Free (Zombie) Fiction: When We Were Kids

“Remember when we were young and we used to walk on the stones in the stream?”

Brandon had asked that question as they walked along the very stream he spoke of. They were no longer kids and walking outside at any time during the day was more dangerous than ever before. Colby found that thought ironic, considering the state of the world before. 

“Yeah, I remember,” he said. “And when we got tired of walking on the stones, we tried to catch crawdads.”

Brandon laughed at that. It was a sound Colby hadn’t heard in a long while. He had heard screams and yells and crying from people as they died, ran, or ran then died or suffered from that thing called mourning when someone—or everyone—they loved was dead. Colby looked at his longtime friend and couldn’t help but smile. 

“What?” Brandon asked.

“You laughed. I haven’t heard laughter since …”

“Since Micah died,” Brandon finished.

“Yeah.”

They were silent for a few minutes as they walked the stream, coming up on the wide section a short footbridge spanned across. On the other side of the bridge was a path that led through a length of trees and then opened up into a park where no kids played anymore. Micah died at least a month earlier, but Colby could have never told you exactly when—time wasn’t measured in days and nights anymore, but in minute by minute. He closed his eyes, shook off the thought his only other friend who survived for longer than a couple of weeks when the world went to Hell. Boys

Brandon stopped. Colby looked back at his friend, at the deeply tanned skin, the hair much longer than it had ever been and in need of washing (like the rest of his body), his clothes covered in dirt, blood and who knew what else. He looked, as Colby thought everyone who was still alive probably looked, like the homeless of before. “What’s wrong, Brandon?”

“I wish we were kids again.” He stared at the water, at the stones they had walked across in another life. 

“Yeah. Me too.”

“Life was so much easier back then.”

“Everyone was still alive back then.”

“Yeah, that too.”

More silence followed, then ended when Brandon started for the water.

“What are you doing, man?”

“We can’t be kids again,” Brandon said. His green eyes seem to shine as he looked back at Colby. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to have a little fun. Heaven knows we could use some.”

With that said, he dropped his pack to the ground, his baseball bat landing beside it. He stepped from dry land onto one of the stones. It wobbled under his foot and Brandon shifted his weight to remain upright. His arms went out, his hands extended, making him look like a stationary airplane. His other foot went onto a flat stone that barely stuck out of the water. Brandon looked back at Colby with a smile that could have belonged to a six-year-old. “You coming?”

Though he knew it was dangerous—anything other than paying attention to one’s surroundings was these days—but Brandon was right. They needed some fun, needed something to make them feel less like the world was ending and more like they had a reason to continue living. 

Colby went to the edge of the stream, dropped his pack and the crowbar he kept in hand. The water was murky and brown and not like it was when they were kids, when you could see the bottom of the stream, the sediment, the rocks, water plants, minnows, and yes, crawdads. The water was cloudy. Though he could see the stones and the mud on them, he didn’t like that he couldn’t see much more than that. Still, he stepped on one of the rocks, pushed on it for good measure to make sure it was sturdy, then put all of his weight onto it. He found another stone, this one with a touch of green moss growing along the edges that stuck out of the water. Then he was stepping from that one to another one, his arms out very much like Brandon’s.

For a few minutes, Colby and Brandon, friends since the first grade, and possibly the last two people alive in their world, were kids again. They laughed. Their feet slipped from time to time, getting submerged in the water before they could get back on the stones. For a few minutes the world was right. 

Colby turned around when he heard the startled ‘whoa,’ from Brandon. He saw his friend’s arms pinwheeling, his eyes wide, as he tipped backward, his left foot slipping out from under him. He landed in the stream with a loud crash, water splashing up and coming back down. Then Brandon laughed. 

“DId you see that?” Brandon asked, still laughing. 

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, man. Nothing like being a kid ag—“

Brandon’s laughter came to a sudden stop. His mouth opened but he didn’t scream. From out of the water came his arm. 

Colby saw the blood before he heard Brandon finally scream. His forearm was missing a chunk of flesh and blood gushed from the wound. Behind Brandon came the corpse that had been hidden by the murky water. It’s bloated head lulled on it’s shoulders. The rest of its upper torso was waterlogged and the same shade of brown as the muddy stream water. It made no noises—the dead’s vocal chords died right along with their bodies. But it bit down on Brandon’s shoulder, sinking its sharp teeth through the wet shirt and pulling it’s head back, ripping cloth and flesh away. 

“No, no, no, no!” Colby yelled and forgot all about trying to stay on the stones. He ran and splashed his way to dry ground, scrambled up the embankment to where Brandon’s pack was. He picked up the aluminum baseball bat with the dented barrel and ran back to the stream. He waded in as Brandon tried to shove the corpse away, but shock and the sudden loss of a lot of blood made him sluggish and unable to pull free. 

