“Stop touching me!” Gwen said as she reached back and slapped at the pair of hands that had been working their way toward the hooks of her corset. She gave the annoying bug standing behind her wearing plaid shorts and biker boots a scathing glare complete with ‘crazy eyes’ and pursed lips, and then turned back to the mountain of CDs on her desk.
“Come on, baby. I miss you,” Travis said. He stepped back, threw himself down on the girl’s bed, and committed his limited attention span on the impossibly frustrating hem of Gwen’s short skirt.
“You miss me?” she said. She looked back over her shoulder, noticed his eye-line and made no attempt to feign modesty.
“You know what I mean,” he said in way that made Gwen imagine the father of a newborn trying to speak baby talk immediately following a stroke. She rolled her eyes and went back to trying to find the right album. Something loud, something cool and preferably, something that would take him out of the mood. She wondered whether she had anything more annoying than Willie Nelson and if it would help or just turn him on even more. She realized that Willie was neither loud nor cool and that while she wouldn’t mind a little personal space every now and then, turning off Trevor’s libido was neither possible or in her own best interest. Travis sat up, lit the bent joint he had stashed in his wallet and, after a toke, traded it to Chunk for the bottle of Old Crow that lay abandoned between Brooke’s Doc Marten‘s.
Three of the four misfit teenagers sulking in Gwen’s astoundingly cluttered bedroom, complete with band posters and pilfered street signs nailed to the walls, heaping piles of record albums, magazines and empty journals and a massive, state-of-the-art stereo, had met in second period Phys. Ed. their freshman year and quickly discovered the unifying properties of baggy black clothes and Marilyn Manson. Poster children of a ‘lost in the system’, carbon-copy bizarre culture embraced by so many American teens, they spoke only of their disdain and disappointment of anything that challenged their life choices, did nothing that required more effort than holding a television remote or turning over a vinyl record and thought about nothing but suicide and microwaveable snack foods. If an adult was to make the mistake of referring to them as ‘Emo’, they sneered and called the offending adult a tyrant, much as the ‘Goth’ kids had a generation before. When asked why they only wore black, two sizes too big and covered in zippers, snaps or chains, they said, “Because I want to. What do you care, Grandpa?” or some such elder derogatory, and seemed to sincerely believe this bit of condescension was explanation. They despised authority, responsibility and physical exertion of any kind, but call them lazy and brace for a twenty-minute tirade about ‘how society has let them down’ and the ‘irrefutable proof that God is dead.’ Monochrome beatniks without the crusade or the poetry; just the misanthropic persecution complex and the righteous indignation.
What was worse, if you took away the tight, slutty schoolgirl outfit and the zombie-girl make-up, Gwen was stunning. She was tall, articulate and intelligent. She had straight ‘A’s’ in junior high and a post-graduate level understanding of higher mathematics and quantum mechanics; a fact she worked very hard to hide from the few low-lifes she called friends. Instead of pursuing a passion that kept her up reading stolen college textbooks, she spent her free time planning and executing elaborate pranks on the faculty of their high school and spreading intricate defamations of her own character to her mostly unimpressed classmates.
Her long time suitor, Travis, wasn’t very bright, but sported a genetic predisposition to athletics that would have, almost certainly, guaranteed him a position on the junior varsity football team or a trophy case full of track medals had he done as much as show up to try-outs. He was taller than Gwen by six inches, had chiseled features hidden by long, greasy hair and a lightning wit that he was prepared to dispense on any poor soul that entered within earshot of his own, or his intended lover’s, proximity.
At least, these two could find shelter in the excuse of having suffered, not insignificant, emotional damage at the hands of their respective chemically dependent single parents. In Gwen’s case, her mother was a raging alcoholic that had attended one PTA meeting in her life and marked the occasion by spewing a half-digested spaghetti dinner on the bake sale table and promptly blacking out. Travis’s father was a rail thin on-again/off-again heroine addict with a pension for cross-dressing prostitutes and only the faintest memory of the woman he had lived with for a year before she had a kid, died of an overdose and stuck him with the check.
Chunk, the fat kid of the crew who sat in the middle of the room studying a battered leather scrapbook full of made-up pagan rituals and hundreds of poorly drawn sketches of the ‘uglies’ that went bump in his head, had no such alibi. His father was a minister and his mother sold Mary Kay cosmetics. They loved their son and had successfully prevented him from experiencing any of the scarring trials that might have justifiably turned him away from his faith and his nurturing parents. They were responsible role-models who prided themselves on giving their only child carefully constructed boundaries with which he was free to try new things, explore an endless variety of music and cultures and discover for himself down which path his own happiness might lie. The result was an overweight miscreant that hung out with losers, tortured neighborhood cats and boasted having the largest and most extensive internet porn collection in the state of Florida.
