Ichabod Chapter 3 part 1




The first thing I noticed was that my mouth was dry. The second thing I noticed was that my entire body hurt. I rolled onto my side and pulled my blanket up over my head, then stopped…wasn’t I supposed to be dead? Had it all been a dream? Hadn’t I already decided it all made much more sense as a dream? I couldn’t decide which part was more fantastic, me having a date with Erin Medrugada or the psychotic human-generator. I snorted to myself and stretched out my arms and legs, careful not to dislodge the blanket, wincing at the aches in my stiff muscles. Had I worked out yesterday and somehow forgotten about it? Maybe that’s why I was so hungry.

“’Bout time you woke up.” Said a gravelly voice which ground my thoughts to a halt. I slowly reached for the corner of the blanket and pulled it down off of my face, blinking in the sudden brightness. When my vision cleared I swallowed once, hard, and wished it hadn’t.

A man leaned against the back of my closed bedroom door. A large man. Wearing black leather boots, steel-toed with thick soles, blue jeans and a white tee shirt stretched tight across a heavily muscled torso. His arms, folded lightly across his chest, were covered in strange tribal tattoos spiraling down from under his sleeves to the back of his hands. For a second, I could have sworn I had seen the ink writhing. Maybe I was still dreaming. Around his neck he wore a crystal, of all things, wrapped in thin gold wire and attached to a thick black cord. His dark brown hair was thick, falling to his shoulders in tangled waves. From the ocean of hair rose an angular face, with a square jaw, covered in dark stubble just short of being a beard. His eyes, though, were easily his most striking feature, deep set under a heavy brow, they were the deep gray of angry storm clouds and seemed to glow with inner lightning. He looked menacing. He looked like a scary biker version of my father.

“Are you ok, Itch?” I looked down toward the tiny voice to find Zoe curled up in a sleeping bag in the corner, just like she used to when she had a nightmare. How long had it been since she’d done that? Zoe being there only made the whole scene more confusing. It was a relief to know she was safe, but relief didn’t lessen my confusion.

“What’s going on?” I asked groggily, pushing myself into a sitting position.

“We’ve been waiting to see if you’re going to pull through.” Scary biker dude answered with a shrug. I felt Zoe flinch.

“Pull through?” I asked absently, “What happened?” I really hoped I hadn’t wrecked my car.

“Don’t you remember anything?” Zoe looked at me with a worried expression.

I tired to think back, but all I could remember was my crazy dream. “Not unless I kissed Erin Madrugada last night, and then tried to face down a comic book super villain. “ I laughed, then immediately realized what a mistake that was, when my brain crashed against the shoals of my skull.

It was hard to imagine two people who looked more different than the two of them, yet the stares both Zoe and Mr. Tattooed muscle-and-fitness directed at me were identical.

“Your parents really never told him nothin’, huh?” I assumed the question was directed at Zoe, but those terrifying eyes never left me.

“No,” Zoe whispered. She was staring at me too, and frankly all of the attention was starting to make me a bit uncomfortable-not to mention the fact that I still had no idea what the hell was going on.

“Are one of you going to tell me what the hell is going on?” I tried to keep the annoyance out of my voice, but from the looks I got, I wasn’t entirely successful. “Please?”

I quickly tacked on, which seemed to mollify them slightly.

“Itch…you did kiss Erin Madrugada…” Zoe seemed to be struggling with something more to say, she looked like she was on the verge of tears and she wouldn’t meet my eyes. She picked at some lint on her pillow. “And….”

“And the electricity-throwing murderer didn’t come from a comic book, “Evil-dad-clone finished impatiently.

“Okay.” I smirked, playing along. “And who are you?”

“This is our Uncle Baird.” Zoe quickly interjected, still sounding nervous.

“It’s just Baird, squirt. No Uncle.” He directed a withering stare Zoe’s way.

I was definitely still dreaming, I realized with relief, that was the only reasonable way to explain such a bizarre conversation. I closed my eyes and tried to will myself to wake up. After a few seconds I hesitantly opened one eye and looked around-nothing had changed. “All right, let’s say I believe you. Why would the walking lightening rod be trying to kill us?” Somewhere amid all of this madness there must be a thread of logic that at least resembled reality.

“That’s a rather….involved story.” Mr. Gravely voice, Baird, answered evasively. “Suffice to say, you and that sneak have a history.” For a moment, rage distorted his features and blazed like a noon sun in his eyes. I had only thought he looked terrifying before, now malice rolled out from him in waves. “More so now that before.”

It took me a moment to work enough moisture into my mouth to respond. “ I don’t understand.”

Zoe looked like she might explain, but again Baird cut her off. “Not now, Squirt, give him a chance to wake up first. “He turned to me then, more composed, but I recognized the barely restrained anger lurking just beneath the surface. “Take a shower. Get dressed. We’ll wait downstairs.”

