Looking back over my book Hardboil High: Freshman

Several years ago, almost eight, I spent 2 days in my family’s cabin on the lake writing the next, great American novel. Sounds like a horror film, right?

Well, nothing scary happened, except for a lot of cabin fever. But not that kind of cabin fever.

What I did do was pretty much what I was aiming for… I wrote an entire complete first draft of my novel. Was it perfect? Far from it. Was it there? Yeah. Did I feel like I’d made a mistake? Mostly. Did I have a lot of fun? Absolutely.

Today, I went back and started putting the numbers together, and looking at what I had. I was feeling more positive about my work, and feeling like maybe there was something there to brag about, if I’d just get back on it.

HH-CabinDays
A book by the numbers.

Turns out that a) I wrote more words in 2 days than I remembered, b) I had a higher wordcount than I recalled as well. That definitely left me feeling better about the whole experience.

In the near future, I will probably be revisiting those chapters and rewriting a lot, and adding more. As you can see from the numbers, a lot of my chapters are pretty short. The result of moving so fast through writing. But the bulk of what needs to be there is there, just need to get back in and get my hands dirty. And work on those chapters.

How fast can you write? Do you have a habit of skimming on the narrative when trying to cram writing? What’s the most you’ve ever accomplished over a small amount of time?

This post was originally shared on Google+ here:

UPDATES: HH, Myrna and Cafe de Mort

So, yeah, I haven’t been posting a lot of work lately. Part of that is because I haven’t been writing a lot lately, and the other part is that I’ve been outlining a lot.

Hardboil High
Last summer I managed to bleed out the first draft manuscript of Hardboil High: Freshman. Since then, I’ve mostly stewed over it a little here and there. I knew I had some work to do, some extra writing for chapters that were too short and needed to add a few more chapters to make it more cohesive. But like a lot of things in writing, after you’ve bled so much, sometimes you need to replenish the supply. I’ve mostly ignored it over the past year, and am just now picking it back up. Wrote an additional chapter for the finale the other day, and plan to write the rest and tweak it all soon. While it’s still relatively on the brain.

Myrna
The character of Myrna has been a delight to play around with. The whole story is pretty fantastic, gritty, and action-packed–so I’m pretty much in heaven developing it. You can check out the prologue here.

I wrote an outline for Myrna a while back, but have since been coming back to it and working on it. I could tell right away it needed some help, felt like it was missing some things. One thing that’s been humorous/torturous is that I have this great back story for Myrna, and I can’t figure out where to put it in the outline. Depending on how things go, I may just have to reserve it for another book. Yes, there will be at least two books for Myrna.

I’ve said this before in a previous post, and I’ll say it again… I love contrast. As I work on Myrna, which is a science fiction piece that takes place out in the future, I find myself listening to some music that greatly contrasts what music would probably be like in this futuristic world. I find the contrast most helpful along the way. This song in particular is useful to me while thinking about all things Myrna.

http://grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf

Cafe de Mort
This little short has come a long way for me. It originated as an impromptu flash fiction, where I was dabbling into some areas I’d yet to do in my writing. I was writing about a setting I didn’t know, in Europe, probably Spain or Italy in my mind, and I also wrote some dialogue in a foreign language–which was something else I’d yet to do.

Immediately after finishing it, I was satisfied but felt I wanted to go on with it. What next? What could possibly happen after such a slap-in-the-face of a beginning?

Feedback has been positive on this little short, and one person who liked it suggested I keep it as is–afraid going beyond it might ruin the impact. He may be right, but for now I’m following my guy… at Neal James‘ suggestion.

I decided to slice it out as a novella, pretty certain a novel would be too much for this tale. I outlined a decent novella, but upon further inspection knew something was wrong with it. It needed more meat.

After giving it some more thought, I wanted more character development. It was a story that consisted of almost all plot, which is ridiculous coming from me. After adding in some chapters, and refining/reordering some others, I now have a work that will most likely be a 40,000 word novel. Guess I must be getting long-winded these days.

I’m actually very excited about this one. It’s suspenseful, driven by some pretty dark themes, and has some romance and action to boot.

What can we conclude?
I’m contemplating taking up some blogging, so my blog stays fresh. When you’re writing these novels, or outlining them, it leaves little time for short story postings. So, sorry about that. I’ll also keep going through my archive, as not everything I’ve written is here. When I find some good things from my archives, I’ll be sure to post them.

