They were losers. They used to be scary in their bright blue jerseys with the crimson scorpion dead center that you could see from the field goal kick, swarming across the trampled turf like a spray of water and blood. The Scorpions were badass because they used to be the champs. The Scorpions would always be scary because they were scorpions. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true. They had illusion and history on their side and no one could change that, no matter how many losses, no matter how angry Coach Rope got during hell week, no matter how hard he cried behind the bleachers at season’s end, people respected The Scorpions, but they also didn’t bet on them. The scouts stopped crashing their games. It used to be different.
The downfall of The Scorpions, and Scorpio High School, happened when Colt Zurk stopped playing. There is no “I” in team, but without Colt the team fell apart like removing the keystone in the archway over the front entrance to the high school, the oldest building in town. Today the school pumped out pristine students ready for any mediocre college, but no longer the athletic gods recruited by Ivy League institutions. Those Olympians paid for the Italian marble that made the stairwells and hallways echo, their winnings also funded the library, and most importantly, Colt Zurk was one of many athletes whose plays paid for the sports equipment and fields that were now the icons of shame as if tainted by a curse. Rumor had it that so many tears were shed on each field (one for each major sport) that the salt killed the grass no matter what the grounds keepers did. Eventually, the school had to fire the keepers and install Astroturf because funding losers is a rich man’s game.
As of six-months ago the school was no longer an Ivy League primer. Scorpio High was named for its inception, All Hallows Eve, 1929. By all accounts it never should have succeeded. It survived and thrived as a modest immigrant establishment helping students assimilate into American society, ushering them through the gateway of the American Dream. Over the decades it became a benchmark and rite for the development of all, until today.
Colt Zurk stopped playing. Kyle overheard teachers and administrative staff try to figure out how the town’s crown had lost its cherished jewel and the only answer anyone ever came up with was that Colt Zurk stopped playing. That spoiled mother fucker.
Kyle was too much of an introverted wuss to point out that Colt was not the only reason. Students all across the board were doing poorly. Teachers quit and fled the cheap rural district for better jobs in the city long before Colt vanished. The student president successfully campaigned to keep the soda machines and abysmal (yet delicious!) lunches on the menu when every other school was upgrading their menus for health. There was also a bullying problem at Scorpio. This phenomenon probably had something to do with the goddamn namesake. If you identify as an arachnid with a poison stinger and pincers you eventually want to grab people and stick them for real. If there was any one problem with Scorpio, if you could nail one thing down as the reason it was failing, then Kyle believed it was just the school’s strict adherence to tradition. The district’s policies ignored technology and mental health, forcing students to use ancient Texas Instrument calculators and leveling everyone regardless of gender identity to an absurd level of pre-WWII masculinity.
Kyle was seeing staff and students fracture like the building itself. The newest addition had been a Cold War bomb shelter. Nothing else had been touched since then. The plumbing failed like clockwork, the electricity sparked fires inside walls, the windows were tinted in such a way as to allow only fiery colors in, blocking out cool greens and blues. The glass was forged with gold for this effect, originally installed in 1929 to dazzle everyone with the institution’s resilience to the crashing economy. The town wouldn’t dare touch such a landmark that had never had a blemish until now. The people would never admit they needed to burn it down and get modernized.
Nope. Blame it on the AWOL quarterback.
Kyle saw his chance and got to work. He balanced AP classes; Calc, English Lit, History, Bio-Chem, Physics, Qualitative Analysis (they called it “Quality Anal” for the lulz), SAT Prep, and Poli-Sci. He also was involved in the debate and drama clubs. He never got involved in sports, detested them for the kinds of assholes who joined and for the empowerment the sports institutions gave to those assholes. If Kyle wanted to enroll Ivy League without sports he had to grab everything else and then some. Yet, some bozo who ate lead-chips with his frosted flakes drowned in Simpler Times lager could get a full scholarship if he could catch an object or throw one – nothing else mattered. Kyle replaced his prejudice with sports. Let them try to deny me now, he thought looking towards the schools he dreamed of enrolling.
Kyle tried to convince his friends to join him. He laid out the scientific evidence and cultural qualifiers for his argument – health, babes, power, future. His friends laughed it off, they had plans for their future already. They were adherents to the tried and true method of market research yields coincidental opportunity, which required everything but sports. In fact, anything physical beyond typing and rotating a mouse detracted from their potential as the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Stephen Hawking (some of them were even jealous of Hawking – All he does is sit there and think out theories and no one says boo!)
Kyle alienated himself from these lifelong friends. He picked up Schwarzenegger instead of Dostoyevsky, Paterno instead of Nabokov, and it was painful at first. But then The Gains happened.
He didn’t know the jocks thought his AP classes stood for “Asshole Production.” Kyle took on his current AP courses and sports. It was his battle against hip ignorance, the invisible clique everyone dubbed the Ignorant Horde, and they were worse than the Freaks (aka Goths). The Ignorant Horde were kids who had the aptitude but no interest. They were nihilists and every year they grew and were tolerated with more and more patience. Kyle hated the IH more than he hated jocks. Kyle had anger issues and sports had been suggested for him on more than one occasion, especially after the time he chucked his Texas Instrument at Donald Ribald’s smug face for being such a wise-ass in Calc. Donald was also the kid who wanted to be paralyzed so he could think all the time and not get in trouble for it – Kyle had tried to do Donald a favor and was sorry he missed the shot.
Kyle had to bring the football team back into the limelight because without a key sports team the Ivy Leagues would not see him. Or so he thought. He had debates with himself in the bathroom mirror while Mom and Dad shouted at reruns of Jeopardy and chuckled over America’s Funniest. Kyle missed doing that, sitting with them and laughing and yelling answers. But he was going crazy, a good crazy. He had no time to himself, but his self wouldn’t pay the bills in the future, wouldn’t slay dream-girl pussy, and certainly never land the good life. Fuck self. That was the sentiment of the latest debate with his reflection, fuck self because no one gives a shit after Kindergarten. Kyle recognized the paradox of arguing with himself. He struggled with the idea of Free Will, too, but thankfully weights and the change in his diet helped him not think.
Yeah, The Gains happened. Skinny scarecrow Kyle used his brains to change his diet. He ate whole rotisserie chicken and steamed veggies. Nothing else, just veggies and a stack of real protein. He punished himself in the gym. He wore a baseball cap, the brim tee-peed so he couldn’t see more than the weights in front of him, and no one could see his face go dark purple lifting eight-pound dumbbells. Study hall periods became one of two things, weights or shits. He realized the hard way that mass media focuses so much on weight loss that the little guys are left to discover the horrors of The Gains. He was lucky to be in the teachers’ good graces, which meant he could rush to the bathroom any time he needed. Unlike the Ignorant Horde, who needed hall passes to even turn their heads away from a dry erase board, Kyle could rush a men’s-room-squat after dumbbell squats, or any time his body needed. At first his body had no idea what to do with all of this forced protein, but Kyle had always been a quick learner.
