16 Sep Friends with Scissors
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"Friends with Scissors"Written by Lucretia Vastea
Estimated reading time — 51 minutes
Class had started no more than three minutes ago and Danny’s hand was already up and dangling. Mr. Swatson was getting annoyed.
Danny used to be such a nice kid. Never bothering the class, always doing his homework properly – hell, even explaining the day’s lesson to the one or two dunces who never understood anything. He would always praise the boy for his good behavior and hunger for knowledge. However, Mr. Swatson has been holding back on the praises lately… and that is because Danny’s raised hand during class stopped being for participation purposes.
“Mr. Swatson, may I please go to the toilet?”
What was Mr. Swatson supposed to say? Or Ms. Peeble? Or Mrs. McCoy? The entire teacher lounge was talking about Danny with sunken eyebrows and harsh undertones. ‘Disrespectful’, they called the boy. It was clear to everybody that Danny was purposefully waiting for class to start, to excuse himself to go to the bathroom.
And they were right. He was doing it on purpose.
But what the teachers didn’t know, is that the boy hated going to the toilet during class. He had no choice, however, because, the last time he did go to the bathroom during break time… this happened:
“Flush him again, Wayne!”
Danny tried to pull his head out of the toilet, but he hadn’t been blessed with puberty yet and was being held down by two upperclassmen who were.
“I thought I told you I need it by Thursday, Collins.”
Danny was trying to explain himself between flushes, but Marvin wouldn’t have it.
“Wayne, keep flushing him until I tell you to stop.”
The water was so cold, Danny’s nose was bleeding.
“Marv, I think his nose is bleeding.”
Marvin pulled Wayne upright and grabbed Danny himself.
“You think your pussy-ass nose is impressive, Collins?! Where the fuck is my book report? You were supposed to have it done by third period!”
“I’m s-sorry!” Danny was breathing greedily. “I’m so sorry! I couldn’t finish the book and I had to go to grandpa’s with my parents last wee–”
Marvin yanked Danny’s head back in the toilet with so much force, the boy hit his head against the hard margin. The cold water and bleeding nose were nothing compared to the fresh ache of his forehead.
“I don’t give a flying fuck, you shit eater! I told you to do it! If I get my hands on you after school, I’m gonna skin you alive!”
Marvin flushed Danny’s head one last time before standing up and ordering his boys to follow him.
Everybody was scared of Marvin. Wherever he would go, he would always have his oversized bright orange jacket with the blue zipper on and an entourage of 3 faithful followers. His jacket was his trademark. People didn’t even have to look in his direction to see him approaching from the corner of their eyes. That’s what Marvin loved about that jacket. Not because it was expensive and not because it made his shoulders look wider than they actually were.
It’s because, wherever he went, it was announcing his presence from afar.
Mike and Wayne were Marvin’s muscles whilst ‘pretty boy’ Jimmy was his eyes and ears. They weren’t always together, but when they were, it was bad news. Danny had a couple of friends, but they were too afraid to stand up for him, or even be seen talking to him. It would have been pure suicide, now that Danny was King Marvin’s new target.
Feeling like he received enough beating for one day, Danny emptied his locker and went home. No teacher saw him leave, but he still had a good rep amongst the school staff, so people just assumed he felt sick or something.
Oh, he felt sick, alright. It was late fall and the cold air against his facial wounds was killing him. His forehead had a swollen horizontal bruise and, even though he wiped his nose with the sleeve of his hoodie, he only managed to wipe off the dried blood above his lip. His chin, neck, and shirt could still give the nosebleed away.
Danny didn’t want to cry, but the shame he felt wouldn’t let him off the hook that easily. Sunken into thoughts, he didn’t notice that he already reached the wooden bridge. As upset as he was, the creepy house on Booner Street wasn’t creeping him out today. Usually, he would speed up the pace as soon as he’d reach the lake.
Every girl and every boy was afraid of the creepy house on Booner Street and the still, dark lake across from it. It was an immense property. The house had three stories and looked old and unkempt, not to mention the roses that would grow wild and spiky all around it in untameable patterns. It was a shortcut only meant for joggers or students, because, even though the bridge itself and the pathway following the bridge were wide enough for cars to pass through, the wild roses were reaching their limbs outside the fence of the creepy house far enough to cover over half of the pathway.
Danny acknowledged the spiked rose that scratched his cheek. He was halfway through the pathway when he stopped and turned with angry eyes. The rose that scratched him was abnormally long but beautiful and, contrary to Marvin, it was a bully he could hurt back. Danny grabbed the pretty flower in his fist and just as he wanted to twist and rip, the tears started pouring with such fervor, even Marvin and his followers would have felt a little sorry. Danny let the rose go. Just one petal fell off it and, out of reflex, he bent over to pick it up and see if he could attach it to the rest of the rosebud. The boy knew it was pointless, but, in his childish mind, he could, at least, try.
That’s when it struck him like lightning: ‘Someone’s watching me.’
He looked up at the house and his blood froze in his veins.
She was young. As young as him or maybe a little younger. And, as irony would have it, she had long black hair and was wearing a white, hooded dress. Or robe. Danny couldn’t tell and he didn’t stick around to unravel the details.
She was the embodiment of every ghost-themed horror movie.
Danny ran like a bat out of hell and by the time he got home, Marvin’s bullying from before was just a little less bad than seeing a ghost.
And It’s Moving
Mom and dad asked questions, but Danny fell. He swore. No, of course school was going great and of course he was fine and getting along with everybody. No, he didn’t know why Mr. Swatson would call them to ask why Danny has been acting strange lately.
“Dad, is there another shortcut to school except for the one by the lake?”
“No. But you can take Forks street and then turn left on Maple’s.”
That was the long way to school. Danny would have preferred the long way to school 100 times over the shortcut if it meant avoiding that creepy house with its mean plants, but… taking Maple’s was just as bad. Or, probably, worse.
Marvin lived on that street.
“Yeah, I know. Never mind.”
“I lived in this town my whole life and only took that shortcut once. Can still remember it: I was in 3rd grade and was late for math. It crept the hell out of me. We used to call that house ‘Manson manor’ back in the day.”
His dad shuddered and laughed in an attempt at hiding it.
“I admire you, Danny. You’re way braver than your old man was.”
But Danny sunk his head in shame. If his dad only knew the reason why he was taking the shortcut, he would laugh in his damaged face.
“You can see those damn roses from Josh and Christine’s baby room. Their house is three streets away from Booner’s, for Pete’s sake!” Danny’s mom interfered. “Does anybody still live there?”
“Beats me. Last I heard, the old lady that owned the place died and left it to her daughter and granddaughter. And this was fifteen years ago, mind you.”
“Just be careful around there, okay honey?”
But it was not an old, weird-looking house that Danny was supposed to be careful around. He began seeing Marvin’s face during class in the window of his classroom door – the bully was looking for him. Lucky for Danny, Tom Whisk, the boy sitting in front of him, was very tall, so Danny could hide behind him every time Marvin’s angry eyes were seeking their new favorite victim. He felt like a bird in a cage, trying to hide from the hungry cat.
Problem is, this cat was a snake. Kids like Marvin were not afraid of teachers or parents. The one thing he was afraid of, was being made a fool of in front of the followers he called friends, and that is exactly what Danny did: he dared come to school even though he didn’t have Marvin’s book report with him.
Unless he’ll manage to convince his parents to be transferred to another school, his ass was bacon by the end of the year.
Danny would always wait 15 minutes after school was over, to go home. And if that wasn’t enough of a precautionary measure, he would also take the scary shortcut, to avoid Marvin’s street.
After the day with the toilet incident, he made it a rule, to never look up at the creepy house again. The last thing he needed, was to freak himself out bad enough to start taking the long way home – passing by Marvin’s house. He’d be willingly throwing himself into the lion’s open mouth. Or the snake’s, as it had already been established. Ghosts were scary, but Danny doubted their punches were as painful as Marvin’s were.
Even so, it was two weeks after seeing the girl in the window, when he stopped dead in his tracks by the bridge and reconsidered the scary vs. painful scale in his mind.
There was something moving at the other end of the bridge, in the left corner. A small, crouched figure with black hair was trying to pull something out of the water.
Danny froze. He thought about turning back and taking the long way around, but he was simply too close to home to chicken out. Regardless, he couldn’t move.
The figure’s head turned to look in his direction and Danny flinched as he recognized the little girl in the white dress he saw that one time in the creepy house’s window. She fixated her eyes on him and Danny knew that whatever was about to happen, turning back was not an option. He carefully advanced on the bridge, making it his day’s purpose to not look the little girl in the face. The little girl took no mind of him and turned her head back to whatever she was doing in the water.
The wood was creaking under Danny’s steps and, given the circumstances, he couldn’t decide if he should walk slower or faster. His determination faltered and Danny threw the little girl the briefest glance – reflexes work that way.
