Cubs Fan (My Brother’s Descent, Part 5)

Part 5 of the series. The full series is here.

* * * * *

I could shoot him in the back of his head right now and he’d never see it coming. I could make this quick and painless.

Why would I want to do that?

He’s still on all fours when he looks up at me. In seven years, he’s aged twenty. His new life in god-knows-where must not have been as cushy as he expected.

“Get up,” I say.

The bastard has the balls to smile at me. And as he stands, I see a flicker of our dad dressed in my brother’s clothes. Forget this.

“Somebody hand me a gun.” I put my hand out. A gun slides in, front-heavy with the silencer attached.

He closes his eyes. “Do it,” he says, and drops his baseball cap.

I chew the side of my tongue and stare at that damn baseball cap lying in a oily puddle on the asphalt. He’s a Cubs fan now? What the hell?

My Brother’s Descent

Sorry to regurgitate these, but I want to put them all in one place so I can update this as I add to it, refer to it as I write more, and link to previous parts more easily. No need to reread unless you want to… move along… nothing to see here, folks…

* * * * *

I waited for you. I watched that army green door on the back of 511 North 19th Street as the Earth turned and the shadows grew and the night slid over the city. You said you’d look different, but none of those people who came out of that door could have been you. There are some things you can’t change.

When the sweaty hand clamped over my mouth, I thought it was you, playing a joke on me. I had been careful. They couldn’t have found me. But this duct tape is not a joke. Neither is the man with the sledgehammer, coming back after his dinner for the information a bloody nose and a broken elbow could not extract. Now that they have me, they won’t need you. You’re probably across the border now. I hope you are.

Because you’ll never guess what I’m about to tell them.

* * * * *

You’re at that Chinese food place again–the one with the streamers on the ceiling fans and the battery-operated candles trying to illuminate Buddha in the sunlit front window. You’ve paid the skinny Korean boy at the cash register and you’ve just sat down with your Moo Goo Gai Pan when you notice them. They’re eating in an innocent, almost weary silence. A break from their daily routine. A reprieve. You know it too well.

You consider switching to the chair across from you but decide against it. You don’t want your back to them. You slide your baseball cap around so the brim is in the front and tug it low on your forehead. You turn your spoon upside down on the table so you can see their movement in the reflection if they get up. Then you bow over your plate and eat. You don’t want to finish before them. You want to chew each individual piece of rice so you can remain a fixture blending into the restaurant and not the person they’ve been looking for for seven years. If you still recognize them after that long, they’ll still recognize you.

Two of them finish, take turns using the restroom, and leave. You hear their car start up and speed away. One remains at the table, engrossed in his phone. You like these odds better. You’ve been back in the city for two years, and he’s the first person you’ll have to confront. Not bad, you think.

He pockets his phone and looks at you. You turn your baseball cap backward again. You’re no coward. In here, or out there? you think at him. You don’t know he’s only there to stall you.

You don’t know it’s the second person, the one coming down the street toward that Chinese food place right now, who should really worry you.

* * * * *

I’m sleeping off a late night when I get the message. Only that could have penetrated my dead man’s slumber. There must be something to the sixth sense. Add seven years of bloodlust and it’s a sixth sense on speed.

I untangle myself from Billy’s girlfriend and hunt for my clothes. Shit. Billy’s girlfriend. But what the fuck’s he gonna say to the guy who catapulted through the ranks as fast as I did? He answers to me now. He may not know that yet, but I do. That’s all that matters.

I take the train so I can think. A guy in my position would bring some help, but I don’t want to clue him in until I’m ready. Fingers is still there and probably has guys lined up at every exit. The Great Wall of China just went up outside Lucky China Buffet, and my big brother is tucked away inside, enjoying his last meal.

He shouldn’t have come back. He knows he’s an endangered species in this town. What he doesn’t know is now, I’m this town’s wealthiest poacher.

* * * * *

He jerks his head toward the back door. You want to give him the finger–you know what’s waiting for you out there. But there aren’t many options. He’ll handle any opposition from you with force, and they don’t call him Quarter Pounder for nothing. He’s grown bigger than you remember–whether through stuffing his face or working out, it doesn’t matter when you’re in between him and the concrete.

You shovel another forkful of rice into your mouth even though your whole plate has gone sour. He laughs at you and settles into his seat. He can wait. It’s only proper to give a man his last meal.

You’re buying time you can’t afford. You’re only prolonging your punishment. You know the only way out of this is a quick break through the front door, then running like hell. Lady Luck has been on your side before. She may come to your aid again. It’s worth a shot. It’s your only shot.

You stand and dump your trash. Over the curtains on the front windows, you can now see heads. Attached to loitering bodies. They could be regular people. Chances are they’re not. You’re going to need more than Lady Luck to get out the front alive–too bad every other powerful force abandoned you long ago. Can you blame them? And now Quarter Pounder’s up, his meatball hand has merged with your neck, and you’re out the back door on your hands and knees staring at a pair of white sneakers just like the ones your baby brother used to wear. Only newer. More expensive.

