Tags: family drama, horror, suspense, blood, religion, rape, occult, supernatural, Cult, gore, murder, mystery, madness, calamity, death, sickness, pregnancy, Teen
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Published by J.T. Warren
Copyright 2011 J.T. Warren
Cover Design by Karla Herrera
This book is for people who always see the darkness and like the view.
Special thanks as always to my first readers and editors: LeeAnn Doherty, Scott Nicholson, Karla Herrera, and, of course, my lovely wife.
Part 1: Prologue.
Five minutes of passing time between classes wasn’t much but sometimes it felt like a lifetime. Tyler Williams was exchanging books at his locker and grabbing the bag lunch Dad had made for him when Paul flopped his back against the lockers next to him. “When were you going to tell me?”
“Tell you what?” Tyler asked.
Paul laughed in the mocking way that said he knew Tyler was being a dick. “Didn’t even tell your best friend.” He shook his head. “I mean, I should have known first. I’m just so proud of you.” Paul pretended to wipe away tears.
“It’s no big deal,” Tyler said. “It’s just a date.”
“It’s the day you finally grew some balls. Congrats, man. I knew it would happen.” He slapped Tyler on the back. “Next thing you know you’ll be updating your status to ‘in a relationship.’”
“It’s just a date.”
“It’s proof you’re not a homo.”
“You mean, you are a homo?” Before Tyler could stop him, Paul was shouting in singsong fashion at the passing kids, “Tyler’s a homo! Tyler’s a homo!”
Someone yelled, “Right on, faggot!” and someone else said, “You’re the fag, you retard.”
Most of the kids crammed into the hallway of Stone Creek High School offered a brief, contemptuous glance and continued on their way.
“Where you taking her?”
“Movie and dinner.”
“Then what, what?”
“You just going to ask if she’ll wrap that snaggletooth around your cock or you got something more creative planned?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Yeah. You wouldn’t even have the date if not for me.”
Two days ago, Paul had told him that Rebecca had said that Sasha thought he was kind of cute and that she would answer a call from him if he happened to find her number, which Rebecca passed to Paul in a note folded fifteen times, like some secret message from an underground cult. Paul ragged him for three hours until he said that if Tyler didn’t man up for once in his life, he was bound to be a homosexual, if, that was, he wasn’t one already. If Tyler didn’t make the call, Paul said he’d spread the word that Tyler’s mother had found gay porn on his laptop.
That was all the motivation he needed. His fears of rejection, which kept him pacing frantically back and forth in his bedroom and which spurred him into a vicious tirade of self-critique, proved a waste of time. Sasha giggled and said yes. Now, he was mere hours from the date and unable to think of anything else. Mr. Gerard had called on him twice in math and both times Tyler had been thinking about how he was going to make that first move on Sasha. He had even started a list in the margin of his notebook of possible tactics. Bluntly asking if she’d suck his dick was not one of the possibilities.
“I owe you everything,” Tyler said in grand, kowtowing style. “Happy?” He slammed his locker shut and started toward the cafeteria. Paul, who didn’t have lunch until the following period, followed right along.
“What you owe me,” Paul said, “is a date with Delaney.”
“I’m about to eat. You want me to vomit?”
“Your sister is hot. You have to admit it.”
“I can’t even respond to that.”
“Yeah, because you know I’m right.”
Up ahead, kids were shouting or grunting back and forth to each other like gorillas in the mountains. A group of girls in short skirts and high heels gossiped rapidly back and forth. Passing them, Tyler caught the words, “such a bitch” and “whore better back off.” The sounds of talking and yelling echoed everywhere. To the left, a little freshman was on his knees in front of his locker trying to get the combination right for the hundredth time. Any moment now, the tears would start. Tyler thought of his little brother Brendan and felt sorry for this kid but it wasn’t his job to help him. That’s why there were teachers, although he didn’t see any in the halls.
“Besides,” Paul said. “I think she likes me.”
“Don’t you have history class?”
“Mr. B. doesn’t care if I’m late.”
Two football players, dressed in their home jerseys even though the season had ended months ago, were play fighting up ahead outside a computer lab. The flowing traffic gave them a wide birth, which slowed Tyler’s steps to a crawl.