She was looking straight at him, still crouched above the water. The corners of her lips lifted upwards.
Danny sprinted. As soon as he got home, he locked all the doors leading up to his room. That night, he dreamt of demons wanting to eat his soul, and even though the demons were all black haired little girls, they wore over-sized orange jackets with blue zippers.
Next day, Danny took a very brave and very mature decision regarding his way home from school:
He decided to take the long way round – passing by Marvin’s house.
How bad could it be? He didn’t see much of Marvin that day at school anyway. So, after the daily wait of 15 minutes after school was over, Danny marched forward. He walked, and walked, and walked, and walked right by the crossing which led to the bridge, turning daringly on Maple’s: Marvin’s street.
Danny smirked. Wouldn’t you know it, no danger in sight.
“That was awesome, Benny, keep it up!”
A boy in an oversized orange jacket barged out of a liquor store ten feet in front of Danny. He pulled another boy along, a blonde kid in a punk-rock excuse of an outfit, and kept walking forward with his arm around the others’ neck.
Marvin and Jimmy. They didn’t see him, but Danny wasn’t risking anything. He turned around sweating and praying that the two boys don’t notice him – and they didn’t. To his sweet relief, their voices, loud and obnoxious, could be heard further and further as he reached the crossing a second time. Knowing he had no other choice, Danny advanced towards the bridge, acknowledging the tiny figure bent over the water.
She turned her head towards him, then back to the water.
He didn’t speed up his pace this time. Now that he took a better look at her, there was no way this little girl was a ghost. There was no white robe in sight, just a red and yellow striped shirt under a black velvet overall. She was indeed pale, but there was a very human bruise on her left knee and her hair was not black, but dark brown. Unlike the other day, she had no intention of saying hi. Instead, she kept poking with a stick around the water, raising it to her face for inspection ever so often.
Sensing a fellow human, Danny paid better attention to what she was doing. The little girl was fishing for tadpoles with a butterfly net and as soon as he saw her grabbing one of them, with its tail squirming between her thumb and index finger, Danny came to a halt and found his angry voice:
“Stop that, you bully!”
The girl looked at him wide-eyed, her eyes like two chocolate marbles.
“Because you’re hurting them!”
She inhaled sharply and threw the tadpole back into the water, shocked of what she had just found out.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry, I didn’t know!”
She sunk the purposeful end of her butterfly net back into the water and let the other tadpoles swim away.
“I’m so sorry… I didn’t know.”
Danny found her reaction kind of funny, but he also was sorry for accusing her like that. She did seem genuinely distressed.
“That’s okay. Only a few of them survive to become frogs, anyway.”
The girl looked at him with questioning eyes.
“They become… frogs?”
Danny remembered to keep on walking.
“You almost hurt a rose too, you know.”
He looked at her, not sure he knew what she meant.
“I saw she hurt you, so I called her back in the garden. Violence doesn’t work with them, you need to ask nicely.”
Danny was at a loss for words.
A sudden smile shone all over her face.
“You learned something from me today, and I learned something from you! Mom said, friendship is bringing out the best in another person and letting that person bring out the best in you! Can we be friends?”
Danny chuckled and the little girl looked very hurt.
“Erm… sure. I mean, we can try, but, please don’t cry.”
This upset her even more.
She turned her back to Danny and crouched next to her butterfly net once more.
”Forget it. You don’t want to be friends. Nobody wants to be friends with the girl who lives in the creepy house on Bonner street.”
She wasn’t exactly wrong, but Danny felt like an asshole and an asshole was something he was definitely not.
“Hey, uhm… I’m sorry I ran away from you yesterday.”
She looked at him, all signs of incoming sadness gone.
“That’s okay. I get that a lot.”
He pretty much expected that answer, but what he didn’t expect, was the sweet smile that followed it. The question he asked next, came as involuntary as a hiccup.
“What’s your name?”
“I can’t tell you that. Kids like you laugh when they hear my name. It’s a weird one. Just call me whatever you like.”
“Can’t I just call you by your name?”
She looked his way and blinked once before answering.
“That’s a very weird name.”
Clotho smiled again.
“Can I ask you for a favor, Danny?”
“What not-weird-girl-name would be closest to my name?”
Danny was dumbfounded.
“What not-weird-girl-name would be closest to my name?”
“Well… that would be… what’s your name again?”
“Right… erm, Claire, I guess. No! Chloe. Chloe would be a not-weird alternative.”
“’Al-ter-tive’? What does that mean?”
“Al-terrrr-native. What you’re trying to do right now. You’re trying to replace something with something else.”
The girl looked like a lightbulb just ignited above her head.
“Like replacing something bad with something good?!”
Danny was stuck and he did not like being stuck. Especially when it came to mind games. He was not the strongest in the schoolyard, but he was definitely among the smartest.
“Wow, I’m learning so much from you! We’re going to be great friends, Danny!”
“Right… okay, Chlo–”
Danny forgot her name again, but he’d be damned if he’d admit it anew.
“Is it okay if I call you Chloe?”
“Okay. I need to get going now.”
“Why? You just got here.”
“Yeah, but I’m only passing through, I’m not like… visiting or anything.”
“Oh! Right. Your mom is waiting for you.”
That wasn’t precisely the case, seeing how his mom was always working late and Danny was home alone for 3 hours after school until his dad got home, but that was not something his new friend needed to know.
“Well, ok then. You’ll come by tomorrow again, won’t you?”
“Yeah, I’m taking this path every day.”
“I know. I saw you.”
Danny was creeped out, but her smile was so innocent and sweet, he decided it was no way she meant that in a stalker type of way.
“Well, then… see you tomorrow, Chloe.”
“Yeah! See you tomorrow, Danny.”
It’s a She
Now that the weird girl was harmless, Danny was fine with taking the shortcut. He still had to wait the 15 minutes after school for Marvin and his bodyguards to be out of sight, but his way home was not a problem anymore. He found it weird that Marvin started ordering Mike and Wayne to run ahead, just for him and Jimmy to follow along a couple of minutes after, but that still didn’t interfere with the 15-minute rule. Danny would always be looking out the classroom window with his back glued to the wall, so that his bullies couldn’t see him in case they looked up.
He was 50 feet away from the bridge when he saw Chloe wave enthusiastically in his direction.
She was just so happy to see him, she shouted her greetings even though Danny was the size of a tadpole in her field of vision.
“You’re early today! I wanted to meet you at your school, to walk you here!”
Danny was stunned that her yelling didn’t summon more faces in the windows of the creepy house. He, however, was mannered enough to reply only when she was close enough to hear a leveled tone.
“So we have a little more time to chat! There are a couple of things I’d like to ask you. We need to know some things about each other, now that we’re friends!”
“Why are you so early today?”
Early? He was late. 15 minutes late, in fact.
“I’m actually late. Yesterday was just an exception. I didn’t want Marvin to see me taking the long way home.”
Chloe’s head bent slightly to the side.
“What does ‘exception’ mean?”
Danny checked himself. Why did he just tell her about Marvin? She didn’t have to know.
“It means something out of the ordinary. Something that’s not like the others, even though it should be.”
“What? No, not at all! I’m very ordinary, trust me.”
Chloe smiled at him like he just said the most naïve thing in the world.
“I’ve tried making friends so many times, but they all ran away from me.”
The dark-haired girl leaned towards him a little without stepping forward.
“You are an exception to me, Danny.”
Danny blushed. He didn’t know if he should thank her or ask her to never speak to him again, but she made the decision for him.
“What’s your favorite color?”
“You did not just ask me that.”
She got a worried look on her face.
“I… did. What are you saying?”
“It’s the oldest question in the book.”
Chloe’s face was a question mark in itself.
“Jesus, what planet did you come from?”
Chloe seemed genuinely puzzled and Danny was getting frustrated with her. He resumed walking and passed Chloe by with the sheer intention of getting home. He was off the bridge and on the pathway, passing by the roses that caused so much gossip amongst the housewives in town.
“Earth! I’m from Earth!”
Danny decided to ignore her.
“I don’t understand this game we’re playing! You have to tell me the rules first!”
Danny let out an exasperated sigh and yelled from the center of the pathway in the girl’s direction.
“All of them!”
“All of what?”
“All colors! I like every color there is!”
Chloe was astounded.
“Really? I thought you’d say blue or something.”
“Nah, I always liked all of them the same. I could never pick a favorite.”
Chloe was beaming.
“See?! Told you, you’re an exception!”
Danny couldn’t help himself. His sudden good mood was undeniable. He thought the girl was dumb and weird, sure, but she definitely knew how to boost a loser’s ego.
“Thanks! You’re an exception too!”
Chloe’s big eyes got even bigger.
“You sure are! See you tomorrow, okay?”
She looked disappointed, but she still took his remark as a compliment.
“Okay! Have a nice day tomorrow!”
