Story

She sat in her room staring at her AC/DC blacklight poster, waiting for the inevitable. Her disassociation was wearing off, letting the sheer panic seep in to her consciousness. She had been caught smoking pot in the school bathroom and her father had picked her up at school. It hadn’t seemed real, sitting in the office with the silence broken by Dawn’s crying. She had worried more about Dawn than herself, and had taken all of the blame, telling them that it was hers and asking them to let Dawn go. In reality, Dawn had come to her at lunch in the school smoking lounge and asked her to get her high. That didn’t absolve her guilt, but Dawn was far from innocent. Regan had always been her best friend’s protector though, and she so had tried her hardest to protect her even then. Her father’s appearance in the principal’s office was like one of her night terrors, her altered consciousness trying to make sense of him in this setting, where he had never been and did not belong. Her mind tried to go away to shield her self and for a little while it worked. The drive home had been silent, Regan staring out the window as she dissociated further, none of it seeming to be real. It was 1986 and she had just started 11th grade. She wasn’t sure she’d make it to the 12th.

The front door slammed, shaking the house, and he came running up the stairs. As she stood and started backing up he shoved the bedroom door open and came for her.

“I am sick of this shit! You are going to straighten up. You are going to go to school and back and that is it, IF you don’t get expelled. ” Regan had backed up against the wall as he advanced. Her father cleared her desk with one angry swipe, strewing her things across the room.

“I am tired of all the black clothes and moody lights and the crap on the walls.” Regan had her room decorated in black light posters and psycho lights above her record player. She felt a pang but knew better than to speak. “You are going to get rid of all of it. You’re a fat slob and all this shit is going to go.” His voice had been rising to where he was almost screaming. Regan had seen this before, many times. He would start off angry and work himself up to violent fury.

When she had come in, she had dropped her belt on the floor. It was her favorite and she had saved up from her job washing dishes to buy it. It was thick leather with a double row of spikes, and the front of it hooked together with a pair of working handcuffs. He picked it up off the floor and doubled it. “You’re going to get rid of this bondage crap too! You’d better not let me catch you smoking cigarettes, let alone pot!” Never mind that he had smoked pot for as long as she could remember.

He advanced on her, beating her with the belt. The metal cuffs struck her arm as she tried to block him, making it go numb. Then he threw them at her, striking her in the chest before descending upon her.

He tossed her to the bedroom floor as she screamed, hitting her with his fists. Her world became broken snapshots of pain and terror as he grabbed her by the throat. Now he was on top of her and she wasn’t sure how exactly that happened, but he was strangling her, his fingers digging into her throat as she tried desperately to pull his hands away so she could breathe, terror infusing every part of her, no longer able to scream as tears ran down her face into her sweaty hair and she couldn’t breathe, eyes wide, the face of her father huge above her as he choked the life out of her.

He released one hand from her throat, but it didn’t help. She still could not breathe and now things were going black and her struggles had lost all strength. Her hands weakly fluttered at his iron grip on her throat, fingers digging into the soft flesh of her neck. He held his fist back, about to punch her in the face before she died, his fist shaking, face red, and suddenly her bladder let go. She was sixteen and she would later be mortified, but she was losing consciousness and she had no control over it.

He released her. She rolled over, choking, gasping for air, instinctively rolling into the fetal position before he could kick her. He did kick her, but it landed on her leg instead of her stomach. She was gulping air, harsh against her bruised throat, but so sweet. Her eyes closed as she sobbed, rolled into a ball on her bedroom floor with her father standing over her. She heard him leave.

“If I don’t get out of here he’s really going to kill me,” she thought as she crawled across the floor, shaking, beaten and in fear for her life.

 

The Hanging Man

Her mother was sad, and sent Reina outside to play. She was filled with anger and helplessness, powerless to help her mother and to fix what was wrong. She ran past the willows and down the overgrown driveway. There was very little pavement left, only crumbling patches here and there among the tall weeds. The Thomsons used to live here with their twins, but after the darkness they had moved away and their house had been torn down. Reina raced up the drive and past the flowering lilac to the old oak. She threw herself down on the carpet of haircap moss that surrounded it, clearing the green of leaves and twigs that had accumulated since she had been here last.

