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Fox Hills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fox Hills

Sherry Wood

Copyright 2016 Sherry Wood

Shakespir Edition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Mom. I miss you every single day and hope you are hearing plenty of Elvis songs in Heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beware of monsters. But also men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kiki is not out of the woods yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just because you’re paranoid

Don’t mean they’re not after you

 

Territorial Pissings, Nirvana

 

They are the hunters

We are the foxes

 

I Know Places, Taylor Swift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 1

Game Lands

 

 

 

Part 2

Pazuzu Eating Sushi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 1

Game Lands

1

If you said Fox Hills, North Carolina to someone, they would either make a horrified face because it was the place of a gruesome triple murder thirteen years ago, or they would shrug in boredom because they hadn’t heard of it. Ah, some town in North Carolina that was like every other town in North Carolina: Churches, fast food, trees.

It certainly didn’t ring a romantic bell like, say, Paris. Speaking of Fox Hills was more like ringing a dark, old bell if you knew what happened there in the early 2000s. When I told my friends back in Georgia I was moving to Fox Hills, not one of them followed up with anything like, “Are you excited?” or “Are you scared?” or “Doesn’t it suck to be moving there to spend your last year of high school?”

My answer would have been yes to all of them, should someone had been concerned enough to inquire.

Fox Hills was a hunting ground. There were deer and bears living in the deep Fox Hills forest, as they should have been, and my dad was looking forward to putting his rifle to good use to kill them all for all decor. He even knew a creepy taxidermist named Fred Nobleman.

The echo of gunfire, the smell of campfire – these were the things that made up Fox Hills, North Carolina.

Our new house was in a woodsy section – but most of Fox Hills could be described as woodsy/churchy. Ugh. This was where men captured wild, beautiful animals, ripped them apart, gutted them, and hung their heads above leather sofas. This was my new home. My new motherless home. Our entire house had been built in about a year. It was so quickly assembled and I just hoped it wouldn’t collapse on top of us. Unless I got bored enough there, and then I might change my mind about that.

The sleepy town’s nightlife consisted of a dive bar, a fish and chips place called Jim’s and John’s, a shooting range, a rundown ABC store and a grocery store chain called Lucky Lion. That was it – that was literally all there was to do in Fox Hills.

“What am I going to do here for my face dad? There’s not even a Sephora here.” I was hot and full of complaints as we continued our long haul to Fox Hills. I stared at the dusty, hot windshield of Dad’s brand new truck. He spent a fortune of this – he should at least take it to a car wash once a month.

I was somewhat a southern belle, but I was also a tomboy. You could say I was complex. My ex, Nat, loved that but when I wouldn’t have sex with him he dropped me like disco at a punk rock show. Of course he regretted it months later, and would come by and try and get me to hang out. Sometimes he would hide behind the big tree on the side of our house and spy through a window. It he came all the way to Fox Hills to stalk me, it would be impressive. Maybe even…flattering?

My hometown of James, Georgia had a cute downtown area of nice shops and the best iced lattes. Biscuits and Crazy was what I’d miss the most – that cafe had the best southern food and iced lattes. It was busiest on Sundays when everyone was nursing a bad Saturday night hangover. The drunks were mixed in with wholesome American families, and it made for shoulder-to-shoulder traffic and up to an hour wait for a table. I didn’t like it then, but now I’d miss the wait. I’d also miss their buttery biscuits the most, crammed with expensive jellies. And I’d miss my friends and even seeing Nat on his skateboard, his jet-black dyed hair hanging in his face on a hot summer day. I would miss the persistence, his going out of his way to see me through a window when he wasn’t supposed to be around. Who would watch me like that now?

 

2

Everything – everything about my life as I once knew it was over, like pages ripped from my favorite book.

“There’s one Starbucks in Fox Hills…someone found a dead rat in the toilet there,” I mentioned – as the drive seemed endless and car sickness was setting in despite the dramamine. Drama mine, I thought, because I was very weary and starting to play little word scrabble in my head.

Dad did not respond to my glum review of the Starbucks. I could tell he was having none of my attitude today. A huge while later, perhaps even half an hour later, he said, “There’s a Sephora in the next town,” offering me his Sephora wisdom as he sipped his coffee and kept a focused eye on the road. “I’m sure there’s a Starbucks – a ratless one.” Dad was your typical looking Dad – a beer gut, a baseball cap, a salt and pepper beard (though more pepper than salt) but in his younger years he was very good looking. Mom once compared him to Marlon Brando. My mom had been beautiful, with long blonde hair and wide brown eyes. I got my looks from her and my brick-hard stubbornness from my father. And the figure he had when he was a skinny twelve year-old boy.

Very slowly though, my breasts were taking shape. I was happy that I didn’t have to fool with a bra much though.

“Pratfort? How am I supposed to get to Pratfort?” I inquired about the town next to Fox Hills, which was a little over an hour if you had a good car that would get you there fast. “They don’t even have busses in Fox Hills.”

“You’ll have to get a job – then get a car.” He switched gears of his new 2016 Durango and it purred as we picked up speed before turning down a road pretty much like the last one – tiny houses that looked like they were sinking into the muddy ground, old people on the porch. “Like all people do.”

“Great, so I’ll be an average person with a car. Big goals.”

“I know we’re rich, but I’d like it if you knew the pride in working for something you have,” he said. Ugh. It was so hot. I stared out of the window and watched houses fly by us. Technically, we were flying by them, but that wasn’t how it seemed.

Things in my life seemed to change just as fast – just fly by. I couldn’t get it back…

 

3

“Maybe I could, like, do some work for Swerve?” I suggested as we inched closer and closer to the southern town of Fox Hills.

By this, I meant work by the pool at my leisure, uploading the whatever to the whatever for Dad’s insanely successful online business.

“There really is not enough work to be done – Leo and I have it covered.” Dad could be so cut and dry sometimes that it grated my nerves. I wished Mom was still around to soften the blow. “Kiki, please, I got a lot on my mind. This is a big day for us. I hope they got the internet runnin’.”

“Duh.” At least Dad and I could agree on one thing – the internet was extremely important. Honestly, if we had to choose between having food for a week or the internet we would choose the latter.

“You can buy all that makeup and other girl stuff at the drugstore,” Dad said, waving a few fingers as if to dismiss the topic.

“Oh my god! This N That?!” I exploded, referring to the cheap drugstore in certain towns in The South – like Fox Hills. We were millionaires! We could afford better than This N That. “You want me to look like a dead hooker? Wet N Wild? You want me to buy Wet N Wild?”

“Kiki, please, you are gnawing on my last nerve is what.”

“Ditto.” We were both quiet for a minute. I couldn’t believe someone had a confederate flag in their front yard, and the horrible sight stole my attention. But soon that was behind us too. I didn’t know what town this was – they all looked the same.

“Good lord, are we in Fox Hills yet?” I whined.

“Yup.”

Oh, okay. I saw another confederate flag. Oh wow, this was even worse than I remembered the one time Dad and I came here to visit. We had stayed at Uncle Leo’s lakehouse, played with his dogs and had a cookout. I kept an eye out for Lizard Boy – the town’s legendary monster – but never saw him. The inky darkness that overtook Fox Hills at night kept all evil well concealed.

 

Mom, if she were still alive, would have mentioned by now that we could go to Pratfort for a day and shop there to make up for the lack of nice shops in this hick town. We would grab a good cup of coffee, we would go shopping – make a day of it. We would just eat and gossip like we were on some reality TV show.

Our house was a nice big brick house at the end of a cul-de-sac called Evermore Drive, which I found ironic. I mean who named a dead-end street Evermore? Behind our two-story house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a huge kitchen, was the Fox Hills forest where the so-called Lizard Boy monster had been spotted a few times. Mom said this neighborhood gave her the creeps – it was too pretty, too quiet. Whether or not you believed in monsters, it was easy to imagine one roaming around out there.

I didn’t even want to move here. Why couldn’t we have stayed in Georgia for just one more year so I could finish high school in the same place? Then I could move on to college or whatever – how was I going to move again in a year, after just moving here? And I was not going to go to college in Fox Hills – there were only community colleges here anyway.

I slammed the car door during my teenage tantrum, heated, and walked into our new house. The houses here were too close together, but at least we lived at the end of the circle, facing the weird street. Strangely, looking out at the backyard made our house look secluded. Our house was more wide than tall, with a huge dining room and guest room also on the first floor. I didn’t even know why we needed such a big house – it was just me and Dad now. Wouldn’t this make the absence of Mom worse? Point it out with all the extra space? The silence?

“You’re almost eighteen,” Dad hounded as he walked in with one of the heaviest boxes that read FRAGILE. “Too big to be acting like this.”

“Excuse me while I try and get used to living in bear country.”

“That’s another thing -you ain’t being sarcastic about that at least. There are lots of bears here but Leo and I are prepared.” He followed me over to the sliding glass doors that gave a breathtaking view of our backyard. For all the hate Fox Hills got - the nasty monster reputation - it was very beautiful. The deep forest covered about 800 acres and it was right there in our backyard – the thing that made Fox Hills what it was. Dad spent a fortune on this property just so he could be so close to the woods. Our backyard also included a swimming pool and enough land for a few dogs to run around. But we’d already discussed that and Dad worried the bears would kill the dogs.

This house was supposedly one of the biggest in Fox Hills, but I didn’t care. That was still depressing because what did I have in common with anyone now? The kids at school would just think I was rich and too good for them. I was rich, but I’d give it all back to have my mom instead.

There were other big, fancy houses but they were in Pratfort. Pratfort was city-like and impressive for North Carolina. It was more about condos than houses on a cul-de-sac. New modern shiny buildings and high-end shops and restaurants made up Pratfort. If you wanted a fancy night out, you went there. It wasn’t uncommon to see a house and carriage carrying around a woman in a wedding gown and a handsome groom by her side. People got married in Pratfort, they even vacationed there, as it was along the outer banks. There was a huge popular barbecue place called Bubba’s Backyard that everyone was going gaga over. Our big future plan involved going there for dinner.

So why didn’t we just move to Pratfort instead, being that my dad was rich and all? Because he was a redneck, he was a deer hunter, and Fox Hills was all for that. Here, killing animals was seen as a sport.

“This is nice,” Dad said, proud of the finished product that was our new home. It was nice, I guess. The walls were flamingo-pink because that was my mom’s favorite color and at the time, we thought she’d be living here. The kitchen had a gorgeous mahogany bar and mahogany bar stools. The floor was white Italian marble. The white and pink presented a nice contrast. Mom picked the tiles too, unaware that at the time she had liver cancer. It was very true what people said about cancer being a silent killer. I hated thinking about it – how sick she got, her it looked like a vacuum was sucking the gorgeous life right out of her, turning her into this 70-pound grey skeleton.

“Don’t you think, sweetie?” Dad turned and looked at me, his big blue eyes desperately seeking my approval. I knew Dad wanted me to be happy with this change and he hoped the adjustment would go smoothly. Perhaps he even hoped it marked a new beginning for us. Dad seemed to forget about the history of Fox Hills, though. There was an evil here, an evil that had been present – and somehow unseen – ever since those girls were found brutally murdered back in 2003. I was only five years old at the time, but I remembered my mom and dad talking in hushed voices about the horror that gripped Fox Hills. Because of the unsolved murders – the lack of justice for those girls – there was also a sense of vengeance here. I couldn’t help but feel it rattle my bones. Mom had warned Dad about the doomed vibe of this town, but he didn’t listen. I could still feel my mom’s bony hand latching on to mine as she begged, Be careful in Fox Hills. It was her last dying request.

I promised her I’d be okay before she slipped away from us for good.

 

“Going for a swim,” I announced rather abruptly, sliding the glass door open and willing my depressing thoughts away. You could never get Mom back, she is gone.

4

Swimming – or just being by water in general – always calmed me down. The swimming pool was the best thing about this house – and Dad promising he would put in an inground pool was how he persuaded me to be cool with the big move.

Many believed that whoever or whatever killed those teenage girls at their sleepover lived out there in the forest – the forest right behind my house. The house where the murders took place happened on Westchester Street, around the freaking corner from my house. The house had been torn down and another was still being built. It certainly was taking a long time, as if its builders just didn’t want to continue with the project. Myths and legends about what happened there dominated Fox Hills. Dad thought most of the stories about a monster roaming the forest was all hersey – besides, there was nothing that couldn’t be taken care of with a gun according to him.

Hunters claim they saw some “Lizard Boy” creeping about with big blue eyes and a long tail but it had human arms and legs. His skin was like a reptile’s. He had nasty claws for hands. It all sounded very made up, but for some reason I believed in Lizard Boy. Hunters claimed all the time that they were “gowna get that sucker.” But there was no concrete evidence that Lizard Boy existed anymore than there was of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot.

I slipped my shoes off and felt the warm pavement against the soles of my soft feet. The pool was rather small (or maybe it seemed so because the yard was so huge) but it was heated. Right now, it was still summer in Fox Hills, North Carolina, so there was no need to heat it up yet. I could already see the fog rising off the water on a fall night though, illuminated by the rich full moon. The morning task would be getting all the red and orange leaves out of the water with the net. Fall would also add even more mystery to the forest.

Dad was more worried about the bats than the so-called Lizard Boy that supposedly lurked in the woods. He fancied himself a rational person and didn’t believe in ghosts, monsters, or anything other than human beings and animals. He only believed in the more rare type of animal if they were featured on National Geographic. What about Uncle Leo, Dad? He looks like an exotic animal that hasn’t been featured on there yet!

I guess it was easier to think that a human mutilated those girls than a monster. I honestly preferred to think it was a monster though. Monsters were monsters. What excuse did an actual person have for doing such a gruesome, heartless thing? Either way – who or whatever did it was still out there.

 

My current goal was to try and get comfy after the long drive from Georgia. In two weeks from now, I would start my last year of high school in a town completely new – I didn’t know anyone here. Unless you counted Dad and Uncle Leo – eew.

What were the kids at school like, I wondered as I kicked my foot around in the water, making it splash.

“Kiki, don’t do that,” Dad nagged, suddenly appearing at the sliding glass doors. I thought he was still unpacking. Parents had this creepy way of suddenly sneaking up on you.

“Yes, because I’ll get the pavement wet and the next thing you know, people will be

dropping like flies and we’ll have to rely on our survival tactics to start a whole new planet.”

He ignored my sarcasm. He walked back into the dark house and kept unpacking boxes.

I stared out at the woods. Suspense actually relaxed me. I was looking for a distraction to keep me from thinking about Mom. The woods didn’t look so sinister right now. Every so often you might see a deer – we saw one once when we visited a few months ago to check up on the progress of the house. It was so pretty and I wished Mom could have seen it. The way the young deer stood very still, as if poised for a photograph, but once I’d snagged my phone to take one, the deer got scared and dashed off into the woods – good thing too, because my dad was considering shooting it.

That was a confusing time for me. Mom’s stage 4 liver cancer had taken hold of her at such a rapid speed. I felt my world as I knew it slip from my fingers. There was never a more helpless feeling. Her life seemed to go out like a light. It was so cruel – all those days she spent loving me, doing so much for me, and then she was just gone. Wiped from the universe. If I thought about it for too long, I would hate everything around me. I had to find brand new strength to get through it. I was already scared to start anew somewhere else, but without my mom? It seemed unimaginable. And yet, here I was. In a brand new house with no friends. But monsters. Maybe.

5

Dad and Uncle Leo started their own business seven years ago which eventually turned into a huge successful music downloading service called Swerve. They made millions. Dad had a messy office in our Georgia home, where he tried to keep up with everything while talking to Leo on speakerphone since Leo lived in Fox Hills. Swerve required a hefty fee to join, but once that was paid, you were a member for life and not only could download anything from any artist on the site (many of which were seasoned rock stars and hot pop stars) but if you were a struggling artist, you could also upload your own songs, say if you thought you were destined to be the next Kurt Cobain like my ex pothead boyfriend Nat (who now worked for a lumber company) you could get your music out there. Many artists who did this became famous – bringing Swerve even more recognition and business. It was just up from there. You could make your own profile and mingle with others as if it were a dating site. Swerve was Facebook meets Spotify, basically. Everyone went in on it and we saw our life change before our eyes – everything turned really great and then my mom got cancer and everything turned dark all of the sudden. It was quite an emotional rollercoaster. I still felt dizzy from it. Dad invested the money in this house, and several luxurious vacations before that. Clothes, cars, diamonds, the list went on and on.

“Kiki?” Dad stuck his head out of the glass doors and looked out at the patio and pool, where I was still lounging. What else was there to do? It was summer.

“I’m going into town, wanna come?”

“To the redneck bar and cheap grocery store? Sounds like a blast, but I think I’ll stay here.” Even though night was on its way, and the shadows were already spilling across the forest like ink, I’d rather be here. I wanted to be alone. I needed to somehow grasp all of this.

“I can get you something from Starbucks,” he said. He meant the one where the big rodent was found in the toilet.

“No.” I was cranky because I was scared. Everything was new and dangerous.

Dad looked hurt by my tone. He had big blue eyes that seemed to get bigger the older he got – as the rest of him just seemed to be fading. I was sure that soon he would just be two big blue eyes and a little bit of grey hair – like some bizarre little animal. The rest of him would just disappear.

I just didn’t know what to say to him now. He’d lost his wife – his life partner. His companion. I realized that Bethany was more than just my mom. Did he miss her as much as I did? Would he eventually date someone else? That last thought was too much.

“Well what do you want from the store?” Dad asked.

“Apple juice. Raisin Bran. Perrier.” I stared up at the forest because I thought I heard something rustling about in its shady spots. It was just a deer. Don’t be a freakzoid.

“Okay.” Dad turned around and walked back through the house that was so new it smelled like sawdust.

I suddenly jumped up and darted through the house and into the front yard where he was about to get in his fancy new truck.

“What?” he gaped. The smell of the hardly touched leather seats of his spotless Durango drifted up my nose. He had a brand new truck. I felt like I deserved something brand new. I was seventeen, but in Georgia I didn’t bother getting a car because we lived close to the cool downtown area. Then Mom got sick and, well, I just never got around to it.

Dad was waiting for me to speak. Sometimes his lost, spineless look got on my nerves. I know she’s gone, Dad, but I need you to be stronger now than ever. Wake up! Take charge!

I stood there for a minute, still getting used to the things around me – like the fact that the house next door wasn’t the one I was used to seeing back in Georgia. The creepy cul-de-sac didn’t look like a real neighborhood. Cul-de-sac in French meant “bottom of bag,” and the horseshoe-shaped dead end was constructed to fit the fun needs of a five-year-old child. Parents didn’t have to worry that much about their kids playing in the street.

I decided to just focus on the backyard. The pool, the forest…I’d always been a lover of nature. I’d always wanted to go camping but it wasn’t Mom’s thing and I was afraid Dad would shoot everything in sight.

 

Every house here had a sprinkler in the yard that made a strange clicking sound when the water spurted up from the grass. All the driveways stuck out like tongues to pour out into Evermore Street. The only traffic here belonged to the residents or someone turning around because they went the wrong way. It was safe on that level, I guess. But it also felt unsafe because of the isolation.

“Yes?” Dad waited. He wasn’t the most patient man in the world.

“Pink Grapefruit,” I blurted.

“What?” His face was a canvass of impatience and bewilderment.

“From the store,” I griped.

“Grapefruit’s not pink,” he said, frazzled.

“Yes it is – on the inside.” Then I got completely annoyed. “The Perrier! The sparkling water.” I tried to calm down – I didn’t know why I was so moody – something about this place, I suppose…

Dad looked totally lost.

Then after a minute all the pieces of the puzzle must have came together. He relaxed and gave me a series of “Ohs” before getting in the fancy truck.

“The label’s pink and green…” I just said.

“Okay,” he muttered.

All the sprinklers in every yard of the cul-de-sac spurted up at once, as if controlled by some button someone was pushing, and they all made a united clicking sound. Then they all vanished into the ground again. And a few seconds later, they spurted right back up at the same time. It was sort of hypnotizing to watch.

I heard something else too, something off in distance. It was a heavier sound – like a thud. Then it stopped. I already got the feeling something supernatural was going on here and I felt my skin try to crawl off my bones.

Maybe I should go with Dad, I thought. That paranoia of not being familiar with my surroundings was setting in just as the sun faded across the cul-de-sac.

But Dad seemed to want to go alone now. He was already rolling the window up and turning the radio on some classic rock channel. Oh, brother.

6

My dad had odd ways of communicating ever since I was little. He wasn’t much of a talker, but as soon as he found out I loved pandas, he went out and bought me twenty stuffed pandas and piled them against my bedroom door so when I opened it the next morning, the soft joyous toys fell all over me.

My mom loved diamonds, so after Swerve took off and we went on our first big vacation to celebrate, he would give her diamond jewelry at every turn. One evening in the hotel room, Dad was messing around in the bathroom when he abruptly screamed, “Come in here Bethany!” he called for my mom. “There’s a spider!”

“What?” Mom was always more curious than scared – I think I got that from her. She ran into the bathroom with fearless curiosity, only to be greeted with a diamond Cartier bracelet.

While he was out hopefully buying me the right brand of water, I tried to get used to my new home. It was quite cozy – especially the downstairs. The TV was a huge flatscreen against the rustic brick wall. The fireplace was adjacent to it, with an old rustic wine rack Dad spent a fortune on at an antique store back in Georgia. Above it was an antique coca-cola painting with the message Take home plenty of coke, and pretty girls and guys hanging out by a pool. Pictures of my mom were on the fireplace mantel. I loved seeing them and hated seeing them all at once. Because she wasn’t here now, so they seemed like lies.

The couch’s view was of the backyard, gorgeous pool, legendary forest. My eyes switched from the reality TV show on, to the breathtaking view. Maybe it was the engrossing silence here – but I kept expecting something to jump out at me every time I looked outside. The shadowy darkness of the forest crawled over the backyard now that it was dusk, and soon, darkness would have totally won over all the cul-de-sac.

I got up and went into the kitchen. The living room’s carpet was very soft and plush and my dad had spent thousands of dollars on it – something he bragged about often. It was pleasurable to walk on and nearly thick enough to sleep on. It was going to be mandatory that guests take their shoes off at the door so it wouldn’t get dirty. I think even the sight of a speck of dust on the carpet would send Dad into cardiac arrest.

I took out a plain water (gross) and sat down in the big leather recliner before the fancy TV and tried not to think about it. That bloody morning in 2003. Who could not think about it when they heard the name Fox Hills, especially when night fell on a town where such gruesome unsolved murders took place? I couldn’t help myself – I snatched my laptop up from the cushy carpet and googled what was now the town I lived in.

Fox Hills Shooting Range

Fox Hills Murders – What Really Happened In 2003?

Ghost Town Becomes Promising Place To Raise Kids

North Carolina Town Slowly Rebuilds and Flourishes

I clicked on the middle one, though sure it didn’t offer any new info on what occurred that summer morning. People tried to come up with their own theories. If you looked at images, you’d see bad drawings of what people interpreted the legendary Fox Hills monster known as “Lizard Boy” to look like. A lot of them were bad Godzilla-like drawings. Others said Lizard Boy wasn’t that big – more like a teenager – because he had to be able to fit through the girl’s bedroom window when he killed them. “There’s a very human quality to it,” someone said of Lizard Boy after they claimed to have seen him in the woods. “Like maybe he’s just a disfigured teenager with nowhere to go.”