Hardboil High: Chapter 1

It was the first day of classes, the start of a new year.  But really it just felt like an extension of the ongoing surrealism that was the life and times of the Masterson home life.  Mercedes stood staring at her skinny figure in the mirror.  She had just slipped into the usual white T-shirt and black cargo pants that were her quickly becoming her trademark.  It didn’t help that she really only owned two pairs of pants that fit.  But even those needed help from an old belt she’d pillaged from her dad’s stuff.  She had to poke a few extra, seven, holes to make it work.  She had been losing weight fast, too fast.
    Her long, dark brunette hair was still dripping wet from the shower she’d just rushed in cold water.  Johnny, her brother, wasn’t going to let her live it down this morning for using up all the warm water.  Though she couldn’t remember ever really having much warm water anyway.  It was like the trailer park owner was somehow sending them messages, by way of crudely cold liquid to the skin.
    She was 14, but felt much older.  A hallmark of a kid who had to grow up fast, and in very little time.  She turned to get a check of her profile, placing one hand on the small of her back, and the other on her stomach.  This flattened her shirt so she could see that she was only a few, maybe three, inches thick in the middle.  She figured it would hurt, or that she would constantly feel miserable.  But she was surprised that the lack of nutrition didn’t seem to bother her at all.
    She stepped onto their old, pink weight scale and then subtracted five digits to compensate for the difference lost at the beginning on the old piece of junk’s dial.  She was almost 75 pounds.  She had gone up three pounds since starting to work out with some old dumbbells of her dad’s she’d found two weeks ago.  At first she could only get three repetitions in on each arm, but she was up to five now.  Each weight was a whopping fifteen pounds.
    Since Jimmy Masterson had ran off and left the family with his gambling debts, she had begun to take great pleasure in rummaging through his old stuff.  She kept finding all manner of interesting things, but she had to wait to rummage while mom was out otherwise she would inevitably go into some emotional hysteria.  She couldn’t understand her mom, and refused to do so.  The guy was a coward, and idiot who ran away… he’s not worth a minute of the day.
    Johnny knocked, no pounded, on the bathroom door.  “HEY!”
    “WHAT?”  She yelled back.
    “You’re taking forever.”
    “I’ve been in here for ten minutes, retard!”
    He pounded three times harder.  “Come on!”
    Johnny was a senior this year, and she was glad to constantly remind herself of that fact.  He would be graduating and presumably moving out and on to college after this year.  That meant it would just be her and the emotional train wreck left in the house, and so long as she could ignore her most of the time things would be peaceful for a change.
    “Mercedes!”  Her mom was on the other side of the door now.  “Hurry up, your brother has been waiting a long time.”
    “Learn to read a clock!”  She growled with toothpaste oozing out of her mouth, she quickly brushed the top row of teeth and almost spit out the paste.  She held it back and then swallowed.  Beggars can’t be choosers.
    “Don’t be mouthy, Mercedes.  Come on.”  Her mom reprimanded politely.  Mercedes couldn’t stand that calm, light tone she used to reprimand with.  It was more annoying than being yelled at, because it said things like, I’m so disappointed in you.  Where did we go wrong?  I wish you’d never been born.
    She quickly swallowed a cup of water and made certain to moan when she pushed through her impatient mother and brother on the way to the kitchen.
    “Idiot.”  Johnny said and slammed the door.
    “Nimrod!”  She yelled back at him without turning or stopping.
    “Guys,” mom was cutting back in again, “Do we have to do this every morning?”  Neither child responded, and when she heard the shower turn on she gave up and went to the living room to continue skimming the job listings.  She had been desperately trying to get a job since her husband disappeared one day, and she had been turned down so many times.  It was a painful procession, but she kept pushing.  She had to.
    Mercedes opened the refrigerator and saw outdated milk, moldy casserole and bologna sitting next to a half jar of mayonnaise.  She couldn’t stand the site, smell, texture and taste of bologna and had made this fact quite clear.  She couldn’t understand the reasoning of buying it, when turkey was just as cheap.  She had to keep up her rebellion of refusing to eat the stuff, otherwise mom would never get the picture.  But Johnny kept eating the stuff, which was countering her ploy to get mom to buy something else.  Though lately, she hadn’t bought much of anything.  She figured they were almost completely drained of money, but mom didn’t have the heart to say it out loud.  If she ever did, she would undoubtedly break into an uncontrollable flood of tears.  Mercedes shook her head at the thought, and closed the refrigerator door.
    She found one package of Pop Tarts in the cupboard and figured that would suffice for today.  She could drink some water from the fountains at school.
    The phone rang, which surprised her and she almost didn’t answer it.  She had figured it was turned off by now, since they hadn’t paid the phone bill when it came due ast week.
    “Hello?”  She asked into the phone, wondering who in the world would be calling.
    “May I speak with Abigail Masterson, please?”
    “Mom!  Phone!”  She sat the receiver on the counter and her mom rushed into the kitchen, trying to get rid of the wrinkles in her dress (as if it mattered for a phone call).  “Who is it?”  She asked.
    “I’m you’re secretary now?”
    Her mom just rolled her eyes and answered the phone in that polite tone.  “Yes?  Oh, hello.  Yes, I could.  OK.  Eleven?  Yes, that’s fine.  Thank you so much for calling.” She hung up the phone and looked so giddy that Mercedes had to stop and ask what was up.  “That, Mercedes, was me getting an interview for a job today.”  She sighed in great relief, and then went to iron the same grey suit she’d been wearing to interviews for the past month now.
    Johnny passed on his way to the door, pulling his backpack over his shoulder on the way out.  “You used up all the warm water, jerk.”
    “There wasn’t any anyway.”
    “Right.”  The screen door slammed behind him.
    The school bus was pulling up outside and kids were getting on to it.  Mercedes yelled out at him to hold the bus while she grabbed her bag.  She ran into her room, grabbed her backpack and a black, denim vest that was also becoming part of her persona.  She shoved the Pop Tarts into her vest pocket and burst out the screen door of their single-wide trailer just in time to see the bus turn the corner.
    At least it wasn’t raining, maybe a walk would be a good change of pace.

cover image for Hardboil High

Hardboil High: Auschwitz

Mercedes and Vega were doing what they normally did in their sixth hour class, Pre-Algebra with Mrs. Braxton; they were passing notes back and forth. They’d start with one sheet of paper and jot a note, then pass it on and jot a response, and then it would pass back. It started off with Vega this period,

“You got a date to the dance?”

