There were fences everywhere in the weird spaces between backyards. They ran parallel to each other and created little hallways where grass grew and was difficult to mow. Sometimes the high school kids would gather in these corridors to smoke weed or drink beer, in the summertime, or after class. The tall wooden planks sheltered them from the prying eyes of authority. Gretchen was there looking for a rabbit. She had seen one run out that way from her bedroom window, and in her eleven-year-old mind, it seemed like a good idea to follow it. It was boring being her age in a place like that. A place where people sat comfortably waiting for things to go wrong. She peered under one of the tall wooden fences that ran on both sides of her to see a small crevice dug by an animal proficient at digging. She did some mental navigation and realized that on the other side of this fence was Mr. Poole’s yard. I’ve got you now you little son of a bitch, she thought, running excitedly down the length of the path rounding the corner and making her way to the front stoop. The blinds were closed. She was intending to knock, but her shyness overcame her, and she couldn’t bring herself to actually go through with it. She noticed the gate in the side yard to her left and saw the latch had no padlock attached to it.
Normally Gretchen wouldn’t have had the nerve to go into anyone’s yard without permission, but she was so bored that even facing her own insecurities was more attractive than continuing to do nothing. She opened the latch and the weight of the wooden door swung it toward her without her having to pull it open. It kept going until it smacked against the small stretch of fence that continued until it reached the side of the house.
The yard looked mostly empty except for a small blue shed in the far back corner, and a hammock that swayed in the wind between two small trees whose branches contained several birds picking at their feathers. There was also a small patio attached to the back of the house with a covered charcoal grill and a plastic table. The chairs for that table were nowhere to be seen. Gretchen didn’t know Mr.Poole very well. She only knew that he was an accountant and worked for this chain of small grocery stores, of which her father was one of the managers. He dropped in to her father’s store a couple of times, while she was there, to go over some of the finances, and every time he did he seemed friendly enough. However, a couple years ago he came in asking to see her Oldman, and she was goofing around behind the counter making towers out of packs of gum, and cigarettes. He wasn’t available at the time, since he was solving some issue they were having in the storeroom, and so Mr. Poole decided to just wait until he was available again. This was much to Gretchen’s disdain because she hated feeling like adults had their eyes on her, which he did because after a few minutes of waiting and watching her build her towers he asked her; “Are you allowed to be doing that?” Which of course she was, why the fuck wouldn’t she be? Her father was in charge of the store. After almost twenty minutes of waiting, her father returned, and the first question Mr. Poole asked him was if his daughter was always allowed to sit behind the counter like that. To which he responded by making it clear it wasn’t the accountant’s job to tell him how to run his store. It got really tense after that and her dad told her to go play in the parking lot, so she did.
That was almost two years ago, and she hadn’t really seen the guy since. His yard however, looked exactly like the type of yard she’d expect a bachelor accountant to have. Very empty and very lonely. She decided it would be best not to think about Mr. Poole anymore and focus on why she was there. She began by looking at the ground and scanning for any signs of animal tracks. Back when she was a girl scout they taught her all about the different ways you could track animals over long distances. There wasn’t a lot to go off of however, because aside from the hole dug under the fence the trail had gone almost entirely cold. The birds in the small trees fluttered away suddenly, their rapidly moving wings masking their high-pitched caws. This caused Gretchen to look back over towards the shed. She remembered the previous summer, and how her best friend Paula said her mom found a whole family of opossums living under the shed in their back yard. Gretchen walked slowly over to the shed being careful not to make too much noise. The grass felt soft on her hands as she lowered herself into a prone position and lay her head down parallel to the dark slit. There was nothing, she could see, moving around in there, so she turned on her watch’s small flash light, and pointed it at where she was looking. Immediately a luminescent eye started glowing in the darkness then three more appeared when she panned the light over to the right. Not only had the rabbit she seen run under this shed it had a whole family living under there, just like the opossums.
The sound of a sliding glass door cut through her excitement, and out of instinct she rolled behind the shed and took cover. What the fuck was that? She thought feeling her heart speed up and her bladder fill, like it often did when she was trying to hide. Mr. Poole had just walked outside and was whistling a song she recognized as the jingle that played in the grocery store’s commercials. After he reached the shed he stopped whistling, opened it up, and stepped inside. Gretchen stood back to back with the shed and could feel every one of his footsteps vibrate up her spine as he moved. She wondered if the rabbits could feel them too. Poole wheeled what sounded like a lawn mower out of the shed and slammed the doors shut. Gretchen looked at the tall wooden fence in front of her and knew she had to climb it to escape. She waited and heard Poole pulling the starter on the lawn mower, and when he finally got it running she jumped and grabbed the top of the fence. Once she had it, she used her shoes and scurried up the side throwing all her weight over the top. As she began to fall her jeans got caught on one of the triangular points at the top of the fence and she heard them rip as she fell. The air left her lungs when she hit the ground. Did he see me? She thought, inhaling and exhaling violently trying to catch her breath. She turned and peered through one of the gaps between the planks of the fence and looked right to see that Mr. Poole had continued mowing toward the other end of the lawn.
