Earworm: Part 28 — On the Edge

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 27 — Son of a Shrink

William Knight

The moon hung around Hope’s neck. William had called to her, and she welcomed him. They stood atop a high cliff overlooking the calm, alien ocean of William’s dream world. Off to Hope’s right, Hope could see her castle perched on one of the steep cliffs in the distance.

“C’mon.” William tugged on her hand. “You gotta see this, you’ll love it.”

“But…”

“It’s awesome, wait until…”

“But, William, where’s my Dad?”

“Huh?”

“My father? Where is he?”

Confusion betrayed William’s face. “Um… he’s…” His eyes then flickered as if he was hit with an idea. “He’s around. We’ll catch up to him later. C’mon, follow me.”

“Are we going to see him?”

“Yeah, sure. C’mon.”

William began to lead her along the sheer black cliffs. “Below these cliffs,” William said, “are spectacular caves. You know with stalagmites and stalactites.”

“William…”

“It’s like this huge…”

Hope stopped William and turned him to face her. “But I want see my father,” Hope said, taking his hands. “Please, I need to spend more time with him.”

William looked at his hands in her hands, then he looked at Hope. “But I thought…”

Hope caressed his hands with her thumbs. “You asked me what I wanted more than anything. What I want more than anything is to see my father again,” she said.

William stared at his hands in hers again. His shoulders slumped. “Okay,” he said in his best aw, shucks voice. “I mean, of course you should spend time with your father, that was my idea the whole time. I just wanted to take you…”

“Thank you, William.”

“…to this other…” William’s voice trailed off. He looked at his feet.

A familiar voice came from behind Hope. “Hello, My Hope.”

Hope turned to find her father standing behind her. “Daddy,” she said, falling into his arms.

Her father smiled and said, “Ready to see what William has to show you?”

“What? No,” Hope said, breaking from his embrace. “I want to spend time with you. We have so much to talk about.” She took his hand. “Don’t you want to talk to me?”

“Of course I do, sweetheart.”

“Then c’mon.” Hope pulled him by the hand to follow her.

“But what about William?” her father said.

“He’ll be fine,” Hope said.

William didn’t look like he agreed.

“C’mon,” Hope said to her father, turning her back on William. She and her father strolled toward the edge of the cliff, looking out over the ocean.

William followed some distance behind them.

“So, what do you want to talk about?” her father said, glancing over his shoulder at William walking behind them.

“Everything. There’s so much to talk about. I mean, we lost all those years together.”

“But now, thanks to William, we have a lifetime to catch up,” her father said.

Hope’s eyes filled with tears. “I guess that’s right,” she said.

“The past is gone,” her father said. “Now we have a long future ahead, together, here. You’ve found me. So let’s focus on the present. I have missed a lot in your life, so tell me, what is My Hope up to?”

Hope composed herself, forcing a smile. They strolled along the cliff’s edge. William still following. Hope glanced at the castle in the distance, and then looked up at her father. “Well,” she said, “I’m doing well in school. I’m playing basketball, tennis, and I’m cheerleading…”

“That’s exciting,” her father said. But he didn’t look like he really thought it was all that exciting. He looked a little like William at the moment, impatient and distracted.

“I’m just happy, you know?” Hope looked off at the ocean. She then looked to her left and saw William standing at the cliff’s edge. He was occupying himself by picking up stones and throwing them off into the ocean. Each stone carried from his hand for miles, landing far off in the distant sea. She remembered Joel tossing pebbles into the water’s edge on Demon’s Point, and she said, “Oh, and I’m seeing this really great guy.”

William, about to throw another rock, looked in their direction.

Hope’s father no longer looked impatient or distracted. This seemed to be just the conversation he was looking for, and he nodded with approval. “William,” he said to Hope with a beaming smile.

“William?” Hope said. She shook her head, “No, not William. William is… I don’t know what William is. No, this other guy you’d love, he’s…”

The smile dropped from her father’s face. “Not Joel,” he said. It wasn’t his voice.

“Yes,” Hope said, pulling away from him. Goosebumps spreading across her arms.

“Joel Fitch?” her father said. His eyes turned a cold green.

“Daddy, why are…”

Viscous, black clouds erupted from the horizon and snuffed the sunlight. The sea churned. The wind howled a whistling sound in Hope’s ears.

Wwwhhhhhhhooooooo

Hope’s father’s face began to alter. His nose sank between his cheekbones. His eyes narrowed into slits. His mouth sneered. “Not Joel Fitch,” he said.

Hope stumbled away from him, bumping into someone behind her. She turned to find William standing there.

“Hope,” William said, his expression bordering on disbelief and panic. “Is Joel really who you want? He’s who you choose?”

Hope cringed as the clouds unleashed flashes of silver lightning, the wind continuing to scream

Oooooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

The sea was a boiling cauldron, waves cresting and slamming into the rocks, exploding into towers of spray that reached for her.

“Is he?” William said.

“I don’t understand. What do you mean choose?”

“Is Joel your choice?” William demanded.

“What choice?” Hope said, tears racing down her cheeks.

Hope’s father had wandered a small distance along the cliffs. He stood a little ways off, holding his ears and shaking his head as if an animal was trying to hatch from his skull. “Not Joel. Not him,” her father called toward the sea.

“The choice of Joel or me. What about me?” William said to Hope.

The wind howled its call:

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

“What about all this?” William gestured to the angry sea, the black sky, the imposing cliffs. “What about him?” William pointed at Hope’s father.

But her father was no longer reminiscent of the man she loved—or of a human for that matter. Its face distorted and stretched, twisting, its opened mouth screaming in agony, its jaw dropping impossibly wide.

“This is only a dream, all of it, it’s a dream,” Hope said.

“But I’m not,” William said, stepping toward Hope. “I’m real. I sit behind you in math class, remember?” He took another step toward her.

Hope backed away from him, noticing the closeness of the cliff’s edge.

“And the other night… you kissed me. Don’t you remember?”

He continued to edge Hope toward the cliff’s edge.

“Was that supposed to mean nothing to me? Well, it meant someth—it meant everything.”

“It was a dream,” Hope said, trying to remain calm. She would, after all, soon wake up in her bed, no harm could befall her. But she sensed the churning water behind her, and as always occurs in nightmares, although her intellect knew she was sleeping, her senses demanded she was experiencing actual sights and sounds. And danger.

“Only a dream?” William shouted. He stared at her and then tossed his hands into the air with a grunt. “Everything I gave you was real. You’re the one building illusions. You’re the one living in a world as phony as a card trick.” He opened his mouth as if to say more, but instead, he turned and vanished into an unknown corner of his world.