What a strange moment for a wanton thought to pulse through your brain. You thought you had sent your brother to heaven. What if you had sent him to hell?

* * * * *

I could shoot him in the back of his head right now and he’d never see it coming. I could make this quick and painless.

Why would I want to do that?

He’s still on all fours when he looks up at me. In seven years, he’s aged twenty. His new life in god-knows-where must not have been as cushy as he expected.

“Get up,” I say.

The bastard has the balls to smile at me. And as he stands, I see a flicker of our dad dressed in my brother’s clothes. Forget this.

“Somebody hand me a gun.” I put my hand out. A gun slides in, front-heavy with the silencer attached.

He closes his eyes. “Do it,” he says, and drops his baseball cap.

I chew the side of my tongue and stare at that damn baseball cap lying in a oily puddle on the asphalt. He’s a Cubs fan now? What the hell?

* * * * *

“Do it,” you say again.

This end is too perfect. Too deserved. And if this ghost of your brother is the real deal this time, then this end is poetic justice.

You open your eyes. The gun has tipped slightly, so it now aims, lazy and uninterested, at your upper lip instead of your forehead. Your brother’s attention is fixated on the ground next to you.

The kid you used to know would pause, wouldn’t have the courage to pull the trigger. He’s not that kid anymore. He’s not any kid you know. He’s a young monster with a big gun. An adolescent Tyrannosaurus Rex–wild and impulsive and more frightening than the adults of his species. And you know it’s not his fear tipping that gun down because you can taste the power in the air around him. You recognize the flavor–it’s the dirty kind, gained from squashing others. Causing suffering. Taking souls. It’s a power not granted by that gun, or those two-hundred-dollar sneakers, or the gang of guys behind him. It comes from inside him.

You did send him to hell. You sold him to the devil, and he ripped out the devil’s heart and took the devil’s throne. He doesn’t see what he’s become. And you are the only one who can save him.

White Sneakers (My Brother’s Descent, Part 4)

My Brother’s Descent is the new name of the Set Up, Second Person, Firebrand series, thanks to Debra.

Read the whole series here (be sure to start with the first, “Set Up”, and go in date order).

And I’d like to take a vote on this one. Would this piece be better if I had ended it with the white sneakers and cut the last paragraph? Please answer the poll at the end, or leave a comment with your thoughts. :)

* * * * *

He jerks his head toward the back door. You want to give him the finger–you know what’s waiting for you out there. But there aren’t many options. He’ll handle any opposition from you with force, and they don’t call him Quarter Pounder for nothing. He’s grown bigger than you remember–whether through stuffing his face or working out, it doesn’t matter when you’re in between him and the concrete.

You shovel another forkful of rice into your mouth even though your whole plate has gone sour. He laughs at you and settles into his seat. He can wait. It’s only proper to give a man his last meal.

You’re buying time you can’t afford. You’re only prolonging your punishment. You know the only way out of this is a quick break through the front door, then running like hell. Lady Luck has been on your side before. She may come to your aid again. It’s worth a shot. It’s your only shot.

You stand and dump your trash. Over the curtains on the front windows, you can now see heads. Attached to loitering bodies. They could be regular people. Chances are they’re not. You’re going to need more than Lady Luck to get out the front alive–too bad every other powerful force abandoned you long ago. Can you blame them? And now Quarter Pounder’s up, his meatball hand has merged with your neck, and you’re out the back door on your hands and knees staring at a pair of white sneakers just like the ones your baby brother used to wear. Only newer. More expensive.

What a strange moment for a wanton thought to pulse through your brain. You thought you had sent your brother to heaven. What if you had sent him to hell?

Firebrand

Another continuation. Am I stuck in a rut? Maybe, but it’s a nice rut–the crickets sing to me at night and there’s a little puddle of water fed by some kind of underground spring.

To get the whole story, read Set Up then read Second Person.

This one is also my entry for this week’s Inspiration Monday. I used the prompt in a predictable way, but it fit so nicely I had to use it.

* * * * *

I’m sleeping off a late night when I get the message. Only that could have penetrated my dead man’s slumber. There must be something to the sixth sense. Add seven years of bloodlust and it’s a sixth sense on speed.

I untangle myself from Billy’s girlfriend and hunt for my clothes. Shit. Billy’s girlfriend. But what the fuck’s he gonna say to the guy who catapulted through the ranks as fast as I did? He answers to me now. He may not know that yet, but I do. That’s all that matters.

I take the train so I can think. A guy in my position would bring some help, but I don’t want to clue him in until I’m ready. Fingers is still there and probably has guys lined up at every exit. The Great Wall of China just went up outside Lucky China Buffet, and my big brother is tucked away inside, enjoying his last meal.