A second corpse appeared from the woods. It wore a long sleeve work shirt and what Colby thought was a green pair of pants and heavy workbooks that didn’t seem to fit it’s withered feet. It didn’t so much as walk as it dragged it’s feet across the ground. Somehow, it didn’t fall. 

“No,” Colby whispered to himself as he ran into the water, the bat raised above his head. He brought the barrel down on the muddy corpse. Its head split open with a sickening pop. It fell back into the water, but didn’t sink right away. Colby turned to Mr. Work Clothes, knowing if he stopped to pull Brandon from the stream, he was as good as dead as well. 

Colby met the corpse near the edge of the water. He swung the bat at its knees and Mr. Work Clothes fell onto it’s side. The bat went above Colby’s head again and came down with all the force he could muster. The skull ruptured with a similar gross crack. One eyeball shot from its socket and landed in the water with a plop. Colby swung the bat down several times, screaming as he did so.

The bat slid from his hands when he turned back to the stream to see Brandon floating in the water, his face to the sky, eyes open and blank. Tears filled his eyes and the strength left him. Colby’s legs gave way and he crumpled to the ground, landing on the soft grass of the embankment. 

Colby cried for several minutes, his last friend in the world now dead and soon to be one of the walking corpses that had killed everyone in the world. 

Then, as if a sudden realization swept over him, Colby rolled onto his knees. He grabbed the bat and stood. “I can’t let him change.” His voice was hoarse from crying and his eyes were blurry and the lids puffy from the tears. He looked at the bat and shook his head. 

Colby didn’t cross the stream by hopping from stone to stone. He went to the bridge, crossed over the water and went to his pack. In the front pouch was the .22 and it was fully loaded. He dropped the bat, took the gun from the pack and took the slow and somehow very long walk (though it was only fifteen or so yards from where he stood to where Brandon floated) to the edge of the stream. 

He didn’t want to step back into the water. As he had feared, they didn’t pay attention to their surroundings and one of them ended up dead, and soon to be undead if Colby didn’t hurry. 

No other corpses came out of the water when Brandon fell in or when I splashed around.

The thought should have been reassuring, but it did little to calm his nerves or set his mind at ease as he stood on the embankment, staring. 

If you don’t hurry, he’s going to change and then you’ll really have issues, won’t you?

Issues was a nice way to put it. The freshly dead were faster, stronger and more limber than the stiffs that teetered on falling with each step they took. They were harder to put down—their skulls seemed harder, at least. No knife will do for the fresh ones. 

“Okay. I’m going.”

Colby stepped into the water, his nerves on edge, his head moving from side to side as he searched the water for anything that might move. At one point, his foot struck a submerged stick, dislodging it. It floated to the surface and Colby screamed, fired two shots at where he thought a head should be. When he saw it was a stick, he laughed nervously as his heart beat rapidly in his chest. 

“Get it together,” he said and waded through the stream. He reached into the water, grabbed the back of Brandon’s shirt and started back for dry ground. Once there, he started to slide his hands beneath Brandon’s armpits, then stopped. “All he would have to do is turn his head and then you’re as good as dead.”

Colby looked at the gun in his right hand, then down at his friend. He put the barrel to Brandon’s temple. “I’m sorry, buddy,” he said, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. The bang sounded like an old party favor they would get as kids—a simple cork-like pop that seemed to echo in a world where noise had become almost obsolete. It was followed by the sound of something striking the water; the bullet, he thought. Brain and skull, as well.

Colby tucked the gun in the back of his belt and grabbed Brandon beneath the armpits. He pulled him to dry ground, then sat beside him.

“Hey, Brandon,” he said. “Do you remember when we dug that grave for Micah?” He nodded, knowing that Brandon didn’t remember. As a matter of fact, he didn’t remember anything at all, and he never would again. “Yeah, well, I’m going to dig another one, so, you know, don’t go anywhere. Okay?” Absentmindedly, he patted Brandon’s leg.

The crowbar was all he had to dig with. He used the claw end to loosen the ground and pulled the clumps out by hand. After what felt like hours, though it had been not even forty minutes, he had a shallow grave dug out right next to the stream, a place of their childhood, one that, at least Colby hoped, Brandon had found some joy and fun at before death claimed him. He pulled his friend’s body to the hole, careful to step into it and drag him along before setting him down gently. 

Covering the hole was easier and took far less time to finish. Colby covered his friend’s body from feet up, ending with his head. He stood, took the baseball bat and drove the barrel into the dirt near where Brandon’s chest was. 

“Rest in peace, my friend. I’ll never forget you.”

Colby took one last look at the grave before grabbing both his and Brandon’s packs and his crowbar and walking away from the stream toward the town they had avoided by following the water. As day gave way to night, Colby sought out refuge in the back of a car that would have been considered old in the before. The owner was long gone, but whoever it had been had left a blanket behind. Colby covered up and used the two packs as pillows. 

