Writer’s Digest

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On noises.

Published December 15, 2013 by mandileighbean

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #8: “While relaxing on his porch swing, a pig farmer hears a tremendous crash in a nearby field.”

Bob Jones was a farmer who had seen and done many things in his less than extraordinary life.  None of his endeavors had been exactly noteworthy, nothing to write home about as they say, but he had one or two anecdotes that could be employed over beers, or to stave off the ever-lurking awkward silence, that were, at the very least, quite entertaining.  With his boot heels resting on the wooden railing of his rambling front porch, Bob looked out upon the burning, setting sun.  It had been a long, hard day, filled with menial maintenance and more extensive manual labor – fixing broken fences and unreliable machinery – that left his body sore in a special, fulfilling way.  He could feel heat coming from his face in waves and knew that it’d be nice and crisp come tomorrow.  Despite the aches and burns, Bob felt good, really good.  The embarrassingly antiquated radio on the floorboards beside him was crackling out some cover of Hank Williams, Jr.  It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t completely terrible, so Bob tolerated it and after a verse or two, actually began to believe the song added to the atmosphere perfectly.  He was at peace with everything and everyone around him and at this particular moment, that was enough.  He took a long, steady drink of beer from his favorite mug, which he had frosted all day for this very occasion.

All that he cherished of the day was shattered in one loud metallic crash that chilled Bob to his core.  It was big, it was bad, and it was loud – it was a cacophony that announced the arrival of something awful and unnatural, something like death.  In the impending, eerie silence, Bob got to his feet slowly and stood simply, straining his ears for more, for some kind of screams, some kind of sirens, some kind of logical continuation.  It did not seem possible for the displeasing and varied sounds of chaos to sound so suddenly without some rational conclusion.  The silence made it worse, left the ending open to be written any kind of way.  Bob waited a moment more before taking off, bounding down the steps to the soft dirt.  He pumped his arms and legs past the stables, past the barn, through the rows of corn, and damn near tore up the field of grain that marked the end of his property, along which lazily snaked a country road that led to a small town with a single stoplight.  It was all Americana and perfect and picturesque.  But the crash had been as mighty as a resounding tear in the fabric of reality itself.  His lungs burned from the effort, his chest heaved, and his already aching muscles were singing, but he ran and ran until he spotted what he assumed had caused the commotion.

What had once been a beautiful, jet black sports car was now nothing more than twisted hunk of metal.  The car had plowed into a post well beyond the shoulder and such an excess of speed that it had impossibly wrapped itself around it, been morphed and warped into fragments that could not possibly be combined into anything of use, let alone a vehicle.  Steam was billowing from where the engine would normally reside and Bob assumed the car was moments away from catching fire.  In a moment’s decision, he hurled himself forward to the driver’s side.  Had anyone survived, Bob would have to extract him or her and pull them to safety, far from the explosion waiting to happen.  Bob had underestimated his speed and could not gracefully slow to a halt at the window.  He collided against it, breathless and sweating and terrified.  He looked through the opening where the window should be.  It was open, not shattered, and had been securely rolled down and away.  As a result, there was nothing separating Bob from the horrific tragedy before him; only air.  Slumped against the wheel was the terribly young and beautiful face of a man.  It was smeared with blood, and his dark hair was matted with it, but his green eyes shone bright, sparkled and gleamed through the absolute carnage.  His rusted-orange tee-shirt hung loosely on his thin frame so that Bob could see his chest falling rapidly.  His breathing was rapid, but the rest of him was still, as if this young man had already resigned himself to a particular fate.  He was dying.

“Hang on, man,” Bob yelled.  Later on, he would wonder why he yelled.  He had no other noise to shout over.  “I’m going to call an ambulance, just stay with me!”