“This place is fucked,” Tyler said.
“Just like you’re going to be tonight, right?” Paul asked.
“C’mon, man. She said yes. She’s a little weird or whatever, but she said yes.” Paul leaned close. “A girl like that is aching for it. I’m surprised one of the jocks hasn’t hit it yet. She’s ready to fall off the vine. You only have to reach for it.”
Tyler had been with girls before but never advanced past the boundary of the jeans. He didn’t want to seem like some desperate pervert but Paul was right: Sasha was exactly the type of girl who went around secretly hoping some guy would just whip it out for her.
Before the date, Tyler would be back on the Internet surfing for dating tips. Just undoing her bra strap posed its own challenge. He’d spent enough time staring at her breasts in English that they were burned into his brain. He often thought about going up to her in class and ripping open her shirt and launching his mouth at those breasts.
A hot rush flushed through him.
“You just have to man up,” Paul said. “Then you can stick it in her.”
“Then put in the good word for me with Delaney so I can stick—”
Paul paused. “All you have to do is lay the foundation for me.”
Paul adopted one of his over-the-top, dramatic personas. “I see how it is. I see how you do me. Fine. Whatever. But I hope Sasha pulls some weirdo shit on you and you wake up with your cock in a jar.”
“That’s great. See ya.”
“Whateva, nigga. Peace.” He made some kind of gang gesture over his head, something he probably saw in a movie, and headed back the way they had walked.
Paul was always good for a laugh but Tyler was too busy waging an internal battle between anxiety and lust to care what he wanted. Tyler had a genuine chance to get some serious action tonight so long as he didn’t turn into a cowardly douche.
In the cafeteria, Tyler sat with this kid Aaron Vandershant who was sometimes funny and often a dick. If he knew about Tyler’s date with Sasha, Aaron would unload a barrage of vile-soaked insults at Tyler’s choice of girl. Aaron had never been seen even talking to a girl one-on-one, so Tyler didn’t much care what Aaron said. Besides, the kid could be quite amusing.
“I’m in Mrs. Pulk’s class,” Aaron says before Tyler even opens his brown bag. “She’s doing her usual lecture shit and the class is real quiet. Bunch of zombies in there, man, I tell you. Anyway, she’s talking about some constellation or some shit and then she stops, like freezes, bends over like she’s about to fall and grabs the desk in front of her—Kyle Prescott is sitting there like somebody strung or out or something—and she unloads this ass cheek-shaking fart that sounds like a damn grenade going off. I was so stunned I couldn’t say anything. And then you know what she does? Mrs. Pulk straightens up, looks at us, and says, ‘Bet you can’t beat that.’ I fucking lost it, man. Almost fell out of my seat.”
“She didn’t say that.”
“Fuck yeah, she did. That bitch is crazy.”
“That is crazy.” Tyler actually thought it was kind of great that a teacher, especially an old one like Mrs. Pulk, could be so cool about farting.
“Kyle woke up, started choking, said, ‘Damn, what’s that stink?’ And I yell out, “Look out, she had tacos for lunch!’ That did it—class erupted and Mrs. Pulk had to stand there and take it.”
Delaney and her friends Shannon and Randi joined the table. Usually, the conversations never overlapped or intersected but Tyler didn’t detest his sister the way a lot of boys detested theirs. He never ignored her or pretended they weren’t related. She was a year younger, a bit of a nerd and like to dress up real girly though not trashy like most high school girls. She only owned one pair of high heels and those she wore for her band concerts. They had been really close when they were young, playing all the time, and though he mostly made fun of her now, it was always out of brotherly devotion. She was a cool girl and he liked hanging with her, but that didn’t mean he wanted Paul shoving his tongue down her throat. Or anything else, for that matter.
“What’s up, bro? Dad make you his special PB&J?”
“Haven’t looked yet. Aaron was regaling me with a story of Mrs. Pulk, the amazing farting teacher.”
Delaney frowned. “I love Mrs. Pulk. She farted in class?”
Aaron found a break in his laughter to make an explosion gesture with his hands and shout, “Kaboom!”
Delaney smiled. “That’s horrible. Stop laughing.”
“It was like D-Day!” Aaron yelled. His face had darkened to deep red.
