PUSS originally appeared in issues 14 and 15 of SANITARIUM MAGAZINE as CRINKLEPUSS and FRANKENPUSS. The story (or stories) were written to suggest the protagonist or POV character as being a bit different than most people. It is still, to this day, the single most unnerving story I feel I’ve written.
PART 1: Crinkle
I have the demeanor of a butterfly, arms and legs like twigs, and hair like aging straw. Momma says I’m handsome, Dadda says that I’m his special guy, and Jo-Jo says I’d be a truck if I worked out a bit, or learned to cut the meat inside freezer properly. But the kids at my high school say I’m a pussy. I don’t like to fight, I can barely throw a punch, and I much prefer the songs of birds and smell of flowers to the crunch of bones on concrete and the smell of boiling, spattered blood.
I guess that’s why nobody likes me. The girls all point and giggle when I pass them in the halls, whisper things, and sneer. No one likes a nerd, they say, a boy too weak to stand up for himself. I tried to ask one out last year to winter formal, but she only rolled her eyes and scoffed. No one likes a pussy.
It’s okay, I guess. A lot of guys say girls are only good for fucks, especially the ones with—what was it? Daddy issues, that’s it. They say the girls with daddy issues give a lot of fucks, reallygood fucks with their mouths.
But I don’t see the point. I don’t know too much about fucks, but it seems disgusting, and I’d much prefer to talk and learn each other’s common interests. It seems a lot more fun and clean.
But I guess that’s why the guys think I’m a pussy too. They push me into lockers, taunt me during lunch, and call me names, both to my face and when they think that I’m not listening: faggot; cocksucker; Satan’s sloppy seconds; and ass bandit. The list goes on and on and on. I just ignore it though; I don’t really understand the names, and trying to seems like more work than they’re worth.
Bradley Austin really hates me though. He’s the one who started all the teasing and the pushing, back in freshman year. I don’t know why; I never bothered him. All I did was say hello. I thought he was my friend at first. I’d hang around with Bradley and his friends at lunch, they’d say things, call me their special friend, and then we’d laugh…and then they’d all laugh louder, and I’d get confused, and they’d say never mind.
Then one day after school he cornered me behind the school and punched me in the face and broke my nose. He kicked my shins, forced me to the ground, and kicked me in the gut until I couldn’t breathe. He called me faggot, said I couldn’t hang around at lunch or any other time, and spit on me. He said I cramped his style, diseased his popularity, that I was toxic, Satan’s sloppy seconds. Then he left, and I was sad because I didn’t know what he was talking about.
So I walked home crying with a bloody, broken face. Momma coddled me. She nearly cried when I walked in the door and wondered who could ever hurt her baby boy. She and Jo-Jo took me to the bathroom and washed my face as carefully as possible; then Dadda walked in and popped my nose back into place. It was painful and I cried some more; but Dadda said he loved me and I felt a little better.
That night at dinner I asked Dadda what a faggot was. He told me it was a very nasty name for boys who liked to be with boys, or girls who liked to be with girls. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but Dadda said I’d learn in time, and that being…homosec—homosexual was fine. I asked he and Momma if I was a faggot but they said they didn’t know; and even if I was, they’d love me anyway; and so I felt a little better, but my nose still hurt, and so did my heart because Bradley Austin hated me and I didn’t have anyone to hang out with at school anymore.
That was why the other students called me pussy. That was all before the fire.
Our home is on the second story of a small brick building on the north end of the town. Below it is the butcher shop. It’s been the family business for years. Dadda loves to work with meat and hopes to, one day, pass along the shop to Jo-Jo and me.
“I pride myself on perfect cuts,” he always says. “Perfect cuts mean that we take in more.”
I think that he meant money, but I never asked.
I was sleeping one night when the fire started. When I woke the room was black and orange and really hot, and I was scared because I couldn’t see too much. I heard Momma and Dadda screaming for me, but I couldn’t get to them because my bedroom door was stuck, and so I started crying loudly and then I don’t remember much.