The young man did not stir and in no way acknowledge that Bob had spoken, let alone yelled.  He stared at a landscape Bob could not see; all Bob could ascertain that it was somewhere near the lower left side of the man’s vision.  He licked his lips and wheezed, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Bob replied automatically and Bob was always glad he said that.  “I’ll be right back, I have to get to the phone.”  Bob reached in with every intention of squeezing the young man’s shoulder, of providing the poor guy with a human connection, the comfort of a human touch, but Bob thought better of it.  He would be horrified if he somehow further injured the already decimated body or, worse, inadvertently killed him.  Bob took off again, running as fast as he possibly could, when a second catastrophic noise filled the air.

It was the car exploding.  It burst into flames.  Bob turned slowly and dropped to his knees.

porchswing

On worry.

Published September 18, 2012 by mandileighbean

“Yeah, it’s all alright.  I guess it’s all alright.  I got nothing left inside of my chest, but it’s all alright.”

–          fun.

I care about people more than I should.  The well-being of others immediately and intensely affects my own well-being.  If someone I know and only mildly care about is upset or aggravated or what have you, then I am terribly anxious and overwhelmed and stressed.  I just want everyone around me to feel loved and to be happy.  I know that sounds ridiculous and like it is too good to be true, but it is true.  I genuinely want nothing but the utmost joy for those that I know and love.

A lot of the time, I worry that I am not as integral to peoples’ lives as I thought.  I am terrified that I do not have friends and that I am alone.  My birthday is tomorrow and I have no plans.  My mom travelled to Virginia to see her grandchildren and I have home instruction.  I’ll be done for the day at 4:00PM.  That is the extent of my birthday plans.  I know that my twin sister is going out on the town with all of her friends.

I can blame my lack of birthday debauchery on work; it is a school night and I do have to be up early the next day.  That is a lame excuse and I know it.

Maybe I just need to be more proactive in planning.  If I held a party, I’m sure people would show up.  Well, I’m not sure and that’s the point of this particular entry.  I give people everything that I have, always.  And no matter how many times I am hurt, neglected, ignored or wronged, I still believe everyone will give me everything they have.  Does that make me foolish?  Perhaps, but I like to believe it makes me special.

And I realize that there are times when I do close myself off and become decidedly anti-social.  I also realize it’s hypocritical for me to fault this trait in others.  I’m just trying to make sense of how I feel, I guess.

“I’ve given everyone I know a good reason to go, but I came back with the belief that everyone I love is gonna leave me.”

– fun.

PROMPT: A writer’s computer begins to flash messages on its screen, as if trying to communicate.

 

PIECE: Alexa gingerly sipped on her steaming mug of coffee, but despite her carefulness, she still burned the shit out of the roof of her mouth.  She pulled the mug from her mouth and held it away from her, as if it were suddenly going to lunge and do more harm, and ran her tongue along the seared section of her mouth.  She had left the computer desk and the uncomfortable chair to grab a cup of coffee and to get the neurons firing.  As of late, Alexa had felt decidedly uninspired.  Hoping that moving would get the creative juices flowing, she had ventured to the kitchen and now she had returned with nothing to show for the effort but a lame injury.  She rolled her eyes at her own misfortune and was not in the least bit surprised when those eyes landed on the glowing monitor.  It seemed as if she had been staring at the monitor for days and her eyes were dry from the effort.  Freeing one hand from the porcelain mug, she meant to wipe at her irritated eyes when she suddenly halted.

Just there – on the screen – she had seen it.  On the monitor, which had been blank because she had nothing interesting whatsoever to say, were words.  Those words, not coming from her mind nor her typing fingers, came from somewhere and had clearly said, “Not coffee.  Tea.”  Alexa, not breathing, looked all about her to confirm her suspicion that she was alone, dreadfully alone.  She wasn’t sure if the thought that some invisible or incredibly tiny creature had typed the message was more comforting than the possibility that she was simply imagining things.  Gulping hard, she moved closer to the computer.

“You can come back and sit. I won’t bite.”  Another message flashed.  It was there, and then it was gone.

The porcelain mug crashed to the floor.  Hot liquid splashed against her ankles and dampened her socks to the point where they were decidedly uncomfortable.  Alexa was deaf and dumb to how she had disturbed her own universe as she nearly collapsed into the uncomfortable chair.  Her tiny, human brain couldn’t truly comprehend the magnitude of the events unfolding before her, but she did know that she didn’t want the messages to end before she had a chance to write back.  Alexa took a deep breath, her wide eyes sweeping back and forth, and then typed, “Who’s there?”