Her heart rate began to slow and the adrenaline from almost being caught drained from the veins in her head. As she caught her breath she turned to see a boy with a cigarette and a notebook sitting on the ground with his back against the opposite fence. He was staring at her when she turned but as she did he quickly looked at the ground and brought a lighter up to the cigarette in his mouth to ignite it. He started coughing after a sharp first inhale. As he coughed it seemed like he was trying to say something but couldn’t quite get it out.
“What?” Gretchen asked, leaning in to try to make out what he was saying.
“Your pants are ripped.” He finally choked out clearing the last bit of heat from his lungs. She looked down and saw that a huge chunk of her jeans, from above her right front pocket down to the front of her ankle, was torn out in tatters that were still connected to the pants by mere threads. This left the entire right front part of her hip and underwear exposed, and she quickly found that when she took a stride forward it revealed more on the other side, so she immediately stopped moving. She didn’t exactly know what to do from here, so she just remained frozen a second while the boy sat there and continued to stare. It was the boy who finally broke the silence.
“My name’s Kenneth do you want to see a comic I drew?” He extended his arm with the notebook, opened to a specific page, in his hand.
“Okay.” Gretchen replied quietly taking the offered reading material, still not knowing what else to do, and too embarrassed to move. The first frame was framed like a standard establishing shot of a house, like in a sitcom. The second frame was a drawing of a guy sitting on his bed, alone, with a gun. Then the man put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger in the next frame, but it only clicked, it wasn’t loaded. The frame after that showed him check for shells in his gun cabinet, but a box marked ammunition rested empty on the top shelf. The next few frames showed the man driving to the gun store to buy ammo, but when he got there, there was a sign that said the store was closed due to an unfortunate death of a beloved employee. His funeral must be happening, Gretchen thought. The man in the comic, frustrated with the lack of available ammo, got back in his car, and just when it seemed like he was going to drive away he backed up and drove straight into the front of the store. Glass was everywhere, and the front of his car was mangled, but the man got out of the car still seeming shaken from the impact. He went and retrieved the proper ammo and then put the gun to his head again and pulled the trigger. It went ‘click’ for the second time and the man looked at it not seeing what was wrong. In the final frame while the man still studied the clearly defective gun, a plane hurdled out of the sky and crashed right into him.
Gretchen handed the notebook back to Kenneth and gave a half smile to avoid looking like she hated it, which she didn’t, overall. He had put his cigarette out a long time ago while she read. He didn’t seem to like them, but she now noticed he had a whole pack of them sitting next to him.
“How old are you?” Gretchen asked.
“Eleven, how old are you?”
“I don’t believe you. If you were eleven and you lived around here I’d have met, you already. You’re probably like ten or something.”
“Hey, if I say I’m eleven I’m, fucking eleven, why would I lie about that?” His Cursing reminded Gretchen of her older cousins, and their annoying boyfriends that were always drunk.
“Well if you’re twelve, where do you go to school because I don’t think I’ve seen you at mine?”
“I’m homeschooled. All of that organized stuff is mostly just busy work these days and I can pretty much bypass all that since my parents are my teachers and they don’t bother trying to brain wash me.”
“My school doesn’t brain wash me.” She replied crossing her arms and turning away so he could no longer stare at her.
“I’m not here to pass judgment. Go to school wherever you want if yours works for you that’s fine. So, what did you think of the comic?”
“I thought it was kind of weird, and really dark.” He stood up and started walking down the stretch of space between there and the road at the end of gap, and as he did he called back to her.
“My house is just around the corner; you can barrow a pair of my sister’s pants if you want.” This surprised Gretchen considering her last comment wasn’t a necessarily a nice one, but still her house was several blocks away, and she didn’t want to trudge all the way back with her underwear showing, so she followed doing her best to cover her exposed flesh.
The neighborhood hummed with summertime insects and gentle wind. The pair walked the length of the fence to the end of the line and Kenneth made a sharp left and opened up a new looking gate.
“This is my house.” Gretchen didn’t really know how to respond to this, so she just nodded her head, and they proceeded into his backyard. It was a much more vibrant backyard than Mr. Poole’s. It had these wooden boxes that were filled with soil and had plants starting to poke through towards the sun. There was also a torn-up soccer goal in the far back corner of the lawn, and a fire pit perched on cinderblocks in the center.
“Do you like to burn stuff?” Gretchen asked as Kenneth slid open the screen door that created the only barrier between the house and outside.
“Well yeah who doesn’t?” He replied standing over the threshold.