After saying something to Shannon and Randi, Delaney turned back to Tyler and asked about his big date.
“Who told you?”
“Everybody knows, big brother.” She shook her head. “You sure can pick them.”
Aaron quieted his screeches of laughter. “Date? Who you banging, Tyler?”
“I’m not banging any—”
“Sasha Karras,” Delaney said.
Aaron’s eyes went huge. “That weirdo bitch? You’re kidding me? Her mother’s a witch or something.”
“She’s not a witch.”
Sasha’s mother worked the Key Club Fright Fest every Halloween, always dressed up in a black gown with heavy, black makeup. She read fortunes from a stack of tarot cards. Kids said she sacrificed stray cats to her evil witch god.
“Crazy bitch collected Sasha’s period blood to use in her ceremonies.”
“Ew,” Shannon said but she was smiling.
“You made that up.”
Aaron shrugged. Even if he had made it up that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. Such was the world of high school logic.
“Don’t do it,” Aaron said. “You’ll be tainted.”
Tyler turned to Delaney. “Thanks, sis.”
“No problem, bro. Just don’t embarrass the family. I have a reputation to maintain.”
“Yeah, right. Tough to keep that nerd persona untarnished.”
Her face crumpled a bit but she fought it off. “Just don’t forget to wear a condom.”
“Yeah,” Aaron said, all serious. “You don’t want to have a kid with that bitch.”
“Shut up,” Tyler said. He finally opened his lunch and found a Hot Pocket in its plastic wrapper. How the hell was he going to microwave it? Thanks, Dad.
Chloe wanted her damn pills. She could scream for them, shout at the top of her lungs until her throat cracked and her energy vanished. She could beg for them, cry for them, but Anthony wasn’t going to give them to her. Dr. Carroll had prescribed them, so, sure, legally she could take them, but that didn’t mean she should take them.
“Please!” Her plea rolled down the hallway from the bedroom where she kept a constant vigil in bed.
If she really wanted her little coma-inducing pills, she could get out of bed and get them herself. But she wouldn’t, of course, not until her withdrawal became too painful to endure. But he wouldn’t let it go that far. She would wear him down and he would obediently fetch whichever colored pill she wanted.
“I need them.” Her voice was an anger-tinged cry, the sound of an animal stuck in a trap.
He wasn’t doing anything, just standing in the kitchen, cleaning the counter, drinking some coffee, but he wanted to tell her to get the fuck out of the bed this instant, stop being so damn pathetic, take a shower, get some clean clothes on, go outside and stop bothering him.
“I deserve them,” she yelled. Her voice rasped like it was on the verge of collapse.
Dr. Carroll said the pills would take the edge off, but they had done a whole hell of a lot more than that—they had anesthetized her from life. Dr. Carroll was a good man, a good psychiatrist based on the recommendations of a few people from work, but he was awfully quick to prescribe drugs. Anthony hadn’t wanted his son Brendan on any Ritalin or similar Help-You-Focus drug, but the proof was, as they say, in the pudding. Brendan’s grades had improved. So, after that day last month when he discovered the pain so many other parents have suffered and yet still thought his own pain far worse, he turned to Dr. Carroll for help. He and Chloe attended sessions together but, ultimately, Chloe had gotten the script she wanted and found the peace she sought. If you slept all the time, maybe the pain would stay away. Anthony suffered more pain in his dreams where he relived the tragic day over and over or, and this was sometimes worse, dreamt the baby was still alive and then awoke to discover the truth. But Chloe didn’t suffer nightmares; her pills were a forcefield against them. Against everything else, too.
“Why don’t you care about me?” Her words gargled on her self-pity.
Anthony sipped his coffee and squeezed the dish towel in his hand. If he punched her in the face, he could knock her out without pills and the towel might cushion the hit so he wouldn’t break her cheekbone.
That thought lingered for several seconds before Anthony’s revulsion pushed it far away, forced him to set down his coffee, and urged his legs down the hallway to the bedroom.
The room was dark, the shades drawn. The day’s sunlight was forced into the corners where swirls of dust danced in the air. The room stank of old sweat and persistent halitosis. Both were side effects of the pills.
Chloe was beneath the comforter. Her withered body was hardly a lump among the folds. In the dark, her face was a talking shadow, like something from one of his nightmares.