“No,” was Mercedes’ response.

“Has anyone asked, have you asked anyone?” Vega followed up.

“No. Well, except Lawrence, but I told him to get lost. And when he wouldn’t leave me alone, I told him his mom was gay. That seemed to do the trick. That tard smells like feet.”

Vega held the note for a while this time, stewing over her response. She fiddled with her bleached hair, that used to be black or brunette or something. It was red last week. She was always doing bizarre things with her hair, and sometimes her lip ring coordinated with her hair color. Her piercing was on the left corner, lower lip of her mouth and was turquoise today. She finally scribbled something and waited for Mrs. Braxton to face the chalkboard. It read, “You going out tonight?”

“Like I ever go out on Friday nights. What would I do? Whatchya got in mind?”

Vega wrote the following upside down and on top of the page, “You can’t say anything to anyone, but I’m taking you to Auschwitz tonight. Tell your mom we’re going to the mall or a movie or something stupid.”

Mercedes read the last response by Vega several times, then she pencil-circled Auschwitz?

“You coming or not?” Was all that Vega replied with.

“Sure,” Mercedes tossed her brown hair over her shoulders, as it fell down across her face while she wrote, “What about you—you gotta date?”

“I’m not going, the rents decided to go on a family trip that weekend. Dumb rents. Going to visit my aunt and uncle, I hate ‘em. All we do is sit around and play board games until the time is up, and then we come home. That, and my rents are always going on and on about when they were kids and how they did this stupid thing and that retarded thing. It’s gay. Can you get the Nova?”



It was a few minutes past eight; the sun had just decided to call it a night, and then Mercedes pulled up at Vega’s home in the Nova. It was gray, probably had color at one time, but time had not smiled on it. And the Mastersons rarely had enough money to get by, much less to spend pimpin’ the family clunker. It was a 1976 Nova Coupe, not the best year by any means. Not the kind you saw gangsters cruising in, either.

Mercedes was only fourteen years old, but her mom was single and had a hard enough time keeping things in line as it was. To remedy having to transport her two children to and fro all the time, she decided instead to teach them how to drive when they turned thirteen. Obviously, getting caught meant getting busted pretty bad. Or if you were really unlucky, you got raped—the cops in Babylon were known to take physical bribes for traffic violations quite frequently.

Unfortunately, to her dismay, an argument had erupted over the dinner table between her and her brother Johnny. He was two years her senior, and a junior in high school. He already had plans to be taking the Nova for the night. As is often the case, neither of the teenagers once considered whether their mother would need it. She didn’t of course; she had become a recluse and a workaholic for the sake of her children. Eventually, Mercedes resigned and finished a light dinner, per Vega’s strange request. She then slyly slithered into the living room, snatched the rabbit’s foot key chain and crept out the door. Johnny came running out moments later, as she was backing out of the driveway to their mobile home. He was screaming at her and managed to slam his fists down on the trunk as she peeled out of Granger Trailer Park. As she watched Johnny give up in her review mirror while going 45 in a 25, she twisted the radio knob over to the oldies station that was playing Disco in honor of its 20 year death.

After picking up Vega, lying to her parents and stopping for a pop with the money Vega stole from her dad, they were heading out of town. Vega still refused to tell her anything about Auschwitz.

“What is this gay music you listen to, anyway?” Vega inquired condescendingly.

“It’s Disco,” Mercedes cranked the volume up a little more; “You’ve never heard it?”

“PUL-LEEZ,” Vega grabbed the knob and turned it back down, “You drive, and I’ll DJ.”


Naturally, Mercedes just had to cut eyes at her when they turned onto a gravel farm road, “I fought for the Nova tonight and you’re taking me to a stinking rodeo, aren’t you? I hate you.”

“No,” Vega was laughing hard, “Not a rodeo, dude. Far from it.”

The sun was fast asleep now, and dark had veiled its face. There was little to see, just some gravel on either side of a patch of grass in front of the headlights and grass on both sides of them. It was either drive on the two white lines or drive in the grass. Beyond the grass on either side were trees that gave way suddenly, revealing an open field that the road cut a path through. In the distance to the left, were cars and a bonfire of sorts.

“Oh, even better,” Mercedes mocked, “A hayride.”

“Shut up and go park over there.”

Obeying properly, she drove into the field and parked three rows back from the firelight. It was a short walk, filled with more mockery. That soon stopped though when they passed through the hay bales, not the small rectangular ones but the big round ones. All around were familiar faces, but in different lights. Jocks, preps, rebels, nerds, geeks, the band, the choir, thespians—every clique from high school was represented in the shadows. They were all gathered around in a circle; in the middle of the circle were a huge bonfire and two boys. They were both lying on the ground; one was slowly crawling towards the fire as the other rolled over from his back and onto all fours. He rose from the ground, stammering as he did. They were fighters, this was Auschwitz and it was a fight club.