Zoe gave me another worried look on her way out the door. I wasn’t comfortable with her and Mirror universe dad being alone, but she didn’t seem scared of him, and I needed some time to collect my thoughts. I sat there for a few minutes trying to make sense of everything. It didn’t do any good. Nothing fit: People throwing balls of energy, the appearance of an Uncle I’d never heard of, a date with Erin Magrudaga. I concentrated on the memories of the last one, lingering on the details, if I was going to wake up and discover that all of this actually was a dream I didn’t want to forget a single moment of the good part.

Eventually, I was forced to admit I wasn’t waking up. Continuing to sit around staring off into space wasn’t helping me get the answers I needed either. I slowly stood, wincing several time from the pains lancing through my body as I moved, then headed towards the bathroom with a resigned sigh. I vaguely recalled the optimistic feeling I’d had the last time I made this walk. It already seemed like another life, though between Erin and the craziness afterword I wasn’t sure whether or not I should mourn the former existence.

The shower helped clear my head, leaving me more confused. When had my life become a bad graphic novel? More importantly-how had my life become a bad graphic novel?? I was fairly sure this wasn’t something that I could blame on Zoe-a situation both unexpected and new. Would anything in this new world be familiar? After the shower, I spend a long time combing my hair and getting dressed, much longer than I normally did. My procrastination was rooted in the hope that if I didn’t go downstairs and face the madness it would all simply go away. Seemed reasonable enough. It didn’t take me quite so long to come to the unfortunate realization that, eventually, I would need food. I was really hungry.

I made my march down the stairs to the gallows. Actually, finding a noose hanging from the ceiling and a burly maniac in a black hood couldn’t have surprised me more than what I actually found in the living room. Or where the living room used to be. The entire back wall, which once contained the window, I remembered static-cling jumping through, was blackened. There was a ragged and charred hole where the window had been and a foot-wide smoldering furrow was burned into the carpet running from the hole to the kitchen. Holy crap.

Both Baird and Zoe sat waiting for me at the kitchen table. Amazingly, the table was untouched by any sort of damage. For the first time since waking, I really looked at Zoe. She was a mess. Her hair was tangled into clumps, her eyes were red and puffy above tear stained cheeks. I had never seen her so un-composed. I glanced angrily at Baird, wondering if he was the cause, if he was….well, I was aware how very little I could do about it. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t try. I could feel the rage snarling inside of me….

“Easy kid. This isn’t my doing.” Baird locked eyes with me. He hadn’t spoke as though he was trying to be reassuring, he spoke as if he was on the verge of snapping my neck. Everything about this supposed uncle screamed dangerous. I suddenly had no doubts that this man had killed before. Maybe many, many times. I swallowed hard and turned back to Zoe. “Zee, are you alright?” she started to nod, but began to sob half-way through. I stood to go to her, she beat me to it, running around the table into my arms. I smoothed her knotted hair with my hands as she cried into my shoulder. “Okay”. I looked over her to Baird. “ I think I’m ready to hear what you have to say.” Zoe tried to say something, blubbered instead and cried harder. This was serious. I steeled myself for the worst.

“It’s your parents,” Baird explained without sympathy or compassion. “That smug little prick you took out last night got them.”

“What do you mean?” My voice echoed in my ears.

“Billy and your mother, they’re dead kid.” Baird was very still as he answered. Strangely. There was no immediate sense of grief-shock yes, and concern for Zoe, but no grief. That couldn’t be right. Did that mean it wasn’t true? No, Zoe wouldn’t be crying like this if it wasn’t true. Was I broken? What kind of monster doesn’t feel grief for his dead parents? Maybe it just hadn’t hit me yet, that’s possible, right?


“I told you. The guy you fried last night got them.”

“I fried?” Fresh shock was evident in my voice, even to me.

“Hey, I’m as surprised as you are.” Baird shrugged his massive shoulders. “ I figure he must’ve underestimated you. Either that or her wasn’t as good as they say he was.”

“You knew him?” It seemed like such an unimportant question to ask at a time like this. Baird didn’t seem to notice.

“Knew of him,” he qualified with another shrug. Did anything ever faze this guy? “Squirt? Go upstairs and get cleaned up. We’ll wait.”

“Where are we going?” I asked for her.

“The funeral.”

Zoe merely nodded and headed out of the kitchen, still crying, with her face in her hands. I watched her go, wondering if she should be alone, almost following after her until I realized there wasn’t anything I could do. I’d probably end up making things worse-I never knew what to say.

“You should probably eat something,” Baird suggested. “You’ve been out of it for a while.”

“How long?”

“About a day.” He looked me over as he answered. “You okay?” His voice still held no hint of compassion, merely curiosity.

“I think so.” I wondered if I sounded as surprised as I felt. I couldn’t tell.

“Good.” He nodded once, then turned his head and stared off into space.

Nice guy. It didn’t seem like a good time to ask any of the hundreds of questions I had, which was something of a relief because I had no idea how to ask them. Or if I really wanted any of the answers. Accepting Baird’s story probably meant I was insane, but the whole world seemed to have gone insane, so at least I fit in for once.

I made myself a bowl of cereal and ate in silence.