“I’ve never burned anything before.”
“Maybe after you get some new pants I can let you barrow my lighter?” Gretchen liked the sound of that. She was still very bored in spite of the current condition of her pants. They entered the house and the rubber of their shoes formed fragile bonds with the linoleum floor every time they took a step. They were in the kitchen it looked like, it was a very nice kitchen almost everything that could be chrome was chrome, and a woman who looked familiar stood loading plates from the sink into the dishwasher. When the woman turned around Gretchen immediately recognized her as Mrs. Hodge. She volunteered at the school all the time and her daughter, Melony, was a year older than Gretchen, and hated her guts. Gretchen was about to turn to Kenneth and ask why he didn’t tell her he was related to Melony Hodge, but before she could say anything Mrs. Hodge had already begun to speak.
“Oh, wow what happened here? Are you okay you got dirt all over your arm? Did you fall or something, and what happened to your pants?” Mrs. Hodge didn’t seem to completely recognize her at first, and Gretchen looked down at the arm she landed on earlier to see that it was in fact covered in dirt and she had a small cut near her elbow. Mrs. Hodge still looked very concerned and Gretchen hated when adults looked overly concerned with her, so she decided to just try and set the record straight. Before she could however, Kenneth chimed in.
“She fell climbing over a fence, and her pants got caught on her way down.” His mother put her hands on her hips and looked down at him.
“What were you doing climbing fences?” She asked.
“I wasn’t climbing anything I was just sitting against our fence drawing in my notebook when I saw her fall.” Mrs. Hodge turned to Gretchen now as if to re-direct the question towards her which made her teeth grind.
“Oh, I was just looking for my boomerang. I gave it a bit too hard of a toss and lost it. It wasn’t even in the yard. I know I probably should have just knocked and asked for them to go look for it, I just get shy sometimes.” A look of familiarity painted itself across Mrs. Hodge’s face.
“Do you go to school with Melony?”
“Yes, I’m in the grade below her. My name’s Gretchen by the way. I didn’t know she had a brother.”
“Kenneth, is a bit different than his sister. He’s got a lot of problems with authority that he’s working on right now. Isn’t that right?”
“The only thing I’m working on is my comics.” He said almost under his breath like he knew the risks of playing such a game.
“How about you go get your sister from her room, so we can get this young lady some pants, please.” Without another word or even a look Kenneth headed out of the room and up some stairs. Gretchen felt very uneasy without Kenneth there to back her up she loathed making small talk with adults that she didn’t find interesting, and it’s not that Mrs. Hodge was a boring person; it was that she was a kind of person that Gretchen didn’t want to become, or really get along with. She was a typical Mom’s Mom that lead a very domesticated and unexciting life, both of which were things Gretchen considered deadly sins. She was relieved when instead of asking more questions Mrs. Hodge just went back to loading the dishwasher, this was probably because she thought Gretchen was self-conscious about her lower body’s current state of affairs, which she was. She didn’t know why she lied about why she was climbing fences. It was probably because a kid looking for a lost toy was more believable than a kid looking for a wild animal. It was definitely easier to explain anyway. Adults that live in places like this didn’t like dealing with things that couldn’t be easily explained.
Gretchen crossed her fingers that Kenneth would just bring down a pair of pants she could change into in the bathroom or something, so she wouldn’t actually have to interact with Melony. Unfortunately, the universe ignored her hopes again, and she heard two distinct sets of footsteps rumbling down the stairs. Kenneth shuffled back into the kitchen first followed by Melony.
Melony had light brown hair that went down slightly past her shoulders. Her eyelashes were equipped with mascara, which was the only make-up Gretchen had ever seen her wear. It made her look more like a middle school student than someone that still had a whole year left of elementary school. She was gripping a pair of dark gray sweat pants in her right hand. Her light green nail polish stood out sharply from the dull fabric. When she finally made eye contact with Gretchen she immediately spiked the pants into the floor. Mrs. Hodge turned upon hearing the clacking of the drawstring’s cheap aglets smacking against the plastic tiles.
“What exactly is with the attitude, young lady?” Mrs. Hodge scolded crossing her arms and scowling her eyes.
“Why is that slut standing in our kitchen?” Melony replied pointing with a fully extended arm in Gretchen’s direction. Gretchen could feel herself start slowly backing up toward the door, like she was being cornered by a predator. Mrs. Hodge Looked nervously over at her then turned back towards Melony with a stern look on her face.
“Melony that was uncalled for apologize right now.”
“No, fuck that bitch.” She replied. Gretchen was tempted to turn and ask Kenneth if she always talked like this at home, she definitely did at school, but she had never seen her direct it toward her mom.