Kyle whipped his self into shape. Girls started noticing, laughing during the first month as their jock steadies pointed him out in the weight room benching ten pounds, but then they got curious. For one he smelled good, something about the change in his testosterone levels. Even while sweating kettle bell throws, or running seven miles a day to and from school with his backpack loaded with the tools of learning he smelled like the Marlboro Man, or James Dean leather goods. Another reason he was a curious specimen was that he refused contacts and wore his staple thick glasses just so people wouldn’t mistake him for some new kid. And finally, he earned Them Gains. He had been fighting over his meek and mild biology for months and achieved Olympian-bod-status. Ripped, chiseled, yoked from calves to neck. Yet, he was not distracted. He got maybe four hours of sleep per night (given that it takes the average person ninety minutes to reach peak rapid-eye-movement rest) and juggled all of those AP classes without stimulants. He had a deadline to meet. Hell Week was coming. Sandra would not divert his mission. Let her burn, Kyle thought and he knew she liked his cold shoulders as she watched him alone on the bleachers as he did offensive and defensive runs alone on the ruined field. He got a thrill seeing her rebuff the standard jocks’ advances. Sandra ignored top-tier alpha males while sketching in a notebook and sneaking looks at Kyle. She had a mission, too. He was motherfucking magma as long as he never indulged in more than his path. As long as he remained mysterious he was sure to be the one to save the Scorpions from infamy.
In secret, just before bed, he outlined his autobiography and dedicated it to over-loaded kids everywhere, and to Sandra. He had visions of super bowls and book deals, of movie cameos and primetime interviews. Of Sandra melting his cold heart with lips as plump as cushions in an Arabian harem.
He was truly a self-made man. Kyle was ready for Hell Week.
Hell Week was not the hardest part of football training, but it weeded out the ones who would not make the team. Coach Rope was the weed whacker. He exterminated losers with extreme prejudice. He was a tiny Asian man, and he demanded respect through his voice alone. Clear, American, his voice seemed to erupt from his veiled eyes as he never opened his mouth wide, except when the Scorpions lost and he was found crying behind the bleachers. If anything, Kyle hoped he could stop Coach Rope from crying. The man had been majestic, and underneath the vile, abusive language was a man in love with maturity, male development, and respectability. Rope was a true leader and gentleman. But when it was game time he called everyone baby boner, cuntcake, fuck buckle, cashew cock, booger brains, twat swat – and forming exclamations such as “Great catch, dribble dick!” Or “Run like diarrhea over the Hollywood Hills, Jail Bait!” Ninety-percent of the time none of the Scorpions had any idea what the hell he was talking about, but most of them figured out the essentials through context and volume. Coach Rope was a man of the world, so the school kept him on despite parental complaints. He had mysterious connections beyond the state’s borders and would write glorious letters of recommendation for his best players.
Kyle absorbed Rope’s verbal abuse and found peace in the chaos. He found a respect for sports he had never known. It was tough catching and throwing, it was tough getting your body to move. It took an insane amount of energy and intelligence to get to this point, and Kyle was realizing this point was the floor of the challenge and not the ceiling.
The more Coach Rope screamed the more Kyle cared. Kyle called Rope Sensai and Rope did not understand the word. The dude was truly American. Kyle’s irreverence grabbed Rope’s attention. Kyle loved the brutal hours spent on the field after school let out. It was the perfect getaway from using his brain all day. It was the perfect way to see Sandra from the bleachers; low sun glow through her dark hair (goddamn her).
The middle of Hell Week Coach Rope took Kyle aside.
“Look, light switch dick, you’re gonna be the all-star of the team, no shits or giggles, mother fucker, you feel it, too?”
Kyle took a second to translate Rope’s compliment, “Hai!”
To which Rope frowned and nodded.
“But you’re no Colt Zurk.” It was the worst thing Coach Rope could say to anyone, especially someone who had worked so hard. Rope knew it, too. Rope was leading Kyle into some sort of arrangement. Kyle had read enough literature to predict real interactions. If you know the characters you know the story.
“You want Colt Zurk back.” Kyle said, beating Rope to the punch. Kyle felt betrayed. He was only doing all of this for his own advancement. After everything; the protein digestion stink, the rejection of friends and video games, the aches and pains of working muscles that had never known life, closing his eyes meant he saw text book columns in white on black – all of this glorious agony was not just so he could bring a loser back to the fold.
“Coach Rope. I’m Colt Zurk. You’re looking at him. I know it’s only the middle of trials, but we both know I’m the best one here.” Kyle said with a smug smile. Rope razed his confidence with his eyes. Kyle’s teammates glowered at him. Kyle fucked up, he was breaking up the team before it had even solidified. Colt Zurk would have brought everyone together.
“You’re not. But you can get him back. You still run with the Asshole Production?”
Kyle tried to calm down, to think of the words that would win this debate. He hadn’t expected to need his brains out here, not with Rope, and certainly not to prove himself to the worst football team. The words didn’t come. There were no words because the argument had already been won the instant it was posited. The adults and bureaucracy that kept Scorpio High alive were bound to an insidious curse and they needed their fetish back. They needed Colt Zurk, there was no other way.
“When I bring him back you promise to make me captain.” Kyle said, extending his hand.
“Why the hell would I do that?”
“Because he didn’t get lost. He quit.” Kyle spat into his palm as did the coach. Rope met Kyle’s hand with an iron grip that squished. Rope would enjoy showing that Kyle was wrong. All apostates would kneel or perish once Colt Zurk returned and the Scorpions regained their former glory.
Kyle would be the school’s unsung hero, or the harbinger of terrible truth – like a scientist proving climate change has gone too far for any fix. Either way this was a bad deal for Kyle. He did not understand why he was so excited.
Colt Zurk was a funny name. Of course Colt was the only “Colt” in the school, also the only “Zurk.” If Kyle had time and wasn’t so invested in his body and his endgame then he would have spent hours in the library tracing Colt’s lineage, trying to find where the name came from and who had been a Zurk before Colt ruined everything. Kyle was having trouble enough just locating the had-been football star in a school where there were two thousand students destined for stellar mediocrity. Born to be mild, should be the school’s new motto instead of hic manebimus optima! Kyle paused in his thoughts. He could no longer translate born to be mild into Latin. His Latin went to a late grave while he was making laps around the track, farting his way to another meal before his body burned what it had gained.
Kyle scoped The Nerds he used to hang with and they were wary of his orbit. When he asked those former friends about Colt Zurk they looked at him like he was a stranger.
“He’s not with us…” One said, a kid Kyle used to play board games with between study sessions. They had created a modified D&D campaign that had lasted months with revolving dungeon masters, like a television show with multiple directors and directions. They never finished the game. Kyle could not remember where his character had ended up. He had blurred memories of laughing and squirting black tea out his nose because they had all quit sugar thanks to their sucrose studies for a joint chemistry/biology/social studies extra credit.
“Have you heard anything about him?” Kyle asked.
“Why?” They were getting snarky, stuck up. And nervous. Kyle looked over his shoulder and saw Sandra dart away as if she didn’t want to be caught spying. Kyle blushed. His former friends looked miffed. They were doing all the right things for their future and yet it felt useless when they got snubbed by girls. They knew the only reason Sandra stopped by to watch was because Kyle was there, with his gun show and washboard abs under a tight shirt. Their eyes told Kyle we no longer tolerate your behavior. You do not belong. Fuck off.
So Kyle did just that and went to find the next group of misfits.