There was no response.  She sat still for ten minutes, waiting and waiting and waiting.  She had given up, chalking the phenomena up to exhaustion and desperation and nothing more.  Alexa gripped the handles of the chair and made ready to lift herself to her feet when another message appeared.

“Please; like it’s really going to be that easy to figure this out.”

On nearly a quarter of a century.

Published September 17, 2012 by mandileighbean

I turn twenty-four in two days, which means – and excuse me for stating the obvious – that I will have been upon this spinning globe for nearly a quarter of a century.  Have I accomplished everything I hoped to at this point?  What do I really have to show for twenty-four years?  Have I anything to be proud of?

I would like to think that the answers to those questions are not black and white.  I have a full-time teaching job, but I am still living with my parents in my childhood bedroom.  I am having a novel published, but I am single and lonely and at times, that makes me miserable.

If nothing else, I believe that the past twenty-four years have taught me many, many lessons, but the most significant lesson of the past has been this: to take the good with the bad, and then deal with it.  I need to be thankful for what I have and take my blessings into consideration.  Everything that I want will not suddenly appear before me when I want it to.  I have to learn how to be patient.  I find it ironic that I am so petrified of death and of wasting my time as I simultaneously wish it away and focus so much on some ambiguous future while ignoring the present.  I cannot have it both ways; I cannot be young and careless and reckless, and be wise, mature and responsible.  What I should wish for when I stoop to extinguish the candles on an ice cream cake is to find a healthy balance.

But then that wouldn’t be me.  What I’m going to wish for is a whirlwind romance and literary success.  I will keep dreaming big, planning an impossible future, but will vow not to forsake the present.

 

Wish me luck.

PROMPT: “The only thing I’ve got left is my pride.”

 

PIECE: I was sitting at the bar on a wooden stool that was mostly uncomfortable and tottered from side to side on legs that were clearly uneven.  I had been speaking with a boy – twenty-five but not yet a man – that I had been fawning over and lusting after for years, literally years.  We had made a trip to a chic, bustling New England city to visit a mutual friend.  She was currently in the restroom, probably puking and then cleaning herself up.  We had been in the bar for hours, since before the sunset, and now it was long after – most likely just an hour or so before last call.  We were all pretty intoxicated and it would only take the suggestion of one to call it a night for us to head home.  A natural silence had descended upon my current conversation, and I had decided to pass the time by picking at the label on my bottle of Coors Light.  The conversation was idle and slurred and not worth continuing; both he and I knew that.  Therefore, I was shocked when I felt his breath hot against my ear and neck as he whispered, “Let’s go somewhere real quick, okay?  It’ll be just you and me.  There’s something … I want to tell you.”  He paused between words because he was lying.  There was nothing to tell me.  He wanted to do things and have things done.  My body tensed and I didn’t dare breathe with him so close, speaking the way he was in the husky tone with the implications.  He thought my silence meant I needed more convincing, so he kept talking.  “I know how you feel about me.  Everyone does, and I’ve never taken advantage of it, have I?  I mean, I’m a good guy and we’re good friends.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?”

I turned to look at him.  I saw the glassy eyes that were trying to focus on me but were failing.  I felt his hand upon the small of my back, moving in small circles in what was an intimate gesture.  I should have thrown myself at him; after all, I’d been waiting for years to be one of his chosen ones.  But I didn’t because it was cheap.  He was drunk.  I was drunk.  There was no meaning, no significance, nothing to build on there.  I wanted to cry and I wanted to be alone.  Sliding off the stool, I looked him in the eye as best I could and said, “All I’ve got left is my pride.”

On short and sweet.

Published September 12, 2012 by mandileighbean

This entry is going to be short and sweet because I should really be sleeping.  I am still posting because I made a promise to do so every day, but I am most likely going to edit and repost this prompt so it’s not so vague.  Or so crappy.

Hope you enjoy it anway!