When I woke up I was in a bed and there was lots of beeping and humming and a bright light and I thought I was in Heaven. But then I saw Momma, Dadda, and Jo-Jo standing around my bed looking happy so I knew I wasn’t dead and I felt a little better. But my face hurt a lot, then more and more because I kept thinking about the pain, and soon I felt like crying again, so I told Momma that I wanted to go home, but she and Dadda said I couldn’t, not for a few days because the doctors wanted to make me better first because the fire had really burnt my face. There was a window in the room and I looked at my reflection and I felt like vomiting but didn’t, because Momma always said that that was rude. My skin was very red, black in some places, and looked all oily and wet, and in one area I thought that I could see my bones; but Jo-Jo said that it was just a white bandage, so I felt a little better. I don’t want to ever see my own bones.
I stayed in the hospital for three weeks so the doctors could make me better, and Momma and Dadda and Jo-Jo stayed with Uncle Jerry while my room was fixed.
The doctors and the nurses were very nice to me and I liked them a lot. They let me watch cartoons in my room and gave me lots of ice cream because they said the coolness helps the burns to heal.
When I got out of the hospital, I missed another month of school because Momma said that it was best I get my strength up first. And so I got to eat more ice cream and hang out with Uncle Jerry while the others went to work. Uncle Jerry said my burns looked cool and that I looked like Two-Face. I don’t know who that is, but I guess he’s cool because Uncle Jerry said so.
Finally, my room was finished, so we moved back home above the butcher shop and I was happy that I had my own room back because Jo-Jo snores a lot and keeps me awake.
When I went back to school, I thought that Bradley would be nice to me again; but all he did was laugh and point and make fun of me because my face was ugly. “No one likes a pussy with an ugly face,” he said. “No one likes a pussy with a nasty, crinkly face. You’re a little cock-sucking faggot—you’re just an ugly crinklepuss!”
Now all the students call me Crinklepuss and it makes me feel bad because no one wants to hang out with me or be my friend. No one likes an ugly Crinklepuss like me. I want to fix my face—I hate it. Momma and Dadda know this, and they say they’ll fix it soon; but when is soon?
I’m closing shop early today because Dadda says we all deserve an early night, that we’ll wash up and pop some corn and watch a movie. This makes me happy, so I start to sweep the shop up front while Momma sings Across the Universeand Jo-Jo helps Dadda with the meat in back. I’m sweeping dust into the pan when I hear the front door open and the little jingle of the bell. It’s Bradley Austin, and I feel a little scared. Momma’s not up front anymore so I’m alone. Bradley looks around the shop. I try to tell him that we’re closing early but the words won’t leave my mouth, so I look at him with trembling hands.
“Fancy seeing you here, ugly. I didn’t know they hired pussies,” Bradley laughs. “Wait until the guys hear Crinklepuss works—”
There’s a clang, and Bradley falls face-first to the floor. Jo-Jo stands behind him with some shiny, metal object, looking really surprised.
“Dadda! I heard him say it! He said ‘Crinklepuss!’”
I’m standing in the doorway of the freezer, watching Bradley as he wakes up. He’s chained to a chair between the frozen carcasses of pigs. Dadda and Jo-Jo brought him in and they and Momma are standing around him, wearing their empty faces, just like they do when they’re working with the really, really tough meat; we haven’t had tough meat for a while. Dadda always says that one day I’ll have an empty face as well; but right now I’m not ready.
“He’s the one that said it, Dadda,” Jo-Jo states. “He said ‘Crinklepuss.”
Dadda asks me if it’s true and I nod yes and say that Bradley is the one who makes me feel bad, and that he broke my nose and always calls me names like faggot, bitch, and cocksucker. Dadda looks at Bradley sternly. I can see his brown eyes narrow just behind his empty face.
“Son,” he says to Bradley. “You don’t ever fuck with family.”
Dadda looks at me and says that I should finish closing shop. I say okay and Dadda says he loves me and I smile as I walk back to the front. I grab the broom and pan and start to sweep again. I look back into the freezer right as Momma shuts the door and I can see that Bradley has a sock shoved in his mouth and that he’s shaking. Dadda tells him “we pride ourselves on perfect cuts, you hear now son?” I finish sweeping, humming to myself, and then head up to bed because I’m very tired.