She’s Pretty Stupid
He had no idea how it got there and he had no idea what he did to deserve it. He only let his school bag out of sight for 10 seconds at a time, whenever the ball landed in his hands and he needed to scan the court to see whom to pass it to.
The gym teacher was fine with the kids leaving their school bags on the benches during sports. That, of course, was good for Danny, because the lock to his locker was busted, meaning, he had to drag his rucksack with him everywhere. Even though they were older, Wayne and Mike were in Danny’s gym class because both of them were slightly overweight and their parents told the gym teacher, they will not be able to participate in sports due to their bad knees. Last time the teacher argued against such affirmations, he got himself a lawsuit, which is why he agreed for Mike and Wayne to just sit, watch and laugh at other kids from the side during sports.
Wayne and Mike were chatting on the bench, throwing an eye to the basketball game ever so often. Danny would have never thought it was him they were there for. He simply did his best at being mediocre, grabbed his rucksack on his way out of the gym and, just like everybody else who had been in constant motion for the past 50 minutes, went for the water bottle first thing when hitting the locker room.
Danny probably would have noticed what was happening if he’d seen Mike getting his iPhone out to film him.
It’s like finally finding a toilet after holding it in for several minutes… Like doing something illegal and still be found innocent after weeks of living in fear. It can also be compared to relief, be it sexual or otherwise: that first gulp of water after an exhausting workout could bring anyone to close their eyes and just dive into the blissful moment.
In other words, that is exactly what Danny did.
Just as he brought the bottle to his mouth, he closed his eyes and let it pour its contents into his thirsty cavity. He didn’t see it. He just vaguely heard mild gasps around him, but he would have never thought they had anything to do with him, until…
Until he felt it moving on his tongue.
Danny opened his eyes. He just saw the legs of something black and furry advancing into his mouth, maximized through the bottled water.
He threw the bottle against the wall in front of him and fell to his knees with both hands around his neck. Some boys were laughing, others were yelling. Danny placed an elbow on the floor and forced himself to cough up the contents he just swallowed.
The vermin wasn’t swallowed yet, but it was definitely struggling towards his insides. Danny was so desperate to get that disgusting, fuzzy movement out of him, that he yanked his right hand into his mouth and grabbed the being by a leg with the help of two fingers.
The spider was thrown on the floor, for everyone to see and be disgusted by. It was huge. And scared, too. But before it could find shelter under a bench, a merciless sneaker forced it to meet its maker.
Danny was still coughing. Mike and Wayne were still filming. Danny’s ears went deaf with rage. He was so angry, he imagined a massacre happening right then and there. Everybody who was making a big circle around him deserved to die a painful, bloody death. He imagined the walls painted red in the blood of those laughing at him, and yet, the person who, he thought, deserved the most torture, wasn’t even there…
Danny was startled. Chloe’s big, dark eyes, were studying him expectantly.
He didn’t even notice her there, standing at the end of the bridge at a time of day he would normally never leave school. His mind had gone completely blank after sports. Danny never skipped class. Ever. He was turning into a badly behaved boy, and he knew it. His parents were going to get another call from Mr. Swatson that evening and he dreaded it almost as much as he dreaded encountering Marvin.
Of course, he was upset! Danny wanted to call her stupid, just to feel the comfort of knowing that there are people out there, who are weaker than him. But Danny wasn’t a bully and, no matter how stupid Chloe was, she was willing to be a friend right when he needed one most.
Danny felt the incoming waterworks and, to his own surprise, he walked angrily to the bridge’s margin and sat down on the wood, his feet dangling above the water’s mirror. Chloe joined him.
For someone as stupid as he thought her to be, she sure had a feel for upset people. She just sat there saying nothing, waiting for her friend to speak first. And he spoke, alright.
“I hate them.”
“The bullies. I hate them all! Every bully that ever was and ever will be! They suck and they deserve to die!”
Danny was so angry, his eyes watered. As he tried wiping the annoying salty water out of the way, a gentle hand stroke his back.
“Let it out, friend.”
And just as Danny wanted to bark at her that he’s not her friend and that he’s fine… he let go.
He cried, and cried, and cried, and told her everything there was to tell about the day he had.
She did nothing of the things he thought she’d do and said nothing of the things he thought she’d say. She didn’t interfere by saying that karma was going to get back to the horrible people he had to deal with, she didn’t reassure him that, no, he wasn’t worthless or a chicken and that, no, he was wrong, things were going to get better and that people always change for the better as a result of growing up.
She did nothing of what a friend was supposed to do, to make a befriended feel better.
All she did was bow her head towards the water, listening to Danny cry and rant about his bullies. After he let all the poison out, Danny was under the mild impression that Chloe wasn’t listening to him at all. That made him want to get up and run to his house, where he was most sheltered and could cry to the dearest friend he had: himself.
But just as he made the slightest move towards standing up, Chloe grabbed his arm with the force of ten men and turned her dark-haired head to meet his eyes.
Danny froze. It was a lovely spring day, but he couldn’t remember ever feeling this cold.
Compared to Chloe’s frozen stare, being flushed down the school toilet seemed like nothing.
“Do you want me to interfere?”
She sounded old. And angered. Danny was puzzled. For someone who didn’t know what “alternative” or “exception” meant, “interfere” was a pretty big word.
“Uhm… interfere how?”
“Should I erase everything he ever did to you?”
That’s when Danny came back to his senses.
“I… I think I should get home.”
Chloe didn’t even flinch.
“Mom’s waiting for me?”
That part, she heard –
“Oh… right.” – and let him go.
Danny got up and swiped his right hand over the back side of his jeans a couple of times. He expressed a half-hearted goodbye to Chloe, and just as he turned around and took a couple of steps…
“I don’t care what others think of you. I’ll always be on your side, no matter what happens.”
Time stopped for Danny right then and there. He stared Chloe right in the face, considering her as stupid as ever. Even so, he decided he liked her.
Be it as platonic as humanly possible.
She smiled and pure happiness was radiating off of her.
“Sure! What are friends for?”
But She’s a Friend
Danny’s nose met with his own locker door with a hard ‘dksss’.
“What was that, Collins?!”
Danny was shaking in fear for his very life as he grabbed his bleeding nose. He was on his knees, looking up at Marvin and his three bodyguards.
“What do you mean, you never read ‘Crime and Punishment’ by that Russian bastard?! I need that book report in two hours!”
“You never told me about–”
Slam. Danny was on the floor, covering his face with his hands, afraid of the next impact.
“Oh, that’s why you don’t have my book report ready? Because I never told you about it?”
King Marvin kicked Danny in the leg.
”I don’t have to tell you shit, Collins! Make it by tomorrow, and it better not be copied off the web!“
It was either Wayne or Mike who kicked Danny in the leg next – this deduction was made by the stronger level of pain he felt.
Danny walked with a limb home and Chloe noticed.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Even so, he got comfortable on the bridge, with his feet dangling over the water again.
“Looks like you do, though.”
“I need to read ‘Crime and Punishment’ by tomorrow.”
Chloe sat down next to him.
“Grandma has that one. Her library is huge! I can lend it to you, but you can’t finish it by tomorrow. It’s this big.”
Chloe showed a thickness of 3 inches with the help of her thumb and index finger. All Danny understood, was that he was going to die in less than 24 hours.
“Can’t you just pretend to be sick and stay home?”
That actually sounded like a very good idea! Danny couldn’t believe that he ever thought the girl was stupid.
“I can try… funny, this option didn’t even hit me.”
“Well, please stay home tomorrow! I’m not in the mood to hear your name while grandma‘s working her spind–.
Chloe clasped her hand over her mouth.
“I mean… just stay home, okay?”
And so, he did.
A Friend full of Surprises
Next morning, Danny got up an hour earlier than he should have and turned the heating system in his room on blast. Right before his mother was supposed to wake up, he let the thermometer rest on the bottom of the bathroom sink as he washed his hands and face with water so hot, he thought it’d peel his skin off.
He couldn’t help but chuckle: whether he’d stay at home or go to school to meet Marvin, some mean god had something against him keeping his skin attached to the rest of him.
Mother’s alarm clock rang loudly from the other side of the wall by his bed, letting Danny know it was time to hide the evidence. He got a mouthful of hot water, placed the thermometer between his lips, turned the radiator off and snuck into bed without wiping the water beads off his forehead.
His mother didn’t notice the heat in Danny’s room. He was a good kid and he rarely got sick, so she never even suspected that the sweat on his brows, the steaming face and the outrageous numbers shown by the quicksilver, was just a bunch of bull. She or dad wanted to stay home, but Danny swore he would be alright.
Going to school was out of the question. Danny was going to be just fine.
Being alone at home can be exciting for a 13, going on 14-year-old. For the first 3 hours, that is. TV was no fun, so, rebellious as he felt, Danny got dressed and went for a walk right where he knew he’d find her.
Chloe turned her head to see her friend approaching. She smiled and started dangling her feet above the water, reminding Danny of a dog who’s happy that master’s home.