The Freaks were arguing over how to best use the old dissection scissors to cut through fish bone. They had a formaldehyde fish laid out on a table. They all tried to act nonchalant, but they were excited, pulsing veins under pale skin, saturated eye colors flashing from mascara framing. Asymmetrical haircuts and socially unacceptable t-shirt graphics. They were like The Nerds, but once teachers started to dote on their development they rebelled with the ferocity of a caged animal. The best way to get them to do anything good was to ignore them. Kyle rushed in, hoping a blitzkrieg tactic would get past their pretensions.
“Colt Zurk. Where is he?” They looked up, that name had triggered something in them. Was it fear?
“He’s joined the Eh’s.” A fetching girl said, all sharp angles and long hair like Leslie Van Houten before desert starvation and multiple homicides. Her gaze shimmered with kindness, unlike the Manson Family member she resembled.
“You sure? Where’d you hear this?” Kyle said. The “Eh’s” meant the Ignorant Horde, which became “IH” in a text message, but when spoken sounded like “eh,” the sound of apathy, nihilism, zero fucks. Colt had plunged from all-star athlete to the dregs of scholastic society in a matter of months.
“I saw him.” She said, her eyes twitched with excitement seeing Kyle’s alarm shape his face. “The school is keeping it quiet, but he hasn’t been turning in assignments, skipping classes.”
“So… he’s not here?” Kyle said, engaging this strange beauty for his next course of action.
“Oh, he’s here. They all are. He brought them together.”
“So… he’s not in the Ignorant Horde?” Everyone knew the Eh’s were in and out of school. They were like rocks in a river. They never passed grades with everyone else, but they never drowned thanks to no child left behind. Eventually they dropped out or quit the group and joined the Freaks in order to bridge the gap between revolution and a secure future. Somehow the IH managed to gain numbers every year. But no one ever saw them. There was always that one boy in class who didn’t care about the work, or the girl who suddenly stopped caring about her appearance. You never saw the clique together, like a series of seemingly unrelated annoyances you knew were connected in retrospect. Bringing them together, making the Horde a real movement that could not be ignored would risk destroying them all. By making the IH official branding, Colt risked pushing all of the underdeveloped underachievers into expulsion, psychiatric evaluation, or prison. Rumor had it that when one delinquent was caught other IH members were behind the planning of the mischief. For instance, last year the sprinkler system went off without warning, last month the seasonings in the cafeteria had been spiked with ghost pepper flakes, and last week the audio from the Jonestown Massacre played on such low volume that everyone thought they were hearing things instead of realizing the death throes were coming from the PA system. Every single mystery had been solved with the capture of a single rebel, but it was obvious these sinister acts were executed by more than one person.
Kyle believed the goth girl because the mischief was becoming more serious, more elaborate. Colt was a terrifying strategist on the football field. Before Colt’s downfall military recruiters from every branch tried to get him to apply.
“Take me to him.” Kyle said. If he could prove that Colt had become the scoundrel punk behind an unbelievable IH uprising, then Coach Rope would take Kyle on as the new football captain. Kyle was hoping to get this all done before he needed to fill out college applications. He was barely keeping an ‘A’ average with his inhuman schedule and he had nightmares featuring red ink and the letter ‘F.’ Kyle would either break the system or his ambition would break him. Time was the only factor. The longer this bullshit took the faster he’d go down in flames.
The Freaks shrugged and left, all but the goth girl. The others pretended to be chill, but Kyle saw they were nervous. The goth girl poked at the dead fish. She wanted to go, but she also had to warn Kyle. Her alabaster face blushed, traveling down the smooth curve of her throat where he could see her arteries pump with trapped panic. Kyle sat down beside her.
“I can’t take you to him.”
“Just tell me where.”
“I can’t do that, either.”
“My name’s Esther. Do you know me?”
“I’m sure I’ve seen you in the hall.” Kyle said, knowing for sure he had never seen her before. It occurred to him he hadn’t thought of Sandra in the past few minutes.
“I know who you are, Kyle. Everyone does. You make all outcasts look bad. The Eh’s make us look good. Colt will derail you. Why do you need him?”
“I need to take his place on the team.”
“Should be easy if he’s not there.”
“But he still is, right? He’s this legend, like this school that just won’t die. I need to show them Colt Zurk is dead.” Kyle said and he smiled when she smiled. Now he was blushing.
“I’m always game for a little schadenfreude.” She struck out her hand. Awkward introduction, but Kyle pumped her hand once like kids in an after school special making a pact to do something cute by the third act.
As they exited the lab Sandra was ahead of them. She walked with the brisk pace of someone in retreat. She had her hood up, her arms hugging her, the look and gait of a criminal trying to be invisible. It was so unlike Sandra, the Scorpio beauty, that it too Kyle a moment to recognize her. It was the first time she had hid herself from anyone. She was really spying, instead of spying to get caught in the act in order to arrest attention.
Kyle kept his emotions clenched in his rock hard abs. It was stupid to feel like he had cheated on Sandra. It was an artifact of having been a sensitive skinny kid who spent his time fantasizing instead of doing.
Esther took him to the classroom assigned for detention for the evening. Some of the students there were part of the Ignorant Horde, others were just dealing poorly with hormones or other issues that would not be helped with this sort of confinement.
They waited in silence. Kyle stole his glances with caution. His eyes caressed Esther’s face, the cat’s eye black liner that traced her large eyes, the shape of her asymmetrical nose – did she break it? – her thin lips, her platinum hair withered by chemicals… the neckline that plunged with suicidal intent. Kyle looked away before he got too much of her on his mind. Obviously, too late, so he looked, again, this time to try and figure out how to talk to her about something other than Colt Fucking Zurk. She stared at the shut door of the classroom. She was so serious that Kyle knew she was nervous. She needed to say something to him.
“Does a girl like me have a chance with you?” She said. He smelled menthol on her breath. It was her gum.
“Yes.” He said without thinking. Then he thought… the answer was still yes. She was far from perfect physically, and most assuredly far from mentally stable, but he was smitten in a way he was not with Sandra. Sandra was a spark of hotness that didn’t last when she was out of sight. Esther was a grub inside his heart, chewing the chambers and growing into something hideous with wings, taking flight against his sternum, furious for release. This feeling was ugly to Kyle because it was unknown. He thought it was what he had felt when he saw Sandra on the bleachers watching him, but that was the same feeling he felt when he saw movie previews for rom-coms or Pixar animation, the culturally acceptable connection between corporate products. Meet cute, three acts, happily ever after because the couple are the same people despite the differences peppering the story. The differences are red herrings. In a movie, he and Sandra would be together forever.
When he thought about real, hideous life, he saw a woman’s shadow that had been Esther all along.
For the first time in his life he knew one day he would die. He knew for sure this was real and not a movie set up to reinforce the terrible nature of human happiness. He questioned everything he was doing. He knew he was on the right track because she was here. Kyle wished he could shut his brain down, but it kept going. It crushed him. She thought he was the ideal when all he was doing was mimicking male celebrity. She would never have noticed him before he had transformed himself. Then again, maybe she was attracted to the fact that he changed for his own reasons.
“You think too much.” Esther said and took his hand, sucking up his anxiety. He turned to kiss her, but the door flew open making them both jump. Out marched the condemned students. Parents entered the building with folded arms, puffed chests, shaking heads.
Esther pointed at a Freshman boy. “He’s one of them.”
Kyle went after the boy, but Esther did not move with him. She gripped his hand and he turned to look at her. She was upset, but not on the verge of tears. No where close. Her face was ashen, the kind of face Kyle had only seen in history textbooks featuring old war photography.
