My sister is sixteen and she’s already at that stage in life where she’s bringing over guys that look like Fonzie or Vanilla Ice. Some have tattoos, some have scars, some smoke cigarettes and listen to music that sounds like it’s been ground up and shit out through a ripped subwoofer. You take a little walk one day, maybe down to the neighborhood park, and when you come back home, you find these dudes there with their t-shirts rolled up to show off their stupid tats, smoking cigarettes and kissing your sister on the front porch. Some have greasy hair, pulled back in a ponytail. Others have buzzed heads and goatees, and wear leather jackets and work boots. It is summer now, both parents at work, and my sixteen-year-old sister is too busy with her greaser on the porch to give a shit about what my brother and I are up to. She’s the oldest, I’m the youngest, and my brother is lost somewhere between. One time she fed us macaroni and cheese, another time she fed us nothing. Today it is peanut butter licked from a spoon. Sometimes we spoon the peanut butter and dip it in the sugar bowl, but not today because somebody forgot to put sugar on the fucking grocery list. It’s the hottest kind of summer in the Midwest.105. The humidity here will make you want to crawl into a freezer and lock the door. Don’t worry about killing yourself; it’ll be worth it.
Just remember: that pedophile on your front porch won’t always be there. But your sister will. Yes, she’ll always be there, and until further notice she loves you the best she knows how, which must be enough, and you’ll try loving her just the same. As for that peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth? Keep it there. It will be something to come back to when you’re hunting for nourishment later on in life.
When he was in high school, my brother had this friend, a big redheaded dude with gnarly freckles. The first time I met the guy was late one night in our basement. He cracked the storm window sneaking in. There was another guy there too, but he looked more like an anorexic skeleton than anything, and besides, I knew him. This other guy, though—man, he was scary, with this wild hair and pale skin and loose clothes all black. His t-shirt said something about Cradle of Filth, and had this guy, just as pale as he was, staring out at me through scary dead eyes, no pupils, all white. I think I was twelve, I can’t remember, but I’m sure I was no more than thirteen. I’d never even given a thought to what these types did in their spare time. Now there was no question about it. This big guy, he showed us a hole in his shin that looked infected, claiming it was the result of driving a nail in with a claw hammer. That’s the way they all were. They wore their self-inflicted burns and cuts like they were notches in a bedpost. I never understood it, the cutting and burning, not yet. I had my demons too, though, and they weren’t any less destructive. I threw my television out my bedroom window one day just because I couldn’t find a decent show to watch. I stole road signs and decorated my room with them. I despised anybody who asked any questions, about anything, and I kept all of my brother’s secrets. So this big dude with crazy red hair, I believed him when he told us about the nail in the leg, doing it just so he could go on feeling something. Later on, he moved on to not wanting to feel anything and pulled some pills from his sock, a whole fucking bottle, and crushed them up on a gaudy Christmas cookie tin. They took turns snorting between drags from shared cigarettes. Then things went fuzzy, chaotic, and I stood there, the loner, watching the sweat drip from their earlobes, wondering whose heart would be the first to collapse beneath the weight of the god-awful boredom of this place.
My brother has this friend who only comes over when my parents aren’t home. One day I walk in and they’re watching porn together in the living room. Nothing gay, they’re just watching. I try running up to my room before they notice me, but this friend of my brother’s drags me down the stairs and pins me to the floor. My brother has disappeared, he’s not there all the sudden, maybe he had to piss, and this friend of his is holding me down, saying: Watch it! What are you, a faggot? Fucking watch it, you queer! Look! Holding me down and prying at my eyes with his fingertips. You fucking pussy, look at the big fucking cock on that dude! You like that, don’t you? Look at her twat, you faggot! And it seems to last forever. Whole lifetimes pass before me. My shoulders hurt, my eyes burn, and I feel like I could truly and honestly kill somebody at this point, anybody and for no reason at all. Finally, the kid flies right off of me, as though wind-lifted, and he looks all about the room, stunned. And I’m confused. What happened? But now he’s on the ground, and my brother’s on top of him, this kid’s shoulders pinned now beneath his knees. What the fuck! That’s my little brother, you fuck! My brother hits the dude. Fuck you, you fucking— He hits him again. Fuck! He spits in his face. Then, literally, and it’s just like the movies, my brother picks this dude up by the shirt collar, drags him across the carpet, and throws him off the porch. He slams the door and looks me in the eyes, face red, gone blotchy. Go to your room, he says. I look at him, tears in my eyes, lips aquiver. Go to your room! I look at him again, hoping he sees I’m begging not to go. Go, he says, mouth movements slow and dramatic, and he steadies his eyes on the tits bouncing on the screen. Go on, he says. Get the hell out of here.
Later that year, after I’d turned fourteen, this same friend of my brother’s, the one who’d pried my eyes to watch the videoed fucking, lived in our garage for almost two whole weeks. I guess they’d patched things up. He was only sixteen, a dropout, homeless now that his parents didn’t want him anymore, and I guess my parents felt sorry enough for him to let him stay out in the garage on one of our old couches. I honestly don’t remember seeing him all that often. He’d pop his head in, maybe eat a sandwich if we had the ingredients, and when his two weeks were up and gone, I thought: Thank god I never have to see you again. But maybe five years later, I recognized his name in the newspaper accompanied by a nice little mug shot. Formal charges had been brought against him for the murder of a young girl with a shotgun—not in Wichita, but down south somewhere. And now, I wonder if he knew, years earlier, sleeping in our garage, that he’d be a convicted killer someday. You know, when he grew up and started considering career options for his life.