Behind Hope, the waves crashed against the rocks, their spray almost catching hold of her. She peered over her shoulder, the closeness of the cliff’s edge nauseating her. The sky grew darker, the wind fiercer, the castle in the distance more menacing. The thing that was Hope’s father writhed more franticly, and then its head exploded in a flare of green flame, the rest of its body following with a rapid flashover that reduced it to ash and smoke carried away on the wind. Then there came a rumbling roar. Hope turning to find a wall of water hundreds of feet high surging toward her. It was going to slam into her, sweep her from the cliffs and crush and drown her limp body. What if the myth was true, what if dying in dreams meant death in real life? The water approached, she closed her eyes, sensing it coming, and as she fought to wake up, it was upon her with a crash.

Hope flailed her arms as if swimming for the surface, and she sat upright in her bed, gasping for air. Her hand went to her pounding chest, and for a fleeting moment, she grasped her lunar jewel before it melted away in her fingers. She looked around her room, the darkness outside her windows graying with dawn. She looked at her poster, the castle ominous in the ghostly light.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 29 — A Little Company

With Drawn: Part 31 — Who’s Your Daddy?

Jacob's HouseContinued from: With Drawn: Part 30 — Vandal 

Dennis sat on the Walsh’s living room couch. He was drinking a beer and watching the television. Dennis had his feet up on the coffee table and his beer resting on his stomach. This is how Dennis usually sat on the couch when watching television. He wasn’t really paying attention to the television though. He was too angry to pay attention to the television.

Dennis was grumbling to himself, saying, “Condescending little prick. I’ll show you who’s your daddy, you retarded little bitch.” He was talking about Jacob. Dennis wanted to go back upstairs to Jacob’s room and yell at Jacob some more. But Dennis figured that that would just lead to Dennis shoving the kid again. Or worse.

But Dennis didn’t have to worry about going back upstairs because Dennis could now hear Jacob creeping down the steps.

Dennis scoffed. He scoffed because he figured that Jacob was creeping down the steps for one of two reasons. Either Jacob was creeping down the stairs to apologize to Dennis, which was highly unlikely, or he was creeping down with the intent of trying to sneak back over to the house across the street. Dennis thought the kid was crazy if he thought he was going to sneak back over there. But as far as Dennis was concerned, the kid was crazy.

Dennis didn’t bother looking up from the television as he called toward the stairs, “Gonna finally show me some respect, you little brat?”

When no answer came, Dennis looked up from the television to the stairs.

Dennis’s eyes widened, the beer slipping off his stomach and spilling on the floor, the can rolling away in a golden, fizzy puddle. Dennis said, “It can’t be…”

Someone seeing Dennis’s reaction at that moment might think that Dennis was having a heart attack or an epileptic seizure. But what Dennis was actually experiencing was shock.

Shock is a reaction your body has when experiencing something very frightful. The body is overwhelmed by adrenalin, due to that fight or flight instinct, and the body shuts down momentarily.

Dennis was in shock because what he was seeing creeping down the stairs was not Jacob. It was the ghostly figure of Sergeant First Class David Grist. The figure was ghostly looking because it had no color, it was only shades of white and gray. It was dressed in a graphite-shaded army dress uniform, and the thing’s eyes were fixed, unflinching, on Dennis.

Dennis stood up from the couch. Dennis looked very much, at that moment, like a deer about to get its fucking head blown off, and he said, “David… but this… this can’t be…”

The ghostly figure that looked like Dennis’s former best friend reached the bottom of the stairs and it started toward Dennis. The thing reached its arms up slowly, and for a moment, Dennis thought it meant to embrace him. But when the thing reached its hands toward Dennis’s throat, Dennis realized the thing’s intent was far more sinister, and Dennis darted away from it.

The thing continued toward him.

Dennis edged away from the thing, Dennis saying, “This can’t be…”

When the thing reached for Dennis again, Dennis screamed in a high-pitch that sounded like a little girl’s scream, and he ran toward the Walsh’s den, almost tripping over an ottoman and almost crashing into a rocking chair.

The ghostly figure of David Grist followed Dennis toward the den.

Inside the den, Dennis darted to his gun cabinet. He fumbled the keys to the cabinet out of his pocket, Dennis looking over his shoulder and seeing the ghostly figure walking slowly into the den, the thing’s eyes still focused on him.

Dennis managed to unlock the gun cabinet and yank open the glass doors.

The thing continuing toward Dennis, raising its arms again as if for an embrace, but more likely to choke the life out of Dennis Walsh.

Dennis fumbled for the Glock 9mm, finally able to retrieve the weapon, and then he managed to pop a loaded ammunition clip into the gun’s grip. It was the second time that night that Dennis had to retrieve the Glock 9mm from the cabinet, and it was the second time that night that Dennis loaded the handgun, but it was the first time that he actually thought he’d need to use the thing. Dennis cocked the weapon, switched off the safety, and turned.

But the ghostly figure was upon him, and it gripped Dennis’s wrist, forcing Dennis’s hand to turn the gun toward Dennis’s face. Dennis struggled and screamed, but it was futile. The ghostly figure of David Grist forced Dennis to pull the trigger of his prized Glock handgun.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 32 — Freak

Earworm: Part 27 — Son of a Shrink

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 26 — Boxers at the Bell

Joel and Hope walked along Demon’s Point. Hope had asked Joel if he wanted to go for a walk. She said they needed to talk. Ding-ding-ding, went the warning bells. In relationship terms, needing to talk meant one thing: someone was about to get dumped. Now, this conclusion may seem a little paranoid on Joel’s part—to think he was about to get dumped simply because Hope said they needed to talk—but it was more than that. She seemed a little off all day. As if distracted. And it was at the end of the day, minus her customary smile, that she told Joel that she needed to talk. But she didn’t say why. All Joel could come up with was that Hope was still upset about this Tara thing. So after football practice, Joel borrowed his mother’s car to pick up Hope. He should have tried for his father’s T-Bird—at least that way, should she dump him, he could drive away with some kind of dignity. Instead, he would have to sulk away in mom’s Volvo station wagon.

The beach’s dune grass danced in the breeze as the ocean pursued the beach, tiny waves rolling and crashing and retreating with soft, hypnotic thunder. The beach had an overstated emptiness in the low, autumn sunlight. It seemed desolate, abandoned, somehow worn. Two seagulls argued over something hidden in the dunes, and in the distance, a woman walked a black dog.

“Hard to believe this is the same place that was so packed with people, swimming and stuff, only a month ago, huh?” Joel said, needing to break the overwhelming silence. “It seems so…”

“Lonely,” Hope finished.

“Yeah,” Joel said. He then blurted out, “Hey, are you gonna dump me or something?”

Hope turned and looked at him, too startled to hide the shock in her eyes. She burst into laughter. “No. Why would you think that?”

“I don’t know,” Joel shrugged. “You just, you know, had this look in your eyes all day, and then you tell me you wanted to go for a walk, and that we needed to talk…”

“I didn’t say we needed to talk. I said I wanted to talk.”