After an eternity, Zoe reappeared wearing a long black dress and looking only slightly less disheveled-she somehow managed to make it look affected though, as if a tear-streaked face and red-rimmed eyes were the perfect accessories for her outfit. It seemed a strange moment for me to suddenly have an idea why so many people were in awe of my little sister. Had she always carried herself with that quiet dignity? Maybe I was too close to the painting to fully appreciate its beauty. Maybe I was just a self-centered jerk. Was that why I wasn’t crying too?

“Okay. I’m ready.” She sniffled, tears rolling silently down her cheeks.

It’s an odd feeling, to be inspired by your little sister. Here she was, obviously falling apart, and yet pulling herself together and holding up a brave face. I hadn’t squeezed out a single tear to the memory of my parents, hadn’t even felt a twinge of grief, and I still felt like I might vomit. I choked it back. If I was an unfeeling monster that it should be easy to be strong for Zoe. I was going to have to take car if her now. I certainly wasn’t going to leave it in the hands of this Uncle Baird character, the guy didn’t look like he was responsible enough to raise a goldfish. I was already starting to sound like my father.

Baird’s ancient truck sat in the driveway, depreciating property values for miles, I was sure. Covered more in rust than that faded mint green paint that still stubbornly clung to its side in several places, it was hard to imagine it actually running.

“Uh, I think we’ll follow you in my car.” I said, unable to take my eyes off of the ugly scrap. It was kind of like seeing a horrendous car wreck-as much as you wanted to look away, you just couldn’t.

“Get in the truck.” He growled. I really didn’t want to ride in that death trap, but I really didn’t want to argue with Baird either….and since Zoe was already heading for the truck…I hurried ahead to wrench the door open for her. I stopped as I noticed the gun rack hanging in cab’s back window. The rack itself wasn’t very surprising, the truck was probably full of country music and cans of chewing tobacco too, but what was hanging on the rack, well, that was another story. The solid black pump-action shotgun had a barrel easily twice the size of similar guns I had seen, yet somehow more menacing was the sword on the nook above it. With a blade nearly four feel long, encased in a black leather sheath, and with a handle that looked like it was made of some sort of bone, yellowed with age, the sword looked like something out of another age. Who the hell carried a sword on a gunrack? Okay, who the hell carried a sword period?

I stood there holding the door open, staring at the sword, while Zoe climbed past me into the truck. Baird noticed my preoccupation and smiled affectionately at the weapon. “admiring Merlin?” His voice sounded less gruff as he pulled the covered blade lightly. “I never go anywhere with out him.”

“Why did you name your sword Merlin?” I asked as I climbed in next to Zoe. It was hard to take my eyes off of the sword, it felt like sitting with my back to a viper.

“I didn’t. That’s his name.”

“What’d you name your gun?”

Baird turned to face me with a look with a look which clearly questioning my intelligence. “Why would I name a gun anything?” He shook his head as if the whole idea where completely ridiculous.

Zoe looked from me to Baird and back again with a slight smile while she rubbed at the bottom of her eyes with the edge of her sleeve.

“I know what you’re thinking, Squirt, and you’re wrong,” Baird grumbled with a quick turn of the key. The truck sprang to life with a deafening roar.

“Whatever you say, Uncle Baird.”

“Is it all right with you two if I pretend like I know what you’re talking about?” I asked with exaggerated seriousness.

Baird growled something I couldn’t understand over the noise of the engine. Zoe actually barked a laugh as she leaned her head on my shoulder. Apparently, there was a lot going on, aside from the obvious, that I didn’t understand. Nothing new there.


Ichabod conclusion Chapter one

When I pulled into the mall parking lot a dozen girls, ranging in age from thirteen-year-old classmates of Zoe to eighteen-year-old seniors, rushed up and broke over my car like a wave. All of them talking at once. Queen Zoe, benevolent monarch of the masses has arrived. I chuckled to myself, shaking my head, as I watched Zoe lead her entourage through the big glass doors into the mall. Once I was sure she had made it safely inside, I walked across the parking lot to the Bag N’Burger. I had a sudden, overwhelming, craving for a milkshake.

Inside, I was relieved to see that it was still early enough that the place was nearly empty-no lines and no screaming kids. Things were looking up. I vaguely recognized the guy manning the counter with his greasy black hair and pimple ravaged face, I probably had a class with him or something.

“Welcome to Bag N’Burger. What kin’ I do ya fer?” the kid recited shame faced. I treid to rein in my laugh, but couldn’t. One of the many reasons I loved the Bag N’Burger, and the main reason I never used the drive thru, as that every day the owner came up with a new slogan, and over time they had gotten more and more ridiculous. I almost felt bad for the kids working there, almost.

“Just a strawberry shake, extra thick, with a mighty straw.” The mighty straw was as wide as three normal straws and, aside from being the only possible way to drink an extra thick shake, was another of the reasons I love the Bag N’Burger.