“I’ve been calling for you.”
“Get me my pills.”
He stopped halfway to the master bath. “You should get out of bed.”
“A shower will make you feel good.”
“I’ll make you some breakfast. The kids are at school. We can talk.”
She paused, thinking. Her lips made a wet smacking sound. “Talk about what?”
“About helping you.”
“Helping me? Helping me? How the hell are you going to help me?”
“I want you to get better.”
“Then get me my pills.”
“You sound like a monster. Like some dying witch.”
“Fuck you,” she said in a casual way.
He went into the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet. The bottles stared back.
“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” she asked. “You just want to fuck me. Well, go ahead. Give me my pills and fuck me all you want.”
Chills rolled over his skin. He kept his tone steady, loving. “I just want you to get better. I want you to get back to life.”
“What about the life that was taken out of me and then from me?” She was on the cusp of tears, as she had been the past month.
“You have to find a way to carry on. We still have three beautiful children. We have to do what is best for them.”
“You just want me to forget!” she screamed. “Forget about my baby? Forget like you forgot. You don’t give a flying fuck about our dead child but I’m not that goddamn heartless! I need to grieve! I need my pills!”
Anthony’s fingers tightened around a large white bottle.
“You hear me!” she yelled again. “Or don’t you give a shit?”
He turned out of the bathroom, threw the bottle of pills at her head—she caught them with an exasperated ooofff sound, and left the bedroom. He slammed the door for good measure.
What the hell was he going to do? He had to keep his family together. He had to find a way to bring back the old days, the happy days, the days before the baby died.
He went back to the kitchen but his coffee had turned cold.
Brendan’s teacher wanted to speak with him. While the playground monitor escorted the rest of the class outside in a single-file line, Brendan approached Miss Tuyol.
She was a young teacher, the youngest in the building, and some of the boys thought she was hot but Brendan didn’t think of her as being hot or not. Actually, he never really thought about any of his teachers.
She was sitting behind her desk, which was organized with colored folders and boxes and decorated with fake apples and little plaques that said things like “World’s Greatest Teacher” and “Teachers Light the Way to Tomorrow.” She was wearing a bright purple sweater with a picture of the Easter Bunny on it.
“Hello Brendan,” she said.
“How do you feel today?”
“Any trouble focusing today?”
“You seemed a little lost when we were reviewing the states.”
He had been more than simply lost. He’d been off in another world completely. The pills were supposed to help with that. The pills did help him focus but not always on what he was supposed to be doing.
Dr. Carroll had put Brendan on the pill, what Brendan called his Pillie Billy, in October after a horrible progress report and a teacher-parent conference in which Miss Tuyol made it sound like Brendan had some really serious problems, aside from poor factoring in math and weak memorization skills in history. Next year he’d be in seventh grade, so if he didn’t get his act together (whatever that meant), he’d end up in a far worse situation than he was in now. On the up side, Miss Tuyol complimented Brendan’s creativity and language skills. She said he was a very creative boy. The only reason he had done well in English was because he enjoyed reading and writing stories. He wrote his stories, mostly short things with lots of violence, in a black and white composition book. He wrote the stories during recess or at home in his room. He had left the book at home today but that was okay because he had a different one with him, a really special one.
“No headaches?” Miss Toyul asked.
He shook his head.
He hadn’t told anyone that even before the end of the summer, his head had started to hurt every time he spent longer than a few minutes reading and he’d find himself inexplicably pulled away from the page by an annoying fly or the tree blowing outside his window or even random thoughts in his own mind. Pillie Billy had cured that, sort of. Every once in a while his head hurt but it wasn’t always unpleasant.
“Your story,” she said and picked up the two-page short story he had typed on Dad’s computer. “Do you have a goldfish?”
“No,” he said. The story was entitled “The Dead Goldfish.” It was a bout this kid who thought his goldfish was possessed by a demon and he kills the fish by crushing it beneath his bare feet. Brendan described, as best he could, the jelly insides of the fish filling the gaps between the boy’s toes. He compared it to snot.
“You didn’t kill your pet fish, did you?” Miss Tuyol asked.
“We had a dog once but it got old and couldn’t walk so we had to put it down.”