Colby closed his eyes, but before falling asleep he said, “Hey, Brandon, remember when we were teens and we took our girls to the old drive in movies in Monetta? Yeah, me too.”

AJB

2/25/2019

2/26/2019

Unknown Boy, Aged Four or Five

My 2018 Christmas story. I hope you enjoy.

Marcia looked out the windshield at the throngs of people standing outside the toy store. It wasn’t seven in the morning yet and people lined the sidewalk and stood in the parking lot six and seven deep. She took a heavy breath. There was no way she would find what she wanted with this many people here. 

She shook her head. She flipped her hair back over her shoulders and let the breath out. 

“I should have done this sooner.”

But she knew she couldn’t. It had to be on this day. It had to take place on Christmas Eve.

Marcia opened the door, got out of the car and closed the door back. She walked toward the crowd, stopping when she heard the murmuring excitement of rabid shoppers as the electronic doors opened and they began the mad rush for toys. People pushed forward, as if they tried to pack the store on the corner of Mall Drive. 

“We’re going to be like sardines in there,” she whispered. 

After most of the patrons had gone inside, Marcia made her way to the doors, took another breath, bracing herself for the craziness she was about to face, and stepped inside. 

It was as bad as she feared it would be. People pushed by one another without bothering with an ‘excuse me,’ or a ‘pardon me’ or anything even close. Some folks with buggies had no problems bumping into others to get them out the way. She thought there might be a couple of fights as some customers gave dirty looks or snappy, sarcastic remarks. 

Marcia made her way by most people, detouring in and out of aisles where the crowds were the worst. Though she walked and shuffled nonstop, it still took her twenty minutes to get to the back of the store where the stuffed toys were. Thankfully, there were only a handful of people back there, in the section that boasted the toys that weren’t highly sought after and worthy of being fought over. She thought it a shame that so few people thought their children might like one of the plush bears, dogs, rabbits and kitty cats. 

She frowned. The pickings were thinner than usual. All of the rabbits and doggies were gone. There were still a couple of kitty cats, but none that screamed ‘buy me.’ The small teddy bears were mostly the same, each one a solid color (either white, brown, tan or gray) with a bowtie around its neck, glass eyes, pink stitched nose and mouth. She shook her head and stood straight; her hands went to her hips. She rummaged the shelves until she came across a pink teddy bear and plucked it from the pile. She thought it was right for one of the two gifts she needed. Still, there was the other one, the one she knew would be harder to pick.

Marcia left the aisle and went to the next one over. No stuffed animals. The next one over from that one also held no stuffed animals. Neither did the other two. She backtracked and looked at the original aisle of misfit animals. She dropped to her knees and rummaged through the various teddy bears. Just as she began to give up, Marcia saw it, the animal that called to her, that said, ‘I’m the one.’ She reached for it, pulled it free.

It was a white lamb. Its eyes sparkled blue. Its lips and nose were the same pink stitched type as on the teddy bears, but on the tips of each foot was a split hoof. Its tail was a curly-q and the fur was fluffy and soft. Marcia hugged it and knew it was the one.

Pink_Teddy__19550.1386245092.490.588She didn’t mind standing in line for almost an hour. She didn’t mind putting the purchase on her credit card. She didn’t mind sitting in traffic for another hour, trying to get out of the mall area. She didn’t mind that she got home well after lunch. She didn’t even mind that she would have to get up early again the next day to make the two hour drive to Hope, South Carolina, a little do nothing town on the edge of the nowhere. She was happy. She found the toys she hoped to find.

It was cold when she arrived in Hope the next morning. She drove through the little town, across the overpass and down a road with sleepy houses on either side. She made a left and drove a couple of blocks. Then she made a right and pulled through the large entrance and onto the dirt road that ran between graves older than her grandmother, who was in her upper eighties. She continued along until she came to a grassy area along the side of the path where she pulled over and parked. 

“Come on,” she said and grabbed the lamb. It was colder out in the open cemetery on Christmas day than it had been in the parking lot of an old toy store the morning before. She zipped her coat up and her body gave a shiver. Marcia crossed the lawn, passing gravestone after gravestone, touching some as she went. Finally, she stopped near a chipped headstone with the carving of a square wooden wagon on it. Just below the wagon was the word UNKNOWN BOY. Below the name was a presumed age: AGED FOUR OR FIVE. 

The first time she came here was eleven years previous. Her little sister, Donna, was six then and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail that bobbed when she walked. Her green eyes dazzled and she had been excited to go on one of Marcia’s Christmas traditions, this time to the little cemetery in Hope. 

Donna had a fake flower in one hand and she gripped Marcia’s hand with her other one. 

“Why are we here?” she asked in all of her innocence.