I felt like that sometimes. I wasn’t disfigured, but I felt like a freak and I felt lost.

 

I shut my laptop. I wanted facts. So far, the only facts were that on a muggy July morning in 2003 – a couple of months after Shannon Graham’s high school graduation – her father went to check on her and her two friends. They were having a sleepover, and the music was very loud for a Saturday morning, with I Hate Everything About You playing blaring from the speakers so much that it was causing the speakers to sound fuzzy like they might blow and the woofers were pulsating. Shannon’s father, Fred, thought this was odd because Shannon hated Three Doors Down – she always played The Strokes. That was what she’d been playing last night.

Fred Graham walked down the hallway to tell his daughter to turn the music down regardless of the song. He opened the door and shock reshaped his face. Blood was everywhere – so much that it looked like someone had started painting half of her room red. The three girls lied out in various places in the room, their bodies bloodied and splayed out with puncture wounds all over them. One girl had been raped. Shannon’s Cheerleader trophy had been jammed down her mouth, her jaw broken in the process. Written on the wall in blood was the message LEKKY WILL BE BACK. The gory details of the murders was a huge blow to a quiet town where nothing bad ever happened. Evil had exploded. People packed up and moved out of Fox Hills as soon as they could.

Lekky. Who was Lekky? The question gripped Fox Hills. No one would ever know. Poor Fred Graham eventually disappeared. Maybe the antidepressants trickled out, the memory of finding his daughter in that condition dominated his brain and he just couldn’t take it anymore. No one knew where he was and others believed maybe he killed those girls. I didn’t believe that theory.

Businesses went under – some because the owners simply walked out on them to protect their families and move away, and others because there just was no one left to support them financially. Fox Hills went through a decade of grim times. The town was a collection of boarded up buildings, vacant homes and overgrown grass. It looked like the perfect setting for a zombie film. Fear had created reckless abandon.

Then slowly, around 2010, it started to find its footing again. A rich man by the name of James Rizzoni built a house on a lot of property he invested in for very cheap, opened a movie theatre called Dime a Dozen. It was a funny name for a theatre in Fox Hills because the town seemed so hopeless, but to his surprise, the theatre did really well and was still doing well. He also opened a pizzeria next door called Rizzo’s. His Italian blood and determination made his businesses a success. He made a ton of money.

Houses were very cheap because of their poor condition. People moved there in hopes of investing in something worthwhile and raise a family there. Fox Hills became the place of new dreams and old nightmares. People didn’t want to think about those unsolved murders anymore. Still, a malevolent energy gripped the town. It wrestled deep within the woods, it created shadows over the town before night completely fell, it sprung paranoia into the hearts of the loyal new residents. Pretend all you wanted, but what happened, happened.

There was a great big sense of pretend here. People pretended bad things didn’t happen. Maybe I could pretend damned cancer didn’t take my mom from me. Yeah, right.

Mom agreed with me that Fox Hills was not a place to live. There was nothing to do there but pray. Pray because most people in Fox Hills were religious freaks (but loved to spend their weekends at the shooting range) or pray that whoever or whatever Lekky was wouldn’t come and cut you up in the middle of the night.

 

I couldn’t relax no matter how hard I tried. It was too quiet here. When I turned the TV up, the sound of pre-recorded voices only seemed to make the awkwardness worse.

I got up and walked into the kitchen. It was so modern – the latest model refrigerator, a fancy dishwasher, a wet bar with a futuristic alien-green backlight. I imagined that from the backyard, it looked like some crazy spaceship had landed in our kitchen.

I pulled up a bar stool padded with green leather to match the bar’s beaming light, and tried to relax. I looked out at the lighted tray ceiling above the pool table. If it weren’t for the nice big sofa, recliner and Dad’s nasty sneakers, one might mistaken this place for a big fancy cocktail lounge. Dad really went all out with this place – Mom should be here to enjoy it. I almost lost it – my somewhat serene face about to explode in a tearful tantrum.

I got it together though, and instead decided to play pretend. I was a sexy bartender and in front of me, a weary sexy drifter James Dean type.

“Hi there!” I winked at him and his mouth curled up in a sexy smile and he ran his hand along the five o’clock shadow on his face.

I took down one of Dad’s fancy glasses hanging from the rack above me.

“How ‘bout a drink to soothe your weariness?” I offered. He flirted with me, stroking my hand with his thumb. It was warm, like the ground in the middle of the summer. He was the strong quiet type – back muscles, secrets on his tongue. I couldn’t help but imagine this would be what Nat would look like soon – he was already getting muscular from working for that lumber company.

“Well you can’t have one!” I teased him. “Because the owner is my dad and he’s a psycho freak that locks up the booze!” I laughed before something caught my eye outside, pulling me out of my fantasy. Something dashed across the yard – and it wasn’t a deer or anything like that – it was too big. Also, it didn’t dash out into the woods, it looked like it had somehow ran across the pool without disturbing the water. The picture on the TV became wavy – everyone’s faces were funny looking for a second. I nearly dropped the glass in my hand. I walked across the soft carpet back into the living room, and the TV eventually came back with a clear picture and nothing appeared to be outside. The water in the swimming pool was as still as a sheet of glass. I knew I saw something. I jumped when I heard the front door open. Dad had finally returned. I moved from the sliding glass doors where the light at the bottom of the pool was now gleaming as if it were trying to meet the moon in the sky. It was a romantic glow.

“Where’d you go?” I asked Dad because he’d been gone much longer than it should have taken.

“Well I had to find your freakin’ Pink Grapefruit water, didn’t I?” he was rambling – he was drunk. There was a dive bar by the grocery store – on the poor side of town. I think it was called Dave’s or something – every bar and restaurant in Fox Hills was called some average man name. I could smell the stale stench of beer and the burgers they served on his clothes. I hated it when Dad got like this. Normally I’d just run to Mom for comfort, but that wasn’t an option now.

He placed the big green bottle of Grapefruit Perrier on the counter so angrily I checked to see if he’d cracked the glass. Remarkably, it was still flawless.

“Went to three different stores!” he yelled. I said nothing. I didn’t want to say anything that would make his temper worse. His impatience with me stung. He trudged upstairs to his room. I wanted Mom. I refused to be a baby about it though, willed the tears away, and went back to admiring the light that night brought alive. The pool, the sky. The magic. Then I saw it again – something ran by the pool impossibly fast, so fast it was easy to think I imagined it but I knew I saw it. Even more, I felt its presence.

7

What was it?

I lied awake in my bed, thinking about the shadowy thing I knew I saw fly over the pool as I drank my Grapefruit Perrier my dad apparently went through hell to get.

The second time I saw it, it was flying over the pool in the opposite direction. Why? It almost seemed like it was trying to get my attention.

I stared out of my window at the backyard. Dad had turned the pool light off so I couldn’t make out any shadows because they would just bleed into the dark. I couldn’t decipher that lovely pool from the deep forest. Darkness made everything the same.

I sat up, the urge to go out there taking over. I drank a few more sips of water and crept downstairs. My dad hated to be awakened, so I made sure to be extra quiet. The living room was dark. The only light on downstairs was the one in the kitchen above the stove. I heard a scraping sound from the kitchen but Dad had said the garbage disposal was temperamental and constantly making strange little slurping sounds like it was always hungry for wet, soapy food. Ew.

Why couldn’t he have left more lights on? I walked over to the sliding glass doors, feeling the cushy carpet under my bare feet. But you know what? I wanted to feel the cool splintery grass, the moist dirt, the bugs in the ground. I loved nature.

I carefully pushed the latch down to unlock the sliding doors. The thing was so loud – especially in a house quieter than a mausoleum at two in the morning. I pulled the door towards me, welcoming the sweet scent of night time – the smell of damp grass from the sprinkler army, the honeysuckle and tiny garden Uncle Leo had started. And of course the poignant smell of chlorine jumping up my nostrils. There were tiny mechanical sounds too, from the pool. The pump was making a subtle sucking sound. Boy, things were really alive out here.

Once I stood still and took in all the sounds together, it was quite overwhelming. The ground was jumpy with crickets. I preferred this to the almost sterile feeling of the new house. It was amazing out here, no matter how scary it could be. I loved the feel of the cool marble tiles under my feet. I dipped a foot into the water, it was still warm from the sun earlier.

I wanted to find out about what I couldn’t see – what was out there in those woods. I watched a giant cricket hop away from the tiles surrounding the pool and into the tall grass. I chuckled at it. In the summer, when I was a little girl, my mom would sit outside in her swimsuit and watch me collect junebugs. Don’t cry. Look up at the stars and tell her you miss her and maybe she will hear you.

“I miss you,” I whispered. I felt like the outside could hear me – responding with their chirping sounds and sucking sounds to let me know I wasn’t alone. You belong here, Kiki, with us, where the vines grow and the grass grows and the stars will keep you from being overwhelmed with the darkness of the world.

The sky looked like it had been doused in glitter. The moon was just a half moon, like a punctuation mark in a book. Why would we build houses to keep us in from this, I suddenly thought. It was brilliant out here. Then a loud splashing sound occurred in the water followed by the slapping sound of someone getting out of the pool, wet bare feet against the tiles. I felt a peculiar energy and smelled something very intense – very potent, very male.

I took a few steps back and wished I could see when I heard something run away. Oh my god. I didn’t move, but my eyes jumped all over the place, especially the pattern of wet footprints leading from the pool into the grass.

Who was that?! Or what…

I heard something else too – something howling. A wolf? What the heck was that? Fear could actually seem loud sometimes. Once I managed to calm down, I could hear a strange gurgling sound. Was that the pool’s pump thing? The neighbor’s stupid sprinkler? What was that?!

The next few seconds were a mix of me running back into the house, tripping over the stupid battery cord to my laptop and nearly face-planting into the coffee table. Everything had turned into complete chaos.

Calm the freak down.

I pushed the door shut, happy to feel my feet on the soft carpet again – it was the one thing that was starting to feel recognizable in all this crazy new chaos. I pulled up the lever to lock the door, turned around and saw the giant man standing behind me and finally screamed.

8

“Kiki,” Dad’s voice stamped the room with disappointment. “What are you doing up?” My dad. My dad had been what was standing behind me – this should have been a relief, but he was so mad. I didn’t think he was still drunk though, because he didn’t sound so belligerent. I almost asked him if he’d been in the pool – if he was what I just saw – but he wasn’t wet. He was in his dry cotton white bathrobe with a drink in his hand (of course).

“There…was something…in the pool.”

“Blasted raccoons!” he hollered. No. It was much bigger than that, I thought. I didn’t say it though. Adults thought they knew everything.

“I talked to Leo today,” Dad said, all amped up as he walked into the kitchen and finally turned on a real light before he opened up the fridge “We gonna try and do some bear huntin’ this weekend. We’ll get them raccoons too.”

“Okay chill, Bounty Hunter.” I sighed as he pulled back the tab to a can of beer. It made a hissing sound followed by the gross sound of him slurping. The light from the wet bar made his face look green.

“You don’t have to shoot every single animal…”

“Now don’t start with me with your every life is precious mumbo jumbo crap. You wanna get mauled by a bear while you’re out in that pool?”

“So Leo is coming over?” I just asked, trying to get the image of me being ripped apart by a bear while swimming out of my head.

“Leo’s welcomed here any time he wants,” Dad preached. “Swerve is half his idea, I owe a

lot to that brain of his. Now get to bed. Way too late for you to be up.”

Dad killed the light. His heavy feet made loud thumps as he went back upstairs.

“Dad?” I half-hoped he’d stay up a minute later and talk to me. Just talk.

“Yeah?” he sighed at first, miserably impatient. Then he saw how hurt I looked and his face seemed to soften – then it all went downhill from there. He got that frightened I don’t know what to do look in his eyes. Any effort to talk to me just seemed to paralyze him.

“Thanks for the water,” I just said.

He actually thought I was going to go back to bed? After that?

I sat in the comfy recliner in the living room, eyes zoning in on the pool where I’d turned the patio light right back on, drawing moths and mosquitoes towards the light. Dad claimed this chair as his football recliner – and was only ever meant to be used during “the game.” I was starting to grow quite fond of it though, and nothing was stopping me from sitting in it right now. It gave me the perfect view of the pool from the safety of being behind the locked glass doors. Of course they were glass – what was stopping anyone or anything from smashing the glass and breaking in? Lekky could easily do it…or whatever/whoever killed those girls. It was strange what the mind was addicted to. I couldn’t prevent it from thinking about awful things.

I focused on the pale blue of the pool’s center. I didn’t fear the truth. If I was going to keep my promise to my beloved mother and stay safe in Fox Hills, I needed to know exactly what I was trying to stay safe from.

I realized it had been hours since I checked my phone. I hoped I had a new text – that someone back in Georgia missed me and wondered how I was.

Someone did. Nat.

You doin’ okay?

He was never one for many words, but I could see thousands upon thousands of crazy thoughts in those amazing brown eyes of his. I guess I did miss him.

Idk, I texted back, not one for words right then either. Then I texted miss you, but deleted it and put my phone back away.

He used to call me “pretty” and “sweetheart” and I wondered if it was because he wanted me to finally have sex with him. Or did he sincerely mean it? I had short wavy blonde hair and brown eyes. I had my mom’s little pugnose and freckles. I had a rather boyish figure that Nat said was sexy. Nat…did I miss him? Or did I just miss the life I had when he was in it?

He would skate by my house every now and then, sometimes leaving roses on my front porch. Some were sweet: I really miss you, baby. Some were borderline psychotic: I really need you, I’m not going to give up.

On the day I told him I was moving, he said I’d have to go to another planet to get rid of him.

 

I waited for it to come back – the thing that caught my eye – the speedy shadow. The water was still until a breeze came – the forest’s motion causing a nice ripple across it. Other than that, nothing moved. Nothing came back to me.

 

Dawn crept in with a steady glow. It was going to be a humid overcast day. I got up, sleep-deprived, and went into my room. I couldn’t shake this awesome feeling that something was out there and I’d see it again. The strange thing was that I wasn’t scared. Just intrigued.

Abrupt laughter exploded from Dad’s office as morning progressed, with the sun struggling to cut through clouds. Dad got up early and talked to Uncle Leo on the speakerphone. They started off talking about work – what more could they do to improve Swerve when it was already the most popular music downloading company ever? Then they laughed and started talking about going fishing and hunting – poking things with hooks or pumping things with bullets. Then they pondered taxidermy, and maybe building an outdoor bar here for the summer. And it just went on and on…

I put my swimsuit on, feeling restless and sleepy all at once. I decided that taking a nap in the lawn chair was the way to go – the sun wasn’t out so I didn’t really have to worry about a sunburn. I heard my dad laugh again – a hefty belly-roll of a laugh with a slight evilness to it. Ugh. I raced away from it, down the stairs. This was when I missed Mom the most. She always used to cook breakfast, reminding me that it was the most important meal of the day. The house would smell like the sweet and savory pancakes and bacon breakfast instead of chlorine and last night’s whiskey.

Dad never bothered with breakfast. At the most, he went to Starbucks and brought me back some egg thing that tasted like cardboard and rubber.

I rinsed out the glass Dad used last night and placed it in the dishwasher and lit my limited edition cotton and peach scented Meyers candle that Dad always complained about being too expensive. “Cotton and peach?! What the hell kinda combo is that?” he’d joke.

I pulled the sliding glass door back, welcoming in the rich scent of morning air. I took my candle and my towel out to the lawn chair. My world, I thought. This was my world, at least for the moment. I placed the candle down on the marble tiles on the edge of the pool. The tiny flame was the closest thing I had to the warmth of the sun, which wasn’t even trying to slice through the puffy grey clouds anymore.

I didn’t know what I was expecting – monsters to be lined up waiting for me? There was nothing here, no sign of mischief, just a few stray leaves in the pool, a foretelling breeze and an ominous puzzle of clouds above.

I threw my pillow down in a slight diva-moment – as my dad would describe it – and popped my foot in the water. Nice and warm, like cloudy soup that had been cooling off for a few minutes. I couldn’t wait to soak in the water. When it wasn’t weird out here by Fox Hills Forest, it was quite nice and relaxing.

I dipped myself in the warm soupy water like a piece of bread and it hugged me up to the neck. Mmm, this was nice. I swam for a while, doing laps before stretching out on a soft towel I’d placed over the lawn chair. The world left me alone with my thoughts out here. My body was a bit sore from sleeping in the recliner, so to stretch out felt so good. The scent of my candle was barely dominating the smell of the chlorine and morning dewy grass.

It was so dark because of the clouds it might as well have been nighttime – nighttime with a big lamp in the middle of it to provide a dim grey glow. I shut my eyes, and my dad’s laughter could still mildly be heard from his upstairs office, hootin’ and hollerin’. For a brief moment I heard my mom’s voice in my head, the way she used to complain about Dad made me chuckle just then. “Oh why won’t he ever shut up?” She would fuss.

I thought about last night – the sound in the pool of something sloshing around. It was loud – abrupt – as if it was scared to be seen, caught.

“What are you?” I muttered, as if it would come to me and simply explain its being. Things got really quiet – like they did right before a storm – and I managed to fall asleep.

I was in the forest – deep within it. Light was trickling down from the sky but it didn’t seem natural. It seemed too bright – unsettling. Manmade. There was the rich smell of nature, along with its sweet scent. I was lost, but I felt safe. There was a mist surrounding me and I could hear a stream of flowing water nearby but I couldn’t see it because the mist turned into a deep fog.

“I know you didn’t do it!” I called out, looking all around me. “It’s okay.” My blonde hair was much longer in my dream, and I was wearing a fancy ball gown. Why was I in a ballgown in the woods? It was as if I’d ran out of a party and into the woods. Because you don’t belong with others – you are not like other people. You never liked parties and you never learned how to dance.

There was a song playing in my dream – some loud, feisty rock song but I couldn’t make out anything really, except the bass.

“It’s okay,” I said again. I was calling for it. For him. Sometimes dreams don’t make sense, and in this one there was a random grey wall and the music seemed to be coming behind it – where I was calling for this thing to come out. The thing I searched for – the thing I was reaching out for – a monster, a male monster. I knew this in my dream, the knowledge felt like it had been gained some time ago. I also knew he was very scared of something and would not come to me. Not yet.

Lizard Boy. I was looking for Lizard Boy.

“Kiki?” I heard the mellow hillbilly voice of my Uncle Leo waking me up. He always sounded a little amused by something – an underdeveloped chuckle in his words. Then I saw the can of Budweiser in his hand. It was in one of those ugly can holders inscribed with the message THELMA’S BABY SHOWER KICKED YOUR BABY SHOWER’S ASS!!! It was obviously from someone’s baby shower – though when someone ever invited Uncle Leo to their baby shower remained a mystery. One more mystery of Fox Hills yet to be solved.

“Why you sleepin’ in a lawn chair?” he chuckled. “Old Frank kick you out?” he sipped his beer as he waited for me to answer, his beer gut was practically big enough to be my shelter from the rain. Some time ago, before Swerve existed, Leo was badly hurt doing a construction job. Ever since, he let himself go. And now that Swerve didn’t require any physical movement besides clicking a mouse, he was in even worse shape.

I sat up. It was so muggy out that I was sticking to the lawnchair. Eew. When we weren’t talking, the silence of the cul-de-sac crept in.

“No…I thought you two were working,” I said, staring at the beer in his hand.

“We are,” he said, sitting down in the lawn chair next to me. “Then he said you know what? We rich! We ain’t got to work like peasants!” he laughed really loud. “Then your old man was like come on over! And I forgot you guys had a pool – wish I’d bought my swim trunks. Beer, pool – this is how it should be. Life’s too short to work all the time.”

The thought of Uncle Leo in swim trunks was just too dark. Way too dark. I shut my eyes. Think of awesome things. Ryan Gosling. Grapefruit Perrier. Sea Lion Pups.

“You alright dare?!” he asked, slapping me on the shoulder quite aggressively so I nearly fell off the lawn chair, and laughing again.

“I’m fine,” I sighed. Leo’s aggressive cheeriness was hard to get used to.

I felt a very fat raindrop hit my face. No.

I stared at the picture of two little babies fighting on the side of Leo’s baby shower can holder.

“When did you go to a baby shower?” I just had to ask.

“Oh this Jane’s,” he said. Jane was his sister, she lived in Arizona and had nothing to do with her family. Uncle Leo never got married – “never fell in the trap of marriage and kids,” he told me once. He was proud of the fact. “Damn thing only thing she ever gave me,” he said, but not in an angry way. Even that amused him – only getting an ugly baby shower beer holder from his sister.

“This is the luxury of being your own boss,” he pointed to the can of beer. “Drinkin’ before noon!”

“Great,” I said, flatly. “I’m happy for you.” Now could I go back to sleeping? To dreaming about…this thing I didn’t know but felt so drawn to? Some dreams were just dreams – like your brain was releasing extra thoughts while you slept – but that dream seemed like it was trying to tell me something. And what was that song?

“You know, I ‘member when I lost my mom,” Leo began. “It was a long time ago but…I never got used to it.” Leo surprised me with this – because rarely did Dad or Leo speak of Bethany. They were just moving on, focusing on Swerve. No one asked me how I was coping with her death. I needed more than a hand on my shoulder during her funeral. Because this went on – this loneliness, this gap that would never be filled, this aching, this trying to grapple…

“You won’t get used to it either,” Leo said in such honesty. “I ain’t gonna sugarcoat it for ya. But you know what happens sometimes…when you lose someone close to you? You have the opportunity to get close to someone else.” He got quiet and I remained quiet. I knew I should say something, thank Leo for his surprising wisdom and sensitivity, but I couldn’t think of anything appropriate. There were no right words to express the ache inside of me. How much I missed her…

“You strong, like your old man,” Leo said a minute later. “I ain’t worried boutcha.”

“Thanks Uncle Leo.” There, good job. I did like Leo – no matter how much he freaked me out sometimes.

“Ae, don’t mention it. You know…I’m here for you, I’m family. Wish I could talk to my sister about stuff, because I got stuff – but she voted me off the island a long time ago.” I nodded at Leo’s drunken rant. He started to walk back in the house when he turned around to say something else.

“Ae, you like to shoot guns?”

“No.”

“You should now,” he urged. “Them things’ll save your life…or the Lizard Boy’ll getcha!”

I laughed nervously – surprised he’d brought Lizard Boy up all of the sudden.

Maybe I wanted him to come and get me. And take me away from this dreaded town.

9

Suicide hotline – if you are feeling depressed and having suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to call this number. We are here for you.

I stared at those words for a minute before I shut my laptop. I came out here to sleep, that was it. I pushed the laptop under my lawnchair and wished the sun would come out. Maybe it would melt my laptop and I wouldn’t be able to call that number.

Once poolside peace was regained, I tried to go back to sleep but Dad emerged now, wanting to know why I was lying out in the rain.

“You look like a crazy person,” he said in his deadpan country accent.

I looked up at Dad, one eye open as the rain started to pelt my face. Then I felt big raindrops plop down on my breasts.

“Leo wants to go out to dinner at Jim’s and John’s so put something on, you know, real clothes.” After saying that, Dad pulled my Mac Air out from under me. “This could get damaged!” He went back in the house and threw my expensive computer on the sofa – which could have also damaged it.

“I don’t feel well,” I said, trudging into the house. Why couldn’t it come back? I knew I saw it – I wasn’t a crazy person, as Dad just called me.

I traipsed into the kitchen where Dad joined Leo at the bar.