“Melony if you don’t apologize this second I’m going to take away everything you hold dear do you hear me? I’m so fucking tired of all your shit. I am your mother show me some respect and do what I ask for once, please.” The sound of a tongue clicking against the back of front teeth escaped Melony’s jaw.
“I don’t have to listen to you. That bitch likes to suck Connor Lafton’s dick, and everybody saw them kissing out by the tennis courts. She was probably trying to fuck Kenneth. She practically got her vag out for him.” She gestured with both her arms towards Gretchen’s torn pants.
“Her pants got ripped climbing a fence you fucking idiot. Stop talking about things you know nothing about. It makes you look pathetic.”
“Kenneth, shut up. Don’t agitate her and make everything worse. Melony get the fuck up to your room and stay there. When your dad gets home he’s going to make you understand who’s in charge here.”
“He’s not gonna do anything you say, but way to go mom, good example. Have your man come home and fix everything, you really are the perfect wife. The only things you can seem to do by yourself are cook, clean, and volunteer at a school where everyone thinks you’re a cunt, including me.” This made Mrs. Hodge start crying and she walked briskly out of the room and up the stairs. The sound of a door slamming boomed throughout the house. Melony turned to Gretchen, but before she could unleash her rage, Gretchen spun around and threw the glass door open sprinting into the backyard, out the gate, and around the corner; she ran about halfway down the corridor between fences when she plopped down to a sitting position with her back against the fence that ran to her right. She wrapped a handful of grass around her palm and yanked it out of the dirt. She rolled it in her hand until it unraveled and slipped away. This was repeated again and again. While that voice in her head kept calling her a coward. Why didn’t you say anything? It whispered. Why didn’t you defend yourself? After pulling her knees up to her chest she buried her face in them and let out a muffled growlish scream that caused the veins in her forehead to expand and turn the flesh around them red like the eyes in a bad digital photo.
The Fence behind her started shaking slowly back and forth pushing against her back and then pulling away. She looked up to see Kenneth struggling to make his way over. The pair of sweat pants dangling from around his shoulders like a haphazard scarf. After a few moments of fighting against gravity the boy managed to throw himself over the top and fall the entire height of the fence to the ground.
“See, that’s how you hop a fence and keep your pants on.” He said to her taking the pants from around his neck and holding them out to her, but she was still too upset to take them. “I’m sorry about Melony I didn’t realize the two of you knew each other. Yeah you go to the same school, but you’re in different grades, I guess I just assumed too much.” Gretchen finally reached out and grabbed the pants. She then stood up and pulled her tattered jeans off and slid on the comfortable sweatpants afterward. She no longer cared who saw her underwear at this point which almost rendered the sweat pants unnecessary. Still, it felt good to her to be in an actual pair of pants again.
“I’ll bring these back tomorrow or something.” She finally said.
“You don’t have to worry about that. Fuck Melony, she doesn’t need the pants you can keep them. I don’t know what got into her. Melony’s a total bitch all the time, I’m not disputing that, but it usually takes a bit longer for her to completely fly off the handle.” Gretchen sat back down next to Kenneth and ripped another handful of grass out of the ground and held it in her hand to look at. She liked when they came out with long thin roots still attached to them. Kenneth finally asked. “What exactly happened with that Connor guy she was talking about?” This caused the veins in Gretchen’s forehead to return.
“Why do you care?” She replied still looking at the clump of grass.
“I just want to piece together what set her off so fast. Clearly, she doesn’t like you and it has to do with Conner, whatever the fuck his last name was, I was just curious what it was all about. If you don’t want to tell me, I guess that’s your prerogative.” This was a subject Gretchen despised talking about or even thinking about, but Kenneth went out of his way to help her even though he didn’t have to, so she felt that she did owe him some explanation.
“I don’t even like Connor he’s boring and his parents hand him everything. Your sister liked him though, or still likes him, I’m not sure.” Kenneth started picking at the frayed material attached to the old jeans that sat in pieces between them. “I was over by the tennis courts at the school looking for frogs or any salamanders that hung around near the drain pipe that runs right by there.” She let the grass fall from her hand. Blades fell in circular patterns. “I like things like that, I like looking at animals of all kinds, not in zoos though zoos always feel like cheating to me. If all the animals are in cages you’re not really looking at that animal you’re looking at the captive version of that animal, and at that point you might as well just look at a person.”
“What does this have to do with Connor?” Kenneth asked.
“I’m getting to that. Do you want to hear what happened or not?”
“Sorry, you’re right I shouldn’t interrupt.”