He shouldn’t have come back. He knows he’s an endangered species in this town. What he doesn’t know is now, I’m this town’s wealthiest poacher.

Second Person

This is kind of a continuation of Set Up, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s do this again: find something about this one you don’t like and tell me in the comments. Come on! It’s fun!

* * * * *

You’re at that Chinese food place again–the one with the streamers on the ceiling fans and the battery-operated candles trying to illuminate Buddha in the sunlit front window. You’ve paid the skinny Korean boy at the cash register and you’ve just sat down with your Moo Goo Gai Pan when you notice them. They’re eating in an innocent, almost weary silence. A break from their daily routine. A reprieve. You know it too well.

You consider switching to the chair across from you but decide against it. You don’t want your back to them. You slide your baseball cap around so the brim is in the front and tug it low on your forehead. You turn your spoon upside down on the table so you can see their movement in the reflection if they get up. Then you bow over your plate and eat. You don’t want to finish before them. You want to chew each individual piece of rice so you can remain a fixture blending into the restaurant and not the person they’ve been looking for for seven years. If you still recognize them after that long, they’ll still recognize you.

Two of them finish, take turns using the restroom, and leave. You hear their car start up and speed away. One remains at the table, engrossed in his phone. You like these odds better. You’ve been back in the city for two years, and he’s the first person you’ll have to confront. Not bad, you think.

He pockets his phone and looks at you. You turn your baseball cap backward again. You’re no coward. In here, or out there? you think at him. You don’t know he’s only there to stall you.

You don’t know it’s the second person, the one coming down the street toward that Chinese food place right now, who should really worry you.

Set Up

I waited for you. I watched that army green door on the back of 511 North 19th Street as the Earth turned and the shadows grew and the night slid over the city. You said you’d look different, but none of those people who came out of that door could have been you. There are some things you can’t change.

When the sweaty hand clamped over my mouth, I thought it was you, playing a joke on me. I had been careful. They couldn’t have found me. But this duct tape is not a joke. Neither is the man with the sledgehammer, coming back after his dinner for the information a bloody nose and a broken elbow could not extract. Now that they have me, they won’t need you. You’re probably across the border now. I hope you are.

Because you’ll never guess what I’m about to tell them.

An Odd Thing to Steal

Inspiration Monday XXX – I planned to make this hotter in the spirit of the Roman numeral, but I ran out of time.

* * * * *

When I return to camp, there is a bare patch of ground in place of my bed. A bed is an odd thing to steal. It must have been moved for a reason.

My other belongings appear to be untouched. I drop my baskets to the ground and sit to remove my wet sandals. Leaning back on my elbows, I stretch my legs long, and look directly into the gaze of Singing Sun’s brother. Although he’s always smirking, tonight’s smirk crosses the distance between us and lands on me. I should have known he was a practical joker. If my bed has one speck of dirt on it, I’m going to make him scrub it ten times in the river tomorrow and then make him watch it dry while his chores go undone.

He rises from his spot, and I look away. Wind touches leaves high in the trees. I roll each vertebra against the ground, one by one, until the back of my head settles against earth still warm from the day. Footsteps close in. He appears above me.

He looks at my baskets. “Fever Berries? And what’s in the other one?”

“Empty,” I say to the trees. “I’m saving it for the testicles of the man who stole my bed.”

His knees hit the ground between my legs and I sit up in reflex. Not even a breeze could pass between his lips and mine. So much for playing aloof.

“Could you remove them in the morning?” he asks. “I might need them tonight.”

“I pity the poor girl.”

“Self-pity?” He clicks his tongue. “Not the best trait.”

“Neither is thievery. Where is it?”

He looks up. I follow his gaze. At once, I notice a swaying hunk of tan, dangling from a high branch. Had I noticed it before, I could have shot it down with a dart and avoided all this nonsense.

He sits back on his heels and smiles. Our civilization is struggling, the world is ending, and he’s playing games.

I pull my legs away from him and cross them under me. “Start climbing. You have two minutes.”

He doesn’t move. I imagine those thick arms and legs moving up that tree, him returning to me panting, sweating, and full of victory. The same way he’d look if…

“You have no bed. You share my bed. That is the plan.”

“Whose plan?”

He jabs his thumb into his chest. “My plan.”

My blood flushes, feverish and electrical, like I’ve polished off my whole basket of berries. It seems I wouldn’t mind being pressed against that chest myself. I push up and walk on my knees toward him. Here’s where I should slap his smug face. I kiss him hard. He’s a solid pillar – unsurprised, unflinching, and completely unguarded. Yet he barely responds.

He waits for me to pull away, then he says, “I only said I’d share my bed. Do you want to alter my plan?”

