Thursday, November 26, 2015

The bathroom smelled like pennies and sulfur. John had painted sigils and other signs and names on the walls, the mirror, the ceiling. He had, as best he could, put to circles of protection around the bathtub. He filled it with ice and, still dressed, climbed in. He called 9-1-1 on the pay-as-you go phone and said, calmly, "There is a boy who is bleeding out in a bathtub full of ice, I think it was another cult killing." He told them the address of the house he had broken into, then he shouted: "Oh my god! There's three of them! They're all, they're all so blonde!" and dropped the phone in the tub. He took the ornate, pearl handled, antique shaving razor from his breast pocket and slit both his wrists. He splashed his blood onto the ceiling and onto the mirror, into both the circles of protection. He felt woozy. He closed his eyes. John thought through the incantation, then said it all out loud, syllable by syllable.

Nothing happened.

John's wrists pulsed and he pushed them together, but the pain medication had worked and his cuts were deep, tendrils of blood races between the chunks of ice and slowly diffused.

John laughed, a little hahah, and splashed at the source of the blood. "Huh." he said.

The tendril zipped between his hands and leapt out of the water and onto the ceiling.

"Oh!" John said and sat up abruptly; some ice bumped into his wrists and pulled the gash on his right forearm slightly more open --more blood jumped straight from his wrist out and onto the ceiling. It pooled, diffused, spread like a time lapse shadow of a person, stretched and stretched, then reached down, pinkish tendrils pushed at John's face.

"Out, off. There's a war duh. Ward," John said. He pointed at the floor and more blood splashed onto the two circles of protection. "Uh," he said.

The blood swirled and vaporized, then reappeared, smashed in the this space between the two circles.

"I have a deal to make. Half my soul and all this blood, for." John trailed off.

In the bloody swirl, mouths formed.

The demon towering over John looked down and smiled with all thirteen mouths. "This gonna be quick turn around, human boy who summed ______ ____ _____." it said with a voice like rolling thunder and the clap of horse's hooves. Each mouth said exactly one word. It continued, "What me give in exchange for half the boy's soul, all this  blood?"

John squeezed his eyes shut and shuddered. He gasped in the cold bathtub. "I need uh, protection from the other witches."

"Protect, how?"

"I can't let them kill me, or maim me."

"Maim?"

"Seriously?" John spasm-ed and the ice in the tub with him rattled. The water was quickly turning from pink to deep red. He clenched his jaw until the chattering stopped. "They can't cut me up, or stop me from being fully mobile. Not for long."

"How long?"

"More than five seconds?"

"No dying, no damage? No stillness? In exchange for blood and half soul?"

"Sounds good."

"Can I I I I I I I I I I I I?"

"The deal is sealed with this blood?"

"Deal between ______ ____ _____,  boy is sealed with that blood, half soul." The demon's thirteen mouths opened then stretched and stretched and with thirteen progressively wetter tearing sounds opened and dropped all the way to the floor. "The deal is sealed. The deal is sealed. The deal is sealed, now," it said.

"Watch my skin, p-p-please," John mumbled and slumped.

The demon with thirteen mouths nodded and oozed around and into the bathtub, filling it, almost smothering John. The blood in the water disappeared as if sucked out through thirteen different straws.

"Holy mother of god!" One of the paramedics shouted then shrieked and dropped to the floor, clutching at his eyes.

"Bill


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

John looked at his phone, it's glare burned his eyes in the dark of his room. The text message read:
Hey, this is Mercedes. I got your number from the school files. I hope you don't mind. I'd like to meet.

He texted back: No thanks. I'm good. Then, moments later he added: Sorry, but I don't want to know you.

His phone rang, a few minutes later. The text message read: Whatever

John deleted the message, set his phone to silent and went back to sleep. He woke up the next day, a Thursday, and made himself breakfast. First hour started at 7:15. He owned a bike, the weather was warm so he woke up at five forty-ish and showered and dressed and made himself breakfast.

Getting dressed was easy, he choose a clean pair of pants, one of the ten that were essentially the same black, professional cut jeans then he put on one of his ten medium grey shirts; socks and underwear were all black, calf high socks; boxers.

Breakfast consisted of an orange, coffee with coconut oil stirred in and a large bowl of oatmeal. He wore a dark grey hooded sweater under a black, cloth, bomber jacket.

Before leaving he brushed his teeth and double checked that his tablets were in his backpack, along with his charging pack. One tablet for the ebooks, one for taking notes, and a military grade half brick of a charger.

At lunch he watched the same duo walk back and forth along the corridor between the temporary class room trailers and the three story second building. A boy and a girl. The girl had short hair in variously faded shades of blue and aqua-green. Her friend wore a black leather duster and a black leather, wide brimmed hat. The boy made John think of villianous cowboys. The girl's jacket matched John's, but on her petite frame it covered her butt and the sleeves scrunched funny at her elbows. Hers had patches on it and the back was taken up with a paint markered on, inverted triangle, the bottom tip flattened. He saw them every lunch, when he wasn't in the library poking around on the school servers.

They usually just nodded at each other but this time the girl walked up to him, her friend hanging back. "Like your style," she said. She nodded.

"Thanks. Your hair's pretty cool."

"Thanks."

"I'm John."