“She don’t wanna go,” Dad fussed, obviously disappointed.

“Awe, that’s alright.” Leo was fine with it. “Sometimes you just don’t feel like feelin’!” he chuckled. What an odd thing to say – but I liked it.

“Well let’s get goin, Frank, that place can get crowded on Fridays. Ae, Kiki?” Leo called out to me as they headed for the front door. By the time I looked up, an object was flying right at my face. I realized it was a shirt when it unfolded midair.

“Somein’ I won at the firing range last weekend – it’s yours!” Leo made it sound like an exceptional, life-changing gift.

But the real gift was silence. I watched as they left, closing the door behind them. A superb peacefulness washed over the new house.

I turned the TV on and looked down at the shirt Leo tossed at me. The words God, Guns and Girls took up the front, and on the back was Fox Hills Redneck Forever. Good lord, did he have this specially made? Because I’d never seen one like it before. But it was my only clean shirt (Mom used to do all the laundry and Dad hadn’t quite caught on to chores yet) so I slipped the shirt on and sank back into my sleepiness in “the game” recliner.

 

9

Lizard Boy? I stared out of the glass doors that opened to the backyard, as if calling for him. Evening was creeping in nicely, and Dad and Leo were still gone. I was actually quite happy alone. Maybe I was a loner. Maybe I was meant to be out in those woods, living a life of solitude.

Was it possible for so many people to believe in something they hadn’t actually seen? But some said they had seen it – just for a minute out in the woods, or down by Fox Hills Lake when men went fishing. They’d seen him. So what exactly was it? What could create a Lizard Boy?

I placed my laptop up by the patio doors where I could keep an eye on the pool in case it came back. I closed the suicide hotline page. I don’t need you, I’ll be okay. I surfed the internet and read stories about The Fox Hills Monster. There were also weird YouTube videos all made by some girl who called herself Crying Girl. I saw a monster! the description below her videos read. Then I fell in love…

Her videos added some new insight to it all. Honestly, the girl that made it might have been on drugs. She looked like she’d been weeping for days, or maybe she was stoned – or both. In the video, she sat in a dark room, her chin resting on the desk before her computer, the glow of the monitor hit her face and made her complexion look like a ghost. She wore a t-shirt that read Don’t Blame Me For Crying – I’m A Pisces. Her giant tearful eyes held worlds of sadness. She spoke in a very hush almost hypnotic tone of voice.

“I saw it,” she said. She sounded exasperated. “I saw it last night and no one believes me,” she shook her head. “Lizard Boy – oh my god, he acts like a teenage boy, but he sort of looks like a reptile. It sounds crazy I know – but he acts normal, like the way he moves and stuff. He has a big…you know…” her face turned a vibrant shade of pink and she gave a halfhearted grin. “Penis.” She managed to say the word and tried to contain her giggles. There was something about her – she had a certain charm there swimming in her obvious world of loneliness. “The town doesn’t want to know it’s back. The town doesn’t want to die again. But I saw it – I know my eyes,” she pointed to her eyes and seemed – just for a split hair of a second – to be okay. Then she started crying again. “I don’t know what this feeling is inside…” she rubbed her face with her fingers to get rid of the tears. “This feeling inside of me – but I feel like I am in love with this thing – which is impossible, right? I mean he’s a monster. But…I feel bad for him, he looked so sad – scared, really. He seems to mirror how I feel…I don’t think he killed those girls…and if he did, maybe he didn’t understand what he was doing was wrong…” She wiped more tears away from her face and continued to speak. “I’ve obsessed all day – while people have just been doing…people things. Homework, eating dinner,” she rolled her eyes. “While I’ve been up in my room, drawing pictures of it.” She reached over for something, pulling it up from the clutter of her desk. “This is my best one.” She held up a picture of what looked to be a half-lizard, half-boy creature. He had a rather alien-shaped head with beautiful diamond-shaped scales that started in the center of his forehead and went down the center of his face, along his nose. They stopped at his mouth. They looked leathery and made up his nose. He was so exotic looking – and those big blue eyes were worlds of their own.

Crying Girl hadn’t forgot to include Lizard Boy’s massive genitalia in the picture either.

“Something made him this way – some…evil scientist or something. You watch X-Files? That shit’s real. I swear.”

I nodded like she could see me.

“He had big blue eyes,” she said. “He really did look like he used to be human – like he was in some kind of freak accident or something. I thought he was beautiful. My sister had friends over last night and left the backdoor open because they’re bitches without brains, and I went down to get water – he was standing in our kitchen – I swear! Just standing there, against the wall, his bright blue eyes all big and wide as he stared into my living room. He looked really ddp in thought, like he was trying to figure out some invisible puzzle. As soon as I looked at him, he ran out of the door – gone in the blink of an eye. He seems very skittish – I wasn’t going to hurt him, but he seemed to think so.”

She got up and took her computer with her to the window where she parted the curtains to show her backyard. She obviously lived in a shabby part of Fox Hills with rundown houses and huge backyards with tall, snaky grass. “See those bushes?” She pointed to some berry bushes in her front yard. “He ran off into those and on out into the road. I don’t know – it was crazy. He could run fast, like he’s used to having to…”

She went back to her desk, and a few minutes of her getting settled at her desk occurred. Her face eventually came back into view. She simply looked aloof. “I have never seen anything like it – it’s like something you’d see in a movie – except it was real.” Her eyes suddenly expanded, and an alertness seemed to wash away her tearful state. “Shit, parent alert, bye guys.” Her fat hand reached over to turn her computer off and just like that, she was gone.

I wanted to hear more something about her run in with Lizard Boy, and her videos were quite addictive. Her story was engrossing, but was it true? She certainly drew a more specific picture of his face than others. The detail – the patchy diamond-shaped scales along the center of his face. What a beautiful freak.

I waited, once again, in the silence of my new house for something to happen. I shut my computer and looked outside. I put my laptop away to go outside, out into the woods.

 

10

When I was a little girl I loved to collect creatures of the reptile group. I mostly brought home frogs and turtles. Mom would always act like she hated it, but she would allow me to play with whatever wet slimy thing I found in the yard, placing it on the kitchen floor and obsessing over the detail of its little face – little beady eyes and tiny mouth. Eventually, in her nurturing voice, she’d tell me, “Okay, go set it free now.” It really wasn’t a surprise that I still had a big interest in nature, that I liked to wander barefoot on the cool grass in the middle of the night. Feeling little insects under the pink sole of my feet honestly provided an erotic sensation in my bones.

I was a strange child. I always would be.

 

I didn’t exactly make it into the woods tonight. I didn’t make it beyond the pool. The smell of chlorine was so pungent it stung my nostrils. I stared at the water where it was pale blue in the middle because of the light on the floor, and how it got so pale it looked white. The pretty spectacle hurt my eyes but I couldn’t stop looking.

Eventually though, I stared out at the darkness of the forest. I felt like I was being watched and I didn’t mind. The frog had grown up? And it was watching me now, and wanting to cup me in its palm and take me to its home.

 

A startled kind of silence seemed to grip the yard – as if someone or something was doing its own thing until I embarked and now it was being remarkably still. So quiet that when it blinked, I could hear its little eyelashes hit its face.

“Hello?” I knew something was there, I just knew it. I could feel its gaze on me. Not trusting me, but curious about me. “I didn’t mean to frighten you,” I spoke to the pool of darkness in the backyard, right before the inky black of the forest. “I”m not bad…a bad person.”

I sat down on the edge of the pool, figuring patience was the best way to handle this. Maybe it would see I wasn’t mean, I was just curious too. Maybe this would coax it from the shadows and it would be my friend.

I placed my feet in the water and imagined what me and my mom would be doing right now if she were here. If cancer didn’t take her down like a demon. Maybe we would be watching a movie, or she would be telling me some funny story about her high school years while making a midnight snack. Now I wished I’d listened to her stories better. Mom.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I pictured what she looked like three summers ago, on the beach in that banana-yellow swimsuit with the ferris wheel behind her and the sky as b I. lue and vast as it had ever been would not think about how faded she became, how skinny and grey. I would not think about how scared she was of dying. But I guess I was thinking that when I told myself not to, and the tears began to roll, landing on my lips in a salty stream. I wanted to be held. I wished Dad would talk to me about her instead of busying himself with work. I wished I could feel her around me. Sometimes I watched those shows about ghosts – about people who were visited by their loved ones from beyond. Why didn’t Mom visit me? I honestly wished she would.

“Mom?” Was it her I sensed? I stood up and looked out into the woods when I heard the slightest sound of a dead leaf crunching under something. Someone’s foot?

“Mom?” But the footsteps sounded heavier than hers – like a man’s. Crushing. Coming right at me.

No. They’re behind you.

I whipped my head around in time to see something take off up the stairs. Oh my god. The footsteps hammered in a panic to get away and then everything fell silent.

“Hello?” Where was the fear? Why did I rush into the house like I did? “Hello?” I stared down at the muddy footprints all over Dad’s expensive carpet. Oh, no! Dad was going to flip out. I heard footsteps upstairs, slamming against the ceiling. Whoa. Someone – or something – was definitely in my house!

I saw something on the kitchen floor and walked over to retrieve it. It was a muddy Polaroid picture. It was somewhat grainy, but I could make up a very good looking boy in sweatpants lounging on a sofa. Where’d this photo come from?

My eyes followed the messy muddy footprints to the staircase. There was a weird odor in the house that smelled like the same one I smelled the other night by the pool. It was back! It was more of a masculine scent – leather and campfire. Retribution.

I went over to the bottom of the stairs and put my hand on the railing. The muddy prints left a mark on every single step. Whatever was in the house was up there now.

Lizard Boy?

11

Whatever was upstairs was being very quiet at the moment. Had he gone and hid? What if it wasn’t Lizard Boy? Fear and paranoia entwined and took me completely over for a second. Get it together, remember what you promised your mom.

Still holding the photograph, I studied the footprints. They were about the average footprints of a teenage boy. One time Nathan tracked mud into our house in Georgia – these were not that different.

What if it was just some random guy? Get a knife from the kitchen, you dingbat.

I turned and went into the kitchen when I heard a crazy crashing sound from upstairs, followed by a howl. He’d hurt himself. I knew exactly how, too. Dad got one of those swanky concrete tissue holders for the bathroom absolutely no one needed ever. Why on earth did anyone need one of those things? And he had the nerve to complain about my scented candle and sparkling water.

Whatever was upstairs must have gotten startled or careless and knocked it off, breaking it into chunks. So they were in my bathroom.

I stood very still for a minute, summoning the courage to go upstairs. I took the biggest kitchen knife with me just in case. I looked in the bathroom and sure enough there on the floor were chunks of the tissue holder, along with tiny drops of blood all over the floor. And mud. Dad was truly going to flip his lid.

The source of the damage was nowhere to be seen. Silence had fallen over the house once again.

I didn’t have to go through the awful task of pulling back the shower curtain to look behind it because it was already pushed back to the wall. No one nor nothing was in the bathroom now.

Then a heard an animalistic moan come from the end of the hallway where my room was. My door was open to – the intruder had gone right on in there. The moan turned into a horrible yelping sound, like a hurt puppy. The mud prints thinned out down the hallway and stopped at my bedroom door.

“Dad’s gonna be so pissed,” I muttered, walking towards my room. There could be a monster in your house and you’re worried about the carpet?

I took five more steps so I was standing in front of my bedroom door. It was cracked and a robust smell wafted out like smoke from a kitchen.

“Hel…”

I heard a moan like that of a wounded animal again. It sounded like they were saying “help me.”

“You’re in my room?” I asked, almost delighted. Why? Was I that lonely?

I pushed my door all the way open and there he was – just as Crying Girl had described – it was like her drawing had come alive. She was that unbelievably spot on. He was so beautiful – imagine the bright pale blue of the middle of my swimming pool at night mixed in with a deep army green as leathery patches of skin that ran down the center of his face. The rest of his face looked like smooth snakeskin, as well as the skin that covered his body. He had arms and legs like a human, but three giant claws instead of toes. His hands consisted of toe claws each instead of fingers. He definitely wasn’t human. There was a definitely not human male thing in your bedroom, Kiki.

“You…” I didn’t know what to say to this marvelous creature. I did not want to scare him off. “You are…Lizard Boy?” Of course he was. He nodded but didn’t blink those massive blue eyes. He seemed bewildered by his own existence. Lizard Boy was standing by my computer, just staring at me, not moving. A distinct musty odor wafted off of him. That smell. It made me want to cover my face and block off all my senses, but I remained open to it. I knew the minute one of us moved, it would be very sudden and change everything. I had the urge to touch Lizard Boy’s scaly face. Lizard Boy…was in my bedroom.

He pointed to the photograph in my hand and his eyes widened.

“This is yours?”

He nodded profusely and I handed it to him. He stared at it, his face sinking into the saddest expression before he put the photo in his back pocket.

I tried to swallow over the lump in my throat. I was not scared – my mind was not scared – but my body was and had broken out in a cold sweat. This was total unexpectancy.

My eyes fell down his body. I wanted to know what his skin felt like. There were a few spots that looked rough like a crocodile’s skin, but mostly, it looked like snakeskin. How could this be? What could make such a beautiful, exotic creature?

“You have a spaceship…in your kitchen.” He spoke. Oh, he had the sweetest, quietest voice!

“Yes…I mean no, no,” I tried not to laugh. “It’s a wet bar.”

“Wet?” He didn’t seem to understand.

“Yeah wet…bar.” Now that I said it like that, it sounded weird. My eyes fell down his body again. Whoa. He had the same anatomy of a human boy and my dad would FLIP if he knew I had a male monster like him in my room right now. Crying Girl had gotten his cock’s beasty size correct too.

I looked back up at his face – the bulbous leathery scales in the middle of his face were lovely and exotic, and I thought his nose was cute. HIs lips were very thin, and dark pink.

“You’re a boy…reptile?” I tried to figure him out. He was definitely a boy-something. “Do you have a name?”

I noticed he had an Adam’s apple, just another human feature to coincide with his freakish reptile appearance. It was like seeing a boy dressed in a skintight reptile costume.

He stared at me, not speaking. Then he held his hand out to show me his claw of a hand. It was as if he had his index and pinky fingers, but the rest of his fingers were gone. His hand was covered in the same type of snakeskin. His right disfigured claw of a hand was bleeding.

“Oh no, you hurt yourself…” I started to walk over to him and he stepped backwards. His eyes widened and he looked terrified.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m not going to hurt you. I can wrap your hand up for you.”

“It’s not as bad as what they would do.” I stared up at him when he said that. Who was they? I was about to ask that out loud when I heard the door open downstairs. Dad. WHAT! He wasn’t supposed to be home until midnight!

“Shit.” I ran over and closed my door and Lizard Boy made a sound like he was frightened. I turned around after locking my door. I could die, it occurred to me. I had no idea what the monster boy’s intentions were with me, but I set the knife down by my computer to show him I wasn’t going to hurt him. He stared at the knife – visibly shaken. He made the saddest face and I was sure he cried blue tears because his eyes were just that astonishing of a blue.

“I think you’re beautiful,” I told him. “Are you…are you Lekky?”

The name seemed to do cruel things to him. He made a face like he was in terrible pain and he looked up at the ceiling and started to make a weird sound, like he was crying, but it was more like a weird gurgling kind of sound – like he couldn’t cry and he wanted to, and the struggle drove him mad.

“Kiki?” Dad called out. “I’m home early – goddamn back’s hurtin’. What the hell’s all this mud for?!”

Dad’s unpleasant voice and heavy footsteps took over my world.

“I won’t let him hurt you,” I promised Lizard Boy. “Just be quiet.”

“Got you some of that fancy water!” Dad informed. I think that was his way of trying to coerce me out of my room. The look on Lizard Boy’s face was quite amusing but I tried not to laugh.

“My dad is drunk and angry,” I blurted. Lizard Boy looked at me like he definitely sympathized. He looked like he wanted to help but didn’t have a clue as to how. Then he started making that strange sound again and I placed my hand his mouth. Oh my. His skin, it was rough where the diamond-shaped scales were in the middle, but his other skin was just like a snake’s. I…wanted…him. I wanted to press my soft, clean skin against his lizard skin. I wanted…to do other things. Sexually, I was really starting to awaken.

“Shh.” He stared at me, frowning when I gave him the order. “I want to put you in my closet, okay?”

“You will keep me like them?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure what he meant. I could tell though, that them was not a good thing.

“I won’t hurt you – I want to save you.”

He stared at me intensely, like no one else existed.

“Save?” He seemed attached to the word.

I shut my eyes and had a vision – sort of like a hallucination. I saw a young boy in a cage, I heard unsettling screams around him. I saw men walking around the cage with syringes in their hands and eyes that only seemed to come alive when the boy screamed. A green fog hovered over everything. I opened my eyes just so the morbid scene would stop.

I started to move my hand away from him. Lizard Boy had sharp fangs for teeth and his skin felt like a weird mix of soft and rough. It was leathery, but very smooth. He stared at me and moved away instantly. He really didn’t like my hand over his mouth. He did not want to be touched.

“Sorry!” I whispered, as he bumped into something on my desk, knocking it off. “Please don’t go,” I begged. I was begging a monster to stay with me.

“KIKI!” Dad was enraged. “You need to answer me now!”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to Lizard Boy. “But you have to be quiet though! My dad. I’m not allowed to have boys in my room – or…Reptile Boys.” I stared at the closet – if he’d just get in there and be quiet everything would be fine.

Lizard Boy stared at me, his eyes moved a little down my body and back up to my face. He was checking me out!

“Kiki?” Dad was right outside my door!

I placed my finger on my lips to urge Lizard Boy to be quiet. I was amazed by how he held me with his gaze. That woody intoxicating smell kept rising from his thing. His male scent was all over my room.

“KIKI!” Dad was slamming his fist against my door, making it tremble.

“Get in the closet!” I whispered. “Please!”

But he did not move. We gazed at one another like we were just waiting for the right time – for the world to leave us alone to explore one another. Our eyes were curious about each other – we each represented something new and interesting to the other.

“You want this water or what? Crap was like two dollars!” My dad’s voice bellowed from outside my door. “What’s all this damn mud about!” Dad was totally irate – and ruining the most magical moment of my life! “What happened in the bathroom?! Kiki? You okay?!” he started pounding on the door.

“YES! Just a second!” Then I lowered my voice. “Get in the closet!” I urged Lizard Boy. I didn’t want to push him, be aggressive, and touching him was weird since he was technically naked. We were exactly the same height.

When I touched him, I had another vision. A man had bent down on his knees in front of the cage and Lizard Boy scrambled away in fear, slamming against the cage wall and making it rattle. All the men around the cage laughed.

My eyes shot back open. “I will help you – they won’t take you again, okay?”

HIs eyes gave away nothing, they were like two pretty pieces of blue glass.

“Please get in the closet,” I gave it one last try.

“KIKI GODDAMN IT!” Dad lashed out.

I felt like all someone had to do was say “okay” and we would go crazy on each other – there was a definite mutual attraction. I pointed to the closet. He turned and looked at it. His movements were very human-like.

“You will be safe in there – with panda bears.”

His eyes grew huge – he didn’t like that.

“Fake ones,” I made sure to say. He obviously lived in the forest and was scared of many animals. “Fake stuffed pandas.”

Then he frowned. I ran over to the closet and took a soft stuffed animal down from the shelf and showed it to him. He took it in his clawed hand and stared at it, quiet and observant.

“Please!” I begged. “Get in the closet!” I whispered again, harshly. Lizard Boy looked hurt when I yelled at him, his blue eyes expanding to express even more emotion. “No one’s going to hurt you,” I promised him. “I just need to get rid of my dad.”

He nodded – almost as if he’d been through this before with another girl. He turned and went into the closet and I shut the door, and got a strong whiff of him. It was quite potent and my whole room was stamped with his musty odor now.

“KIKI!”
“Coming!” I picked my Tom Ford perfume up and sprayed some around the room. The two smells combined were an awful mix.

“Sorry,” I opened the door, finally, and my dad looked completely unhinged. His hair was a mess and his face was glowing red with anger.

“What exactly…has happened here?” he wanted to know, barging right on into my room. “You know how much that carpet cost?!”

“Please stop yelling at me,” I begged. Lizard Boy didn’t yell – he had the softest voice. I stared over at the closet, protectively, before looking at my dad whose face was bent with confusion.

“Twelve-hundred dollars and eighty-nine cents,” I repeated the cost of the carpet.

“What is that smell?” he wanted to know. I just shrugged.

“Kiki,” he berated. “Where’d this mud come from?”

“I…” Come to me lie, come to me swift and speedy. “I was swimming and looked up and saw a bear. I got scared and just ran next door and knocked on the door and no one answered so I came in and…got mud everywhere. But at least I’m alive,” I said, smiling and batting my eyes. He didn’t look happy about that. Would he buy it? Because that wouldn’t cause all this mud.

“The sprinklers make the ground really soggy,” I added. Lizard Boy must have hung out way in the woods, deep where the ground was muddy and soft. I wanted to be out there with him. What did he do in those woods? That beautiful beast of a babe.

I listened, particularly to the corner of my room where my closet was, but I didn’t hear anything. Lizard Boy had the ability to be insanely quiet.

“How many times have I told you to not run from a bear?” Dad preached, walking over to the window – probably to see if the bear was still around to be shot. He was standing right in front of my closet. I thought desperately for a way to get him out of my room.

“I think I see it!” I played like I saw the bear in the backyard, pointing at a random shadow and Dad ran out of my room.

Yay!

Back to Lizard Boy. But no, your dad might come back upstairs. So don’t react irrationally to his absence just yet.

I listened – recognizing the tight click of the sliding glass door easily, and then the pool light went off. He was coming back upstairs.

Crap!

“Did you fart?” Dad asked, coming into my room and noting that foul smell again.

“No! Girls don’t fart. Dad, I’m tired. I’ll get some carpet cleaner tomorrow.”

“It smells like…like burnt plastic. Jesus.” He covered his mouth and nose as the smell seemed to get stronger. I tried to think of a lie – something that would explain the odor besides the truth.

Ummmmm….

“For someone who only drinks that weird water crap you sure do make smelly farts.” Dad was actually laughing at me.

“I didn’t fart!” I’d almost rather admit I had Lizard Boy in my closet than him thinking I produced such an odor.

“Then you tried to cover it up with perfume,” he was really having a laughing fit over this. At least he wasn’t harping on about the carpet anymore. “Now I’m glad I bought that expensive crap for your birthday.”

“Tom Ford’s not crap.” I had to put everything else on pause to make that brief statement.

Then the wheels of this crazy night began to spin again.

“I seriously…didn’t…fart,” I attested.

“Sweetie, it’s okay,” Dad said, his words still broken up by laughter. “Everybody farts – I think that’s an R.E.M. song.”

“Please get out of my room,” I begged.

“But now don’t go thinkin’ you can beat out your Uncle Leo,” Dad lectured as he finally made his way to my door. “He’s the king of farts.”

I couldn’t believe this was my life. I just stood there – waiting for it to end or change or something.

“Dad? I want to go to sleep.”

“Okay, but this carpet’s a sin. It was a saint. You gonna get it back to white,” he preached. “Start thinkin’ how. Good night heathen.”