“Yes.” I stand. “Let’s move your bed far from camp. After all this, I’m going to make you perform.”

He catches me by the leg, takes a quick look around for spectators, then runs his tongue up the inside of my thigh before he stands next to me. “Yes, ma’am.”

Anti-heroes, Torture

Two quick things.

First, I want to share something I read in Orson Scott Card’s Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint. This goes back to my obsession with the anti-hero. Oh how I love the anti-hero.

Card has a very simple explanation for how to write an unlikable character who appeals to the reader and gains the reader’s sympathy. Give this character several unlikable traits. Keep those traits prominent from page one to the end. Now, along the way, weave in many other subtle traits and actions to create sympathy for this character. Keep these minor. Don’t play them up. The reader will focus on the obvious nasty behavior while slowly gaining sympathy due to the subtle goodness.

Second, Liz over in Purgatory linked to a site that sucked me in. I found this great quote about torturing your protagonist.

The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

–Janet Fitch

And for my third book, I am on it.

The One Thing You Should Never Forget

Inspiration Monday XXIII

And here’s an exercise for all of you. As much as I love praise (bring it on! just kidding. okay maybe not), give me some criticism on this one. What do you hate? Come on. It will be fun. :D

* * * * *

I watch the raindrop crawl down his forehead, roll around his eyebrow and down the side of his nose. He exhales hard, then looks past my shoulder. She is standing there. That woman.

“What do you want me to do?” he asks.

“Kill her.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

How can he continue being the good one? After all she’s done to him. To us.

He leans toward me and looks into my eyes. “She’s my flesh and blood. In this world, after all we’ve lost, it’s the one thing you should never forget.”

It would be wrong of me to tell him, to load that weight on him, when he carries around so much already. I can’t tell him. “She killed your flesh and blood.” I cover my mouth with both hands. This sleep deprivation has stolen my restraint. This violence around us has silenced my good judgment. The rain penetrates the defenses of my suit, sliding down my back like tiny icy fingers.

He pulls his gun. It hovers in the air next to my ear, gleaming silver on black, aimed behind me. Everything about him stills, except for the rain running clean tracks through the dirt on his face.

She laughs, a sound that morphs the icy fingers on my back into razor blades. “Jason, I-”

His empty hand covers my ear as he fires.

You’re Still Here?

Inspiration Monday XXII

* * * * *

Uneven footsteps click against concrete and echo in my ears still hot and fuzzy from the loud music. There’s not a soul around. Oh yeah, there’s a girl on my arm. She’s hanging on, heavy like a bowling ball in my hand dragging me to the ground. I straighten to take my arm back. Jeez. That was my head. I look behind us. Did we run into that pole? I laugh and rub my temple. That’s going to hurt tomorrow.

Eureka it’s the car. Abrupt red in a maze of gray. All these levels look the same. They do it on purpose just to mess us up when all we want to do is go home. It’s so far away. We’ll never make it.

Two beeps greet us. I open her door, drop her into the seat. Her hair sprays across the head rest. Why did I pick the blonde? The brunette was cuter. I grab the door handle. Wait, that’s not right. I put her leg inside. Slam the door. Oh, seat belt. Open the door, wrestle her seat belt over her and click it. She tries to kiss me but misses, hits my ear instead. My feet drag through mud to my door. But there’s no mud here.

I push the ignition. What’s that sound? I squint at the blinking words in the dash. “Check tire pressure,” I say, but my lips won’t move. She giggles in her sleep.

My forehead hits the steering wheel, and I force myself back outside. Four flat tires shit this is the boss’s car. Shit shit shit. Two hundred fifty fucking thousand dollar supercar and some jerk has to flatten the tires because I have one and he doesn’t. Drive on the rims. Wouldn’t be the first time. I already owe him four tires why not throw in some rims.

It takes a year to get back in the car. I hit the button again. No engine. Again. Nothing. Something blinks at me, but it’s a cartoon. A picture of a foot. How am I supposed to know what that means?

A crash on the roof wakes me. I wipe the drool off my chin. Black wings span the hood. Red eyes stare. And fangs? I get out.

He leaps off the car. A demon of some sort. “You’re still here?” he asks.

“Can’t get the car started.”

He looks at his nails. Not nails. Talons. “Did you push in the clutch?”

Oh. Guess not. But he’s the asshole. I’m not stupid. I shove him. He hisses and spins, slicing my shirt in four places.

“What do you want?” I yell.

“I need a soul. You, or her. Your choice.”

I want to go home. And I would kill for some fish tacos. “That’s easy. Her.”

He grabs my throat. “Wrong answer.”

He’s almost dragged me to the elevator when the car’s other door opens. “You’re leaving? You pig!” Suddenly she’s wide awake. “I can’t drive in these shoes!”

The demon gives me a knowing look. “Okay. I’ll take her.”