"I know. You're in my friend Diana's second hour?"

"Sorry, who? I'm bad with names."

"She's blonde? Really tall? Plays volleyball?"

"Oh! Her! Yeah, I'm in her --right. Close Up."

"Yup."


The stale laundry smell of expensive cigarettes is still cigarettes.

Samantha Mills is pissed and drunk and pissed drunk. She's standing on the corner of State Street and Liberty getting soaked by a sudden down pour in early August. Her marijuana cigarette is wet to the point of unsmokability, but she's letting it hang off her lip anyway. For a few seconds she went cross eyed, watching raindrops bead and roll down the saturated paper.

"Fuck it," she said and inhaled and started walking down to main street.
I browsed porn late at night, in a bed borrowed from a close friend. Couldn't sleep, so browsed endless, naked, masked people in groups, compromised, powerful. Taken advantage of and taking the advantage. I searched for things like:
  • eye contact
  • brunettes with blue eyes
  • pale eyes
  • long legs
  • arched backs
I used all the usual pornography sites: pornhub, xhamster, redtube, youporn. Sometimes I found what I was looking for, but that was rare. Usually I settled and masturbated and fell asleep and dreamed. I dreamed of water, a river from when I was young, too young to know that masturbating in someone's shower wasn't appropriate. I still masturbate as much at thirty as I did at fifteen. Other people tell me they've slowed down, or don't talk about self pleasure, or talk in terms of sex and not gratification.

I haven't had sex in months and that was with a prostitute. No, a stripper. No, a girl I had dinner with. All these people, they're all the same person. Her name is Sonja. No, I call her Sonja. Her name is May Elizabeth Fedor, but that is none of my business and I respect her too much to call her that.

I knew a woman, a dancer who called herself alternately Shadow and Grace, depending on the crowd. Shadow for older crowds, Grace on college nights.

I sat and stared at passing Lycra and smile.

Being tense is hard for me, but with enough lack of exercise I've gotten pretty good at it. I shamble instead of walk. My hands tremble when I reach for my wallet. My left eye twitches and I sit and watch people walk. I can't afford coffee, so I sit outside.

The other day while I sat outside, it rained. A black girl, high schooler maybe, sat down beside me and sheltered me with her umbrella. She was fucked up: burn scars all over her face and a giant eye patch in white with an off center red cross on it. She didn't say anything and I didn't say anything and eventually the rain stopped. She didn't say anything while she closed her umbrella. She didn't say anything as she walked away, either.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"You're barking up the wrong tree," i said

My room, when I woke, smelled like him. 

I sighed. I looked at my phone. It was early-early Sunday and someone was at the front door of my house, banging on the door.

I knew this because in the lower right of my phone was a video feed of a camera, looking down at the door. Someone in a grey hooded sweater, average average average.

My phone vibrated and a second feed came up --someone was trying to shunt the lock on the sliding door. another grey hooded sweater. This camera, being inside the house, captured the face of the person trying to break in.

I sighed. In the darkness, swear to god, I said to myself, "Shit. It's them." I watched in satisfaction as the lock gave way, Patricia Liu quietly started to slide the door open and then cursed as it hit the metal bar on the bottom of the door. I chuckled.

I pressed her number on my phone and waited. I didn't hear anything, and Patricia didn't react. No phones, or not their regular phones, at least.

I waited until just before she figured out that the bar was locked in place on the far wall before I put on my jacket, pocketed my phone and raced through the basement, up the stairs and through the kitchen. I was at sliding door and had it flung open so quickly Patricia fell back on her butt, into the snow on the wooden deck. I laughed --probably weird given I'd grabbed a kitchen knife on my way through the kitchen. "Hello Patricia," I said, "Can I help you with something?"

Patricia thew something at me, and I swatted it away; immediately regretted my decision. With a POP I was covered in powder that burned my eyes and stung my skin. Through gritted eyes, I saw her scrambling off the deck and so help me I did it.

I froze time and everything turned red and, eyes half open, half closed I walked over to her frozen body and touched her foot. Hah. Grabbed her foot with both hands. Immediately she was wriggling and scrambling.

The red started to fade almost immediately, but all the snow on my house melted with a wet woosh of steam. Patricia screamed until I closed the sliding glass door and shut the blinds.

"It's sound proof," I said.

"Figured. Monster." Patricia spat at me.

"What are you talking about?"

"You. You're something to be cleaned up, like the Jons were."

"No! I didn't kill innocent peop --"

Her laughter cut me off and she didn't stop. While she laughed and laughed I walked into the kitchen and washed my hands, arms, and face. "So who's the guy was banging on my front door?" I shouted, head in the sink. I howled sank to the floor, She'd smashed something heavy over the back of my head and neck and the stars were closing in all around my vision.

I flattened myself with the next blow, let is smash me to the floor and waited. I heard the kitchen drawers open and when she was above me I smashed her knee as hard as I could. "Sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry," I kept saying while I punched her in the jaw, behind the ear. Four punches and she was out cold: breathing, unconscious.

I called 9-1-1 from my mobile and told them I had a subdued assailant in my house.

The emergency respondent was brusque, and when I told her my address she laughed at me. "Sure thing Mr. Metzger. We'll send someone over. Right. Away. Uh huh," she said and hung up.

