Every Friday night we feature a short story, essay, personal narrative,
poem, spoken word, or short film for your enjoyment.
Tonight’s short story is from Jason Arias
Regardless of what you’ve heard, it had nothing to do with adolescent Satanism or the increasingly dangerous nature of high school hazings. The students of Freeley High, Go Flamingoes! had nothing to do with it. I know. I’m one of them. So you may disregard all that parental background static with a tongue-air-lick, quick-hip-twerk, and three-slow-shakes of the head, because I have the real story on how they made Dillon hideous.
Okay, maybe hideous is a bit harsh of a term to describe what’s left of Dillon McDowell. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still cute and all, just no longer in that I still have all my digits and eyes kind of way. I mean, he’s not straight up sexy anymore, but he’s still sexy. He still puts the ‘O’ in…
…OMG, I can’t do this. I can’t tell you in good conscience that Dillon’s still dreamy.
Think Walking Dead. Think clunky body mechanics. Think, chunks missing.
I know it’s totally not his fault, but the only dreams I have with Dillon in them anymore are nightmares where he’s screaming, because now I know how Dillon screams. I know how he sounds crying for help and choking on his own teeth.
I know how the pitch of his voice becomes gargled when Mr. Edwards is trying to rip his tongue out of his mouth, between his forefinger and thumb like he’s twisting the top off of a sports drinks. I know how Dillon drools now, because now he drools ALL THE TIME in the back of my history class from his totally un-sporty wheelchair contraption. He drools in the halls between classes. He drools in the cafeteria at the table no one sits at. Those hopped up parents destroyed him that night, and it’s all stuck on auto-repeat in the iPod of my mind. There’s no erase button. There’s no tiny trashcan to permanently delete.
I mean, ninth grade is supposed to be about fitting in and learning how to smoke pot from a soda can, but our parents took all that away from us the second they decided to make an example of the most outspoken, well liked, and good looking guy at Freeley High. They forever changed the fear dynamics in our town. When I see my parents now, I hear those screams. I can’t help it.
Let’s face it, before the unprovoked bludgeoning, and systematic torture, of a fellow Flamingo, Go Flamingoes! we had our parents afraid to fart sideways. It’s like you turn ten and suddenly your parents are asking you if they can go out for the evening. A couple of kids get wrist scratches from tree branches and suddenly every parent thinks their kid’s a cutter.
They’re saying, “We were thinking of getting Sarah to babysit, Honey, what do you think about that?” while getting all teary from just looking at you too long. They’re running around the house hiding all the sharp objects while asking, “Are you okay being left with someone besides us?” and reconsidering and saying, “Better yet, we’ll just stay home and talk about all the reasons why we should never, ever, hurt ourselves.”
Before you know it they’re locking the Sudafed in a fire-proof safe, just in case you decide to cook Meth in your Holly Hobby Play Oven (which, BTW, I haven’t touched since before I was ten. Who would? Who cooks under a single light bulb?)
My point is, we had our parents overwhelmed with worry. Maybe we took advantage a little bit. Maybe I used that fear against them just a smidge.
Maybe it’s still like that for you, wherever you are, but here it’s different. Now, in Freeley, Go Flamingoes! we say, “Jump” and our parents just look at us. They look passed us and out the kitchen window into the streets of this parent-whipped town. They’ve lost their minds and acquired great power. And with great power comes increasing hysterectomies. I’m not joking. Trust me, you don’t want to hear your mom say, “They’re getting rid of all my plumbing thanks to you!” and have to look up what that means. I was at Judy’s when her mom told her that. It was, like, grossly sad.
Before, we had our parents off balance, but now every parent has one foot firmly planted on the ground and the other planted in your ass. Moms leave their Valium-equivalent spilled on the countertop just to see if you’ll bite, because now they bite back. Just look at what’s left of Dillon’s right thigh and left lower triceps for proof of that. They don’t look it, but those are human teeth marks.
And he had great pecs once. Point Guard Dillon McDowell! Go Flamingoes! State champions two years running. But now he’s lost most of the flesh on those pecs and we’ve lost any power we once had. Nowadays any parent will straight up tell you, “You can’t hurt yourself as bad as I can,” and mean it. They’re the victors, and they’re trying to rewrite what happened last May, but you have to trust me, it wasn’t three drifter-kids wearing black skinny jeans and upside-down crosses that destroyed Dillon that night in the graveyard; it was the preacher and his wife, the farmer and Adele. Don’t believe every stupid thing you read on the internet. If you’ve seen that video, then you’ve heard his screams. But those aren’t fuzzy demons surrounding Dillon, those are human parents. iPhone cameras are shit at night.
Look, parents are old, old people are invisible, and the dead never even existed. Instead of worrying about ghosts you should be a little more wary of the adults you live with and hope they keep putting food on the table. You can’t predict what a mom or dad will do next. We just pray our parents lack imagination.