“I’ll be right back,” Vega said and then quickly vanished into the crowd.

Mercedes tried to recognize the two boys, but the shadows were too harsh. The boy now standing, having gained his balance, turned and faced the boy on the ground. He looked down at him and screamed something unintelligible and charged. The boy on the ground reached the fire and grabbed a log from the fire and spun over onto his back, jabbing the scorching hot log into the charging boy’s stomach. It burned straight through his shirt and straight to his torso. Screams were heard from both boys, and the boy that charged fell. The other threw the log back into the fire and rose, holding his now burned hands. Another boy entered, this one she recognized as Luke Preston, “And the winner is… Masterson!”

She recognized him now, it was hard to do so before, but now she could see that it was Johnny. He raised his arms in victory, the crowd cheered and he unwittingly zigzagged towards her. They bumped shoulders and she looked him the eye, “Hey, bro.”

He stopped, squinted and mumbled, “Whore.”

With that he zigzagged away into the crowd and Vega returned with two plastic cups, red ones. They were filled with beer, and it hit the spot for Mercedes. She hadn’t had a beer since dad left; mom had cracked down on the drinking in the family. Like that was going to make everything better. Nothing makes anything better, she had determined, you just find new and imaginative ways to deafen the pain. To distract.

Mercedes and Vega walked with their beers outside of the hay bales. Mercedes looked into the distance and up the hill, at the top of it laid a grand house that was all lit up. It was a beacon of light in the night. She turned to Vega and gestured with her beer and an index finger, “What’s up there?”

“Oh, that,” Vega started, “That’s the Johnston’s home.”

“It’s nice.”

“Yeah, from a distance,” she explained, “Down here, in the dark, you’re respected for your accomplishments. Up there, in the light, it’s like high school. It’s all about status. You have to either have money or be part of the team.”

“Come on, Vega, let’s take a look.”

“All you can do is look, because up there everybody is better than you.”

Mercedes’ eyes were reflecting the light of the house as she stared sternly at it, “No one’s better than me.”

Vega laughed and took the last swig of her beer, “Now you’re starting to sound like a jock.”

Mercedes turned and looked at her, “I’m going up. You coming or not?”

“I’ll stay in the shadows, thank you.” She turned and became a silhouette instantly; and reentered Auschwitz and became one with the silhouettes about her.

Mercedes tossed the red, plastic cup and the remainder of its contents to the grass and started up the path that leads to the house. As she got closer, the path illuminated. Two guys came running up from behind her and bumped her out of the way; they were laughing and spilling their beers. One guy had a bong, and it was clear that the other guy wanted a puff. She smirked a little when she determined that if the house was high school, than surely the path she walked was its hallway.

The closer she came to the house; she could hear the thumping of pop music.Probably pop rap, that’s what all the jocks and preps were getting into lately.Pop wasn’t what it used to be, that was for sure in her mind.Her heart was in awe as she gazed upon a lovely home, a ranch style home with a long deck and balcony that stretched all around the house.The side closest to her, as she came up the hill, stretched out over the hill.It was like Caesar’s private box, from here he monitored the gladiators below and either gave the thumbs up or the thumbs down.She walked up a few steps onto the deck, and as she passed a half open window she verified that the music was indeed pop rap.Caesar was not in his thrown, a white rocking chair.She came around to the front of the house and decided she could live here forever, anything would be better than Granger and the stench of trailer trash—but this, this was heaven on earth.She opened the southern-style screen door and it quickly spanked her on the way over the threshold.

She passed a dining room; it was eloquent beyond anything she’d ever seen. There were preps and jocks gathered around its table. They were drinking things, smoking things and cutting up. Suddenly one of them shouted and gestured with his arms to silent everyone. Their eyes slowly slid up to the tops of their lids and their heads cocked in the northern direction as well. They were looking at the chandelier above the table; it had diamond links and candles in it. It was vibrating about aimlessly, and you could hear muffled sounds of moaning coming from the floor above. The preps and jocks burst into an uproar at the perversion that was transpiring upstairs. They clapped and shouted back, they began to root and egg on the private matter above them. She continued on past the perverts and entered the kitchen. The floor and countertops were both finished in marble; the cabinets were white and blinding with beauty. The pots and pans hung above an island in the middle of the kitchen, they were glistening with cleanliness. She could see her face in a frying pan and she smiled.

The sound of a toilet flushing became evident when a door opened around the corner on the opposite end of the kitchen, and from that door appeared Cooper Johnston. When he saw her he stopped, and anger became him, “What are you doing in here?”

“Came up for a dump,” she said, “And now that I know where the bathroom is, I think I’ll do so.”

“You can take your dump in the woods,” he came towards her, as he passed the pots and pans he batted a pot with his left hand and left smudge marks on it, “Now beat it.” He spoke directly into her face, he smelled of beer and drugs. For an instant, she got the munchies. He bumped shoulders with her and went on into the dining room.