"Well that's rude," I said. I sighed and slumped my shoulders. I shrugged. I went to my room and brought out some emergency rope. I apologized the entire time I was tying up Paticia Liu, reverse hog tied: restrained but not dangerously uncomfortable.

When she regained consciousness a few minutes later, she groaned. She looked at me and, no joke, growled. She said, "This place would be better off without you."

I stopped and sat. I said, "I haven't killed anyone since winter break, and I didn't want to do that and I didn't know what I was doing the other times."

"That makes it worse."

I laughed. "What part of that makes it worse?"

"That you didn't know what you were doing," she said.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Next thing I remember is someone laughing as I fell down a sharp flight of stairs. The fall went on and on and on and I couldn't understand how.

At some point I got my shoulders under me and tucked in, but not before something popped painfully and I skidded into a crowd of people at the bottom of the stairs. I tried to stand up and made it to my feet before my knees failed me and I crumpled. My knees sang so loud I threw up and then I don't know but after that someone was about to slam my face into the hand dryer. This was at least the second time that happened, I'm guessing, since I could feel my blood pumping out my face, hot and white.

"Please," I gasped. I must have slurred to hard, though and then I woke up on the roof of a parking structure in Detroit.

"That's fucked up." Said the man entirely in white. He was about my height, but walked with a limp and was missing two fingers from his right hand. "Why would you have gone there?"

"Why not?"

"If we're lucky -- No. We're not lucky, are we?" He lit a cigarette and didn't bother to finish his thought.

I looked around. The clouds were orange and all the lights were burned out. We were sat on the hood of a burned out old car. A husk. The wind howled. I wasn't cold. I wasn't warm though, either. My stomach hurt. I closed my eyes. I asked, "What happened?"

"You froze time again, Will. In a packed club on gay night you froze time for twenty minutes and." He inhaled for what seemed like forever from his cigarette. "And that's longer than the Halloween party, kiddo."

"Kiddo? My dad calls me kiddo."

"I am not your dad."

"Then.  .  .?"

"Doesn't matter. Listen." He pressed a button on his phone and a radio broadcast came on. We listened in silence as the DJ talked deadpan, serious. The same wise cracking DJ from the drive in was talking about, about what? About the time he and a colleague went somewhere and did something funny, I assumed. It was funny. I chuckled. The wind laughed, too, and then the DJ said, "May God take your soul, Gina. See you on the other side. We'll keep you updated as the tragedy unfolds."

I kept my eyes closed, but they managed to start leaking anyway. I said, "Okay. I get it now."

"Do you?"

"I do. I shouldn't go out. Ever again. This could happen anywhere. Any time. And now more people are dead and I'm going to jail."

"There's no footage. You burned it all. It melted. You could turn yourself in."

"No."

"No?"

"No."

"Why not?"

I sighed. I sat and thought for a long time. Finally, I said something I don't remember that made him laugh. We stared at each other. We talked about what I thought I should do. We agreed I should never drink again. I decided I was going to



I hadn't had one of those dreams since I found the girl's car.

That was . . . I have no idea. This winter is messing with my sense of time.

It doesn't help that Mom hasn't come home yet.

The house is

Let's be honest. I keep the house at sixty-three degrees.

It's cold and dark earlier and earlier and I come home and do yoga. I cook dinner for myself and for lunch the next day and that's getting old too, but I want to save money, so I grocery shop and

And whatever.

The COLOR ZZZZZ granite top wipes down easily enough. There's a

I'm talking to myself.

I was talking to myself a lot, back then.

So, okay, listen. I was tired and depressed and I looked an easy twenty-two, twenty-three and it was a Friday and this is how these things go, when you're not a drinker.

I went to a gay club. I shaved my head and my face and my neck and I wore my bomber jacket and some jeans and a white t-shirt and boots that would make Mercedes proud. Before I left, I went into Mom's bedroom and found her eyeliner --liquid eyeliner, and I slid two thin lines: one under each eye.

I looked like an idiot, but. "Good," I said.

And I listened to the R&B station with the obnoxious DJ all the way there, and some of the music wasn't too bad. That's what I told myself.

I got in by flirting with the smaller bouncer, who also had a shaved head. We laughed and I touched his shoulder and lingered there. Just like he used to do.

The club had two distinct areas and I don't know how many flights of stairs. Down stairs, down a hallway down more stairs and some of these moments were black lit. Then, pissing, and later: throwing up. Puking. Lots of puking.

Before that, though, I looked around. The music was loud and bass heavy and right in the center of the crowd was someone wobbling about like Pig Pen, from the comic? In a sea of conservative color, this person wore white, tight pants, and a white, hooded sweater. White gloves, a white surgical mask. Twirling slowly, pistoning up and down. In sharpie marker on the back of the sweater was the word, "Anachronism"

"Well, that's obvious," I commented.

A guy next to me snorted and swigged from a bottle of bud light. "I wonder what he's like," he said.

"I don't," I said, and walked away, looking for the bar. The short (haha) bald guy at the door gave me a wristband and waved me with a wink. So when I walked up to the sparse bar and put my hands down the waitress


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Five witches and a fight

Science and English were both in building three for John, and he had last lunch, which meant he ate between third and fourth hour.