 

12

I allowed about a minute to pass, making sure Dad was long gone before I went over to the closet. It was only a minute, but it honestly felt like an eternity. I felt so connected to Lizard Boy – I didn’t understand it. Maybe it wasn’t to be understood – only felt. Maybe I was tired of the normal. I was tired of humans. I was tired of death. Monsters seemed immortal.

I walked over to the closet, unable to fight the stupid smile taking over my face.

I opened the closet and found him crouched in the corner, his arms over his legs and his thing sticking straight up. He was very well endowed. Was that what made him smell so intense?

I walked backwards as he drifted out of my closet. I walked backwards until I hit the foot of the bed and fell down on it so now I was at eye level with it. I tried not to stare. I’d only seen a penis once – and very disturbingly and very, very tragically – it was my dad’s. (Add in photos of natural disasters here, screaming emojis, etc) he was sitting on the couch and it was sticking out of his boxers. I remember looking at Mom before I walked out.

“Frank!!” She hollered as soon as she saw it.

Anyway, moving on. This beast’s penis was huge. I looked up at his eyes.

“Who…is in the photograph?” I managed to ask.

“My brother. They took him too. They’re after me – but if they get me, they have us both. I have to get them. Then I’ll get my brother.”

“Who is them?”

He started at me as his eyes moistened with tears. “The Teachers,” he eventually said.

I had no idea what he was talking about. School teachers? What teachers?

I stood up so we were at eye level again. Then he turned to my computer and leaned over the keyboard. He punched the buttons so hard with his claw I thought the buttons would pop off.

“Easy…” I muttered. Then I looked up and saw he’d typed in the word Mansfield.

“What is that? What’s Mansfield?”

“It’s a town.”

He didn’t seem so aloof now – it almost seemed like he trusted me a little and if I could understand what he was telling me, he’d trust me more.

“You…know this place?” His voice was soft – gentle and full of hope that I knew what he was talking about. I just shook my head.

“I’m from Georgia. My mom died and then my dad moved us here.”

He just kept staring at me. I wasn’t sure if he understood what I just said.

“Mansfield.” He seemed obsessed with that place. “That’s where my brother is.”

“I don’t know it.” Suddenly the fact that he was a monster took over his eyes. They turned from a sad human blue to a bright glowing red and I knew I was in trouble. He suddenly grabbed my wrist with his claw and I screamed. My scream must have scared him because he fled. He didn’t go out of my door – he climbed through my window and slithered straight down my house. Once he was in the yard, he darted into the woods.

“KIKI?” Dad called out from downstairs. Ugh. Why?
“I’m fine – just saw a bug.”

“Go to bed already!” he shot back.

“Okay.”

But I didn’t go to bed already. I stayed in front of my window, wanting him to come back as his smell lingered. Oh my god – he was dangerous – that look in those red eyes. But I wanted him. I had to know what Mansfield was. Who were The Teachers?

13

One morning, a few days after my brief but amazing encounter with Lizard Boy, I was roaming my backyard. I stumbled upon a dead baby snake. Our grass had grown quite a lot and I really needed to get on Dad’s case to mow. I decided to play a trick on him and watched as Dad lounged in the pool, his glass of scotch and laptop with the swerve.com website up, nearby. He didn’t notice me come over – I had a tendency to walk very quietly – a talent that would come in handy down the road…

I stood by the edge of the pool for a long minute, the pink soles of my feet flat against the cool, wet marble tiles, the dead snake hanging from my hand. Then I dropped the poor baby in the water. This whole time my dad was hilariously unaware of my presence.

I casually walked around to where Dad was, waited a few minutes and then yelled, “DAD!!! SNAKE!!”

Watching him flip his lid would be the memory that would make me laugh through terribly long nights for the rest of my life.

He looked over his left shoulder before snapping his head over his right shoulder, mouth gaped open to release a scream he was fighting to hold. He was totally captured by panic. He spun around, splashing water to hopefully chase it away.

“Don’t anger it! You never want to anger a snake!” I warned.

“Where is it KIKI?!” he yelped. His voice was actually cracking from fear. Then I just couldn’t help it – I exploded in fits of laughter before pointing at the stiff black snake. “It’s dead! You can chill!”

I broke down in tears of laughter, my belly hurt I laughed so much.

“Kiki…” his face sunk and I could tell he was very embarrassed. “Get that thing outta the pool!”

I was still laughing as I reached over and scooped up the poor dead baby snake and flung it into the grass. Dad didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day, until I reminded him of all the tricks he used to pull on Mom. And besides, my dumb trick brought some needed relief after an intense few months. I thought maybe he would start talking about Mom since I brought her up but he just told me I was forgiven and retired to his office. I could tell he was still bothered by my silly deed.

Around 7, just as the sun was starting to retire as well, I went out into the yard in search of the baby snake. I felt bad for him. I decided it was a boy – I didn’t know why.

I scooped him out of the tall grass. The sun had dried him. He felt like his insides had hardened. I placed him on the lawnchair. His skin reminded me of Lizard Boy’s. Each night became a night I lied awake, wondering if he’d come back. Ever.

 

I spent the next couple of weeks cleaning the stupid carpet and buying school supplies. Dad started to bring lumber in for the cabana he wanted to build in the backyard. There had been no sign of Lizard Boy. His footprints still existed, but the mud was vague now. The red marks on my wrist had healed. I wanted traces of him to remain somehow. I felt an emotional pull towards him. I needed him to come back. We’d found each other’s lonely blue-eyed gaze in this big, crazy world. There had to be more – that couldn’t have been it!

I dreamily stared out of windows when I was awake, and kept having those weird dreams about being lost in an enchanted forest when I was asleep. Was it Fox Hills Forest? What was that blinding, intrusive light that shone from the sky?

I poured more carpet cleaner down and watched it foam. It wasn’t lifting the mud completely – just making it a lighter brown than before. The carpet was ruined. Well, at least one thing in your life has changed.

 

I sat in class, bored. All I could do was think about him. Those sad blue eyes looking like he needed something. It was like he didn’t know how to ask for what he needed. I knew that feeling. Then they went red – I felt like everything else had gone fro black and white to that same fiery red.

I needed something too. Ever since I lost my mom, I felt…lost. Waking up every day was harder now, I had a heart in me heavier to carry around. Unfinished conversations, things I meant to tell her, simply how much I appreciated everything she had done for me. Why didn’t you say that to her in the hospital?

Regret was exhausting. Some nights I wanted to pick up the phone and call Nat just because he knew who I was before Mom died. Remind me of that person again.

Who knew this kind of pain? I felt like Lizard Boy did. Something about him – at least when he was there in front of me – made me feel found again. Something about him was comforting.

“What are you daydreaming about?” Penelope, the girl sitting next to me, asked. She had tried to talk to me on the first day of school, but I wasn’t in the mood. I felt like we had nothing in common anyway. She was outgoing and blonde and a cheerleader. I was an introvert obsessed with nature and monsters.

School had me feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed all at once.

“Is it Jacob?” she guessed. She was trying so hard to be friends with me.

I rolled my eyes. Jacob was the boy that all the girls at Fox Hills High drooled over. I had no idea why. I mean, I guess he was good looking in the boy-next door sense. He had black hair that sprouted from his head in rather tight Shirley Temple-like curls. He had brown eyes and walked around like he was some Rock God Jim Morrison type and that simply appearing in the same room you happened to be in was a favor you could never repay. Apparently he was in a band and knew how to swing his hips on stage that brought the girls to a wet, corybantic state. He was exactly what every girl wanted – every girl but me, that was.

“Cold Shoulder is playing at The Whitmore next Friday,” Whitney announced of Jacob’s band. She sounded like their spokesperson. Her green eyes gleamed like wet grass. Her glossy lips stretched from ear to ear in a smile that probably wouldn’t fade for the rest of the day.

“Are you going??” she inquired a minute later, making it sound like there would never be a reason not to go – even if the entire planet was under a terror attack and an alien invasion all at once.

“I don’t know,” I simply responded.

The Whitmore was a nightclub in Pratfort. I guess going to Pratfort would be cool – but not with Penelope and not to see some wannabe band.

“He said Muthafuzz was opening up,” Penelope added. That I had to laugh at.

“Yeah right! They’re, like, famous.”

“Cold Shoulder is going places, they’re not just doing this in their basement until they finally move out and get some sad, dopey girl pregnant. They are going to make it.” Good lord, she really was their spokesperson!

“I don’t know,” I repeated in the same exact lackadaisical tone as before.

Everyone got quiet when our substitute teacher – the mysterious and rather volatile Mr. Sungers – rolled in. Penelope got all excited, moving around in her desk and grinning.

Then she turned to me and gushed, “He’s so hot…”

“Oh my god – he’s like old. He’s, like, twenty-seven!” I thought I’d whispered that, but I saw how Mr. Sungers looked at me and I blushed.

“Quiet.” He threw out that one word with the confidence that we would obey. He never said hello or good morning. Mr. Sungers took himself way too seriously for a substitute teacher. There were all sorts of rumors about the man – that he was a spy, that he was gay because he had no wife and no kids. Some even thought he was a wizard! The theories of him went from kind of believable to absolutely absurd. I didn’t really care either way.

When Mr. Sungers was not in Fox Hills High School, he was never seen anywhere, and that was what spawn so many rumors. No one had ever seen him out and about in Fox Hills. He also drove a fancy car while other teachers drove some old dud that was barely a step up from a horse and buggy.

I was sure he was insecure about this job and his position in life as a man in general. He wasn’t a real teacher, a real anything. He always dressed in fancy suits like he was on his way to a 5-star restaurant or the opera. His suits were always a little big on his slender physique. He wore too much cologne and hadn’t bothered shaving this morning. Penelope told me the other day that he kept her after class and he stunk of whiskey. When I asked her why she had to stay after class, she just grinned and walked off.

Mr. Sungers turned and wrote the name SAMUEL JOHNSON across the board. His handwriting was crazy and big and cursive. I rolled my eyes – this hour was destined to go by slower than any other hour ever had.

Mr. Sungers tossed the little piece of chalk up in the air once he was done with all the crazy loops in the name he just wrote. He walked to the front of his desk and sat on the edge of the desk instead of the chair behind it, because he was a maniac.

The room fell silent. All the students knew something was off with him, but for whatever reason Fox Hills High thought he was a great temporary replacement for Mr. Willis, who was sick quite often.

“Well?” he waited, offering a domineering gaze at the class. Something about him gave me the willies.

“Anyone know who Samuel Johnson is?” He tossed the chalk up and kept a whimsical smile on his face.

“The black actor in those action movies?” Donovan Blake – the class clown – joked.

“That’s Samuel L. Jackson,” Mr. Sungers voice dropped to a very deep level as he stared Donovan down, his eyes like daggers penetrating the boy’s skull.

I stared out of the window. Where was Lizard Boy right now? What was he doing? Was he swimming in the river? Was he crouching in the woods, his manhood pointing straight up like the other night? Oh my god.

I heard Mr. Sungers clear his throat and I looked up to find his muddy brown eyes staring right at me. His hair was black and curly – not wild curls like Jacob’s. Mr. Sungers’ curls were finer and more tamed, as if he slicked them back with some kind of fancy oil or cream. Penelope said it felt a little greasy. I really didn’t want to know how she knew that.

He crossed his arms as he remained sitting on the edge of the wooden desk. He kept his hands in his pockets and talked for half of the class without even acknowledging the giant book we were supposed to be learning from. “Blah, blah, blah Samuel Johnson, blah, blah…”

I started fantasizing about what I wished he was teaching. I thought about Lizard Boy’s skin – what those scales felt like under my hand. I thought about how rough he would feel on top of my skin after a long hot shower and my skin was extra tingly and sensitive..oh my…snake boy, lizard boy, whatever you are, please come back…

“Kiki,” Mr. Sungers barked my name as he tossed the small piece of blue chalk high up in the air and catching it.

What? Kiki what? Why had he called my name?

“KIKI??” This time he actually snapped at me!

“Huh?” I replied, flummoxed.

“Read.” Mr. Sungers was famous for giving one-word demands. He was cold and cocky.

I had to read out loud – I hated reading out loud. Mr. Sungers was glaring at me, waiting for me to follow his order.

My eyes fell to the tiny print on the first page of the chapter as everyone stared at me and the room turned immensely silent. Ugh. Now my voice was going to sound even more awkward in all this quiet.

“The stake…turned black…it was a…tor…torture device…”

“What?” Mr. Sungers could be quite snappy when he wanted to be. “What page are you on, Kiki?”

Yeah, what page are you on, Kiki?

I felt my face go red hot and everyone around me stared at me like I was a spaceship that had just landed in the middle of the classroom.

“Uh…” Oh my god, the minutes dragged by. All the alarms went off in my head when I realized I’d read the wrong thing. A different kind of silence took over the room – the kind that felt endless. This felt like torture! It was hot in this room too, because August was still happening and Mr. Sungers couldn’t bother opening a single window and I was already in school when it was still August and everything was SO UNFAIR!!

My eyes fumbled around the page.

“I’m on…page…six.” My voice was barely audible, which was odd considering how much anger stirred around in my stomach. .

“What?” he snapped again, walking over to me, his shiny black loafers making loud thuds on the floor. Mr. Sungers always seemed like he was on a warpath, out to cause harm. My knees buckled. My mouth went dry. I struggled in my chair as if I were in a straight jacket as he stood over me. All the girls thought he was handsome, I just thought he was cocky and cruel. He was still tossing that piece of chalk up in the air, always catching it in a tight fist. It left streaks of sky-blue across his palm.

Blue streaks, like Lizard Boy’s scales.

My psycho substitute teacher leaned into me, folding his hand into a fist around the little piece of chalk and placed his fist on my desk. He was right in my face – so close I could see details like the tiny mole on his upper lip. His brown eyes didn’t have any light in them – it was as if he didn’t have any pupils! I got a big whiff of his cologne. It smelled very masculine and overwhelming.

“Read…what’s on…page six,” he ordered, his black and silver tie spilled across my open History book. His breath warmed my cheek. He ran his hand through his hair, leaving his black curls a bit out of order. Penelope was looking right at his butt.

“Here,” he said. He sounded Russian for a second. His finger pressed into my page so hard it left a dent in the page when he took his hand away. “What did you read?” he spoke in a hush voice, as if we were the only two in the room. His whisper was hostile, berating. I was sure his spine was a snake and rats lived in the chambers of his heart. “You didn’t read the words on the page,” he said, his breath washing over my face. “Read the words on the page,” he demanded, finally straightening up so he wasn’t invading my personal space anymore. He ran his hand through his hair again. All this anger in him. I couldn’t get over it. “What did you read?” he asked, now just ridiculing me in front of the whole class. “Stop acting crazy.”

My cheeks were burning from embarrassment as he walked back to his desk, tossing his stupid chalk up in the air again. I wanted to scream – cry – run – but all I did was sit there. The entire horrific event made it impossible for me to read now and I was really scared I was about to cry.

Then a voice presented itself, and it was an absolute rescue.

“There had always been differences between northern and southern states,” Penelope read – her voice perfectly audible and confident and saving me from any further ridicule. I was relieved when Mr. Sungers didn’t tell her to stop. I was off the hook. I would never, ever come back to his class after this.

 

14

“Hey,” I ran up to Penelope in the hallway after class. She walked fast, her muscular cheerleader legs effortlessly taking her through the congested halls, her dirty-blonde pigtail whipping about as she went. She walked like she was in a dream and the dreamer couldn’t really ever touch her.

“Hey!” I finally called out – hating being ignored. She turned, her pigtail whacking her in the face when she did. She smiled when she saw it was me.

“Kiki, hey,” she slowed down a little as I worked to catch up with her.

“Hey…” I felt so socially awkward sometimes. I was shorter than her. I felt like a stray trying to find an owner.

“Hey.” Did I already say that? Ugh. “Just wanted to say thanks for…saving my ass in class.” And it had to rhyme.

“Oh dude, it’s cool,” she waved her hand so I saw her fingers – with their perfect manicure and gold rings – flash in front of me.

She seemed to like me – even though we were very different. I was not a cheerleader and really didn’t have an interest in sports. I knew really no one in Fox Hills and she seemed to know everybody. Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing – perhaps us being different could cause an interest in each other and lead to learning things and being friends. I needed a friend in this weird town.

This big goofy grin changed Penelope’s entire face all of the sudden. Her eyes dazzled with magic and secrets. “I didn’t do it for you – duh. I did it to impress Sexy Sungers.”

Eew. Gross. Please tell me that wasn’t her nickname for him.

“He’s hot,” she added.

“He’s an asshole,” I shot back.

“All the hot guys are. Get used to it, honey. Just sucks because you don’t get asked to stay after class for being good.” She twirled her long brassy blonde hair over her finger and wore this “know what I mean?” expression. But i didn’t. I didn’t want to know!

“You live on Evermore, right?” she inquired a minute later when the second to the last bell rang. If we missed the next bell, we were officially late for class. I could still smell his cologne – it stung my eyes.

“Yes…” I answered Penelope.

“In that big house with the pool?”

Ah, so that was why she wanted to be my friend.

“Yes,” I said, like I wasn’t sure.

“That’s nice. I live on Jane Street.” Jane Street was a very poor street in Fox Hills and I connected it with the street in Crying Girl’s video – could it be possible that they lived on the same street? Jane Street was a tiny step up from living in a trailer park. I was surprised she admitted to it, honestly. It made sense now that she strived to be popular – joining the cheerleading team and all. Penelope strived to be accepted.

“So…did you want to go to The Whitmore this weekend?” I decided to ask her, wanting this conversation to go somewhere. I didn’t like talking to people unless there was a real point.

“Yeah sure,” she gave me a beaming smile before she turned, her pigtail whipping me in the face as she went.

 

15

“Well, you can’t just not go to your class,” Dad said that night over supper when I’d complained about Mr. Sungers. I just wanted someone to know what an asshole he was. In fact, I wanted everyone to know. I wanted to wave a flag around that read MR. SUNGERS IS AN ASSHOLE – DO SOMETHING!

There was nothing worse than having someone in your world that was evil and you had no choice but to see them almost every day. Why was my real History teacher always ill?

I stared down at my undercooked peas for dinner. And plain, regular water. The meatloaf was okay, but Mom’s was better.

“Oh, and what the heck peed in your closet?” He suddenly inquired.

Huh. I heard the wheels of panic screech in my head.

“Why were you in my room?” I decided to ask.

“To do your laundry, princess. I swear this house has racoons or something! I heard something last night. Leo and I are bringing the guns out this weekend – we’re gonna tear this place up finding whatever’s in here, peeing and whatnot.”

“Right…” I muttered. Had Lizard Boy peed in my closet?!

“Don’t make that face – you don’t like my cooking?”

“Huh, no.” I fought to look normal – it was now a new, constant struggle. “You forgot to get my water,” I had to bring up. I felt a little bad because I knew Dad was trying, but…I mean, really. What a drag of a day.

“That stuff is expensive.” Dad was using his low, stern voice tonight. “Have you thought about anything we talked about the other night? Getting a job? College?”

“Dad? You’re fucking rich, you can afford Perrier.”

“Answer my question,” he demanded, turning to throw his beer can in the trash. “And don’t use that language. All you had to do was read like your teacher asked – then he wouldn’t have gotten angry. Just read in class – what is so hard about that? You know what people go through over in Iraq? And you won’t read out of a damn book.”

I just sat there, glaring out at the pool. Come back, angry Lizard Boy, and take me. Take me off into the woods. I don’t care.

“Your teacher was only doing his job, trying to make you learn something.”

“He’s a fucking Nazi,” I muttered. Dad looked too shocked to say anything at first. Then he took something out of the front pocket of his pinstriped shirt and unlocked the liquor cabinet. Ah, so that was where he kept the key. On him.

Dad went for the real stuff now, taking out a bottle of King’s Dark Dreams. It was a smooth whiskey that ran about a hundred dollars a bottle. He could buy that for himself but couldn’t bother to get me my Perrier?! My eyes stung hot with hate for this entire day.

I was quick to notice how he didn’t look the liquor cabinet back. He carelessly placed the key on the wet bar instead. He went out by the pool with his drink. The light at the bottom of the pool was so bright tonight that it looked white. He stood in front of the pool in his bathrobe, drink in hand, not moving. What was he thinking just then? Was he just basking in the glory of his new home?

I was about to snag a drop or two of whiskey when Dad came back in.

“You have one year left,” he said, approaching the kitchen. His tone was actually civil. “All you have to do it get through it.”

Easy for you to say, I thought.

“Sorry,” I said about cursing. I wanted to catch him off guard so he’d leave the lock off. He stared at me, his blue eyes perplexed. I missed mom’s warm, certain brown-eyes gaze. God, I missed her so much.

“Did you at least like the meatloaf?” Dad went back to discussing dinner.

“Yes, thanks.” I still wanted to talk about Mr. Sungers. He really bothered me.

“I can talk to the principal and ask for a different teacher,” I decided. “Students do it all the…”

“Kiki, don’t start controversy,” Dad cut me off and took a sip of his whiskey. The ice fell to the top of the glass and then clanked when he set the glass on the counter. “Don’t create problems. You’re new here, you’ll make it worse on yourself if you start secluding yourself.”

“Uh, Mr. Sungers is a dick.”

“Kiki, I’m so serious…” Dad pinched the bridge of his nose and that was when I knew I was really agitating him.

“He’s an awful person!” I declared. Then something caught my eye out by the pool – a person moving along. Then I rolled my eyes when I saw it was just Leo.

“It’s Friday,” Dad waved a hand of dismissal. “Don’t even worry about it.”

Just when I thought the day couldn’t get more nightmarish, here came Leo in his swim trunks, his chest hair all wet from a swim.

I…want…to…die…

“Damn that water’s nice,” Leo said. “Gonna be time to heat it soon though.”

“Yup,” Dad said. Fall would be here soon. Then winter – the cul-de-sac would somehow be quieter than it was now.

I felt Leo’s hand drop down on my shoulder. “How’s school kid?” he asked.

“Not good.” I wasn’t going to lie. I was always honest – except when I had Lizard Boy in my closet.

“I hated school,” he shared, opening the fridge and taking out a cold can of beer. “‘Cept that teacher Rosalie – woowee!” Leo hollered as he pulled back the tab on his beer can. He drank this local beer called Mud Slide. It was as disgusting as it sounded. “You ‘member her?” he teased Dad, knocking him in the arm with his elbow. Dad nodded and laughed a little.

“If he gets mouthy with you again, I’ll handle it,” Dad made sure to say to me about Mr. Sungers as Leo went back outside with his beer. “Now tomorrow, your Uncle Leo and I are goin’ huntin. What are your plans?”

I didn’t have any plans. I didn’t have any friends.

“I was going to hang out by the pool,” I said, lamely. Frank made a face, almost like he was disappointed.

“You should get a job,” he barked. “Get a car. You’ll have money – money opens doors.”

“Actually hands open doors,” Leo joked.

Ugh. I hated everything.

“Dad, I have school. That’s enough.”

“No it’s not,” he practically barked. “How else is school going? Made any friends?”

I shook my head. “There’s this one girl, Penelope, but she’s weird.”

“What makes her weird?” Dad asked, clearing the table for once. He even threw away Leo’s beer cans from earlier. “Maybe she thinks you’re weird.”

I was weird – I wasn’t going to deny that. But I didn’t try to hide my weirdness. I felt like she did.

“She finds that dickhead Mr. Sungers attractive.”

“Kiki,” Dad sighed.