“I won’t go back.”
“To Colt Zurk. I won’t do it. You have to go alone.”
“What’s the big deal?”
“You’ll think I’m dumb.”
“Of course not!” Kyle laughed, but the humor he tried to inject to lighten her mood backfired. She threw his hand away.
“Imagine the most bitter assholes finding each other, and thanks to Colt, they find something to believe in.” Esther whirled around and left him on his own. Quitting now was not an option. He’d lose credit with her, he’d lose everything he had worked for, all the gym time and studying and lack of sleep and too much food would be for nothing if he quit now. But a woman like Esther wasn’t scared of anything, and if she was scared now he knew he should be, too, yet he couldn’t feel it as he opened the exit for the skinny Freshman because the boy could barely keep his pants up without shoving both hands in his pockets. The Freshman did not care. He did not care that someone opened the door for him and did not care that this someone was walking next to him.
Kyle looked over his shoulder at the school to take note of anyone watching him walk away with a member of the Ignorant Horde. He heard the weather vane up there and that grabbed his attention over the anonymous crowd leaving school. The weather vane, an iron scorpion, listed in a calm breeze. It would fall any day. It had been this way for years. After school, even on the football field when everyone was gone, you could hear it crying, begging for mercy as the wind moved it one way and then another, forcing it to grind against the rust that built up when it was able to stand still.
“The only way you’ll meet Colt Zurk is if you let me drive and you ride in the trunk.” This was Colt Zurk’s doing. Some how Zurk had made the unmoved move, to organize the unorganized into conspiracy. Esther separated from the other students leaving. She scanned the parking lot and locked eyes with Kyle. She darted away when the boy waved at her with a sickly, undernourished arm.
Coach Rope stood on the field waiting for the oddball team to assemble. Waiting for Colt to return. Rope crossed his arms and watched Kyle watching him. Kyle wanted to punch Rope in the face. He had always wanted to murder Coach Rope. When Kyle was a scrawny nothing he wanted to because Rope was hard on weaklings, now Kyle wanted Rope to suffer because Rope was too superstitious to accept Kyle as the new star of the football team.
Kyle dropped the keys into the boy’s hand and rounded the car to the trunk. It popped open on clean hinges without a sound. He climbed inside, feeling his weight shift the car, and he shut himself inside.
His eyes adjusted in the dark, the splotches of color imitating…
…The weather vane. A nightmare in negative flashed across his mind, killing itself as it spun through its own decay, grinding against its rust until there was nothing left. It had no choice.
His parents’ car finally jolted to a stop on a rough road. Kyle had bruises from rolling and bouncing with a loose hand-jack and protein shakes. The trunk opened and fading light filtered in. Kyle looked up at a canopy of oak trees. The boy walked away, indifferent to Kyle following or staying behind. Kyle got out and his sneakers sunk into the soft earth. The summer leaves were numbing, fall was coming or maybe it was just the IH sucking the life out of the woods that bordered the town. They were all there around a smoldering campfire. Colt Zurk was there.
“Hello.” Colt said. They were smiling. Some joke at Kyle’s expense. The boy sat down by the smoking fire, no one knew how to entertain a flame… not that they cared. Kyle approached. Fuck this, Kyle thought and socked Colt right in his perfect jaw. POP went the bone. Colt flew backwards, landed on the dying fire and lay there, smiling, blood ebbing between a fresh gap in his teeth, the tooth somewhere else. Kyle flexed his hand, it was bleeding from the first two knuckles. Colt’s tooth was stuck in between. Kyle never felt the blow. He pulled the tooth free and flicked it at Colt Zurk, the absent god of Scorpio High.
And they chuckled, Colt howled and sat up, his back smoked but it was just wet earth warmed by the innocent embers. The white smoke filled the small clearing around them. Colt’s body had smothered the embers.
“Hey, Kyle.” Sandra said and who he saw was a stranger. Sandra was veiled by smoke, her head shaved in patches, eyeliner dribbled, and her designer clothes were covered with splotches of enamel paint. One of her heels was sanded down, the other sharpened in a false stiletto. 80’s Punk rock turned mutual destruction. She smiled. She hadn’t brushed in some time. How much time has passed? Kyle thought and he knew he was blushing because they were all laughing at him. She was laughing.
Colt got up and smiled like Kyle had shook his hand instead of knocked a tooth loose. He looked at Kyle, waiting for the questions, waiting for attention. Kyle saw right through him.
“Get in the car, prick.” Kyle said. It hurt so bad to see Sandra like this. A lukewarm mess. If she were anything but human she’d be the lonely puddle in an old sidewalk, the safe haven for worms when the sun came out after a weak drizzle. Colt knew something about Kyle, something Kyle was just realizing. Fuck the football team. The words slipped into his mind as if Colt had slipped them under his bedroom door.
Colt hawked blood. “You’ve changed, Kyle.” Kyle grabbed the boy who drove him here and got his car keys back.
“What are you getting out of this?” Colt said.
“A future. Move it.” He kept his eyes away from Sandra, a strange guilt felt him up. He wanted to get away with Colt in the trunk.
“I’ll be back.” Colt said to his people. Kyle was relieved there’d be no argument from him. He’d show Coach Rope this thing and then he’d get on with his life. Kyle understood why no one knew too about the Ignorant Horde, their agenda or members, they were like a cancer impossible to confront. Every ounce of reason was met with indifference, they would never respond to treatment and in return those who tried to help looked like failures–
–Let them be ignorant, let us pretend they will die out on their own, let us pretend the asshole in third period, or the slug wallowing in gym class are not bound to the other ignoramuses in unholy apathy, let us pretend each and every case of belligerent stupidity is individual, let us pretend it isn’t a malignant growth–
Where did these words come from?
Kyle saw himself frowning, staring at the moss under his feet. His thoughts had changed here in the woods. They used to have a concrete structure and flow, but these words weren’t in his internal voice. He felt sick. He felt a panic rise inside him as if his own blood was a rising tide threatening his lungs.
They had been waiting for this moment. The moment when he was closer to being one of them.
It’s their fire, it’s the smoke from their fire, LOOK… textbooks… they’re burning their textbooks, the glue and plastic in the covers is making some kinda toxic vapor.
But Kyle knew this was not the case. Kyle was frozen because he saw his future stretch forward and revolve like a rock tumbling down a hill. If he went back to Coach Rope with Colt in tow then he’d become the guy who broke the Ignorant Horde, he’d be the guy to contact to fix every stubborn asshole in every class and activity. Coming back with Colt wouldn’t secure his future. The muscle gain, the sleepless nights studying, the imbalance of sports and academia wasn’t going to unlock a comfortable future for Kyle, it was all a distraction pushing him into a position where he would become the key to other people’s comfort.
Hang with this guy if you want to look good, ask him for the answer, see that guy, be like him. Don’t worry about him, he’s fine, he’s going places, you can use him to go places, too. Oh, he’s been here for years, but he’s going places, go ahead and get ahead, he’s here for you.
“Kyle, I spend so much money on make up and clothes, I shade people who should be friends, I put out, and I never get what I need. It’s what I’m told to do and I never get anywhere.” Sandra said, rising above the white smoke that was thinning as the fire bed cooled. She twirled her finger in a circle. “Once the bonds of flesh are broken the world becomes apparent.”