She then noticed something she’d only seen in catalogues—a marble bread roller. She walked to the edge of the counter where it lay and picked it up, it was heavier than she imagined and it was more gorgeous than the pictures she’d seen of it. On the corner of her eye, she saw the bathroom door slowly swinging open more. She sat the bread roller down and entered the bathroom and did her business. It was a simple bathroom, just a place to get the job done right between the kitchen and laundry. She came out and reentered the kitchen; at the other end was Cooper. He had the perverts from the dining room standing behind him, “I told you to do your business in the woods.”

“I know.” She defied him both with actions and words now; she stepped around in front of the edge of the counter.

“You need to learn to listen.” His eyes were locked into hers; he reached with his hands, unzipped and unbuttoned his pants.

Her eyes stayed on his, “Put it in your pants, Perky.”

He slowly moved in towards the island, and then around it and towards her. The perverts filed in on both sides of the island, but they all kept behind him—not daring to cross some invisible line of authority that obviously existed. He stood in front of her now; she could smell his breath again. She leaned back away from him and against the counter. She rested her hands behind her back and atop the cold, marble countertop.

“Make your move,” she said. They sat there in silence still, no one moving. No one talking, only breathing. But even the breathing was quiet and kept to a minimum. The tension was as thick as bread and any action would be the knife to cut it. Their eyes were still locked in on each other.

“Boo,” he whispered and then lunged at her, pelvis first.

She quickly grabbed the bread roller behind her and kicked him in the knee, knocking him back a step. She slid the roller off the counter and followed through with the momentum, gripping with two hands and hitting him in his manhood with her hardest golf swing. He screeched loudly, like a virgin, and fell to the floor. He cupped his privates with his hands and she could see that he was bleeding. She held the roller out with one hand, aiming at the perverts, “Anyone else want some action?!”

The perverts, without speaking, parted and made a path to the hallway. They were the Red Sea, she was Moses and the bread roller was her rod. She walked through and the only sounds in the house were being made by Cooper on the floor and the dirty blonde that ran by up the hallway crying. In the hallway, she saw the dirty blonde run straight through the screen door, knocking it off its hinges and she fell onto the porch but quickly recovered and leapt off into the grass. Outside Mercedes watched as the dirty blonde ran down the rocky driveway, she was barefoot and over time she began to limp but it didn’t slow her down any. Mercedes pulled her cell phone from her jeans and speed-dialed Vega; with her right hand she tossed the roller into the bushes.

“Sup?” Vega answered.

“Meet me at the Nova, we’re bustin’ outta here.”

Hardboil High: Paint it Black

If the computer hadn’t been in the living room, Mercedes would probably spend most week nights in her bedroom alone. At the age of 14, she didn’t much mix well with her older brother Johnny anymore, and she regarded her mom as weak and stupid. She used to get along fine with her dad, but after he ran away, she decided it was as good a reason as any to hate him with a seething passion.

She saddled up to the computer, and turned it on. Immediately her mom started in with the interrogation.

“Did you do your homework?”

“Yes.”

“Because I don’t want you falling behind in that math class anymore than you already have. “ As usual, she was reading her Reader’s Digest and her eyes scarcely moved from it as she reprimanded. “That Mrs. White seemed nice at the parent-teacher conference, and she’s really trying to help you, so don’t be disrespectful.”

“She’s not too bad for a Nazi.” Mercedes mumbled.

Her mom looked up from the Reader’s Digest, “What did you say?”

“Nothing; I was just trying to remember my password for my email.”

“Oh.” And back to reading.

Mercedes had two new messages.

From: Dirk

Subject: Yeah and stuff…

I would like to give Mrs. Gringo the Worst Teacher Ever Award. I actually stayed awake in class today, and STILL her homework makes no sense. And textbooks are gay, you can’t learn anything from them. That is all. -Dirk

She smiled and clicked on the second message.

From: Vega

Subject: RE: Yeah and stuff…

I really wish M had ICQ, so we could all go online right now and trash talk about how fat Mrs. Dumb-Ho-Kracker is, maybe take bets on her weight, and then steal her license one day to know for sure.

V

Though her mom couldn’t see it, she was smiling deeply inside. Laughing even. She figured if she asked her mom to download ICQ, she’d be lectured about how lame white dudes in their thirties use instant messenger programs like that to lure in their unsuspecting prey. She also figured she’d get the same lecture, if she just downloaded and installed it without her consent, so she decided on that instead. At least for now, she could put off the lecture, and enjoy the comforts of communication. She typed in the name of the site, found it and started downloading it. It was going to take forever on their modem, maybe two hours. She hid the download window on the screen, and figured she’d bring up Corel Wordperfect and fumble through an essay that was due in two weeks as a cover for her little rebellion.

Someone knocked on the hollow door of their trailer.

“Get that Mercedes.”

“Mom, I’m working on an essay for school, it’s due in three days.”

Her mom sighed, folded the corner of the page and placed the Reader’s Digest on the broken coffee table. She got up, and went to the door.

“Yes?”

Without another word, her mom came stepping back into the room. Four large men–two fat, two fit–pushed their way into their home. They were all wearing leather jackets of varying colors and styles. The largest of them was a skinhead with a burly beard, he looked like a biker for sure. He seemed to be in charge, and took quick stock of his surroundings, and then spoke first.

“Where’s your husband?”