“Oh.”

“I like talking to you,” she said.

“Really? Why?”

Hope laughed, “Because I like you.”

“Yeah? Good. Because I like you too,” Joel said, picking up a long piece of driftwood and swinging it in small arcs like a batter warming up. “So what is wrong?”

“I just had a weird day.”

“Why was it weird?”

“I don’t know.” Hope said, looking at the ocean as if expecting something to occur over the blue waters. She shook her head slightly, shaking off a distant memory, and turned to Joel. “You want to sit down?” she said, motioning toward the sand like a doctor about to deliver bad news.

Joel paused and peered at her over his bat.

She smiled. “I promise I won’t dump you.”

Joel grinned and flung the stick end over end. It came to rest in the sand. They sat on the beach. Hope leaned forward with her hands clasped across her shins. Joel sat with his heels dug into the sand, his fingers searching for pebbles to toss toward the sea. “So why was it such a weird day?” he said, tossing a small stone. The stone disappeared into the foam of the incoming tide.

“I don’t know,” Hope said. She looked at her knees. “I’m just like, over-tired or something.”

“Maybe you have mono,” Joel said.

“I hope not.”

“Me too.” Joel smiled.

Hope smiled wearily. “No. I’m just not sleeping well at night.”

“What, like insomnia?”

“No, it’s not that I’m not sleeping.” Hope looked out over the ocean with that look again, as if expecting something to pop up over the distant horizon. “Joel, what do you think about dreams?”

“I don’t know,” Joel said, tossing another rock into the foam. “What kind of dreams? Dream-dreams, or like, what you want to do with your life or something?”

“Dream-dreams. Nighttime dreams.”

“I don’t know,” Joel said, a little unsure. “They’re good, I guess.”

“C’mon, Mr. Son-of-a-shrink.” Hope nudged Joel with her elbow and looked at him with her weary smile.

“Son of a what?”

Hope smiled, “Son-of-a-shrink. Your dad runs Ward 6. Didn’t you inherit any of his analytical talent?”

“Well, I don’t really get what you’re asking me.”

Hope looked at her knees again. “I’ve been having really weird dreams lately.”

“Weird, like how?” Joel tossed another stone.

“Weird like….” Hope took a breath. “It’s like a recurring dream, but it’s not the same dream over and over. It’s like a story that progresses each night. Like a movie that keeps pausing when I wake up. Do you get what I mean?”

“I think so,” Joel said. “What kind of dream is it, like a nightmare or something?”

“No. It’s about…” Hope paused. An embarrassed smile snuck onto her face. “It keeps involving… William Knight.”

Joel stared at her for a long moment.

Hope glanced at him sideways, shrinking back as if just admitting she had some bizarre fetish.

Joel burst out laughing, “You’re having erotic dreams about that new kid?”

“No,” Hope squealed, “They are not erotic.”

Joel laughed harder, “No wonder you were asking about him the other day.”

“Stop it. They’re not erotic dreams. Stop laughing. I assure you, I am not having erotic dreams about that new kid.”

Joel pursed his lips like someone trying to hold a spit-take, saying, “Uh-huh.”

“I’m not.”

“Sure, whatever you say.” He let out a nasal chuckle.

“Forget I even said anything.”

“C’mon, I was just kidding. Really, I’m only teasing. Okay, so what about these dreams? My inherited psychiatric skills are at your service. Because it certainly sounds like you’ll need them.”

“That’s it.” Hope shook her head.

Joel straightened his face. “Sorry. Really. I’ll be serious.”

Hope watched him for a moment. “Well…” she paused to read his face again, “he keeps bringing me to these incredible places…”

“Who? William?”

“Yes, William,” Hope groaned the answer. “And I don’t mean anything sexual.”

“C’mon, I said I’d listen. I’m not gonna make fun of you.”

“Okay,” Hope said, glancing at him with another sideways look. “So, anyway, it all starts out by him taking me to these places. Like, in one dream we were flying, and in another we’re in this castle, and… why are you looking at me like that?”

“Nothing,” Joel wiped a smile from his face. “I’m listening.”

“Well, I have this poster of this castle. I’ve had it forever, like, since I was a little girl,” she added, as if expecting another smile to crack Joel’s intent demeanor. He offered nothing more than an arched eyebrow. “And William brought me there, and…” Hope paused, taking a deep breath, “last night, my father was there.”

Joel’s face starved for an expression, but none came. He searched for something appropriate to say, some way to appropriately act. He remembered the day Hope’s father died. Joel was in Hope’s class at the time. Jesus, how long ago was that? Fifth? Sixth grade? They were in elementary school, he knew that. Man, it seemed like only yesterday. Her father was sick, cancer or something, and Joel remembered the day Principal Patrick came to excuse Hope from Ms. Jackson’s class. There was pity in Ms. Jackson’s eyes, and he remembered the other students seemed confused by the sudden weight in the air, everyone’s emotional barometer plummeting. And it was evident on Hope’s face, as she slowly and shakily rose from her desk, that she understood what had happened, as if the Angel of Death stepped into the room to personally tell her what he’d done. Even before Mr. Patrick brought Hope to his office for her mother to break the news, Hope knew her life had changed, her father was dead.

“Strangest thing is,” Hope said—a relief to Joel that she said something first—“I rarely dream of my father. I thought I buried him long ago. But this was so life-like. Like he was really there with me.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“Yeah, I talked to him.”

“What did you say?”

“It was like a real conversation. It wasn’t like a dream at all. It was what I’d actually say to him if he stood here now.”

“What did he say?”

“He asked how my family was and how I’ve been… and he said that William Knight returned him to me, or me to him, or something like that.”

Joel sat in silence for a moment. He then said, “Does William look like your father, or remind you of him or something?”

“No. Not really, why?”

“I don’t know. Maybe William like subconsciously reminds you of your father, and that’s why you’re dreaming that he reunited the two of you.”

Hope stared at Joel. “Wow, that was pretty good.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what happens when your pop’s a shrink. That’s what he’d say your dreams mean, if you believe in that dream-analysis junk.”

“You don’t?”

“Not really.”

“So then, Dr. Fitch, what is it you believe dreams to mean?”

“Well, Miss Ferretti,” Joel said, “I once saw this show about dreams, and on it, this doctor said that during the night, while you’re sleeping, your brain fires off random thoughts, and your brain can’t understand these thoughts because it needs order, you know? So the brain laces these random thoughts together into a story it can understand. That makes more sense to me, rather than people believing dreams are secret messages from beyond and that you can interpret them to tell life’s secrets. When you dream, all the parts of your brain light up except for the part controlling reason. That’s why dreams feel so believable, but it’s also why they’re so weird.”

“Well there’s nothing random about these dreams.”

Joel dug another small stone from the sand and tossed it toward the ocean. It tumbled and jogged into the crashing water. “Do you like this William kid?” he said.