 

PROMPT: “The only thing I’ve got left is my pride.”

 

PIECE: “Well?” she demanded, her toes clicking impatiently against the tiled floor of the hallway.  One foot was ahead of the other and she was bent towards him, like she couldn’t hear what he was saying but really wanted to.  Her thin arms were bowed out at the sides with her polished nails gripping her own waist, hands on her hips.  Though she said she wanted an answer, he knew with utmost certainty that no matter what he said, she was going to be furious.  No matter what words issued forth from his mouth, slipping from between his lips like paper from a printer – completely manufactured – this whole encounter was going to end terribly.  He sighed and steeled himself.  He saw this coming – he should have known.  This is what happens when you’re not such a nice guy.

“Mallory, the only thing I’ve got left is my pride.”

“Bullshit,” was her quick response.  Her eyes flashed and she righted her posture.  She was standing tall and sure, like she knew she was completely in the right and therefore untouchable.  Unlike him, Mallory wasn’t trembling like a leaf.  “This has nothing to do with pride.  That’s a cop out.  Just tell me why, Brett.  I just need a reason.”  He was surprised; her anger was not fierce.  Hell, she didn’t seem angry.  Mallory was just hurt and mostly tired.

“I don’t know,” was all Brett said.

Mallory, with an open palm, slapped him across the face.  Then she left.  And that was that.

On awkward.

Published September 11, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today was a good day.  Nothing remarkable happened – nothing worth mentioning, really – but there were no disasters, either.  No news is good news, right?

Sometimes I worry that I talk too much.  Not only that, but I ingratiate myself into the lives of others and thereby create an odd sense of intimacy that has no business of being invented.  I worry that people honestly find me annoying and suffer through each encounter with a smile, only to turn to a neighbor later and commiserate with one another about what a killjoy I am, or what a loser I am, or how obnoxious I am.  It’s ironic; being a writer, I am talented at manipulating words to evoke certain moods, but it seems that talent only extends to the written page.  It does not pertain to conversation, or at least, that is my greatest insecurity.

PROMPT: “I saw a picture of him on the Internet.  Pretty scary.”

 

PIECE: Morgan hurried up the aisle, her stylish, black flats scuffing soundlessly against the cheap and abounding carpet.  She had a minute or two before the professor started class, but only a minute or two, so she did her best to quickly and discreetly slip into the vacant seat beside her friend, Christine.  When Morgan was seated, Christine turned to face her.  Her face looked most serious, like she had learned some terrible news that she could not bear to keep to herself.  Morgan felt the color slide from her face to the tips of her fingers; her heart beat there.  She swallowed hard and asked the obvious question.  “What is it, Christine?”

Christine shut her eyes.  It was like she thought if she didn’t see Morgan, then the whole ordeal was nothing more than a figment of her imagination.  That belief made it easier to manage, gave Christine more control, and it didn’t matter that it wasn’t real.  At the moment, it was effective.  In one giant rush of air and with her eyes shut tight, Christine said, “I saw a picture of him on the Internet.  Pretty scary.”

Morgan was quickly becoming irritated by the lack of information.  “You saw a picture of who, Christine?”

“Of the professor,” Christine answered.  Her eyes were now open, but her lips were turned downward in an awful, adolescent kind of pout.

“So?”  Morgan was being flippant, angry because she didn’t understand what Christine was getting at because Christine was holding back necessary details.  Morgan opened her mouth to damn near beg for clarification when the classroom door flew open.  Her eyes traveled down the aisle, towards the left corner in the front of the room.  In rushed her biggest regret, with his briefcase sloppily unbuckled and falling open, papers precariously sliding about and ready to fall.  One side of his stained, button-down shirt was hanging un-tucked from his pants, which were in desperate need of ironing.  His thick-framed glasses were askew on his face, most likely unable to balance on ears that were too large and on a nose that was too small.  His thin lips twitched from side to side.  His dark hair was all askew and stuck up with sweat at odd angles.  His name was John and Morgan had met him at a bar last year.  She had been especially vulnerable, especially desperate and exceptionally drunk when she had allowed him to take her home.