“I know, the language,” I muttered. I walked upstairs – tired of all these lectures. I felt like there were bigger things going on with me than my choice of words. Like the monster pee in my closet…

 

16

Negative thoughts, heartbreaking memories, were there to take me down.

I willed the thought of my frightened, underweight mother being taken away on a stretcher to the hospice. I willed the darkness that seemed to want to take my world over forever – away.

Tonight, when hope was only a monster, I tried to enjoy the solitude of my room. There were no teachers, no parents. Just me and the things I wanted to do. The things I liked. Me things. I wanted the smell of Mr. Sungers off my clothes. He had brushed shoulders with me today and my whole shirt smelled of him. I ripped it off of me quite violently, even causing the neck to stretch and pop. I threw it on the floor with half a mind to set it on fire. I felt like screaming, but I eventually managed to calm down.

I immediately went to Crying Girl’s YouTube page. She usually uploaded a new video once a week about a new Lizard Boy sighting. I could see why some people were skeptical – that was a lot of times to be seeing a mythical creature like Lizard Boy, but there was something captivating about Crying Girl – she was her own soap opera. I felt like when I looked into her eyes, I was getting in an awesome spaceship and could leave this stupid planet.

This time Crying Girl didn’t seem so distraught – her eyes were bright with excitement. She had on a Beastie Boys shirt. Her bedroom wasn’t as dark either. She had a Nirvana poster on her wall. I bet we would get along and I wished she went to Fox Hills High.

“Okay – first I want to thank anyone watching my videos,” she made sure to say, smiling to show a dimple in her left cheek. “It means a lot. I promise you this is not a bunch of rubbish.” She paused for a brief moment. Then she said, “Today, whilst chillin’ in my room and ignoring the parentals, I discovered something…” she reached over for something causing subtle chaos – something fell off her desk, there was a rustling sound as she moved some papers around. A pencil rolled off her desk. Her room was so quiet that such a sound seemed like a lot of racket.

“Remember the drawing I did of Lizard Boy?” she picked up the picture and held it in front of the camera. It was nice to see him again – even if it was just a drawing. “See this?” she took a pencil and pointed to a word written at the bottom of the paper. It was barely legible until she adjusted the camera, zooming in on the word. “Look closely – someone wrote the word Mansfield. I swear it was not me – this is not a joke. I asked my mom and my pops and they said they didn’t write it. So who wrote this?” The curiosity in her tone reached a dramatic peak. “Mansfield is a small town in Illinois, about two hours from Chicago. It’s creepy as hell. It looks very southern – it looks like it’s stuck in some kind of…time warp, like the 50s. It’s a bunch of abandoned houses and fields and shit – there is no reason to ever go there. So who wrote this?” she pointed once again to the little word scribbled at the bottom of the page. “And why?” Then she rolled her big pretty eyes. “Ugh, Mom alert. Bye guys.”

Did she realize she was lucky that her mom was still around? I sat there in silence for a long time, staring at the computer screen as if something was still going on.

Wait?! Mansfield?! Lizard Boy had mentioned that town when he was in my room! I started to write a comment on her YouTube page and then I rethought it. Should I? Did I want to be a part of this whole thing? Not really – I just wanted to see Lizard Boy again.

I read the other comments on Crying Girl’s YouTube page.

She probably wrote that herself lol get a life, one person wrote.

It was on the tip of my fingers to write I believe you, but I didn’t. I held off.

I listened as Dad did his usual nighttime routine before going to bed. Once I heard his door close, I took my laptop and went downstairs to the bar.

 

17

Just a little sip of something was not going to hurt. I mean heck, Dad and Leo threw down drinks every day and they seemed fine.

I took out a bottle of that fancy whiskey and put a splash of it over some ice. Whoa. It was very smokey and burned a little on the way down. I found it quite potent. Maybe it was all about an acquired taste. I took a few more sips, willing my senses to go along with it. My nostrils tickled and my eyes watered but after a few more sips (which involved pouring a little more) I actually started to feel relaxed. Relaxed enough to delve into the mysteries of Fox Hills via internet. Relaxed enough to somewhat accept the things that had already occurred in my life.

I typed in Mansfield in my Google search bar and looked up at the darkness beyond the sliding glass doors. It was all too quiet. Was he out there, lurking about?

I looked at some images of Mansfield, Illinois. It was pretty much how Crying Girl described it. Vacant houses, crumbling buildings. The town never recovered from the Great Depression. I wondered if this was what Fox Hills looked like in the late 90s, when all was abandoned.

Mansfield was located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Some people posted comments about the town like “nothing to see here, move along” and “monsters, zombies and perverts coexist here.”

I hated all of it – Mansfield was simply ugly – and yet I couldn’t stop exploring it. The houses themselves were pretty – a variety of colors like the game Candyland, but the charming pink and blue houses had a gloomy dark interior. At least I was exploring it from the safety of my computer and not physically there. Of course, a part of you wants to go there. You know there’s a connection between this awful place and Lizard Boy. But there was something else – some other reason I felt connected to it.

I sipped the whiskey again, wishing ice wasn’t so loud. Then I crunched on a cube, which was even louder. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? I swear I heard something over by the sliding glass doors. Stupid me never turned the light on back there, but Dad would have noticed if I had.

The sound was a very faint tapping sound, the sound a fingernail against a soda can would make.

I shut down completely for a second because I heard a sound upstairs. I stared up at the ceiling as it creaked. If Dad came down here and found me drinking his expensive whiskey I was so dead. I heard the bathroom door open and close. Once he was done in there he would either come down here or go back to sleep. I waited and heard that strange tapping sound again over by the door. I thought about going over there, but I wanted to stay quiet until Dad went back to sleep.

At last, I heard the bathroom door open and my ears followed the footsteps back to his room.

 

18

I went to a webpage on Mansfield, Illinois called The Forgotten Town.

Rivers through houses, is how you could describe the aftermath of recent flooding along Boddle Street, damaging homes that were already rotting away, the site read.

Once a place of wealthy businessmen and shipping magnates and “people of note,” Mansfield is now an abandoned eyesore. You can still see what once was a charming, quaint town. People just don’t believe it’s worth rescuing now. In the early 90s, it was a place of meetings for NERO, and the group promised to get the town back on its feet. They even helped restore an abandoned high school and were going to turn it into apartments, but for whatever reason, this never evolved. NERO eventually stopped having meetings there. A teenager trespassed into the high school a couple years later and fell in a hole, leading to the discovery of an underground room.

We’re not really sure what went on there,” a former resident of the town told The Illinois Journal. “It was an ambitious project to get this town up and running again, but I really don’t know what that group NERO was up to. They had ties to the mayor of the town.”

Now, Great Necks High School is just another abandoned building once again, and is now condemned. Sadly, the town of Mansfield doesn’t appear to have ever experienced a rebirth. It is an eyesore now that people prefer to pretend doesn’t exist.

 

18

I was in a cobweb. The cobweb was giant and sticky, and whenever I tried to move, the web’s strings would pull me right back into my position where I had to be on my back, looking up a strong, blinding white light. I was naked and couldn’t recall how I got where I was.

A man I couldn’t see kept laughing and his laughter was bigger than the sky. I could feel it vibrate my whole body as it thundered across the dark room where the cobweb I was trapped in stretched wall-to-wall.

“PLEASE!” I ended up screaming when I got frustrated from trying to move to only be pulled back in the same helpless position, knees spread, ankles and wrists bound in the sticky web. Then I saw it – a giant finger pointing down at my body, tearing the web to poke my little body. “No, no, please,” I said. I was ticklish and moved about, my body jiggling as the finger kept poking me in my chest, my thighs…”PLEASE!”

Then the web started to move for another reason, and I saw incredibly long, needle-thin black legs of a mutant spider coming towards me.

“PLEASE!”

“KIKI?!” I woke up, a thin layer of sweat covered my whole body as Dad pounded on my door. I moved my arms around in a constant relief that I was not in a spiderweb, but in fact in my bed. I was safe and free to move if I wanted. The nightmare had been so real – so vivid – that I would never take freedom to move around for granted again.

After assuring my dad I was okay, he left me alone. I sat there in my room, too afraid to fall back to sleep.

I took a towel from the bathroom and went out by the pool. Dad was out there. I was hoping to be alone but it would have been quite awkward if I turned and went back in the house after he looked up and saw me.

It was about midnight, and I wanted a midnight swim. I wanted to be out in the open, by the forest because maybe I would see Lizard Boy.

Dad was in his bathrobe, which he’d had personally made for himself with the first letter of his name, Frank, inscripted on the front pocket in a big gold F. It looked like it belonged to a fancy hotel. He was smoking a cigar and sipping his favorite whiskey.

“You just gave me quite the scare,” he said. “You okay?” He seemed relaxed now. He was on that drink that made him relaxed – the one that came between the one that took the edge off and the one that brought the edge back.

I nodded. “Just a bad dream.” A bad dream inspired by what exactly? I always believed there was a deeper meaning to dreams. Had I been so emotionally scarred by Mr. Sungers’ scolding me in class today that it spawned one of the worst dream I’d ever had?

I soaked my tired body in the heated pool, hoping it would make me feel okay again. It did the trick – for now anyway.

I tried to ignore the sound of Dad’s slurping whenever he drank his whiskey. I stretched out on the lawn chair and stared up at the starry sky. It was so pretty I was glad I was awake and outside now.

“Think she’s up there?” Dad asked, also engrossed by the dazzling night sky.

“Mom?” I had to make sure – as he rarely brought her up.

“Of course.”

I stared at him for a long minute but his eyes were planted on the sky. I looked back up at it, noticing the biggest star in the midst of all the smaller ones.

“That’s her,” I pointed to it as a tear rolled down my cheek. “You never talk about her,” I suddenly sobbed. I couldn’t hold it in anymore – maybe it had been this day’s awful events, but my emotions were quite raw tonight.

“I miss her,” Dad said, letting me know. “Sometimes men…don’t say what’s on our mind, but goddamn if I don’t think about her every morning I get up. She was the person I saw every day for twenty years, you understand? I don’t know how to deal with it yet. I was so busy trying to take care of her when she was sick that…I didn’t even take a minute to think about how I would handle…it…her dying. The loss…is bigger than me.”

It got very quiet. What on earth. Did the other people that lived in this neighborhood never move? Never listen to music? It made me yearn to be in a big city, where an egg of noise was always cracking.

The tears started to tumble down my cheeks more aggressively, collecting along my jawline.

“Oh sweetheart.” Dad set his drink down and came over to me, hugging me – which was a bit awkward since he was in his robe and his hairy chest was exposed.

He sat back after a minute, clutching his robe to close it around him.

“The comb…” I tried to explain.

“What?” Dad had no idea what I was talking about.

“Mom wanted me to comb her hair…in the hospice,” the words hurt more than I expected,

hearing them out loud. “You weren’t there…I was having a really bad time with Nat and got mad and stormed out of her room and I never…combed her hair.”

I cried harder than I had in my life.

“Hey now…” Dad put his arm around me and this time I didn’t care that he was in his gross bathrobe. “There’s stuff I regret too – and trust me, it runs a lot deeper than not combing her hair.”

I didn’t know what that meant, and I wasn’t going to inquire.

“But I just wanna hold her and comb her hair now,” I just sobbed. “That’s all I wanna do.” My cheeks and the collar of my shirt were tear-soaked. I tried to calm down.

“Well – I hope it’s very far off – very far – but you’ll get another chance to do that one day.”

Death. It even awaited me.

I took a deep breath and had a crazy fantasy about raiding the liquor cabinet. It was one of those strange moments where it seemed like someone could read your mind. Dad slowly handed me his scotch.

“Just this once,” he said. I took a sip. The fiery liquid burned on its way down, and I felt strips of anger being torn away from me.

“Thank you,” I muttered.

“Don’t be swallowed up by all this guilt now – you’re too young. Your mother would want you to be enjoying yourself and I know lately that ain’t been happenin’ but…you know – you should go check out Pratfort. You’d probably like it.”

Pratfort. Cold Shoulder. Yeah, maybe.

Dad got up, took his glass and went into the house. Things actually felt calm for a change. I stared at the crazy leathery leaves of the new plant Dad had bought. The light of the patio shined on it to make the leaves look a very dark, defined green.

I finished went back in the house, noticed he hadn’t bothered locking the liquor cabinet. I just took a swig of something else – enough to separate my mind from its troubles, before going off to bed.

 

 

 

 

Part 2

Pazuzu Eating Sushi

 

 

 

 

19

Pratfort. It was as if someone scooped up Fox Hills, organized it, threw out the crap and replaced the deplorable homes with very pretty Victorian houses with gorgeous willow trees everywhere. The downtown area was catching on to the hipster scene and I couldn’t help but show my excitement all over my face. There were skyscrapers with fancy condos inside, and bars on every corner.

I stared at one, with its rustic brick building and bright neon sign in the window burning the restaurant’s name AGILIA’S.

Penelope parked her fancy red convertible in front of it and paid the toll and we walked in. Her aunt was one of the owners of the place, apparently, and we could get free dinner before the Cold Shoulder show.

“That’s a cool car,” I said once we were seated by the window. I was trying to hide my jealousy, but I wasn’t that good at it. Dad refused to buy me a car – I had to get a job and buy my own. It was his way of showing me responsibility.

“Thanks.” Penelope was staring down at the menu as I looked around the dark woody restaurant. It was weird to be away from Dad and Leo for the night, but I earned this. And Dad was actually excited to find out I had plans on a Friday night.

“So is this band, like, any good?” I asked.

“Uh, yeah! It’s Jacob’s!”

That wasn’t what I meant. I meant were they at all enjoyable for us non-Jacob groupies.

I tried not to be so negative – maybe they were actually good. They were playing at The Whitmore, after all, where mostly only signed bands played. I looked over at the Whitmore Theatre, which was right across the street. This was the Dylan District – where all the cool stuff in Pratfort could be found.

“No way!” I gasped.

“What?” Penelope looked directly over at her car, always paranoid someone was going to mess with it.

“Muthafuzz is playing.”

Like duh – I told you that days ago.”

“I thought you were joking.” I couldn’t get over it. Muthafuzz. They were the dangerous kind of rock band. Like Sex Pistols or Guns N Roses. Banny Jones just didn’t care, he cared less about the people around him than explosives.

“Nope,” Penelope simply responded, licking butter off of her thumb as she buttered a piece of warm cornbread.

“So is your aunt here?” I looked around the bar but didn’t see anyone old enough to be Penelope’s aunt. This was a hip joint aimed at us millennials, as we were called, and it was ran by people just as young and hip.

“No way – I don’t want her to see me here because then she’d tell my mom and my mom would die if she knew I was going to a Muthafuzz show.”

I tried not to be offended by what she just said. But your mom wouldn’t actually die.

I sort of wanted to tell Penelope about my dream – but would she be interested?

“I had the worst dream the other night,” I brought up. She was staring down at her phone. Did she hear me?

“Oh yeah?” she eventually spoke. “What made it bad?”

Ah. Okay. But I still wished she’d look up at me.

“This…I was stuck in this cobweb and this giant finger kept poking me.”

She found this hilarious. She slapped her hand over her mouth to keep the giggles contained.

“It’s totally sexual – the finger represents a penis. You need to have sex.”

“You can tell I’m a virgin?”

“Yes. It’s as obvious as the brick wall behind you being red.” She put her phone down on the table, and really looked at me. Impressive. “You’re just horny, that’s all.”

I stared back out at The Whitmore, wondering what this night would bring.

 

20

A group of scary looking kids – not here for Cold Shoulder – were forming outside The Whitmore. They carried with them the same hostile energy as their beloved band Muthafuzz did. The singer, Banny Jones, had assaulted various people, nearly beat his girlfriend to death and was rumored to not even be entirely human. I heard he was involved with some secret underground project in Montauk for about a decade. I heard his foster mom molested him when he was a teenager. You could juggle loaded guns and be safer than you would be around him.

There were younger versions of him everywhere – with their jet-black hair, gothic eye makeup and black clothes. They didn’t have his metal teeth though, or his rumored horse cock (at least I guessed they didn’t).

Penelope stood off to the side, staring into her phone again.

At least she included me on what she was texting: “I’m texting Jacob to let him know we’re here – he might be able to get us in.”

“Really?” I didn’t believe that. Meanwhile, I’d caught the eye of a boy obviously here for Muthafuzz. He had his black hair in little braids because he didn’t have enough hair to have dreadlocks. He was wearing eyeliner. His black jeans were slashed across the knee. He was cute enough, I guess. Dad would never allow him in the house. He chewed on his pierced lip and eventually smiled at me. Awe. He had a shy smile that was surprising because he looked like a tough punk kid. I smiled back right before Penelope lost her chill and rammed me in the side with her phone, making me ticklish and sore all at once.

“Ouch!” I hollered.

“We’re in!”

“Seriously?”

Penelope just nodded and showed me a text from “Bae4ever” and dragged me towards the double doors of the theatre.

 

21

I had to admit it felt good to be able to walk right by the crowd lining up outside and go right on in. I felt like royalty. The bouncers with the dead eyes just gave us a slight nod and we were greeted by a girl in a sequence black dress with a walkie-talkie looking thing in her hand. Her heels clacked against the glossy black floor and made her sound important.

“Hi!” she said, a mouth full of perfect white pearly teeth. “Penelope?” she said, looking at us both because she didn’t know which one of us was Penelope until I clearly aimed my finger in Penelope’s face.

“Okay, the backstage area is right through there.” The girl stretched her tattooed arm out at a black curtain. It was in the next area of the room, up a step and across a shiny black dance floor. The disco ball was not on yet, and there were big red leather couches against the walls. I’d never been to The Whitmore, but I honestly thought it would be more glamorous than this. Still, it was a heck of a lot more impressive than anything back in Fox Hills.

The backstage area was a lot more impressive than any other part of the venue. There was a long, beautiful mahogany table with white oleanders exploding from gold vases running along the middle of it, and fancy silverware and big fluffy white napkins with the name Muthafuzz sketched on them in gold. I wanted one, so when no one was looking, I yanked one off the table and crammed it into the back pocket of my jeans.

There were also fancy candles lit with a very understated scent of vanilla, and a delicious variety of sushi on the table. Off in the corner where it was too dark to see anything I heard a sniffing sound. Was someone crying?

“Dude!” Penelope shrieked, walking over to that corner and pulling the messy-haired Jacob out of it. He had something white around his nostrils.

“Yo.” He seemed weird, and his eyes were glassy. He smiled big and pointed to the black floor. “This is…this is Banny’s room.”

Oh my god. I about fainted. “We’re not even supposed to be in here, dude.” Jacob was completely amused, and I realized he had been doing coke. I saw a bunch of the powdery stuff on a mirror on the floor in the corner of the room.

“How the fuck did you get in?” I gasped. It was the first thing I’d ever said to Jacob. He never noticed me when he pranced up and down the halls at school. He was taller than anyone, and his eyes always surfed right over my head as his bouncy black curls fit him like an angelic crown.

“Banny and I are like this.” Jacob crossed his middle finger over his index finger and addressed his response to Penelope, not me. “Yo guess who I saw around here earlier,” he went on. He hadn’t looked at me once.

“Who?” Penelope was smiling the whole time, doting.

“Mr. Sungers.”

I noticed the look in Penelope’s eyes change, like clouds had passed over the light in them.

“No way,” she grinned.

“No,” I said, much darker than her. “I can’t be here if he’s here.” Why? What kind of a teacher came to a punk show?!

“Chill,” Penelope just said.

“Why would he even be here?” I asked, grossed out. My knees were trembling.

“Muthafuzz is, like, old now,” Jacob offered his explanation. “He’s probably here for them.”

Just then Banny Jones trudged in. The room fell silent. No one had a presence quite like Banny Jones. His face was painted like Pazuzu from The Exorcist. His eyes were red – I’m guessing contacts but they were unbelievably freaky. He had black circles painted around his eyes that didn’t look so much like makeup but shadowed death. His face was chalky white. He was wearing black trousers and a strange white blouse with what looked like real blood on the cuffs. It was pretty creepy. He walked right over to the sushi and popped one of the shrimp rolls in his mouth.

“Millennials, shiny happy robots, eating my fucking sushi.” That was all he said. He popped a few more pieces of sushi in his mouth before walking back out.

That was it. That was my brush with a rock star.

 

22

The show started out basic – Cold Shoulder weren’t bad but they were obviously going straight for the record contract. Because of this, their sound lacked a certain rawness. It was too neat. Jacob had a good enough stage presence though.

Then Muthafuzz came out and started throwing glass bottles at each other.

“Fuck yesterday, fuck today, and fuck tomorrow,” Banny spoke into the mic. “But tonight – I want someone to fuck me.”

Hundreds of hands went up in offering – a variety of boys and girls wanted Banny Jones. Banny didn’t pick anyone right off, he was more interested in a piece of glass from a bottle he’d shattered, and cut his chest open with it and a fanboy went up on stage to lick the blood off of him before Banny broke into a weird cover of The Cars Let The Good Times Roll, still dressed as Pazuzu. It was all very odd – Banny sounded both amused and on the verge of suicide.

When a girl begged to come on stage and be violated by him, he told her he wanted to put a straw in her vagina – but that it was a “nine-hundred dollar straw.”

After the show, everyone was hanging outside The Whitmore, adrenaline from a great rock show running through their veins. These kids were still up for something, these kids did not want to go home.

The creepy rickety sound of Banny singing “Let the good times roll,” was stuck in my head, along with the moans of that girl being violated by that fancy straw, which was thick and looked gold (or maybe had something gold in it?) My dad would flip if he knew the things I witnessed tonight.

The boy I made eyes with before was hanging out by himself. I was almost positive he was the same kid that went up on stage and licked Banny Jones’ bloody chest after Banny sliced himself open with a broken bottle.

While Penelope stood next to Jacob like a mannequin as he talked to his fans, I went over to the boy.

“Hey…” I greeted him. He was leaning against the building but detached himself when I came over.

“What’s up?” he said. Now that I was closer to him, I saw he had a goatee, and really dark brown eyes. He was cute but he had the thickest southern accent and I had to concentrate to pick his words apart. It was like pulling up ants from syrup. “You like the show?”

“Uh yeah, yeah it was cool.”

I noticed how skinny he was. His clothes hung off of him. He had a spiked leather band around his wrist.

He kind of laughed, he had a husky laughter and his Adams apple jutted forward. “You didn’t like it.” He saw right through me. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

“No I did,” I said, once I figured out what he had said. His words were slow and long like summer days.

“You didn’t like the first band though,” he said.

“I don’t know,” I just said, looking around. I never knew how to act around boys.

“Muthafuzz was dope but…that first band.” He scrunched his nose up like he smelled something rotten. “Dude, The Strokes already happened,” he swatted his hand and shook his head. “But you know,” he shrugged.

“Was that you?” I just asked, feeling comfortable enough around him to. “That got up on stage?”

“Nawe, no, that was my twin brother.”

“Oh wow.”

He laughed again and his Adam’s apple dropped so it looked like it might cut through his throat.

“I’m fuckng with you, sweetheart, it was me. I don’t have a twin brother – I have a really ugly asshole brother who’s late picking my ass up.”

“Oh.” Oh my god, he licked the blood off of Banny’s chest. The realization melted the cartilage in my knees.

“It’s cool that you like them…everyone at my school likes Justin Bieber.”

“You fuckin’ serious withashit?” I liked the way he smiled when he found something outrageously stupid. I liked the way he mashed words together into one big word. I liked his dimple and his raggedy converse. So, I think I liked him.