“What do you mean like him? Do I like-like him, or just…”

“You know, do you talk to him, are you friendly with him?”

“I feel somehow drawn to him.”

“Anything else?”

“Like what? Like, do I want to go out with him or something?”

“You did say you’re drawn to him.”

“I think you’re safe,” Hope said. “For now, anyway.”

“Good to know,” Joel grinned.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 28 — On the Edge 

With Drawn: Part 30 — Vandal

Jacob's HouseContinued from: With Drawn: Part 29 — Pecking Order

Dennis sat on the couch in the Walsh’s living room. He was drinking a beer and watching the television. It was night, and when he looked out the front window of the Walsh’s living room, he could see a light on in the front window of the abandoned house across the street.

Dennis rose from the couch and he walked over to the window, brushing aside the window’s curtains to peer more closely at 42 Savage Street. The house across the street’s blinds were drawn, but still, Dennis thought he detected a shadow of movement behind those blinds.

Dennis said to himself, “What have we here?” And he thought about the visit from the real estate agent, Harriet Berring, and he thought about the business card she had given him, and he thought that maybe he should call her.

But then he had a better idea. Dennis decided that he should take care of this himself, being the take-control kind of guy that he was, and he strode from the Walsh’s living room to the Walsh’s den. Once in the den, he strode over to his gun cabinet, unlocking the glass doors, and retrieving his new Glock 9mm. Dennis popped the ammunition clip from the weapon’s handgrip, checked that it was loaded, and then he popped the clip back into the gun. He racked a bullet into the gun’s chamber, checked the safety, and tucked the gun into the back of his jeans’ waistband. Dennis then headed for the Walsh’s front door.

As he walked, Dennis’s mind was contemplating what the reason was for that light being on across the street. Some of the potential reasons that his brain came up with were: burglars, squatters, ghosts, the Hamptons themselves, or teenagers. But he figured that burglars wouldn’t keep coming back to an empty house. Harriet Berring probably would have mentioned if she thought squatters had set up in the house. Dennis didn’t believe in ghosts. And the Hamptons didn’t give enough of a shit about the place to be there. So Dennis decided the most logical scenario was that teenagers, looking for a place to drink and smoke pot, had broken into the house. Or maybe it was a teenage couple using the place to have sexual intercourse. Dennis liked that idea. As he opened the Walsh’s front door and headed down the front steps, his thoughts lingered on the notion that maybe he’d get a chance to glimpse some hot, naked, teenage girl having sexual intercourse. Maybe Dennis would hang back and watch for a little bit, before being a badass like Clint Eastwood and stick his Glock 9mm in the face of some pimple-faced teenage boy and watch as the little puke shit his pants.

Clint Eastwood is an actor known for playing badass characters. Badass is a term used for someone that is known to take control of a situation and who is very domineering toward others. Generally the badass dominates others by being physically aggressive. Most action heroes in movies are like this. These badass people would be known as bullies if the people they dominated weren’t a little meaner than the badass, and the audience hadn’t determined that the villain deserved the bullying.

Dennis crossed the street and stepped cautiously up onto 42 Savage Street’s front porch. He approached the front window and tried to peek past the edge of the drawn blinds. He was able to see a sliver of the room’s wall, and it looked like a grassy field had been painted or wallpapered onto the wall. “What the hell is that?” Dennis said.

He darted down the front steps, running around the house to the back yard. He almost tripped over the basement’s bulkhead in the dark. He regarded the bulkhead for a moment and then yanked on the bulkhead door. He was surprised when the door whipped open.

Dennis darted down the bulkhead steps, but he had to stop as he became lost in the basement’s darkness. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He turned on the phone and allowed the screen’s blue glow to wash the darkness around him. He could make out stairs in the dim light, and Dennis cautiously picked his way through the basement to the stairs that led into the abandoned house.

Dennis climbed the steps, and at the top of the stairs, he eased open the door leading into a kitchen. He stepped through the door, now able to see better as the light from the living room bled into the kitchen. Dennis crept toward the light, reaching behind his back and gripping the Glock 9mm that was tucked into his jeans’ waistband.

Dennis turned the corner into the abandoned house’s living room, his hand tightening on the handgun’s grip, and he found Jacob standing there. Jacob was standing in front of a giant mural painted on the room’s wall. Jacob seemed out of breath.

Dennis said to Jacob, “What the fuck are you doing?”

Jacob didn’t answer.

Dennis spotted a man out of the corner of his eye. Dennis began to pull the gun from his waistband, but he relaxed when he realized that the man was actually part of the mural. Dennis’s eyes narrowed as he recognized the man in the painting. It was his former best friend David Grist.

Dennis said, “What the fuck is this?”

Jacob said, “I’m painting.”

Dennis said, “No, dipshit, this is called vandalizing. Don’t you know the difference?”

“No one else is using it,” Jacob said.

Dennis said, “No one else is… Using what? The wall? Jesus, you really are retarded.”

“I’m not retarded. Stop calling me that.”

“You could have fooled me,” Dennis said, looking around the room, spotting the paints and the brushes Jacob had been using to paint the scene. “Wait until your mother hears about this one. Now get your ass back home.”

“But I’m not done.”

“You’re not done? The hell you aren’t.” Dennis grabbed Jacob’s arm and began to yank him toward the house’s front door.

Jacob wrenched free from Dennis’s grip and he glared at Dennis.

Dennis grabbed Jacob again.

And, again, Jacob wrenched free from him.

Dennis pushed Jacob to the floor, and he strode over to the tubes of paint.

Dennis uncapped the paints and he squirted paint all over David Grist’s face.

Jacob screamed, “What are you doing?”

Dennis grabbed the bucket of water Jacob had been using to clean his brushes, and Dennis tossed the water onto the mural, smearing the paint more. Rainbow tendrils climbed down David Grist’s face. Dennis turned toward Jacob and said, “When I say you’re done, you’re fucking done. Are we clear?”

Jacob screamed, “I wish you were the one dead.” Then he ran from the abandoned house.

Jacob ran across the street and into the Walsh’s house, bounding up the stairs and bursting into his bedroom. He grabbed his sketchpad and flipped to the sketch of his father. Jacob sat down on his bed and stared at the drawing of his father in his focused-unfocused way.

The portrait of David Grist stirred, its eyes focusing onto Jacob, and then David Grist began speaking to Jacob. But Jacob could not hear him.

The drawing stopped speaking suddenly and turned its head as if looking toward the door of Jacob’s room.

Jacob’s door banged open, and Dennis stormed into the bedroom. Dennis was screaming, “Don’t you run away from me, you little shit. I’m not done chewing your dumbass out.”

Chewing someone’s ass out is not what it sounds like. It is actually a term used to describe the disciplining of someone in a berating manner.