Lunch was quiet. He sat by himself and after he finished his lunch, home made sandwiches and a baggie full of chips washed down with apple juice, John worked on his homework and studiously avoided looking up from his book.

Five girls sat down, surrounding John. Three across from him and one on each side. John's neck prickled, too, and he shuddered.

"Cold?" The girl directly across from him coughed and smiled, covering her mouth with straight fingers. "Bless me!" She said.

"Goes in tight," John said, automatically. Then, realizing, he frowned, scrabbled for the German phrase.

"What?"

"Gesundheit," John said, quickly, "it's German for, uh, for bless you."

"You blessed me?"

"Sort of?"

The girl, chipper, chewing gum, big blue eyes and sharp shoulders was dressed in a blue and white letter jacket and a thin blue t-shirt. Her mouth twitched. "Sort of? I sneezed."

John frowned deeper. "Look, the moment's gone. Sorry. Hi! I' --"

The chipper girl cut him off, "You're John Osborne, right? I've heard about you. I heard you were friends with Mercedes and that's not good."

"Friends?" John made a Pfft sound. "Not exactly. She went nuts and beat up some poor jock in the hallway this morning."

"She does that."

"Did she tell you about her disappeared crazy gay killer boyfriend?"

"The hell?" John said, "That was a lot of adjectives. is Mercedes's friend crazy-gay, like really-really gay, or crazy loco, and gay? Is he killer sexy boyfriend and you're jealous? Or, does he, like, actually kill people and somehow was also dating a girl?"

"Seriously? Mercedes didn't--"

"What's that?" Mercedes climbed onto the table and sat down cross-legged. John's empty thermos clattered to the ground. "Sorry about that, I'll get it in a minute. Emma and I were just about to go have a chat, weren't we Emma?"

"Emma?" John asked.

"That's me," The chipper girl was no longer chipper. She took out her gum and stuck it on the lid of John's sandwich box. He started to protest but all six girls looked at him with thunder in their throats and his protest wheedled away.

"That's gross. You're gross. John here is my friend. Please leave him alone," Mercedes said. "I'm not wearing my big girl boots today," and John snort-laughed, interrupting her.

"Again with the looks? How are those not her big girl boots? They're huge!" He waved his hands, somewhat frantically, at Mercedes' boots. "Look at them, eff eff es! How are they not big?"

Mercedes exhaled and made a show of relaxing herself before she answered, "Because I've got bigger. Emma knows what I'm talking about, anyway. Don't you, Emmy?"

Emma nodded grimly.

Mercedes chuckled. "Look," she said and put a hand on John's shoulder. "These girls are not good news, and I guarantee they're not after anything you want them to be after."

"What are you talking about?" John said. "Seriously? What is with you?"

"Look." Mercedes stopped.

The ten minute bell rang and the tables around them surged.

"John, you're new to this, aren't you?"

"Duh? I'm a freshman? I need to go. Emma, it was nice meeting you. And, uh, your friends." John stood up and, with a unhappy smirk on his face put his sandwich box into a bag, then stooped to pick up his thermos. He stood and swore and ducked. Someone behind him shrieked and stumbled, there was a scuffle behind him and when he looked back Emma, three of her friends, and Mercedes had disappeared into the crowd.

He turned around again, and looked down. A girl, red hair, heavy eye liner and another blue and white letter jacket was clutching her face, tears streaming.

"Oh my god!" John said, but before he could help her she shooed him away, stood and stumbled away into the crowd, one hand pushing and wedging at people's shoulders, the other pushed against her bloody nose.

"This is ridiculous," John said. Immediately he was flung to the floor, smashing his jaw against a chair as he fell. He started to stand up and was lifted off the ground by a kick to the stomach. "Come on!" He gasped, curled into a ball. "What is this?" He peeked an eye open. No one but the last few students filing through the doors to their class.

John sat up and sighed. He rubbed his jaw. His ribs hurt. The one minute bell rang and immediately thereafter someone behind him laughed.

Phoenix said, "You're actually getting a detention this time."

"Whatever, you already gave me a detention," John stood up. "Besides, you must've seen me get jumped by, uh, whoever just jumped on me. How can I get a detention when I've just been assaulted?"

"I just got here. You could be drunk and asleep on the floor for all I know."

"You're, like, literally insane, aren't you? I'm going to the principal," John said, and started walking toward the doors.

"Freeze or I'll say you were running away."

John laughed at that. He stopped and turned around. "I may be a freshman but I'm not an idiot, I know my limitations and no one with half a brain is gonna think a gimp tried to run away from a security guard."

"Maybe a drunk one."

John turned around and walked out of the cafeteria. "The principal's office!" He shouted as he passed through the doors.

Phoenix watched him leave, hands balled into white knuckled fists.

John looked up and down the gigantic, beige main hall of school three. To his right were the stairs to the front door. To his left were a flight of stairs to the second floor atrium and the administrative offices. In front of him, cases upon cases showcased the past: medals, trophies, state records set by long gone students. Crumbling newspaper articles.

"I said I would," John thought to himself and started toward the stairs. A hand grabbed his shoulder and roughly pushed him forward, John started to totter, but the hand held him up.

"Let's go then, drunkie."

"Seriously? I was going there anyway. Please let go of me."