Miss Tuyol looked like she had something really serious to say. “You’ve never hurt any animals before, have you?”
He thought of how much fun it was to pull Lizzy’s tail. Lizzy was Delaney’s cat. The cat didn’t like it but pulling its tail didn’t really hurt it, not much anyway. Besides, he liked Lizzy and didn’t want to see her suffer.
“Your story is very descriptive.”
“That’s not always a good thing.”
“Next time, why don’t you try writing about something more pleasant?”
“Okay.” Brendan stared at his sneakers.
“What book do you have today?” she asked.
Brendan held up the large, hard-bound book. It was titled Finding God: A History of Appeasing Higher Powers and Fulfilling Man’s Destiny. It was over three hundred pages with very few pictures and more than twenty chapters. Dad would have called it “heavy reading,” but Brendan never showed his dad, keeping the book hidden under his bed. Dr. Carroll had given it to him, said the book was just for Brendan, something to help him focus better and tap into his natural talents, whatever they might be. Brendan didn’t understand what Dr. Carroll meant, but he didn’t ask questions either. The doc wanted to help, he gave Brendan a book, so Brendan took it, read some of it, and kept it a secret. He was very good at keeping secrets. He had it with him today, however, because he had big plans for tomorrow.
“That looks interesting,” Miss Tuyol said as if he were showing her that dead goldfish.
“It’s just some boring history stuff,” he said with a shrug.
Miss Tuyol smiled. “Okay. Get your coat and I’ll bring you outside.”
On the playground, Brendan sat in a swing and opened the book. He turned to Chapter Two. It was entitled “Animal and Human: Sacrifices to Win Divine Favor.”
While kids ran screaming all around him, Brendan read very carefully, as if trying to memorize every word.
“It is difficult to accept death in this society because it is unfamiliar. In spite of the fact that it happens all the time, we never see it.” — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
When Sasha returned from the bathroom, Tyler wondered for the hundredth time what her breasts would look like once he got her shirt off. Her T-shirt hugged her breasts—young, healthy, and firm—just enough, yet the shirt was not so tight as to remove all mystery. Tyler had spent enough time admiring those breasts in quick glances at school and more than enough time tonight peeking glances at them while he ate his cheeseburger and she picked at a salad. He had spent even more than enough time in bed at night thinking of those breasts—these breasts right in front of him across the table—and how they would feel in his hands or taste in his mouth. Imagining was one thing, but to actually touch them skin-to-skin would be like opening a Christmas present and discovering it was exactly what he wanted.
And only one thing could be better, but he knew not to let his fantasies get out of reach. There was little chance he’d get past the threshold of her jeans and into her panties where the real thing that girls had and boys wanted dwelled like a treasure waiting to be excavated. The thing he had been waiting all of his seventeen years to unearth.
She had asked him something and he couldn’t think of what it was. Shit. She was assessing him, evaluating if he was good make-out material and missing her questions would not bode well for him when she made the final determination. He had been admiring those breasts again, of course. He knew only the vaguest details of the private lives of girls, but he had Googled bra sizes and determined that Sasha was in the C-range. Each breast was probably a handful once unleashed from the confines of the shirt and bra. But, of course, that brought up the tricky situation of bra straps and undoing them. He had Googled that, too, and found a site that instructed in step-by-step format how to unhook a bra strap—and with only one hand.
“You seem weird,” she said. Her half-eaten chicken Caesar salad sat before her, oh, so ever close to those breasts.
He fumbled a response that could have passed for the mumblings of a retarded person. She smiled at him, one jagged tooth protruding over the others in the upper corner of her mouth, her black hair hanging straight behind her like a curtain. At school she wore her hair up like all the other girls. Different hair presentation meant something, at least according to websites Tyler had read. It could mean the girl thought he was special enough to do something different; it could mean the girl was hoping for a special evening; or it could mean jack special shit.
“Sorry,” he said.
“For … ?”
Retarded mumblings again. Every time he tried to respond, his eyes ventured down to those breasts and an alarm went off in his brain: LOOK AT HER FACE, AT HER FACE! But that shouting command only fumbled up his words even more.
“How’s your cheeseburger?” she asked.