“So, I’m over there by myself looking for frogs and salamanders when Connor and two of his shit-brained friends walk over to me. I have no idea what they were doing over there since they weren’t on the tennis team, and to my knowledge had no interest in wildlife. I asked what they wanted, and they said that they were just hanging around killing time. They just stood and watched me scan the area for anything interesting, and after a while Connor out of nowhere says to me, you know something you’re actually really pretty. No one outside my family had ever called me pretty before. I didn’t really know what to make of it, so I just kind of said thank you, and I guess he took that to mean I wanted to kiss him because he walked over to me, grabbed me, and then ambushed me when I wasn’t ready for it.” Kenneth threw his own handful of grass into the wind. “When it happened, I didn’t do anything. I just sort of stood there and let it him do it. I froze and did nothing. Just like a second ago with your sister. I couldn’t say anything I was too afraid. After he finished kissing me he and his friends just left, they were laughing and making jokes, and I guess they probably told a lot of people. Your sister was always particularly angry with me after that.” Kenneth scooped up the ruined jeans and rose to his feet. He extended his hand down to Gretchen and helped her up.
“Do you want to go burn these?” He held up the jeans. “They’re ruined anyway, and it’ll make you feel better.” Gretchen just nodded yes and was glad he didn’t ask her anymore questions about Connor.
The two of them walked back towards Kenneth’s house and he alone ran into his garage and got a metal bucket and some gloves. Then they walked even further into the grid of fences until they were nearly at the center of it. They were both far from home now, and it felt right to Gretchen, she finally felt not bored, she felt like she was actually doing something. It was harder and harder to tell where they were the further into the grid they got. Gretchen always thought this place looked the same everywhere from the streets, but from the backyards, from the corridors between fences, everything was almost entirely identical to everything else. Kenneth seemed to know where he was going though, and after a little bit more walking he stopped and set the bucket on the ground with the pants in it.
“This should be far enough.” He said handing her a silver flip lighter. “Do you know how to light one of those?” Gretchen nodded flipping it open and using the wheel to spark the butane-soaked wick. She then knelt down to the bucket’s level and ignited the dry fabric and watched the flames spread until the whole thing was engulfed. It burned with occasional crackles and sent a plume of smoke into the air. Kenneth assured her not to worry about that though. He set stuff on fire out here all the time, and nobody noticed, or cared. He said anyone that saw the small amount of smoke probably assumed it was coming from an overzealous neighbor’s over packed charcoal grill. Gretchen stared into the flames and heard all the words Melony screamed at her mother bounce off the walls of her mind.
“Why are you the one that’s homeschooled if your sister freaks out at your mom like that?” She asked looking over at Kenneth.
“She’s got my dad wrapped around her finger. He basically succumbs to whatever she says and always takes it easy on her when my mom makes him punish her. Needless to say, she doesn’t act like her real self around him, but he likes her. He never really liked me.”
Gretchen felt sorry for Kenneth. Living with a person like Melony and with a dad that didn’t like him couldn’t be easy. She turned toward the fire again and took in the flames, feeling the heat cloak and uncloak her hands as she moved them closer and then farther away.
“You should draw this.” She found herself saying still appreciating the heat. Kenneth looked over at her after laughing.
“Your flaming pants?”
“Yeah, it’s abstract.” Kenneth took a smaller notebook than before out of his back pocket as well as a pencil and started scribbling something. After a few minutes of scratching away he slid the pencil through the metal spiral that bound the book and flipped it around.
“I didn’t draw the burning pants, but I did draw this thing I saw in a dream.” What he had drawn looked familiar to Gretchen; it was four orb shaped things floating in a narrow band of darkness. After looking at it for a few seconds she realized what they were.
“I think I’ve seen those eyes before.”
“What do you mean? They’re not eyes they’re just something I dreamt of.”
“No those are eyes. Rabbit eyes to be more specific. There’s four of them and they’re huddled near each other. The view is from the side.” Kenneth looked at the notebook and after moving his eyes over it a couple of times Gretchen could tell he saw what she was talking about. He drew faint outlines of rabbit bodies around the eyes lining them up as best he could. He showed this to her and she nodded.
“Do you want to go see them?”
“Definitely.” They waited until the fire completely burned out and the jeans were nothing but ash, and then Kenneth put on a pair of gloves he brought with him and picked the still warm bucket up off of the ground. They headed back towards Mr. Poole’s house.
They were quiet on the way back until Gretchen spotted a small stick on the ground. She picked it up and started dragging it across the gaps in the fence. She did this until they reached the spot where the two of them met. Kenneth immediately looked through one of the gaps to scope out the yard.
“Gretchen.” He said. “You need to check this out.” She positioned her pupil between two pieces of wood, and saw Mr. Poole lying unconscious on the grass. He had a huge bruise on the right side of his face above his eye.
“Dude, you’ve gotta go over there and wake him up to see if he’s okay.” She said before quickly turning back to look again.
“I have to? Why don’t you?”
“This guy works with my dad, kind of, and the whole thing will just be a hassle if I have to talk to him. It would be much easier if you just went.”
“What the hell am I supposed to tell him? That I was trying to sneak into his yard, and happened to notice he had been assaulted?”