She lay on her back on the plush moss and watched the branches overhead move in the wind, listening to the sound it made as it rattled the leaves. She was not aware she was crying until the acrid tears ran into her ears, wetting her hair where it lay spread across the ground. She dug her fingers into the thick moss, feeling the cool sponginess of the earth beneath. She worried about her mom a lot, and she tried to make her laugh, but sometimes nothing she did seemed to help. During these times, her mother didn’t seem to be all there with her. She was preoccupied and didn’t really hear what Reina had to say. Reina remembered telling her about seeing a snake in the woods and her mother’s disappointing response of “That’s nice”. Reina had thought it was exciting. She had almost died and her mother had been unimpressed!
She rolled over onto her tummy and watched a beetle trundle across her carpet. She moved a twig out of its way absently. She was only six so she didn’t think she was big enough to help her mom out. Reina got to her feet and walked over to where the Thomson’s house used to be.

Her uncle had driven her up here on the back of his dirt bike after the Thomson’s had moved out but before the house was torn down. The front door had been standing open and her uncle stopped the bike across from the house. The front door opened onto a small landing, and stairs led to the upstairs of the old farmhouse. He told her that the man who lived there had died and it was now haunted. Reina, staring wide eyed into the abandoned house, saw the outline of a hanging man through the open doorway. He appeared to be hanging from the unseen upstairs, dangling over the front door landing. She couldn’t see any of his features. She couldn’t see what he was wearing or what his face looked like; she could only see the black man-shape. Reina had been filled with dread and had started to cry. It wasn’t that she couldn’t see his features, it was that he didn’t have any. The hanging man was just a negative space shadow, and the figure of him hanging there through the wide open door was somehow obscene. Her uncle laughed at her, teasing her, but she begged him to leave, half hysterical until he drove her away from the house and sped her through the woods to get her laughing as she clung to his waist.

After that, she did not go to the house again until after they had torn it down. Thinking it safe, she had gone excavating in the demolished house’s basement. It was full of broken brick and beams, and was irresistible to an adventurous six year old. She was down in the basement, pleased at having just found some blue chalk, when she felt she was being watched. She looked up and saw a man standing on the ground above, watching her silently. He did not make a sound, and she did not recognize him, but Reina knew instinctively that he was a ghost. She scrambled to climb out of the ruined foundation while he watched. He did not speak, or threaten her in any way, just gazed at her sadly. Once she extracted herself from the ruins, scraping her leg on a nail as she did so, she ran like a rabbit, hiding in the forest until her heart quit pounding against her chest. After that she was cautious, sneaking around the old property and keeping clear of the ruins until they were filled in.

Today she was preoccupied and was not thinking about the hanging man or the ghost. The cliffs were on the other side of the property, and they fell steeply down to the gravel pit where small pools were filled with tadpoles and snakes hid in the red clay cliffsides. She was not allowed to play down there, but she had been down there often, although normally with her cousins.

Night

I have always loved being out in the night. I grew up in a very rural area and it was never hard to find a place that was truly dark. Living along the Chesapeake Bay, I’ve spent more nights than I can remember listening to the sound of the waves lapping against the beach, scattering driftwood and debris across the rocky sand as the tide rose. The water is inky black at night, with sparks of light from the docks, or the moon, or simply the stars. There is a sound to the night that I’ve always found hard to describe. It’s like noises echo differently in the darkness, but there is also a sort of low pitched hum that sends waves of yearning through me. I never knew for what, but I think it was just adventure, romance, drama, all those things that make you feel alive like nothing else in your life. All those things that make you feel young and electric, and that so many people discard as they grow older. I can feel this hum quickening my blood, filling me with possibilities and making me drunk with need. It’s a little like delirium, bubbling up through me and making me fey.

My friend used to call me the dangerous type, but these nights were the only time I actually felt dangerous. I felt like I was overflowing with possibilities, with sensuality and a certain kind of violence, and I believed that anything could happen. My impulsivity bubbled up and I would let go of the reins just to see what might happen. I think the cover of darkness allowed me to be my real self, my wild core that most never get to touch. That’s where a feral child of the forest still lives. She knows that the world is full of magic and that magic is often dark and razor-edged. That child has rituals to keep the world in order.

It’s not just the sound of darkness, though. It’s all senses being engaged differently at night. The wind on a summer night carries a promise that the daylight lacks, and the feel of it on my skin is soothing even as all my nerve endings are on alert. It promises so much. I miss the moon.