“Good,” he said without the slightest mumble.
She glanced around; her smile faded. Cheerful Charlie’s Diner was fairly well-packed with the late-evening crowd. The diner was a 1950s throwback with plush red seats and booths, vintage signs (a Coca Cola advertisement featuring a green-haired elf-type person with huge, hungry eyes and a Coke bottle top for a hat always gave Tyler the creeps every time he ate here), and a giant juke-box that didn’t play music but lit up and flashed sometimes like a strobe light. The oldies music came from ceiling speakers. Tyler didn’t know any of the songs and, it seemed, neither did Sasha.
There was no diner in Stone Creek, but Charlie’s was only a few miles out on Route 51. The place was open 24 hours and Charlie, the Charlie of the restaurant’s name, was a round-bellied guy who often played Santa at the Newburgh Mall in December, and who didn’t harass teenagers the way the staff and owners at many restaurants did, especially after dark.
This place was a typical stop for kids from school. Tyler thought he recognized some kids in the back, but they were too busy shooting spitballs at each other to offer Tyler a frontal view. Tyler had known that other kids might be here, of course, and had weighed the potential awkwardness of some kids mocking him with the comfort Sasha might feel at going to a familiar place. He hadn’t read that advice on any website; he had reasoned that one out himself. The websites had suggested fancy dining; fine dining, they called it. Fine dinning, they asserted, was the easiest way to get a woman’s clothes off. Aside from getting her drunk or drugging her, of course.
So,” she said when her gaze returned to the table. “That movie kind of sucked.”
Tyler had taken her to a movie first in hopes that he could build his courage during the flick and then really put on the moves over dinner. The movie was a stupid horror flick about a girl trapped in a basement with a monster that resembled a toad. Tyler enjoyed when the girl stripped to her underwear before getting inside a sleeping bag with her equally hot, and equally near-naked, friend: did girls really do stuff like that? Sasha watched the movie with her body leaned away from him for most of the film, and didn’t want any popcorn, which left Tyler eating an entire bucket. The butter he had plopped on top of the popcorn had tasted so good but now, as it mingled with the ground beef from his burger, he felt the weight of it like a brick sinking into his bowels.
When the toad-thing leaped out of the basement’s darkest corner with its huge mouth full of teeth and its scream echoing in the theater like an explosion, Sasha jumped in her seat and grabbed his arm. When the monster bit off the girl’s foot (gallons of blood squirting all over the girl and the monster), Sasha screamed and squeezed his arm, a genuine squeeze. Tyler smiled and stole another glance at those breasts.
“Yeah,” he said. What could he say? You ever strip to your underwear and climb into a sleeping bag with another girl?
Sasha’s cellphone was out and she was texting. She yawned. Though her salad was mostly uneaten, Sasha was obviously done with dinner and if he didn’t say something clever or somehow get her interested in him again this date was over.
She snapped her phone shut and stared straight at him as if she hadn’t noticed him before. Her breasts—LOOK AT HER FACE!—jiggled when she placed her elbows on the table on either side of her salad and rested her chin on her folded hands. This pushed her breasts together and made them even larger.
“I don’t have to be home for an hour,” she said.
She smiled and her snaggletooth incisor seemed larger than before. Someone who has such a physical imperfection, even a slight one, is good at concealing it. Paul hid his braces for three years in middle school by never fully smiling at anyone. Tyler had been one of the only people who knew for sure that Paul had braces. That meant Sasha was smiling larger now, which was good. Or it meant her tooth was growing.
The waitress, dressed in a blue apron with a cartoon fat man over her chest, one pudgy thumb up, asked if she could take their plates and they both nodded. Plates in hand, the waitress inquired about dessert. Sasha asked for the check.
She turned back to Tyler. “I’m glad you asked me out.”
“Me too,” he said.
“You’re a sweet guy.”
A sweet guy who has masturbated to thoughts of you for almost nine months, he thought and immediately scolded himself for being so perverted. If she sensed his longing, his desperation, she’d end the date right now.
The websites stressed that women wanted “action” as much as men did, but women were always turned off by desperation. If a guy wants a woman too badly, the woman will often turn him down. Women want to know there’s interest, but they also want a challenge. A website also recommended jerking off before the date to help calm anxiety. Tyler found his favorite porn site and started but his father kept walking back and forth outside his room so he stopped. If Sasha went down on him, if that was even a possibility, it wouldn’t take long to finish.