“would you like diced fruit with that?” And that right there-the main reason I loved the Bag N’Burger and always got my shakes there. Any fruit you could imagine diced into delectable cubes so diminutive they melted on your toungue.

“Yeah,” I thought it over. “How about pear.”

As he rang up my order I couldn’t ignore the look of recognition washing over his face, like he was trying to remember who I was.

Here is comes, I thought and began the mental countdown at five.

“Hey, “ he said finally, waggling a finger at me. “Aren’t you Zoe Case’s brother? “

Damn. I had only gotten to two.

At the sound of Zoe’s name, multiple heads in hair nets and paper caps popped up from behind grills and around doors, all of them desperately scanning the area for my little sister.

“Yeah.” I answered, wondering where my milkshake was.

“Is she with you? “ He started looking around the practically vacant restaurant.

“um, no.” I was finding it especially hard not to ridicule this guy.

“Tell her I said hi, would you? “ he asked, passing my my milkshake at long last.

“No problem.” I grabbed the cup and bolted before the rest of the grease brigade could begin giving their messages.

“Tell her Kenny…” He yelled to my back as I passed through the exit.

I was already well on my way to forgetting all about Commander Zits by the time I got back to my car.

I swung the driver’s door open and sat with my feet on the asphalt to reduce the risk of spilling anything in my car. One day I was going to meet the founder of the Bag N’Burger and shake his hand. I noticed a few people gawking at me as they walked by. They must be wondering if I’m Zoe Cases’ brother, I thought with a smirk. It was more likely they were staring at my car-and really, who could blame them?

My father had earned my eternal gratitude when he unveiled the car on the morning of my sixteenth birthday. He told me he had gotten it cheap, but never said how cheap. I wondered how much money he made being a meteorologist. He wasn’t even the guy who reported the weather on the local news. Now that I thought about it, I had no idea what it was exactly my father did for a living. What does a meteorologist, who doesn’t report the weather do? I shrugged, figuring it probably wasn’t important, just one of the many things my parents never discussed. I had long since learned that asking my parents personal questions was a quick way to end up doing chores-their preferred method of changing the subject. Maybe they were fugitives. I shook my head and laughed aloud at the idea of my parents as dangerous criminals.

By the time I had wrung all of the entertainment value from my parents-on-the-lamb speculation I had also finished my milkshake. I threw the empty wax paper cup towards a bright orange metal drum siting a few feet away.

“And….he scores,” I punctuated triumphantly as the cup landed inside the drum with a satisfying clunk. I leaned back in my seat, closed my eyes, ad allowed my mind to wander. Maybe, if I could find a way to dampen her enthusiasm, it wouldn’t be so bad letting Zoe set me up with one of her friends, I mused…then stopped in horror. What was wrong with me? Maybe that milkshake had gone bad. Zoe meddled in my life more than I could stand already and she did it without even trying, if idea of actually giving her permission…..terrifying. I shuddered at the sudden mental image of me as one of Zoe’s happy little drones. I guess I can wait until College to date, I thought morosely, after all, there had to be someplace left on planet Earth where they had not yet heard of…..

MY thoughts were interrupted by a shadow that fell across me, blocking the sun. I felt the corners of my mouth turn down in irritation as I wondered which love sick moron had decided it was a good idea to ask the big brother if Zoe had a date for the dance yet-or whatever social function I was oblivious to was coming soon to a nightmare near me. I didn’t even bother opening my eyes because there was no other reason that anyone would approach me. I figured if I ignored him he would go away, eventually, which is why I was completely surprised to hear a familiar, and distinctly feminine voice.

“Nice car.”

I started, nearly falling out of the open car door, and turning to stare up into the clear light green eyes that had haunted my dreams almost every night. My parents had taken Zoe and me to Florida last summer and the gulf waters had been that exact shade of green. Erin Madrugada was, quite literally, the girl of my dreams. Or, at least, the eyes of my dreams. She was standing with one long smooth leg slightly bent behind the other, slowly digging the toe of her white sneaker into the blacktop. Her hands were folded at her waist, and she was biting her full bottom lip. A small part of my brain wondered why she looks so nervous, but the rest was too busy drinking in the sight of her to pay much attention. Her straight hair reached to just below her shoulders and was such a dark brown that it sometimes looked black. Her oval face, balanced right on the precipice between girl-next-door cute and Hollywood starlet beautiful, never failed to yank my breath away. My pulse picked up a notch as I noticed how her lightly caramel skin contrasted with her bright yellow mini shirt and v-neck t-shirt.

“um, thanks,” I responded a full second too late. I felt like I should be apologizing for staring, unfortunately I didn’t know how to do that without making a bigger idiot out of myself. Maybe she wouldn’t notice.

“I’m Erin.” She extended her hand towards me with a shy smile. Not only did she not know who I was, she didn’t even know I knew who she was.

I took her hand absently. I couldn’t fathom why she was speaking to me. We had been in science class together for two years running, and in that time, had never once said a word to each other. I realized I had started staring again and forced myself to stop.

“Ichabod.” I flushed a little at my stupid name. “So what kind of car is this?” she asked, leaning forward a little to look inside.