“I don’t know, he left.”

One of the fit thugs, who sported a ponytail, slapped her across the face when he heard this response. She nearly fell to the floor from the force of the blow, but managed to catch herself on the edge of their tattered couch.

Mercedes jumped out of her chair, startled, but mostly mad.

“What gives?!”

“Stay out of it, brat.”

“Bite me!”

Johnny came running from his bedroom, but froze at the edge of the room when he saw the four men. They all looked to him, one reached into his jacket, Mercedes assumed he was gripping a pistol.

“Hey, boy!” The man in charge shouted to Johnny. “Where’s your dad?”

Johnny was rendered useless, and spoke softly. “He left.”

“What’s that, kid?”

“He ran off, about 6 months ago.”

The man in charge sat on the arm of the couch, and sighed. “This isn’t going to end well for you, if you don’t cooperate.”

Mercedes jumped in again. “Look, if its my dad you want, you can have the retard. And if I knew where he was, I’d tell you in a heartbeat. You could kill him for all I care.”

“Mercedes!” Her mom tried to defend the honor of her missing husband.

The man in charge turned to Mercedes, and glared at her. “That’s the second time you’ve spoke out of turn. You better mind your manners, or we’ll teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget.”

Johnny wanted desperately to take control of the situation somehow, but knew he was too small and greatly outnumbered, weighing in at a whopping one-hundred and fifty-six pounds. He was fit, but small, much too small for this fight. So instead he stood there, frozen, unable to help in any way and just hoped things would end well.

“Your husband owes a lot of money to some people who really know how to make people hurt. We’re just the first guys, there will be more after us, if he doesn’t pay up. So just tell us where your husband is, and we can get this over with sooner than later. And no harm done.”

Mercedes looked at her mom, she looked helpless and weak. All she had was the truth, and that got her nowhere with these thugs. But she didn’t know how to defend herself either, she was such a flake when it came to hard things. She’d stay up to all hours of the night, crying, praying for dad to come back. What she needed to do was get over it, and if he ever showed up, she needed to kick his butt out the door. You don’t walk out on a wife and two kids, and leave them with a debt that would the government blush.

She slowly cowered a response with tears building in her eyes. “I don’t know where my husband is.”

“Good night, this is stupid.” Mercedes knocked the keyboard and mouse off the desk, and launched a verbal assault and ultimatum. “Look, pal, we don’t know where the jerk is, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Go back to your daddy, with her tail wagging, and look somewhere else. He’s skipped town, and we don’t have your money, so get lost.”

The man frowned. “That was your third strike.” He rose from the couch, turned to his men and gave them orders by pointing fingers, no names were ever dropped. “You two, take the wife. You and me will take the girl.” He turned to Johnny and raised an eyebrow. “You aren’t going to give us any trouble, right?”

Johnny shook his head.

“I can’t hear you.”

“No, sir.”

“That’s better. Go back to your room.”

Johnny quickly obliged, and disappeared.

Mercedes was not going to give in without a fight, and launched her assault on the man in charge. There were no obvious weapons nearby, so she jumped him with her petite body and bit his earlobe, latching her teeth onto his earring. She jerked her head back as hard as she could, and there was little resistance from the ear as the lobe ripped away. She spit it out of her mouth; the lobe, ring, et al. He retaliated by spinning, and throwing her onto the couch. He landed on top of her, pinning her down. He wiped his ear, growling.

“This is what happens to bad girls.”


Two hours and a half hours later, she lay face down on the couch. They had finally finished. Her mom was somewhere in the room, but she didn’t know where. It was too hard enough to keep up with what was happening to her, much less with what was happening to her mom. The pain was so bad, she could barely move without inflicting sharp pains through her nerves. Her lip was busted in the lower-right corner, and she was bleeding in other places too. It was violent, and unrelenting. It was a double team, and although she fought it hard, she could prevail little. And then at halftime, they swapped players. She could hear her mom sobbing. She had sobbed most of the time. But she couldn’t cry, she was too angry. With each action, her hatred kindled more.

One of the fit ones came from the kitchen, drinking orange juice from the jug. He also had their electric hair clippers in his hand. Her mom used to cut Johnny’s hair, but after he reached about twelve or so, she couldn’t manage the time anymore and let him go to the barber. It had been sitting under the kitchen sink for the past four years, unused.

“Hey, guys, pin the girl down.” He said.

Two of them pinned her down on the couch, and the man in charge watched. The man with the clippers grabbed her long, thick, wavy head of hair. It was dark brown, and one of the few things about herself for which she had pride. God had blessed her with a nice head of hair, and she kept it well, despite the rags that she wore on her body. He made her look into his face, and he was so close that when he spoke he spit on her with certain words.

“Here’s a little something to remind you to be a good girl next time.”

She memorized his face.

He shoved her face into the cushion of the couch, plugged the clippers in and started to buzz her head. She fought it as best she could, but with the other two pinning her down, she could only manage to move her head around a bit, but he had a tight grip on her head with one hand as he took the clippers over her head.

It took about thirty seconds.

They left after this final act, and left them with a warning. They wanted Jim, and they needed to quit covering for him.

Johnny came out of his bedroom, and helped their mom up from the floor. He sat in her in the computer chair.