“One of the things I do at Christmas is I go to a cemetery. I take a flower with me. Then I search the headstones for a name or a grave that I think would like a visitor. I place the flower on the grave and tell the person, ‘Merry Christmas.’”

“Why do you do that?”

“Because everyone should receive love on Christmas day.” That wasn’t the total truth, but it was really all Donna needed to know. She didn’t need to know that a friend of hers does something similar at the cemetery where her father is buried, only telling the dead, ‘Someone loves you’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’

“Oh.” Donna stood, staring at her flower for a minute. Then she looked up with that wide-eyed innocent look of hers. “Can I pick the grave?”

“Sure,” Marcia responded. “Go. Find the lucky person.”

Donna hurried toward the rows and rows of graves. She searched, diligently, pondering each stone, though she couldn’t really read the names. She asked questions about the ages of each person. Then she came across the stone with the wagon on it. “What does that say, Marcia?”

“Unknown boy. Aged four or five.”

“He doesn’t have a name?”

“I guess not.”

“And he was four or five?”

“I guess so.”

“What does that mean?”

“I guess they didn’t know who the boy was and they thought he was maybe four or five years old.”

“That’s younger than me.”

“It is.”

Donna looked at the flower again, then placed it at the base of the headstone. “Merry Christmas, Unknown,” she whispered, and patted the top of the stone three times gently. 

As they walked back to the car, Marcia holding tight to Donna’s little hand, her sister looked up and asked, “Can we come back next year, but bring him a toy instead of a flower?”

Marcia nodded, smiled. “Of course.”

That’s what they did. On Christmas Eve the next year, they went to the toy store—the same one Marcia has gone to since. 

“What type of toy would you like to get him?”

“A stuffed animal.”

“A stuffed animal it is, then.”

“But it can’t be just any stuffed animal. It has to be the right one.”

Like when searching the graves the year before, Donna took her time searching for the right toy, the right stuffed animal, and when she had, her eyes shimmered and her smile was as bright as it had ever been.

That was a long time ago, and so much has changed since the first year Donna went with her and now. She stood in front of Unknown with the lamb in her hand and tears spilling down her cheeks. Her heart hurt, but she thought it would break later. She knelt, set the lamb in front of the headstone, said, “Merry Christmas, Unknown,” and then stood straight again. She tapped the top of the headstone gently three times. When she took a deep breath this time, she let it go with a rattle and a sob. 

Marcia tucked her hands into her pockets, protecting them from the cold. She hunched her shoulders and walked away. When she reached her car, she looked back, saw the little ghost of a boy standing at his grave. He was pale and his hair was black. He wore a white button-down shirt and dirty black pants. His eyes held bruised bags beneath them. He was holding the lamb in his arms. When he looked up, he raised his hand in a wave. 

Marcia’s breath caught in her throat, but her hand lifted and her fingers moved in a slight wave. She watched as the boy faded, leaving behind the stuffed animal where she had placed it. She got into her car and looked at the stuffed bear on the passenger’s seat. She would make the drive home now, this time to a different cemetery, one with a grave still not a year old. She would go and sit next to it, ignoring the cold. She would set the pink teddy bear on the grave and pat the headstone gently three times. Then she would say, “Merry Christmas, Donna.” 

And she would cry …

AJB

12/23/2018

Corner Boy is Alive

Picture this:

A small kid, seven years of age, peeking around a hall corner at his local school.  He is looking at two friends, one a boy, the other a girl.  Standing with his two friends is the father of one of them.  The boy–Corner Boy is what we will call him for now–wears a silly grin, one that’s somewhat mischievous, but not in a bad way.

“What?” his male friend says.  He, too, wears a silly grin, but his is more knowing.

Corner Boy peeks at them because of the girl. He ducks behind the wall when he sees all three of them look his way.

Smiling, Dad leads the two friends toward up the hall, sneaking up on Corner Boy.  They round the corner and see him, silly grin and all.  They laugh.  The two boys pick at each other.  The girl knows it’s about her, but doesn’t seem to mind.

The three kids and Dad walk to their classroom, where Dad and son exchange a hug and a handshake.

“You have your own handshake?” Corner Boy asks.  His mouth drops open, as if it was something he had never seen before–a dad and son acting like they could be friends.

“Yeah.  I’ll show you,” Son says.  They do the handshake again, complete with smacking palms and bumping knuckles and a little finger wiggle at the end.  “You try it.”

Corner Boy shakes his head.  “No.  I don’t know how.”

Dad kneels down–he would regret that later, seeing how he has a couple of bad knees, one of which hasn’t been right for years–and he says, “Why don’t we do our own?”

“Okay,” Corner Boy says.

They slap palms once, knuckle bump, then do the finger wiggle.  Three simple motions.

Corner Boy smiles.  So does Son and Girl and Dad.

They go to class.  Dad walks away.

For the record, it’s the first time Dad saw Corner Boy smile, and at that point, he had known the child for three years.