“What do you mean, I’m late? It’s not even 12 a.m. yet.”
“You’re late for someone who faked being sick to stay home.”
“Erm, excuse you, I faked being sick to stay alive!”
Chloe chuckled and patted the wooden boards to her right. Danny took her invitation and sat down next to her.
“How come I see you every day now? I’ve been coming here for years and I’ve never seen you before.”
“Well… now that I have a friend, I have more reasons to come play outside.”
“You don’t like playing alone?”
“Oh no, I do, but I’ve always wanted a friend.”
Danny shot her an incredulous stare.
“Wait a minute… you mean to tell me, you’ve been coming outside more… for me?”
Chloe blushed furiously.
“No, of course not! It’s just… I never had much reason to come outside before.”
The little girl turned around to look at her old, creepy looking house.
“Mom and grandma say… I’m very important.”
Danny had to bite his tongue to suppress a sarcastic chuckle.
“I know that sounds wrong, but they say it’s important for me to stay safe… they say, the world is a very unsafe place.”
Her face had something very earnest about it. Something so solemn, it divulged both pride and pain. Danny had no idea how to react to it.
“They told me, if anything was to ever happen to one of us three…”
Chloe turned her gaze from her house to her only friend, and Danny was close to screaming. Chloe’s eyes turned from dark brown to… sparkling white?!
“…the world would end.”
No, her eyes were as brown as they always were, the sun was only playing tricks. Chloe sounded sad and Danny didn’t like it. He grabbed her hand, pulling her out of her daze and spoke as convincingly as a 13-year-old victim of school bullying could.
“You’re just a kid!”
Chloe blinked twice in surprise.
“Sure, if something will ever happen to me, I’m sure my parents’ world would end, but that’s no reason to not come outside at all! The world is messed up, but it’s also beautiful. You just have to find the courage to learn its ways. You can’t just live cooped up in an old home!”
“Want to see it?”
No impact at all. He had one chance at delivering a life-changing speech, and he blew it. Chloe was back to her cheerful, childish, dumb, brown-eyed self again.
“Mm-yeah, I don’t think that’d be such a good idea…”
“Oh, come on, you worrywart. Mom and grandma are in the backyard picking cotton. I can show you around for a bit until they come back!”
Danny wanted to excuse himself to go home, where he was expected to be lying in bed and resting. His head was already on its way to his house, but his heart, alongside his physical self, was following Chloe inside the creepy house on Booner street.
Few feelings are more powerful than fear – curiosity is one of them.
“Welcome to my humble abode!” Chloe chimed. “I heard that one in a movie. Come on!”
The girl ran towards the other end of the hallway. Danny wanted to take his shoes off first, but Chloe tugged impatiently at him.
“Hurry, we need to hurry.”
Danny followed her to something that looked like it had once been an enormous ballroom. Even though massive blackout curtains were covering every inch of window possible, the room was very well lit. Four chandeliers were hanging low above the ballroom and they were all powered by candles, not electricity. To the right of the room were two doors, and to the left, a couch and an enormous flat-screen TV. Far ahead were two staircases leading to the first floor and beyond. The massive double door that stood tall and proud between the staircases, was open just a creek, further tickling Danny’s curiosity. The floor was coated in a very expensive-looking gold and crimson-colored rug, and Danny couldn’t tell if the walls were painted or covered in wallpaper.
Despite its scary shell and intimidating size, Chloe’s home was very clean and very sophisticated-looking. However, it wore neither a welcoming hue, nor a homey vibe. It was certainly big enough for a kid or five to play indoors, but definitely not suited for a child as cheerful as Chloe.
The creepy house on Booner street was big, strong, and ready to crush uninvited guests.
“That’s the library,” Chloe said, pointing to the open double door. Her next words guided her finger to the two identical doors on the right. ”That’s the kitchen and that’s the pantry.“
The girl chuckled as she started walking towards one of the staircases. Danny followed.
“The kitchen and the pantry are almost identical. Mom and granny think some things from the pantry belong in the kitchen, and that every pantry needs a table and chairs. Pictured it yet?”
Danny let out a short laugh.
“I’d love to show them to you, but I don’t think we have enough time… I’m not allowed to bring friends over.”
Not allowed to bring friends over, nor is she actually allowed to leave the house. No wonder she’s so clingy, Danny thought.
“Say, Chloe… do you have any brothers or sisters?”
The two of them reached the first floor of the house.
“Mom had to give birth to one daughter. Her mom, my granny, had to do the same. And her mom and the mom before that, and the mom before that and so on.”
Danny was confused.
“And what if… one of you was born a boy?”
Chloe turned to look at him.
“I’m not allowed to tell you these things…”
Danny was genuinely intrigued.
“You’re neither allowed to have me over, but you’re still doing it, aren’t you?”
Poor Chloe looked puzzled.
“I won’t tell anybody, Chlo…”
Danny was about to deliver the punch line and, even though he meant it, it had an insincere undertone.
“I’m your friend.”
The girl sighed.
“I… would love to tell you all about it, but I’m really not allowed to.”
“Why did your eyes get so weird before?”
Chloe’s posture went rigid.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, you do.”
A couple of seconds passed by without any of the two moving.
Danny was all ears.
“Let’s just keep going, okay?”
She sounded like she was beginning to regret letting Danny into her house. Chloe advanced on the dark hallway that stretched out into the depths of the first floor.
“I’m sorry. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“No. You’re right.”
Danny counted three unopened doors she passed by, when she turned around furiously, grabbed him by the arm and led him out of the hallway and back to the staircase.
“Are you angry with me? Should I go home?”
Surprisingly, when reaching the staircase, they did not descend it, as Danny might have expected. Chloe, instead, had Danny follow her to the second floor, where one old, yet very well-kempt door stood before them.
“This is where my mother, grandmother and I work.”
Danny snapped his head in her direction. Did she say ‘I?!’ How is it possible for a 12 or 13-year-old girl to be put to work by her mother and grandmother? Before he had the chance to mention child protection services, Chloe inhaled deeply and opened the door.
The attic was also well lit. This time, however, by pure daylight. The dust particles that swam through the air, looked like glitter and even though they were plenty, the room was very clean.
Danny tried to comprehend what he was looking at.
The wooden contraption seemed to be ancient, yet very steady and complex. The longer he stared at it, the more detail he was able to distinguish. Whatever it was, it was a beautiful tool and the glitter swaying all around it, made it look like the cover picture of a fairy-tale. That day was not a particularly sunny one, but the room was so bright, Danny couldn’t help but look for the source…
And there it was: at the far end of the wooden machine, spreading light all across the room, were the biggest silver scissors Danny had ever seen.
“This spinning wheel has been in my family for generations.”
A spinning wheel?! Danny thought. Looked more like an intricate weaving loom.
“It always has to be three of us.”
The boy listened enchanted.
“Clotho, the young; Lachesis, the mother; and Atropos, the mother’s mother.”
Chloe wasn’t looking in Danny’s direction. Even so, he recognized a hint of that earnestness from before and, because of that, he withheld from asking about her father.
“In my family, every death must be accompanied by a birth at the same precise moment.”
Her voice was melancholic as she reached out a hand to stroke the wood of the spinning wheel.
“It’s the duty of every Clotho to give birth to the next one, as it is the duty of every Atropos to die and make room for the next one.”
A knife-sharp smile crept at the edges of her mouth as she turned her head to look at her friend.
“But that’s okay… sooner or later, each and every one of us will get her chance at using the scissors.”
That’s when Danny knew, it was no longer okay for them to be friends.
Ice-cold fingers grabbed him by the collar from behind and tossed him towards the stairs. Had his reflexes been any slower, he would have fallen to his most probable death.
“Strangeling! How dare you enter the attic of the Moirai uninvited?!”
Danny grabbed onto the handrail for dear life. The old woman in front of him was yielding garden scissors in both hands, and, boy, did she look pissed!
“It was me, granny! I invited him!”
But granny didn’t hear anything. She threw one pair of scissors at Danny with the force of a cannon. Danny ducked at the very last moment and the scissors broke through the handrail and five balusters.
“Run, Danny! Run!”
Danny sped down the stairs with the crazy old lady right behind him.
“Wait until I get my hands on you, you filthy little pig!”
Just as Chloe’s grandmother was about to throw the second pair of scissors to the boy’s doom, another hand grabbed Danny. He was forced to stop and hide behind the silhouette of another woman. This one was fairly younger.
“Calm down, mother. It’s a friend of Clotho’s.”
The old woman stopped.
–and turned to look upwards at her grandchild, who was crying rivers at the top of the stairs.
“Did you want to show him the attic, Clotho?!”
Chloe froze. She stared at the two older women with nothing but fear in her eyes. She shivered and wept, but didn’t say anything in Danny’s defense.
“Of course she didn’t, mother! She might be stupid, but not that stupid.”
Danny suddenly felt the urge to punch the woman who was shielding him from the scissor-throwing monster.