Now here he was, teaching American Literature at the local college.  Morgan suddenly wanted to die.  Groaning, she allowed her head to fall to her crossed arms.  Christine tried to soothe her friend by rubbing her back.

It was going to be a long, long semester.

 

On a sunrise that never comes.

Published September 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

Okay, so the first week of school got the better of me.  I celebrated completing the very first day with students by indulging in dinner.  Karma intervened, however, and the meal wasn’t even that good.  Usually I do cartwheels for shrimp parmesan with pasta from this local pizzeria and restaurant, but it was only okay this time around.  It serves me right, I guess, for trying to break my diet.  OH!  The Giants lost and I was devastated.  It made me cranky on Thursday, but on Thursday, I stuck to my diet.  I was not able to write or read.  I had school work to do and I had to drive my dad twenty minutes to retrieve his medication for PTSD that a coworker had brought home with him.  My dad’s foot was crushed beneath a 300 pound utility pole at work.  He might need surgery and he’s likely to be out four to six weeks … returning after the union goes on strike.  It was all terribly convenient – ha ha! – until Dad’s foreman called yesterday and announced that the strike, which seemed imminent, was now NOT going to happen.  All’s well that ends well, eh?

Friday, I relaxed after work with some colleagues at a local watering hole.  I meant to go to the freshmen football game and I meant to get some serious grading done, but I did neither.  Exhaustion got the better of me and I just crashed.  I think I was in for the night by something like 9:30PM, which is absurd.  Although, I did get exciting news – my gallery pages were done!  I was able to glimpse what my book will actually look like when its printed, and it is amazing!  My wonderful, beautiful and glorious editor, Melissa Newman, knew exactly what I wanted to say and knew exactly what I was trying to create.  She amplified the writing and made it successful, more complex, and more entertaining.  I am still so excited!  I am so anxious to physically hold my novel in my hands.  I am more than ready and willing and able to hit the streets to get the word out, drive profits up and make a name for myself in the literary scene.  My mom worries I’m letting my imagination run wild, but so what?  I truly believe that this is the beginning of something special.  And like a close friend quoted to me on one of my darker days, “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.”

Saturday was Mikey’s birthday, and it was a really nice time.  I love him and I am proud of him.  I think it is so cool that I get to see him every day at school and be a part of his life in another integral way.  I doubt he’d say the same, but what does he know?  He just turned fourteen.

In contrast to Friday, I was SUPER productive today.  I finished reviewing my gallery pages late last night and sent them on their way first thing this morning.  I graded.  I made copies.  I sent important e-mails.  I organized.  I was, essentially, SUPER efficient.  I hope I can keep that up for more than just the first week of school though.  If I know myself like I think I do, then I will definitely have to work at it.

Hopefully tomorrow’s blog won’t be all about work.  I don’t want to be one of those people who only ever talks about work.  When I was with my colleagues Friday afternoon, the majority of the conversation was about school and blah, blah, blah.  I understand that is a commonality for us and it is logical to discuss what we all know, but I want to be so much more than that.  I don’t want to just be a teacher.  I want to be a writer.  I want to talk about both.  Does that make me pretentious?  I worry that it does.

PROMPT: A boy and his father awaken early to watch the sunrise from their mountain campsite, but they begin to panic when the sky remains dark long into the afternoon.

PIECE: Big Chris and Little Chris, as father and son were respectively known, were sitting beside one another on a decidedly uncomfortable yet entirely appropriate, considering the situation, log.  It was bumpy – just as Little Chris had expected; he knew logs were bumpy because he had been called a “bump on a log” more times than he could count by more people than he cared to count, Big Chris included.  Thinking of his other nickname made Little Chris cranky, as did the bumpy log, as did the fact that Big Chris had rudely awakened him well before the crack of dawn.  Torn from his warm, cozy sleeping bag, Little Chris was now being forced to sit and stare into darkness.  It was pointless.  It was dumb.  Little Chris would rather be sleeping.  He thought this sucked.