"No. Walk," and Phoenix pushed him forward again. "You're getting suspended for this."

"For what?" They walked up the stairs, in a slow, jittery, gait. "What is wrong with you?" John asked, but no answer came.

The floor to ceiling windows surrounding the door to the principal's office were clean, but cracked, their safety wire bent. The door was fresh paint royal blue, but the dents in the middle were still obvious. Inside the light was the dim yellow of a salt rock.

Phoenix shoved John bodily through the door, grabbed and redirected him into a chair with a, "Sit."

John sat.

To the secretary, Phoenix said, "This one's trouble."

The secretary, a gray haired, woman with spectacles and thick lipstick eyed John suspiciously. She narrowed her eyes and said, "I'll watch him carefully."

Phoenix slammed the door shut and was gone. The secretary laughed, shook her head and turned back to her computer. The waiting room was a cozy square with the secretary's desk on the far wall, next to a hallway with one door on either side. It was lit by a duo of salt lamps on either side of the secretary's desk.

After a few minutes of sitting in silence John stood up. The secretary eyed him. He sat down. She chuckled. after another minute she said, without looking up from her screen, "Tell the truth but don't embellish the truth. Just state the facts and you'll come out okay in the end."

"Thanks."

"Sure thing kid."

More minutes tick-tocked by. Just as John was about to stand up, Mercedes barreled down the hall, pulling on a thick coat that looked for all the world like a sci-fi movie prop. The coat hissed and tightened as she passed John. She yanked the door open and stopped. She looked over her shoulder. "John," she said, "You are gonna do just fine here," and she cackled and careened all the way down the corridor, and jumped, kicked off around the corner, was gone.

"Osborne, John," A man's voice, wiry, airy, authoritative wafted down the hall. "Come in."

"Yes sir," John stood and stretched and walked down the hallway. His palmed were damp and his ears burned a little as he opened the door and blinked. The Principal's office was sparse, white, bright from lamps in three of the corners and large windows that took up most of the far wall. The Principal's desk was made of thin brass and steel rods, had a laptop and three healthy bamboo shoots on it. In front of the desk, stood two large chairs like gigantic half carved eggs with sticks shoved through them. The wall to John's left was floor to ceiling bookshelf, with the colorful copies of what John assumed were every year book ever produced at the school.

"Huh," John said.

"Please sit Mr. Osborne," The Principal said and gestured at the two comfortable, half egg chairs in front of his desk.

John sat.

"From birth?" The principal asked.

John blinked.

"From birth, or more like Ms. ZZZZZZZZ[Mercede's last name] ah, figure?"

"Huh," John said. He put his hands on his knees.

They stared at each other for what felt like an hour before the principal blinked and said, "Well, that was a poor conversation starter. My name is YYYYY. Phoenix brought you in, eh?"

"Yup."

"No more sir?"

"Thought we were past formality, what with you pointing out my limp and all."

"Touché. Do you know how many kids attend this school? About five thousand. That is larger than many community colleges, but it is a high school. We do the best we can, but the fact that you're here is a sign of something, John. I talk to maybe four hundred kids a year, usually only once, with, hah, exceptions."

"Mercedes is an exception?"

"She is. She is an exceptional exception."

"Is that a good thing?"

"It's just a thing."

"Who is she?"

"She's a senior, or maybe a junior, this year. Do -- did you hear about the Halloween disaster?"

"With the kids and the fire in the house? Yeah."

"She lived through it."

"Huh. I heard there weren't any survivors."

"Reports were . . . confused on the details."

"No kidding." John stopped, his eyebrows rising without his consent. "Why are you telling me this?"

"She mentioned meeting you today."

"Should I be worried?"

"Why are you here, precisely?"

"I think the security guard Phoenix? I think he --"

"We don't bother with gender with Phoenix."

"Like I said, I think, uh, Phoenix has it in for me. I was late to class, to first hour, and then someone jumped me --"

"Who? Grey sweater? When?" YYYYY leaned forward. "When did this happen?"

"Just before I came to your office, actually."

"And Phoenix brought you here?"

"I was going to come anyway, because of the way, uh, I was treated, but yeah. Phoenix brought me."

"How many suspensions did Phoenix give you?"

"None, but two detentions."

"I have to let those stand, but I'm glad you didn't get suspended on your first day of school."

"Me too, sir."

"Sir again?"

"Habit."

"Well. Keep it up, Mr. Osborne. I am sorry about the detentions. I don't think it's particularly fair, but I won't ignore my security officer's choice. Do try to make it to class on time tomorrow, and the rest of the semester."

"Sir."

"Also, it's a good thing today is the first day of classes. I remember being a teacher and not much happens the first day of class. A syllabus gets passed out, names and ice breaking activities happen. You'll be fine. And," he laughed, "You'll have detention to dedicate yourself to homework."

"Very funny."

"Get to fifth hour, son."

The bell marking the end of fourth hour rang.

"Yes sir. Thank you sir. For not suspending me, sir."

"You're welcome. Go. Don't dawdle."

John didn't.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mercedes and John

Senior year and I'm friendless and someone is trying to kill me.


I've lost my train


Too far out.