“Slow down a second we don’t know for sure that he’s been assaulted.”
“Yes, we do he’s got that huge fucking bruise on his head and nothing around him, it’s not like he smacked himself in the face with a block of ice.”
“Whatever look, just tell him you were looking for a boomerang you threw in this direction, or something. You’re helping him he’s not going to question it too much.”
“What is with this obsession you have with lying about boomerangs?”
“It’s not an obsession it’s just a good excuse.”
“Fine I’ll go, anything is better than this conversation, Jesus Christ.” For some reason instead of going around and through the gate, Kenneth decided it would be better to climb the fence. He landed on the other side much more gracefully than before. He started moving toward the unconscious accountant, but he did so in a way that was low to the ground, not crawling, but a kind of crouched sneaking. When Kenneth got close he shook Mr. Poole awake, and he immediately moved a hand to his bruise and groaned.
“Where the fuck did that punk go?” Mr. Poole asked in a scratchy voice.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about, sir. I was just looking for my boomerang I threw this way when I found you. I live just right over there.” Kenneth pointed toward his house. “Do you need help? Should I run home and have my mom call you an ambulance?”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll drive myself to the emergency room. Thanks for waking me up but don’t come on to my property again without permission. What’s your name?”
“Miles.” Kenneth blurted out, which made Gretchen cringe.
“Did you happen you see any other kids running around near here?”
“No sir, I don’t really have any friends. Most of the other kids avoid me.” The accountant looked at the lying Kenneth with pity.
“Well off you go Miles.” Mr. Poole walked Kenneth out the gate to the side walk in front of the house, and then he walked to his car parked in the driveway and drove off.
Kenneth jogged from the street to where Gretchen was and the two of them walked back around to the gate and re-entered the back yard.
“Come on Miles.” Gretchen said mockingly while she ran towards the shed in the far corner of the yard. “These are the rabbits from your dream.”
“What do you think happened to that guy? I mean, he was literally assaulted probably just a little before we arrived.”
“It doesn’t matter he just left to go to the emergency room, and whoever did attack him is long gone.”
“Let’s just check this out and get out of here.” The two them both got down on their stomachs and peered deeply into the darkness under the shed. “I can’t fucking see anything.” Gretchen turned on her dim watch flashlight which illuminated things just enough to see the glint of the light reflecting off of their eyes.
“There’s only three.” Gretchen said after moving the light where it needed to be.
“I’ll take a look from the other side and see if it’s behind them or something.” Kenneth replied standing up and walking to the other side of the shed. “Gretchen get over here.” She heard him call, so she also stood up and walked around to the other side of the shed to see him kneeling and holding a bright yellow feather. “Wherever that fourth rabbit is. It’s probably going to be dead soon.” They left the yard moving back into the corridors and Gretchen tried to get Kenneth to explain further what he meant by that. “That feather came from this parrot named Bobby. Bobby is the pet and best friend of a 14-year-old psychopath, named Edgar.”
“And just how exactly would you know a 14-year-old psychopath?”
“He let me shoot soda cans with his BB gun a few times, but I stopped hanging out with him when he showed me how he liked to trap animals out in the woods and then beat the ones he caught to death with a stick.”
“So, he beats animals to death, and he carries a parrot named Bobby around?”
“Yes, the guy is literally fucking insane.”
“We’ve got to find him and stop him from hurting that rabbit, Kenneth.” He stopped walking, put his hand on her shoulder, and looked at her.
“That rabbit is already dead, okay. There’s no way we’d get over to him in time, and even if we did there’s not much we could even do. The guy’s almost in fucking high school for crying out loud.”
“Come on we can take a loser that’s only friend is a parrot, how hard could it be. You’re smart you must have some sort of tricks up your sleeve.”
“Tricks up my sleeve? What does that have to do with fighting? I draw comics, Gretchen, I don’t know how to punch someone effectively. It took me until I was eight to realize you’re not supposed to wrap your fingers around your thumb when you make a fist.”
“There has to be something we can do. Even if we can’t save the rabbit and it is too late. Someone still needs to teach that shit head some respect. Can you live with knowing you had the chance to save a life and didn’t do fuck all about it? You saw that rabbit in your dreams, Kenneth, aren’t’ you supposed to follow them.” Kenneth sighed loudly and rolled his eyes.
“I guess, there might be one thing I’m kind of good at that could help us in this situation.” Back at Kenneth’s house he put a code into the garage door keypad that was stuck to the frame of the entrance. The door opened, and they entered the garage where Kenneth proceeded to climb onto a table that sat along the back wall and started rooting through a cabinet above it. After searching for a while he pulled out a bag that looked like it was meant to be worn slung over the shoulder. Kenneth opened it up and pulled out a high-quality sling shot.