Sitting in the corner and staring at Chunk, Brooke was the only one of them that deserved to be wholly dysfunctional. Orphaned at age five as the result of an electrical fire that burned down her family’s single-wide trailer, she only remembered her parents well enough to know that they hated each other and that her father was a wife-beating pedophile and that her mother might have been mildly retarded. Her foster care experience was nothing less than a series of worst-case scenarios ignored by an exhausted, under-paid social worker. She had been molested, abused both physically and emotionally and, on one occasion, locked in a footlocker for four days with nothing but a pen light, a mangled package of Oreos and a half-empty bottle of V8, while her caregivers celebrated bike week in Daytona. The only toy that she was able to keep track of as she was handed off from one foster family to the next was an old Teddy Ruxpin doll with eternally low batteries and a lazy eye. She was tiny; disconcertingly thin and barely five feet tall, her only remarkable feature was a pair of glassy green eyes that seemed to occupy a third of her face giving her the look of a stoned Cupie doll. She suffered from chronic respiratory infections and her constant cough sounded like the barking hack of eighty-year-old chain smoker. She had no aspirations or talents to speak of and her only attempt at self-expression was voluminous collection of horrible, autobiographic poetry full of misspellings, plagiarism and suicide threats which she carried around in an army rucksack full of duct taped composition books that she never let out of her sight. The only thing she cared about was Chunk, who she had been harboring an obsessive crush on since the fifth grade and who didn’t know she existed save the fact that she was always around.
“We gonna do this?” Chunk asked as he closed the big scrapbook, took a hit and unfolded a rough diagram of an elaborate altar.
“What are we doing again?” Travis asked and stuffed a pair of Gwen’s panties he’d found between the wall and her bed into the pocket of his shorts.
“Brooke,” Chunk said and Brooke returned to this plain of existence, raised her eyebrows at him with a meek smile and blinked. “If you please.” Chunk gestured to a large pentagram drawn in chalk on Gwen’s dirty hardwood floor. She dragged herself out of the beanbag chair that had nearly swallowed her and hauled an overflowing milk crate into the center of the room.
As Brooke unloaded the milk crate, Chunk studied the diagram and placed various items around the pentagram, erecting a makeshift alter. He looked at the wrinkled page, looked at the floor and then back at the page. Holding up the skull of a bird he asked, “Gwen. Which way is north?”
Without looking up from the mountain of music, she pointed at the wall opposite the bedroom door.
“Thanks,” Chunk said and positioned the bird skull. “Did you bring the crystal serpent?” he asked Brooke, who looked inside the crate and pulled out a large, cheap-looking glass dragon. “Put it there,” he told her and she placed it on the tip of the big star pointing at her knees. She slid the empty crate against the wall, dropped her hands into her lap, and went back to staring at Chunk.
“Okay. We’re ready,” he said and no one moved. “Come on, guys. You agreed to do this with me.”
Lying back on the bed again, Travis said from beneath his arm, “I know you’ve told us already, but what are we doing?”
“We’re casting a spell. We are communing with the nether-realms,” Chunk said as if speaking to a toddler. “If this works, we won’t have to get jobs this summer.”
“And where did you get this… ‘spell’?” Travis asked as he sat up. Gwen was singing to herself, still bent over the desk and Travis was suddenly mesmerized by the floss of black satin that mocked him as she danced to the beat in her head.
“It’s ancient. Sort of. I copied some out of a book. The rest of it I made up from a dream I had. Then I translated it all into Latin using the internet. It’s good stuff. Really dark mojo. I changed a few things around so it’ll work for all of us and we won’t have to do it four times,” he said to two people who weren’t listening and a skinny girl who was staring at him and didn’t hear a word.
“Right,” Travis said when he heard Chunk stop talking. His shorts had become too tight and he shifted to make room.
“Here we go!” Gwen said and stood up brandishing a CD. Travis flinched and watched her slide the CD into a slot on the face of the massive stereo. A moment later the room reverberated with deep rumbling and what sounded like rattling chains and trashcan lids being banged together. “Perfect.”
“What is this?” Travis asked.
“Music, dumbass,” she told him.
“I like it,” he said even though he had no idea what he was hearing. He slid off the bed and stood behind Gwen who was admiring the pentagram. He put his arms around her and pulled her close. She shook him off without turning around and he walked over and leaned against the open door-frame, sulking.
“Go ahead and light the candles,” Chunk said to Brooke. She pulled a Zippo lighter nearly the size of her hand out of a pocket of her cargoes. After numerous attempts to make it spark, she got it lit and picked up each of a dozen candles placed around the pentagram and then carefully returned them to where Chunk had decided they should go. Chunk stood up and switched off the light and the room was thrown into an eerie dancing glow.