* * *
Mercedes looked at John and smiled. Her face looked old, wrinkled, loose skin splashed across high cheek bones, but her one good eye sparkled beautiful, vibrant green. The other, John assumed, was bad, under the white eyepatch with a red star emblazoned on it. Mercedes had no hair, but her teeth and eye were snow white, with that emerald splash.

"Hello John," she said.

"Hello."

"I'm not stupid, so you must be smart. To be here, you must be smart," She said. "Let's be study partners, hey?"

"Sure."

They started to trade contact information, but Mr. Porter cut them short. He talked math, and explained who Einstein was, then who Turing was, then who Euler was, before finally explaining who Musa al-Khwarizmi was. After the tour de mathematicians, he started into basic algebra, which John knew. Instead of paying complete attention, he stared at Mercedes: her perfect posture, her missing fingers, her quickly raised hand, when questions were asked. Despite the discrete scouring he gave Mercedes, John was quick enough to talk through a complex algebra question when Mr. Porter called on him.

"Thank you, John. Good eyes," Mr. Porter said. He wrote their homework on the board then recited it and, as the bell rang, asked if anyone had any questions. No one did.

"Where's your next class?" Mercedes asked. 

"Umn, Third building, fourth floor." 

"Science class, huh?"

"Yup. How do you --"

Mercedes snorted. "That's the science floor for building three. I'm heading there too. Walk with me?"

"Sure!" John beamed. 

Mercedes kept pace with John, the two moving like lazy sharks through the bustle between buildings. They talked about the weather and math and traded mobile numbers and email addresses they used on social media and then, half way through a discussion of the latest premium television show Mercedes said, "You know, for a while I had to walk with a cane."

They kept walking in silence. 

As they neared the closest set of doors into building three (A gigantic red brick monstrosity without windows or charm; it's doors faded yellow slabs of metal she said, "My friend William tried to kill me. I don't think -- he didn't try to kill me. He almost killed me. then he saved me. But he saved me from himself, and then he went nuts. Not, like, noticeably nuts, but definitely --and it's not like he didn't have a right to go a bit nuts. Someone was trying to, there were two people who were." She stopped mid-sentence. 

John said, "Huh."

"The elevator is this way, then left," she pointed, and almost poked a blond girl in the eye, "through the cafeteria. I know the code to get to the roof," and Mercedes turned and winked at John, and ran straight into someone wearing a grey hooded sweater.  She turned and saw the guy, a solid, broad shouldered guy with short brown hair and a wide, flat nose.

It might've been pointy, John was paying that much attention, and then it was a wide flat nose and Mercedes was grabbing his backpack straps and throwing him --who was easily  on hundred more pounds than her-- bloody face first onto the ground.  Somehow, she pushed  his backpack off and fell prone on him, got her arms around his neck and John stepped in with a "woa, woah! Woah!" He tapped Mercedes' arm and said, "Killer moves and all, but you bumped into him!"

"Listen, freshman," Mercedes slammed her forehead into the back of the guy's head, smacking his pulverized nose into the floor, "that's cute. Ignorance is cute. Not cute? Grey hooded sweaters and running into me." She stood up and railed her boot toe into his ribs. "This freshman saved your life, asshole."

The guy, bloodied, curled up, moaned and spat blood.

"Let's go," Mercedes said.

John stood for a moment. He looked between the guy on the floor and the girl with the red star eye patch. He said, "I'll take the stairs."

"Whatev," Mercedes said, and disappeared into the crowd.

John turned to help the guy Mercedes had wrecked, but he had disappeared. The two minute warning bell rang.

For the first time in over a year, John swore.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

John and Mercedes Meet

"Really? Don't have time to sell one more coffee?" John shouted. No response from the kitchen. "Shoot," John said. He walked as quickly as he could, gal-lopping through the empty cafeteria.

"Hey, what's wrong with you?" A gruff woman's voice called out behind him.

"What's wrong with you?" John shot back immediately. He turned around and blushed. The woman was a security officer. At least, he was pretty sure it was a woman: short hair, thick shoulders, clean shaved, but effeminate.

The security guard said, "My name is Phoenix McHaine and you are in trouble now."

"What? You asked what's wrong with me! You yelled at me! Because I've got a limp! Don't pull that I'm in trouble crap. Sir. Ma'am."

"Security," Phoenix said, with narrowed eyes. "Where's your class?"

"Just outside. Math."

"I've got my eyes on you," Phoenix said, "Hah hah." mirthlessly.

John sighed.

"Get to class."

"Can you write me a note?"

"No."

"But you've kept me longer than I would have been otherwise. Otherwise I would've been just a little late, but now I'm, like, really late." John smiled and hobbled dramatically toward the security guard. "Please?"

The security guard, Phoenix, looked around and huffed even more dramatically, then, from the inner pocket of the jacket, Phoenix pulled a pad of light yellow paper and scribbled something on it. "There. Go."

"Cool. Thank you."

"Watch your mouth."

"Yes, security."

"Thank you."

John slowly, carefully walked through the now completely empty cafeteria. The two different echoes from his feet followed him.

Walking across the threshold of the portable classroom, which smelled of disinfectant and overly dry air, John tripped and sprawled on the rough carpet, grazing his palms bloody. "Shoot," he murmured.

The teacher, a skinny, young man in a well loved, thrift store suit with a shaved head and lively olive eyes asked, "Are you Mercedes Baker or John Osborne?"