I can feel my eyes begin to open and my room is really bright and I can see the sunlight through my window and it makes me happy. I sit up and see Momma, Dadda, and Jo-Jo standing around my bed, and they look really happy too, and that makes me even happier. Momma hands me a small brown box with a blue ribbon on it and she and Dadda tell me to open it, and Momma says she hopes her baby likes it. I undo the ribbon and put it on my nightstand because it’s very pretty and I want to keep it, then I open the box and I can feel my heart beating faster because I’m very, very happy now. I pull it out and it is very soft and leathery and I love the way it feels. It’s smooth and I can’t wait to wear it. I pull it down over my head and my hands are shaking as I tie the strings in back. Momma starts to cry and says her baby looks so handsome now and Dadda says I’ve earned my empty face. I jump out of bed and run to the bathroom to see and when I look into the mirror I feel like a brand new person because soon is finally here and I love my face because Bradley will never call me Crinklepuss again!
PART 2: FRANKEN
When I turn sixteen, I tell Momma and Dadda that I want to tell stories that I have in my head but that I don’t know how, and that makes me sort of sad. So one day, Momma comes home with a black leather book and a really shiny pen and tells me I should write my stories and my thoughts inside of it; that it would be my journal. I am so excited and I say thank you to Momma and tell her I love her and then I run to go show Dadda and Jo-Jo my new journal, and they both say that they are sure my stories will be great and that I should get started right away! So I run back to my room and start writing…try to, I mean. I’m not really sure how to write a journal or a story so I do the best I can.
Today is Friday and it is the 17thof May and I am very happy right now because I am writing in the new journal that Momma gave me and it is great. It smells really nice, like some of the meat in the freezer downstairs, and it is really smooth; just like the empty face that Momma, Dadda, and Jo-Jo made for me last year. My empty face made me feel really good the first time that I wore it because Bradley Austin never called me Crinklepuss again. I have not seen Bradley for a while and I sort of miss him even though he was really mean to me. I thought maybe after Dadda had a talk with him we could be friends again but he never came back to school, and his family said he ran away, so I feel kind of bad for them because I know that Momma and Dadda would be really sad if Jo-Jo or me ever ran away or something. I told Bradley’s brother, Gerald, I was sorry but he just called me Crinklepuss and told me to go suck the principal. I do not know what that means, so I did not do it. I think that I hear Momma calling me because it is dinner time and I can smell it too and it smells really good because Momma is the best cook in the world, and Dadda said tonight that me and Jo-Jo could try beer because we both have been good boys and very helpful this past year, so now I think I that I am done writing on this page. Goodbye.
I put my pen down when I finish and reread what I have written and I feel very proud and happy because I’ve written my first journal entry, and I know that soon all of the pages will be filled with things that I have in my head, and that makes me excited. I close my journal and hide it under my pillow because Momma told me that it was for my eyes only and that no one else is allowed to read what I have written unless I say so. Then, I run into the kitchen to have dinner and we eat and drank and I tell everyone that I have written my first entry, and Momma kisses my cheek and says that she is proud of me and Jo-Jo gives me a love-punch in the arm and then Dadda hands me another beer because he said his bu…buddin’ (budding, I think?) writer has earned it.
When I go to sleep that night I am smiling because it has been a very good day, and for the first time in a very long time my real face does not hurt and I do not feel ugly, and Momma said it was because my skin is healing nicely and that soon the burn marks will be gone and I will be better. I don’t know when soon is, but I am not in such a hurry to find out this time because Dadda always says you cannot rush perfection. I am not really sure what that means, but Dadda’s always right and so perfection must be great.
On Monday Jo-Jo walks me home from school and I feel safe and very happy because Jo-Jo’s always really busy helping at the shop. I tell him about my first journal entry even though Momma said it was for my eyes only and he says he is impressed and wishes that he could write as well as I can. That makes me feel good because Jo-Jo is better at everything than me.