Jacob stood from his bed to face Dennis, Jacob’s sketch pad falling to the floor, Jacob shouting at Dennis, “You’re not my father.”

Dennis spotted the drawing of David Grist in the sketchpad on the floor. Dennis snatched the pad from the floor. He tore the portrait of David Grist from the sketchpad and crumpled the drawing up. He threw the crumpled piece of paper to the floor, shouting, “The hell I’m not your father.”

Now, obviously Dennis knew that he was not Jacob’s father. He really didn’t want to be Jacob’s father. What he meant was that he was the authority figure and Jacob was to do whatever Dennis told him to do and to show him respect. Even though Dennis neither earned nor deserved Jacob’s respect. And what’s more, Jacob didn’t intend to show Dennis respect. Instead, Jacob shouted, “You’re an asshole,” which wasn’t a respectful statement at all.

Jacob was filled with anger, and it felt like his anger and hatred for Dennis was going to burst from him. He literally felt like he was going to explode, as if his heart was going to launch from his chest with gooey shrapnel of blood and tissue. And this overabundance of anger spilled from Jacob and propelled him, almost like jet propulsion, toward Dennis. Jacob wasn’t quite sure what he would do if he actually got to Dennis, but still, he was propelled forward.

Dennis was much bigger and stronger than Jacob and he pushed Jacob back onto the bed.

Jacob glared up at Dennis. Jacob said, “I hate you.”

“Whatever,” Dennis said, “Like I give a shit what a retard like you thinks.”

Jacob leapt from his bed and charged at Dennis again.

And again, Dennis pushed Jacob back onto the bed. Dennis saying, “Don’t try me, Jacob, I’m losing my patience.”

But Jacob charged at Dennis again, and this time, Dennis grabbed Jacob and threw him away from the bed, Jacob crashing into a desk he had in his room’s corner. Jacob fell to the floor, writhing on the floor because he had struck his back on the desk, hard.

Dennis said to Jacob, “You better learn to show me some respect soon, because believe me, you don’t want me teaching it to you.” And then Dennis stormed out of the room.

Jacob climbed to his feet, wincing and holding his back. He limped over to the crumpled drawing of his father and he picked it up, Jacob flattening out the wrinkles of the crumpled paper. He stared down at the wrinkled portrait of his father, and the drawing shifted, David Grist’s eyes focusing onto Jacob.

Jacob said to the drawing, “Dad, can’t you help me?”

The portrait of David Grist was motionless, his eyes staring up into his son’s eyes, and for a moment, Jacob thought that maybe the drawing was done moving, maybe whatever magic that had caused it to move in the first place was now gone. Maybe the portrait was again only a graphite rendition of a man long dead.

But then a ghostly, pencil-shaded hand reached out of the sheet of paper like a corpse reaching from a grave.

Jacob gasped and dropped the paper. He stared at it, this time not in a focused-unfocused way, now he stared at it in just a focused way. After a moment, he picked the paper up again.

This time, more of Jacob’s father’s arm reached from the paper, the sleeve of the army uniform reaching out of the page up to the elbow.

Jacob’s eyes narrowed. His eyes narrowed because he had an idea. Jacob looked from the drawing to his bedroom wall. He took his pencil from his pocket and began twirling it through his fingers. Jacob walked over to the part of the wall that was behind his bedroom door. Jacob shut the door and began sketching a life-size figure on the wall’s surface.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 31 — Who’s Your Daddy? 

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With Drawn: Part 29 — Pecking Order

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 28 — Suspicious Activity

Jacob walked down the school’s hallway with his art supplies. It was during class time, so the hallways were empty. Jacob turned a corner and almost ran into Billy Warren, who was coming down the hall in the opposite direction. Jacob tensed. Jacob tensed because he was alone in the hallway with a jock. This was not generally a good position to be in for a social outcast like Jacob. There is a pecking order for students in a middle school.

A “pecking order” determines where a person stands in perceived importance amongst a large group. Pecking orders are not unique to middle school, nor are they unique to humans, for that matter. In fact, the name comes from chicken hens, who, when a rooster is absent, will decide which chicken is in charge by the one that can peck the other chickens into submission. This type of hierarchy is seen in other animals as well, such as apes and lions.

The best example of this behavior, and the one most similar to middle school, may be found in a dog pack, where the most powerful dog is known as the alpha dog, and the least powerful is known as the omega dog. Jacob was an omega.

By the way, the most apt comparison of middle school hierarchy to another human social structure would be a prison.

As Billy approached Jacob in the hallway, he looked Jacob in the eye.

Jacob averted his gaze to the floor.

Billy stopped and said to Jacob, “Hey, it’s Michelangelo.”

Michelangelo was the man that painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, so Billy was making a reference to an earlier conversation where Tim Thayer had compared Jacob’s mural to Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel.

Jacob paused a moment, trying to determine if Billy’s comment was friendly or not. And then Jacob ventured a response. Jacob saying, “The one from France.”

This was actually a funny joke, because Tim had thought the Sistine Chapel was in France, but Jacob worried a moment that Billy would not get his joke.

Billy laughed. Billy saying, “The one from France, that’s pretty good. So, are you done working on your mural for now?”

Jacob said, “Yeah.”

Billy said, “Cool. Then I’ll see you later.”

Jacob said, “Okay, bye.”

Jacob wanted to say more, but there was nothing more to say, but later, when Jacob spotted Billy Warren standing at Billy’s locker, Jacob had thought of something more to say. Jacob saw that Billy was surrounded by a group of friends, all of them conversing and laughing about something Jacob could not hear. One of the students was Tommy Rogers laughing with Billy, but Jacob calculated that he and Billy were now friends, and that he was allowed to approach Billy, and Jacob also calculated that Tommy would now have to accept Jacob because they shared a mutual friend. So, Jacob approached the boys to speak with his new friend Billy.

When Jacob arrived at the group of boys, they all went silent.

Jacob said to Billy, “Hi, Billy.”

Billy said, “Uh… hey.”

Jacob said to Billy, “Do you still like my mural?”

The other boys snickered.

A snicker is like a scoff, only a snicker is more like laughing, whereas a scoff is more like snorting.

The other students looked at Billy, the other students anticipating what Billy’s response would be.

Billy said, “Uh… yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

Jacob said to Billy, “You know, I can put you in the mural. I can make you the football player if you want.”

The other students snickered again.

Tommy Rogers said, “What are you, gay?”

The other students laughed harder.

Tommy said to Billy, “He wants to paint you into his picture, Billy. Sounds like he might be falling in love with you.”

Billy looked at Tommy. Then he looked at the other laughing students around him. Then he looked at Jacob, Billy saying to Jacob, “Dude, get lost. That’s just weird.”

Tommy said, “Weird nothing. It’s fucking gay.”

Jacob said to Billy, “But I thought you liked…”

Billy said, “I don’t like nothing. Get lost you retarded fag.” Billy shoved Jacob away from him.