It took a full minute for Kyle to snap into their mode, to begin playing their game of shameful semantics.
“So you burn your books in rebellion? Shave your head? Chop all your fingers off but the middle one?” He said. He remembered being scared, but the fear was gone like the smoke. He knew this devil of doubt, knew how to handle these things.
They all bared flesh for Kyle. Sandra pulled her pants down to show a section of thigh, Colt rolled up a sleeve, the boy mooned his ass, and two other nameless heathens pulled up their shirts… their chosen exposed flesh all showed DIY tattoos of the scorpion weather vane. The flesh looked feverish, dimpled pink from thick needles and pen ink.
Kyle’s breath froze in his lungs. The insanity of commitment is true horror.
“You never saw me. I did everything right and I got nothing.” Sandra said flatly, zipping up her pants. “I used to be hot shit and it never got me anything but squeaky cycles.”
“I’m sorry, Sandra, but this isn’t my fault. Seeing you like this doesn’t make me regret anything.” Kyle said, wishing he didn’t use the word ‘sorry.’ It was the word of the unsure, the unstable. He didn’t know what she meant by ‘squeaky cycles,’ he guessed it was some sort of high-context-cult-speak Colt developed after reading Nietzsche and Marx Sparknotes.
“We used to be the best students. You don’t remember because we fell so far, but we saw the truth. They want us to help everyone else at our own expense. I carried the Scorpions for years and you’ll be next. It won’t get you anything. Fleeting hope at least, useless paper at most.” Colt said, a smirk carving his chapped lips.
“Keep going, sounds like you need to vent.” Kyle said.
“Don’t you get it, Kyle? The squeaky wheel gets the oil? You know what that means. You make enough noise and you get what you want, so why don’t we get anything?”
“Because you’re a whiny bitch shocked by how much work you gotta do because no one cares that you’re not special.” Kyle said and sighed when his words struck dead nerves. Of course they had heard this long before they went over the edge into the pit of rebellion’s piss-soaked ashes.
“Wheels don’t care, wheels don’t think you’re special until you get them turning. People like us are conditioned to be oil. Your overachieving is slave labor to squeaky wheels. You won’t do anything else with your life but keep others moving. They will drown you in need.”
“Who wants to be oil in a world of squeaks?” The others said in unison. Kyle gasped weak laughter, like the time he caught his mother shaving lint off the sheets. Reductio absurdum, his mom reduced the “house wife” to an absurd level of caricature. No one gave a shit about linty sheets, not him or dad or the neighbors. Yet, there she was, shaving the sheets smooth because doing less meant she was less. People choose such lame battles.
Keep the rocks up in the air so you can pick up more so you can see where you’re stepping but keep your eyes on the rocks falling over your head and it just keeps spinning with nothing to keep it going and nothing to stop it and stop thinking
“My brother went to college. Five majors, all connected for maximum effect, you know, sociology, psychology, anthropology, law…” This was the nameless boy speaking. He couldn’t remember what his brother had degrees in, “He works retail, now.”
“Don’t you think that’s his fault?” Kyle said.
“His fault that he took loans and worked hard towards something adults convinced him was still there? His fault that he struggled throughout his school life to get those proofs of purchase to show employers? His fault they said ‘no’? His fault that he needed money right now and had to take on a dull job for terrible pay just to keep the hope of his future alive? The only thing he got for all his hard work was the luxury of keeping his hope. The same hope he started with, the same hope that’ll kill him, the same hope everyone around him loved because it made him oil for their squeaky lives. They used his work to look good – my son, my boy, I’m friends with this guy, I fucked him, I know him. People use us as social currency to purchase laziness and lost dreams.”
“Aren’t you tired of pleasing everyone? Out of all the things you’re trying to be how many of them add up to you?” Sandra said, flashing an ugly smiled. Her filmy teeth looked fake, she hadn’t combed her hair or changed clothes in days. They all were in the same state of letting go.
“For all the water in the ocean can never turn the swan’s black legs to white,
Although she lave them hourly in the flood.” The cult said in unison. Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, Aaron speaking about race, coopted by Colt Zurk and white kids fed up with the status quo they should be entitled to, but have inexplicably let go because they don’t see it is theirs for the taking, so why don’t they? Is it not worth it? STOP THINKING–
“I was oil.” Fuck these guys, they’re still talking? Kyle thought as one of the IH was speaking, their voices were one long hypnotic drone, “I was like you are now, sports and smarts, the grades and babes, I felt like I had the world in the palm of my hand. It wasn’t true. That’s what they want you to think.”
Kyle coughed and woke up, “Colt, you dress it up nice but you’re just another guru harping a conspiracy theory to explain your bad luck and bad decisions.” Kyle said, formulating his repartee on the fly. It felt good to speak and hear his calm voice. What he really wanted to do was swing his fists, again. That felt good, that showed results with intoxicating immediacy.
Who am I? STOP THINKING. Kyle focused on forcing Colt to his parents’ car. He had the keys, nothing was stopping him except… he did not know where he was… he did not know how much time had passed between the school parking lot and being let out of the trunk. He was raised rural, but anyone can get lost without landmarks and signs. There was only so much woods near his home, near the school, but this place was different. He shoved Colt to the car, anyway. Backtrack, follow the dirt path through the woods, get on the road, get back on track… start thinking… thinking about the weather vane spinning, moving without destination, pointing as if it were in control STOP THINKING.
“Lost?” Colt said. Kyle shoved Colt Zurk up against the car. His cult followed, but gave them space.
Kyle checked his phone for the time. Eight o’clock, and no available cell signal out here. Three hour drive. Kyle guessed he inhaled a little carbon monoxide from the tail pipe through the trunk and passed out. He could’ve died. He wished he had.
“No one likes to talk about it. Especially people like us. We’re told hard work pays but it’s a clever way to steer us away from seeing our luck. Body type, inheritance, circumstance, we’re told these things are results of hard work. The closest truth about luck we’re told is that it is opportunity meeting hard work. Take you for instance, white boy born into a well-to-do family given the freedom to pursue every desire within reason. You chased your passions, you changed your body, your mind, you worked hard, but you were only able to work hard because luck allowed you access to calories and free time, surrounded by authority letting you believe this was rebellion. You’re a tool repairing a machine that is designed to break. People look at you and say “there’s a self-made man!” and no one sees the luck, the fortune in the face of an indifferent reality. Meaning. You reinforce the illusion of meaning.” Colt Zurk said, on a roll, building up to his raison d’être, but Kyle knew what that was – nihilism – so he wound back his fist and struck Colt in his soft belly. Colt doubled up.
“You can’t keep going like this, Kyle… you can’t be so many things… you’ll drown.” Colt gasped. Kyle breathed, flexing his fingers, wanting to shut him up and yet something stronger was fighting him. Some shred of fear wanted to listen to Colt.
“Just get in the car.” Kyle growled. Colt crawled into the backseat. Kyle kicked the door shut, denting the metal. Colt’s followers looked cool. Kyle didn’t care what happened to any of them. He just wanted to get his life back on track who’s life? yours or theirs? STOP THINKING.
“Get me out of here.” Kyle said, flashing a look of violence at Colt through the rearview mirror.
Besides giving directions Colt stayed silent the whole trip back to school. A car followed. The boy who drove Kyle to the woods was driving the rest of the nihilists. Kyle parked and shut off the engine.
“Kyle, are you happy?”