We turn onto our street and Jo-Jo says we will be home in just ten minutes, and I am glad because my stomach has been growling very loudly since the last bell rang at school. We walk two blocks and then Jo-Jo stops because Gerald Austin and his two friends are walking towards us, and Jo-Jo says he doesn’t like the way that Gerald looks. The three boys don’t say a word to us—not even hello, which is very rude because Momma said we’re supposed to say hello to people that we know—and they start kicking and hitting Jo-Jo! I am scared because they are really hurting him and he is screaming and I’m not very big so I can’t do much. I try to pull Gerald off my brother but he turns and punches me in the nose and I start crying because something crunches and I am bleeding. Once Gerald and his friends are done they run away and I see grown-ups running toward us and hear someone yelling that they should call 911 because we are hurt and Jo-Jo is not breathing. I sit up and look at Jo-Jo and he is not moving and that makes me scared and he does not look like Jo-Jo anymore because Gerald and his friends have hit him really badly and there is a lot of blood under his head.
Momma and Dadda come soon after someone calls 911 and Momma starts crying really hard and Dadda starts yelling and asking “where the fuck is the ambulance” because his children are hurt badly and his oldest is not breathing, and then Momma starts crying even harder because Jo-Jo won’t stop bleeding and he won’t answer when Momma talks to him. And then Dadda tarts crying soon because the parame-p-paramed…ics say that Jo-Jo isn’t alive, and then me and Momma and Dadda are all crying because Jo-Jo isn’t ever coming home with us again, and that makes me very, very sad because Jo-Jo is the best brother in the whole world and he is also my very best friend and I know that I will never ever see him again, and that makes me really mad at Gerald Austin and his friends because killing someone is the meanest thing that anyone could ever do.
I don’t really remember much of what happens that night, mostly because I am really sad and crying a lot. We are in the hospital for a bit because my head feels weird and because I have to get my nose fixed by the doctor and Momma and Dadda have to fill out paper work because of Jo-Jo, and when we leave all the doctors and the nurses and policemen say that they are very sorry for our loss and that they will talk to Gerald Austin. We go home and Momma makes hot chocolate for me and tells me that I am her special boy, and Dadda says he loves me very much, and then they both have drinks and go to bed. I feel very sad because theyare and I do not know what to do, so I go to my room and start writing in my journal.
Today is Monday and it is the 20thof Mayand I feel very sad and lonely because Jo-Jo isn’t with us anymore. He’s going to be up in Heaven soon, so I guess that isn’t so bad, but I really, really miss him and I wish that he was here so I could tell him more about my journal. I don’t like to hit people, but I really, really want to hit Gerald Austin because what he did was mean. Jo-Jo was the nicest person in the world and he never did anything bad to Gerald, and I wish that I could make things right. I don’t know what else to write right now because my faces hurts pretty bad again, and now I’m scared that everyone will call me Crinklepuss again, and I don’t want them to because that always hurt my feelings. Goodbye.
I close my journal and I put it underneath my pillow and then get into my bed and go to sleep. I do not sleep very good that night because of nightmares, and they are of me and Jo-Jo being beaten up over and over and over, and they make me really scared because the sound of Jo-Jo’s head against the sidewalk is really loud and he is screaming very loud too and there is lots of blood, and then I wake up screaming. Momma and Dadda come in and tell me that it is all right; that it was just a bad dream and that I should try and get some sleep. I say I will, and Momma and Dadda said they love me, and then Momma tells me of a saying she once heard: “those who suffer wrongly shall be given holy strength.” I do not know what they mean, but it makes me feel better because it has the word ‘holy’ in it, and Momma always says that holy things are good.
I stay home from school the next four days because Momma says I should because we have to visit family for a while and because we have to bury Jo-Jo. We stay the week with uncle Jerry and aunt Alice and they say how sorry they are for our loss, and that they miss Jo-Jo terribly as well, and then we go inside to eat and talk about how awesome Jo-Jo was, and everyone tells stories. I tell uncle Jerry and aunt Alice about how Jo-Jo helped me get my empty face last year and how he made sure Bradley Austin never made me sad again, and they laugh and say that Jo-Jo was a very good older brother, and that makes me smile.