“Look at him. Just as shameless and despicable as all other representatives of his gender. He must have run around the house as soon as Clotho let him in.”
Chloe’s head sunk in shame and Danny couldn’t believe that his friend wouldn’t back him up in front of her family – especially since nothing was actually his fault.
“Look at me, my daughter.”
The girl looked at her mother. She looked so devastated, Danny pitied her more than himself for a second and expected her mother to comfort her, seeing the mess she was.
“When I explained to you, that you will need to make a male friend in the future, I surely didn’t mean someone this weak, and I most certainly wasn’t talking about now.”
More waterworks from upstairs, but she started descending slowly. Granny-gruesome stepped aside, letting Chloe get to her mother.
“Escort your friend outside and bid your farewells.”
But Danny didn’t wait that long. He turned around and went down the stairs, not giving Chloe the chance to catch up to him. He opened the door and stepped out of the house, not even turning to say goodbye to his… former friend.
“W… Danny? Wait!”
But he didn’t wait. He just kept on walking, angry as he was.
“I’m sorry! We’re still friends, I promise! I’m still on your side!”
But Danny would hear none of it. He was too much inside his own head to actually take note of his way home and it was the police car in his driveway that broke the daze.
A synonym for excrements escaped from between Danny’s pressed lips.
When Danny stepped inside his house, his mother was crying on the living room sofa next to a cop, whilst his father was making an erratic phone call.
“Where the hell were you?!”
All three adults rushed to Danny as if they wanted to tackle him.
“What… are you guys doing home this early?”
The surprise in his voice simply slipped out.
“I called in to see if you’re okay! his mom yelled. You were so sick this morning, I got worried when I saw you wouldn’t pick up!”
Danny was close to hitting himself for being so stupid. His mother instantly placed her hands on his face.
“Wha… the fever is gone… but, how?!”
Danny was grabbed for the third time that day.
“Daniel, what the hell did you do?”
The boy was tired. Too tired to come up with a believable lie.
“I faked being sick to stay at home today.”
“You did what?! Why?!”
Even so, he wasn’t tired enough to look like a pussy in front of his father.
“Because I felt like it.”
The adults were stunned.
“Where in the hell were you?!”
It didn’t look like his mother would let it go and he didn’t really have a reason to lie to her.
“Answer me, Daniel!”
“I made friends with the girl who lives at 17, Booner Street.”
“Booner Street, 17… you mean, the Manson manor?!”
Danny nodded and walked past his parents, heading to his room.
“Daniel, you are to never visit that place again, do you understand me?!”
“Don’t worry about it, mom.” He looked back at his mother with sad eyes. “We’re not friends anymore.”
The cop stood up saying “Looks like you won’t be needing me anymore, Mr. and Mrs. Collins” just as Danny closed the door behind him.
He couldn’t hear him as clearly as before, but the cop’s next words got to him loud and clear:
“Keep Danny away from the people at that old house. That place is all sorts of bad news.”
And So Loyal
Mr. Swatson almost crushed the piece of chalk between his fingers, when he again turned his back to the blackboard to see that damn hand in the air.
“Danny, break time wasn’t even 5 minutes ago!”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I really need to go.”
His classmates all knew why Danny was doing this, but they didn’t deem it necessary to share their knowledge with the teachers.
“I’m sorry, Danny, but I can’t keep letting you do this!”
Danny’s eyes went wide. All teachers but Mr. Swatson forbade him from going to the loo during class. He was his very last hope and he really needed to go, so the urgency was twice as bad.
“Please, sir? It’s really urgent!”
The teacher looked at him over the frames of his glasses.
“It’s for the last time, Daniel. Did I make myself understood?”
Mr. Swatson said nothing more. He motioned towards the door with his head, dismissing Danny to go to the bathroom. The boy was ashamed. He got out of the classroom and rushed to the men’s toilet, thinking of strategies to avoid nature’s calling during school altogether.
Danny had just decided that he’ll stop drinking anything before and during school, starting with the next day, when he opened the bathroom door and froze in its frame.
Jimmy was bent over a sink, his shoulder-length blonde hair covering the sides of his face. Even so, his blue gaze shot daggers at Danny in the mirror’s reflection. Danny was just about to slam the door shut and run for his dear life, when the upperclassman spoke.
“It’s alright, little man.”
He looked sick. The sink he was leaning against, was full of his sickness, too.
“He’s not here. Go do your business.”
If it weren’t for his throbbing bladder, Danny would have fled anyway. He had no idea what Jimmy was doing or why he was in the toilet during class to begin with, but the boy did not look good at all. Last time he encountered friends of Marvin’s, they were there to harm him, but there’s no way Jimmy could have anticipated him being there at precisely that time of day.
No time to think. Time to pee.
Danny ran to the very first stall and resumed thinking as he emptied the pressure in a bowl he once got all close and personal with. Jimmy gagged at the sinks, making Danny interrupt his thoughts for a second, but it’s only when he heard someone else come in, that his thoughts and flow of pee stopped altogether.
“There you are, I’ve been looking all over for you!”
Danny wanted to hit the wall in frustration. He whispered the synonym for excrements instead – he was getting pretty good at it.
Marvin’s boots were furiously speeding in Jimmy’s direction.
“Come on, Marv, please…”
And just as Danny expected a punch or some other violent-image-inducing sound, he heard a wet suction noise. Then another one. And another one. Danny’s mouth fell agape. He felt the need to touch the wall in front of him for balance.
“Why? You said you like it.”
And another one.
“I do, it’s just…”
Jimmy was desperately thinking of excuses – Danny was sure of it.
“I just puked. I think it was the soda, I’m not feeling too well.”
“I can make you feel better. Come here.”
Another wet suction sound. This one lasted longer than the others.
“Marv, please stop it, I’m really not in the mood!”
Marvin chuckled. But it wasn’t a mean chuckle, like the ones he gave Danny when he was begging for mercy. It was loving and understanding.
“It’s okay, babe. I’ll wait for whenever you’re ready.”
Steps were heard, followed by a mild tug on the other side of the wall to Danny’s left. It was clear as day: Marvin cornered Jimmy against the wall.
“But that won’t keep me from doing it to you.”
Danny heard Jimmy gasp in panic as sounds of zippers and wrinkling fabric filled the toilet.
“Be quiet, it’ll feel good. Really good…”
“I said, no!”
“Why not, damn it?! Why not?! You said you want this! You said you want me just as much as I want you!”
Marvin hit the wall above Jimmy’s head. Danny flinched violently.
“I need this, don’t you get it?! I need it so bad, it’s driving me insane… you’re driving me insane.”
More wrinkling fabric and wet kissing sounds.
Danny wished he were deaf. This was bad, this was very, very bad, he was not supposed to hear this conversation.
“It’s not that… I don’t want you, it’s just…”
“What? What is it, babe, you know you can talk to me.”
Danny closed his eyes in defeat. He knew what Jimmy was about to say… he couldn’t blame the guy. If he would have been in Jimmy’s situation, he too would have given that excuse to save himself from being violated by a person he’s afraid of.
“We’re not alone. There’s someone in the stall behind m–”
Danny was out of the toilet before Jimmy even had the chance to finish his sentence. He ran, and ran, and ran, ignoring all the shouting happening behind him. He ran across the hall, passed the security guards’ office and continued running until he was at the bridge. The shouting never ceased.
“You’re dead, Collins! You’re fucking dead, I’ll kill you and skull-fuck you after I’m done!”
Danny ran home. He ran so fast and was so blind to the world he was passing by, that he didn’t even notice the black-haired girl in her white robe at the window of the spooky house on Booner street. She was crying, but Danny wouldn’t have been able to see that, even if he did look up. Good thing the house keys were in his back pocket.
After letting himself in, Danny went straight to the bathroom, to do what Jimmy did not even 30 minutes prior.
He didn’t puke out of disgust, he puked out of fear. His entire body was shaking. He’ll transfer schools… yeah… a school transfer. That’s it! His parents will understand.
Brushing his teeth and pacing around his room didn’t help – neither with the icky taste in his mouth, nor the weight of the information he received against his will. He waited for the computer to start up and seriously considered looking for his mother’s calming pills in his parents’ bathroom.
Browsing through everything which was needed for a school transfer, Danny took out a notepad to take notes – he needed to be very prepared when his parents would get home, but little did he know, he will never get the chance to put those notes to good use…
The house phone rang. Its sound cut like burning iron through butter in the dead quiet of the house. Danny let it ring, because, technically, nobody was supposed to be home… and the phone eventually stopped ringing.
Not even five silent seconds passed, and the phone rang again. It rang with a fury only tired mid-class workers get to know due to their early morning alarm clocks. When the phone rang the third time, Danny knew it’s for him. He rushed to it, inhaled deeply and prayed to god it wasn’t one of his paren–
“Daniel Bradley Collins, what in the world did you get yourself into?!”