“Yeah.” Colt said and smiled with genuine warmth.
“Because I found something that frustrates me, that makes me curious. So, does this make you happy? Where does this all end for you?”
“Where does what end?”
“Being so many things for everyone. For schools, parents, teachers, government. You’re drowning in a sea of identity. Who are you when you’re alone?”
“Coach is still on the field. Let’s go.” Kyle said, ignoring the questions so he could ignore the pain in his gut, which was odd because Colt was the one punched in the stomach.
“If you’d calm down you might be interested,” Colt said, staggering ahead. Kyle ached to play ball, he wanted things to be simple, again, but Colt kept talking sense STOP THINKING, “We’ve been going to the woods to dismantle things. We started with grades, we started with school programming.”
“Great. You know how hard I worked to keep my grades, to be the man I wanna be? And all of this is kept in check by you. I was born after my time.” Kyle said.
“What time is that?”
“The Wild West. I’d bring you in dead to collect my reward.”
“Murder… we didn’t get that far in our debates.” Colt said, musing over the topic as if it wasn’t a joke.
Coach Rope walked away from the fumbling teens Kyle was forced to call teammates. Rope’s arms dropped with the weight of shock.
“Colt?” Rope ran to Colt and hugged him like he was his flesh and blood. Kyle bristled when will this absurd theater end? He had a flash of memory, his old nerd friends acting a play he had written in one of their backyards. Theater absurd indeed, someone was the Marquis De Sade, another was Henry Kissinger. Kyle missed being a silly intellectual with those guys, now he was just a cookie-cutter genius because he had no choice in order to balance the sports the school craved with the plethora of subjects each teacher held dear. CLOCKWORK FLOOD and there is only so much time in a day, in a life, in a mind that needs to STOP THINKING—
“Lookit him, Coach. This is your star, this maggot I dragged out of the woods. You know what he’s up to? Destroying himself and others. He needs help. His ball days are done.” Kyle said, bringing the focus back to reality. The look he got from Coach Rope made Kyle feel like he had walked deeper into the woods instead of out of them. A spooky feeling crawled up his back and laid eggs in every pore.
“I had such hopes for you, Colt. You goddamn dick weasel. Douche canoe!” Coach Rope said, unable to grasp his original brand of cursing for the sorrow he tried to hold back.
Kyle stood there, sick on adrenaline that called him to fly from this alien fight.
Colt shook his head, unimpressed and unmoved by Coach Rope’s pain.
“Everyone has such high hopes for us. I thought I had my own, but it’s all a lie.” Colt said.
“Coach…” Kyle said, reaching out to the old man before he knew what he was doing. Rope’s lips quivered, then quaked. Fat tears rolled. Kyle had a hand on the man’s shoulder before he could recoil in horror. Kyle felt ashamed being so scared and disgusted by a grown man sobbing.
“Fuck this. I’m the football captain.” Kyle said.
“Y-Yes. Tomorrow you’ll lead practice, c-c-cuntcake.” Rope sputtered between gasps for air. The once great leader of young men retreated to the bleachers where the grass didn’t grow from the salt of his tears.
The Ignorant Horde applauded Coach Rope’s exit.
“You’re a wheel, now.” Colt said and they laughed. Kyle whirled around, fists up and saw fear in their eyes. They were horrible, but they were still human. The fear in Sandra stopped Kyle from demolishing Colt.
Imagine they call for war and no one shows up. The first game of the Scorpions’ season was Friday. No one showed up for practice all week. Kyle could not find one teammate.
Rope paced the field, screaming vulgar insanity.
Esther jogged down the bleachers and met Kyle halfway up the field on game day. “They beat you.”
The next day half the students did not show up for school. Those who did refused to go to class, and if they did they just sat at a desk and did whatever they wanted. Anarchy filled teachers with fear and rage. But discipline only went so far when they realized they only had so much room for detention and only so much legal precedence in the face of parental backlash. The horror of a social movement dawned by the end of the day.
The next day no one showed up for school except for Kyle and Esther and the teachers. Everyone else was out sick. Kyle had to hand it to Colt for staging such a massive protest, but he wondered what Colt wanted if he was destined not to be oil or a wheel. What happens when you stop swimming in the ocean of hopes and dreams?
Then news came that everyone out of school really was sick. A strange infection had sent the majority of the student body to emergency rooms all over the county. Sepsis from filthy tattooing. Tattoo artists all over had to prove their health standards and that they never inked a weather vane design in any form or served any student of Scorpio High.
Coach Rope had no team to train. Sports were suspended. Kyle’s former nerd friends chalked this up as a victory. The Ignorant Horde was empowered even by those who did not join them. Then, some started sporting a new tattoo, or so Kyle assumed because a few of them stopped showing up to classes, or popping ibuprofen like candy to ward off fever chills.
Then the classes stopped showing. Kyle and Esther passed each other in the halls, unsure of how to stop their routine without one to replace it. A healthy one, at least. Teachers tried to keep the dwindling students focused, tried to show how their specific subject was essential to their future. But even Kyle and Esther saw through them. They knew algebra was of no use, or knowing how many died in the Korean War, or who got run over in that one novel by that one guy who wanted to fuck Daisy but was too much of a “good guy,” so he wrote about it and mooned over extravagance as if it were all such a wonderful time for everyone stop thinking…
Kyle and Esther formed a bond, a kind of end-of-the-world pact that held off the tyranny of Colt’s Great Nothing. Lunch period extended, so did study halls. The art room was shut down, music as well. As the student population shrank, so did the school.
Coach Rope went crazy. He tried to rule with an iron fist, but someone cut the power to the PA system and in the time it took a repair man to come out and fix it Coach Rope lost his power.
The school was so quiet you could hear the weather vane right through ancient cement, brick, steel I-beams, drywall, slate shingles, stained glass. All of that solid material was rendered insignificant to the squealing panic of the weather vane above them.
Kyle and Esther made sure to walk out of school on time. One day Kyle left a few minutes early and this was a mistake not to be repeated. Every teacher pounced on him, begging him not to go the way of Colt Zurk. It was Esther who saved him from the barrage of “you’re not alone” and “you can talk to any one of us, really!” Now they stuck to the schedule. They were just two of a total of sixteen kids still going to a school that was once bursting with two thousand.
Coach Rope climbed the roof. Rope was going to kill that weather vane. When he wasn’t coaching football or gym or masculine hygiene, he taught history. Killing the weather vane was his reenactment of the Russians taking down the Berlin Swastika. Kyle held Esther close, shielding their eyes with a textbook he hadn’t opened in months.
Coach Rope really was up there on the roof. Everyone knew what would happen. 911 services were preoccupied with finding lost kids or sending ambulances to rescue sepsis cases.
Rope strained to climb the steep incline to the peak of the roof where the weather vane mocked him, twirling and squeaking like a court jester on his fifth jug of spiced mead. For a moment Rope swayed, dizzy from focusing so hard on the spinning axis above him. With a war cry he lurched upwards and took hold of the weather vane’s base. He kicked and climbed up, his old skin bulging with hardened muscle.
Something fell and landed with a clap. A shoe. Kyle felt his stomach grow heavy, the world slowed down for this once great man on the roof. Rope clung to the weather vane… a thumb let go, four fingers relaxed, the body leaned in a sudden fall forward, but Rope still held on and swung around the weather vane, swung with the weather vane in deadly camaraderie. A roof tile flipped loose and shattered beside the sneaker. Faculty floundered around Kyle and Esther, they heard them calling to Rope.