We all go to bed early Tuesday night because everyone is really tired and because we have stuff to do for Jo-Jo’s funeral the tomorrow. Before I go to bed, uncle Jerry tells me a story, but I don’t think that I say say it out loud, so I write it in my journal so no one else can read it, because uncle Jerry says that it is just for me.
Today is Tuesday and it is the 21stof May. Uncle Jerry told me about The Punisher tonight and it was really cool, but I feel bad for him because his wife and kid were killed in front of him and he had to live alone for the rest of his life, and that seems really sad because he doesn’t have anyone to talk to and he can’t tell his family how much he loves them anymore. Uncle Jerry told me how The Punisher killed bad people to avenge his family, and said he wished that there were someone like that in the world today. I wish there was too because I really miss my brother and I’m feeling very sad and lonely right now. Goodbye.
I close my journal and hide it in my suitcase and then I go to bed. I think really hard about Momma’s saying and I say it a lot in my head before I go to bed because I want to feel holy and not have any really bad dreams like I did last night.
Thursday is Jo-Jo’s funeral. I don’t remember too much of it because I was really sad and crying a lot and my head hurt really, reallybad, and it felt like someone was pushing a knife into my brain right where Gerald Austin hit me. The only thing I remember clearly is putting a flower on Jo-Jo’s coffin and telling him that I loved him and missed him and that he was the best brother in the whole world and that someone should try to avenge him because it is not fair he can’t grow up anymore.
Everything after that feels really blurry, and when I can see things again I am in the hospital and Momma and Dadda and uncle Jerry and aunt Alice are sitting next to me, saying how scared they were when I fell down and hit my head. I tell Momma I am scared because my brain hurts really bad, and she says the doctors will make me better once they know what is wrong with me, so that makes me feel a little better, but it also makes me scared because I do not want to die. If I did, my parents would be sad and lonely, and thinking about Momma and Dadda crying a lot makes me sad too, so I try my best to smile.
The doctor comes in soon and talks to us and says I have to have surgery on my head because there is a piece of my skull poking my brain, and if they don’t fix it I might die. That makes me scared, but I put my bravest face on (I wonder if Dadda has ever made a brave face before) and tell my family that I will be fine because Jo-Jo will be watching over me, and that seems to make them feel better. Momma and Dadda and aunt Alice kissed me and tell me they love me, and uncle Jerry says I am a champ, and I tell them I’ll be better soon. Then the doctors wheel me out so I can have my surgery, and as we are going to the room where they will fix my head, I think I see an angel walking down the hallway, and I know it must be Jo-Jo coming to protect me. I look again but there is nothing, so I close my eyes and wait.
Momma brings me my journal when she and Dadda and uncle Jerry and aunt Alice are allowed to come and visit. Everything is very blurry and I feel really weird, but I am happy because Jo-Jo has protected me while the doctors were fixing my head. No one says very long because I am very tired, but they all say they loved me and hope that I feel better soon, and that makes me feel nice inside, and so I close my eyes and go to sleep and try hard to remember Momma’s saying. I see Jo-Jo in my dreams and he says that soon I will be strong because “those who suffer wrongly shall be given holy strength,” and I guess that Momma once had told him of her saying because Jo-Jo says it to me word-for-word. We run around a forest for a while, laughing, and I tell Jo-Jo that I miss him lots and he says he misses me too, but that I have to keep my head up high and not be sad. I tell him I will try, and then we run some more and laugh, but then Jo-Jo tells me that he has to go, but he will find me every time I close my eyes, and so that makes me feel a little better. He touches my head, right where the doctors had been working, and I feel all tingly and then there is a really bright light that hurts my eyes, and when I can see again I am in the hospital and it is morning and Momma and Dadda are drinking coffee in my room and I am happy because something in me feels really different and I understand the doctor when he comes and tells my parents that my “cognizance might be a little rusty for a while.” I think he was wrong.
Today is Monday and it is the 10th of June. I went back to school today and for the first time ever, everyone was nice to me and they said that they were sorry about Jo-Jo and my head, and that made me feel a little better. I did not talk to anyone because Momma said I did not have to if I did not want to, so I sat in class and thought a lot, which felt really good because I could not ever do that before having surgery. My teachers also said that I could take my time to catch up on my schoolwork, and that made me worry less because I knew that I had missed a lot stuff and was scared that I might fail my classes and have to take them again next year, and I did not want that. I am feeling tired now. Goodbye.
