her. Now, the sucking kiss felt right. That explained it. She’d teach him the difference later. But he knew he had Chlamydia and he warned her that they should wait. After consideration, she did. It would clear up soon, she knew, after the season for it.

“So, what does this mean moving forward for our future?” he asked, sincere.

“You mean you want more than this?” the girl felt surprised.

“You’re a graduate and capable,” he said. “Meet me at the festival parade,” he followed up with, not explaining his meaning, but her butterflies knew exactly.

She couldn’t wait but had to. She despised this season.

“I have to go feed my dogs, you understand,” he said as he walked, shuffling the papers beneath his feet. “I can grade later.”

She went to get some coffee out of his pot, waiting for his return, as his two cats, already fed, twirled between her legs, putting on a fluffy show. It was a sign of good times to come. He wanted a future.

With that future upon her, the day of the demolition festival arrived. Now, being vetted by the wonky blonde, she could start to see the derby with her good eye behind the patch. The blonde made it out. With stretching metal creaking, the van tried to keep up.

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