“Yeah.” I stared obsessively at his feet. I think his converse were black but they were so worn they were grey now. Rain-grey.

I looked back up at him to find him looking right at me. Our eyes locked. I could hardly breathe.

“You go to school around here?”

“Fox Hills.”

“Oh shit, really?” The name of the town definitely rang a bell with him. Then he called it “Monster Town,” pronouncing “monster” like “mownster.”

“Monster – you mean Lizard Boy?” I said.

“Yeah, have you seen him?”

“I have.”

“Whoa, no way!”

I couldn’t believe this. We had so much in common we were barely waiting for the other to finish talking before one of us said something else.

He extended his hand to me and smiled again.

“Chad.” Chad – nice, subtle. Cool.

“Kiki,” I shook his hand. He had strong, soft hands.

“Yo!” Penelope waved me over, as if what I wasn’t doing was important.

“That’s my friend – my ride,” I said, more specifically.

“Ae, ‘least you got one – I don’t think my asshole brother is coming.”

“Really?”

Chad shrugged and made the sweetest, saddest face. I felt if I left him, I would be disowning a puppy. A puppy with blood breath.

“What will you do?”

“Crash on the street – go to a diner. I’ll be alright.”

No. I couldn’t allow that to happen.

“I’ll be right back,” I told him. “Stay here.”

Penelope turned to talk to me. Her hair looked really pretty tonight – her blonde tresses had been curled and were bouncing all over the place.

“Jacob just said he’s coming home with me!” she squealed.

“Cool! Hey…see that boy?” I pointed over to Chad. Penelope’s face looked like a building collapsing.

“Uh, yeah.” She obviously didn’t find Chad anything special.

“He has nowhere to go – his ride didn’t show up. Can he come back with us too?”

“Uh yeah, because I’m totally into getting hacked to pieces in my sleep.”

“What?” I mean really. “He’s totally sweet.”

“He licked blood off that psycho – I saw it.”

“Please. I never get to have any fun.”

“What if he’s Lekky?” she was just obsessed over Chad being evil.

“What if Mr. Sungers is Lekky?”

“Uh, wow. Just wow.” She turned to look at Jacob, who was talking to yet another fangirl. So she looked back at me and rolled her eyes. “Okay, whatever, but he has to get in the car now.”

 

23

The drive from Pratfort to Fox Hills was about an hour, so the fact that we’d been driving over two hours should have meant something to someone, but we were too busy talking about the show, listening to music and just having fun.

“So what was it like licking that blood – what did it taste like?” Penelope asked Chad what I wanted to ask, but didn’t come up with the nerve. She turned the music down a little to hear his answer.

“Fucking don’t turn it down! I love this song!” Jacob was drinking from a flask and being very loud and annoying.

“Uh…metallic?” Chad just said, not having to yell over Jacob because I was very close to him and this backseat felt like our own little world. “I was pretty wasted so…I don’t really remember. But I touched his cock. It’s enormous.”

“So you’re, like, gay?” Penelope asked.

“No. I hate everyone – so what’s that?”

I laughed. I loved Chad. We were holding hands – we’d been holding hands for most of the trip.

The road we were on was very dark and winding with deer crossing signs. This was the kind of road that was so smokey with darkness that you wouldn’t see a deer until it darted out in front of you, and your heart would stop and you would have to make a decision to risk your life and run into a ditch or hit the deer. The fact that Penelope was speeding wasn’t really helping, either. The danger of the whole thing climbed around my heart as I held his hand tighter. The only thing that seemed to gleam anywhere around was Chad’s lip piercing. I glanced over at him. He was looking down at our entwined fingers. He lifted our hands to kiss mine.

“Yo,” Jacob said a few minutes later, looking out the window as if he could see anything in this refinery of darkness. “Where are we?

“North Carolina, dork!” Penelope laughed.

“I think we’re lost – there aren’t this many deer crossing roads in Fox Hills,” Jacob realized.

“Uh, yeah there are – there’s a ton,” Penelope said.

“We’ve been driving for two hours – it shouldn’t take that long to get back,” Jacob simply reminded.

Chad leaned over so his pierced mouth was right on my ear. “Listen, they’re fighting like a married couple already.”

“I know, right!” I laughed, looking right at him. I’d never seen a cuter boy – except maybe Lizard Boy. “They should be on one of those horse and carriages back in Pratfort,” I joked. He nodded and I could tell he wanted to kiss me but I wasn’t ready quite yet. He burrowed his face into my neck where I’d dabbed some Tom Ford femme noir earlier.

“You smell…fuckin’ incredible.”

There, Dad, that was why it was worth hundreds of dollars.

“Thank you,” I whispered back, and our grip on each other’s hand loosened just to tighten and express our desire for each other all over again.

“You know, we should just be going to your house, you’re the one with the pool and the bar.”

I realized Penelope was talking to me.

“No, my dad would have a fit.”

Then Chad looked at me. “Are you rich?”

I just shrugged. I found that word a weird way to describe me. I could tell Chad wasn’t rich. If he was – he definitely chose to display the opposite lifestyle. I stared at all of his distressed clothes as he took my hand again. I noticed how his thermal undershirt was rose a bit so his stomach shown. He was so skinny and he had some kind of script tattoo on him, right above his hip. I barely touched it. Oh my, he was so warm. I could tell he wanted to kiss me. The light in his brown eyes had hardened and he only saw me.

“Do you taste like his blood?” I had to know.

He tightened his hold on my hand.

“You tell me,” he said, and leaned in and just planted one on me. His tongue was pierced, he kissed like he was going to kiss me no matter what – we could be in the middle of a car crash and he wouldn’t have stopped. Our mouths opened wider, desperate to taste each other. I could taste the blood, just vaguely. It was almost like Chad had been suckin on a dime. I kissed him deeply, wishing he still had Banny’s blood in his mouth. Whoa. I was just startin to discover my freaky side. I was wet and his palm was pressing against my thigh and traveling upward. My hand was also traveling curiously up above his knee…oh my…

I pulled him close to me again so some of his distressed black t-shirt was crumpled up in my hand.

“Why do you have on two shirts?” I asked, amused as I buried my face in his shirt. He smelled like campfire. “What is that tattoo?” I asked, not giving him time to answer my other question. Oh this wonderful curiosity. I noticed tiny script tattooed near his jutted hip.

“Kansas,” he said before giving me the sweetest gentlest kiss. I was against the seat’s backrest and he next to me but getting on top. Oh my god. I could feel how excited he was. He was perfect.

“Why Kansas?” I wanted to know. “Oh…” I shut my eyes as his warm hand drifted up under my shirt and his heavenly body pressed down against mine – where every single fiber of my being was wide awake with sexual curiosity. In this dark car, his hands all over me. This was so amazing.

“Just to remind myself that no matter how much things suck, at least I ain’t in Kansas no more,” his words leaked out of his lips in a sexy southern drawl as he squeezed my left nipple and my whole body gave a little kick in response to the pain.

“Ah!” I couldn’t help but cry out. He started to laugh – his mouth curling up into a grin but the laughter was not allowed to escape because I kissed him again. Deeply. Wantingly.

He was still trying to talk. “It’s also my…” he laughed because we couldn’t get enough of each other – wanting to talk and wanting to shut up and make out at the same time.

This was awesome!

“It’s also my dad’s favorite band – one of the first songs I heard was a Kansas song.”

“Aww…” I got lost in his eyes again.

I put my hand on his chest. His skin was so smooth and warm. He took my hand and started sucking on my fingers.

“Oh…” I had no idea how pleasurable such a thing could be. My fingers were lost in his moist, warm mouth as he ran his hand up under my shirt again.

“You don’t wear a bra,” he noted.

“No…” Should I? I was just so flat-chested I thought why bother?

“I don’t either.” Chad was a joker, I liked that. But he was also qute serious – especially when he was kissing. “Put your legs around me,” he directed as he came down on top of me. pressing his body against mine. I wrapped my legs around him so my ankles crossed against his ass, and he pressed harder against me. Wow.

“Can I take your shorts off?” he asked.

I was lost in my own feelings, I couldn’t stop moaning.

“You still taste like his blood,” I said, of Banny’s blood being on his tongue. I was avoiding the question because I honestly didn’t know the answer to it. Technically, he could probably manage to take them off. But I knew what he wanted to do. Mom had warned me about boys – and Dad had definitely given me a few speeches – mostly just wrapping it all up by saying, “Don’t waste your time! I have guns!”

“Oh?” Chad grinned. I shut my eyes and replayed the vision in my head of the moment Chad dropped to his knees in front of Banny Jones aka Pazuzu and placed his tongue against Banny’s torso, right at his belly button, as Banny put his hand in the boy’s hair and Chad lovingly trailed his tongue straight up Banny’s chest, his tongue traveling through the pool of blood on Banny’s skin.

The thought made me even hornier, and I pressed my virgin self against this southern boy as his pierced mouth explored me, kissing my breasts now that my shirt was up around my neck. Oh wow, what a mess he was turning me into.

“You like to be choked?” He asked, his words delicately tickling my ear.

“Oh…oh…”

“Is that a yes?”

I didn’t know, my head was spinning. And he was tugging on my shorts and I touched him there. Just as I felt his erection, which was long and skinny and hard like that dead snake I picked up the other day – Penelope’s car made a very weird sound and started to slow down.

“Oh shit,” Penelope said, right before the car died altogether.

 

24

By far, it was the furthest I’d gone with a boy.

I was grinding him, his hard dead snake-feeling cock was driving me close to an orgasm as I slide up and down him. I had him sprawled out over the backseat of Penelope’s car, his shirt up so I could touch and kiss his warm, smooth chest.

Penelope was standing beside the car, arguing with Jacob about what to do since her car broke down – but I couldn’t care less. I was fine being stranded here.

“Chad,” I kept breathing his name against his flesh. “Chad…oh…oh!”

I slammed my hand against the glass as my body trembled against his and I felt this little puddle of warm stuff against the tight of his jeans.

“I came…” he sighed. My face was hot and the deer crossing sign outside the window was a blur of green.

“I think we’re stranded,” I said, looking down at Chad. He was smiling.

“I don’t care – I like being stranded with you.” His tone was warm and hoarse. I kissed him so hard, biting his lip a little as his hands went up under my shirt, stroking my back.

“Oh…” I breathed against his ear.

I heard the collective sound of doors slamming.

“Good god, get a room,” Penelope moaned about us.

“They can’t – your fucking car won’t get us there,” Jacob pointed out. This made Chad laugh. Which made Penelope practically breathe fire.

“Well what am I supposed to do about it?!” Penelope snapped.

“Maybe check the gas next time so we don’t run out,” Jacob lectured. “Cars don’t run on sunshine.”

Wow, Jacob was a bag of fun.

I sat up, because their bickering was annoying and I really did wish Chad and I could get a room. Everyone was quiet for a minute when we heard a thump on top of the car, against the sunroof.

“What was that?” Jacob sounded paranoid. Chad frowned as he looked out of the window, but picking any shape out of the darkness was as hard as picking Chad’s words apart in one of his strung together southern sentences.

“I think it was just an acorn or something.” Oh my god – the way Chad said acorn! It was too cute!

But then we heard another tapping sound – this one louder than before.

“We’re not under a tree. Damn,” Jacob sighed. “I bet if we put all you guys together, we still couldn’t make half a brain.”

“You’re a dick,” I simply declared.

Chad laughed. Then more things fell on the car. It sounded like it was raining rusty nails. Then the consistent thumps stopped and a loud thud occurred and shook the car.

I think we all screamed. I know Penelope did. Then we all got out of the car. It was dark and the night was full of screams – ours. It was hard to tell what was going on but I knew there were five of us now – not four.

“LET ME GO!” Jacob hollered. I felt something whack me in the arm so heavy that I fell and Jacob’s screams grew distant as whoever or whatever had him dragged him off into the woods. Chad ran after them as I stood there, unable to move because my arm was throbbing.

 

25

“What do we do?” Penelope just sobbed. “They’re not coming back – they’re not coming back.”

“Just go.” I was sitting in the backseat. The moon beamed down on us and the slivers of glass everywhere shined like diamonds and stung my skin.

I wasn’t sure why I had such a dry tone of voice – but I knew it was pointless to stay here.

“Go?” Penelope said the word in a slobbery moan, like she didn’t understand its meaning.

“Yes,” I just said, trying not to cry. “Go.”

 

Penelope looked in shock when she pulled around the circle street to my house, parking on the side so my house was behind her car.

I looked at her, but she was texting someone. She was frowning and looked a bit tired.

“You…think we should go to the police?” I asked. This didn’t feel right. Something had taken those boys and I knew we should do something. Jacob was a total jerk but it was nice of Chad to go after him. But why did he? At least he would still be here with us.

Penelope just stared at her phone as if it contained all the answers she would ever need.

“Hold on,” she managed to say. Once her phone received a new text she seemed a bit relieved.

“No,” she said.

“Penelope – what about Jacob?”

“We’ll just pretend it didn’t happen – he was an asshole anyway.” She paused, bit her lip. Her phone made a noise. “We went to the show but we left without them.” That was her plan, to say that if anyone became suspicious.

I just sat there, dismayed. I eventually nodded, because I didn’t have a plan at all.

“I need to go now,” she muttered. I got out of the car, wondering if I should follow her. I got the feeling she was not going home.

 

I stood in front of my bedroom window, long after being dropped off. My ears were still ringing a bit from the loud concert. My legs were shaking from what occurred on the dark road. What was in those woods? What the heck was going on in this town?

My stomach felt weird and suddenly my mouth was watering – a sure indication I was about to vomit. I rushed out into the hallway and into the bathroom and before I was even over the toilet, brown liquid just shot out of my mouth.

I held on to the lid of the toilet because I thought more was to come, but my body seemed empty – only fear filled it. I was having weird stomach spasms. I felt very dizzy. I was seeing things – like Banny’s face painted as Pazuzu. The sound of him eating that sushi, his metal teeth sinking into the soft, coldness of it.

I made it back to my room after walking down the hall to it like a zombie. I stretched out in my bed and fell asleep the minute my face hit the pillow.

 

26

The smoke rose from the grill as Leo stood back, spatula in his hand, flannel shirt unbuttoned. I looked away and tried to get the picture of last night out of my head. I thought about Chad, how he vanished in those woods, his jeans still soiled with his own semen.

“Have fun last night?” Dad asked as I claimed a lawn chair. He was basking in the sun as he lied in his own. Why couldn’t I be on a private resort somewhere, with no one asking me questions.

“Uh, yeah.” I heard my phone go off from the couch, alerting me of a new text. I started to go get it when Dad called for me to come over.

“What?” I glumly asked.

“Now put on some real clothes – goin’ to the game lands.”

“What? Noooo,” I whined. Not now. But maybe it wouldn’t hurt you to know how to defend yourself after last night.

The Game Lands was part of the shooting range, where people could actually hunt and kill animals. Bring them back as trophies or dinner or whatever.

“Did you really not hear what I said? Or is that just an argumentative teenage response?”

Ugh! If I had anything in my hand, I would have thrown it as far as possible.

“I don’t want to shoot…anything – I want to lie out by the pool.”

“Darlin, it’s early, you can do that when we get back. I didn’t see you all of yesterday, now you have ten minutes.”

Darlin? Was he serious? That was a new one.

 

I made my way to my room, unhappy with everything. I leisurely changed clothes because the ones I had on smelled like his cigarettes. Chad. I went outside in my bikini with Leo’s God, Guns and Girls thrown over it. Leo looked pleased that it was getting some use.

“Hey Kiki, wanna burger?” He sounded in a good mood too. The scent of meat made me hungry. I hadn’t had any food since we were at that hipster restaurant yesterday and even then excitement sort of demolished my appetite.

I sank into the hot lawn chair and ate, a sheepish grin hitting my face when I recalled another hot fact from last night:

He asked me if I liked to be choked. Oh my god. My entire body almost went up in flames like the charcoal on the grill.

“You put sunscreen on?” Dad asked, reminding me he was still lingering in my world.

“Uh huh.” I lied. I hadn’t bothered. Could I just be left alone for five seconds? God.

“How was the show?” Leo asked, his voice darting over at me from the grill. I couldn’t tell if what he had on was a) shorts b) underwear or c) swim trunks

“Great.”
“That damn band Muthafuzz – they crazy as shit,” Leo laughed. “I heard some girl got burned by something in a straw.”

Oh my god. Change the subject, change the subject, change the subject, I told myself.

“Those gardenias look lovely,” I pointed to the garden Leo and Dad had been working on.

“Thanks…” Dad sounded aloof. This conversation was in pieces.

“Uh huh.” I thought about how Chad licked Banny’s chest again, did he swallow that blood? It was so erotic.

“Okay, let’s go.” Dad was still trying to gather us up to go the Game Lands.

“This is a swimsuit, not a shootsuit,” I informed. I really didn’t want to spend this gorgeous sunny day in a building with a bunch of rednecks, shooting rounds of bullets.

“You’n wear that to the range,” Leo declared. “We can go kayaking.”

Oh my god. This was just getting worse.

“No!” The Fox Hills Shooting Range wasn’t just for shooting guns, there was a nice river, and even a park on the property. John’s and Jim’s, the popular steakhouse and only nighttime spot for people to hang out and pretend it was an actual party spot, was also close by. But I didn’t want to go – I just wanted to be alone right now.

“Get in – I’ll buy you some of that fancy water you like,” Dad bribed. Adults seemed to forget that us teenagers only got the weekend off too.

I slowly got up from my lawn chair at the mention of Perrier. Hell, we all had our price.

I looked over from the couch, where I took a minute to let my hot skin cool in the darkness of the living room, and saw Leo was right in my face.

“He’s just paranoid because that girl’s gone missing, you know?”

“What girl?” I asked. I’d obviously missed something. I wasn’t exactly one to follow the news. I believed in monsters. I believed in fairytales. I believed in things that weren’t on the evening news.

Leo shrugged. “Brittany…think her name was. This town don’t want none of it – reminds everybody of what happened in the before, you know…? Anyway, best get in the truck, he ain’t gonna give up.”

I sighed. Dramatically. “How long will this take?” I asked as we walked along the yard, which needed to be mowed. I supposed between Swerve and drinking, my dad didn’t have time for such tasks. A fat bumblebee rose up from the ground and curiously buzzed around my ankle.

“Heck, I don’t know – how good you wanna get?” Leo laughed at himself like he was the funniest thing ever. He put his arm around me and for a second my whole world became his gross underarm sweat. Ahhh. How did this day get so dark already?

 

27

The worst thing about hanging out with my dad and Leo on a Saturday morning? Listening to country music. Not only that, but every so often they sang – as if they were doing a duet together! Their rifles stretched out along the backseat of the truck, blanketed by Girls, Guns and God t-shirts, the summer breeze flowing through the rolled down windows so passengers had to hear their howling voices mashed together.

“Picture perfect memories…scattered all across the floor,” Frank began the pop/country Lady Antebellum song as I wished death upon myself – glancing at the rifles a bit too hard. Dad looked at Leo to join in on the chorus as I waited for this torture to be over.

“And I wonder if I EVER cross your MIND?!” Leo was the worst. He was one of those delusional people that thought he could sing when he couldn’t, and sang like he was doing the world a big favor.

“For me it happens ALL the TIMMMME you can join in if you want, Kiki,” Leo rushed to say before they hollered out the main chorus. “It’s a quarter after one! I’m all alone!! And I NEED YOU NOW!!” Leo shouted. Someone honked at us – I wasn’t sure if it was because for one second my death wish almost came true when Dad swerved a bit into the other lane, or if the people flying by wanted them to shut up. Maybe both.

I could just open the door and hurl myself out onto the road. That might be better than shooting myself. Luckily, I saw the Fox Hills Shooting Range sign informing us we were there now, so I wouldn’t have to do anything drastic.

It was weird to describe a shooting range as serene, but that was how it appeared until you went into the building to grab a gun.

There was a gorgeous sparkly lake that came into view as you pulled up into the huge parking lot filled with trucks that still had Bush ‘04 bumper stickers on them.

My eyes were on the gorgeous lake and the people sunbathing by it. Now they had the right idea.

“Nuh uh,” Dad grunted before I could make my great escape to join them. “You gonna learn how to shoot a gun before you run off to the lake.”

I rolled my eyes and followed Dad and Leo down a path towards the hunting range, also known as “Game Lands,” because hunting here was seen as a sport. I had to get used to seeing big burly men carrying dead deer around like trophies. I’d seen it before though, so it wasn’t a big shock – but it was still something you had to have a hard heart about.

“Don’t take her to those things,” Mom used to tell Dad whenever he mentioned these game lands back in Georgia. But in Georgia, such a thing didn’t exist – here in North Carolina, it was doted upon. Sometimes I wondered if that was the real reason behind my dad wanting to relocate to Fox Hills.

“So does this mean I can get a gun soon?” I asked, half-serious, as we walked along the game lands trail.

“We’ll discuss that tonight over dinner,” Dad answered, not missing a beat. “That is very important and we will definitely talk about it,” Dad let me know.

Holy heck! He sounded like he was going to get me a gun. I think Dad always wanted a son, and he’d recently decided to just treat me like one now that Mom wasn’t in the picture to try and stop him.

 

On the way to the Game Lands was the building where most people went into to practice a few rounds to get their adrenaline pumping and then – their good eye having practiced its focused stare – went out to the Game Lands to kill things. I was the only girl in the entire building. At that moment, I hated myself for wearing a bikini because I was drawing even more attention to myself. At least I had that God, Guns and Girls shirt to throw on, which barely covered my bikini bottom.

I noticed a MISSING flier taped to the wall. There was picture of a boy with wavy blonde hair and blue eyes on it. He was kind of smiling in the picture. OUR SON STEVEN MISSING SINCE JUNE PLEASE HELP, the flier pleaded, along with a number to call.

“Okay Kiki,” Dad coached as I stepped up to the window. In my view was a paper version of a person with a heart. “You know what to aim for,” he said.

Learning to shoot a gun wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – once I got a handle on the kickback of the gun. The thrill of getting a bullet in the fake person’s heart was actually addictive. The neat hole it left, the way the paper body wobbled back and forth and I stood perfectly still.

“That a girl!” some random guy hollered. I felt good. I felt pepped.

I took another shot, this time I got the paper person right in the neck. Another time, in the very center of its forehead.

People stopped what they were doing, having mercy on their own paper persons to watch me. It was quite thrilling.

 

I had a bit of a hunter’s swagger as we headed back to Dad’s truck. Dad even plopped his hand down in my hair.

“Proud of ya, girl,” he praised. I couldn’t help but smile. Right now, I was the apple of his eye and that felt good.

The only girl here with a gun. I snickered when I tried to picture Penelope’s face on Monday when I would tell her what I did over the weekend.

“You learned…to shoot…a gun?” she would gasp.

 

28

I felt like thanking Dad for my new gun knowledge, but couldn’t talk over him and Leo belting the lyrics to a Taylor Swift song. They weren’t even getting the words right.

“Cause I miss the gap between your teeth,” Dad sang, as if wooing someone.

Then Leo. “And I love them riddles that you speak…”

Then they both joined in for their favorite line from a Taylor Swift song ever written.

“AND ANY SNIDE REMARK FROM MY FATHER ABOUT YOUR TATTOOS WILL BE IGNORED! CAUSE MY HEART IS YOURS! SING KIKI!!” LEO ROOTED.