On Tuesday I walk home from school, and when I get to my street I see a puppy dog get run over by a car, and there is lots of crunching and the driver does not even stop, and that makes me mad. I run over to the dog to try and help but it is already dead, so I start crying because it is very little and has lots of blood in its fur. I pet its ears real slow because I do not know what to do, and then I see a lady and her kid further up the street calling out for “Sparky”, and I see the puppy has a tag with “Sparky” written on it, and that makes me even sadder. They are coming closer now, and I guess that they’ve seen me near the dog because the little boy starts running toward me calling out to Sparky, and I do not know what to tell him and I think that he will start to cry, but then he turns around and tells his mom that I have found his dog. He says, “Thank you, mister, for finding Sparky.” I do not know what to say because I cannot understand why the little boy is so happy, but then I look down and Sparky is fine! I say “You’re welcome,” and then start walking home again because my head hurts really bad, and I start to think that maybe my brain is not fixed at all. When I get home, I tell Momma that I am not feeling well, and so I go into my room and fall asleep.
When I wake up it is morning. I walk downstairs to the shop and I see policemen at the door talking with my parents. Gerald Austin will be let out of jail, they say, because his parents paid a lot of money and they think that two weeks in a cell is punishment enough for beating up my brother. Dadda yells really loudly and so does Momma; then they tell the officers to leave and slam the door, and Dadda starts talking about making more empty faces for the three of us. I tell him that I like my empty face and do not need another one, but Dadda said we all deserve new faces. I ask him why and he says that our old ones will get dirty when we work the tough meat coming to the shop in two weeks, so I say okay because Dadda knows what he is talking about and what he says seems logical.
After breakfast I get dressed and tell Momma I am going for a walk because it is nice out and I don’t have school today, and she says be careful and have fun. I say I will and leave, humming something that my brother used to hum, and it makes me happy because it is like Jo-Jo is right next to me the whole time. I walk three blocks down the street and turn left into the woods, hoping that I might see Jo-Jo like I saw him in my dream. But after an hour, I figure I am hoping for too much so I find a tiny lake and walk around it several times while thinking. My head does not hurt anymore and I am glad because I can see things clearly in my mind, and I think about my birthday last year when I got my empty face and everyone said I looked really handsome, and I thought I did as well, and I remember being happy because Bradley Austin could not call me Crinklepuss anymore because I looked so nice…and then I wonder why I never saw him again…and now I have this coldness in my spine because I know exactly what our empty faces are, and so I start throwing up into the lake and crying because Bradley’s face is back inside my closet waiting to be worn, but I know I will not wear it anymore (even though I’ve never worn it outside of the shop) because I am not Bradley and the people on TV are always saying that this thing called I.D. theft is terrible, and I think that’s what I am committing by wearing Bradley’s face and I don’t want to go to jail.
I crawl over to a tree because my legs feel really wobbly and take a nap. I see Jo-Jo in my dream and we are in the same forest as before, and I tell him I am really scared because my brain is doing things that it has never done before, and he says he knows what I am talking about and that I should not worry because it means that I am getting better and smarter. I ask him what he means and he recites Momma’s saying again, and I ask if I am getting holy strength, and Jo-Jo says he thinks I am because how else could I do that thing I did the other day? I don’t know what he is talking about so I ask, and Jo-Jo says he means yesterday when I brought the puppy dog to life again. I tell him that is impossible because you cannot bring back dead things, and even if I had that would mean that I am unholy, and I do not want to be unholy because Momma always says that the unholy people have been touched by devils. Jo-Jo shakes his head and says that he was certain what I’ve done was not unholy because the little boy and his mother were very happy that Sparky was not dead, so I tell Jo-Jo that I guess that he was right, and the more I think about it the more I agree, because if I was unholy, wouldn’t Sparky have come back as something scary and mean and tried to eat them? Jo-Jo says probably, and then he tells me not to worry about the things that were happening to me, so I say that I will try not to. He tells me he loves me, that he will see me soon, and that I have to wake up now. I say okay and hug my brother, and when I wake up it is getting dark out, so I hurry home so Momma and Dadda won’t worry and also because I am hungry.
