Copyright 2017 by Olivia Hennis
Cover art by Cyna Martinez
Published September 22nd, 2017
Shakespir Edition License Notes
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Disclaimer: The persons, places, things, and otherwise animate or inanimate objects mentioned in this novel are figments of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to anything or anyone living (or dead) is unintentional. The author humbly begs your pardon.
B’s biggest fan
Stumble Twist & Crawl
By Olivia Hennis
BOSTON, August 1988
Biyamalin, she says, is her name. And no, I may not buy her a beer.
I find her hypnotic in the way most punk sisters are: hard edges, watchful eyes, total lack of respect for others’ personal space in the pit. Her black skin brushes against mine by accident as I cram toward the bar and she flinches away. She is darker than I am. Granddad would like that. He distrusts the Mexican and Puerto Rican girls I hang out with, though not as much as the white girl who used to get drunk with me and the boys back in high school.
I say the woman’s name out loud, and I get it wrong so she corrects me.
“Bee-yah-mah-lin.” She stresses each syllable, but doesn’t seem angry, just shouting over the crash of drums from the band playing on stage. She’s not interested in me, too busy stealing peanuts from the bar with nimble fingers. Carefully, she drops the nuts into the pocket of her gray Adidas hoodie. Inside is where she keeps the cow-spotted rat that drew me over to her and away from my boys giving hell to a skinhead in the pit.
I love animals, I tell her again. I mention that my granddad keeps a pigeon coop on the apartment building roof and how I’m good with them. I’m not trying to impress her to like me; I really just want to see the rat. There’s something hilarious to me about the lady bringing a rodent into this club of all places. The Rathskeller. The Rat, as it’s known around the Hub.
Biyamalin pulls the little creature from her pocket, watching me carefully in case I try to fuck with it. I know some guys in the scene think it funny to mess with animals, but if I found them doing it I’d punch every one of them in the dick.
I tell Biyamalin that the rat is really sweet. I ask his name.
“Her name,” she says, biting off the correction, “is Kennedy.”
I laugh, amused. “No way. Like for the Dead Kennedys?”
“No.” She stares. “For Florynce Kennedy.”
“Oh. Cool.” Kennedy steps into my hand, with her tiny tan paws confident and trusting and with a peanut stuffed in her furry mouth.
Biyamalin looks me up and down as I gently pet between Kennedy’s shoulders and tell her what a good ratty-rat she is.
“You don’t know Flo?” She prods, “Lawyer? Feminist radical? Protested the multiple facets of oppression, the interplay of racism, sexism, imperialism?”
I nod, but I know my hazel eyes are blank and give me away as I keep my focus on the rat. A lot of my friends’ moms are feminists, but I’ve never heard of this lady she’s talking about.
She scoffs and pulls Kennedy away from me. “The woman made white people nervous,” she says. “Look her up some time.”
Biyamalin shoulders her way past me and into the crowd.
I call, “Wait, naw, I-I didn’t—”
She cuts me off with a middle finger thrown high into the air. “I’m not here to educate kids. Move on.”
BOSTON, October 1988
Spotting her familiar cloud of curls in the mosh pit’s pulsing center is a welcome sight. Biyamalin’s deep umber spirals spring and bounce with each thrashing movement of her dancing body. She’s poetry in a denim jacket. She’s majesty made of fists. I cannot avoid her. I shove my way through the crowd.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” I shout into her ear and admire the many piercings she’s sporting. Dangerous crowd for piercings, but that’s part of why we all do it. Someone’s elbow gets me in the back of the head and I lurch forward, knocking into her.
Biyamalin’s eyes snap open and she finally sees me. Lightning fast, she snags my high top locs and drags me down to her level. Her skin is ashy.
“Kid,” she snarls and clutches the short twists of my hair until my scalp hurts and I’m letting out a staccato rhythm of ow-ow-ow-ow, “what makes you think I want to be seen by you?”
She throws me back into the crowd with a rough strength I didn’t expect from someone her size. I stumble and land on the hard, dirty floor. Someone’s stomping boots crunch down on my fingers. I scream and recoil. A knee catches me in the nose. Blood gushes down my lips. My vision sparks. Tears flow quick.
“Uuugh!” I groan and topple over.