 

Dad had barely parked the truck when I jumped out and headed to the pool. No more obligations – the day was finally mine and I was claiming it.

I didn’t even take the time to take off my God, Guns and Girls shirt before I dove into the pool. It had been a good day, I to admit. I tried to push last night out of my head.

I got out and dried off in the lawn chair. Once it got too hot, I made the lazy decision to take shelter in the shady Fox Hills Forest instead of going off to find my sunscreen. The sun tumbled down through the trees in some spots and other spots were shady and cool. It was nice in the woods, I felt more comfortable out here than anywhere else.

I started my way down the trail – which was barely enough of a clearing to be called that. Darkness embodied the woods the deeper I descended. I thought about how amazing it would be to bring Chad out here. If I ever saw him again.

I took a break, sitting on a tree trunk. I wondered how deep I could go into the woods? I wondered what I would come across if I kept walking and walking. I’d seen The Blair Witch Project, and that scene when they lose the map crossed my mind. I wanted this to be more like in my dream – where everything was misty and enchanting – but I didn’t want that awful harsh light that was always beaming down on me. What was that light in my dream, I wondered as I stood up and kept walking. It was always the same bright intrusive light in every single dream.

I started to stand up up but stopped suddenly when I felt a sting on the back of my neck – it felt like something very tiny had penetrated me right there at the base of my spine – like a sewing needle. I jumped around in a panic and shook my shirt, afraid it was a spider that had fallen from a tree. Like in my horrible dream the other night! I didn’t scream, but one definitely built up inside of me. I touched the back of my neck where it stung, brought my fingers back to my face and saw a few drops of blood there. Oh my god. I turned to go back home, to go get some kind of disinfectant, to tell my dad, when I started to feel really dizzy. Then I heard a loud thud like something had just fallen from a tree. Or jumped. Had someone jumped down from a tree – had someone shot something at me from up in a tree? These horrifying questions took over my mind as my body started to feel weaker and weaker. I had no strength to think now – or even move.

I started to fall to the ground twisted with branches, when two strong arms caught me just in time and started to drag me off…

29

I was very sore all over my body, as if someone had beaten me with a bat in every single spot. I couldn’t stand, but I was awake now, and slowly becoming aware of my horrendous situation. My wrists were tied behind my back with something tight that cut into my skin. My ankles were tied with the same severity. I was on a hard cement floor in a big room with absolutely nothing in it but me. The ceiling was very high – it seemed I was in some kind of tower. A tower? Where the heck…

I tried to recall where I’d been before I got here, but my brain might as well have been a puff of smoke. Had I been drugged? I was so woozy. I couldn’t recall anything at all. I just knew this was not where I intended to be. Of course it wasn’t. I tried not to panic, because I knew that was never a solution. I still had all of my clothes on, thank goodness, but it wasn’t a lot of clothes – just what I’d been wearing before – my swimsuit and a thin t-shirt. It was cold in here. A severe ache that covered me whole seemed to get worse by the minute. Waves of pain hit me as if I were still being beaten.

The cement walls were a dark army green. I bet this was the type of place where echoes went on forever – echoes of screams never heard. Ugh. Where was I? You know how to shoot a gun but what good does it do when you don’t have one? When your hands are tied behind you like this?

I figured out where the door was then because it opened and a slender figure walked in, its shadow presenting a dark solid shape across the floor the cold, hard floor.

“No,” I moaned, because I knew this was bad. I tried to move around, which only made me hurt more.

The sound of his footsteps grew louder as he walked over to me. Then that smell hit me – I was all too familiar with it. That woody, leathery cologne. No. God No! Mr. Sungers’ brown eyes were looking down right at me.

“Where are you going?” he asked in a sly, sardonic tone as I moved around like a wounded, confused animal. This floor was so cold and so hard but I wanted to get away from his scent. I couldn’t though, it wrapped around me like a poisonous fog.

“You took me?” I asked, gazing up at him.

“I did. Yes.” He was calm as he stood over me, looking down at me. My body was starting to sweat even though I was cold. What the heck.

Why was he speaking so diligently, as if kidnapping me was a good thing?

“You were in the woods?” A panic fell over me. “Was that you the other night in the pool?”

“I don’t know.” He sounded like my question held no meaning. He knelt down on one knee in front of me and grabbed my face so his fingers stabbed my cheeks. His eyes studied me for a quiet, long minute. I refused to moan – to make any sound to let him know I was scared. But I was terrified. My body broke out in a cold sweat. I was still in just my swimsuit and a t-shirt thrown over it.

He squatted so his knees were on the floor and the army shorts he had on tightened around him, outlining his manhood.

He was still holding my face and studying it with his eyes.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

“Hurts…” I admitted. It felt like I’d fallen from a tree, hitting every thick branch on my way down before my back slammed against the hard dirt. Parts of my body felt bruised and swollen – like heavy sacks of warm blood were hanging off my body.

“Awe.” His sarcasm was cold as the dead of winter.

I could tell he wanted to smile. What had he done to me while I was out?

“The good news is the achiness you feel will eventually wear off,” he said. He was on bended knee in front of me, moving his fingers a little so they barely touched my naked knee. I thought I heard someone scream, but it wasn’t very loud. Maybe there was a TV on in another room. It sounded controlled and very brief. Or maybe someone was trying to scream before something was shoved into their mouth.

“You are not suffering from any internal bleeding, I promise,” Mr. Sungers assured me. “I know how to hit just right.”

He touched my face – my left and right cheek.

“Your soft, like a piece of rotting fruit,” he snickered. “You bruise so easily…”

Just then I made a slight sound in the back of my throat that reflected the sick feeling I had in my stomach – both emotional and physical torment.

“The bad news is…you will be in a lot more pain soon…I like to…take my time with things.”

“Why are you doing this?” I asked, feeling waves of nausia now compete with the pain I felt. There went another scream – a growing “ahhhhh” that sounded like a boy responding to something horrific being done to him.

Then my pain seemed to take a life of its own – growing stronger and sharper at times and roaming around to certain areas of my body and exploding in a fiery throb. What had he done to me? What could cause such an ache?

“Do you know where he is?” he asked, calmly as if he had all the time in the world.

“Who?” I asked, just wanting to lie down – but not here. I didn’t want to fall asleep here. I longed for a soft bed and a bottle of aspirin. My room. I tried hard not to cry. Oh my god…

“You know who,” Mr. Sungers said, his brown eyes gleaming with an evil light. “Lizard Boy.” He reached out to touch my face again. I imagined my face now a piece of rotting fruit, and his fingers slipping right through its soggy innards. My teeth felt like bits of cotton. I was so tired all of the sudden. And cold. “He likes you, doesn’t he? You’ve seen him. Did he tell you things? What was that torture thing you read in class? That was not in the book.”

The Teachers?! Did Lizard Boy literally mean he was taken by a teacher? Oh, I was dizzy and the more I tried to think, the sicker I felt.

“Lizard Boy?” Why did he want Lizard Boy? What was going on? It was hard to hear anything through this pain.

“Ah,” he stood up, proud. He clapped his hands together. “So you do know.” He walked over to the other end of the room to pick something up.

God, please, someone help me…

“I don’t know…” I said, trying to stop him from doing whatever he was about to do to me.

He scoffed so coldly. “You don’t know that you know. Well, he belongs to me. He…escaped.”

My mouth was dry and it was hard to talk – it was like I had to train my tongue how to move in order to pronounce words.

“Ahhhhhhhh!!!” That boy’s screams bounced against the walls now. It was not a TV.

Mr. Sungers sighed.

“We’ll have to do this the hard way then…”

He turned and he had something in his hand, something long and thin and it pointed to the floor. Some kind of complex weapon.

“I know you’re lying to me – you just admitted you know what I’m talking about. Stupid little girl,” he said.

He walked over to me and knelt down again. His stare was observant. I felt much weaker than five minutes ago. My sleepy eyes fell on the bow and arrow across his knee. He gave me a soft little smile as fear washed over my face.

“You won’t get away with this,” I scorned.

“You say that with a lack of knowledge, sweetheart. You have no idea what I’ve gotten away with. You don’t even know where you are,” he chuckled, quite pleased with himself. He got up and walked over to the opposite end of the room. He took a certain position many men did at the shooting range – a dominant one. A killing position. Here, I was the animal. Or the paper person in the gun building.

“No,” I started to move and slumped over onto my side. I heard him laugh. Even though he was on the other end of the room, his smell still lingered around me.

“No, no.” He didn’t like the fact that I’d fallen over and I heard his footsteps as he came back over to me to straighten me back up. He fixed me on my knees again, touched my chin, kissed me on the head. Called me “perfect.”

“I’m giving you one more chance because I’m a gentleman.”

In my darkest, most helpless hour, I managed to laugh. A gentleman doesn’t kidnap a girl and drag her to a place, tie her up and threaten her with a bow and arrow.

“Tell me where the Lizard Boy is.”

“Tell me why you wanna know,” I demanded.

“Oh? Now we’re talking tough.” He paused, straightened up so his stature towered over me. “He saw me do…something. He can’t be roaming around because he might…say something. Now, every time you don’t answer a question, I shoot an arrow at you…ashame too, you’re such a pretty girl.”

He reached down and grabbed the collar of my neck. I shut my eyes as he ripped it straight down the middle so my breasts were exposed.

“Fuck you,” I said through gritted teeth. He just laughed.

Waves of pain and nausea hit me all over. My eyes landed on his boots as I stayed in the ordered position. They were muddy hiking boots. He had been in the woods, no doubt. He must have been waiting for me – behind my house. What had he knocked me out with? Where did we go after he carried me out of the woods? Where were we now?

“We’ll see how fast you can move with your hands and feet tied,” he said. “To escape the arrow. Are you ready?”

All I could do was shake my head. My only defense was to hopefully pass out and not feel the pain. But surely I would feel an arrow penetrating my body. At last fear and panic overcame me and I started to yell.

“HELP!! HELP ME!!! PLEASE!!!”

“No one can hear you – you might as well be on another planet.”

“HELP!!!” I screamed regardless, just to get it out. And it echoed, but it really went nowhere. These walls were thick and dank.

He fingered his position, seconds away from drawing. I knew what came next was his aim, he focused on my upper body.

“Please…” my tears plopped down my face to the floor. Oh god. Where would the arrow penetrate me?

I looked up and watched as he released it and the arrow came flying right towards me.

30

I woke up breathing – so that should have made me happy – even though breathing meant another chance for disaster. I jerked around, as if fighting someone off of me. But there was no one that close to me.

I moved and felt the rough bark of a tree against the back of my head. Warmth fell over me – no longer the griminess of a wall in that prison. I heard early birds singing. I smelled the sweetness of wet grass. I was okay. I was not in that awful cement tower prison place.

For a minute, I just took in my surroundings – the greenery, the blue sky. The sweet smell of honeysuckle.

Then I heard someone call my name from quite a distance. I didn’t respond to it though, I was still quite tired. Was I awake? Was I in someone else’s dream? I felt like it.

I had a bizarre vintage looking rifle between my legs. What on earth?

I quickly checked myself out for any wounds. My body seemed fine. I wasn’t bleeding. I was in my same clothes – bikini and that silly shirt Leo gave me. I felt very dehydrated and had a slight headache and a few vague pains around my neck, but other than that, I was in decent condition.

I felt the warmth of the grass – everything smelled like spring – like freshly cut grass. Like a new beginning. Like the city park smelled when I was a kid and my mom would take me to play. I remembered the mechanical horses by the tennis courts. The blue sky, how everything smelled like fresh dewy flowers being warmed by the sun.

I looked over at the lake where the water looked like a clean plate of blue stained glass.

. “Kiki?”

“DAD!” I jumped up, hearing his voice. Oh, it was so good to hear his voice!

“Well what are you doing just sleeping over here?” he asked, handing me my rifle.

“How’d I get here?” I asked. I felt very out of it, like I did after taking a Benadryl the night before – but about ten times worse.

Dad looked at me, stumped.

“What do you mean? My truck be my guess.” He was amused by my bewilderment.

“What?”

“You have fun at Penelope’s?” he made small check while looking around the game lands.

“What?”

“She seems like a nice girl,” Dad just said. “You gotta stop running off like that though – I know you’re getting older, but sending me a text like that ain’t gonna cut it.”

Oh what was going on? I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember being at Penelope’s. I looked up at Leo and he looked very concerned for me. Dad slowly trudged off towards the firing range. I stood there, probably not in the best state to be holding a rifle, so Leo very carefully finagled it from my hand. I stood there, very dismayed.

“You okay?” Leo just asked. “Penelope said you hit your head on somein’ – you anything like your old man, it won’t even matter!” Leo gave one of his crazy laughs. “Be like shootin’ an empty beer can!” he laughed even harder. I waited for his rumbling laughter to cease. I just wanted to go home, to my room. The one back in Georgia.

Never cry at a firing range.

“You been smoking the pot?” Leo kept trying to guess why I was so dismayed. Then he leaned in and whispered, “You got any more on ya?”

“No,” I just said, aloof. “I don’t smoke pot.”

“Did Penelope leave already?” Dad asked.

“What?”

“Kiki?” Dad still sounded amused, but then he got a very concerned look on his face. “You alright?”

No.

I looked down at the overnight bag at my feet. Had I spent the night at Penelope’s? Then we came here together? Penelope came to a shooting range?

I just nodded and looked around the shooting range – noticing how amazingly crowded it was. There was not a space left in the parking lot. To make up for the fact, cars lined up and down the road and the line was something that would usually take place at a crazy concert or Disney Land. I’d never seen so many people here before – and not just men and their sons, but women and daughters. Pretty much every type of person was here. The place seemed in panic mode. This town was alive again – alive with fear. Hysteria.

“Mayhem,” Leo said, explaining the craziness going on at the shooting range. “Now fathers usually showing their sons how to hunt are teaching their daughters how to defend themselves. That girl that went missing? They found her – well…some of her…in trash bags at this construction site…there was a note on that read…the rest of her is in Hell. It was signed…Lekky.”

My eyes opened wide. I finally stood on my feet. Lizard Boy. But would he do such a thing? I had to get it together and find him – help him. I didn’t believe he was responsible. Whatever went on here in the

“That monster’s back everyone thinks – and everyone’s gettin’ ready to kill it,” Leo stated.

No. It was not the monster – it wasn’t. I looked around – the echo of gunshots was thick

and constant and the air was thick with gunfire. I can’t, I thought, with this town. But I had to. I had to keep my promise to my mom that I would be safe here – and I had to find Lizard Boy.

“That’s why your daddy got you this rifle,” Leo wrapped up, handing me the rifle back. “I

gotta go pee.”

“Yeah me too,” Dad said. “Meet us by the kayaks.”

I sat there and slowly unzipped my overnight bag. I recognized some of my clothes – my underwear and my pink undershirt. A pair of shorts with blood on the crotch, which I assumed was from an unexpected period. I zipped it back up.

Okay, so I’d spent the night at Penelope’s…how come I couldn’t remember?

 

31

I walked across the gravel lot of the shooting range. The afternoon sun was big and strong. The big rocks were easily felt through my cheap flip-flops. Okay dad, you’re going to spend some of that Swerve money on better shoes for me.

I could remember the big stuff – what Dad did for a living, where I lived, and Lizard Boy and his big stuff. So why couldn’t I remember other things – like where I was last night? What I had for dinner? It was as if my memory were a board game and certain pieces were missing.

All this mayhem, as Leo had poignantly called it, was very loud. Gunshots and classic rock music blaring from the speakers. Celebratory howls coming from the game lands when a deer or some even smaller more helpless type of animal was killed. A dead sack of fur and blood over a man’s shoulders. Look out, Lizard Boy, because you’re next, they all seemed to say.

Good lord, get me out of here. Mom? Aren’t you watching? Help.

I wanted to do one more thing before I got out of here. Sometimes the shooting range gave away raffle tickets. Prizes usually ranged from free dinner at Jim’s and John’s to gift certificates at Belk – a department store that people in Fox Hills thought was as fancy as, say, Chanel. Today’s raffle prize was a one night’s stay at Gold Horse Casino and Hotel in Pratfort. For some reason, I really wanted to go to Pratfort. I didn’t understand why – but some emotional undercurrent wanted to pull me there. Plus Gold Horse Casino was as glamorous as anything in North Carolina got. It had three swimming pools, a bar and lounge and a gym. Their suites were unbelievably spacious and the one son the top floor had hot tubs.

With all the bad stuff that had happened in my life lately, I had to have some good luck coming to me.

The raffle ticket line was quite long – I betted most people who weren’t learning how to kill! kill! kill! just wanted to get out of Fox Hills and go to Pratfort, a place they deemed safer.

 

If I won this, I could stay at the hotel and play Rich Adult for one night. I could learn how to gamble – make a bunch of money of my own and get the hell out of Fox Hills after I graduated.

I stood in line with my rifle, collecting stares of jealousy because this was no usual rifle – it was an antique and looked expensive and important. Most guns here were purchased at Wal-Mart.

I looked around at all the trucks and noticed a gold SUV in the middle of it all. Something about the car seemed familiar to me. My body grew tense as if it knew something I didn’t about that car. There was nothing worse than not wanting to remember something but you knew you needed to. For protection. My body urged my mind to remember but there was no connection as of yet.

Then I saw my substitute teacher for History Class, Mr. Sungers, with my friend Penelope. They appeared to be having some kind of quarrel. Penelope was crying and Mr. Sungers looked annoyed.

“An emoji of flowers is not the same as REAL flowers!” Penelope wept. “I want flowers.” She was sobbing, her sunburned cheeks were soaked. “And I DON’T want to shoot a gun! Why do you want me to learn this?”

My body broke out in a sweat as I continued to wait in this line that wasn’t moving at all. I glanced back over at them. Mr. Sungers just stared at Penelope like he couldn’t speak english.

“After everything I do for you? You’re gonna act this way.” he eventually tried that number.

Oh my god. Ew.

Mr. Sungers just turned around and stared at the raffle booth, his eye catching me right before I turned away.

“Well there you are,” Leo’s voice hit me from the opposite direction. It might have been the first time I was ever really happy to see Uncle Leo. “You run off more than a scared rabbit.”

“There’s a raffle.” I made that sound like an explanation for everything I did.

“Oh yeah?” Leo looked on, his eyes looked cloudy. He probably went to the bar down the street because what better thing to do before coming to a shooting range than get drunk?

“What’s the prize?” He was trying to read the sign, but I don’t think his eyesight could pull it

off.

“A free night’s stay at Gold Horse Casino.”

Leo’s eyes expanded. “Get that shit!” he declared. “You win you gon’ take me?”

“Uh…”

He gave me a playful but rather aggressive smack on the arm. “I’m just playin’ – hey meet us by the kayaks and good luck.” He walked off before I could think of a way to keep him with me. I knew Mr. Sungers was going to come over.

I didn’t want to kayak, which I’d said about fifty times but no one ever listened. I frowned as I watched Mr. Sungers walked Penelope to his car. I realized I was sporting quite a frown, and turned and focused on the raffle. My mom told me once to think positive and positive things would happen. Really Mom? Okay, we’ll let’s see about that.

I envisioned myself winning this night’s stay at Gold Horse. I pictured the summer air at night, me and Penelope living it up in Pratfort – the sound of horse hooves clacking on the street as a carriage holding a Just Married couple went by.The pretty waterfall in the center of downtown. And I didn’t know why, but a black-haired boy with a southern accent was also involved.

32

I was starting to wonder if this line would ever move when I felt a menacing presence behind me – as if night had fallen early. I knew it was too late to run. I read that certain smells could trigger memories and the whiff of Mr. Sungers cologne let me know he’d done something terrible to me and he might do it again.

I felt his overall swarthiness as he closed in on me. My body wanted to give into fear – a my knees buckled and my body broke out in a sweat.

“Slowly, you’ll start to remember things,” he whispered in my ear, his breath tickling those tiny invisible hairs behind it. “But I warn you – tell anyone and your whole family suffers.” I felt his hand against the back of my neck. “What’s left of it,” he snarled.

What an asshole.

His strong hand slid over my sunburned shoulder. Damn it, Kiki, why don’t you ever use sunscreen?

His warm fingers bared down on it, making the pain more intense.

“You’re a good girl – unlike Penelope.” He sounded quite disgusted with her. “So I think you’ll do what I say.” He leaned in to whisper in my ear. “I’m watching you. Remember – all guys like a challenge.”

What?

I heard my mom’s voice just then and shut my eyes.

Be careful in Fox Hills

I moved my shoulder in a circular motion to try and get his hand off of me.

“I have a gun,” I said, seething.

“Bet you don’t even know how to use that rifle,” he said, his stubbly mouth inches from my ear. “Little girl.”

“I’m eighteen now,” I scorned. I knew that much because it was late September and my birthday was September 5th. I was not a little girl.

“Oh – that’s nice to know,” he said, his voice deep and amused.

“Kiki!” Thank god my dad’s voice finally shot out from across the parking lot, finding me in this militant atmosphere.

Mr. Sungers slipped away like a leaf in October. I knew he’d be back.

“What are you doing?” My dad was hostile and sweaty – he fit right in here.

I just stared at him – for a very brief moment. My mind went blank. I had no memory of anything at all, and I couldn’t claim that to be a good or bad thing.

“I’m…”

“Kiki? Sweetheart?” Dad was calling for my utmost attention. “This is for your benefit – I’ll be damned if you end up like that girl that went missing. I got to live without Bethany – I ain’t about to live without you too.” I saw the tears in my dad’s eyes – I was never prepared for that. I could prepare to shoot at something or someone that might kill me, I could prepare myself to take on a brand new strange little town, but I was never ready to see a grown man cry. “I ain’t losin’ my little girl, you’re all I got left. You’re why I do anything at all. Now this a Remington Rolling Block,” Dad pointed to the rifle in my hand. “I gave it to you for your birthday. I didn’t want you to have just any gun, because you ain’t just any girl. You’re my daughter, and I’m gonna teach you how to take care of yourself. Your mom and I didn’t see eye to eye on this stuff, but at the end of the damn day I sleep better knowing you can take care of yourself is all. If I ain’t home and somein’ should happen…you got this fella right here,” he pointed to the rifle again. “Okay?”

I just nodded. I supposed he had a point.

He calmed down after a minute. “You feeling okay?”

I nodded. Maybe if I pretended to be okay, I would eventually. [
__]“I want…to get a raffle ticket,” I said. No matter what danger came to me in this line, I was going to at least get a raffle ticket. A night in Pratfort would do me some good – a night out of freaking Fox Hills.

Dad’s eyes got that bewildered, defeated glow again.

“Okay, meet us at the kayaks.”

I nodded. After not winning the raffle, I traipsed off to the restroom in the building where I’d fired a successful round of shots earlier. No, that wasn’t today. I was so confused.

I noticed the wall where a photo of a missing boy had been ripped off recently, some shredded paper still caught under the thumbtack.

33

After the misery of kayaking was over, we piled in Dad’s truck and headed to Jim’s and John’s. I never really went to the popular steakhouse, but Dad and Leo went all the time.

Where had Lizard Boy gone? Why couldn’t I just run into Crying Girl somewhere? To me, she was like a celebrity – she only seemed to exist in those little videos where I could watch her but not talk to her. I wanted to talk to someone that cared about the things I did.