That was this morning, May 16, 2013.

Rewind a month, back to April 18, 2013.

Before that day, Corner Boy had mean tendencies.  He was bossy.  He was also somewhat of a little bully.  Though Corner Boy and Son were friends, it was a volatile relationship, with Son being passive and Corner Boy being aggressive.

On the night of April 18th, Corner Boy’s dad tried to kill his mom.

He beat her.

He stabbed her multiple times with a box cutter.

He told her ‘I’m going to kill you now.’

He tried to cut her throat.

He ran over her legs with his car.

He told her, when he was done with her, he was going to kill their son.  That would be Corner Boy, the little child peeking at his friends with that silly grin on his face.

Take that in, folks.  Go back and read it again.  I left out a lot of details on purpose.

On the night of April 18th, Corner Boy’s dad tried to kill his mom. 

He beat her.

He stabbed her multiple times with a box cutter.

He told her ‘I’m going to kill you now.’

He tried to cut her throat.

He ran over her legs with his car.

He told her, when he was done with her, he was going to kill their son.

A few statistics for you.  Annually, over 36,000 reports of domestic violence are reported in the state of South Carolina.  An average of 33 women die from Criminal Domestic Violence each year in my home state.

Only 33, you say?  That averages to almost 3 women per month.  In my opinion, that is 33 women too many each year.  Let’s look at the number a little differently.  36,000 incidents reported a year equals 98.6 incidents <i><b>PER DAY</i></b>.

Let that sink in.

Those numbers make me sick–physically–to my stomach.  And that’s not including all the incidents not reported.

Corner Boy is in the second grade.  He spends his day at the same school, in the same classes, as my son–his friend–and the young girl he was peeking at.

After finding out about his dad, about how that man beat his mom for eight years–the entire length of Corner Boy’s life–everything made sense.  He did things based on what he saw.  He did things based on what went on in his family.  He did what he thought was accepted, what he didn’t know any better than to believe.  Why?  Because his dad acted this way toward his mom, and probably, him.

For the women out there who are reading this:  If you are in an abusive relationship, whether you are married to the person or dating them, please, get out.  Abusive men don’t change.  They will continue to be abusive.  They say, ‘I’m sorry.  It will never happen again.’  Then they get mad about something, and guess what?  It happens again.  And again.  And again.  They will take out their frustrations on you and your children.

Please, don’t believe that your child needs a father, and that the only reason you stay with him is so your child wouldn’t grow up without a daddy.  It is better for a child to not have a father in his life, than for that same child to see his mother (or themselves) beaten, raped, and/or murdered.

Because you have a child is NO reason to stay with a man.  It is the exact reason you should leave an abusive relationship.  If you don’t do it for yourself, then do it for your children.  They didn’t ask to be part of an abusive household.  Give them a chance.

For the men out there who might read this:  If you are one of those abusive men, you are a coward.  You are a punk.  You are weak.  That’s right.  Weak.  If you abuse your spouse/significant other, or your children, you are nothing.  You are not a man.  Men take care of their families.  Men take care of their children.

You want to know what a real man is?  My dad.  My dad is a real man.  He overcame a rough childhood, an abusive step dad, and not a mom who wasn’t much better.  He left home at a young age, and when he had children (four of them), he made certain to take care of us, to make sure we learned about life.  Not once did he beat us.  Yeah, we got spankings, but if you knew my siblings, you would understand, we deserved them.  After his children grew up, my parents adopted three of their grandchildren.  When he should be enjoying his retirement, he chose to be dad all over again, and doing a damn good job.  My dad is a real man.  He didn’t shirk his responsibilities, and he didn’t make excuses.  And he never abused us.

Men, if you’re not taking care of your family, if you’re beating your wife and children, and they are living in fear of you, then you’re nothing but a weak, spineless P.O.S.  Feel free to quote me.  You have no clue what type of damage you are doing to your family, especially the children.

After dropping my son off, I got in the car and headed for work.  I turned my MP3 player on.  The first song was so appropriate:  Father of Mine, by Everclear.  As a father, who often feels like I’m not good enough for my children, this song reminds me that there are kids out there who have it far worse.  I can’t give my children the things they want, and we don’t live in a nice house, and sometimes the cars don’t work right, and…and…and…and so what?  I give my children love.  I let them know Daddy is there for them, I protect them, I provide for them, I love them regardless of what happens.

There are so many children out there who are like some of the lyrics to that song:

Father of mine
Tell me how do you sleep
With the children you abandoned
And the wife I saw you beat
I will never be safe
I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside
I will always be lame…

That song always pisses me off.  Not because of what it is about, but because of the truth that comes with it.

Corner Boy was lucky.  So was his mom.  They are alive today.  I got to see him smile, to hear him laugh, to do a handshake with him, to watch him walk into his classroom.