I barely heard her over the pounding of my heart. She smelled amazing-like butterscotch and vanilla. I think she might have said something more, but I couldn’t be sure, it was impossible to focus with her standing so close. I found myself ogling the thin slice of her flat belly that I could see beneath her shirt’s hem. I pulled my eyes back up to her face. It didn’t help. I was getting a little dizzy,

Everything started to look really far away. Then, just when I started to feel like my brain was about to shut off, it all suddenly made sense. Zoe.

The blood flowed back into my head with a flush of anger, allowing me to think a little more clearly. A very little. The twerp had set this up.

“Look Erin, “ I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “you don’t have to do this. I know Zoe put you up to it.” A look of profound relief streamed over her face and crashed among the jagged rocks of my broken heart. I had to admit, to myself at least, that look hurt-which of course only made me more angry.

“oh, thank God.” She laughed as she straightened and smoothed her shirt. “the look on your face…I thought you were going to bite my head off.”

I had looked angry? Well that’s probably because I was angry. Zoe wa going to pay for this. The back yard was plenty big enough and I was positive my father had a shovel somewhere around the house. I had Zoe buried up to her neck before I realized that Erin as still standing there. I glanced up to find her biting her lower lip again and scrutinizing me.

“Are you…” she stopped, going rigid as a resonant growl rolled menacingly from somewhere behind her. Oh so slowly, she turned and put her back against the car.

Standing there, with its head lowered and its teeth bared, was a smallish yellow dog. The kind of dog you normally was happily wagging its tail while a toddler yanks on its ears. This dog’s tail was not wagging. It interrupted its growling long enough to bark and hop forward, causing Erin to cringe. I scrambled out of the car, clumsily banging my knew on the open door. Time seemed to slow. I watched each muscle bunch as the dog rocked back onto its hind legs and then release as it launched itself forward. Between one heartbeat and the next panic turned to anger, and anger turned to action. Some sense within me I had never before been aware of stretched taut. My fist smashed against the side of the dog’s jaw, sending it sailing away to crash into a heap on the ground. I stood between it and Erin, wondering how I had gotten there. I watched the dog pick itself up on shaky legs. I clenched my fist anticipating another attack. It whined once and looked at me, with what I would have sworn was betrayal, as it limped away. “what the hell was that? “I asked no one in particular. It had all happened so fast that, except for the adrenaline flooding through my, it might have all happened in my head. Man, that was all I needed on top of everything-to be hallucinating too. “Are you okay?” Erin asked, erminding me she was there.

“Yeah.” I rasped. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, Thank you. Dogs have never liked me, but I’ve never had one try to attack me before.”

“My mother has that same problem.” Why would I mention my mother at a time like this? I felt myself blush and climbed back into the car to hide my face.

“Are you sure that you’re alright?”

I had the strongest urge to tell her the truth. To tell her no. To spill my guts about my frustration with Zoe and my fear about the unpredictable fits of rage. Maybe not the glowing eyes thing, but everything else. That milkshake rally must have gone bad. “Yeah,” I lied instead. “I’m okay. You don’t have to hang out. Zoe will understand, she knows what a jerk I am.”

She hesitated for a moment, flushing pink, before she whirled around and walked off in the opposite direction of the dog, towards the all with her hands folded behind her back to keep her skirt from bouncing up.

Why had she looked embarrassed? Must have been my imagination. The better question was, how had Zoe known about Erin Madrugada? It couldn’t be coincidence. Zoe was friends with every girl in town, what were the odds she had just randomly picked Erin?

Maybe if I beg and get a job to pay half of the tuition, I thought dejectedly. After all, how bad could military school actually be? I bet I could even find one where no one had ever heard of Zoe Case.

I could feel my anger building, despite my attempts to calm down and with it came the familiar urge to lash out violently. I gripped the steering wheel and concentrated on my breathing. My ears rang with the echo of blood charging through me. Sharp pains lanced through my temples. My muscles jumped, twitched, war danced. It took me a long time to regain control of myself. What if the next time it happened I couldn’t fight it down? What if that next time had happened moments before, with Erin standing there? The question rose unbidden in my mind and I shied away from even considering what the answer might be. I had turned the key in the ignition and roared out of the parking lot before I fully realized what I was doing. I was making a run for it. How do you run from yourself? I was sick of asking questions I didn’t have answers to, so I slipped a cd into the stereo and cranked the volume all way up in an attempt to drown the noise in my head. The sounds of the 80’s speed metal band Tread Marks blasted through the speakers as the car blasted through the tranquility of the highway. I didn’t bother to glance at the speedometer or to notice where I was going. What did it matter? Did anything really matter?

Sadly, the answer was yes. There were things that did matter. Things that mattered more than my anger or confusion-things that mattered more than me.

I sighed and let off the gas. Zoe needed a ride home, and besides, totaling my car wouldn’t solve any of my problems. Knowing my luck, I’d probably survive the wreck. Then I would still have to deal with all the same crap….without my car.