I stared down at my rifle. Dad had given it back to me. Why couldn’t I remember him giving it to me for my birthday? Why couldn’t I remember my birthday? I had no recollection of getting that rifle for a gift. Parts of my mind was like looking out of a window into sheer darkness. I was afraid to turn around too, I was afraid to see what was behind me…

Dad pulled into the parking lot of the steakhouse. It was almost six pm and the lot was crowded with people here for dinner. Some of the trucks I recognized from the shooting range.

Jim’s and John’s was once where Magic Sky Drive-In stood. It was a success in the 70s up to the mid-90s. Leo went there when he was a kid to see E.T. “Totally different world back then,” he always said. “The stars seemed closer.” After it closed, a diner opened temporarily in honor of the drive-in’s memory called Magic Sky Diner. When the diner failed to stay in business, the Fox Hills paper ran a very sad article entitled, “The Magic Sky has fallen on Fox Hills.” Leo kept the paper as some kind of odd souvenir.

The drive-in had been in the huge field behind the restaurant, and Jim’s and John’s was actually where the concession stand had stood. It was remodeled of course, and expanded. But for a while, between 2003 when those murders took place and 2006, it was just an abandoned field of snaky grass and wilted dreams – nights where couples came to watch movies and that overall Saturday night feeling was yesteryear for so long. Silly rumors of underground rooms existing there were spread, without any proof to back them up.

Now Jim’s and John’s was here, and what once was a cool Saturday night vibe at the drive-in had turned into a congested family-friendly steakhouse.

 

The restaurant’s owners built a little park for the kids in the field where the drive-in had been. The field was enormous and still looked abandoned. Way across from the field was the Fox Hills forest. On the other side somewhere was Evermore Drive.

This area was quite a pretty sight at sundown. Watching kids swing, the tall grass at their feet and a gorgeous pink and gold sundown stretched across the sky, gave the illusion that Fox Hills, North Carolina was a safe place to live. The sun beamed down on the silver swing and slide tube, proving its final worth before night took hold of Fox Hills.

As we entered the woody bar and restaurant filled to capacity on this Sunday evening, voices boomed against the wall as everyone tried to talk over everybody else and old men watched sports from the bar. I heard two adults talking about the gruesome discovery of “that girl,” whose real name never seemed to come up, and how it was “that monster again.”

“I heard some kid from upstate was gon’ come down here and make some stupid documentary about it,” the man swatted. “We’ll take him down too – we don’t need no damn New Yorker down here with his silly camera.”

The hostility tonight was draining. The walls of the wooden bar were decorated with giant heads of bears and deer. The owners were regulars at the shooting range and their father was some kind of locally famous taxidermist. What were the owners’ names? You guessed it – Jim and John!

As we slid into a corner booth, the smell of burgers and hush puppies took over my senses.

“It was not the Lizard Boy,” another woman tried to console her little girl. “There’s no such thing as monsters.”

No just evil humans, I thought. Was that any better?

 

34

I tried to focus on the menu selection. The menu was an obnoxiously giant laminated thing that was almost too big to rest on the table without overlapping.

“Ae?” Leo called for my attention. “I got something for ya – I’ll give it to you after we order.”

Another shirt, I assumed. I tried to act pleasantly surprised and smiled at him, but my mind was occupied with other things – mostly why Penelope was with Mr. Sungers. Should I confront her about it at school on Monday? I had one more precious day to myself before I had to worry about any to that.

Smoke carrying the food’s scent gushed out of the kitchen’s swinging door whenever an employee came or went. Taylor Swift’s Just Another PIcture To Burn played through the speakers – pretty much anywhere you went in this town, you should just expect to hear her stuff. You shouldn’t even move to Fox Hills if you weren’t a Swiftie.

Just then a man who looked to be in his forties, stopped at our table. It was easy to tell in his younger years, he was quite handsome. He had brown eyes and curly salt and pepper hair. He was pretty tall and intimidating, with a tattoo of a bulldog on his neck.

“Frank?” he said, looking right at my dad with a smile and a gleam in his eye.

“Yes?”

“Tobey Sungers – don’t think you know me but I invested in your company years ago.”

“Well thanks!” Leo spoke before Dad could. “It’s my company too.”

Tobey didn’t seem interested in Leo, he kept his gaze strictly on my dad.

“Oh heck, I ‘member you.”

“You did me a big favor and I wanted to say thanks,” Tobey said.

Favor? What favor?

I watched as Tobey’s hairy arm stretched out in front of me to shake my dad’s hand. After what looked like a painful handshake, Tobey took his hand away and picked his Cubs baseball cap off his head just to put it right back on.

“Well nice seeing ya’ll…”

“This is my beautiful daughter, Kiki,” Dad introduced me. I didn’t want to look at Tobey for some reason, but I did anyway. Wait – Sungers? Tobey Sungers? could he be related to my substitute teacher?

I was starting to get a headache. As the pain grew in my head, Tobey’s smile seemed to grow as well. He put his hand on my bare shoulder. “Nice meetin’ ya,” Tobey said before finally removing his hand and walking on.

Ugh. I just stared at the table for a long minute.

“Now who was that?” Leo asked, confused.

“Just an old…friend.” Dad didn’t seem to know what to refer to him as. I looked around and, despite my lack of enthusiasm for this place, the food smelled amazing and it was intensifying my appetite.

I almost felt like this place’s dresscode was a baseball cap and flannel shirt. The air conditioning was on full blast and I was a bit cold in my swimsuit and t-shirt. Everything here was wooden – I was surprised the toilet wasn’t made of wood. I had to wonder if the hostess put us back here because Leo and Dad smelled so funky.

The last time I was here, Mom was still alive. She didn’t come with us because it was only Dad and I on the trip. I stared at the menu, missing her. What would she order if she were here now? What would she be wearing? Surely she’d make a funny comment about how bad Leo and Dad smelled. I thought this was supposed to get easier with time – losing someone – but I swear some days it felt like it got harder and harder. I missed her smile – her warm hugs. A major light had gone out in my life and I felt like I’d be in the dark forever.

“Okay,” the hostess spoke once we were all situated. “How are yall tonight?” her accent couldn’t have been thicker. She was pretty, with long dark hair and dimples and a nice shimmery tan that still glowed this late in September. She must have spent a good deal of time getting her hair to look that straight and shiny. I could stare at her for weeks and not find a single flaw. She was perfect to the bone, basically. Her perfect teeth, her perfect easter egg purple fingernail polish. I never bothered with my nails, and one of my front teeth was slightly crooked. I had a boyish figure. Some days I thought I was downright homely but Nat swore I was hot.

I bet this girl’s mom was still alive. She probably never had to ask for Pink Grapefruit Perrier every day either. It probably rained Pink Grapefruit Perrier in her world.

“We’re okay,” Dad said, with a big goon of a smile on his face. He’d had a good day at the shooting range, and his smile beamed with southern pride. Leo, meanwhile, pointed to the big silver fish hanging on the wall.

“That thing real?” he wanted to know. I thought it kind of looked like an alien, only with the body of a fish. A brand new pain swept through my head just then, enough to dull my senses and make me forget what anyone had just said.

It was all I could do to not scream out in pain. After a long torturous minute, the pain decreased.

“No sir,” the hostess replied. “It ain’t ever been alive,” the hostess responded, a big pleasant smile on her face like she was in a toothpaste commercial. So, fake fish and real bears.

“Well I’m gonna let yall look over the menu, take your time, the waitress will be over soon.” She smiled again before she walked off. She walked like a model – perfect posture and an ease that one had to be born with.

“I’ll never understand the point of a hostess,” Frank said. “Like we can’t find our own seats.”

“Well she’s purty though,” Leo said. “It’s all about hospitality.”

Oh god, kill me now. Maybe the big fake silver fish would fall and stab me in the head with its pointy, knifelike tail. How many death wishes had I had today? I think it was up to about twenty.

I ordered a big plate of hush puppies, fish and chips. There was a reason there was such a thing as comfort food Down South – and why it was necessary.

I suddenly had a memory of seeing a movie with Penelope, but I couldn’t recall what movie it was. I just remembered sitting in an uncomfortable chair, and the sticky floor of the auditorium. He was with us. Mr. Sungers.

“Well….” Leo started to talk because silences made him nervous. “Almost time to start thinking about the holidays.”

No. I didn’t want to think about Thanksgiving and Christmas – it would be my first time without my mom around for them. And it wasn’t fair. I’d do everything in my power to avoid them this time around.

“You got that big house,” Leo droned on. “You could have a holiday party.”

“For what?” I irritably snapped.

“Kiki?” Dad was astonished at my tone.

“A party for what?” I looked down at my hot plate of food as Leo sipped his beer and shrugged. “I miss mom,” I explained, almost giving a sort of half-ass apology.

“Of course you do, sweetie,” Dad sympathized. “We all do.”

“You do?” I snapped. “Because you don’t ever talk about her. It’s like she was never here and it’s not fair!”

“Don’t make a scene now,” Dad begged. I just frowned at him. I didn’t care how many people were here and what they heard. My pain could not be contained for much longer.

I stared at the bar, wishing I could just go over there and order something strong.

“We can do something nice in her memory,” Leo said, trying to be the peacemaker. I didn’t understand that “in her memory” talk. Like I was going to forget her?

“In the house she didn’t even want us living in?” I said. My tears felt scalding hot. “IN THIS STUPID HICK TOWN!”

“Kiki?” Dad was gutted. Everyone in the restaurant turned and stared and silenced so the announcer on the sports channel could be heard clearly. The hostess was the only one who looked concerned for me instead of offended.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” I said, trying to fight off my tears, ripping a napkin out of the dispenser to dab the tears.

 

35

My life on the daily consisted of my mind trapped in a hot summer fog, with bits of memory coming back to me, and a pang of sadness rippled through whenever I thought of my mom and the fact that I would never see her again, and weird dreams of being lost in the wilderness seemed to be the only thing to bring me peace of mind.

“Are you okay?” Her voice was soft – softer than when she was greeting strangers at the door, all with the same smile as if they were deserving of it.

“Uh yeah,” I said to the hostess on my way to the bathroom.

She looked over at the main dining room for a minute before walking over to me, getting close so she could whisper.

“I think there’s something evil here too,” she told me, straightening the strap of her little black t-shirt that was a bit too tight on her, but I guess that was the point. “My dream is to get out and become a model. Dreams keep you alive.”

I looked at her – what a great thing to say. “You go to school here?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she smiled as if the thought amused her. “I’m eighteen I’m done with school. I graduated from Mansfield High last year.”

“Oh…Illinios?” I was confused.

“No, there’s a Mansfield here too – but it’s creepy – don’t go there.”

Oh my god, now that made more sense.

“The monster,” I went on, because at that very moment she was the only person I cared to talk to. “You believe in it?”

“Yes.” She had the prettiest blackest eyes. “I do. My dad said he seen it.”

“Lizard Boy?”

She gave a slight nod, as if she didn’t want anyone to know what we were discussing. Then some fat man – possibly Jim or John – snapped for her to get back to work. Old men were always interfering with the important stuff in this freaking town.

Then she leaned into me like she had a bunch of secrets to spill. “Mansfield…I had a really evil teacher, he got fired. He now tries to substitute for other teachers. I think he works at Fox Hills High.”

“Mr. Sungers.” The name seemed to make us both ill.

Then it all just came out in one sobbing confession.

“The monster?” I figured that was what she meant. “My mom passed away recently and I had to move here to this stupid town and I don’t really have any friends and…nothing feels right.”

The hostess was looking at me, her mouth open like she was about to speak.

“Then leave,” she simply said.

“Natalie!” her boss called again, pointing at the new group of people waiting to be seated.

“Here.” Natalie had nerves of steel. She quickly jotted her phone number down on a meal ticket and handed it to me. “Call me, okay?” she placed her hand on my shoulder before walking off to get back to her job.

I folded the ticket in half and held it in my fist as I went into the bathroom always – for whatever reason – choosing the stall at the very end, where the big window was. I never had to take a leak so bad or for so long. It gushed out and seemed to go on and on. All that freaking water, I guessed.

I heard the door open and the kind of tapping a new pair of shiny loafers would make on a cold, heartless floor. I knew that sound. I couldn’t connect it to any specific memory for a second and then I remembered the smell of the dank walls in the tower. I spent hours and hours alone – perhaps days – my screams melting against the walls. Things being thrown at me. Hurting, burning, crying. The horrible hazy memory made me feel sick, like I just drank spoiled milk.

No.

Tap, tap, tap as the feet came closer to my stall door. I didn’t even have time to pull my pants up when he came bursting through the shabby green door. I scrambled about like a scared little animal, the wall dividers never seemed so close together – I felt like I was trapped in a little glass cage like a gerbil. He wrapped his arms around me in no time. He was aggressive without apology, his reflexes razor-sharp.

He twisted my body around as if it weren’t made of flesh and bone, and I would have screamed from the burning pain if he didn’t have his hand clamped over my mouth, preventing me from doing so. He made me feel so small, so easy to control. He held me against him so my back was to his waist, and my pants and underwear were down around my knees and I was unable to move my arms to pull them up. It was humiliating to say the least.

“I gotcha – don’t fight and don’t scream,” he warned. “Unless you want to forget things all over again. I’m watching you,” he breathed into my ear as my body gave a few more struggles, which only led to my body brushing up against him. I stopped altogether, his hand so close to my nostrils that I had to breath in his cologne he’d sprayed generously on his wrist. I stared at the hairs there as his hand pushed against my teeth. His strength just seemed to intensify when I struggled. “I’m watching you and your dad and all your little friends. And if he comes back, I’ll know you’re lying.”

“Mmmph!” My attempt to scream only turned into a sad moan into his palm. Did he follow me here? He must have. He followed me home, he took me from those woods. I remembered now. The fear grew, and it made my body twitch even though I knew I couldn’t escape him.

“I’ll kill you all, you, your redneck uncle, your spineless father. Now,” he placed his hand on top of my head while keeping his other arm wrapped around my chest. I didn’t know where his eyes were, but I felt like he was looking down at me, at where my pants were about to drift to my ankles. I could taste his skin on my lips, even his cologne. Ugh.

“It’s so hard to get alone time with you – but here we are.” He placed his hand on the very top of my head, petting it. “I usually have Penelope stay after class – but you – you I have bigger plans for.”

He moved his hand, after playing with my hair. His fingers were crawling up my belly to my chest and he had on brass knuckles with little spikes protruding from it. Because brass knuckles alone simply wasn’t enough, he had to up his sinister accessory even more.

He knew I was about to scream so he slapped his hand over my mouth again. His hand was so big and strong.

“Mmmph,” I squirmed again, because that was what my mind told my body to do. I was so afraid of what he was about to do to me.

“I wouldn’t move it I were you, I have ways…to mess up your perfect body…”

Just then the door opened and I heard sounds relatable to a girl – like the sound of a big tote bag hitting the counter after a long day.

“Shh,” Mr. Sungers warned, keeping me in his tight hold.

I pictured a glossy lips that sigh poured out of, of our surprised guest. Who was it? At the sound of her, Mr. Sungers’ grip on me got even tighter – he was squeezing my chest so I could hardly breathe, while he covered my mouth so my face was starting to hurt. He was immensely strong and his smell was now spread all over my clothes. The florescent light above us flickered. The girl turned the water on in the sink. For a very long minute, nothing else happened.

“Fuck this job though, seriously,” the girl by the sink muttered. Natalie! It sounded like her. I heard her toss things back in her bag a couple of minutes later. I never knew a zipper could be so loud. The sound of her footsteps followed, then the heavy door to the restroom opened and closed. We were alone again.

Mr. Sungers turned me around, held me against the wall and stared me in the eye. His dark brown eyes looked like splotches of mud, with no light in them whatsoever. He ran his thumb along my bottom lip and I wished I had the nerve to scream as my pants fell to my ankles. I was so embarrassed. The smell of urine took over because I didn’t have enough time to clean myself.

I listened as the door opened again but this time the footsteps were slow – too calm to be anyone who came in here to just take care of business and go. I watched helplessly as my stall door opened and another man walked in – that Tobey guy. Mr. Sungers stepped aside to make room for Tobey, he’d obviously been expecting him.

Tobey gave me a cold smile, his eyes circling my face before they drifted down my body.

“Hello again,” he spoke, fixing his latex gloves over his hands, they snapped against his wrists once they’d been properly applied and he reached out for my face as Mr. Sungers worked to hold me still. I grew very scared and struggled again and they worked together, each applying a hand to my wrists to hold them against the wall above my head. Mr Sungers kept his other hand over my mouth as Tobey took out a syringe.

“Isn’t she pretty?” Mr. Sungers asked Tobey.

“Yes, yes, she’s very nice. The boys will love her.”

“MMMPH! MMM…” I struggled to scream as they came even closer to me, closing in on me, touching me…I felt a pinch in my neck as the needle sank into my vien. Warm. I felt very warm all of the sudden, like I did when I let my body just sank to the bottom of my pool, just forget the world, just sink…away…

I woke up some time later, on the cold, gross tile floor with them on top of me. I couldn’t tell what they were doing to me. I couldn’t even tell if I was able to fight them. I felt like my body was moving and yet I couldn’t actually feel my body move – if that made any sense.

I looked up at Mr. Sungers. I’ll never forget the way his face looked – amped with anger and determination to get me to shut up. I saw the spiked brass knuckles heading right towards my face…

36

My head felt a lot larger than it was – because my brain felt sluggish, caught in a haze of painkillers, while the lower part of my face constantly throbbed in pain. I moved my tongue around inside my dry mouth, pushing it against the back of my lips and felt the cruel sting of a specific injury.

“Don’t.” I heard my dad’s voice, giving me one simple instructive word.

When I moved my legs a little, I felt this pressure between them, as if the most fragile part of me was bruised.

I looked around at my surroundings. I was in the hospital. An IV trailed from my arm and I went from feeling crazy pain to feeling completely dizzy – like cotton candy with pain inside. .

Dad had never looked sadder or more confused. He stroked my hand with his.

“They checked ya for…you have random bruising but thank goodness all this person did was hit you.” His eyes teared up. “They found you on the bathroom floor – do you remember anything?”

I attempted to move my lips, but they felt fat and sticky.

“It’s okay,” Dad patted my hand. Why couldn’t I talk?! I couldn’t remember how I got here. I wanted to cry, but any slightly movement that involved my face made my mouth hurt even more.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Another person asked. I tried to make out who they were and eventually figured it was Uncle Leo.

“Mom?” I just called out. I looked at my dad. “Is Mom here?”

“Oh Jesus,” Leo muttered into his coffee cup.

“Sweetheart – no…she passed….”

There was a small part of me that did know that. But I honestly couldn’t remember anything else.

I will be safe in Fox Hills, Mom. I promise. Somehow. I will be safe amongst all this evilness.

“You have nine stitches,” Dad said, pointing to his mouth right above his chin, then trailing his finger up his lips towards his nose. Those big blue eyes of his looked even sadder than usual. “Split lip,” he said, reluctantly.

“I’ll be…okay…” I struggled to say through puffy, ripped up lips. I checked with my tongue and was relieved to find all my teeth still attached to my gums.

Then I remembered something someone had said to me – I couldn’t make out their face or where I was when they said it.

Do you like to be choked?

Had someone choked me? I struggled about as if moving would help me remember – like I could physically walk back to the day that happened – when someone asked me that.

“Calm down, you should take it easy,” Dad warned.

Mansfield. That word fell back into my mind too. Words fell like snowflakes and maybe they would soon form a sentence and then a memory – a whole vivid memory would be restored.

“Hon?” Dad called out for me, as if trying to find me in the fogginess the painkillers delivered. “Leo is here, he wants to tell you something.”

Did Mom die in a car wreck? The same car wreck that put me here?

“I wanna say a few things.” Leo announced like some crooked politician. I just wanted to be alone – maybe in the right kind of silence, I could gain my memory back. “Firstly, we’ll find the asshole who did this to you – I got my best guns loaded. And secondly – I didn’t get a chance to tell ya at the restaurant but…” he was taking something out of his pocket. Leo was harmless – but the way he moved reminded me of something terrible and I wanted out of here – out of this town and back in my mother’s arms. “I won that raffle! You’n go in my place – spend some time alone.”

Yes, time alone. That was what I needed.

“Once you’re better,” Dad became the voice of reason. “You can go.”

 

37

A week passed, and I slowly got some of my memory back as my lip started to heel. It was insanely itchy though, and I couldn’t wait to have the stitches taken out.

Someone had hit me – someone actually did this to me out of their own sinister liking. They split my lip into, all the way up to my nostril. What kind of human being would do this to a girl? To anybody – but a girl my size?

I stayed in my room – the door locked – not trusting anyone outside of it. I didn’t even trust my dad for some reason.

I was eighteen now – all I had to do was finish high school and I could get out of Fox Hills. One month. Come on, Kiki, you can do it.

I took my leather jacket with the label BERMANS from my closet. I also found that bracelet from Cartier my dad had given Mom. After she died, he passed it on to me. I remembered that now. I remembered that she had a very progressive form of liver cancer that took her down faster than a Tyson punch. She never got better, she never got back up.

I stayed in the comforts of my bed, staring at the wall. I could draw specific patterns of the shadows the fading sun made on my wall – that was how much I stared at it. I reached out for my phone eventually – because nothing quite told me what I’d been up to over the last few weeks that i could not recall, like a cell phone. It was all there – packed in and ready to be observed.

I was a bit nervous – it was sad how whatever was in my little cell phone best represented who I was. I got over it, and studied my text messages first. I’d gone to Pratfort to see a band called Cold Shoulder open up for the more popular punk band Muthafuzz. I was very disappointed that I didn’t remember this.

I wanted more than just texts – I wanted tones of voices – I wanted to hear emotion leak into my ear. I stared at a voice mail from months ago. This proved how little friends I had that I was able to have a voicemail from so long ago still stored in my phone. The caller’s name was MOM.

Did I want to do this? I felt like I needed to – I just needed to hear her voice.

“Hey – it’s your mom,” her smile was easy to detect in her voice. “Just wanted to see what time you were coming home. I’m so proud of you. You’re doing so well in school. Love you. Bye now.”

Bye now. The warmth of her tone filled my eyes with tears. Did I call her back that day? I hoped so. I licked the tears away from my lips. Despite the sudden crying it had caused, I was glad I had the message and that I listened to it. I would keep listening to it too. It should have been weird or creepy to hear it now, but it wasn’t. It was beautiful to still hear her tell me she loved me.

I lied in my bed, the sun long gone and all those strange shadowy patterns on my wall had grown into one solid darkness.

Mood: Glum. The quiet here seemed to be on my side though, as if it was trying to let the darkest secret of Fox Hills seep into my room. I’ll listen, I got my window open even, and the only mark of light is the reflection of the water against the side of the house because of the pool.

So what was it? What really happened here in 2003? Where did Lizard Boy come from? Why were the evil Sungers men after me?

These questions didn’t seem to have any answers, and they exhausted me.

Then I realized that the only way to stay safe in Fox Hills was to not stay. I picked up a piece of paper that had fallen out of the pocket of my shorts. It had the name Natalie on it and a phone number. That waitress, I remembered. I made sure to hold onto it and snuck downstairs, grabbed the keys to my dad’s truck and the certificate for a free stay at Gold Horse Casino and took off.

 


Fox Hills

  • Author: Sherry Wood
  • Published: 2016-03-17 18:35:10
  • Words: 41803
Fox Hills Fox Hills