At dinner everyone is really quiet, and I guess that Momma and Dadda are still mad at the police for allowing Gerald Austin to be let out of jail. I ask Dadda why we all have empty faces, and Dadda sighs and tells me that they show “the toughest meat can be subdued” and because “we should not stain our own flesh with the blood of pigs when cutting meat.” I ask Dadda when I will be able to help cut the meat, and he says when I turned eighteen, and that makes me happy because that is only two years away! I take a bite of chicken (Momma makes it really good with wild rice and other tasty things) and think to myself about the things I realized at the lake. I ask my parents what they really did to Bradley, just to test them, and Dadda says he gave him a good whoopin’ and sent him on his way. I feel bad because I knew that they have lied to me the last whole year, and so I say I know that Bradley’s face is in my closet, and I ask what they did with the rest of him, and Dadda sighs and says that he is buried in the “bad meat” shed we have out back. I nod, thinking to myself again because it feels really nice to think without getting headaches, and then tell Momma and Dadda that I love them and that I know they did what they did to protect me, and Dadda says that he is proud of me for understanding and apologizes for not telling me sooner. We finish dinner and then I go up and write in my journal.
Today is Wednesday and it is the 12thof June. I realized lots of stuff today, and it scared me for a bit, until my brother told me not to worry because I was getting holy strength just like Momma said I would. I know what really happened to Bradley Austin now and I know his face is in my closet, and that kind of creeps me out a bit, but it’s okay because he cannot hurt me anymore. Tomorrow is biology class and that means that Gerald will be back, and I am kind of nervous because he is really big and mean, but I am also kind of excited because we are working with dead things. I can do stuff with dead things. Goodbye.
When I walk into class on Thursday, Gerald smacks the back of my head and calls me a cock-sucking faggot. His friends laugh, but I ignore them all because they’re dumb. I think Gerald calls me things like faggot and cocksucker and ass pirate because he is secretly afraid that he is one of those things. That’s what Dadda told me: the biggest homophobes are usually homosexuals themselves, and of course there is nothing wrong with that. I go to my table and sit down. My lab partner is Henry Rawlins and he’s really good at biology and is also graduating next week. I have never really talked to him but he has never been mean to me, and that makes me glad. I sit down and say hello and Henry says hi back and tells me Gerald Austin is a prick just like his brother, and that he hopes he ends up just like this kid named Mark who was murdered in November. I do not remember this very well because my brain was not very healthy back then, so I just nod, and then our teacher says that we are going to be dissecting snakes, and I hear Gerald make a coughing sound behind me because he is grossed out, and that gives me ideas that make me smile. Gerald smacks me in the head again and says, “Hey Crinklepuss, stop smiling you fucking faggot. No one wants to see your ugly burns, you freak,” and then he and his friends and several other people laugh, but I ignore him once again.
We get our snakes and tools and a lot of people are freaked out and saying “ew” and “gross” because they don’t like snakes and Henry laughs and starts cutting just like our teacher tells us to. I watch him for a minute and I think how cool it is that he can cut so perfectly. He’s like a doctor, almost. He offers me the cutting tool (a scalpel, I think) and I tell him that I’ll try but first I want to go use the bathroom, and he says okay. I stand up and tell the teacher where I am going, and he nods, so I turn around and I pretend to trip as Gerald is trying to cut his snake and my finger touches its tail. Gerald calls me another name and I apologize and walk toward the door. My hand is on the handle when I hear him scream. I look back and Gerald’s snake has come alive and is flopping around in his hand and hissing and trying to bite him and people are screaming because the snake is cut open and there is blood and guts flying everywhere. I look at Henry and he is laughing really hard, so I leave the room and start laughing too.