“There’s a place near my house where we can hang for a bit, if you want. Then you can drop me off.”
Tyler nodded because he couldn’t swallow the lump in his throat to speak. He paid the bill, left five bucks on the table, and let Sasha give him directions to their next stop.
Sasha lived in a mobile home that had been converted into a somewhat normal-looking two-story house with a concrete front porch and an extension off the back, which served as a game room and her mother’s bedroom. Two large perfectly pruned bushes stood guard on either side of the porch. A light was on upstairs and another, a red one, flickered in a downstairs window, probably from a TV.
“Nice,” Tyler said and hoped he didn’t sound surprised or sarcastic.
“Nice bushes, right?”
“What do you mean?”
The house was one among hundreds in the Hidden Hills community, a name contradicting the numerous hills and valleys that comprised the individual properties of the mobile homes. The kids at school called this place Trailer Trash Town, the homes Trashy Trailers. Even the students who lived here, and there were more Tyler suspected than those who admitted it, used the term. Better to acknowledge the shitty choices your parents made than to delude yourself into thinking you were normal.
“Keep going,” Sasha said. “I don’t want my mother to see us.”
They drove down a steep slope that curved to the right so suddenly that Tyler almost crashed into a pickup truck parked in the road. He narrowly missed an oncoming jeep and then rode his brakes the rest of the way down the hill, which reminded him of water swirling down a funnel. The mobile homes (trashy trailers) were set at odd angles to one another and ensconced into hillsides like pieces of litter in clumps of mud. Some of them hadn’t seen a moment of handyman attention in decades while others could have passed for pleasing, though small, additions to the community his parents had chosen: Sky View Estates. It was a gated community where Mexicans cleaned the streets weekly and repainted the homes every other year.
Sasha directed Tyler to a small, empty gravel parking lot overlooking a lake. A sagging, rusted fence boarded two sides of the lot. Tyler pulled to the edge, facing the lake. On the other side of the dark water, the lights of more mobile homes glowed like tiny eyes on the hulking humps of hills. Those hills comprised a giant beast, a malicious creature forever guarding the still waters of a man-made lake—like in that Lovecraft story Mr. Stein had read to them. Tyler wished he could coverhis windshield.
“Beautiful,” Sasha said. She undid her seatbelt. Was that an invitation to make a move?
“Sure,” Tyler said after a moment. He turned to her, barely aware that he was making a move; something inside him had seized the controls and wasn’t going to let him delay any longer. “But not as beautiful as you.”
She smiled for a moment and then burst out laughing.
Tyler turned back to the hundred-eyed monster. What did its laughter sound like?
“I’m sorry,” Sasha said through dwindling chuckles. “You don’t have to try so hard. I’m the one who brought us here, after all.”
“Sorry,” he said, though unsure why.
“What about some music?” she asked.
Tyler turned the car battery on and the receiver started with the last song that had been playing on his iPod: “Stay Don’t Go” by Spoon. She hadn’t made any comments about his music during the drive and she didn’t now. Did she hate it? Did it matter?
“So?” she asked.
She smiled again and moved toward him as if gliding like a ghost. Without barely any time for his brain to register what was happening, Tyler moved toward her, closed his eyes, and met her lips halfway across the car. The kiss lasted only a few seconds but it was long enough for Tyler to taste the Caesar dressing from her salad. She broke the kiss and sat back in her seat. Tyler stayed for a moment in a slant, his seatbelt stretching across his chest.
“Why do you like me?” she asked.
Tyler sat back, unfastened his belt. Though a smile still lingered on her lips, Sasha had turned more introspective all of a sudden as if the kiss had pried something lose in her mind. How was he supposed to answer this question? What did she want to hear?
The song changed to “Paper Tiger.” Tyler said, “What do you mean?”
“It’s not a hard question.”
“You’re … really cool and pretty and … I don’t know.”
“It’s just that you’ve barely ever said anything to me. Did you think I’d be easy or something?”
