Last Night

I’m safe here. Mist seeps through a missing pane, one of his ex-girlfriend’s took it out with a right straight. Hard to imagine, I’m a lefty. I don’t want to face the night. I don’t want to walk to my car. From here, I can see it all. The letters, the addresses, the cracks in the street, the empty sidewalk of an unsuspecting town. I don’t need to be out there, they don’t need me, either. My mouth slumps.

I tell people I grew a beard out of laziness. “Didn’t feel like paying $6 for a razor.” Not quite right. I let it scrawl my face to hide the sadness of my lips. Full, pink, they receive remarks. They’re rarely perked. Twangy hairs dangle over their cracks, slip into my mouth, and with my teeth I pull. A condemned house. Overgrown. Useless.

“You have sad eyes all of a sudden, don’t be sad!” She said. There’s no hiding. What I had thought in that moment was beautiful and painful. It bares no recall – a truth whose power lives and dies in me. I stroke the hair on my chin, my eyes begin to droop.

His door locks like some found antique machine forced to life–of course it still works. I wait with the draft, with the mist.

We exit his building; his car is in front, mine a block away. We shake hands, bump shoulders, and I take flight against little wet pincers. He says something. I turn back, laugh and smile. He disappears inside his car and it’s far too late for pedestrians. I can remove my thumb from my mouth now. It’s mostly healed.

Two weeks ago I stopped a grocery store panic attack by chomping on my thumb until it bled. I wrapped it like sliced deli meat, and watched with pursed lips as my stain stuck the napkin to my finger. Too many people, too many. Shopping, doing. Being. No, not me. I can’t. I won’t. Bread, coffee, oatmeal, bananas, yogurt. I ran my fingers, one bandaged, over the paper. Focused on its crinkles. It soothed me enough to weave up and down aisles. To become.

On the corner, I wait for a sports car to droll past before crossing. There’s flecks of black in the blue line, only took 6 months. A block and a half away, a block away, half a block away, a bus charges towards its garage. The mist kneads the headlights like dough, blurs and bends them to form an electric halo. Just as I find the curb, I imagine without effort tossing myself head-first into its grates. There’s a mess, my body parts scatter. It erupts the boulevard with lights and sound. In the next moment, I’m surrounded by sterility and stiff lips. Would my hands land palms-up? Is there anybody on the bus? In the next moment, I’m gone.

Beyond the lights and self-righteous silence of the boulevard, I slink down a side-street.

Be happy, dammit.

I move with the wind, a little game I’ve played by myself since childhood. How quiet can I be? I’ve snuck up on friends without trying. Overheard terrible conversations meant for none. I’d like to quietly slip into the fluffy shadows of these hedges, but don’t have permission. I live vicariously through my own shadow. It disappears and pokes out. Grows long and short; knows the rules. I live like a shadow. But I am not literal.

Be happy, dammit.

Between two rows of crane-dropped homes, whose owners pay no mind to the magic and privilege of flipped switches, a stream of light intrudes the road and wanders with mist. Is that my car? I forget my little game and jog towards the source: a dark, almost vanished metal brick in the filtered night. It is my car. I unlock it, turn the light knob while cursing myself out, and plug the key into the ignition with bated breath. It turns on; the fan-belt squeals for a moment. It stays on. I smile for a moment, and roll towards the sign to STOP.

The Prize (Part 5)

(Note: Since starting this, a lot has changed. I will be going back and retitling this story “I Am Not A Monster”. Just a head’s up for anybody following the story. Thanks for reading! Comments and criticism are very appreciated)

Skinny woke in the dead of night the only way she knew how: scuttling into a fetal position against the tree, her eyes wide-open, she gasped—her hand quickly covering her waking screams, and staring blankly into nothing. No chains. She looked up, no boards. Egger and Pa were probably still out here looking, she wasn’t the first to wring free of their talons. In the past, there’d be hours of silence above the porch, Egger and Pa off searching for a runaway. Never lasted more than one night. Deep in the night, a single gunshot would ring out—the search over. They’d come back, dragging the body by ankles, and heave it under the patio with the rest of us.

“Any uh’ya little fuckin’ shits try somethin’ like that, this is what’ll happen to ya. He can stay with ya’ll little babies tonight. Take a good look at ‘im.”

Skinny rose from her position against the tree, looked all around her, and started walking in the darkness. At night, there wasn’t much difference between the trees and the boards. When she looked up, the moon’s light seeped through branches, poking holes in the dark, reminding Skinny there is light somewhere. She could never walk far under the porch, or at all, most days. She barely moved when she had to relieve herself under the porch, and when the others were mean, she’d take to going on herself, sitting in her soiled clothes until she decided to remove them or if dirty, tattered clothes were given to her after a dig. It was the same darkness, same creeping light, same clothes, same place to piss. The forest was like a huge porch for Skinny, and when she reached the connection, her breathing picked up and swirls appeared in the dark. She’d always be trapped. There was no way out. Egger and Pa would catch up to her—she knew it, a solo shot would ring out, and she’d be an unwanted guest for the rest under the porch before they dug for her.

Skinny rubbed her teddy’s paw with her thumb, the rest dangling from her grip, scraping dirt. A coping mechanism adopted under the patio, just rub and rub when spinning out of control. Most of the fur had come loose and fallen off, a bare patch etched by self-soothing. As she rubbed, she walked. Her steps slow and methodic, silent except for the hard “clink” of Lansing’s badge tucked into the teddy’s ripped chest, bumping against Skinny’s leg every few steps—a constant reminder of why Skinny had to get out from there, what she’s running from. She tossed looks in every direction, seeing nothing in the dark, but listening for any noises that might signal Egger and Pa’s whereabouts, or anything else in that could hurt her. If Egger and Pa were meant to protect Skinny from pigs and the woods and everything else, Skinny couldn’t begin to imagine the evil that must lurk in the woods, so much worse than Egger. How could anything be?

Skinny wasn’t sure where she should go—if she ever made it away from Egger. She couldn’t picture anything, there was nothing to see. Every memory Skinny could recall took place at the house; under the porch or free from the porch in the past year. She’d been born on the property, but couldn’t remember ma at all. Her heart warmed at the thought of her, though she couldn’t make out her face, voice, or touch. She’d never been shown a picture of anything, the destroyed teddy bear her only window into a world she’s never known. Her future looked just like the present: dark, alone, frightened.

“I want my mommy” Skinny whispered in the night, like the kids wailed under the porch. Her eyes filled with tears, her grip on the teddy bear tightened. She took a deep breath and kept walking, rubbing the teddy’s paw and repeating “I am not a monster, I am not a monster”, in cadence with her steps.