After shooting a man while on a bender of drugs he was supposed to sell Conrad flees the city and goes to a place where he believes no one will find him, the home of Simon Winters, an old cellmate from his years in juvenile detention. But he knows he can’t stay for long and Conrad’s greed inadvertently causes Simon to confront his past and his life in a small town where memories run deep. How will Simon survive Conrad’s path to darkness?
Eight years ago...
going to remember me, Simon thought as he walked out of his high school
headed home, anyone messes with me they’re going to remember it. I
might not be big, I might not be strong, but if I have to fight, if it
comes down to it, then I will scar them in some way, I don’t even have
to win, just leave them with something so they remember. He thumbed the
knife in his pocket. His jaw was tight and shoulders raised.
school year had started easily and he was looking for a new start after
the summer he had but over the last few weeks, intermittently, a group
of boys, led by his new archenemy Josh, had begun teasing him. The
first time he had mistakenly thought as they drove by and honked the
horn it was some kind of hello and he had even, foolishly, waved back
but he regretted that the next day and successive days when they would
pass. They honked at him, yelled at him, threatened him, and even tried
to swing at him with their hands and a baseball bat.
was bad enough, but then it became something else as he passed Josh’s
house. He hated that house. That house had been the site of his great
embarrassment just that summer. The year before he had become
infatuated with Josh’s sister Lucy who was in the same grade. He
thought it was mutual. She flirted with him every time they were
together, more when they were alone. She had been flirtatious and he
had been awkward. She would touch and rub against him. He wanted her
badly and had even asked her out but she politely refused.
started with an impulse to see her, maybe something romantic like
throwing stones at her window. It was easy to find but he didn’t have
the courage. However, he found that sometimes, especially if he waited
long enough he could see her undress.
It was his
secret until his mother followed him one night. He was in the darkness
with one hand down inside his pants waiting to see her again. His
mother was quiet, or else he was too absorbed, but she grabbed him from
behind. He let out a scream of panic that became screams of pain as she
struck him. The neighbors opened their front doors. Lucy came to the
window. His mother pulled him to their front lawn. By then Josh and
his father were on the front porch. He remembered Josh was in his
boxers and for a moment he wasn’t sure who should be more embarrassed.
thought for a moment his mother would make him apologize but she
didn’t. She dragged him away and back to their home, made him bare
himself, then spanked him with the belt that had been left hanging in
his father’s office. He felt as if his sin, his mischievous act, had
been beaten from him that night as the pain was burned into his flesh.
he wanted to try and rub that pain as he passed by the house except he
was usually too distracted by Josh and his friends. Sometimes he
thought they would run out and chase after him but one of the boys had
another idea. They got eggs. It became a sporting event. Any day they
got back before he passed they would throw eggs at him, only once
coming close enough to get splatter on his pant cuff. He started to
think about a day when it got worse. He said something, they said
something, or maybe they thought of something else.
was the same as the time before when boys in his same grade made him
take off his jeans and hand them over after school. He had to walk the
rest of the way in a pair of white briefs, trying to cover himself with
his hands and shirt, sneaking through yards if he could but risking
double the exposure. The old people in the neighborhood watched their
yards like a hawk ready to confront anyone who dared cross their
manicured, green lawns. He managed to sneak inside and up to his room
without his mother noticing and he thought it was over. The next day at
school all his classmates knew. Most didn’t say anything directly,
just whispered behind his back, but others, other boys, they teased him,
especially in the locker room. Eventually the principal found out and
confronted the boys, making Simon recount the incident in front of
them. The boys were threatened with suspension and his mother was told
but little else came of it. His mother only tried to console him when
he got home.
But he vowed to himself that it was a
once in a lifetime event. He would only be humiliated like that once.
The next time someone might get over on him, beat him, strip him, but he
would fight and he would mark them, leave a scar in some way. He ran
his thumb over the backside of the blade enjoying the feel of the blunt
edge of the metal. He had one plan for how to react. He wasn’t going
to flash it. He wasn’t going to threaten them. His advantage was that
they thought they had the upper hand.
He walked along
the familiar route, head down. The boys’ car passed him. He felt a
lump in his throat. He got within 100 yards and for a moment he thought
about trying to go some other way, but they’ll know I’m chicken, he
thought, so he continued on. He walked steadily as he usually did.
when they threw the eggs he didn’t try to jump around and dodge them.