That night when I go to bed, I have a dream and I meet Jo-Jo in the forest again. We do not run this time; we only talk, and I tell my brother about what happened in biology and that makes Jo-Jo smile. “See,” he tells me. “You have holy power and strength like Momma said; and Gerald is a very mean boy, so what you did to him was okay.”
I nod and say I agree and then I tell Jo-Jo about Henry and how nice he was to me, and how he said that Gerald deserved to end up like this kid Mark. Jo-Jo thinks a moment and snaps his fingers, smiling because he says that he remembers what happened to Mark back in November last year and that something similar should happen to Gerald. I still do not know what Henry or Jo-Jo are talking about so I say nothing and just nod because I have an idea inside my head.
Today is Friday and it is the 21stof June. All of the older kids (the seniors) at my school are graduating tomorrow, which means Gerald Austin is having his really big party tonight to celebrate and also because it is his birthday and he’s 18 years old now. I was not invited because Gerald and his friends think I’m a faggot (I think that’s their favorite word because that’s all they ever say), but I am going to go to his house later tonight because I have a present that I want to give him, and I’m sure he misses his brother lots. Goodbye.
My parents go to bed at 10 o’clock that night, which is good because I do not want them to know that I am going out. At around 1:00 a.m., I sneak out and walk to Gerald’s house with my backpack and my old friend following me. He hasn’t walked for a long time so I walk slowly with him as he stretches his skinny legs. We do not speak because, for one thing, I do not want anyone to know that I am out and also because he cannot remember how to talk. And even if he could, I do not think he has a tongue, which is important because that’s how we make words.
Gerald’s house is really bright but also very quiet when we got there and I guess that people have gone home because they have to be up early tomorrow for commencement. I walk swiftly through the front yard because I’m not sure if everyone has left or if some of Gerald’s friends are still around. I stand on my toes and look into the window of their living room but no one is inside. I move to the backyard on my tiptoes like a spy and there is Gerald and his two mean friends—the ones who beat Jo-Jo and me up. My face feels really, really hot—like it is on fire again—and I realize it is because I feel really angry and sad, and now I know that I will be just like The Punisher, and that makes me feel really strong. I watch Gerald’s two friends wander from the house and into the dark part of the backyard where there are a bunch of apple trees (I only know this because I came here once with Bradley when I thought he was my friend). I tiptoe again, this time right past Gerald, who looks really drunk and has a lot of beer bottles around him, and follow his friends. I take off my backpack as I go and pull out the silver tool that Dadda uses on tough meat and it feels really cold inside my hands, but holding it makes me excited and I go a little faster towards the apple trees and I can see the two nasty boys trying to get apples even though there aren’t any and I think really hard and then my old friend runs up to them and begins to strangle them so they cannot scream and then I take the silver tool and put it in their hearts a couple times until they are not moving and that makes me smile because I feel like The Punisher. My old friend lets them go because I tell him to with my brain and then I open up my backpack again and pull out my empty face and put it on my helper and then we walk slowly back to Gerald—even slower than we did before because I want to look cool and make an entrance—and I hear him saying things about faggots and cocksuckers and I guess that he really wasdrunk and that maybe he is homosexual (I knew that word now!) himself because my parents always say that the biggest homophobes are usually gay themselves and I guessed that maybe Bradley Austin had been gay as well because he always called me derogatory names, and this gets me thinking. I call out to Gerald and he looks up and sees me standing near the fire pit and he starts calling me things like retard and Crinklepuss and faggot (like he always does because he’s not the brightest bulb) and I think if he is going to keep calling me names he might as well be creative and call me Frankenpuss because now I am like a scientist because I can make dead things come alive, and I say to Gerald that I have a present for him and I think really hard and make my old friend run to Gerald. He screams really loud because his brother is on top of him and hugging him real tight. I think really hard again and now Gerald’s screaming is even louder and I guess it is because my old friend is putting Gerald’s thing in his mouth and I guess that he likes it a lot because he is making noises like people make when they are fucking and this makes me happy because Gerald’s skin is going to be really tender. I walk over to his face with Dadda’s silver tool and smile because this is going to be really fun and very easy and I know that my parents will be happy because I am avenging Jo-Jo and bringing home three new empty faces!