Jacob looked around at the laughing faces around him. Then he walked away from the group of boys, Jacob looking over his shoulder at Billy.

Confusion squeezed Jacob’s brain and Jacob’s heart. And it would squeeze Jacob’s brain and heart all day. Especially at the end of the day, when Jacob went to the gym to work on his mural.

This is what Jacob found when he went to work on his mural: A series of black squiggles all over the figures of his mural, which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be phrases written in black marker. The phrases were things like this: JACOB IS GAY. JACOB IS A FAG. JACOB LOVES BILLY.

 Continued in: With Drawn: Part 30 — Vandal 

Earworm: Part 26 — Boxers at the Bell

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 25 — Belonging

Emily and Starling sat on Emily’s living room couch. On the television, Phil Hartman did his Bill Clinton imitation, but this week, SNL brought no laughter. There was a feeling between Emily and Starling as if they were magnets with like poles facing—a nondescript, repelling feeling of… tension, embarrassment, what? She could feel Starling staring at her, but she didn’t dare look at the girl. It was Starling’s staring at her like this that caused the whole mess to happen in the first place, and Emily couldn’t let it happen again, because that would mean… what exactly?

The week prior started out innocent enough. Glenn was out with his friends, and Emily had invited Starling over to share a bottle of wine and watch television. By the time Saturday Night Live came on, they were almost through with the wine, and their laughter came easier—partly due to the wine, partly due to a feeling of connection between the two girls. On the television screen, Christopher Walken, dressed in a smoking jacket, pronounced champagne as “champagny.” On the couch, Emily and Starling laughed uncontrollably. Starling doubled over, hiccupping laughter, and she flopped her head onto Emily’s lap, both girls squinting through tears. But then Starling’s laughter stopped, and the girl gazed up into Emily’s eyes. Emily’s laughter faded and she regarded the girl lying in her lap. There was an odd silence, the only sound being the television audience roaring. Then, holding back more giggles, Emily said, “What?”

It happened so slowly, Starling reaching up, taking the back of Emily’s head, and slowly, so slowly, the girl guided the young mother toward her face, toward her lips. Seconds were years, years were seconds, there was no time, only the jumbled universe of confusion whirring in Emily’s spinning mind. And then their lips locked. Emily saw freely for a moment, only a moment, but it was as clearly as she ever saw, like wiping steam from a bathroom mirror to see her reflection. She saw, as if out of body, she and this girl locked in a kiss, and her heart fluttered away.

Emily broke the kiss and leapt from the couch, leaving Starling sprawled across it. A wry smile spread across Starling’s lips. Emily still felt the touch of those lips on her own. It was there that Emily noticed how beautiful the girl was. She looked like a different person. The world was a different world—brighter, more vibrant. But somehow, that vibrancy felt wrong.

Starling sat up and laughed, “You should see your face.”

“It’s not funny.” Emily placed her hand on her forehead. “I can’t believe you just did that to me. That was so… wrong.”

“Felt right to me.”

“Don’t say that,” Emily said. She began to pace. “What were you doing?”

“Just what you wanted.”

“What I wanted?”

“You wanted a kiss, so I kissed you.”

“I didn’t want to kiss.”

Or did she?

Starling laughed again, “Trust me, you did.”

“Look, I’m married. I’m a mother. Not to mention, I’m not gay.”

“If you say so.” Starling stood from the couch. “I guess I should go.” She straightened her clothes and ran her fingers through her wild hair. She walked to the front door and stopped. “You know, being a mother or a wife has nothing to do with it,” she said, and then she left.

But her words stayed. Her kiss stayed. And that look—that perfect, shared moment as she gazed into Emily’s eyes—that stayed as well. And the following days, Emily found herself glancing toward the house next door. And she somehow found herself on the same couch with Starling the following Saturday night, Phil Hartman talking in Clinton’s soft, Arkansas twang. And almost like a junky needing a fix, Emily did want that kiss again. But Emily didn’t dare kiss Starling. She didn’t even look at the girl until Starling said, “It’s okay to want to kiss me.”

Emily turned and looked into the girl’s speckled, hazel eyes, the universe again spinning in confusion, and then she and Starling rolled about the couch, stopping only when the sound of Glenn’s truck pulling into the driveway parted them like boxers at the bell.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 27 — Son of a Shrink 

Earworm: Part 25 — Belonging

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 24 — The One Thing 

William saw Jimmy Ringwald standing in the hallway with Paul Drake and some other kid that William didn’t know. They were laughing about some “loser” not being able to get his locker open. Jimmy looked over from the kid struggling with his combination to William.

Jimmy and William stared at one another for a moment.

A slight, wry smile touched William’s face. Jimmy, on the other hand, looked for a moment as if he was going to be sick. Without a word to his compatriots, he disappeared down the hall. His friends called after him, but he didn’t look back. William didn’t care much where Jimmy was going. William only thought about getting to math class to see Hope.

He arrived at Ms. Bradford’s door, bracing himself for that initial leaping of his heart whenever he first laid eyes on Hope. He also needed to figure out the best way to act. Should he be confident or humble? And should he venture to say something to her today? Initiate a conversation? Yeah, right. Who was he kidding? Hope always turned him into Harpo Marx. There would be no confidence here. But why? After all, he did give Hope the one thing she wanted more than anything else. Perhaps it would be adoration in her eyes today when she saw him. Maybe it would be a look saying, Oh, William, thank you, thank you for bringing me to my father. I don’t know how to thank you. I love you. I love you. That’s what he really waited for, the look conveying those three words that could make both their dreams come true. Maybe she’d sit beside him today. Or would she sit in her usual seat, looking back with adoring eyes, and maybe, just maybe, she’d mouth those three words. I love you.

William sat at his desk, straightening his things, waiting for Hope to arrive. He took out the new mechanical pencil Greta had bought for him Saturday when she went shopping. He clicked out the lead and then pushed the lead back in. He repeated this a few times to occupy his time when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. He looked up to see Hope standing, as if frozen, in Ms. Bradford’s doorway. She stared at him. There was no gratitude in that look. Instead, there was a look that William couldn’t quite read. It was the look of a young child coming upon something she didn’t quite understand. Hope turned and ran from the room.

Her emotional hardwiring was shorted out somehow. Since she’d awaken from that dream about her father, intense emotions—feelings of extreme joy and extreme sadness, of gain and of loss—gripped her at random moments. She tried holding back these flashes like one holding down dry heaves, but any stimulus—seeing her father’s favorite coffee mug in the kitchen cabinet, seeing his pictures hanging along the stairway—caused her to tightrope the edge of tears. And the act of stepping into the classroom and seeing William Knight

It was William that brought you to me.

was like someone hitting her in the face with a shovel.