He let them hit as they usually did, but then he found himself doing
something else. He turned and gave them the finger. It was a motion, a
gesture that he felt ripped him from path in space and time, pulled him
into some intangible present. The boys yelled and taunted, grabbed at
their crotches and flipped him off. But he didn’t walk away. He stood
there for everyone to see, all the neighbors. The boys began to call
for him, invite him, and feeling half-possessed he walked in their
direction. He took his hand from his pocket as he stepped onto the
“Come on pervert,” Josh yelled.
didn’t want to fight them, not really. He wanted them to stop. He
wanted to confront them. He was the new cowboy in town and they were
the bad guys. He paid little attention to anything else, just them, but
especially Josh. He didn’t notice the grass, the birds in the trees, a
bright blue sky, an airplane passing over, just them. He got within
ten feet and stopped. There were five of them and Lucy, she was on the
porch. Had she organized this as some revenge?
“What do you want pervert?” Josh asked.
“I want you to stop,” Simon said.
Josh mocked him, adding an extra lisp to the phrase. Everyone laughed.
“Quit it,” Simon said.
“It’s not right,” Simon said.
don’t you walk away so we can have some more practice,” Josh said. “We
still have about a half dozen eggs that needs used.”
did you say? I’m giving you a chance to walk away from this. You
don’t want me to kick the living shit out of you. I’ll do it. I will
beat you senseless, maybe pull off your faggot clothes, make you walk
home naked. Post some pictures of that on the internet, spank your
“You’re a moron,” Simon replied. “You sound like
a faggot talking about pulling off my clothes and spanking me. Is that
what your dad does before bed?”
He didn’t know where
the last sentence came from, his skin burned from the intensity of it.
He had crossed over another threshold. There was no going back. He
thought to run away, but when he looked for a path, a direction out,
Josh was too close, they all were.
“My boys here are going to kick your ass,” he said.
Simon stepped back but readied himself.
“Your boys? You need boys? Are you too much of a faggot to fight me alone?”
pulled at his shirt, up over his shoulders and off, threw it to one of
his friends. Several years older he had been going to the gym
regularly. His muscles were impressive, if not intimidating.
“Do you like this faggot?”
“Leave me alone,” Simon said.
friends began to circle him and Simon dropped his back pack to the
ground beside his feet, stepped away so he wouldn’t get caught on it.
He stared at Josh but was wary of the young man’s friends so he kept his
attention open, ready for any move. But the friends didn’t act, they
weren’t ready to participate. They wanted a show, a performance of Josh
beating Simon. He readied himself by raising himself on the balls of
his feet. He noticed Josh was more flat footed, over confident.
Josh moved to grab him he let himself be over taken but grappled back a
little trying to hold him enough, slow him down. He wasn’t prepared
for the blows to his back, his sides, his face. Punches and slaps meant
to embarrass not severely harm, not initially. Josh tried to
manipulate him into a headlock, a chokehold, but he fought back,
escaped. They circled each other. Simon didn’t throw one punch. He
knew he couldn’t get past the long arms and guard of his opponent. He
waited until they were locked up again before he tried his one move by
pulling Josh to the ground. It was a Judo move he had read about. He
didn’t expect it to work. He fell atop Josh who was quick to roll with
him until he was on top.
“I’m going to fucking tear off
your head and shit down your neck,” Josh said between grunts. He
grabbed at Simon’s arms, his wrists, but Simon had one last move. He
reached for his pocket. “I’m going to mess you up.”
didn’t notice. He laughed as he slapped and toyed with his prey. It
was the opening Simon needed as he pulled his knife out. He flicked
open the quick action blade and stabbed up into Josh’s soft belly. He
was surprised by the feeling of it, the moment when it hit and went
straight into him, then when it stopped.
ran down over his hand, onto his shirt, he could feel it against his
skin. “What the hell?” Josh said. He pulled himself away and Simon
held onto the knife. Josh almost got to his feet but fell back on his
ass. He looked around before his head hit the green lawn.
“I’ve been stabbed,” he said.
pushed himself away, first he sat up, then he got to his knees. He
cleaned the blade of his knife on his jeans, looked to the rest of them,
but everyone else was in a panic. Two of the boys were on their
phones, Lucy ran to her older brother, grabbed at him. She wailed and
cried. He had crossed another threshold. He thought about running
home, hiding somewhere. He thought about the attic but there wouldn’t
be enough time. He knew he couldn’t hide from this.
were being called. No one else wanted to fight. He threw the knife
into the dirt before him making it stick up, available for use but also
making him unarmed. He didn’t have a choice in what would happen next,
he told himself. If Josh lived or died he didn’t have a choice, the
past was some violent moment that would pull through the rest of his
life. He felt like he wanted to cry but stopped himself. There was no
weakness, he had been weak once but never again.
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