But what if his mom wouldn’t have managed to jump out of the car?  What if she hadn’t been able to get to a stranger’s house who set her on the floor, called the police and got out his gun to protect her if needed?  The mother would be one of those 33 women killed each year in South Carolina.

I don’t want to know the numbers on how many children die from abuse each year.

His father is currently in lock-up, awaiting trial for criminal domestic violence (the third time he’s been arrested for this), and attempted murder.  I hope he goes to jail for a very long time, and the other inmates find out about what he did.  They don’t like these types of things in prison.  They will show him what it’s like to be in his wife and child’s shoes.

We need to shine a light into the dark world of Criminal Domestic Violence.  We need to bring these people out of the shadows for the world to see.  We need to support the victims of CDV, let them know they are people with value, that they are not damaged goods.

I think about my son’s friend.  He was fortunate.  Maybe there was an angel watching over him.  But how many women are not so fortunate?  How many children live in fear of an abusive parent or guardian?

It has to stop.

It has to stop…

Meeting Mr. Washington

On Friday I posted about this chain letter I had received. Interestingly enough, I received one comment, which I think is spam, berating me for the subject and misinformation. If the comment wasn’t spam, I would like to declare (since clearly it was missed by the individual while reading it) that the e-mail was sent to me. I thought the meaning of the e-mail was the important thing.

At any rate, I said I would post something about my daughter on Saturday, but didn’t have a chance to. Now, here we are on Monday and I have a moment so I wanted to post the piece.

This originally appeared in The Horror Library Blog-O-Rama, back in 2007. I’ve gone through it and changed a few things, but kept the story the way it originally appeared.

Sit back, enjoy…

So we’re different colors
And we’re different creeds
And different people
Have different needs
It’s obvious you hate me
Though I’ve done nothing wrong
I’ve never even met you
So what could I have done
I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully…

–Depeche Mode
People Are People

I’m going to go ahead and apologize for this article right now. Why? Well, it’s not really about horror and it’s also not about writing.

In light of the world around us and my ever watchful eye on my surroundings, I write, yet another blog on people. If you are bored with these types of things go ahead and hit the GO BACK key now. But, if not and you want a nice little story in the end, stick with me and read on.

In our world of terrorism, hate crimes, men murdering their wives and vice versa, school shootings, rapes; athletes doing things they shouldn’t do, young actresses and actors delving more into the drugs and sex and alcohol, all of which provides negative exposure for our children to see, it’s a struggle just to keep kids on the right track.

The glitz and the glamour are out there and, now more than ever, our children are faced with pressures that some of us can’t even fathom. A lot of kids think that money just magically appears out of thin air and they want everything. Children have cell phones and Facebook pages and access to things many of their parents didn’t have at the same age. The struggle to be in the “in crowd” is more prevalent these days. The bad boy image haunts us both in our boys and girls.

Our world is a mess.

And through all of this negativity we have to figure out how to teach our children the values of life; teach them morals. It’s hard when there are children under the age of six living next door to you using curse words that begin with F and end with K followed by a YOU, or an OFF. It’s hard when other children get what they want and pitch a holy fit until they get it and your child sees it. It’s hard when the world dictates something other than what you are preaching, especially where religion is concerned.

My best friend is a black man from Philadelphia. My family is of Cherokee background. My dad is a mountain boy. My next door neighbors to one side are Mexican and lovely people. I won’t go into the other side, simply because there’s not much positive to say, so I won’t go there.

People are people. Just as the song says. We all have feelings and opinions, whether some of us want to admit it or not.

With that in mind, I would like to tell you a brief story.

Every morning, my wife gets up and takes me to work—we have two vehicles, but these few minutes are really the only time during the day that we have alone. In the evenings she picks me up and the kids are with her. So, really, if you have kids, you understand that each alone minute is worth it’s weight in gold.

But that’s not what this is about.

When my daughter was six-years-old, we had one vehicle, so these morning trips to the office were accompanied by our two children. Chloe is a very observant girl–she always has been–and every morning for a while she would see this man on a street corner sitting on a bucket. He was an older black man with a gray beard. He looked like he may have been homeless. Every morning my daughter asked, “Daddy, who is that guy?”

“I don’t know,” I usually said.

One day the man wasn’t at the corner, sitting on his usual bucket. My daughter got worried and asked where he was and if he was okay.

“I don’t know,” was my response.

The following Monday he was back at his usual spot and my daughter was elated. So elated in fact, that she said, “Daddy, I want to make that man a card. Can I do that?”

“Sure, Sweets (that’s what I call my daughter), you can if you want to.”

When we got home that evening, she made the man a card using card stock my wife had, markers and stickers. On the inside she wrote: “I just wanted to make you this card. I hope you like it. Love, Chloe.” She put it in a red envelope and proceeded to decorate the envelope. On it she wrote: To you, From Me.