I know kids that have snuck out at night and crawled back into their bedroom windows, to find loaded bear traps underneath the blankets on their bed. Other kids don’t finish their “veggies” at dinner and wake up the next day to an entire Instagram album of pictures of them sleeping, all nasty-mouthed and hair-jacked, attached to links like #Freeleytrollgirl or #whatwentwrongwiththisflamingo? or #wheredidthiscrawloutof?
This girl, Lori McIvers, went away to camp and one of the counselors there caught her smoking weed, and by the time she made it back home her parents had vanished her entire bedroom. We’re talking about medieval punishments here. Lori’s dad actually removed the windows and matched the siding (or whatever) on the outside of their house, and walled up her bedroom door like her room never existed. Like she was never there.
They got rid of all the pictures of Lori on the walls and disappeared the photo albums. She had to get a ride home with some other kid from camp she was smoking with. And when she got back to her house her parents didn’t even acknowledge her. They acted like they couldn’t hear, or even see her. She had bruises from them trying to walk through her. Lori McIvers haunted her own house for like a week before they let up. But even then it was this whole deal of her mom and dad saying stuff like, “What is that I hear? Is that someone ready to be a good girl?” and “Only good girls get scraps.”
I hear stories about Esteem Stomped Lori now and they’re all scary as hell. Somebody told me her parents actually carry treats for her in their pockets. Imitation pigs ears or tofu jerky or something.
The point is, all of this started at Carter Cemetery, up on the hill behind the high school, on that May night after the PTA meeting and I’m not really sure why.
I want to stop revisiting that night, but I also want you to know the truth, and it’s not as easy as you might think to get it out. Our parents are smarter than DHS, or PETA (or whatever it is that protects kids now.) Plus the people that work at those organizations are parents too, and somewhere there’s a kid that’s gotten over on them. Our parents aren’t as stupid as they try to look. They shuck blame. They eye roll. They never LOL like they used to. But I hip-twerk-finger-wag-sidestep, I should probably get to the point already.
It was back in May when it happened, not quite dark, but getting darker. It had been, like, this totally gorgeous early summer day, and a couple of us were on Kendra’s back porch texting each other and Instagram-ing pictures of Lucy’s haggardly chipped nails. I mean those nails were GROSS! She probably literally ate paint chips as a kid, because she clearly had a taste for it.
Anyway, I think it was Chad that texted back:
WTF? lks lik lucy cralld from a grave or sumthng, when he saw the photos.
So technically, I guess you could probably pin at least part of the blame on Lucy and her disgusting finger chips. If she hadn’t had such an oral fixation maybe our lives wouldn’t be ruined (Dillon’s more than most.) I guess Chad had a part in it too. It was his idea to meet up at Carter Cemetery after dark that night. It’s just so hard to vilify Chad with those David Duchovny eyes and that cute little butt of his.
Long story short, Paint Chip Lucy and Chronically Uptight Kendra and Princess Suzy and Chain Smoking Cindy and Bulimia Wendy and me, met up at the cemetery with David Duchovny Chad and Varsity Ricky and English Accent Lars and Ripped Jean Tony and (at the time) Dream Date Dillon, and a handful of other who-ever-s. It was just a simple game of graveyard hide and seek. Nothing big. If you were lucky you could catch a make-out session with one of the hotter guys while everyone else was hiding. And the whole ‘Graveyards are scary’ thing? Please. It’s a headstone. It’s just words telling an ultra-short story. Last time I checked that’s what Twitter was.
My phone was blowing up on vibrate from my parents calling and texting me like a million times.
I was ignoring them.
Dillon was It.
I was hiding behind the headstone of who knows who (just some dude that probably never existed or some girl that died of plain-ness.) By now my phone was going off in my pocket and instead of vibrating is was singing Miley Cyrus. I’d switched from vibrate to ringtone because I wanted Dillon to find me. But he didn’t. He never got the chance. Instead, they found him.
I keep thinking that if I hadn’t been so consumed with how Dillon’s lips would feel on mine, or if my phone hadn’t been ring-toning Party in the USA, I might have heard the footsteps of the mob of angry parents marching up the hill all fired up.
I might have heard their teeth grinding and their pocket change jangling and their mom jeans bunching.
But I didn’t. And Dillon was It. He was the one out in the open.
I guess you could say he saved me without trying, because when that mob of tired looking parents found him out there, all cute and searching, they just freaking unloaded on him. He didn’t do anything. But they didn’t care.
Something had changed in them, and don’t ask me what. Just know that if you find this, my story, out there, that it’s real. Heed my warning, or whatever, maybe try keeping your parents busy with other shit. Keep them bragging about you to their friends. Join as many teams and extracurricular crap as possible. Keep their heads ringing with school spirit. Go Flamingoes!
Keep them focused on how many points you score or how high your grades get. Join the goddamn math team if you have to (get over it already, they’re just numbers, it beats living in fear.) I don’t want to relive this, but I’m going give you a taste of what I saw so that maybe you can get a clear idea of just what it is you’re trying to avoid.