No one stops their dancing to help me. No one moves me. Nothing. I’m meat here on the ground beneath them, to be ground beneath them. Boots like tenderizers. Chains like knives.
I wait to pass out from pain, but it don’t happen. Adrenaline rides over the shock, keeps me present for each whack and kick.
Beyond the crowd, the band plays a furious tune while I’m kicked around. The speaker crackles, pumping the relentless bass into my battered flesh.
I crawl to the edge of the room and fall back to the floor. Blood and spit ooze from my cracked lips. Several fingers in each of my hands are broken. I weep, sniffling snot and more blood.
I feel arms wrap around me and hoist me up. With my head lolling, I can barely stand.
She grips my stubbly chin in her harsh fingers. I look at her through swollen eyelids. Her skin looks even more grey in this harsh light. Her eyes linger on my sticky blood where it coats her palms.
She wets her lips.
With a sigh that’s more annoyed than sympathetic, Biyamalin rolls her eyes and says, “Fine.”
She digs her fingers into her wrist, drawing blood. I think I’m hallucinating until she’s got her bleeding skin pressed up against my split lips. I’m too weak to fight back much but I twist my head away.
She snarls in a way that tells me she’s the king of this jungle. I will comply, or I will be tossed back to the stampede.
So I drink. I can’t tell what’s her blood and what’s mine. But I don’t care to.
Biyamalin lets me go after a few more gulps. She doesn’t smile or smirk or look pleased with herself. Just takes Kennedy out from her denim jacket pocket to lick her wounded wrist.
“Bring him out back. I’ll take him home.”
She sets the rat on her shoulder, where she rides like a queen.
BOSTON, November 1988
Newspapers never reported me gone missing. Black boys disappear, no one cares to write it down. If my bloated body showed up floating in the Charles maybe then I’d get a piece, hidden on page twelve of the Globe or something. They’d pin it on whatever gang violence scares rich men’s wives these days and call it case closed.
Granddad put up posters for a few weeks. I know he leaves the light on for me because I visit sometimes, creeping into my room to steal my own stuff as I need it. I eat pigeons from the coop on the roof when they’re sickly. I steal a few of them what are healthy, too, because… I don’t know why actually. It’s not like I want to eat them until they’re dead or dying, and I want Granddad’s pigeons to live. Biyamalin likes rats, keeps a couple dozen of them in her room in the warehouse we squat in, though Kennedy’s her favorite. I guess I like to hang with the pigeons. Flying rats, she jokes, but she says it with affection.
She doesn’t offer answers when I ask why I want to eat rotten flesh and drink diseased blood. I ask if we’re vampires and that gets me locked in a maintenance closet for five days. When I get too hungry in there, I live on the crunchy bugs that skitter under the door and come to me when I call them.
Biyamalin says I’m on borrowed time with her, only worth keeping around so long as I do what I’m told. Run errands. Bust heads. Scare off the junkies and the eager fools who come exploring our digs. I promise her I’ll make her proud.
“Pride ain’t worth shit in this world, kid. Get that through your thick skull now or this will be a short experiment.”
My bones and flesh heal from the night I got trampled under the pit at The Rat, but the scars stay ragged. She’s got the same thing going on—pink, puckered, tattered flesh on her stomach and thighs, bandages covering feet that are more bone and ligaments than muscle. I don’t know how she walks around on them.
I’m not dead. Not yet.
“But,” Biyamalin always says when she catches me muttering, reminding myself to be grateful, “you will be.”
And she feeds me more of her blood.
Thank you for enjoying this IRON GARDEN short story!
To M. for their tireless enthusiasm for this world.
To J. for her constant encouragement.
To Liz, Ash, Cat, Eric H., Maverynthia, and Jack for their patronage.
Special thanks to the incredible Cyna Martinez for the most gorgeous cover imaginable. Check out her work at and hire her, good gods, hire her!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A former roving vagabond, Olivia Hennis currently lives in Pennsylvania. She previously worked as an editor for an online magazine, managed a Halloween park, and read tarot for a living. In November 2012, Olivia began podcasting with two friends. The trio rant and rave about the Young Adult publishing and writing world at .
Find her on Twitter . Or join her Patreon, where new short stories first premiere, at .