I pulled back into the mall parking lot filled with a hopeless desperation, my world was drowning in it. I couldn’t explain the sensation and didn’t try in any case. Life sucks, every body knows it, you just have to deal with it. So, I’d deal with it. Somehow. I felt drained, exhausted, so I leaned back and closed my eyes. I tried to clear my mind, concentrate on my breathing, I wanted nothing so much as I have all feeling erode away into the ocean of blackness behind my closed eyes……



I was pretty sure I was dreaming, either that or I had completely lost my mind. I was standing in a desolate wasteland that stretched out in all directions. Unrolled into forever. The sky above me was pitch, with only the occasional flash of lightning to illuminate the roiling mass of storm clouds that swirled there. The entire landscape glowed with a soft gray light I could feel on my skin; it felt slick, like oil, and cold. Something about this place made me feel angry and powerful. Like a vengeful God.

I took a step forward expecting to hear the crunch of dirt beneath my boot. But there was no sound-no crunch of dirt, no whoosh of wind, and no crack of thunder. I knew all of these things were present, I could feel them, but their voices were absent. Mine was not. I inhaled deeply, the sulphurous air burning my lungs, and screamed-a primal roar containing all of my fears, longings, and frustrations. Not all of my anger though, there seemed too much of it to ever give away, to ever spend itself out. I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh.

In the distance I could see someone striding towards me. Even from so far away I could tell their steps were filled with confidence and purpose. A growl like the sundering of continents rolled out from my chest and I charged towards the figure, the energy, just as it began to charge towards me. I ran with the relentless determination of time, each stride propelling me forward over ground as lifeless as I felt inside. There was something familiar about my energy, something about his balled fists, his frenzied charge, the flashing light in his eyes. Too late I recognized the figure, too late I recognized myself.

Too late to stop.

I crashed into my enemy, into myself, with an impact that caused the world around us to shudder. An impact shattering us both like glass…….

I awoke with a gasp, covered in sweat, and heart pounding out a Tread Marks drum solo. The nightmare hadn’t just been weird and terrifying-it had also been incredibly vivid.

It was about an hour later when Queen Zoe led her court, now numbering closer to two dozen, out of the mall. I was still so disturbed by my nightmare it took me a minute to remember that I was supposed to be mad at her, Zoe’s friends split off from her, waving good bye, before she got to the car. An early separation could only mean one thing-they knew I was angry. Great. If military school was too expensive Maybe I could convince my parents to let me just join the military. I could lie about my age and, you never know, maybe I would get lucky ad somebody would shoot me. Hopefully I could find a way to pull of this off before the entire town found out abut my little sister forcing Erin to talk to me. Knowing Zoe and her friends, it was probably already too late.

When Zoe opened the door and slid into the passenger seat her look of doe-eyed innocence was so adorably comical I started laughing and gave up trying to reignite my anger at her. Amazing, I marveled, even though I know better, the brat still manages to work her magic on even me sometimes.

“What?” She asked.

“You’re a very cute little brat.”

“Thank you.”

Since I had decided to forgive her, I figured it was best if I didn’t bring up the Erin incident, it would only make her angry again, so I drove in silence while Zoe played with the radio tuner. When she finally settled on a station she turned the volume almost all of the way down.

“Spit it out, Zee”, I prompted when she seemed to hesitate.

“Are mom and dad coming home tonight?”

That had not been what I was expecting at all, and it caught me off guard. “Uh, no. Tomorrow night.” How could she not know that?

“Oh.” She seemed to withdraw into herself, deep in thought, lightly tapping her chin with a finger. “Where did they go again?”

“Some bed and breakfast upstate, I forget where.” I answered, starting to get suspicious. Zoe always knew more about our parents’ travel plans that I did. She was obviously up to something. My tone must have tipped her off to the direction of my thoughts because she immediately resumed her her innocent face. “Forget it, twerp.” I said with mild irritation. “You already got one freebie today, so whatever it is you’re up to – just forget it.”

“Up to?” She asked in mock astonishment, raising one tiny hand to rest lightly on the hollow of her neck. “I’m not up to anyth-“ She cut off, reaching for the radio and turning up the volume with one hand while using the other to wave me to silence – as if I had been the one talking.

“…incation goes out to Ichabod from Erin. She wants to thank you for saving her and she hopes you’re feeling better.” The DJ’s voice blared out of the speakers over top of the introduction of some bubbly pop song I would never listen to, but which was probably a play list favorite among Zoe and her friends. This week, anyway.

“Zoe…” I groaned, reaching over and switching off the radio. “Leave Erin alone.”

“I had nothing to do with this.” She insisted angrily. For a brief moment I almost believed her. Thin I remembered who it was I was dealing with.

“Oh, I see.” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “You just happened to know that Erin would dedicate a song to me. On this station. At this exact time. Makes sense.”