"John. I have a late pass," John held up the yellow slip of paper and the teacher laughed.

"Are you --." The Teacher paused while John stood up.

The name Mr. Porter was written on the board with a flourished P.

"Sir?"

"You must've met our delightful security guard Phoenix," said Mr. Porter.

"Yes sir," John paused, "I was given this late pass."

Mr, Porter laughed. He said, "Sure. Make sure you read that late pass after class. Take a seat. I'll let you off easy since you're not the --"

A girl with a shaved head, an eye patch and gigantic, knee high black boots trip-skipped over John's backpack, still on the floor. She landed quietly and said, "Yo."

"Mercedes Baker?"

"Sir."

"You and John can next to each other in these front rows," Mr. Porter said. He added, trade numbers, you two are study partners now. Welcome to calculus II."



Sunday, November 1, 2015

John Sam Osborne

John Sam Osborne was supposed to be early to his first class. His adopted mother, Theresa Jones, dropped him off in the subdivision behind the high school, two blocks from the back gates, just as he requested. She hugged him and kissed his check and said, "It'll be okay honey. Remember, we love you," and she squeezed him twice more before letting him out of the car. Slightly confused, John smiled and frowned at the same time. He said, "Are you okay, mom?"

"Yeah, honey. I'm good. Love you! Go!"

"I'm, like, an hour early!"

"But I don't want you to be late for you, either, baby! Go go go!"

John smiled with he mouth and eye brows. He said, "Thanks, mom. Love you."

The back gates let onto the school property by the football field and the gigantic set of bleachers. The school track surrounded the football field and in the early September cool thin fog dampened ankles and frizzed hair.

It was cloudy.

John zipped his hooded sweater all the way up and pulled on the hood. It was a light blue hooded sweater. He also wore black jeans and a dark grey t-shirt. He wore well taken care of black work boots, freshly polished and shined. His right boot had a two inch lift on the sole. John kept his hair short, not particularly liking the frizzy curls that sprung out and wafted around like sea anemones when it grew longer than a few inches. His dark skin and dark eyes were soft and full of love even if his cheeks were full of acne. He had an easy, full smile and all of his top teeth and most of his bottom teeth were straight.

He walked slowly and purposefully, and knew that as long as he kept his pace steady, his limp wouldn't be too obvious.

"It's cool. I'll see Mercedes in third hour, and that means we can eat lunch together. It'll be cool," he said to himself.

He tucked his ear buds into his pocket and pulled out the paper map of the school buildings. His first hour class was math, in the portable classroom closest to the football field. The classroom was a modified prefabricated house, marked on his map with :#1

John double checked the room number and decided to get a breakfast snack. According to the map, one of the lunch rooms was to his right, through a courtyard with recessed seating that sometimes served as an amphitheater for drama classes.

Indeed, the cafeteria had huge, floor to ceiling windows and through the cloudy, morning gloom John saw clumps and clusters, duos and trios of students milling about or hunched or sprawled on the lunch room tables.

"Cool," he said, and stopped. There were butterflies in his stomach. John stared through the glass wall into the bright cafeteria. "It'll be fine," he said, out loud. "I got this." He smiled to himself and, slowly and purposefully walked into the cafeteria.

"Excuse me," he said to the first group of students he came to, "I'm new here. I'm a freshman."

"UH huh." said a white girl with short, blonde hair and dark brown eyes that matched her lipstick. "So?"

"Can I get coffee here?" John asked.

"Oh, sure. That way. Go in there." She pointed vaguely behind her.

John said, "Cool. Thanks." and, slowly and purposefully walked into the cafeteria. The cafeteria was very, very wide and had three tiers, with gentle ramps on either side. from the top down to where he had been previously.

The tile was mottled, faux marble and the walls dividing the tiers were made of small, red bricks. It smelled of good grease and citrus cleaning agents.

As John walked slowly and purposefully toward where he now noticed an ENTRANCE sign. He noticed too that conversations dipped as he passed and rose once he passed. He looked around, and everywhere he did, he caught people looking away. "I just want some coffee," he mumbled, but didn't slouch or slow or speed up. "It's coffee," he said.

The line was long and languid. "I want coffee," John affirmed to himself. There were three people in front of him when the five minute warning bell ran. John's shoulders fell, just a little.

The girl next in line started to argue with the cashier. John shuffled back and forth between feet. He looked around; he was the last person in line.

The girl in front of him ordered.

The late bell rang.

The cashier handed the girl her drink and, pointedly avoiding John's gaze, turned off the cash register and walked away through a set of rodeo doors marked: Kitchen: Staff Only.

"Excuse me?" John called out.


Birth

Samantha wiped the sweat from her brow, then the brow of her best friend. Samantha said, "Sarah, we have to go to the E.R. We have to go now."

"No We can do thi --" Sarah's face wracked itself and wrinkled and she dry heaved. Her sharp nails dug into Samantha's arm, squeezed, punctured the skin.

Samantha yelped, tried and failed to pry Sarah's nails from her arm. "We're going now. Period," she said. Sarah puked on herself.

They stared at each other, both heaving. Sarah nodded, once.

The May night was warm and wet and the streets shimmered. "I'll drive," Sarah said, and they both laughed.