Hope burst into the nearest girl’s room. She braced herself on the counter and took a deep breath, regarding herself in the mirror. She noticed in the reflection, two ghostly shapes in a haze of cigarette smoke. Janice Bogart and Helen Murphy stood behind her like ships in a fog.

“You okay, Hope?” Janice said, casually blowing a stream of smoke.

Janice and Helen (“Helen Ready to Fuck,” Tara called her) were the remedial tough-girls, but even with the casual disinterest of Janice’s exhale of smoke, Hope detected concern in the girl’s eyes.

Hope forced an all is well smile. “I’m fine.”

“You sure?” Janice said, nodding toward the door, “No one’s fucking with you, are they?”

“No.” Hope smiled again, “I’m fine.”

In the Galapagos of high school Darwinism, Hope and Janice couldn’t be more different. Hope the girl-next-door, Janice more the take-no-shit type. But there was a time, not all that long ago, when Hope and Janice were close friends—a time before different interests and self-perceptions carried them in opposite directions like drifting continents in a widening ocean.

“All right, then” Janice nodded, exhaling a puff of smoke. She flicked her cigarette into a toilet and walked up to Hope, studying her in the mirror. “Let me know if you need help with anything.” Janice gently touched Hope’s back in that way good friends do to comfort one another. At that moment, Hope wanted to turn around and hug Janice. Burst into tears and let her old friend comfort her—as she did six years ago when Hope’s father died. But Hope didn’t hug her. Instead, Hope flashed another quick smile, the one she used to hide behind.

“Yep, thanks,” Hope said. When Janice and Helen Ready to Fuck left the bathroom, Hope looked into the mirror again. She let out a deep breath and said, “Okay, pull it together. It was a dream. What’s the matter with you? It wasn’t real. That kid, William, has nothing to do with it. Knock it off and stop acting like you’re a five year old.”

And with that, Hope headed back to class.

William was sitting in math class, Ms. Bradford standing in front of the chalkboard, writing, in large, shaky letters: CHAPTER 3 TEST FRIDAY. She turned to face the groans of the class with her pseudo-smile. “That’s right, my little chickadees, that’s the last day of this week.”

“But we just had a quiz,” John Doherty whined.

“Well, then that was good practice for you, wasn’t it?” More groans and hisses met her statement. “Now, listen up,” she said. “Each of you will pair with the person beside you and review the chapter.” She surveyed the pairings, glancing at William in the back of the room. William looked at the empty seats around him.

“William,” Ms. Bradford said.

Everyone became silent, turning to look at him.

“Why don’t you work with… let’s see…”

As if by fate, Hope stepped into the classroom.

“Oh, Hope,” Ms. Bradford said, “Glad you could make it. Perfect timing. You get to work with William.”

Hope froze for a moment. She glanced at William, again with that look of an unsure child. She then walked to the desk beside him and dragged it closer to his. He didn’t meet her halfway. “Hi,” she said to him.

“Uh…hi,” he said. His heart felt as if it was about to launch from his chest.

“So what are we supposed to be doing?” she said, her dark eyes seeming unable, or unwilling to focus on him.

“Um… we’re supposed to review for a Chapter 3 test on Friday.”

Hope clucked her tongue. “Friday?” she said.

William shrugged. There was silence between them. William’s heart pounded as he tried to think of something to say. Something to break this overbearing silence. He felt compelled to say, Did you enjoy seeing your dad last night? But he was able to keep from saying it, not wanting her to run from the room again, this time probably screaming as she went. He figured he was better off starting off with something a little simpler. But what? What did he know about her that wouldn’t tip off the fact that he could steal into her dreams each night? “I… uh, saw you cheering this weekend at the game. You did real good—well—you did well. Cheering, you know.”

“Thanks,” she said. The unsure expression in her eyes became a little surer.

There was more awkward silence.

She said, “So did you do anything else this weekend?”

“Me? Uh… no. Not really.”

There was nothing to hide behind. The room was a wasteland of desks. More awkward silence. He nervously pumped the lead of his mechanical pencil. Say something, he thought.

“I got a new pencil.” He held up his pencil, his heart still thudding.

Did I just tell her I got a new pencil?

Hope stared at him a moment, as if trying to solve a puzzle, and then that unsure look drained from her eyes totally. She broke into laughter. The laughter was soft and light, relieved almost, and her eyes became tender. “Exciting,” she said. She then regarded him as if expecting more from him.

He wasn’t sure how to act, how to work his body properly, how to sit the right way in his seat. He couldn’t even get his voice to work, never mind think up something halfway intelligible to say.

Her gaze lingered on him. “You know, I had…” she started to say, but stopped. Her eyes dropped to her book. “Nothing,” she said.

William didn’t pursue the subject.

At the front of the room, Ms. Bradford said, “Why don’t you work with Hope and William.”

Their names used together was like music.

William and Hope looked up to see Debbie Roderick standing beside Ms. Bradford’s desk with a late pass in her hands. She made her way to the back of the classroom to William and Hope, pulling a desk up to their desks.

“Hi, Debbie,” Hope said.

“Hey, Hope,” Debbie said. Debbie regarded William with a noncommittal expression on her face. “Hey,” she said to him.

William wasn’t sure if the word was a greeting, or if it was the beginning of a sentence like, Hey, what are you looking at, loser? But after a brief pause, he ventured to respond, “Uh… hi.”

Debbie sat down and said, “I gotta tell you two what just happened.”

You two? William felt a surge of satisfaction over being included in something—especially something with Hope.

“What is it?” Hope said.

“Donna Marrison and Mandy Bryant got into a fight,” Debbie said.

“No. Really? When?” Hope said.

“Right at the beginning of this period. That’s why I was late, I was getting the story from Jennifer Waltson.”

“Where did it happen?” Hope said.

“In the girl’s locker room. They were getting changed for first period gym class.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, really. They were practically naked, rolling around on the floor, and Mandy bit Donna’s tit,” Debbie said.

William’s jaw dropped.

“Shut up,” Hope said, causing Ms. Bradford to crane her nonexistent neck.

Hope and Debbie bent down, lowering their heads and their voices. William listened, mouth open, imagining the two girls wrestling, half-naked, their nude skin wrapping and touching and heaving and… William tried to brush the thoughts from his mind as he felt a stiffening below the waist. He looked at Debbie and Hope as if they knew what was going on inside his tightie-whities.

“Are you coming, William?” Hope said.

William—sitting bent over, shoulders hunched, hands clasped between his knees—snapped from his thoughts. “What?”

“Are you coming on Saturday?”

“Saturday?”

Hope smiled. “The game. Are you coming to the football game on Saturday?” She spoke to him as if they’d been friends for years.

“Uh… I don’t know.”

“Sounds like there’ll be a major cat-fight.”

“Yeah,” Debbie said. “Maybe they can battle it out as part of the halftime show.”

“I think Donna could beat up Mandy,” Hope said.

