This excerpt contains implied and actual child abuse. Drug abuse. PTSD. NC-17
Richard blinked. Water-Bearer flashed its shit-eating grin.
“Go,” it said. “Use your ‘knack’ and go quickly. There’s a tunnel on the east wall. It runs further into the Catacombs. Carry the girl, and go. I’ll catch up when I can.”
“But – “
“Hurry!” Water-Bearer’s grin became even less pleasant. “You’re wasting a brilliant and fleeting gift, mortal: Miach One-Eye’s goodwill.”
“Richard!” Aine reached a hand from the niche, tugged on his torn sleeve. “Please.”
Richard shook his head, because he thought it wouldn’t work, but he knew not trying would be just another unforgivable thing, so he took a long breath and made the universe think he was never born.
Richard first managed his knack when he was five, on a lovely spring Saturday afternoon when it seemed like most of the world was happy, but Bobby Lorimer was never like most of the world, and Richard was scared.
Most of East Riverside was celebrating the warmer weather by sharing front stoops and Coors Light and over-cooked German bratwurst. The old lady in 2275 had Billy Joel on a CD-player faced out the window, ‘Captain Jack’ set on repeat. Nobody complained, because the song was a classic in anybody’s books, and also because the old lady’s son was a cop, so everybody, even Bobby, tried to stay on her good side.
Richard could hear ‘Captain Jack’ all the way in the backyard of 2272, where he cowered under the branches of an early blooming shrub, trying to stay out of reach of Bobby’s wheels and hands. Bobby was stoned, and pissed as hell, because Richard had tripped coming out of the back door, and spilled hot dogs and slices of cheese into the dirt, and now Bobby’s barbecue was motherfucking cunt ruined.
The propane Weber Bobby had ordered from Home Despot was so hot Richard could see waves coming off the grill. Bobby kept trying to ram his wheelchair into the shrub, but the shrub kept swatting back, which only made Bobby angrier.
Even at five years old, Richard knew there was no possible way the afternoon would end well. He wished Mama would come home, because at least Mama knew the right things to say to keep Bobby from going off his head and seeing invisible monsters, but Mama was home less and less often recently, and Richard was learning not to depend on her rescue.
“Ricky,” Bobby screamed, spitting foam. “Come out and take your punishment like a soldier! Come out and take your whupping like a man.”
Bobby hadn’t been a soldier for a long time. Richard knew soldiers, he’d seen parades on television, and once in person on the Fourth of July. The soldiers walking down Constitution Ave were tall and brave and heroic in their fancy clothes and polished shoes.
Richard thought Bobby had never been heroic or brave.
“Goddammit, Ricky! Get your ass out!” Bobby shouted, knuckles white on his rims, while Billy Joel sang about tie-dye jeans. The barbecue made an angry hissing noise and Richard twitched, and that was a mistake because then Bobby managed to get fingers around Richard’s arm like a handcuff.
“Fuck, boy.” Richard squirmed, but even without legs Bobby was super-strong, maybe because of the pills. He dragged Richard up out of the shrub and onto his bony lap, locking his other hand on Richard’s shoulder, squeezing.
“Sorry, sorry,” Richard tried, because it was the best word he knew, and one Mama used a lot. “Sorry about the hot dogs. Sorry, sorry.”
But Bobby had forgotten all about the hotdogs and slices of expensive cheese. Bobby was angry because Richard had tried to hide. Bobby wasn’t brave, but he hated cowards.
Richard struggled. Bobby pinned Richard face-down across his stubbed knees, holding him down with one hand, wheeling the chair about with the other. Dirt flew up from under his wheels, striking Richard’s face. Richard stopped struggling and lay very still, because Bobby was steering toward the barbecue, and the air above the grill wavered like water in a bathtub.
Bobby was quiet, but for the deep heaves of breath into his barrel chest. When he had his chair against the barbecue, he set the brakes, then hoisted Richard upright until their knees were pressing together, and Richard was kneeling on his lap.
“Don’t scream, Ricky,” Bobby said, almost a plea. “Don’t scream, soldiers don’t scream.”
He bent Richard over the Weber, stuck Richard’s face into that wobbly magic air, then lower. Richard screamed. Not because the air was hot enough to hurt, but because he knew Bobby wouldn’t be satisfied until Richard and the barbecue kissed.
Richard’s screams silenced Billy Joel. Bobby swore, but his grip on Richard’s head and ribs didn’t loosen.
“What did I say, Ricky? What did I say? I warned you!”
Richard fought, but he was only a kid, and not very strong. Mama said he was small for his age. He closed his eyes and prayed Mama would come before Bobby cooked his face, and then as waves of heat made his nostrils sting, he bit his lip so very hard and wished he’d never, ever been born.
He wished so hard he managed to convince the universe that it was true.