“I need to go to the hospital.” She told him.

“Okay, mom.”

Mercedes got up, and started to head to her bedroom.

“Mercedes, we need to go to the hospital. Your brother’s gonna drive us.”

With the last of her energy, she spun on her heels to face them. “I don’t need some stupid doctor poking around on me, just so he can tell me I was raped. I know I was raped!” And then she slammed her door, and fell on her bed, and passed out.


Standing in front of the mirror, she examined her new hairdo. The majority of her head was trimmed down to about one-quarter inch of hair, but then there were patches of hair that were in various lengths. It looked like her hair had fallen out. She could barely recognize herself. She hadn’t cried during the duration of the violence, but standing in front of the mirror and seeing herself, she cried.

She was surprised to see that Johnny and her mom hadn’t returned from the hospital yet. She was so weak, and stupid. She picked up the clippers, unplugged them from the wall, and called Vega to invite herself over. She rummaged through her mom’s closet, and found one of her dad’s fedoras he’d left behind when he left in a hurry. She put it on, and tucked the longer strands of hair up into it. It was gray, and looked out of place against her army jacket.

She contemplated riding her bike to Vega’s house, but opted against it as it sounded to painful. So she walked the six miles instead. The six miles took her from the rundown trailer park where they lived, through the middle-class neighbor hoods, and eventually into Forrest Valley.

Forrest Valley was a rich neighborhood, where only doctors, lawyers, business tycoons, and other wealthy types could afford to live. Vega’s mom was a surgeon, and her dad was a prosecuting attorney. A far cry different from Vega herself, who refused to conform to her parents’ lifestyle. She shopped at the Salvation Army, Goodwill, second-hand shops, and yard sales. She would buy the most absurd clothes, mostly outdated, and then mix-match the varying styles. And then there was her hair, which she kept shoulder-length and the color of it changed on a bi-weekly basis.

Mercedes also made it a habit of buying second-hand, but not by choice. Her mom couldn’t afford anything more on her nurse paychecks she got from the Emergency Room at Babylon Regal Hospital, and Mercedes was left trying to stay within the meager budget. She mostly wore dark outfits; black jeans and skirts, few browns, grays, plain white Tees and the occasional army camouflage. Her normal attire looked mostly masculine, an outward indication to the chip on her shoulder. She wanted the boys to know that she could stand her ground.

And she had stood her ground, though it had backfired miserably.

She was frustrated how things had turned from bad to worse in a split-second. She knew she had it within herself to take the four thugs, she just needed to reshuffle the deck. The situation was stacked against her, but if there would ever be a next time, she’d be ready. And they had promised a next time, if the debts her father owed weren’t paid. And that wasn’t going to happen, so it was a given that a next time would come.


“What did you do to your hair?” These were the first words out of Vega’s mouth, as she stood in the doorway to their home.

“Shove it.” Mercedes pushed her way through the door, and entered the home. “Come to the garage, I need you to finish the job.”

She weaved herself in and out of the maze of hallways, making a path to the four-car garage. Vega followed her at a distance. She stepped down into the garage, grabbed the wooden work stool, and sat on it in a vacant space for a car. Vega was looking down at her from the door. She took the fedora off, and tossed it at the work bench, it landed on the floor.

“Come on, Vega, let’s get this over with.” She held the clippers out to her.

Vega stepped into the garage, joined her friend, and took the clippers. “You’re weird, you know that?”

“I’ll explain later, just get it over with.”

Vega plugged the clippers into an outlet on a nearby pillar, and then turned to Mercedes and began to buzz off the rest of her hair. No words were exchanged, but Vega knew something was really wrong. When she moved to the front, and met her face-to-face, she noticed the busted lips and bruised cheeks. She could also see it wasn’t the cuts and bruises that hurt. What really hurt was what she was finishing. She figured this one act was the closest she would ever come to hearing the words trust, love and respect from her friend’s lips. And for that she took what she was doing very seriously.

All these thoughts, and the silence, were interrupted by the sound of jingling keys.

“Vega, what have you done?” Her mom was standing in the doorway, looking in on the sight.

“Can it, mom.”

She turned her attention from her daughter to Mercedes. “Hun, your hair was so beautiful; why did you let her do that?”

“Bite me.” Mercedes growled.

Vega’s mom sighed and shook her head. “I’m going to work, tell your dad I’ll be running late tonight.”

“Whatever.”

And then she went to her hunter green BMW, pulled out of the garage, closing the garage door remotely as she drove up the street.


After a quick shower, Mercedes told the story over a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

In Vega’s room, Mercedes sprawled out across her queen-size water-bed. It felt good against the bruises and cuts, the sore muscles. The pain. Vega sat in an old, wooden chair she’d spray pained black, and she looked worryingly upon her friend, but she didn’t prod, she waited. Mercedes finally sighed, and opened up. She told her the whole event, in as little detail as she could, there are some things that should always private, she thought. Reliving the previous night just irritated her more, and strengthened her growing resentment for Johnny who had done nothing. She didn’t imagine she would be satisfied until the four thugs were out of her life altogether. And they would be back, or some of their friends at least. During the whole story, Vega sat with a shocked and disgusted look on her face, saying nothing, remaining silent. After it was over, they both sat quietly.