“That’s who I’d put my money on,” Debbie said.

“How about you, William?” Hope said. “You want action on that bet?”

“Uh… I wouldn’t bet on girls.”

“Why’s that?” Hope said.

“They always seem to do what you least expect.”

“Smart man,” Debbie said.

There was a brief silence as they tried catching up with what they were supposed to be reviewing. Hope doodled on a loose piece of notebook paper, Chapter 3 Review written across the top. William watched her scribbling.

Debbie said, “I can see it now. Donna getting into the ring with a robe saying, The Kick-Butt Slut on the back.”

Hope and Debbie broke into laughter.

William joined them.

“You three all right back there?” Ms. Bradford said. They could only answer with giggling nods. The rest of the class turning to look at them, all of them witnessing William Knight laughing with two of Bayview’s most attractive girls. He, for once, belonged somewhere. Hope invited him into her world, as he had invited her into his. Only, somehow, Debbie Roderick was better than anything William could ever conjure in his dream world. Debbie Roderick was real.

“All right, play time’s over,” Ms. Bradford said, “Back to your seats, we need to go over a few things before the bell.”

Desk legs grated across the floor.

“Here you go, William,” Hope said, handing him the notebook paper she doodled on. “You might need that to study.”

“Thanks,” William said, regarding the paper.

“Bye, William,” Debbie said, returning to her seat.

“Uh… bye.”

Hope started toward her seat. She stopped and turned to face him. She regarded him with her dark eyes, opened her mouth as if to say something, but stopped. She then said, “You really should come to the game on Saturday.”

“Uh, okay,” William said.

Hope returned to her desk.

William sat in shock, looking down at the loose piece of notebook paper, Chapter 3 Review written across the top, Hope Ferretti’s doodles along the side. He folded the paper, slipping it into his math book like a savings bond into a safe.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 26 — Boxers at the Bell 

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With Drawn: Part 28 — Suspicious Activity

Mystic Island Middle SchoolContinued from: With Drawn: Part 27 — Just Wait 

Jacob stood on the scaffolding in the back of the Mystic Island Middle School’s gym. He was working on his mural, adding color and detail to the figures on the wall. The figures on the wall still had only rudimentary faces. Jacob had yet to decide whom the figures should look like. After all, Principal Cooper said that Jacob couldn’t make the figures look like anyone.

Billy Warren and Timothy Thayer walked into the gym. Billy and Tim had the athletic builds and the stylish clothes known to popular jocks.

They were younger versions of Mr. Barney. Jocks tend to be the most popular kids in schools because kids generally have higher opinions of other kids that can run faster or throw a ball farther than other people. Adults tend to base a person’s self-worth on athletic prowess, too, which is why people that can do athletic things generally get paid a lot more than most other people. The smartest kids, on the other hand, like Jacob, tend to get ridiculed and left out of social situations. And again, the same holds true for adults.

Billy and Tim, walking through the gym, suddenly stopped. They regarded Jacob’s mural. Billy whistled and then said, “Whoa. That’s awesome.”

Tim said, “That’s so cool.”

The two boys approached the scaffolding as they continued to admire Jacob’s work. Billy calling up to Jacob, “Dude, this is awesome. You did all this by yourself?”

Jacob said, “Yeah.”

Tim said, “This is like better than that church in France with the big painting on the ceiling. What’s that place called?”

Jacob was confused for a moment, and then he said, “You mean, the Sistine Chapel?”

“Yeah, that.” Tim said.

Billy said to Tim, “The Sistine Chapel is in Rome, you retard.”

Billy then looked at Jacob and scoffed. But, amazingly, Jacob interpreted that Billy’s scoff was not directed at Jacob, but rather, it was directed toward Tim. And for once, it wasn’t Jacob being called a retard.

Jacob dared to make the scoffing expression himself. It felt foreign to him. Jacob and Billy then burst into laughter.

Tim said, “Well, wherever that ceiling thing is, this painting is better than it.”

“Thanks,” Jacob said. He didn’t get to say that word very often.

Billy said to Tim, “All right, let’s get going, we need to find Mr. Barney.” Billy then called up to Jacob, “We’ll see you later, Jacob.”

Jacob said, “Okay. Bye.”

Billy and Tim walked from the scaffolding, Billy saying to Tim, “That painting is awesome.”

Tim saying to Billy, “It really is better than that church.”

Jacob watched the boys leave, a smile slipping onto his face. This expression felt foreign to him, too.

Meanwhile, across town, Dennis was sitting on the couch in the Walsh’s living room. It was midmorning, and all that was on the television were talk shows and infomercials. Dennis flipped through the channels, finding nothing to hold his interest.

The Walsh’s doorbell rang. Dennis groaned and stood from the couch. He wandered over to the front door and opened it to find a woman standing on the front steps. The woman was middle-aged. She had curly, pewter colored hair and she wore a tan pantsuit. Dennis thought she was dressed like some damn Jehovah’s Witness.

Jehovah’s Witness is a religion. The people that follow this religion will often go door-to-door in the hopes of convincing other people to become a Jehovah’s Witness, too. Dennis, on the other hand, was a good old fashioned American Christian, and although Jehovah’s Witness was actually considered a form of Christianity, Dennis thought the religion’s followers were foolish and an imposition for going door-to-door like they do. Other Christians would never go door-to door to proposition people to join their religion in this manner. Throughout history, Christians liked to do their converting on a much larger scale, going village to village or city to city to convert people, and if the people didn’t convert, then the Christians would often kill the people or take their land. The people didn’t consider this form of conversion as much of an imposition as a knock on the door, because the non-converts were either dead or no longer had a door on which to knock.

Dennis said to the woman on the front porch: “Yeah?” He said this in a very rude way, still thinking that the woman was a Jehovah’s Witness, which is to say, he was preparing to slam the door in her face.

But before she got the door slammed in her face, the woman said, “Hello, I’m sorry to bother you, sir. I’m Harriet Berring.”

“Yeah?”

Harriet said, “I’m the real estate agent assigned to sell 42 Savage Street.”

Dennis relaxed his grip on the door that he was about to slam in the woman’s face, and he said, “About time someone tried to unload that dump.”

Harriet smiled quickly and said, “Yes, well, I was wondering if you’ve seen any suspicious activity at that property recently?”

“Suspicious activity?”

Harriet smiled quickly again and said, “Well, any activity, really.”

Dennis said, “Now that you mention it, yeah, I think I do remember seeing a light on in the window over the past few nights. That suspicious enough for you?”

“You’ve seen lights?” Harriet said.

“Yeah. Why? Something wrong?”

Harriet said, “No. It’s just… it’s nothing, really. If you see anything happening over there again, can you please give me a call?” Harriet handed Dennis a business card. She said, “Thank you for your help.” Then she turned and walked down the front steps.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 29 — Pecking Order