“And what do have going on in here?” said Linda, Gwen’s mother, as she stepped into the room. The woman’s once significant beauty had long since been erased by a lifetime of bad choices. She stood at her daughter’s open door wearing nothing but a ratty t-shirt and a hangover. Her hair stood out in messy, haired-sprayed clumps, her mascara had dried in streaks that ran down her cheeks and her desire for her daughter’s sixteen-year-old boyfriend preceded her like the whiskey stink and body odor that now filled the room.
“Nothing, Mom,” Gwen said as she whispered a little prayer inside her head that her mother would simply disappear.
“Nothing? Looks like something could be going on,” the woman said, mostly to Travis, as she took a step closer to him, pressed her sagging boobs against his arm and touched his chin with nicotine-stained fingers.
Exasperated, Gwen shouted, “Mom! A little self-respect.” Linda appeared not to hear her daughter and her fingers traced a snaking path down his chest and toward his heavy belt buckle. Gwen crossed the room and took her mother’s hand, leading her out, she hissed, “Mother, please.”
“What?” she grunted as she stumbled back toward living room, looked back past Gwen and winked at Travis who may have actually been disappointed by her hasty dismissal.
Gwen returned and Travis said, “Well, at least someone in the family knows how to have a good time,” not quite under his breath.
“Gross, Travis,” Gwen said.
“I’m just saying.”
“Go get her, Tiger,” Gwen said, gesturing for him to follow her mother, “She’ll be blacked out on the couch if you don’t hurry.”
Travis shrugged as Chunk said, “Can we do this?”
“Yes, please,” Gwen said, still giving Travis a righteous round of stink eye. “What do you need us to do?”
“Just stand around the circle,” Chunk told them. They passed around the smoldering joint, all took deep, unhealthy swigs Gwen’s mother’s discount booze of choice and retired both poisons to Gwen‘s desk. The four of them took their places around the pentagram. “Now take each others’ hands.” They all clasped clammy hands. “Okay, concentrate.” Travis pulled Gwen closer and tried to kiss her. Gwen snatched her hand away and gave him a shove. “Guys! Focus!” Chunk shouted. Travis reached for Gwen’s hand again and she moved so that Brooke was standing between them. Travis glared at her. “Okay. Now, I’m gonna start the Latin part.”
“Since when do you speak Latin?” Travis said, momentarily distracted from his pursuit of Gwen.
“I don’t speak Latin, jerk off. It’s a phonetic language, I’ll sound it out,” Chunk said.
“Cool. You make up any love spells, yet?” Travis leaned past Brooke and bit at the air in front of Gwen. She yanked her hand out of Brooke’s weak grasp and pushed Travis away. He lost his balance and fell forward onto the altar. Props and candles toppled everywhere.
“Hey, spewdom. You messed it up, it’s gotta be exact,” Chunk shouted.
Travis tried to put it all back and right the candles that were dripping on the floor, “I thought you made it up?” he said as Gwen snickered. “There, tight ass, just the way you had it.”
They stood in a circle again and held hands. Chunk closed his eyes and began reciting the incantation, taking only occasional peeks at his scribbled notes, “Animis ex insons insontis… Cruor ex tri… Is mens est carcer… Sit fere solvo…”
“What the hell is he saying?” Travis whispered.
Brooke shushed him. The sound, any sound, coming from Brooke made him flinch away.
“What? He could be turning us all into toads, for all I know.”
“In rabies sit validus… Par unus quisnam pareo… Vox ex deus… Exspectata terminus dies…
“He is making this crap up.”
“Chaos quod obscurum… Dementus somnium quod somnium… Cinsura est super nos… Quod regit confuto…” Chunk opened his eyes and looked around at his friends.
“And from memory, no less. Impressive, big guy,” Travis said as he dropped Brooke and Chunk’s hands.
“You’re an ass,” Gwen said.
“Nothing happened. I knew this was bullshit.” Travis stepped away from the circle as a light bulb in the hall blew out and the candles flickered in the still air. “What the…”
They all looked at each and Travis started to nod. Then the floor shook. Books and magazines slid from their piles. A swirl of wind blew through the room and Travis ducked and covered his head. Chunk began chanting again, his eyes closed. Gwen looked around. She had clearly started to get nervous. Travis jumped up and down with excitement. Brooke’s expression of blank amusement did not change.
As Chunk chanted, the room shook again; a violent twisting that should have dislodged the windows from the walls.
“Guys, I don’t know about this,” Gwen said, backing up and taking shelter in the doorway of her closet.
Suddenly the lights in the room switched on, they flared sunlight-bright and then blew out with a pop and shower of sparks. Gwen screamed, another gust of wind twisted through the room and the candles went out. For a moment, they stood in pitch-black darkness and heard nothing but each other’s heavy breathing.