“Well, of course she told me what she was going to do.” Zoe rolled her eyes was she explained. “Otherwise, how could she be sure you would hear it?” She smiled, obviously pleased with her logic. Clever little twerp. I had to give her credit, though. She had apparently covered all of her bases. Of course, it didn’t matter what story she came up with, I could see her fingerprints all over this.

“I’m not stupid, Zoe. Erin and I have never spoken one word to each other before today, the same day you suddenly decide I need a girlfriend.” There, let’s see her wiggle her way out of that one.

“You really hurt her feelings today.” I felt my heart wrench as a riptide of guilt pulled me under. Good wiggling.

“What are you talking about?” My voice sounded wrong, slightly horse for some reason.

“She was flirting with you and you shot her down.” She answered, seeming oblivious to my reaction.

“Because you told her to flirt with me!” I tried sounding angry, but only succeeded in sounding miserable.

“No, I didn’t.” She responded too quickly. Then she smiled and asked, “So you think Erin’s pretty then?”

She had asked the question innocently, as if I wouldn’t know it was a loaded gun aimed straight at every one of my vital organs. “That’s not my point, Zee.”

“Is that a yes?”

She waited patiently, keeping her smile locked on me, until I finally just gave up and admitted the truth. “Yes. Okay? Erin’s pretty, she’s beautiful, that’s not the point. I don’t want pretty girls flirting with me because you told them to.”

“So what you’re saying is that if I hadn’t said anything about fixing you up this morning then you would have asked Erin out?”

“Yes.” I answered after a moment’s consideration.

“Liar. You’ve been in her class for two years and never even introduced yourself.”

“Okay, fine. Maybe I wouldn’t have, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m never going to be ale to show my face in school again.”

“Don’t be melodramatic.” She chided. “How do you know that Erin didn’t already like you and just needed some prompting? You’re not exactly the easiest person in the world to approach.” That was probably as close to an admission of guilt as I was likely to get. I could feel the incredulity on my face. Was this really the angle she was going to play? Did she really think I was dumb enough to believe that Erin Stevens had been harboring a secret crush on me? I concentrated on my driving, trying very hard not to lose my temper. Thankfully, Zoe seemed to sense this and let me be, for once.

After we got home I sat along in the car for a long time, debating on whether or not to just drive off into the sunset; just me and my car. I was more rational than I had been earlier, when I’d had similar thoughts, so I couldn’t ignore the fact that I didn’t have much money and probably wouldn’t make it very far. Why did there always have to be another sunrise?

Zoe was waiting for me, hands on hips, when I walked through the front door.

“Just leave me alone, Zee.” I complained without much hope she would actually listen to me.

Her eyes squinted and her mouth pressed down into a tight line. That was the only warning I got before my entire body itched. I felt like I was wearing a wool straight jacket. “You ARE going to listen to me.” She enunciated each word slowly. “Sitting in your room by yourself all of the time isn’t healthy. I can’t even imagine how lonely it must be, constantly living in a bubble – yet you choose to. You refuse to make friends, you refuse to go to parties, and now you’re refusing ERIN?” She was practically screaming at me by the end and took a deep breath, then started again more calmly. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand your anger, and I don’t understand your depression. I’m trying to help you. You’re my big brother and I love you, Itch.”

I had no idea how to respond to any of that, and for once I was glad for the excuse of being too busy scratching to for a coherent answer. My throughs must have been clear on my face because Zoe relaxed her stance slightly and loosened her drawn face, the itching vanish instantly. Along with my excuse. I really had to figure out how she did that.

“I’m not lonely or depressed.” My voice sounded defensive, though I hadn’t meant it to. I really wasn’t lonely or depressed. Definitely not. I was sure of it.

She continued to glare and I braced myself for another wave of itching, but she merely threw up her hands and stalked away, muttering something about me being difficult.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about her little speech. Angry? Of course I was angry, she was meddling in my life; but I didn’t think I was depressed. Who wanted to go to parties where you didn’t know anybody? Who wanted friends that would spend all of their time ogling your little sister? And did she really think that I would believe her story about Erin Madrugada, she could have any guy she wanted. Well, she could if Zoe lived in another county – but still, it wasn’t like Zoe could date every guy in town. Not all at once, anyway. I knew that none of my mental protestations mattered. Zoe was tenacious: once she got an idea stuck in her head she never gave up on it. Erin and I were doomed to suffer through a lot more awkward moments. I wondered if it was sick that a small part of me looked forward to the next one.

I needed a distraction – fast. Well, I thought glumly, I could always clean my room. It wsn’t my greatest or most thrilling idea ever, but it was slightly less miserable than standing there brooding, and so was an improvement of my circumstances. Hurrying upstairs, I kicked enough of the mess out of the way to allow to close the door, then carefully made my way to the pile of clothes which I was reasonably sure covered my stereo. After some digging, I was rewarded for my keen memory with not only my stereo, but also a shoe box of CDs. I put on my favorite Neon Black album and stood in the middle of the room, taking that moment to simply soak in the music. The sounds of a feminine voice weaving beautifully ribbons around raging guitar riffs filled the small space.