The rusty metal that had been grinding for who knows how long shrieked with punchline hilarity, then snapped loose with Coach Rope still holding on to it for dear life. It happened so fast that Kyle was only able to see what had happened by replaying the horror in his mind even as he raced to help. He saw Rope broken and bleeding beyond teachers making a boundary with their bodies. Rope had been a pillar of the old way. Now he sucked pavement through a maw of broken teeth and a flattened nose. Blood still lingered in the humid air, a fine mist that drifted as if directed by the weather vane sticking out of Rope’s chest, spinning from the momentum of the fall and squeaking to a halt. Kyle stopped fighting the teachers to get to the body. What the hell can you do, man? He asked himself. He felt a tender hand slip into his. Esther pulled him away.
“Keep moving. There’s nothing you can do.” She said out the side of her mouth. Kyle let her take him. He could only think. He could not stop his mind.
A triangle the roof tile a short line Coach Rope got bigger as he plunged was he smiling as he fell? That weather vane made more noise than the man, he looked like a leaking plastic bag. Kyle felt tears sting the space between his mind and eyes. Kyle alone would not have saved the Scorpions or the school, not with this mental infection spreading in the dark corners of failed reason.
The school shutdown to deal with what it had been trying to ignore.
Parents blamed the school. The school blamed social media. The rural media, untrained for appropriate flame fanning, presented the various sides of the story in an incoherent mess that made citizens who weren’t parents or in school not care. This removed almost half of the population from helping solve the problem. “Let ’em kill theirselves, shoot.” One divorcee was overheard in a restaurant, sparking hate from parents and one teacher, and applause from a group of misfit teens who were then arrested for indecent exposure when they showed the divorcee their weather vane tattoos.
The more parents tried to keep their children from mixing with the tattooed ones, the more tattoos appeared. Anyone buying anti-inflammatory medication had to prove they had no tattoos, were not a student of any sort, and were adhering to one of the major religions as printed on ten page pre-checkout questionnaire at all local pharmacies.
Colt’s unfiltered nihilism penetrated young minds through emergence. One day a teen was subscribing to social trends and traditional work ethic, building a stable life from the advice of parents, school, and wholesome celebrity role models, and then the very next day he or she was popping ibuprofen to hide their fever and the pain of infected DIY tattooing. They shaved their heads in patches, burned their clothes (sometimes not taking off articles first), pulled teeth, glued pubic hair under their noses. Kids used their talents for chaos rather than for worthwhile development. They never seemed to benefit from their mischief, they were engaged in the outright dismantling of civilization and meaning.
Imagine breaking out the bottom brick in the walls people lean upon. Or the floor they need to stand upon, or the ceiling that keeps the world from crushing them. Imagine destroying all of that and building a wall where the fourth wall shouldn’t be, thus blocking the creativity necessary to stay sane.
First, the hospital staff went on strike because they could not get the growing Ignorant Horde to cooperate. Then, hospitals outside of town refused to take anyone with weather vane iconography or suspicious fevers. The police followed suit and a memo circulated law enforcement stations telling officers to treat the weather vane as a symbol of terrorism akin to ISIS or the sinister SPECTRE squid from James Bond films. But unlike both fact and fiction these kids had no religious dogma, no political agenda.
They were ideological wrecking balls.
The various Christian sects prayed for the kids, then donated to charity, then held exorcisms, seances, rattlesnake handling, gibberish chanting, pray-ins and pray-outs, blood sacrifice of 4H blue medal thoroughbreds, and after one month of extreme devotion to their various bearded-white-men-cloud-beings they saw the truth. Or rather, Colt’s truth.
Without warning priests, pastors, ministers, altar boys and choir girls were hacking heads off statues and using votive candles to sterilize sewing needles, guzzling blessed wine as Colt and his Ignorant Horde gave them the symbol of the Great Nothing. A scorpion weather vane scrawled in thick black ink.
The Ignorant Horde imploded six months after they took over the town. The task of victory was as simple as engaging the IH in open communication. Everyone had been too shocked and afraid to make any sort of approach before Kyle got his spine back one night with Esther in his arms. One calm night of insight and thought gave them the obvious answer. They had gotten sick of rubbernecking the chaos around them, gotten over-shocked into the will to act.
They turned Colt’s people against him. Kyle and Esther spammed the IH social media accounts with carefully planned arguments. They exposed Colt for who he had become. Colt was no longer concerned with nothing because the nothing he wanted to attain had become a certain something, which became a new culture where Colt was king.
Nothing is a myth we cannot obtain Kyle wrote in stark contrast to Colt’s controlling rhetoric. Overnight Colt’s followers took knives from drawers in households all over town and dressed Colt, as in, they gutted him like a deer in season. A lynch mob of parents found their children consuming human flesh in the Lover’s Lane section of the woods that surrounded their picturesque countryside. The fire department put out a dozen illegal camp sites and extinguished the beginnings of a forest fire. The coroner didn’t know what to do with what remained of Colt Zurk. She ended up taking the remains away in a single Ziplock baggy.
The FBI came in with the National Guard and reestablished order. The leftover Ignorant Horde went to court and entered the juvenile justice system with extensive therapy. Kyle would never see them, again.
Kyle and Esther fell in love. They had together weathered the flood of nihilism that had almost claimed them and their hometown. The town placed them on a pedestal. Esther was eager to adopt square clothes and make-up, to put conditioner and highlights in her hair just so adults stopped pestering her and worrying. Kyle roved from school to school giving talks about surviving the ideological disease that almost killed him and the woman he loved. They did their best to bring back the town’s stellar reputation, but it wasn’t the same. It never would be.
Esther could only indulge in black clothes, heavy eye liner, and underground music when she was alone in her house. She had to be a role model for girls on the edge, to show kids that conformity was rebellion. She was bribed with college scholarships, a future.
Kyle was ready to take over the football team, but suddenly there wasn’t a team. The entire sports department was sacked by the school board. From his unmarked grave, Colt Zurk commandeered the influence and infamy of Charles Manson. Schools all over chose erasure to talks. Better to pretend they never had anything resembling Colt Zurk than educate about the dangers of Colt’s state of mind. Sports died, nerds rejoiced. Kyle blistered his way through the rest of high school just to get the hell out of there.
Groups of guys like Kyle and groups of girls like Esther stole into the woods where the Ignorant Horde used to meet. They played sports and blasted underground music to let off steam as they slaved to get out of this broken town. The odd thing they noted, the irony, was they felt the same amount of stress as before. They were still drowning in the conflicting tides of adult expectation and their own dreams, the undertow dragging them under in two different directions. Now they had to fight harder than ever to be themselves and at the same time fit into a world with a crushing atmospheric pressure where only one species of life had evolved to swim freely.
Esther and Kyle realized why Colt and his fiends had to hide and why they got sick of hiding. They understood the cabin fever of the woods and the singing to the choir of their tribe that forced Colt to revolt in such a wave of disgust. The lash out was borne of hatred of the other just as much as it was hate of the self. Colt and his cohorts must’ve hated so much that in order for them to not devour each other Colt needed give them a enemy to vent upon. And then Kyle and Esther took away their enemy.