The next morning she got in the car, card in hand and told me she wanted to give it to him. We drove the same route as alwaysand, sure enough, there he was, sitting on his bucket, looking out at the world passing him by. I pulled over and parked the car by the road and turned to my daughter.

“Come on,” I said.

“I don’t want to get out, Daddy,” she said, her nerves getting to her. I was kind of glad—that means she’s listening when I told her not to talk to strangers unless Mommy and Daddy are present.

She asked me if I would take the card to him, so I did.

“Excuse me, Sir,” I said as I approached him. “Can I talk to you for just one second?”

He turned his brown eyes to me and I saw a kindness in them and I knew he wasn’t going to go crazy on me.

I explained to him about my daughter and how she saw him everyday and even got worried about him when he wasn’t there. I held out the card to him and said, “My daughter made this for you because she wanted you to know that someone cares for you.”

He took the card and I watched as tears welled up in his eyes. He opened it up and read it. I thought he was going to cry.

“You tell your daughter this is the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me.” I believe every word that came out of his mouth.

I shook his hand and talked to him for a few more minutes, never minding that I was going to be late to work.

“Can I ask you a question?” I said.

He nodded. “Sure.”

“Can you, please, tell me your name so I can tell my daughter.”

He smiled. “J.L. Washington.”

“Mr. Washington, it was nice to meet you.”

I turned to go and he said a few other things, not much but enough to know my daughter had really touched this man. “Thank you. May God bless you and your family. Thank you.”

In the Bible it says, “Do unto the least of these and you’ve done unto Me.”

Sometimes in our society of violence and sex and stupidity and greed, a six year old child speaks the loudest by an act of kindness, an act of love. As you go about your day, look at the children near you, and remember that, if we are to have any future, then we need to raise them up right with morals and humility.

And, one more thing: People are people. Different colors or beliefs shouldn’t matter. We’re all flesh and blood and one act of kindness really can go a long way to making the world a better place to live in and to raise children in.

Until we meet again, my friends…

[[Herbie’s Notes: This happened nearly five years ago. Since then, I have learned that Mr. Washington has passed away. The news of his death saddened me.

Also, Mr. Washington became a focal point in my (as yet unpublished) novel, Cory’s Way.]]

The Nature of the Beast…

I want to touch on something that I never thought I would touch on, but since it was brought up to me recently (oh, I don’t know, maybe as recently as this morning), I think it’s something that needs to be thought about. The question was simple:

Why is it that folks freak out anytime a woman in a story is beaten or killed, but when it’s a man…no one really cares?

That’s a good question. Can anyone answer that objectively?

I thought about it for a few minutes before responding.

I’ts reality. Bottom line. Reality hurts, especially when it is women and children.

The truth is it’s the nature of the beast. But, it’s wrong. A life is a life, no matter race, sex, sexual orientation or age. All life should be honored and respected.

Is a man being brutally beaten any different than a woman? Honestly, yes. Why? Before I answer this, let me preface anything else that I write here. This is solely my opinion on the matter. What I say may anger some women’s rights advocates. If so, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some child rights advocates. Again, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some men’s rights… oh, wait, there are no real men’s rights advocates. I find that, in and of itself, interesting. If you find what I am about to write controversial… well, it is what it is. I don’t believe it is, but I have been known to be wrong.

So, why do folks take offense when a woman is beaten (or a child for that matter) in fiction, but not really bat an eye when a man has the same things done to them?

Growing up in the seventies and eighties and in the south, I was taught that you don’t raise a hand to a woman. Not everyone was taught this values. In all honestly, not many kids are taught these values. But, for me, striking a woman isn’t an option… unless they are trying to hurt you. Then, you must protect yourself. However, there is protecting yourself and there is the use of excessive force. Yeah, we hear that term when referring to police, but all too often men use excessive force on women and children to either show their superiority or to discipline them. Some men are obsessive and controlling. They are dangerous to women and children and even other men they deem weaker to them. We see this all the time when we read the papers or turn on any news channel.

Give those same men alcohol or let them have a bad day and that frustration tends to be taken out on… you guessed it, the women and the children.

Like I said, we see this all the time in reality. Why put it in our fiction? Because it’s real and as writers we have a responsibility to the readers to make our characters and their situations as believable as possible. But, let’s do it with some tact, okay? We don’t have to go into all the gory details. The implied deeds are often so much worse on the imagination than the shown deeds.

Wait, I just mentioned a man beating a woman or child. It happens in real life and you better believe we get up in arms about it. Rightfully so. I’ve been in more than a couple of fights with big bad bully men in my days, mostly because they were either hurting a woman or someone weaker than them. I put another man in the hospital because he beat up a kid. No, I don’t put up with it in real life. You want to anger me? Hurt a woman. Hurt a child.