“I’ve got tons of ammo saved up in here. Rocks, marbles, concrete chunks, and pieces of broken glass mostly.”
“Wait wouldn’t the pieces of broken glass cut your hands when you reached in to grab them?” He gave her a look like she had just said something completely off base.
“I’m pretty careful.”
“Do I get a weapon?” Gretchen asked while Kenneth tested the elasticity of the drawstring.
“Well I only have one sling shot, but you can use that bat over there.” Kenneth pointed to an aluminum baseball bat that leaned against a corner of the room. She went over and picked it up, swinging it a couple of times to test its weight. It would do, she thought to herself, as Kenneth walked to toward the exit.
“Ready to go?” She nodded, and the two set forth to find Edgar, Bobby, and hopefully the rabbit. They walked through the corridors of fences this time away from the center and toward the edge until they finally reached it. Beyond there she could only see the woods, and according to Kenneth that’s where they would find him. There was a clearing by a small stream that he liked to hang out by, apparently. Kenneth lead her towards there through the foliage, and as they walked it occurred to her that her parents had always told her not to come out here. They said only dope smoking hooligans spent time in the woods, and it saddened her that they were partially right. Just before they reached the stream they started to hear distant pops that got closer and closer as they approached. Right as she first saw the water, Gretchen could also make out a figure in the distance sitting on a tree stump by the bank holding a rifle of some kind. He was aiming it at the sky.
“Goddamn it.” The distant figure yelled after taking a shot and creating another pop sound, this time much closer.
“That’s him.” Kenneth whispered to her. “I can’t see the rabbit let’s get closer. He’s probably got it caged if he hasn’t killed it yet.” Gretchen nodded in agreement and the pair moved stealthy closer to figure until it was a figure no more but definitively Edgar.
He didn’t look like much. He was a scrawny kid who wore a white muscle shirt, and black basketball shorts. Leaning against the stump he was sitting on was an old hatchet. He had a weird silver neckless with a long chain and a symbol that Gretchen didn’t recognize, but it looked oval shaped. His hair was bleached white, and he had written the word “return” really big, on both of his arms in what looked like black marker. Now that they were closer to him they could see that he was shooting his BB gun at the small birds that flew haphazardly above the stream. The parrot Bobby, sat comfortably on his shoulder his colorful feathers matching the one Kenneth found perfectly.
“What a fuckin hypocrite.” Gretchen whispered. “Listen, I’m gonna reveal myself and distract him. You sneak around and find a good vantage point to cover me. I don’t see the rabbit yet, but I’m gonna try to get him to reveal where it is. If it’s still alive, I’m gonna eventually make a move to try and steal it back when I do just start, fucking, unloading everything you’ve got at him okay?”
“Sounds good.” Kenneth replied. “That’s actually a really good plan I’m surprised you thought of it so fast.” With that he veered off to the left in search of a better place to rain down his projectiles. Gretchen on the other hand moved in. She gripped her bat tightly and stood up to reveal herself to the shooter.
“Hey blondie if you like shooting birds so much why don’t you just shoot the one on your shoulder. It would probably be a lot easier.” Edgar turned away from the birds and focused his gaze toward Gretchen.
“That’s easy.” He replied. “Bobby’s my friend I don’t shoot my friends.”
“I can’t say that doesn’t make sense.” Gretchen teased. “You wouldn’t happen to have been lurking around Mr. Poole’s yard today at all would you?” Edgar furrowed his brow and moved slightly closer making the distance between them about the same as home and first base.
“You mean the guy with the rabbits under his shed? Yeah, I was there earlier. I bashed him in the head really good with this cool pipe I found, but it bent. I had to throw it away. Which is a real shame considering I only got to use it once.” Gretchen didn’t like the vibes she was getting from this guy and she really hated looking at his eyes. They were piecing blue to the point where they were practically white like his hair, and it made him seem off.
“The rabbit. Did you kill it?” He laughed at her.
“What, do I look like some kind of idiot? If I had killed it already; I would have been far too early. Everyone knows that the only way to break through the amnion of the depths is to sacrifice an innocent creature at the commencement of magic hour.” This scared Gretchen, whatever this guy was into was not something she wanted to mess with, but the rabbit was alive, so she had to try.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Edgar stroked Bobby’s head with his left hand and chuckled.