Stopped at a red light while a burst of cars passed in front of them Sarah screamed and screamed and Samantha lay on the horn.

The light turned green.

Sarah shouted, "SHIT I SHAT. I SHAT. THIS BETTER BE WORTH IT."

"You what?"

"I FUCKING SHAT, I shit you not. I shit."

"Damnit!" Samantha looked both ways and sped through the red light. Careened around the round about and almost smashed through the emergency room doors. "Out. Now. Go," she shouted as she slammed her door and hopped the hood of the car. "I'll help you," Samantha said, "You!" She shouted, "Nurse!" Then, "Where the fu-ul moon are all the nurses?"

"It's sunday," an elderly man in the waiting room said, unruffled by the car blocking the sliding-doors.

The elevator dinged open and there, for half a second, stood two male nurses: both black, both holding coffee cups, both tall and muscular. One of them had short, bleached blonde hair, the other dreadlocks pulled into a high, back bun. "Well," the blonde one said.

"She shit herself," Samantha blurted.

"Thank you!" Sarah shouted.

Dreadlocks nurse appeared with a wheel chair and, over and through Sarah's objections, sat her in it.
"Right into room seven?" He asked his colleague, who nodded.

"Any idea how dilated?" He asked.

Samantha said, "ten-ish."

"How do you know?'

"We wanted a home birth, but this doesn't seem right, " Samantha said. Sarah started to say something but her words fell apart, knocked about by a scream.

"Parents?"

"On a business trip," Samantha lied. "They're unreachable."

"Okay, we'll take it from here."

"I'm with her."

"You're not family young lady. Wait here."

"No."

"Please! We've paged the emergency doctor."

"No! I'm her family. Please man, come on. Please." Samantha sniffed. "Please," she whispered. The nurse let her into the room, where Sarah was screaming and wrenching, a bloody baby's leg wiggled and writhed, sticking out from between her thighs.

"Fuck," said everyone.

Sarah did not stop repeating the word.

The doctor, a gray haired black man in light blue scrubs and a lighter blue doctor's smock stepped into the room and assessed the situation. "Fuck, eh?" He said and raised an eyebrow at Samantha. Calmly, he said: "Room three is prepped. Get her there. Now." He turned to Samantha and said, "This is an emergency Cesarian section. You cannot be in there. You can wait out side." He put a hand on Samantha's shoulder and said, "I'm sorry, but she'll be fine." Gently, firmly, quickly he moved Samantha out of the way and the nurse with the dreadlocks hustled Sarah's bed through the
door and right down the hallway.

Samantha sat outside the surgery room and stared at the blank, egg shell wall and felt the tear race unending down her cheeks. She laced and relaced her fingers and then, suddenly, Sarah's screaming stopped. In the sudden silence, Samantha repeated prayers and promises under her breath over and over. The smell of cooking pork danced across her nose. Then the screaming started again and there was a crash and a clatter of thin metal hitting the floor over and over. Muffled swearing. More clattering. The nurse with the dreadlocks smashed through the operating room door, clutching his right eye socket, a scalpel protruding from his sliced eye. He said nothing as he careened down the hallway, swaying from wall to wall; shouldering his way into things, then through a pair of double doors and out of sight.

Beyond the double doors, a klaxon spun, hypnotically fast and calm.

Samantha, mouth open, turned back to the door. Sarah was screaming, "Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!" over and over.

The doctor was the next through the door, out of the operating room. His arms slashed bloody, he cradled something, his face pale, his mouth hairline thin. He ducked and ran in the opposite direction of the stabbed nurse.

Sarah was still shrieking, "Kill it" when two burly nurses barged through the bloodied door, one black guy, one white guy equal in stature and breadth. They wore white scrubs, light blue latex gloves and matching surgical masks. One of them wore thick black glasses and eyed Samantha, who was standing now, as they went into surgery room three.

Samantha immediately heard one of them throwing up. She said, "Fuck," and took off, running down the corridor, chasing after the doctor.

Samantha smashed through double doors after double doors, taking turns at random. Eventually she slammed into a set that didn't budge. She noticed the klaxons, still spinning and spinning. She punched the middle of the doors. They didn't move. "Come on!" She shouted. She punched the doors again and shouted, more loudly. Nothing happened.

Samantha sank to her knees. "Come on" she said, hands on her head, fingers in her hair. "Come on, come on."

 There was a hiss, and a beep and a tinny voice addressed her: "Lay down on the floor and put your hands on your back."

"What?" Samantha said.

"Lay down on the floor and put your hands on your back. We do not want any more trouble. Please lay down on the floor and put your hands on your back," repeated the voice, over and over.

Samantha did as she was told. She lay down and put her hands on her back.

The floor smelled like bleach and mints. A moment later the double doors hissed open. Someone zip tied Samantha's hands together and hauled her to her feet.

"Bend your elbows. We're going to sit you down in a wheel chair."

Samantha bent her elbows and sat when commanded to. "What happened?" she asked, as they wheeled her down similar, blank, hallways over and over and then, more interminable hallways. "Where's Sarah? Where's my friend?"

No answer. Samantha clenched her hands and repeated her questions. She asked about the baby; asked about the nurse, the doctor, the baby and her friend, over and over.