Big Chris, on the other hand, was sitting on the edge of his portion of the log, nearly breathless.  He had been remarkably proud of his idea to watch the sunrise with his one and only son.  Big Chris thought it would be a real moment, the kind of moment he had never shared with his own father, the kind of moment Little Chris would recollect in the twilight of his years fondly.  Their campsite was perfect for it; they’d be able to see the whole process and the view would not be broken by trees or craggy cliffs.  It would be majestic – a word Big Chris had never had the opportunity to employ until now.  His smile was big and cheesy, and his pearly whites were the only thing Little Chris could make out in the near total darkness.

It was 6:30AM – just two more minutes until the sun began to rise.  Unable to control it, Big Chris let loose with a booming laugh and an affectionate pat upon his son’s back.  Little Chris only shivered and crossed his arms over his chest.  He was already over it.

It was 6:40AM – and it was still completely dark.  Big Chris was puzzled and did his best to rationalize the sun’s notable absence.  From beside him, Little Chris asked, “What time is it supposed to start?  I mean, shouldn’t it have started by now?”  Little Chris voiced his questions in a small whisper.  He did not know why he was whispering.

It was 7:00AM.  Both father and son sat silent and motionless, trying to control their breathing and desperately searching their minds for a cause.  If they knew why the sun was refusing to shine, then maybe they could figure out how to make it shine.

It was 9:00AM.  Little Chris had retreated back inside the tent.  He didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want his father to see him cry.  He was ten years old, and that was too old to be blubbering, to be holding onto Dad around his waist, and to be wiping a snotty, stupid nose against Dad’s tee-shirt.  Also, the only plan he had for making the sun come up was to sleep.  Maybe if everyone went back to sleep and accepted that it was still nighttime, the sun would be there when they woke up, like it always had been and like it always should be.  Little Chris had known that getting up so early was a bad idea; maybe the sun was angry that him and his dad had tried to outsmart it.  Maybe the sun didn’t like anyone watching it rise over the landscape.  Little Chris knew these ideas were childish, but they gave him some comfort as he lay down and cried inside the tent.

Big Chris was on his cell phone.  He was trying to talk to his wife, to calm her down some because she had risen to find that the sun had not.  Hysterically, she was trying to relay reports and expert hypotheses but she was crying so hard she couldn’t breathe, so she couldn’t really talk, and service was spotty at best.  Soon, the call was lost.  It was unnaturally dark, and father and son were alone.

It was 1:00PM.  Little Chris had woken from his “nap,” only to find that his plan had failed, as he knew it would.  He now was cradled in his father’s lap, still crying and shaking.  Big Chris was doing his best to rock his son back and forth, shushing him and trying to soothe him, trying to convince him of the impossible – that nothing was wrong.  Big Chris wanted to cry, wanted to just sit and cry, but he couldn’t do that.  He had to be strong.  He had to keep his son safe.  He was trying to come up with a plan.  Was it worth it to grab some flashlights and try to get back to the truck?  Should they bring the tent and all the gear?

Big Chris didn’t know.  He just didn’t know.

On nasty surprises.

Published September 5, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today was the Staff Orientation at the high school for the entire district and man, it was a long day.  When I walked out of my classroom at 5:30PM, the lights in the hallway were literally off.  I practically shut the place down.  I’m proud of all that I got done today, but it was really unnecessary to be there so late.  I wasted some time lollygagging with colleagues, but I managed to work some good karma, helping others shuffle textbooks in and out of their rooms and find their portfolios.

I came home and ran.  It felt good; it helped me to work out some of my stress and I had forgotten how good it felt to be sore, to have blisters and to have tangible evidence that you are making a difference.  I weigh in on September 16th.  The goal is at least five pounds lost.  Hopefully, I’ll have good news.

I heard back from my editor.  My gallery pages are scheduled to be completed this week.  I am so excited!

I’m trying to keep this short and sweet because tomorrow is the first day of school and while I feel prepared, I am confident it will be a restless night.

PROMPT: While digging in a cereal box for the toy surprise, a child makes a grizzly discovery.