Great. Danny seriously regretted not having the notes with him.
“Mom, I can explain…”
“What the hell is this I’m hearing?! You excused yourself to go to the bathroom in the middle of class and left school?! Mr. Swatson told me you’ve been acting strange all semester, but I never would have thought that my son…”
“Mom, it’s not what you think.”
“Oh really?! Then, mind telling me, how the hell your grades are declining suddenly when, just last year, you were in the top three of your class? And why you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom during class every chance you get?! I swear to God, Danny, I hope it’s cigarettes!”
“I hope it’s cigarettes, because if I find out you’re taking drugs, son, God help me, I’ll–”
“Mom, I’m being bullied!”
Mother did not expect that one.
“You are?! Since when?! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I can’t just tell my parents I’m being bullied! Hello?! I’m 13, going on 14, I have to start fighting my own battles!”
“Does ‘fighting your own battles’ imply you running away from school during class?!”
“I can’t go to the bathroom during breaks, because he always catches me there, mom. Today, he cornered me in the toilet during class! That’s why I ran away from school.”
It was either silence of relief, or loss for words.
“No bully can be that bad.”
“Mom, I prefer peeing my pants in class, than risk meeting him in the bathroom. Trust me, he is that bad!”
She was still angry with him, of course, but it was clear as day that his mom was happy with the explanation. Even so, her anger was overpowering every other feeling she had.
“I want to transfer!”
“Don’t be silly, Danny, it’s probably just a phase.”
“This ‘phase’ is making me fail all my classes! Do you want that?!”
Mom let out a sound of surrender.
“We’ll talk about it when your dad and I get home tonight, okay honey?”
Danny smiled victoriously, but, little did he know, his victory would be very short-lived.
“You didn’t leave your things at school, did you?”
Danny was just about to tell her that it’s fine, that his belongings are safe in his locker, but then he remembered…
“Ahh, crap, the door to my locker is busted!”
He wished, he didn’t say that out loud.
“What?! You need to get your butt back to school and get your things, young man!”
All color fled from his face.
“Mom! I can’t! Didn’t you hear what I just said?!”
“I did and we will all talk about it tonight, but, right now, I really need you to be brave and go back to school to get your things!”
“But, Mom, class just ended, school is out for the day! Very few people know that the lock to my locker is busted, I can get them tomo-!”
“No buts! You’re going now and that’s final! Your dad and I are not getting you a new iPhone and Nintendo just because of some bully!”
She had a point. Danny always took his favorite pieces of technology to school with him, and he was not about to give them up for the likes of Marvin.
“Class is over for the day, baby, he won’t be there.”
But Danny knew better… he hoped from the depths of his being, that she was right, and hung on to that hope all the way back to school.
But he knew better regardless…
She’s Your Friend, But Everybody Else’s Enemy
The fear that was curling up in Danny’s chest, made him believe that the entire world was plotting against him.
The sky was getting dark and when he got to the pathway by the creepy house, the wild roses were stretching through the gaps between the fence’s iron bars more daring than ever before. The lake’s water was getting darker, its mirror not as reflective as it should have been, not to mention that the bad-weather-light made the bridge seem quite unstable.
To sum it up, it was turning out to be a really shitty day.
The schoolyard came into sight. It was deserted. Danny could only see the janitor up on the second floor of the school building, running his typical errands. The wind blew mercilessly and Danny’s heart was beating inside his chest like a wild animal stuck in a cage. He was hurrying to the entrance, gliding along walls and trying to make himself as unnoticeable as possible.
He wanted to believe that, once he was inside the school, he was home free. There is no way Marvin and his bullies would wait inside the school for him, risking to get caught by the janitor or security guard. The building was almost empty, so Danny’s screams would echo everywhere.
Danny opened the gate. The security officer was nowhere to be seen. He took a couple of steps and exhaled in a vague attempt at silencing his paranoia.
His paranoia, however, was there for a reason.
“Damn it, kid, I thought you knew better than to come back.”
Danny turned around just in time to see Mike placing his iPhone back in the pocket of his jeans. The broad-shouldered boy opened the gate and gestured for Danny to follow him outside.
“He has your stuff. Follow me.”
Danny backed up a few steps. Mike stared at him, surprised by his defensiveness.
“Dude, I’m not asking you to follow me, I’m telling you to. Don’t be stupid. It’ll hurt less if you do what you’re told.”
The poor 13, going on 14-year-old boy felt unwanted tears swell up in his eyes, as his knees got uncertain of the balance they were supposed to keep.
“I got no idea what you did to piss him off so badly.”
“I didn’t do anything…”
“Don’t know about that, but I do know it’ll get worse if you don’t follow me.”
Danny swallowed, even though his mouth and throat were as dry as Saudi Arabia.
“Where is he?”
“By the oak tree.”
This wasn’t bad. This was far worse than bad.
“You comin’, or do I have to drag you?”
Danny followed Mike outside and behind the building, where the oak tree was.
Every student who smoked; every student who wanted to make out; every student who had something secretive to do, or something secretive to show and wanted little to no risk of getting caught, would go to the oak tree behind the building.
The tree’s crown was massive and heavy. The umbrella its crown created throughout the years originated one of the most loved mottos amongst the students:
‘Anything that goes down at the oak tree – stays at the oak tree.’
And no other truth was weighing heavier on Danny’s shoulders at that point. The security guard was too far away to hear his screams, should there be any, and the janitor wouldn’t be able to see anything due to the oak’s leafy branches, even if he were to open the windows.
Danny wished he would have valued his life more than he valued his iPhone and Nintendo half an hour ago.
Marvin’s orange jacket with the blue zipper leaning against the tree trunk was the brightest thing in the picture of an upcoming storm. He looked the angriest Danny had ever seen him and judging by the huge grin psycho Wayne had plastered across his face, Danny knew this was going to be the worst day of his life. Jimmy was there too, but he, on the other hand, was looking down at his boots – he couldn’t face the boy whose fate would be on his conscience forever.
Mike pushed Danny forward and it’s only when the boy entered the dome created by the oak’s umbrella, that he noticed all his belongings scattered across the damp soil.
Danny delivered a shaky ice-breaker.
“Can I… can I have them back, please?”
Mike and Wayne laughed like antagonists would. Marvin watched Danny with so much hatred, his blood froze in his veins.
Marvin approached Danny’s stuff with slow steps.
“Right after I’m finished.”
He unzipped his pants, looking exactly like he was about to do the thing Danny dreaded most.
Danny wanted to tackle him, but Mike grabbed him by the arms and forced him to stay put and watch.
“Don’t! Please, no!! I’m begging you!”
Jimmy looked away, shaking almost as badly as Danny was, and Wayne was laughing like a madman, but Marvin – Marvin’s face was serene. He had no expression whatsoever as he took out his manhood and relieved himself all over Danny’s things.
Danny started to cry and Wayne suddenly didn’t find the situation as funny anymore. Mike even loosened his grip on Danny’s arms, making the boy fall to his knees on the moist ground.
“Dude… maybe we should stop.”
Danny was so humiliated, he would have been fine with dying right then and there. Even so, more than sad, scared and humiliated… he felt rage.
Danny looked at his worst nightmare teary-eyed and knew that what he was about to say, would either be his salvation or bring his doom.
“Please… I won’t tell anybody, I swear!”
Jimmy turned his head violently in Danny’s direction, eyes wild and mouth agape. Danny just opened Pandora’s box. It was all over the pretty blonde boy’s face. Mike and Wayne looked puzzled.
“What won’t he tell, Marv?”
It was Mike who asked the question.
“Yeah, Marv, what’s up?” Wayne pried.
Marvin’s face lost its composure and, Danny knew, the boy that just took a massive piss on his belongings, was not afraid of facing juvie, jail, or any other type of consequence, to make him hurt for what he just outed.
Marvin was by him in mere seconds and hit him over the head so hard, it felt more like a horse’s hoof than a human foot. Danny fell to the ground and spat out a tooth.
Most people would have surrendered and begged for their lives at this point, but Danny… Danny already played his last card. Danny already had his most expensive possessions pissed on by this human garbage and him begging further, would only make the situation more pathetic and laughable. His rage outgrew the fear within him and, what was worse… it outgrew his survival instinct.
“Pick him up, Mike!”
“Marv, don’t you think it’s enough?” Mike asked, even though he did as he was told. He picked Danny up by the pits of his arms and forced him to his knees again.
“It’s enough when I say it is!”
Marvin fumbled with his zipper again.
“Open his mouth. I didn’t finish unloading yet.”
This is the part where Jimmy looked genuinely panicked. He and Wayne started making desperate arm gestures to Danny behind Marvin’s back, urging him to get up and run.
But Danny couldn’t see them. He saw nothing but Marvin’s crotch and his sick smile somewhere above the parted orange folds and the blue zipper of his oversized jacket.
With nothing more to lose… Danny went all in.