“Is it over?” Gwen asked.
“I don’t know,” Chunk said.
“Dude,” Travis said in a whisper, “That was fucking awesome!”
Gwen whispered, “Yeah.”
Suddenly, a cloud of red light boiled out of the floor. They all screamed and took a step back, but continued to watch, paralyzed with awe. The red light pulsed and grew. It rose up into the air and slowly revolved in front of them. Simultaneously, terror coursed through their bodies. Horrible images of violence and hate flashed in, around, and through their minds, but they couldn’t react, move, or speak. Then the cloud became a crimson bolt of light that snaked around the room. It split into four streams and the streams swirled around and through each of them. The four streams collided back together, above their heads in the middle of the room with a deafening crack that sounded like giant jaws slamming closed. Red lightning flashed inside the tiny bedroom and then it twisted into Brooke’s gaping mouth. Shrinking and descending into her like a great spider made of red light. A moment passed in near-dark silence. Then a blinding, bright red light radiated out of her, formed a ball around her, humming and crackling, and for a split second, she was gone. Then the lightning exploded outward, streaking out of her fingers and feet and the top of her head. A scream that sounded like there were hundreds of Brookes rang out of her and echoed off the walls. The red cloud rolled out from her screaming mouth, swirled around the room once more, before it vanished into the ceiling. The room blinked into complete darkness.
Gwen fell to her knees and groped around on the floor for the candles. She found them and started relighting them. In the growing light, Chunk saw tears streaming down her cheeks. One tear fell from the end of her nose and sizzled in the sputtering flame of one of the candes.
“That was awesome! Holy Jesus Christ! That was coolest thing I have ever seen in my life! I thought we were going to die! That was so fucking awesome!” Travis yelled as he danced around the room.
“Brooke? Brooke are you okay?” Chunk yelled as he rushed over to her. Her tiny body was laying face down, spread out over the pentagram. “Brooke! Brooke, talk to me.” Gwen knelt down beside Chunk. He gently turned Brooke’s limp body over.
She opened her eyes and gasped for air. In their relief, none of the others noticed the red light that danced across her eyes for a second. They helped her to her feet as Travis continued to rant and dance around the room, “That was so God damned fucking awesome. Dude, I’m sorry I doubted you. I don’t know how you did it, but that was coolest shit I’ve ever seen. Do it again. Oh my God, I‘ll pay you a thousand dollars to do it again.”
“Shut up, Travis. Are you okay?” Gwen asked Brooke as she sat her down on the edge of her bed.
“Chunk, what was that?” Gwen asked.
“Who cares? It fucking rocked!” Travis yelled.
“I don’t know, but it was cool. That was to fucking die for,” Chunk said as a smile spread across his face.
Gwen’s mom called from the living room, “What’s going on in there? The cable is out. What the hell did you guys do?”
Gwen, Travis, Chunk and even Brooke looked at each and started laughing. It was twenty minutes before they stopped rolling around on the floor, gasping for air and congratulating each other.
Three hours later, dying flames flickered on melted stumps that were spread haphazardly around a smeared pentagram. In the living room, Gwen’s mother lay passed out on the couch dreaming of making love to Travis. In the dream, he was older, she was younger and they owned a horse ranch in Montana. Travis and Gwen lay in a tangle of arms and legs breathing deeply on Gwen’s bed. Chunk lay in a heap near the stereo snoring loudly. Brooke sat silently in the beanbag chair that nearly swallowed her. She had sat pretending to be asleep and listened while Gwen and Travis kissed. Listened as Travis begged for more and Gwen refused over and over. Brooke watched what happens when exhaustion finally gives way to hormones and persistence. She watched as they fumbled in the dark, and, finally, screamed into pillows. She listened while they giggled and whispered ‘I love you’ to each other.
Then she watched them sleep. She watched Chunk sleep. A complete thought slowly unfurled in her head, her hands already on the move. She bit her lip hard enough to make it bleed and stifled her own jagged breathing as she imagined slitting her own wrists while Chunk fucked her. When the pleasure came, it was explosive, violent, sustained and full of red light.
Outside, in the cold, Brooke stood on the sidewalk and stared at the window of Gwen’s bedroom. She thought about her parents, how they had burned alive in a shitty little trailer. She thought about how much it sucked to be old enough to get a driver’s license and too small to drive. Thoughts, ideas, regrets, resentments and revenge blossomed in her mind like so many resurrected roses, each tipped in blood. Red light danced across her huge, green eyes. “I love you, Charles.” The sidewalk under her feet turned black and smoldered like a burning cobweb. A dark pillar of swirling red smoke rose up around her, twisting around her legs and body. There was a puff of cool night air and Brooke was gone.