It was an incredibly mind-numbing chore, separating the clothing into piles – clean and dirty – and I quickly left my anger and embarrassment behind. I was amazed at how fast I had gotten all of the rumpled clothing packed up, revealing tiny islands of green carpet and stacks of discarded CDs. I stuffed the clean pile into my trunk and grabbed the much larger pile of dirty clothes for transfer to the laundry room.

On my way through the kitchen I passed Zoe, who had reconnected with the phone and was whispering furiously with one hand cupped over the receiver. Probably some boy problem with one of her friends. Such arguments were common enough occurrences, as some boy one of Zoe’s friends liked would, inevitably, be more interested in Zoe. Nobody ever asked Zoe to talk to a boy for them. It wasn’t the twerp’s fault, but I still felt kind of bad for a lot of the girls; the irony of watching them cry on Zoe’s shoulder after they were done screaming and yelling at her was painful. I imagined it must have been hard for those girls knowing they had to compete with Zoe for the attention of every eligible bachelor in town, especially if they realized that she wasn’t even trying. It must have been really frustrating for the girls who were older than Zoe. It always surprised me that not one of those girls ever waged a smear campaign against Zoe. Sure, they would show up at the house to cry, scream, and yell at her – right before they forgave her – but they never started any nasty rumors. It seemed to be a common enough tactic among teenaged girls, judging from some of the things I had seen on the internet and bathroom walls at school. But everyone loved Zoe too much to drag her name through the mud. It was kind of eerie now that I though about it, like they were automatons under her commad. Zoe the zombie queen.

I’ve been watching way too many B-horror movies, I chuckled to myself and finished loading the washing machine, throwing the rest of the dirty laundry into the hamper. I headed back to

ward my room, noticing Zoe – still on the phone – had visibly relaxed and was flipping through some DVDs spread out on the kitchen table. I suppose the crisis has been averted…brains for everybody!

I made it half-way up the stairs when Zoe’s call stopped my short. “Itch? Could you come down here for a sec?”

I briefly considered making a run for it, but where would I go? I instinctively know that whatever it was Zoe wanted, I wouldn’t like it. In the end, I settled for a sigh before turning around and trudging back into the kitchen.

“Your Highness.” I bowed deeply and took a seat across from her. I was surprised to see she wasn’t on the phone. Surprised and worried – this could only mean she expected an argument.

“Har-har.” She rolled her eyes, but then cleared her throat and put on a serious face. “Did you have plans tonight?”

“Is that what you were whispering about?” I asked. “Forget it. I’m not taking Erin out on some date you had to talk her into.”

“Geez, paranoid much? This has nothing to do with Erin.” Her voice and face were the very picture of innocence, which is why I was suspicious. As crazy as it was, I also felt disappointed this had nothing to do with Erin. Like I said, crazy.

“What, then?” I demanded.

“I want to invite someone over…I need a chaperone.” She actually blushed a little. Cold horror washed over me, this was far worse than anything I could have imagined. I was uncomfortable with guys asking me if Zoe had a date. I certainly didn’t want to play chaperone – ever, if at all possible, but especially not tonight.

“Why to you hate me?” I asked her seriously.

“So would you rather I have a boy over without supervision?” She arched an eyebrow. She had me there. I hung my head in defeat.

“What time?” I mumbled, still not looking up.

She squealed with delight and came around the table to hug me around the shoulders and kiss me on the cheek. “Six o’clock. You’re the best big brother ever!”

“Yeah.” I slid my head onto the table beneath my folded arms. How had it come to this? Even worse, that traitorous part of me which was disappointed this hadn’t had something to do with Erin was still pulsing away in the back of my mind. It occurred to me this was what Zoe’s questions about our parents had been about earlier. She must have known I would get suspicious, so she set up the radio dedication to distract me. Okay, that sounded paranoid even for me. But then, I couldn’t really put anything passed the clever little twerp, she had carried out far more elaborate plans in the past – nothing I could prove, of course, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t behind something.

What really worried me, though, was that she hadn’t tried to get me out of the house for her date. I had the sickening feeling she had just gotten me to volunteer for a trap and now I wouldn’t be able to avoid whatever it was she had planned since I was obligated to chaperone her and whatever boy-wonder she’d managed to rope into helping her. My inner traitor hoped this might still have something, anything, to do with Erin.

I should’ve driven off into the sunset when I’d had the chance.






Low-lying stone

under bended weeds


Not hiding, but unseen

Worn down by wind

Silently unyielding

Belligerent monument

Altar to

Broken lawnmower blades

And winces at stubbed toes;

Sacrifices to lesser Gods

Who take what they can get



About ” Votive”

“votive came out of me musing about early hominids’ religious practices and what became of their religious artifacts, if any existed. I imagined that after so much time it was possible altars or other artifacts would be unrecognizable as anything out the ordinary. I also imagined ancient hominid gods forgotten in their unremarkable stones, living off of accidents like gremlins.

American Gods is one of my favorite novels, so with the television treatment of it now airing I thought this would be a good time to post this.