“You know, Marvin… I don’t have anything against gay guys. Actually, I’m sure most of them are very nice people… but you, my friend–
–you’re not a gay guy. You’re a faggot!”
Jimmy, Mike, and Wayne held their breaths.
Marvin stared Daniel down, his hand unconsciously closing the zipper of his pants. Nobody dared to move, nobody dared to speak and in that precise moment, the world stopped just long enough for Daniel’s survival instinct to kick in again.
His brain’s ‘get up and run!’ command didn’t even reach his spine when Mike grabbed him, rose him upright and tossed him outside of the oak’s protective circle.
“Run, kid!! Run as fast as you can!”
He didn’t have to yell it out twice. Danny ran for his life. He ran to his full capacity and beyond, Marvin’s thundering gallops right on his tail. This time, the bully didn’t bother with verbal threats like earlier – he was chasing Danny with the clear intention of physically hurting him, and by the sounds of his exasperated, inclosing exhales… he was about to hurt him very, very badly.
Danny passed his track record long before he saw the bridge before him. Even so, Marvin’s hard breaths were so close behind him, he could almost feel the warmth of him at the back of his neck.
It was when they got to the bridge, that Danny knew he was doomed.
The sky was deep grey and darkening and the lake water was as black as tar. If that wasn’t enough of a bad omen, his loud and frightened feet knocking against the bridge’s wooden boards, were slowly but surely overpowered by a pair of incoming, trampling boots.
No sooner did they reach the pathway semi-occupied by the dark, wild roses, that Danny felt cold, hungry fingers trying to grab him by the back of his shirt.
How, nobody knows. He either slipped, or the feel of Marvin made him lose his balance, but he definitely tripped and had his bully surf on his chest for at least seven feet until they stopped.
Danny was about to try the apology card again, but he couldn’t let out one word. At first, he incredulously looked up at his bully while trying to tell him that his knees are making his thorax implode and that he can’t breathe, but… Marvin’s knees were not on his chest at all… Marvin’s knees were at his sides and the reason why Danny felt like chocking, is because…
The bully’s hands were wrapped around his neck. And they were squeezing. Hard.
Danny let out an indiscernible gag. He tried clinging to Marvin’s arms, tried clawing at his face, but Marvin’s face was the frozen picture of one intention and one intention only: murder.
He didn’t give up clawing at everything he could get his fingers on, even though he felt his head getting dizzy and his vision getting cloudy. Marvin was pressing and squeezing and mere seconds before passing out, Danny gathered all of his strength, not to defend himself, but to… point at something?
Marvin was too out of it to even notice what was going on around him, but he did notice the change in his victim’s demeanor. It changed from fright to confusion. What the hell was he pointing at, anyway?
Daniel was pointing at Marvin’s heart.
Or so it seemed.
Marvin looked down. He didn’t notice it at first, but after he blinked once or twice, it dawned on him:
His beloved orange jacket with the blue zipper had been completely cut off from the chest down.
Marvin immediately let go of Danny’s throat, the absence of over half of his jacket being the new focus of his attention. Danny coughed and inhaled greedily as Marvin looked bewildered around himself, to see why, how and who could have done such a gruesome thing to his most beloved piece of clothing.
He turned to look behind himself, and that’s when he saw the long, thin, orange thread that connected the remains of his jacket to a small, glowing figure at the furthest side of the bridge.
Marvin felt scared for the first time that evening. Danny had gotten enough oxygen in his brain to lift his torso up on his elbows and look in the direction in which Marvin was staring.
His blood ran cold.
The bridge was dark and so was the sky. The only things illuminating the scene were a small figure wearing a white garment at the other end of the bridge, the neon-glowing orange thread that connected Marvin’s jacket to the figure’s fist, and those sparkling white eyes Danny knew not to mess with.
Chloe had one hand tangled up in the thread of Marvin’s jacket and the other, behind her back. Danny’s heart began to race again, and for the first time in the last weeks, it was not for his own sake.
“No, Chloe! Don’t!”
But Clotho would hear none of it – her decision was made. She revealed her grandmother’s scissors from behind her back, their massive silver glowing as strong as her eyes were. Marvin was star struck. He rubbed his eyes, convinced he was dreaming.
Poor boy didn’t even get the chance to see Clotho snap the scissors shut on his bright orange yarn.
Time stopped right then and there. Danny wanted to move, but he couldn’t. All he could do, was helplessly watch as the wild roses came to life.
The buds sniffed the air as if they were hungry felines smelling blood. Some roses slithered on the path like snakes, others opened their buds up like famished sharks, ready to chow down on their prey.
Every single rose from the creepy houses’ garden clung to and around Marvin.
First, there were the questions. The ‘what the fuck’s’ and ‘what is this’ and ‘what are you doing’s’. Then, there was the struggling. Then, the ordering around, followed by the refusal. ‘This isn’t happening!’; ‘Get off of me!’; ‘This isn’t happening!’. The boy was screaming bloody murder by the time one rose ate his right eye and three others sucked at his fingers. A rather bloomed rose entwined its stem around Marvin’s neck, digging its thorns into his flesh. The same rose started chewing at the bully’s ear, sucking on it like it found something yummy inside his head. Numerous other roses bit at his stomach, legs, back, chest, and every other piece of flesh they could find. The plants were hungry and they were loud, too. Danny couldn’t tell who was louder – the roses who sounded like tigers tearing up a gazelle, or Marvin, who sounded like one hundred piglets up for slaughter.
The roses dragged Marvin up to the fence. Since the chunk of flesh that remained of the boy was still too big to fit through the gaps between the fence’s iron bars, the roses resumed their feast outside of the fence, for Danny to see clearly.
Danny could not believe his eyes. The roses were munching and chewing as if they were predators from the very top of the food chain.
Danny remembered, his former friend was supposed to be at the other end of the bridge, so he looked at her just in time to see her deranged grandmother come running out of the house. He stood motionless in the middle of the pathway, sheltered by the shadows, and too far away to be seen by the old woman.
The last thing Danny saw before snapping out of his daze and running home, was Chloe’s white robe dancing in the wind of the upcoming storm, and her crying diamond eyes.
By the time the mother and grandmother got out of the house to confiscate the scissors out of Chloe’s hands, Danny was already halfway home.
“Clotho, spring of one’s life! What have you done?!”
He could still hear that last part when he closed the door to his house behind him.
Danny cried under the covers until his parents came home. He expected his dad home by 7 p.m. and his mother by 8, but he never thought they’d show up together at 5:30. He was still crying when his mom entered his room, followed by his father.
“Sweetie, is everything alright?”
She didn’t sound angry anymore. Quite the contrary, she sounded apologetic. She probably realized that she exaggerated over the phone earlier and acknowledged that teenage bullies can be very, very cruel at times.
“Your father and I are home, honey… you wanted to talk to us about this bully.”
Danny sat upright and wiped his eyes with the sleeves of his hoodie, to see his parents better. Dad turned on the lamp and both parents sat down at Danny’s sides, taking Danny’s hands in their own. They watched Danny expectantly, their understanding-parent-faces showing nothing but love.
“He…” Danny sobbed. “I went back to school and he had my things…”
His dad gave his mom an accusatory glance.
“I wanted to take them back, but he chased me and…” Danny cried some more “something terrible happened!”
The boy looked scared out of his mind.
“I think… I think she hurt him… and I think she did it for me.”
“What?! Who did?”
“Chloe… the girl from the creepy house on Booner street.”
“Didn’t I tell you to stop hanging around that house?!” His mother exploded.
“Whom did she hurt, Daniel?” asked his father in a calm voice.
Danny inhaled deeply, trying to stop an incoming sob.
“Marvin… Cage. He lives on Maple street and he and his friends have been bullying me for months.”
The sob broke through. Everybody knew Marvin Cage. The Cages had three sons and all of them were assholes – Marvin was the worst. Everybody in the neighborhood knew him from that one time, when he tried drowning Mrs. White’s cat. He was ten at the time.
Danny expected a compassionate hand on his head and a welcoming pull to cry on someone’s shoulder, but these things didn’t come and when Danny wiped his eyes dry enough to make out his parents’ facial expressions, he somehow knew why…
His mom and dad looked at each other, confusion written all over their faces. His mother spoke.
“I’m sorry, Danny, but… who’s that, again?”
And You Need Her, You Pathetic Little Man
Daniel found his school bag and jacket inside his locker the following day. They were as dry as could be and smelled as pleasant as ever.
“So… you sure you didn’t find them by the oak tree out back, cleaned them up and put them in my locker?”
The security guard looked at him dumbfounded, yet amused.
“What?! Na-ah, that’s forbidden territory for us. You kids need your privacy too, you know. I didn’t touch your things or your locker. You all right today, young man?”
“Y-yes… yes, sir, I’m… fine.”
“Alright, run along now. Class is about to start.”
Class started and Danny waited all day, hoped even, to see that menacing face looking for him through the classroom door window – it never came.