“You need Bronson.” Vega broke the silence, and jumped from her Gothic throne.

“What?”

“Charles Bronson.” She rummaged through her clothes in her dresser, and pulled out five DVDs. She quickly deposited four of them on the top of the dresser, then opened one and put the disc into the DVD player. She had a large box of a TV on her dresser, with a small DVD player next to it. She grabbed the two remotes, one for the TV and the other for the player, and sat back in her black chair. “Death Wish is the mother of all movie franchises. And you, M, need Charles Bronson’s Death Wish.”

“Whatever.”

“There’s no whatever about it, you uncultured swine. This is therapy. You sit there and just focus on feeling better, and take in Charles ‘The Architect of Revenge’ Bronson.”

“Do you have them on tape? I could just borrow them.”

“You don’t loan out Charles Bronson, you give Charles Bronson.”

Mercedes rolled her eyes, not sure of what nonsense she was getting into.

When a scene of gang rape began to play out in the beginning of the movie, Mercedes turned away. “What is this? I don’t wanna see this! Been there, done that! Turn it off!”

“Shut up. Just get through it.”

“Idiot.” Mercedes mumbled.

“You’ll thank me later, M.”

As the movie progressed, she watched as The Architect’s housekeeper was brutally raped, and then his daughter was taken, while he was left to bleed on the floor. With no surprise, the daughter also got raped, but then surprisingly she tried to make a getaway, only ending up hanging over a fence dead. It was all very ridiculous and irritating, but then The Architect, Mr. Charles Bronson, began to design his plans for revenge. Slowly over the course of the film, he tracked down all the gang members responsible, and dealt them a hand. He even helped a few strangers along the way, strangers who were in similar circumstances to his own. By the end, Mercedes and Vega were screaming at the TV, rooting, cheering, pushing The Architect further and further. Charles Bronson would get his.

And he did.

They went through all five of the Death Wish movies, and at one point Mercedes remarked that The Architect had the worst luck of all time. But no matter, he always served justice piping hot.

After they had finished, it was around midnight, and Vega’s parents still had not returned home. Vega turned the TV off, and looked at Mercedes who was feeling much better now, “Best movies ever,” Vega said.

“Hands down. Do you need more painkillers, M?”

“No. Not after that.” Mercedes eyes darkened to black, she was somewhere else, someone else. “I’m gonna get those queers.”


She hadn’t planned to stay the night at Vega’s house, but by the time the Charles Bronson marathon was over, her mind was made up for her. She called home, and left a message on the answering machine.

“I’m staying at Vega’s house. Later.”

“Touching.” Vega remarked, grabbing a beer from the refrigerator. “Want one?”

“No.” Mercedes was elsewhere again.

“What?”

“What do you mean what?”

“I mean, that’s like the fiftieth time your eyes have glazed over. What’s that perverse mind of yours thinking?”

Mercedes smiled, snatched the beer from Vega and took a quick gulp. “How hard do you think it would be to make a gun?”

“Piece of cake. Come on.”

At the computer in her dad’s office, she booted up the computer and the Windows 98 logo flashed at them.

“I wish we had 98, we’re still on Windows 95, and a 56k modem.”

“Yep. Sucks to be you, M… all around.”

Mercedes gave her a quick jab to the shoulder. They both laughed.

“What are we doing on the computer?”

“Google, M, it has everything… like how to make a gun.”


It had taken them two weeks to make a pistol from scratch. They needed parts, and some of these parts they had to buy with borrowed money from Vega’s mom. And then the assembly was almost as irritating as finding all the necessary parts. But their efforts had paid off, and despite that they had kept Dirk out of these activities, they had called him over for the test fire.

“So why did we make a gun?” Was the first question out of his mouth.

“M can explain later.”

They had walked three blocks from Vega’s house, crossed through some woods and into an open field that had not been developed yet. Though there were fierce battles at City Council meetings over this small patch of dirt, but our heroes knew nothing about this nonsense. Mercedes was loading a bullet into the makeshift chamber, and held the pistol out in front of her. It was crude looking, and some of the metal parts were rusted. It was ready to fire. She grasped it with both hands.

Dirk was standing on her left shoulder, and spoke out loud something he intended to think to himself. “Couldn’t this backfire, and like take off an arm?”

“DIRK.” Vega reprimanded him from Mercedes right shoulder.

“Sorry.”

Mercedes took aim at nothing, and was breathing heavy. This was the moment. She heard movement to her left, and looked to see that Dirk had taken a few precautionary steps back. He half smirked. She rolled her eyes, and started to refocus her eyes to the end of the barrel, and then heard movement on her right. She turned and saw Vega was standing farther away than Dirk. She tilted her head, and smirked.

Mercedes put those eyes at the end of the barrel again, her palms sweating. If this works, the first step on the road to justice was taken. If not, they go back to their instructions and wonder what happened. And worse case scenario, she bleeds out as Dirk and Vega rush her back to the house.

Her finger gripped the little trigger, pulling it back slowly.

She stopped.

Sighed.

Lowered her hands.

“I hadn’t thought of that.” She said.

It was back to the drawing board. She wasn’t ready to lose a limb, or part of one either.