I used to go fishing when I felt like the world was sucking me down. I’d grab my tackle box and pole, grab a hat and fill an empty pop bottle with water, take off to where the street ended and became open fields, and go off knowing I’d just have me and my lonesome to deal with for the day, feeling content to live inside the empty rooms of my head. Sometimes a neighbor kid a couple years older than me would follow me out there. Sometimes I’d ditch him, sometimes he’d find me. This kid was annoying, that’s for sure. My brother didn’t like him much either. In fact he shot him with his BB gun when he was fourteen. And a few years later, when we were all a bit more mature, I received a tennis racket across my face for that little metal ball. I ditched him this time, the bastard, and took a different route altogether. When I got there, the smell of the lake was like breathing through an old unwashed sock, algae all over the place. I sprawled out on the bank, staring into the sun, fishing pole and tackle beside me, wondering, as my brother had told me, if this was really what a woman’s womanly parts smelled like. I remember this vividly, this contemplation. And years later, when I got old enough to stick my nose down there and fumble around for myself, it took me back, that first waft, to the peaceful loneliness I’d experienced as a boy with a fishing pole, laying out across the weeds in the hot summer sun.
1. Blue Velvet
2. A River Runs Through It
3. Un Chien Andalou
4. Days of Heaven
5. Sometimes a Great Notion
6. Wise Blood
7. River’s Edge
8. The Lost Boys
10. Jurassic Park
The first time I kissed a girl I was in fifth grade. I was staying the night at a friend’s house. We set his tent up in the backyard. This would be where we would spend our night and eventually fall asleep. Earlier, we had hung out with two eighth-grade girls down the street. They smoked cigarettes and swore a lot. My first two kisses were with them. They snuck out of their houses in the middle of the night and came to our tent. The taller one with streaks in her hair pulled a plastic pop bottle from her purse. We began. They set the bottle down and I spun it, watching nervously, hoping it didn’t land on my friend. I didn’t want to kiss a dude. And I got lucky. It landed on the shorter girl with brown hair. I started with a quick peck. She took over and showed me how it was done. She shoved her tongue in my mouth. It tasted bad, probably from the cigarettes, but I didn’t mind. I stuck my tongue in her mouth. This was happening. I looked over and saw my friend and the tall girl were kissing, too. I felt happy and nervous and dangerous. I kept thinking about how my parents would be really disappointed if they ever found out. But then I just stopped thinking altogether. Fuck it. We switched. I was kissing the tall girl now. She had bigger boobs. She put my hand on her boobs and brushed her hand across my penis a couple of times. After a while I was back with the short girl, the one I really liked. She was sweet, and I felt at home there in her arms, licking the smoke off her tongue. For a while, I convinced myself that this was what love felt like. I never saw either one of them again, can’t even recall their names, but they meant enough to me that I’m putting them right here, on this page, so they can remain here, with me, forever, even in this small way.
My brother was into witchcraft for a time, the occult of Crowley, the unholy trickery of the tarot. He started wearing black and plaguing himself with pentagrams, lipstick smears and eyeliner. He read books by Anton LaVey and produced poetry so dark it made Baudelaire seem like a pussy. His clothes became baggier and raggedy, only washed if my mother insisted. Some of them looked like mere rags. He wanted to look like a lowlife, and this fact didn’t go unnoticed by anybody in the family, let alone the neighbors.
Our treehouse still stood in that outcropping of trees just minutes from our house. Little did I know that it was still a sanctuary for my brother—an incubator for his dabbling in perversities. But I had always been a pretty lonely kid, always seeking affection, and so when my brother invited me to his tiny castle in the woods, I went, not really caring one way or the other what we found ourselves engaged in there.
When we got out into the field near the creek, my brother produced a plastic bag, a big old Ziploc, the biggest I’d ever seen, and said: We’re frog hunting. This actually wasn’t an odd thing for me to take part in. I was an outdoorsy type I was when I was young, so I went at it fast and furious, scooping up frogs by the fistfuls down on the muddy banks and throwing them into the bag, not questioning the fate that lie ahead of them.
We must have had twenty in there by the time we made it up to the treehouse. It was about thirty or forty feet up, with foot-long scraps of two-by-four nailed into the trunk as a ladder. When we got inside my brother produced some kind of evil book of rituals and rites, slapped it on his lap and searched for the right page. I was observing the bag of frogs, holding it up, twisting it in the light, when he promptly ripped it from my hands. He had a kitchen pot up there, all scorched on the inside, and he started filling it with lighter fluid that he’d pulled from some secret compartment in his fortress. What are you going to do? I asked him. Just watch, he said, and hold this book open, so I can read it. He pulled out a match book, laid it beside him. My god, I thought. We have to be quick about this, okay, he said. Now, just hold the book up so I can read it. I didn’t want to, but I held it up anyway. He lit a match and threw it into the pool of lighter fluid. The fire was a lot bigger than I had anticipated. Then he had the Ziploc bag open, dumping the frogs in before I could do something to stop him. I closed my eyes. The sound was indescribable—popping, hissing, tiny little screams—and the stench, the stench was unbearable. I opened my eyes in time to see a couple of them hop out of the flames, but they hadn’t put themselves out, no, they were slow dying balls of fire. My brother hurriedly read from the book, words that would never mean anything to me, and then he clapped the lid over the flame and stomped out the few frogs that had escaped beneath his shoe. I wanted to cry, I wanted resurrection, but I also wanted my brother to love me, so instead I asked him, What kind of spell did you cast? And he tells me: There’s this girl at school I want to fuck.
TROY JAMES WEAVER lives in Wichita, Kansas with his wife and their dog. His work has appeared in Hobart, Everyday Genius, Heavy Feather Review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. He’s the author of two books, Visions (Broken River Books) and Witchita Stories (Future Tense Books).
Adapted from Witchita Stories, by Troy James Weaver, Copyright © 2015 by Troy James Weaver. With the permission of the publisher, Soft Skull Press.