During the first break, Danny saw Wayne and Mike passing each other by in the main corridor – they didn’t even say hi to each other and that was very unlike them, because they were always together. He also saw Jimmy during lunch, sitting at the weirdo’s table, chatting and smooching with the school’s goth girl, Lucinda Bigg.
During the last break of the day, Danny even gathered enough courage, to approach Jimmy and Lucinda in the hall.
“Hey… have you heard from Marvin today?”
Jimmy looked confused. He threw Lucinda a look and she shrugged.
“Sorry, kid, no clue who that is.”
“Marvin! Marvin Cage! The guy in the orange jacket you always hang out with!”
Lucinda let out a laugh.
“You seeing somebody behind my back, babe?”
Jimmy laughed too.
“If I were, best believe I wouldn’t go for a dude.”
She hit him playfully and they both giggled.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?! I saw you in the boy’s bathroom yesterday! You were hiding from him! I saw you puking your guts out in the sink!”
Jimmy got wide-eyed.
“You saw me do what!?”
“When did this happen, exactly?” Lucinda asked.
“During last period… sometime between 2 and 2:30 p.m.”
The two lovebirds exchanged a quick glance.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Daniel. Collins. Danny Collins.”
“Danny… Jimmy and I are in the same classes on Thursdays. He was with me the entire time between 2 and 2:30 p.m. yesterday.”
Danny began to shiver.
“Are you all right, kid? Do you need help, should we call somebody for you?”
“Yeah, you don’t look too good. Is this… Marvin guy a friend of yours?”
Jimmy and his girlfriend looked genuinely worried for him.
“Are you… sure you don’t know anybody named Marvin Cage?”
“Yup, pretty sure.”
Danny felt sick to his stomach.
“Okay… okay… that’s okay. Sorry. Bye.”
He turned around and went back to class, not catching the part where Jimmy showed his girlfriend, that the little man might be looney.
Right after school was over, Danny got his stuff and went home – the long way round. He looked around, hoping from the bottom of his heart to see the glimmer of the bright orange jacket somewhere behind a tree, or in the window of the bar he saw Marvin exit a couple of days before. Danny was desperate.
So desperate, that he actually realized what he was doing, when Bruce Cage, Marvin’s father, answered the door.
Danny saw some resemblance, all right. He looked exactly like Marvin, but with a beer gut and facial hair.
“Is Marvin home?”
Danny was so desperate for answers, he would have entered the house and searched for the bully himself.
“Marvin. Your youngest son. Is he home?”
“No idea what you’re talking about, kid. Wrong house.”
Slam. Danny had no choice… he ran back to the shortcut.
The bridge looked fine and the pathway was as gloomy as ever. There was a slight difference, though: It seemed that someone finally found the time to mend the wild roses that stretched outside the fence. Danny looked up at the house and saw nobody. He crouched next to the fence and started to look around for something… anything that would remind the world of the existence of someone named Marvin… but it wasn’t there. He got nothing. His friends didn’t know him; his family never knew him; hell, even the vandalism his stuff suffered, vanished into thin air.
Everything was as if… Marvin never even existed.
Danny got up and looked at the house again. More terrified than thankful, he turned around and walked home, that time being the very last time he took the shortcut by the creepy house on Booner street to or from school.
Life went on. Danny had to make up some story for his parents regarding his bully, and they never pestered him about it more than necessary.
In time, Danny became Daniel and Daniel stopped thinking about both Marvin and Chloe in favor of focusing on studying and getting into a good college. As time progressed, Daniel found love. He was doing great for himself. His wife was pregnant with their second child, when he quit his job to both invest in a start-up company and start his own business.
By the time he was in his forties, Daniel was a pretty wealthy guy and life was very good to him.
However, it all started going downhill when his father died. The death in itself was no biggie. Mr. Collins was old and sick and he wished for death long before the pain became insufferable. Daniel’s wife didn’t want to go to the funeral and Daniel never even suspected her reason… he found out by accident, not even a month after it happened.
She was having an affair. That’s okay, Daniel told both her and himself. No marriage is perfect. Maybe he even deserved it, he thought – because, even if he wasn’t thinking about Marvin every day, he learned from an early age that, whatever goes around, comes around. Maybe he did something bad and now the universe was getting its revenge on him. It was just a tumultuous period in his marriage, nothing a couple of counseling sessions wouldn’t fix.
Problem is… the counseling didn’t fix anything. The wife’s cheating took the worst turn possible: she fell in love. More than that, she got pregnant again and her lover convinced her to leave Daniel and start a new family with him. So, Danny got a divorce and because both kids preferred their mother, they decided to go stay with her and their new daddy.
Even so, Daniel still thought that, that’s okay. His wife was just being a bully and fate hates bullies – she’ll get what she deserves sooner or later.
But his ex-wife’s life just kept getting better and better. Even though she was over forty years old when she gave birth to her third child, the birth ran smoothly and the child was as healthy as could be.
It was a boy. They named him Marvin.
By the time his ex-wife was in her fifties, she had traveled the world alongside her three kids and her partner. What’s worse, is that Daniel’s children were tagging mom’s lover with the caption ‘daddy’ on social media.
But that’s okay, Daniel thought. They’ll wake up, eventually. Life works like that.
Daniel began to drink. The start-up he invested in two decades prior, went bankrupt, and his own business was doing bad too. He had to sell his spacious mansion and move into a shitty 42 ft² apartment before going into complete ruin. He had some money for a little while, but most of it needed to be invested in his children’s college funds, otherwise, his ex-wife would have legally sucked up every little thing he still owned.
Daniel had nothing left but his daily bottle of happiness and the reassurance that someday, someone will do him justice.
But that day never came… his daughter became a mother of twins and it broke Daniel’s heart, that he never got the chance to meet them. His son turned out to be a movie star and his mother and new husband were tagged in all the photos of the events he was invited to. Daniel was never invited to any of them… and it slowly stopped being okay.
His ex-wife was getting happier and happier whilst he was getting more and more miserable.
And then, his mother died. Partially, it was a relief, because his unemployment cheque stopped covering both the living expenses and his much-needed alcohol supply. Now that his mother was gone, his parents’ house was all his, so money for rent wasn’t needed anymore.
He went back to his roots with the priciest three things he still owned: an Armani jacket with torn up sleeves; a tablet he stole from a café while its owner was in the bathroom; and a beat-up Volvo he got as a gift from his 80-year-old neighbor out of pity.
Daniel’s life was as shitty as could be and it all came flashing back to him, as soon as the shield that passed by his passenger window announced him, that he just entered his childhood hometown. Daniel cried, and cried until his shirt was wet at the chest. His life turned to shit and he knew it. He knew, karma isn’t always a bitch to those who deserve it, but to whomever she fancies.
Apparently, he was one of her favorites, because, after his dad died, Daniel took blow after blow, whilst his cheating wife took blessing after blessing.
Daniel shut his brain off long before seeing the bridge. It had been remade. It was wider and looked more stable than before, but Daniel was too engrossed in the task at hand to notice it.
He stopped the engine of his shitty car as soon as he reached the pathway. The wild roses denied passage to anything broader than 20 inches, but Daniel paid them no mind what so ever – he wouldn’t have even been able to say what color they were.
He entered the yard, the house getting bigger and more menacing with every step he took. The roses got suspicious. They began to hiss and slowly follow Daniel to the main door of the house, inquiring what his business was.
Daniel knocked four times. The strength of his determination reverberated in the entire house.
The roses hissed louder this time, letting Daniel know, that he wasn’t welcome and that they will attack if he makes a wrong move. But Daniel didn’t care.
He was here to report a bully.
Someone opened the door just slightly and Daniel recognized a dark-colored iris, even though the skin surrounding it was wrinkled and old.
It was the naïve girl who used to be something of a friend to him once. She was the grandmother now, which meant, it was her rightful turn to yield the scissors – Daniel remembered that much from their brief, yet eventful encounter.
Her name wasn’t Clotho anymore. No. Clotho was now the name of her granddaughter, and, speaking of her granddaughter, she had just squeezed her little blonde head by granny’s leg, to take a look at the visitor.
“What do you want?”
Her voice was just as venomous as the hissing behind him.
“I need your help.”
“And why would I help you?”
The roses were getting louder – it was a gamble and Daniel knew it. One inappropriate word from him and he’ll become fertilizer.
“Because that’s what friends are for.”
They stared at each other for a couple of seconds. Daniel didn’t even flinch and neither did Atropos. She looked him deep in the eye and read every single sorrow that weighed him down. A desperate man stood before her.
Atropos smiled. She would have never admitted it, but she was very happy to see him after all those years.
The grandmother stepped aside and, for the first time in the history of the creepy house on Booner street, the front door was wide open for a welcomed guest.
“Come in, Danny! Come in and tell me all about it.”
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🔔 More stories from author: Lucretia Vastea
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