PIECE: Mikey had his father teach him how to set the alarm on his wristwatch the night before.  Thankfully, Dad didn’t ask too many questions or wonder at Mikey’s sudden interest in the somewhat more complicated features of his watch.  Mikey set his alarm for 6:00AM, a whole hour before he had to be up and getting ready for school.  He figured that sixty minutes would be more than enough time to slink out of bed, to pad noiselessly in bare feet down the hallway and down the stairs, to creep into the kitchen, to hunch before a low-mounted cabinet and open it slowly so the joint didn’t creak too loudly, to retrieve the new cereal box and the surprise toy within.

He had seen Mom removed the box of cereal from one of the yellow, plastic shopping bags after returning home from the grocery store.  He had been irritated by the way she handled it so carelessly, just tossing it into the cabinet, not seeming to care if it tilted and fell against the others.  Did Mom not know about the prize inside or the intense satisfaction of being the first to find said prize?  Immediately, his eyes flicked to his older brother, Jimmy.  Jimmy was currently elbow-deep in a bag of Doritos and Mikey didn’t think he’d seen the cereal box, but he couldn’t be sure.  Jimmy was sneaky.  Jimmy thought that because he was older, everything was his.  Those two inclinations proved to make life difficult for Mikey.  But this time, just this one time, he would be hailed the victor.

The alarm clocked beeped at a truly annoying high pitch three times before Mikey slammed down on a small, metal button on the side of the clock face.  His eyes shot to Jimmy, who seemed to be asleep.  Was he faking?  Mikey hypothesized that if Jimmy were feigning slumber, then Jimmy would move when Mikey moved.  As soon as Mikey’s feet hit the floor and the board creaked beneath his weight, Jimmy would sit up and demand to know what he was doing.  Then again, Jimmy might really be fast asleep and besides, Mikey hadn’t woken up so early for nothing.

He pulled the covers back very, very slowly – inch by inch – so as not to make a sound and so he was able to make his movements as slow as possible.  After what seemed like an eternity, Mikey was free of the burdensome covers.  Keeping his movements lethargic, he sat up in bed like a zombie from one of the movies he wasn’t allowed to watch but that Jimmy could.  Jimmy would tell him all about the gruesome, violent parts and then tease Mikey when he asked for the light to be left on.  He didn’t need light now – it would definitely wake Jimmy up.  Barely breathing, Mikey twisted his body around, swinging his legs softly against the sheets.  Though the mattress creaked as he slid for his feet to touch the floor, Jimmy remained motionless.  Mikey said a little prayer and tiptoed across the room, nimbly avoiding the toy cars and playing cards left out from a few nights before.  The moonlight that stole in through the window illuminated the landscape just enough for Mikey to make out dangerous shadows.

Once he was out of the bedroom and in the hallway, he could breathe easier.  Mikey kept an even pace – to break into a run would be foolish and loud – and took the stairs one at a time, placing his weight as evenly as possible.  He was proud for the amount of physical restraint he was displaying, but it completely dissipated when he reached the landing.  Jubilation filling his veins, Mikey tore through an archway to his left and slid to a seat before the cabinet, his pajama bottoms navigating easily across the linoleum floor.  He wrenched the cabinet open, retrieved the cereal box, and slid a slightly shaking finger beneath the cardboard flap.  Eagerly, he slid his finger across the edge of the box – a paper cut be damned – and crudely ripped at the other flap.  He never thought he’d be so thankful for cheap glue.

Mikey lifted the plastic bag containing the sugar-coated corn flakes and struggled for a moment or two before the thicker plastic gave way and ripped satisfactorily.  His fingers were sweaty and had trouble gripping the edge but once they did – boy; that was all she wrote.  Mikey let the plastic bag fall back into the box and he plunged his innocent, little fist inside, feeling around for the prize.  His fingers brushed against something that was firmer than corn flakes, and he seized it.  He brought it triumphantly out from the box, a few corn flakes falling to the floor.

It was a human toe, bloodied around the end from which it was removed from the body it, until recently, belonged to.

Mikey screamed and screamed and screamed.

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