Behind that headstone (of someone that probably never existed) I saw what looked like Mrs. Lipinski take her time on each of Dillon’s hands with what could have been my dad’s yellow pliers. And the sound of the pulling: think branches snapping. The fingers Dillon has left never grew back nails.
I watched what was probably Mr. Jenkins gather things from the ground and begin to hammer them into Dillon’s feet with what was possibly dad’s red handled hammer.
For playing graveyard hide and seek past curfew (post-PTA meeting) Dillon’s limbs were each tied to a different tree in the pioneer section of the cemetery using hand towels that could have come from the gym hamper, or our closet, and Mr. Gordon went at him like a Thanksgiving turkey with what was most likely his pocket Leatherman. Dillon screaming. The town preacher took to bludgeoning him with his Bible. Dillon screaming. The farmer began twirling and thrusting with his pitchfork and singing turn of the century country hymns, or some such repulsiveness, in a high pitched voice. And at some point Dillon’s screams became whimpers, like he forgot how to make noise right. Like he gave up trying. Blood doesn’t even look like blood in moonlight; it looks like it could be any condiment.
I know, gross!
But you have to hear this. This can probably, like, happen to you.
I’m not proud of it, but as Mrs. Foray started pulling something that looked like a giant turkey baster out of her purse, I just sat there and did nothing. Mostly nothing. I whimpered along with Dillon from afar. As Mrs. Martin took her nail file to his face and began scraping and stabbing I turned my ringtone back to vibrate. I closed my eyes. I made a mental note to tell Tracy she was my BFF, if she wasn’t next; if she’d found a headstone big enough to hide her ass. (Her ass wasn’t huge or anything, but it was bubbly. I could see how it could be kind of hard to hide. Sorry Tracy. Don’t hate me.)
I promised, then and there, in the midst of Dillon’s screams, to someday take revenge for my fellow Flamingo, Go Flamingos!
But, really, I might be past revenge at this point. I’m so uber exhausted from the extracurricular activity of keeping my parents busy. I could really use a good night’s sleep.
Maybe it was this kind of desperation that made them snap in the first place. I didn’t see my parental-whatever’s there that night at the graveyard, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t. I can only hope they were being more responsible than that, but I don’t know. I don’t really know them anymore. And they’re so easily influenced by the neighbors.
Look, I got to go now. I’m writing this from the bathroom of my self-defense class (another parental distraction). They’ll get suspicious soon. Actually, this class is more than just something to keep my parents out of trouble. It’s preparation for me, too, just in case. I’m taking the class with Tracy (yeah she survived; her ass is like hard as a rizzock now.) And this bathroom is the one place I think I might be safe from their (my potential parental crazies) scrutiny.
They’ve got nanny-cams set up all over our house now. It’s the new fad here. I keep finding them everywhere. If you’re smart you’ll know that that adorable teddy bear is really something else.
But maybe the distractions are helping them—my parental-something’s, my could-be-killers. They seem less angst-ridden now that I’m on the volleyball team, and into cheerleading and, volunteering at the Y lifeguarding.
I just hope we can turn the vibe around in Freeley, Go Flamingoes! maybe not to how it was, but to some kind of in-between. I just want to be able to talk to them without hearing Dillon’s screams in my head. I want to ask them if they were there.
But I don’t.
Any kid with a teaspoon of brains knows that there are some things best talked around. So if this letter does make it into non-wrinkled hands, don’t be an idiot. Don’t Tweet portions of this message to anyone.
Would you suck face with an active case of herpes?
Don’t spread this like a disgusting disease. Talk about it in safe places that aren’t accessible via Wi-Fi from everywhere. Parents are more cyber-geek than you think. They may suck at hand-eye coordination, but you better believe they have a friend of a friend of a friend that is the second uncle to that guy at the Dairy Queen that you’re texting topless photos to. Don’t trust every goddamn new thing. Think for yourself for a minute.
Just so you know, Tracy and I are getting pretty good at kicking ass. I broke a piece of wood with my hand the other day. I’ve got archery lessons starting in the spring. You might want to do the same; not only are they great distractions (for them), but they just might save you someday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you’re going to have to throat punch your mom or anything. I’m not condoning violence here. I’m just saying they’re impressionable, insecure, and middle aged. Look, they know knots, and what they do. I’m just appreciating the no-duh-ness of at least knowing how to protect your ass (be it bubbly or otherwise) against parents and crazies and potentially crazy maiming parents.
Plus, you don’t want to end up as just another headstone in some lame-ass place like Carter Cemetery, with some kids making out over your grave thinking you never existed. Or worse yet, be the used-to-be-dreamy hero drooling in the back of some math class. Or worse still, be me, the coward behind some tombstone just letting shit happen, too afraid to move, with Miley’s Party the USA stuck on auto-repeat in the iPod of your mind.
Trust me; there are better songs out there to haunt you.
Jason Arias lives in Portland, OR with his wife and two sons. Some of his previous work can be found at Blue Skirt Productions, Nailed, the Nashville Review,Perceptions Magazine, and in the anthology (AFTER)life: Poems and Stories of the Dead.