In the faint glow from the radio receiver, Sasha’s eyes glimmered green and small shadows accentuated her pointy nose and the curve of her upper lip hiding that snaggletooth. Her pale skin absorbed the light and gave her a faint seasick aura.
“I just … like you.”
“You’ve been with many girls?”
Tyler shook his head. Her breasts were ready to break through her shirt. His hand twitched. Just a touch, a caress, a suck.
“I know what people say about me,” she said. “About my mother.”
“I haven’t heard.” He thought of Aaron’s period-blood rumor.
Tyler had only had one girlfriend prior, and that had been three years ago at science camp. He had experienced his first French kiss but nothing else. He didn’t think he was unattractive or weird or anything. He just never handled himself around girls the way he wanted. Paul had known this is what he needed. Tyler knew it, too. And now she was getting all serious.
“I don’t care what people say,” she said. “I don’t. People are assholes.”
“They are,” he said.
The song changed to “Back to the Life,” opening with a maniacal laugh. Her eyes went to the receiver, on which the song title was spelled out, and Tyler’s eyes went to her breasts. The heavy beat of the song unleashed something inside him, something like instinct, and he moved in for the kill.
Their lips met again, softly at first and then he pressed harder and his tongue found its way into her mouth where it slipped over and around her tongue like two slugs mating. Her snaggletooth pressed against his teeth like a popcorn kernel, but the discomfort only spurred him on. His hands groped at her back, found the edge of her shirt and pulled it up all the way to her chin. Then his hands were on her breasts, caressing them, squeezing them. Something red and hot burned inside him and grew hotter and hotter. He went for her bra strap with both hands, just to be sure, and unclasped it almost immediately. The excitement at this accomplishment pushed his tongue more forcefully against hers and he lifted her and shifted so that her head lay against the door and her legs tangled with his around the shifter.
He tore her bra off and finally broke the kiss. She gasped for air as if she had been under water. Her breasts were even larger than he had hoped. He grabbed one and began sucking forcefully on the other. Still, the red hotness burned, throbbed, screamed inside him. This is what he had wanted for so long, so fucking long, oh how fucking wonderful. Her hands grabbed at his hair and tugged playfully. He shook them off and sucked even harder on her breast until her moan morphed into a cry of pain. He pulled off of her breast, tugging at her nipple, and stared at her for a moment. The shadows had shifted on her face and now made her appear younger, smaller. She started to speak, and Tyler suffocated her words with his mouth.
Women love being dominated, a website declared.
His hands found the edge of her jeans and tore open the fly. The hot redness burned hotter and hotter and hotter, screaming for him to keep going. This was going to be wonderful, so fucking wonderful. He slipped one hand behind her and shifted his weight to that arm while his other hand jumped onto her crotch. Her panties stuck to her groin in a patch of moisture: she wanted this just as much as he. This was too wonderful to believe. He found the seat lever and yanked it almost hard enough to snap it while he picked her up again and flopped her down on the seat, forcing it backwards, nearly flat. The part of him that would have stalled the engine of his passion had fallen off somewhere and now stood back, shocked and delighted.
Another deep-probing kiss later, Tyler pulled off her jeans and let his fingers explore her most sensitive of areas. She moaned and repeated his name again and again but he barely heard that over the monstrous pounding of the screaming red inside him. It could have been an alarm shouting FIRE! FIRE! but it only pushed him farther. He undid his own fly and pushed his pants and boxers past his knees and wriggled them to his ankles. Her moans grew louder and her hands grabbed more roughly at his hair and arms. He drove his tongue against hers once more, her snaggletooth crushing his gums, and then he went for everything in one quick gesture—he pulled her panties to the side and slipped the head of his penis into her where her muscles stopped it and her fingers clawed more desperately at him and then he shoved all of himself into her as he released a powerful grunt of pleasure. The hot redness hollered louder and louder still until his entire body burned with the screaming lust. And when he released that hot redness inside her, Tyler finally noticed the tears on her cheeks, green in the light, and heard her begging, “No, stop, no, stop, Tyler, stop, stop, stop, stop, please, stop!”
He slumped back into the driver’s seat without bringing up his pants. Sasha curled into a fetal position on the passenger seat and sobbed. Across the lake, a giant monster watched it all through a hundred glowing eyes.
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