The frustration with factory-line education and cookie-cutter growing up forced Colt and his fiends to bond in silent revolution, but like electrons inside a nuclear reactor they got too heated, their energy too immense for the core to contain. The woods could no longer contain them. It was either dissolve in the cooling pool of mediocrity, or meltdown that which had given them life.
Colt chose meltdown.
Kyle and Esther chose to cool off. They stopped going to the woods. They threw away their hip outfits and sports equipment. They got part time jobs. The other kids filtered back into their normal, safe lives. Kyle and Esther told each other they did a good thing by stopping another rebellion they could have easily fostered.
Parents all over the county relaxed. The Scorpion mascot was redrawn; glasses with eight lenses, books in it claws, a quill replaced the poison tip dripping scholarly ink.
Kyle and Esther became homecoming king and queen and ushered in a new era where the bookworm reigned. Now there were college scouts lurking in math classes and dipping into English teacher’s test scores. For anyone unfamiliar with the Scorpions’ history it looked as if the school had always pumped out scientists and literary critics.
Kyle proposed to Esther on graduation day and in one final act of rebellion they eloped on full scholarships to the other side of the country. They graduated with top honors and found careers as mundane and sturdy as the neighborhood they gravitated towards. They told themselves this was what their parents had wanted for them, despite the fact that when their parents visited the old couples grimaced to their faces and smirked behind their backs. The parents were disappointed.
“Things turned out great!” Kyle told his father the night their collective parents were leaving. Father and son were drinking lagers softer than carbonated water.
“Kyle… we slaved for something different.” His father set the beer down and took his son by the shoulders. “I didn’t work so hard to see you turn out the same way.”
“What are you saying? I have no debt, a nice house, we’re good! We made it!” Kyle said, waving his hand as if he could go on down the list of successes.
“Your mother and I fought so hard to make it safe for you to fuck-up your way to happiness.”
“But we are happy!” Kyle said.
“I think you’d be different if not for Colt Zurk. We never would have let you fuck up that much, we wanted you to not go farther than us, just different, to go you. We are happy for you if you’re happy, but the world ain’t gonna change if everyone behind us falls perfectly into our graves.”
“Do I remember Colt? Are you kidding me? That’s why Esther and I settled, why we did what everyone else does! You expect us to fix everything, to go on this grand adventure of hard work and discipline that’ll turn out better than yours. Your hopes are killing us. We spend most of our lives dying for some dream you tell us about and by the time we realize there’s no time left we have to scramble to hold onto what we got because the dream is another lifetime away, at least…” Kyle trailed off, he had wanted something different with his parents, with her parents, too. Esther had given almost the exact same speech to her people. He wondered if she told them the news.
“So, we’re gonna give the dream to our kid.” Kyle said. He didn’t feel the joy he had felt when Esther told him she was pregnant. His father shuddered, a cliche reaction everyone sees in that movie where the aged main character sees the repetition of errors drawn out in younger generations like mirrors toppling into each other, dominoes shattering and reflecting in razor’s edge the tragedy of a life wasted on the fear. It’s not the mirror’s fault it reflects essentially the same thing, and that’s why Colt tried to shatter them all, so that in destruction the view would change. Kyle’s father understood.
“Colt was a hero. You tell your kid about him. You raise him to be hell, not to live in hell.” Kyle’s father left his beer behind, pasting on a smile for Esther and his wife. But they knew what the men had been talking about, it had been a reflection of their own conversation. Warnings given too late become regrets unburdened on children.
Esther and Kyle listened to their parents leave in finely tuned sedans, heading off in opposite directions that would lead to similar homes. Kyle saw that no matter where anyone went they ended up in the same place. He picked up the beer bottles and smashed one on the garage floor and another ricocheted off the ceiling, raining amber shards over them.
“Kyle!” Esther cried, ignoring the blood droplets stippling her arms and beads of glass in her hair. She held her toned abs developed from Instagram fitness routines, signaling to Kyle who he had really hurt. It would be a she or a he in nine months… Kyle immediately grabbed a dustpan and broom.
“I’m sorry, honey.” He swept up the mess. He had no idea what came over him. It was a moment of rage where he was convinced he could not breathe, that he was drowning in something because he felt pressure on all sides, pressure that threatened to fill him with some vile disease.
Colt’s birthday fell on the day Kyle’s son was born. There were no more cult members to celebrate Colt. Esther never told Kyle, but she visited Colt’s unmarked grave just to be sure it was all over.
The son grew up fine. Just fine. Kyle and Esther were happy only because they knew what the alternative looked like. In truth they were bored with their son, happy that he was having fun discovering the same old things, but Kyle and Esther could predict everything their son would come across in school and with his friends.
“You think if we were immortal there would be new jokes?” Kyle asked Esther one night before drifting off to sleep.
“What?” Esther said, coming back to this side of consciousness as if Kyle had called her up from beneath some ocean’s waves.
“If we lived forever we’d never have to tell the same jokes because everyone would have heard them, we’d be able to move into new territory instead of repeating ourselves.”
“It wouldn’t just be jokes, dear, it’d be everything, you’d never have to teach anything because there’d be no blank slates coming up behind you.”
“You mean kids, Esther? No kids?” Kyle said to the dark room because she was asleep. Kyle stayed awake thinking. Kyle had trouble thinking of his son’s name because it was his own and his father’s mirrors stood for generations reflecting to the next a view of paradise and each mirror after is one more remove from paradise and the reflection becomes a mirror’s vision the further down and the only way to get a better view is to fall into the mirror ahead and on and on until you smash into paradise or shatter yourself–
“STOP THINKING!” Kyle shrieked and Esther woke up with a yell of her own. “Oh, no, we’re gonna die for nothing.” They said to each other, echoing the despair they had been drowning in ever since Colt Zurk had taught them that all of their preparation and precautions were merely the rituals used by those before them to lead a life that was long gone.
They remembered their son’s name when they discovered the source of his sinister fever. Holden was a Freshman in high school, fifteen years old, fifteen years after Colt’s death, and Holden had an infection from a tattoo. Kyle and Esther stared at the scorpion weather vane someone had scratched into their boy’s chest.
They didn’t punish Holden. They didn’t yell or cry. For once they thought long and hard even though it was scary. They knew the damage they could add to the situation if they did what they thought others would want of them, or what they believed without conviction what was necessary to fix something that was not broken. They knew how to heal after being hurt for so long.
Kyle and Esther took Holden to a tattoo parlor and the resident artist fixed the crummy artwork with badass precision and craft. Holden kept apologizing, he even offered to pay for the work and to do anything as punishment, but the tattoo artist showed him her own old weather vane tattoo, pulling up the edge of her cut-offs.
Kyle recognized her. Sandra. She had survived in her own way. He was relieved. She either did not recognize him or didn’t care to do so.
“Dude. Chill. Panic gets you nowhere.” Sandra said, and worked on Holden’s chest with deft hands. Esther told Holden he had nothing to apologize for, but she wished he wouldn’t shut himself down or in. They all got him talking about the weather vane and they corrected his friend’s misguided information.
“I guess it can be a good symbol, too.” Holden said, marveling that the needle didn’t have to hurt, or that something with meaning didn’t have to be taken on with uncoordinated urgency. “Like, a weather vane outlasts a storm, right?”
Kyle held his son’s hand and said, “Don’t learn to swim from people who have drowned. They will teach you to drink.”