Camping

They had hiked miles into the forest, deep into the cool dim green of the Blue Ridge mountains. Kayla’s father had set the tent up near a mountain stream and they hadn’t seen other people since leaving the trail that morning. A fire pit was built near the tent, backpacks were strung up in the trees and perishables submerged in the icy cold of the stream. That night as the adults sat around the fire, she heard her father say he was going to put meat out to attract the bears. She had seen bears before. large black lumbering shapes sometimes raiding the trash cans at the picnic areas, but she had never seen one up close. Kayla pictured herself befriending the bear, sinking her fingers into the thick fur to scratch behind its ears. The bear would carry her into the forest on his back and show her secret things. Her new friend would protect her, roaring his disapproval at her father’s dark temper. She wondered what the bear’s name was.

Kayla wiggled into a sleeping back in the tent for sleep. Her mother smoothed Kayla’s fine blonde hair back and kissed her forehead. She thought her mother was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen and was filled with a fierce, helpless love as she looked up at her. Her mother was unhappy sometimes and during those times nothing Kayla did could earn her mother’s smile. Today she had been happy and smiling though, so Kayla relaxed and fell asleep to the sound of night insects, cracking branches and the uneven drip of acorns hitting the tent.

She was pulled out of sleep suddenly. It was pitch black inside the tent and she was alone. Her head was pressed against the back wall of the tent, and she felt something moving on the other side of the orange fabric. There was a low snuffling sound only inches away, and Kayla felt something large outside the tent, pressing against her head. She froze, feeling it slowly slide across the top of her head. It seemed to take forever to pass while Kayla lay perfectly still, trying not to breathe. She heard odd groaning noises, and moving as quietly as she could, she squirmed her way out of the sleeping bag and crawled to the door of the tent. Whatever was out there was big, and she tried to quell the fear gibbering in her mind. She pushed one flap aside and saw her parents standing by the fire in the darkness. They were silent but her mother saw her and beckoned her near. There was a large black bear on the other side of the camp fire, just past the tent where Kayla had been sleeping. Her mother put her arm around her shoulders, and Kayla rested her head against her mother’s hip, watching the bear smelling the leaves. He seemed enormous to Kayla and his eyes mirrored the firelight.

 

Writing exercise

If I don’t get in the habit, I’ll certainly never do anything.

The first time I saw him was at a carnival when I was fourteen. I had just moved to the area, knew no one, and was not at all happy to be in a new town and to be starting a new school. We moved over the summer before tenth grade, and I had ridden my bicycle into town. The sky was just darkening towards twilight and I was circling the small carnival. I was getting a lot of stares and lewd comments, but being fourteen and feeling out of place, I had no idea how to handle them and just kept walking.

I slowed in my circuit for a moment, debating on whether to leave or not, when I felt someone staring at me. I looked up and froze. The source of the attention looked a few years older than me. He was working one of the carnival rides, dressed in jeans, boots and leather, and I was immediately attracted to him. He stared at me with a strange intensity, leaning on the ride lever, one booted foot resting on the step. He was tall, with long, dirty blond hair and had a dangerous look to him that was what I really liked. Even at fourteen, I liked the bad boys. He nodded at me and I smiled, but then left the carnival, confused.

I saw him another day as we drove through town, on our way home, and he stared at me as our car passed him on the street. The third time I saw him was at the County Fair. I had met some of my friends there and hung out with them, while my stepmother had my brother and stepsister with her. The fair had carnival rides, games, barns full of livestock from the 4H club, and car shows complete with smash up derby on the weekends. It seemed huge to me and we were busy most of the night. Towards the end of the night, I was going to meet up with my stepmother, and looked up to find him again, passing me and talking with some friends, but staring at me. I only saw him for a moment, and was still registering that it was him, when he ran up behind me.

It was noisy at the fair, and so he leaned over and spoke in my ear, “I see you everywhere I go, but I still don’t know your name.” I turned and told him it was Julie, then asked him what his was. He said his name was Sonny. About this time, I saw my stepmother waiting for me to leave. I was disappointed and tried to stay for a few minutes longer. I don’t remember what else was said. I think he asked me where I lived before I had to go. He said he knew he’d see me again.

My stepmother asked about him and I brushed it off. He was a big guy, wearing leathers and biker patches, so I think she was a bit concerned. My fourteen year old self, however, thought this was the most romantic thing that had ever happened to me. I spent no little time daydreaming about him.

I didn’t see him again until the school year had started up. My art class was open to various grades, and he walked in and sat at my table. I found out he was sixteen and that his real name was George. He just wanted people to call him Sonny. “George” wasn’t quite as mysterious but that was not a big deal. We became friends…and I started hanging around with him and his friend Scott some nights. It was just friends, but there was always a tension between us.

This was the start of a long history, and I think I’ll write more about it tomorrow.