The winter stars twinkled above the streetlamps in the midnight sky. Porch lanterns glimmered through the fog. A lone car’s headlamp shone in the distance.
But shadows prevailed. Dusky hands swiped from the gloom. A blackness I’d never escape.
I kept running. Rushing forward in a race against no one. Each breath drew shorter. I started gasping, chest tightening with every stride.
Palm trees swayed overhead, their sharp fronds whispering like necromancers creating curses. Repeatedly, they murmured, “Dog. Freak. Outcast.” Meanwhile, wispy clouds became wraiths assaulting the sky.
Praying that speed would shrivel the words, I tried focusing on my feet. And raced on.
If there truly was a fairy godmother, she’d tell me to close my eyes to erase it all. But when I tried, Angie’s sneering face remained etched on the back of my lids.
I sprinted up one street. Down another.
Then I turned the corner and flew head long into the street. Saw the headlights. Too late. A horn blared and tires screeched.
The next thing I knew I was splayed out in someone’s yard, watching a man in a dark Camaro roll down his window.
“Stupid kid! Watch where you’re going!” he shouted before peeling out.
If I’d had any buzz before that, it sure as shit was gone now. Panting, I hugged my knees as the wet grass soaked into my Dittoes.
The street was quiet now. Shivers tingled my scalp and pulsed down my spine until I was shaking so much, I thought that big earthquake they always talk about had begun.
I want to go home. Sit on Mom’s lap like I had when I was little, feeling her stroke my hair as she told me things that weren’t true like sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you.
Take a deep breath, Joy. Think. You don’t’ know where you are, but you need to find out. It’s almost curfew.
My legs tightened as a full-on Charlie horse set in. Standing I limped over to a nearby street sign, grabbed the pole with both hands, and started to stretch out my right calf.
The sign said Malibu Avenue. Where had I heard that before? Wracking my brain, I tried to remember street names, but everything was fuzzy and mixed up.
Right or left? Both looked pretty much like dead ends, but I either picked one or stayed on this corner shivering all night. Eeenie meanie Minnie moe.
Left it is.
By the time I finally found my way home it was real late, probably past two. I thought maybe I could sneak in and my parents wouldn’t notice.
Turning the knob as slowly as I could, I slipped inside.
“Where the hell have you been?” Ronny thundered, his eyes red and angry.
“Umm. At Janice’s.”
He grabbed me by the collar and pulled me closer. I could still smell the Seagram’s under the toothpaste on his breath. “Liar. We called. She was with her boyfriend.”
“But I was with them. Really.”
“You were whoring around, little slut.”
“No! I was with Janice and Lisa, I swear.”
Mom stepped into the entryway. “Tell us the truth Joy. Was it a boy?”
“No.” I sighed. Busted, I might as well tell the truth. “I was a party, okay? Some kids had a party.”
“I don’t do that. just went to a party.” Then under my breath said, “Nobody’d want me anyhow.”
Mom’s face fell. “You lied to us?”
“I thought you’d say no. You guys are so strict-”
“I’ll show you strict you little slut!” Ronny raised an arm.
“Stop calling me that.”
Grabbing a fistful of t-shirt, he said, “Slutty jeans. Whore top.”
“Asshole!” I jerked away.
“Why you fucking little–” His fist recoiled off my face.
For the first time I ignored the pain and fear. Instead, rage filled me. Every punch Mom and I had ever endured. Every black eye and bruise. Every cruel word of derision. Every time I’d cowered behind my door. All turned to paper flashing flame.
I wish he’d just crawl in a hole and die.
I swung. Fists curled like he showed me. Connected with that fucking red face. Arms burning with rage. Imitating the blows he’d inflicted year after year.
Smack! Rapid fire strikes shot off from two pairs of arms. Child against adult. Girl against man. Victim against perpetrator.
Mom’s screams did nothing to stop the conflagration. Too many years of fuel. I punched and punched. Not giving a shit as to how loud she cried or how much my face was swelling.
She got behind me and grabbed my waist. “Stop, now!” she said dragging me off him.
I stumbled back. Raised an arm toward her but then gasped when I realized what I was doing. A tear-stained face looked at me accusingly.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Ronny placed a hand on Mom’s back. “She’s a spoiled bitch, that’s what.”
Shaking my head, I backed up. Only now feeling the fire on my cheeks, I cupped them and froze. I hate him, fucking hate him.
After lowering my hands, I ran to my room. With a loud door slam, I fell onto the bed and buried my face in a Tide-scented pillow. Pounding the mattress, I screamed, “I didn’t do anything!”
And I’d really been trying lately. Not getting high so much. Working on my grades, friggin’ joined the school paper, even wrote two articles that got published. I tried getting home before curfew. Wasn’t my fault I couldn’t get a ride.
Why do I even try? No matter what I do, things suck.
A smoldering something changed in me that day. It blistered into a scalding char that burned under my skin. And the tears that flooded my pillow did nothing to smother it.
I fucking give up.
About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry, Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and Forests Secrets. Laurie Woodward is also a screenwriter who co-authored Dean and JoJo: The Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at Author Laurie Woodward — Next Chapteria.net