“I’m talking about other dimensions, dark forces, real satanic shit, man. It’s all around us. There are powerful entities everywhere that we can’t see, but they can help us if we do their bidding, and if my watch is correct…” He walked briskly back over to the stump and reached down behind it grabbing a cage that contained the rabbit. Gretchen saw this as her chance and ran towards him screaming. Kenneth took this as his cue and started immediately firing shot after shot directly at the white-haired teenager. Edgar was startled by the coupling of Gretchen’s war cry with the impact of Kenneth’s projectiles and the cage slipped out of his hand. He tried to bend down and pick it up, but as he did another shot got him right in the fore head. This dazed him and before he could see straight Gretchen did a baseball style slide behind the cage and grabbed it. As he straightened himself out, Edgar aimed his rifle at her, but before he could shoot her she swung her bat into his knees knocking him off his feet. With the cage in tow she scrambled and started crawling toward Kenneth, but before she could get off of the ground Edgar grabbed her by the ankle. She tried to break out of his grip, but she couldn’t. Even kicking him with her free foot wasn’t enough to get him to let go. Kenneth seeing this fired one of the pieces of broken glass he brought with him, and it cut through the air making a buzzing sound. It hit Edgar in the head just above the right ear and stuck in his flesh, blood dripped onto the ground. He screamed, finally letting go of Gretchen who leapt to her feet. Kenneth rushed in from his vantage point and joined her. She had just dropped her bat and swapped it out for Edgar’s rifle which he had dropped.
“We’re taking the Rabbit, Edgar.” Kenneth said.
“Kenneth?” Edgar replied. “I thought you were my friend? You’re not supposed to shoot your friends, Kenneth, you’re not supposed to shoot your fucking friends.” He let out an angry almost animal yell, and in a quick motion ripped Bobby from his shoulder and bit his head off. This disgusted Gretchen and Kenneth to the point where they both had to look away and try to block out the sound of the crunching. Edgar started laughing as he chewed. He laughed harder and harder until it became practically hysterical. It got to a point where he must have accidentally inhaled some of the poor bird’s head because he started choking. His hands shook nervously, and he looked rapidly between both of them as if he expected them to do something, neither of them knew the Heimlich, and were too freaked out to really move.
Then something uncanny and impossible happened. Edgar’s mouth shot open wider than Gretchen thought was humanly possible and a millipede looking creature that must’ve been bigger than an anaconda burst out of his mouth and attacked Kenneth knocking him to the ground and biting at him with its mandibles. Kenneth was small, so he was pretty good at dodging its blows, but it had him pinned down with its body. Unfortunately for Edgar it’s body was so long it hadn’t completely exited him yet and was slowly sliding its way out. The glint of the hatchet by the stump caught Gretchen’s terrified and confused eye so she moved toward it like a moth toward a porchlight on a dark night. She picked it up, and the struggling, slightly bloody Kenneth made eye contact with her.
“Cut it.” He yelled. “Cut it in fucking half.” She moved back over toward the menacing otherworldly creature. She knew what she had to do and was running on pure adrenalin, but just as she began to think about using the hatchet other thoughts, that weren’t hers, started entering her head. They were dark thoughts that reminded her of everything she hated about herself. They showed her the tennis courts, they showed her the tattered jeans, and they showed her what happened with Melony. She was paralyzed by her own self-hatred and all she could do was ask herself why she didn’t say anything. Why didn’t she just push him away. What didn’t she just cut the fucking thing. It was Kenneth that brought her back. Somewhere in all of those distracting thoughts she heard his voice.
“Don’t be afraid. Literally, just don’t think about it.” He yelled, tears streaming down his face in total panic desperately struggling not to become a meal for the creature. She told her arms to move down with force and they did in spite of the rest. The blade of the hatchet came down hard on the creature again and again until it was cut in two and the mandibles stopped trying to pierce Kenneth’s skull. He rolled the dead thing off of him and the two of them focused what attention their traumatized brains could muster on Edgar. His mouth had regained its normal shape, and he lay there with his eyes closed. Kenneth put his head on his chest and said he could hear his heart beating, so they assumed he would be okay. They then turned their attention to the creature. They poked at it with the hatchet and examined its body. It was nothing like any insect they’d ever seen and that didn’t come close to explaining where the fuck it came from.
“He said he wanted to break through the amnion of the depths.” Kenneth said.
“What do you think that is?” Gretchen replied.
“We should probably just forget about it.” Not knowing what else to do the two of them used their hands and the hatchet to dig a hole and they buried the creature as deep as they could get it. When they finished Edgar woke up and said he couldn’t remember anything that happened. They told him he bit the head off of his parrot and passed out, but they got it out of his throat.
“I guess all that interdimensional summoning stuff was bull shit.” He said before heading back toward the neighborhood.
Gretchen and Kenneth followed swearing to each other never to talk about, or even think about, what just happened. They released the caged rabbit by the hole that led under Mr. Poole’s fence. It didn’t look back once on its short run from there to the shed. Kenneth went to his house and Gretchen went to hers.
Her parents were watching the local news on T.V. and said a brief hello to her as she walked in the door. They didn’t even notice her pants were different. She went straight to her room and collapsed into her bed exhausted. She stared up at her ceiling and liked to think that she’d be able to block out what she had seen that day, but a fear inside her loomed, and was there to stay.