In fiction, if I’m going to tell the truth about life, then life has to be depicted… truthfully. If that means there is a woman who gets beaten by an unruly boyfriend because he’s a drunk prick, then so be it. If that means a kid suffers at the hand of his father (or mother as we’ve seen in real life) then I write it. Again, I don’t write the full-blown details unless I absolutely have to.

There’s a scene in an unpublished novel I wrote about six years or so ago. In it a teenager dies brutally at the hands of other kids in the neighborhood. When I was done with the scene I felt sick to my stomach. It was–and may still be–the most brutal thing I have ever written. I almost deleted the entire book after writing it. After going back and reading it, I realized it was the only way that I could have written the scene—violently enough to make a reader cringe, but also give the character enough reason to come back as a ghost later on and do all the damage he does in the book. Any other way and the impact would have been lost on the reader.

That scene was a bunch of boys killing another boy, one clearly weaker than them. Sound familiar? The dominant member of the species killing off the less dominant one. Kind of like a pecking order. I’m not condoning it, just saying this is the way life is.

If you’ve read anything by Jack Ketchum then you are familiar with someone who writes some very disturbing and often brutal stories. In his book, The Lost, Ketchum’s main character kills two women because he believes them to be lesbians. He doesn’t kill them because they are women, but because he thinks they are gay women. That ratchets things up a notch. They’re not just women, but lesbians. That makes it worse.

Why?

Why does that make it worse? Does being a lesbian make them any weaker than being straight? I would think not. However, this takes the murders more into the realm of hate crimes, which is viewed, by and large, as worse than someone killing a straight woman. Murder is murder no matter how you slice it. The black and white of the matter is that there really is no difference between killing a man or a woman or someone who is white, black or Asian. Murder is murder. Brutality is brutality, regardless of who it is done to.

The truth is the strong prey on the weak and only when the weak fight back does the strong back down.

Okay, enough on that. Let me see if I can get to the point now. Men are viewed as the dominant sex. Biblically, men are supposed to protect the women and the children and the women and the children are to submit to man. Don’t throw the rotten tomatoes just yet. However, men are supposed to be nurturing and slow to anger the women and the children. It’s a two way street. Sure, men can be the dominant ones in most relationships, but they are also supposed to be the protective ones.

This could very well play into the psyche of many people, depending on how they were raised. Maybe that’s where some of this comes from. Men are supposed to be dominant andprotective. If they are not protecting then they are hurting. And no man should hurt a woman or a child… or a weaker person. As I told that fellow I put in the hospital all those years ago, ‘Come pick on someone who can fight back.’

Back to the original question and I’m going to switch it around a little:

Why don’t people get as upset about men getting beaten and killed as they do women and children?

All life should be treated equally. If a man gets stabbed 47 times it should be treated with the same disgust and sadness as if it were a woman being stabbed 47 times. There should be no difference.

However, a child is considered helpless and the hurting of children strikes a nerve with most people. And it should. If it doesn’t then I venture to say something is wrong with people these days. The thought of a child being hurt by an adult makes me hurt on the inside. It angers me and I want to just break that person over my knee. I may not be a big guy, but I was raised in the south in a little section of South Carolina known to the locals as Broadacres. I was a Broadacres boy growing up and if you couldn’t fight, you got your butt kicked on a regular basis. So, let me hear about someone hurting a child…

I think—keyword here, think—that part of the reason people freak out when a woman or child is hurt or killed in a story is that we see this stuff all the time, as I mentioned before, in the news, on television, on the computer feeds. Readers want to escape reality and reading about a man hurting a woman or child or, maybe not even a man doing it, but any type of event where a woman or child gets hurt is just putting them right back into the real world. I understand that. I get that. I respect that.

But (yes, there is always a but) as a writer, I want to put you into my world. I want you to feel what my characters are feeling. I want you to experience their pain, sorrow, happiness, triumphs and revenge. I can’t do that if I don’t bring the reality into the story. It’s the nature of the beast that we call writing.

Still, in real life, a man’s life is viewed somewhat less than a woman’s or a child’s. I find that somewhat sad. Maybe it’s the helplessness we attribute to women and children that polarizes their deaths more so than a man’s. Maybe it’s the way we were raised. Maybe it’s that sense of taboo, that feeling that killing a man is one thing but hurting or killing a woman or a child is crossing the line. That last one I don’t understand. All life should be treated the same. Man. Woman. Child. The elderly. Black. White. Tanned. Straight. Gay. And, in my opinion, the unborn.

I think I may have raised more questions than answers, but I tried to be objective, tried to have an unbiased eye on this. I’m not sure I succeeded.

If you’re willing, feel free to discuss the question. Give your opinions (thoughtful opinions) on the subject. Help me answer my friend’s question. I think it’s one that begs to be discussed and, hopefully, answered.

As always, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this.

Until we meet again…